Premier League winners and losers: Luton, Blades, Howe impress while Fulham, Liverpool, Aguerd flop

Matt Stead
Newcastle manager Eddie Howe, a Fulham fan protests and Luton midfielder Ross Barkley
One of these teams cost £160 to watch at the weekend

Two of the promoted clubs had a great weekend; the other did not. There are kind words for Eddie Howe and Bernardo Silva, but rather harsh ones for Fulham.


Luton’s freebies
Almost exactly a decade on from their first minutes together on the pitch as teammates, in a November 2013 friendly defeat for England against Alexis Sanchez’s Chile at Wembley, Ross Barkley and Andros Townsend used their collective experience and talent to guide Luton to a famous result and display against Liverpool.

Both were wonderful in a narrow Hatters set-up which pushed Liverpool to the brink. “I thought Ross was excellent, Andros too,” said Rob Edwards after the game of two players who might have considered their Premier League ship to have sailed when no other concrete offers presented themselves this summer. It was certainly vintage Barkley for Tahith Chong’s goal, while seeing the ‘Sr’ on the back of Townsend’s shirt was great fun.

Along with Chiedozie Ogbene, who was electric on the left wing, Luton’s free transfers proved the most effective players of all in what was almost a spectacular win and nevertheless a phenomenal draw. Vindication for a sensible summer, were it ever needed.


Sheffield United
Before The Newcastle Debacle, things were not going particularly poorly for Sheffield United. They had lost four of their opening five games, drawing the other, but each of those defeats were only by a single goal.

Those fine margins were going against them. Nottingham Forest and Manchester City both won with goals in the 88th minute or later, before Spurs snatched a victory with two stoppage-time strikes. The Blades were feeling the sharp end but the trade-off would eventually swing in their favour on the balance of probabilities.

After the Newcastle thrashing came four more losses marked by a lack of fight, a deficiency in belief, an absence of application. No longer were Sheffield United battling for every ball. They lost three of those games by two goals or more as that determination to keep things close until the bitter end was lost.

The win over Wolves suggests their edge has been restored. It featured the most tackles (24) and fewest take-ons (seven) they have attempted in a Premier League game this season as Paul Heckingbottom dragged them back to basics and simplified the equation. The single-goal margin benefited them and after conceding by far the most goals of any side from the 75th minute onwards this season, the Blades welcomed their share of fortune in sealing a victory as late as 10 minutes into second-half stoppage-time to breathe life into their campaign again.

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Eddie Howe
Many ridiculous Jose Mourinho quotes come to mind long before his words upon returning to management with Spurs in November 2019, almost a year after his Manchester United sacking. Yet those comments do always elicit a chuckle:

“These 11 months were not a waste of time, they were months to analyse, prepare and anticipate things. I am humble enough to analyse my career, Manchester United last year, the problems and the solutions. The principle of the analysis was not to blame anyone else. I realise that during my career I made mistakes. I am not going to make the same mistakes.”

Reader, he made the same mistakes, he blamed everyone else, he was not humble and it was a waste of time.

Eddie Howe was different. He used the 15 months spent in the post-Bournemouth managerial wilderness to hone his craft, develop his ideas and enhance his expertise. It’s a shame he didn’t utilise just a fraction of it to expand his knowledge on Saudi Arabia or give the country’s human rights record any thought at all but that is another discussion for another time.

For now, the strides in improvement he has made in his defensive coaching are worth admiring. That was one of the biggest sticks Howe was beaten with upon his Newcastle appointment, having shown approximately no instincts or acumen in how to adequately set up or competently protect a backline during his time on the coast.

“I had this reputation of not being a good defensive coach, and I didn’t particularly like that,” Howe said this summer. “That’s not to say we’ve drastically changed our method and approach but when I had my break I went away and looked at everything I was delivering, and our defensive record at Bournemouth wasn’t very good. You have to be very self-critical.

“We very much have the mindset here that we want to defend as a team right from the strikers, filtering back to the goalkeeper, and you can see that when we play.”

Arsenal discovered that the hard way, struggling to create many chances of note at what is now contractually obliged to be called A Febrile St James’ Park. Newcastle poured every ounce of energy into that game and particularly after Anthony Gordon’s goal, were exemplary in defending a fortuitous but ultimately decisive lead. Arsenal had two shots after going 1-0 down and both were blocked.

