Patrick Vieira and David Moyes look increasingly unequipped to turn around sinking ships, while Gary O’Neil embarrassed Liverpool and Leandro Trossard shone.
Compare and contrast the post-match manager assessments from Bournemouth’s two Premier League meetings with Liverpool this season. Scott Parker basically goaded his superiors into sacking him in August by predicting more thrashings for a team which was “underequipped at this level”. Gary O’Neil was “disappointed we didn’t score more than one” in revenge over the Reds eight months later.
There was perhaps a modicum of belated vindication for Parker at the weekend. The main points he made in mitigation for losing 9-0 at the start of the season were related to a perceived lack of investment. It just so happened that £20m January signing Dango Ouattara was Bournemouth’s best player against Liverpool.
But the rest were at the club and readily available for that Anfield mauling; it’s just that O’Neil used them far better.
Four players started both games against Liverpool and bore none of the scars. Adam Smith held his own. Marcos Senesi was influential at either end. Jefferson Lerma helped dominate the midfield battle. Jaidon Anthony put in a shift.
With Philip Billing continuing his goalscoring form, Dominic Solanke playing a quietly brilliant playmaking role and Lloyd Kelly contributing to a wonderful defensive performance upon his return from injury, this was a crowning tactical moment for O’Neil’s coaching journey. His counter-attacking approach was perfect, the in-game system changes were flawless and the substitutions were exemplary. Liverpool had no sufficient response. But most impressive of all was the shift in mentality, conviction and belief.
When it was confirmed that Gabriel Jesus would have to undergo knee surgery during the World Cup break in December, Arsenal led the Premier League table by five points. It was assumed by many that their spirited challenge would end there. That the advantage had not been lost in the three months until the Brazilian’s resurrection for a substitute cameo against Fulham is testament to the Gunners’ brilliance and resilience.
Arsenal in particular have had title contenderships decimated by injury in the past, but their starting striker’s absence has been alleviated by phenomenal coaching, a fine turn from Eddie Nketiah and a January addition which plenty of supporters practically protested over.
Leandro Trossard was seen by many as a bland, unimaginative and soft-spoken brief from an unnamed spokesperson at a time Arsenal needed Mikel Arteta and his operation to throw their weight behind a statement signing. But it is difficult to imagine Mykhaylo Mudryk having the same impact as his far more experienced and oven-ready transfer Plan B.
There is the headline point about Trossard becoming the first player to ever record a hat-trick of assists in the first half of a Premier League away game, which is simultaneously mightily impressive yet also a wonderful example of those ludicrously convoluted stats. But it is the less obvious way in which he enables his teammates to thrive through rotations, fluid movement and that potent double-footedness which marks Trossard out as a stunning success story for an exceptional recruitment team. The Belgian has played as big a part as anyone in helping Arsenal maintain their edge.
Graham Potter will know that one productive week cannot overwrite five months’ worth of struggle and strife. Before that hat-trick of Chelsea victories over Leeds, Borussia Dortmund and Leicester, the Blues had to go back 16 games to early November to find their previous three wins.
But things are slowly starting to click. Chelsea look more comfortable in this formation, Mateo Kovacic and Ben Chilwell have returned from periods on the sidelines and had an immediate positive impact, there are shoots of progress for Mudryk and confidence is flowing through Kai Havertz.
With Enzo Fernandes knitting it all together, there is the fabric of a solid Chelsea team being worked on. One glance at Potter is enough to comprehend the weight that has been lifted from his shoulders. No manager for whom this post was supposedly too big would have the requisite minerals to make an excellent half-time substitution of Conor Gallagher for Joao Felix, nor to leave the apparently uninjured Mason Mount out of his squad completely.
A “shit” season though it has been by the player and his manager’s own assessments, Richarlison flushed those concerns away with an impactful display. After the setback of his early offside goal, the Brazilian played a part in the legitimate opener, won the penalty to make it 2-0 and then set up the third goal. Antonio Conte got his desired response.
There is also probably a point to make about Fraser Forster genuinely being Tottenham’s best signing of the season, but let the continuing normalised brilliance of Harry Kane, a breakout performance from Pedro Porro and an actual real-life goal by Heung-min Son take the spotlight for the time being.
Richarlison slagging off conte in an interview, conte slagging off richarlison, starting him in the next game, scoring after 4 minutes, shushing conte only for it to be ruled offside is the most Tottenham sequence events imaginable
— Billie (@Billie_T) March 11, 2023
A nice and round 30 of Sean Dyche’s 75 Premier League wins (40%) have been 1-0, with Tony Pulis (41.8%) possessing the only higher proportion of overall top-flight victories by such a scoreline.
