Southampton get both barrels for surrendering to the Championship, with Spurs so desperate to look like the wisest people in the room they fail to see their idiocy.
In the entire history of the Premier League, there have been 14 winning runs of 11 consecutive games or more. Pep Guardiola accounts for five of them, building each of his last four titles on such unbending sequences.
After reaching 18 in 2017/18, 14 in 2018/19, 15 in 2020/21 and 12 in 2021/22, Manchester City racked up their 11th straight victory against Everton, with Ilkay Gundogan their silent leader by example. When they take to marathons like sprints, best of luck keeping up with or catching them.
A stunning victory by any metric. But it bears repeating: the two players Brighton sold to Arsenal for £77m were exposed, be it Benjamin White in a losing battle with Kaoru Mitoma or Leandro Trossard’s mistake leading to Deniz Undav’s goal, while the striker the Gunners happily let leave in Danny Welbeck was influential at the Emirates and has been gloriously repurposed for this European push.
Wherever you look, there are signs of joined-up thinking and phenomenal planning throughout this Brighton side. Championship keeper Jason Steele’s emergence as an elite ball-playing shot-stopper; the continued brilliance of Pascal Gross; Roberto De Zerbi’s incredible coaching without a pre-season and any of his own players to work with. It all adds up to a club doing absolutely everything right, quite neatly leapfrogging one doing everything wrong in Spurs.
It has required input from both sides, but Brentford are guaranteed to finish above Chelsea in a league pyramid for the first time since 1939. Considering the Bees were promoted to the Premier League on the same day the Blues won the Champions League, that is no small feat.
In the past week, the Newcastle striker has said each of the following:
“Best player I’ve ever played with, I would say, is probably Marcus Rashford. I think he’s now come into form and people are starting to see the best of him, but even before that, you know, as someone who has played with him and trained with him, you see his quality and how good he actually is. You’re just waiting for him to do it on a more regular and consistent basis. Now he’s starting to do that, the whole world is putting him in the kind of category that he should be in.”
“Give me the ball now. I am the penalty taker here, it’s time for me to step up. I’m taking it. Either way, if it’s a penalty I’m taking it.”
“[Xhaka] is obviously just wasting time. I think every one of their players went down at some point and got the physio on. And got up after a couple of minutes of delay. They obviously come with that clear tactic. When you are the home team trying to get momentum in the game, it frustrates you.”
Wilson then went on to overtake Rashford for Premier League goals this season – extending his top-flight career lead over the Man Utd striker to four goals in 39 fewer games – with two penalties in a crucial Newcastle draw, before being booked for wasting time going off as a substitute. Some glorious prophesising from a player in supreme form.
The Fulham midfielder might not be the sort to derive extra pleasure out of sinking one of the final knives into the helpless corpse of his former club, but he would have been forgiven a moment of quiet career introspection while escorting Southampton off the Premier League premises.
Reed made the mistake of breaking through at St Mary’s when Saints were at their strongest, forced to feed off the scrappy minutes left by an imperious midfield of Morgan Schneiderlin, Victor Wanyama, Adam Lallana, James Ward-Prowse, Jack Cork and Steven Davis. After making six Premier League starts in seven years, Reed backed himself with loans in the Championship with Norwich, Blackburn and Fulham.
That last spell was not quite as linear as one step back and two steps forward – Reed went down with the Cottagers in 2021 before helping guide them straight back up – but his understated brilliance has been the key behind this record-breaking Fulham season. Fifteen is a club-record for wins in a single Premier League campaign, with that 53-point bar of 2008/09 in touching distance.
A tackle-assist from Reed for Carlos Vinicius’ opener pretty much summed him up while neatly encapsulating much of what Southampton lack. Rarely has £6m been better spent, nor as needlessly squandered.
That Aston Villa midfield
With many supposedly elite clubs contriving to stumble into this summer with an entirely self-inflicted need to reconstruct their entire midfield, it is funny to see the usual demands that at least £50m is spent on each player in the position.
Liverpool supporters will protest against the owners if Alexis Mac Allister isn’t joined by Manuel Ugarte, Nicolo Barella and the spirit of Jude Bellingham. Todd Boehly might suffer some sort of health scare if Enzo Fernandez doesn’t start next season as the cheapest player in Chelsea’s engine room. Spurs have a desperate need to improve their options which was only further highlighted at Villa Park.