Only one of the 15 players Newcastle used – of whom eight were bought by Alan Pardew, Rafael Benitez and Steve Bruce, to Howe’s six signings, with academy product Sean Longstaff the outlier – failed to make at least one tackle, interception, clearance or block. And to be fair to Bruno Guimaraes, it is difficult to do any of those while simultaneously trying to carry out a hit on Jorginho. This was the epitome of a team performance – disciplined, determined, diligent – engineered by an excellent manager who chose to change his reputation rather than coast on it.


From the ashes of a six-game winless run, Brentford have conjured a sequence of three consecutive Premier League victories. Arsenal have not managed that since April. Manchester United last did it at the back end of last season. Data was not properly collated the last time Chelsea achieved it.

Thomas Frank has perhaps the streakiest side in the Premier League, one inexorably tied to momentum in either direction. They went a record 12 games unbeaten at one stage last campaign, then won one of their subsequent eight fixtures straight afterwards. In their first Premier League campaign they lost seven of eight matches through the winter – the exception being a draw – before immediately winning five in six.

It is certainly no problem for a side that has snuck into the top half; indeed, it is a perfectly natural and mortal trait for a club swimming serenely in waters they ought to be thrashing about to survive in.

To engineer this turnaround of fortunes in the midst of the division’s worst injury record – to which Aaron Hickey has now fallen victim – is phenomenal work for a club whose overachievement has become normalised.


Bernardo Silva
When Pep Guardiola starts setting you specific side quests, you must have finished the original story with some ease. Silva made his 318th career appearance under the Spaniard at the weekend, finally surpassing Kevin de Bruyne and becoming Guardiola’s most-used player ever. He marked the occasion by proving himself to be the manager’s most complete.

“What can I say about Bernardo?” Guardiola said after the Bournemouth win. “He can play holding midfield, attacking midfield left, he can play attacking midfield right, he can play winger. I push him to score goals. It’s the next step in his career.”

In terms of versatility in almost any role, defensive prowess and attacking genius whenever the circumstances dictate, and an ability to either control the tempo of games or operate outside the rhythm of matches if required, all to an elite and consistent level, there might never have been a more complete player in Premier League history.


Jordan Ayew
Roy Hodgson has since apologised for his weird post-Tottenham comments about Crystal Palace’s younger players being ineffective from the bench but what the manager essentially meant was that Jesurun Rak-Sakyi and Matheus Franca are not nearly Jordan Ayew enough yet.

Jordan Beyer might still not have regained his bearings after being put in an Ayew spin cycle, robbed of the ball in his own defensive third by the Palace forward in the build-up to Jeffrey Schlupp’s opener.

The only surprise might have been that the initial action did not result in a free-kick for either player, considering Ayew is the current Premier League leader for fouls committed (20) and fouls drawn (37). It will be a delight to see the Ghanaian still thriving under Hodgson when his new two-year contract is up.


Andre Onana
It seems sub-optimal for a goalkeeper’s shot-saving technique to be quite so unpredictable and unorthodox but if it produces results then Onana and Manchester United will not mind. That he has made more saves (41) than every keeper bar Wes Foderingham (52) and Bernd Leno (43) suggests he will be given ample opportunity to perfect the art at least.

That reflects how poorly Manchester United have protected Onana, who in turn allowed mistakes to creep into his game under the glaring spotlight. The Copenhagen penalty save proves just how crucial momentum and confidence can be in those situations as he has been largely very good since.

As many Premier League clean sheets as Alisson this season, anyway. And as many all-time as Carlo Nash and Jurgen Macho. Not sure which is more impressive.

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Nottingham Forest
No club in the current Premier League bottom half has picked up more points against the top half than Nottingham Forest, whose five actually also outstrips the records of Crystal Palace, Manchester United and Brentford in such games.

It would be harsh to pick out one leading player from the Aston Villa victory, so interconnected was the performance. Steve Cooper had his decision to hand a full debut to Odysseas Vlachodimos entirely vindicated by a clean sheet, while Harry Toffolo’s third start of the season produced two assists and Moussa Niakhate thrived in the middle again. And that is important because the pressure trickling down from a twitchy owner had become intensely public again.

