The relegation race has taken yet another turn, Spurs are motoring, Man City overcame their own defence and someone should sign Teemu Pukki.
Two goals, two assists and two penalties won by Joe Gelhardt have come in 661 drip-fed minutes and directly contributed to four points for Leeds in his first Premier League season. His has been an invaluable if infrequent contribution, without which the race might already be run.
The forward has only been qualified to drive for just over three years but Gelhardt is already well-versed in finding the clutch. Stunning footwork won a penalty to salvage a draw against Wolves in October; a gorgeous cross coaxed a headed goal from Daniel James against Burnley in January; his aerial ability and determination helped him create and score the winner against Norwich in March; a presence of mind and level of improvisation belying his years and experience level forged the equaliser against Brighton on Sunday. Those crucial interventions from Gelhardt came in the fourth, second, fourth and second minutes of stoppage time respectively. The 20-year-old has scored, assisted and won each of his penalties in the 75th minute or later. Tired defenders must dread the sight of a confident, unburdened, strong and skilful striker bearing down on them with results in the balance.
The next stage is for managers to trust Gelhardt more. His four Premier League starts have been spread equally across the reigns of Marcelo Bielsa and Jesse Marsch. This was only the second time he had completed the full 90 minutes. And for the first time in his senior career, the forward has made appearances in five consecutive games. Gelhardt should be a more regular feature in whichever division Leeds end up next season; his brilliance while on a strict diet of opportunities means it could yet be in the top flight.
For the first time in their history, West Ham have qualified for European competition through league position in consecutive seasons. That accomplishment has inevitably been overlooked and trivialised by some supporters who seem to feel the Hammers should be aiming higher, but David Moyes and those more sensible fans will recognise how impressive it is.
It was almost the perfect farewell for Mark Noble, given 13 substitute minutes which could hardly be described as performative or sentimental. The 35-year-old was airdropped into the eye of a frantic and strangely unimaginative Manchester City storm and bowed out with a passing accuracy of 16.7% in his final home game, but West Ham held on for an important point.
The captain leaves this ship in capable hands. Moyes has rebooted his reputation. Jarrod Bowen’s ceiling seems seductively high. Michail Antonio must be one of the most difficult Premier League centre-forwards to stifle. Lukasz Fabianski, Kurt Zouma and Tomas Soucek ably led the resistance. It was a sublime display to be proud of.
In a Premier League table since Antonio Conte’s appointment on November 2, Spurs are third for points, goals for, goals against and wins. They were ninth, joint 19th, joint 12th and fifth on those same metrics under Nuno Espirito Santo. It really has been a quite stunning turnaround and considering the Italian has also taken five unbeaten points from a possible nine against the two obvious teams to outperform him and his players over the past six months, he can consider this a successful season regardless of Champions League qualification. The progress since Tottenham’s last meeting with Burnley is startling.
Less than a month ago, the knee ligament injury which has sidelined Matt Doherty since April 9 was rather callously described as a ‘timely top four boost’ to Tottenham’s rivals. In March, a tabloid stated that ‘Tottenham’s top-four push has been rocked by a hamstring injury to Ryan Sessegnon’. Had supporters been presented those two snippets of information in the summer they would have deemed it to be an incredibly convoluted way of trying to take the p*ss. Yet there Spurs were, losing their first game without Doherty and immediately embarking on a five-match unbeaten run since Sessegnon’s return.
Four chances created, two shots, tackles and clearances each and 11 touches in the Burnley penalty area typified yet another fine performance from the 21-year-old. The comparison might be reductive but it echoes Conte’s repurposing of a similarly overlooked Victor Moses as a reliable if limited wide option who can contribute at both ends. Sessegnon is mastering what he can control and hoping for more fortune when it comes to things he cannot. If he can stay fit, there is a clear future for him in north London.
In only three of 29 Premier League seasons has a newly-promoted team topped the table of most points won from losing positions. It started with fifth-placed Ipswich in 2000/01 (18), then the mid-table pair of 2005/06 West Ham (18) and West Brom from 2010/11 (27). With one game remaining, Brentford (15) have taken the lead on this metric from Liverpool (14).
“I hope that we have signed the right characters who really want to push, no matter what. If we’ve signed players who don’t want to cross the white line and 100 per cent win every time, then we’ve signed the wrong players,” said Thomas Frank before the Everton game. The idea that Brentford might start to surrender matches because safety was secured always felt fanciful. A top-half finish might feel arbitrary but if the Bees sting another struggling team at home in Leeds on the final day, they could emulate the ninth place achieved by their opponents as a promoted side last season. In a football world obsessed with the tangibles of trophies and survival, that would be a magnificent achievement for Frank and his unyielding players.
Perhaps unfairly tainted with that brush of being too good for the Championship but not of the requisite Premier League standard. Teemu Pukki has reached double figures for goals in both his top-flight seasons and has scored 44.8% (22 of 49) of Norwich’s overall combined tallies in 2019/20 and 2021/22 thus far. His closest teammate in that time is Todd Cantwell, who accounts for 12.2%, followed by 4.08% from Josh Sargent and Kenny McLean. Those numbers have been produced by Pukki mainly in his 30s and for different iterations of teams relegated with games to spare.