Lessons will never be learned and it will go entirely ignored that Aston Villa signed their phenomenal midfield of Douglas Luiz’s control and the chaos of John McGinn for £17m. The former scored, misplaced three passes and completed all five long balls he attempted; the latter had more dribbles than any opposition player (three), was fouled more often than anyone for either side (four times) and made the most interceptions (four). Both combined to completely and utterly dominate Spurs.
Only one of Awoniyi’s eight Premier League goals this season has come in defeat for Nottingham Forest. The striker has scored in three 1-0 wins, while netting consecutive braces in the space of six days to secure a 4-3 victory and 2-2 draw. Rough maths makes those contributions alone out to be worth 13 points – a contribution more priceless than unlucky in this relegation battle.
Before this season, only four Crystal Palace players had registered double figures for non-penalty goals in a single campaign: Chris Armstrong in 1992/93, Andy Johnson in 2004/05, Christian Benteke in 2016/17 and 2020/21 and Wilfried Zaha in 2018/19.
On no occasion had a player ever assisted ten or more goals for the Eagles in one Premier League season; Wayne Routledge’s nine in 2004/05 remained the high point.
Yet in 2022/23, with Michael Olise’s glorious crossfield ball to set up Eberechi Eze’s scintillating run and finish, both players brought their goal contributions to a lovely round 10 against Bournemouth. Olise now ranks fifth for all-time Palace Premier League assists, with Eze in the top 10 for goals. At 21 at 24 respectively, the future is bright whether Wilfried Zaha stays or not.
Should the world’s most expensive defender be reduced to substitute cameos when desperately protecting slender leads? Perhaps not. But Maguire has not conceded a Premier League goal in 544 minutes, dating back to the defeats to Brentford and Brighton in August. It might not be a role he likes at Man Utd, but he is damn good at it all the same.
As far as mottos go for football club owners, it feels like ‘the league table always lies’ and ‘if it ain’t broke, consider breaking it’ are sub-optimal. There is nothing false about Southampton’s position, and seemingly no-one capable of fixing their myriad problems.
This is not solely on Rasmus Ankersen, much as it is isn’t down entirely to the decisions of Sport Republic, the botched managerial reigns of Ralph Hasenhuttl, Nathan Jones or Ruben Selles, a uniquely flawed recruitment strategy, the complete abandonment of their identity or the fine balancing act Premier League clubs outside the protected elite must master to survive and thrive. Brighton and Brentford will know that as brilliant as their administration has been recently, one wrong step can start the spiral.
As it is, one particular line in those many long reads dissecting Southampton’s demise stood out. ‘The ownership did not see much difference between the Championship and Premier League,’ Jacob Tanswell wrote in The Athletic of the choice to appoint top-flight novice Jones in November. They might notice a couple of contrasts this summer and next season.
Arsenal’s Saliba-less nights
It turns out Rob Holding might not have been the problem; Arsenal’s best centre-half is just that difficult to replace mid-season.
Arsenal’s Premier League record with William Saliba on the pitch in 2022/23: P27 W21 D3 L3 F61 A25, with 2.44 points per game (93 over a season), 12 clean sheets and a goal conceded every 97 minutes.
Arsenal’s Premier League record without William Saliba on the pitch in 2022/23: P9 W4 D3 L2 F22 A17, with 1.66 points per game (63 over a season), one clean sheet and a goal conceded every 48.5 minutes.
Sometimes the numbers tell enough of a story. Sometimes Jakub Kiwior decides to sort his footwear out instead of defending the six-yard box. And it probably should be pointed out that Manchester City are still on track to beat the 93-point mark the Gunners would have theoretically reached with Saliba fit and available.
Arsenal will be back but they will need the Frenchman for the whole journey next time.
The problem with Spurs pretending they have not held discussions with Julian Nagelsmann over their vacant managerial position and do not intend to is that it makes them look incredibly dense. Using the ‘we never fancied him anyway’ defence is one thing, often a misguided attempt to claw back some respect upon rejection. But as a preemptive strike to get ahead of the narrative as you desperately insist it would be they and not you punching in this prospective relationship? That’s downright f**king stupid.
Nagelsmann has been in the Spurs frame twice: before Jose Mourinho was appointed and during the infernal search which somehow ended up with Nuno Espirito Santo’s fabled reign. They clearly like him and there is at least a cordial relationship between both parties.