Six games without a win and against one of the form teams in the country, Forest produced one of their best displays since promotion. Aston Villa were restricted to their lowest total of shots on target in a game this campaign (three), while the 30 tackles the hosts produced has to represent some sort of overall seasonal high.


A win over West Ham, progression to a cup quarter-final and a draw with Brighton, with the only goal conceded in those three games being credited to one of your own players after a horrid deflection, represents quite the week.

Sean Dyche has referenced “trying to build” something at Everton on a few occasions since he was given planning permission and a hard hat. There are few better men to put foundations in place towards becoming hard to beat, even if that has left some fans feeling a little cold at this point in the process.



It could easily have been construed as a tribute to Joao Palhinha, the booking-adjacent difference between Fulham surviving and going down this season, but the yellow cards displayed by supporters in the 18th minute at Craven Cottage this weekend were a welcome kickback to the creeping greed of their misguided owners.

The Khans can try and justify having the most expensive Premier League season ticket and charging three-figure sums for, at best, top-flight mid-table football all they want. And they have. But they needed to know that their incremental steps on the toes of devoted supporters were not going to be tolerated in frustrated silence forever.

It is preposterous to have a football club in any division that seems to cater for visiting or even neutral fans more than it does home supporters. That is not to say that travelling teams should be treated with hostility and disrespect, more that people with Fulham in their blood, the ones who are there every other week no matter what, cannot be taken eternally for granted – and certainly not be seen as an afterthought to the more touristy element of match-goers. There is a place for that, but not so high in the pecking order.

We are also aware that the Manchester United fixture is notorious for non-Fulham supporting fans finding their way in to home supporter areas,” said the Fulham Supporters’ Trust before the game. “We hope the club, in increasing prices as they are, will be making every effort to ensure that this does not happen and that any non-Fulham supporting fans subsequently identified in home areas are removed and prevented from buying tickets in the future.”

It was a pointed comment which made the club look even more foolish upon watching any replay of some fans celebrating behind the goal when Bruno Fernandes scored.

There has long been a danger of that relationship between the ownership and supporters being abused, of the former taking advantage of the latter’s blind loyalty while dressing it up as necessary business practice. The FST referred to the £160 charged for some seats in the new Riverside Stand as “the highest we have ever seen for individual matchday sales” and it would be an insult to suggest it was even vaguely worth it.

Earlier this season, during the same interview in which he batted off complaints about charging £100 for tickets to a home game against Liverpool by simply saying they “sold out in about an hour,” Shahid Khan explained that the inflated prices were in part to help raise “money to invest in the squad”. Astronomical TV deals obviously cannot possibly help in that regard, so it is on the supporters to get enough cash together to afford a striker who might help those ticket prices at least cover Premier League football next season. Because make no mistake, Fulham are in a battle against relegation, as well as a fight against themselves.


As a newly-promoted side there are generally a few fundamental boxes to tick in the Premier League: maintain strong home form, keep games tight, and trust the players who got you there, while adding necessary quality where possible across the pitch.

Burnley have suffered a record six successive defeats at Turf Moor to start their season, kept no clean sheets, lost more games by two (three) or three (four) goals than they have by one (two), and Vincent Kompany seems to remain blissfully unaware of who to play and where. A 34-year-old Jay Rodriguez was Burnley’s 21st different starter already this season, and ninth different man to start in one of the three chief forward positions, while they named an eighth unique starting defence against Crystal Palace. It has made for a potent combination of the worst attack and second-worst defence in the league.


Liverpool 2.oh
The latest Premier League equaliser Liverpool have scored since December 2015, when Divock Origi’s deflected effort against West Brom sparked celebrations widely ridiculed outside the club but helped engender a belief and mentality inside it which helped launch a period of immense success.

There will be no repeat of that effect thanks to Luis Diaz’s looped header against Luton, so clearly were those two points dropped in a situation when it could somehow have been even worse.

The Liverpool of last season likely lose that match but the iteration of Jurgen Klopp’s teams from years gone by, the challengers they are hoping to emulate, would have won it. That neatly reflects a Reds side in between those two polar opposites as a brilliant project, but a work in progress all the same.


Nayef Aguerd
Neal Maupay scoring two goals since February 2022 and both of them coming against West Ham is objectively funny. It is entirely necessary to make that known. There is no other way to address this situation without first acknowledging that.