Ticking Wolves off the list means the Finnish forward has also scored against 40 of the 46 teams he has faced in English league games since joining Norwich in 2018. Next season affords him the opportunity to right a couple of those wrongs against Cardiff and Hull – maybe Everton, too – which would leave only Barnsley, Brighton and West Ham remaining. At this stage it’s genuinely worth a mid-table Premier League side considering whether to take him on for a couple of years.
Pukki is now on 78 goals and level with Grant Holt. Testament to his extraordinary movement and tireless work-rate. Never gives up running and trying to find the space to hurt teams. He has simply been amazing for us #ncfc
— Richard Balls (@RichardBalls) May 15, 2022
After all that, they will probably finish eighth with more goals than Arsenal and Manchester United. Spend that summer budget on cryogenically freezing Jamie Vardy – Leicester get 1.72 points per game when he starts, compared to 0.94 when he doesn’t – and they will be sorted.
It is a shame Mike Jackson resorted to the “I don’t know if the referee has played football” defence, something pulled directly from the Sean Dyche post-match playbook. But that frustration was understandable after what might have been Burnley’s best performance of his interim reign was tainted by such minuscule margins.
The comments felt like an echo of his predecessor but Jackson dispelled any lingering belief that his caretaker tenure was a mere continuation of the Dyche era. Burnley had not started a game with a five-man defensive formation since January 2019, when Dyche quickly abandoned the intermittent experiment after a 5-0 defeat to Manchester City followed a 5-1 thrashing by Everton. This could not have been further from those humiliations: the Clarets were organised, committed and tactically flawless in neutralising Tottenham. Matt Lowton as a left-sided central defender and Dwight McNeil at No. 10 should not particularly work but Burnley were undone by a borderline decision and posed a regular threat on the counter.
Without James Tarkowski or Ben Mee marshalling the backline, Burnley’s defiance was admirable. But after those 10 points from Jackson’s opening four games, successive defeats have combined with Leeds and Everton’s slow accrual of wins and draws to drop the Clarets back into the familiar confines of the bottom three. A bounce that seemed timed to perfection now feels about a week too short. It will come as scant consolation to Jackson that this setback was anything but self-inflicted.
“I don’t think it’s my formations or cleverness that will keep us up,” said Frank Lampard, perhaps not imbuing Everton with immediate confidence in his appointment. “It’s part of the bigger picture,” he continued, “but it’s people and the players that will keep us up, and the fans when we get together.”
Lampard was speaking after “a night of togetherness and fight and spirit” which lifted the Toffees three points clear of the relegation zone, with two games in hand on the teams directly above and below them. It felt like a turning point, even if consecutive subsequent defeats suggested otherwise.
That 1-0 victory over Newcastle in March was delivered by Alex Iwobi in stoppage-time, roughly a quarter of an hour after Allan had been sent off in controversial circumstances. “From our point of view, it was can we dig in?” Lampard said at the time. “And can we get one or two opportunities when down to 10 men?”
Those same questions were asked against Brentford, but the answer had changed. Everton overcame that disadvantage to beat Newcastle; two months and nine games later, they seemed to succumb to the waves against Brentford. The hosts led 1-0 and looked dominant before Jarrad Branthwaite’s dismissal, yet even for the period instantly after that red card they held firm. A Seamus Coleman own goal unsettled them, only for Richarlison to earn them the lead once more on the stroke of half-time. And the decisive strikes from Yoane Wissa and Rico Henry in two second-half minutes hardly came from nothing: Brentford had five unanswered shots between the 50th and 64th minutes.
It is hindsight bias but Lampard had the chance to stem that tide. His first substitution did not come until Everton were 3-2 down with 18 minutes remaining. The acceptance of a draw away at a much-changed Watford was ultimately more damaging than this and the Toffees remain in relative control of their future, but formations and cleverness will come in handy over these last two games.
Hardly a resounding response to the growing sense of stagnation ahead of a pivotal summer. Brighton, Burnley and Wolves are the only teams not to lead for a single second against Norwich so far this season. The Seagulls can take solace in the fact they never trailed against the Canaries, which the relegation-threatened Clarets and Bruno Lage’s disillusioned side cannot claim. The end of the season could not possibly come sooner.
Manchester City’s defence
It is probably a good thing they didn’t reach the Champions League final if the absences of Kyle Walker, John Stones and Ruben Dias, as well as the presence of a half-fit Nathan Ake on the bench, have reduced Manchester City’s defence to a tormentable rabble. Even Ederson and Joao Cancelo were drawn into the panic induced by Fernandinho and Aymeric Laporte’s haphazard centre-half partnership, as well as the unfocused showing of Oleksandr Zinchenko. But a touch more squad depth at the back would not go amiss. Can Erling Haaland play at left-back?
A fitting way to sign off on a historically bad Premier League season at Vicarage Road. Eight points at home equals the tally Derby registered at Pride Park in 2007/08 – only Sunderland’s vintage of 2005/06 have ever been quite as hapless in front of their own supporters in limping to seven home points.
Forty-six goals conceded at home in a season is also the worst return for a top-flight team since 1961. Roy Hodgson’s Vicarage Road record ends at: P8 W0 D1 L7 F6 A21. Of course Everton drew 0-0 there five days ago.
That should probably extinguish any remaining shouts for an England call-up. Lewis Dunk is a very good centre-half but good lord, Gelhardt turned him into a training dummy knocked over by a gust of wind.