The 35-year-old is also out of work, one of the most promising young coaches in world football, has a reputation for promoting attacking play and would be an excellent project manager for Spurs, who have openly stated they want to appoint a promising young coach with a reputation for attacking football as the head of a long-term project.
A club with Champions League aspirations would have to be foolish not to consider his candidacy. Appointing him is another matter but not talking to an available former Bayern Munich coach? And proudly making that public knowledge through media leaks, despite prior reports to the contrary? Daniel Levy and Spurs are so desperate to be seen as the wisest people in the room that they fail to see how remarkably ignorant and incompetent that stance is.
Ryan Mason has floated the idea of becoming the permanent Spurs manager but he will be broken by this club for as long as he is tied to it. The Aston Villa game provided an uncomfortable insight into what a team is capable of with coherent, unified thinking and, most pertinently, an ability to identify and solve a problem.
Villa started this season with Steven Gerrard as manager and Johan Lange as director of football. They acknowledged obvious issues and rectified them with the appointment of Unai Emery and impending arrival of Mathieu Alemany. Spurs replaced their manager with his inexperienced assistant and did not remove their failing director of football until he was literally banned from the sport he was supposed to direct.
“We have 10 Premier League games remaining and we have a fight on our hands for a Champions League place,” said Levy seven weeks ago, in which time Spurs have won two, drawn two and lost four games, with their remaining two fixtures critical in the battle for a Europa Conference League place, the Champions League officially out of reach.
But hey, at least Spurs aren’t talking to Julian Nagelsmann. Imagine how embarrassing that would be.
Massimo Taibi against Chelsea. Emmanuel Eboue against Wigan. Ade Akinbiyi against Liverpool. Into the Premier League Hall of Fame for slapdash individual performances Junior Firpo goes after those farcical 90 minutes.
“This is going to be better than the last one – it couldn’t be worse,” the left-back said ahead of this season, having spent most of the previous one dealing with a range of injuries. But new depths were plumbed at home to Newcastle with a bizarre slip leading to the concession of a penalty, a dreadful and completely unnecessary shin-high tackle on Bruno Guimaraes near the halfway line, a genuinely inexplicable handball to give away a second spot kick and a season-ending foul on Anthony Gordon in stoppage-time. Based on that display, Sam Allardyce might not lament the consequences of that final mistake all that much.
Getting booed by the fans when being substituted is one thing but being called a sh*thouse by Jordan Pickford for playing the ball onto his wrong foot under immense pressure is another.
Holgate completed three passes in 54 minutes which featured no tackles or interceptions, two fouls and zero aerial duels won, including one in which he barely competed against Erling Haaland for the second Manchester City goal.
In the 26-year-old’s defence, Holgate has managed to make his five Premier League starts this season in three different positions for two different managers. But his personal record from eight appearances in 2022/23 is W0 D3 L5 F4 A16 and that does not bode too well in a relegation battle.
The first signing of the Frank Lampard era – impossible not to love a transfer ban in which a three-time Champions League winner can still be bought from Real Madrid for £40m – perfectly captured the mood of the manager’s second Chelsea coming.
“I know he had a bit of an issue going into the game. It was clear yesterday in training,” Lampard said post-match of a player he picked to face Nottingham Forest anyway, despite their win over Bournemouth coming with Kovacic watching a spirited, battling midfield display from the bench.
The result was predictable enough: 45 troubled minutes in which Kovacic gave the ball away in the build-up to the first Forest goal and offered nothing positive of note before being taken off at half-time. It was likely his last game for Chelsea. And what a way to say goodbye.
After making nine changes to his starting line-up, David Moyes cannot have expected anything more coherent from West Ham away at Brentford.
Perhaps the omen was even a positive one: four days after losing 2-0 away at the Bees last April, West Ham went to France and beat Lyon in a finely-poised Europa League quarter-final. Four days after losing 2-0 away at the Bees this May, they travel to AZ Alkmaar in an even Europa Conference League semi-final. Whatever works for you, Dave.
Probably going to need to win the ball – or at the very least vaguely disrupt the developing attack – if you decide to rush out of position at centre-half to try and close someone down in the centre circle.
Frank de Boer
If that roulette on the edge of the Bournemouth penalty area didn’t prove that Joel Ward can play at wing-back then nothing will.