There can be no greater show of annoyance than David Moyes referring to a passage of defending as “Keystone Cops”. It is football’s ultimate ‘I’m not angry, just disappointed’. Although the former centre-half did later describe himself as “disgusted” at the idea of being so inept when assessing “the small things” West Ham stumbled on at Brentford.

Among those would probably be not challenging an otherwise free Tomas Soucek in the air for the first goal, not taking an abysmal touch under no pressure to concede the corner from which Brentford scored their second, and not being summarily humiliated by Nathan Collins for the third.

There are plenty of facets in Aguerd’s game to appreciate but his season so far has been marred by individual mistakes and exploited weaknesses; neither he nor West Ham would suffer for Moyes affording him a spell on the sidelines.


Aston Villa (a)
Aston Villa are top of a Premier League home table, scoring at least four more goals in such games than any other team. They are 13th in an away table, conceding more such goals than everyone bar West Ham, Luton, Bournemouth and Sheffield United.

“We won 11 matches in a row at home and that is fantastic. Away it is a challenge. Today I learned again,” Unai Emery said after defeat at The City Ground. “We are calm and relaxed, we have to be stronger defensively away.”

It would help if the best goalkeeper in the world didn’t chuck one in but regardless, Villa have work to do. They should take those low blocks deployed with increasing regularity by the opposition as a compliment before devising ways past them.


It is imperative to avoid outcome bias when discussing a match which probably should have finished 0-0 on balance but was settled by a goal almost specifically designed for a You Are The Ref comic strip, so numerous were the ways in which it could have been disallowed.

The post-match narratives barely waited for the final whistle to dictate that Newcastle simply wanted it more than Arsenal, that they outthought and outfought them. Those are lazy tropes masquerading as analysis. Some matches are just balanced so delicately between two evenly-matched opponents that both leave themselves vulnerable to the whims of such a decisive moment.

Arsenal have benefited from that before but sometimes it goes against them. The same can be said for every club. There need not be an inquest after every defeat and barely anything new was learned about the Gunners, beyond the revelation that even ranting furiously does not disrupt a hair on Mikel Arteta’s head.

Eddie Nketiah is not quite of the requisite standard on a consistent basis, and certainly not in games of this calibre. William Saliba is phenomenal. Declan Rice is brilliant. Martin Odegaard and Gabriel Jesus are vital to this team. Fabio Vieira only seems to be effective in certain circumstances. Nothing to see here.

Arsenal are losers in the most literal of senses and that is fine.


The only visiting team to fail to score at Old Trafford in the Premier League so far this season. The first team to ever drop Premier League points to Luton. The first team to beat Manchester City this season. One of two teams, alongside Liverpool, to avoid defeat against Aston Villa and Newcastle. The first team to lose to Sheffield United this season.

Wolves have enough on their plate fighting Howard Webb’s biweekly attempts to relegate them, without painting themselves into a corner as the top flight’s biggest riddle wrapped in a mystery.

It does feel a little bit like it’s Pedro Neto or bust, mind. No shame in relying heavily on your best player, but when he is unavailable it creates a bit of an issue.


Not since Roberto De Zerbi’s first five Premier League games in charge have Brighton gone on as long a winless run as this. Throw in all competitions and it is one victory in eight matches and a single clean sheet all season – against a historically bad Ajax.

De Zerbi is entirely justified in finally playing a card he pledged never to use when suggesting he had “already forgotten” Moises Caicedo even before the midfielder’s summer departure was fully ratified. “I would like to see the other teams if they have lost three important players in the transfer market and then lose another three big players through injury,” he said after the Everton draw, citing the sales of Caicedo, Alexis Mac Allister and Robert Sanchez, then absences which include Danny Welbeck, Solly March, Pervis Estupinan and Julio Enciso.

But that is a fundamental aspect of management, and particularly the Brighton model. De Zerbi accepted all the plaudits when the Seagulls were flying so he cannot point out that his wings have been clipped when things start heading slightly south. Sometimes you just get Dyche’d.


Thirteen Premier League games against Manchester City and an aggregate score of 44-7. That’s an ooft.


Jeremy Doku
Imagine only scoring or assisting five of your side’s six goals in a single game.