That naturally attracts a certain reaction in many quarters but it is an effective, pragmatic style at a time Everton need it most. Even just having a recognisable philosophy, discernible patterns of play and a coherent identity is a dramatic improvement on what came before.
Everton have made up ground in terms of points on every team bar one who was in the bottom half upon Dyche’s appointment in January; Wolves have kept the same pace of 10 points from seven games. And the Toffees have developed quite the reputation as a sticking point for unbeaten runs: Arsenal and Brentford had not lost in 13 and 12 Premier League games respectively before falling at Goodison Park.
Everton have made a habit of tripping over their own shoelaces in increasingly avoidable and catastrophic ways but they bloody well landed on their feet with Dyche.
A first Premier League win in six games. The first time Newcastle have scored more than a single goal at St James’ Park in a league match since October 29. The first time Newcastle have conceded an equaliser but still won a game since April 2021. A necessary and purely functional victory to reboot a flagging season.
It was also the first time in six attempts that Newcastle have won a fixture Alexander Isak started. The Swede took his opening goal tremendously well and was substituted in the 68th minute, with Wolves pulling level almost immediately before Miguel Almiron’s subsequent winner. The Magpies need their record signing fit and firing, obvious as it sounds.
There have only ever been 13 better goalscoring Premier League seasons, spread across 10 different players, than Erling Haaland’s uncompleted debut campaign thus far. The Norwegian has 11 games remaining to surpass the following: Alan Shearer (34 goals in 94/95, 31 goals in 95/96 and 31 goals in 93/94), Andy Cole (34 goals in 93/94), Mo Salah (32 goals in 17/18), Luis Suarez (31 goals in 13/14), Cristiano Ronaldo (31 goals in 07/08), Harry Kane (30 goals in 17/18, 29 goals in 16/17), Robin van Persie (30 goals in 11/12), Thierry Henry (30 goals in 03/04), Kevin Phillips (30 goals in 99/00) and Didier Drogba (29 goals in 09/10).
Three clean sheets in four games for Gavin Bazunu, who conceded 40 goals from 84 shots on target faced in 22 Premier League games under Ralph Hasenhuttl and Nathan Jones, compared to one from 12 with Ruben Selles in charge. Those saves from Raphael Varane and Bruno Fernandes were particularly splendid. And well done to Southampton for having the wherewithal not to be leading 1-0 when their opponent had a man sent off. Much easier that way.
#SaintsFC kept one clean sheet in 22 games before Ruben Selles took charge.
It's now three in four. The building blocks are obvious
— Jacob Tanswell (@J_Tanswell) March 12, 2023
Within the last 18 months, Patrick Vieira has been regarded by many as a potential successor to Pep Guardiola at Manchester City. Arsenal sporting director Edu was reported to have advocated his former teammate when it came to replacing Unai Emery in December 2019.
Defeat to the former has only intensified a level of scrutiny which the latter will hope to exploit when they face Crystal Palace on Sunday, provided Vieira can make it past Brighton in midweek.
It could be a pivotal week in the Frenchman’s Selhurst Park reign. Games against the two Premier League clubs he played for sandwich a fixture which underlines Palace’s shortcomings more than any other – even if they are unbeaten in seven meetings with Brighton.
A 1-0 defeat to Manchester City is not a particularly bad start on paper, but on the pitch it was an unprecedented third successive game without a shot on target, and a precarious gameplan exposed by one mistake in 90 minutes. With that attacking output, the impact of fouls such as those committed by Michael Olise on Ilkay Gundogan in the closing stages are inevitably magnified.
Erling Haaland converted the penalty and extended his own personal lead over Palace to 28 goals versus 21 in the Premier League; the Norwegian has outscored Vieira’s side for 207 of the season’s 220 days thus far.
Perhaps that is to be expected from an attack of which Jordan Ayew forms a regular part, or when £25.5m is the sum total spent on three strikers (Ayew, Odsonne Edouard and Jean-Philippe Mateta) since the club-record signing of Christian Benteke for £27m in summer 2016.
But for all the legitimate complaints about squad investment, this team can undeniably do better. It often has, and intermittently against Manchester City. Vieira needs to reawaken the talent and ability in a potentially thrilling side before Palace decide to find someone else who will.
From last week’s winners and losers:
‘It is worth reiterating that while This Means More, a 7-0 victory does not necessarily indicate Liverpool are back. Their previous turned corners this season include a 9-0 thrashing of Bournemouth, 10 days after which they were being humbled at Napoli, a 7-1 shellacking of Rangers, 10 days after which they were being turned over by Nottingham Forest, and consecutive 2-0 victories over Everton and Newcastle, which led into a 5-2 humiliation against Real Madrid.’
Add to that list a seven-goal destruction of Man Utd, six days after which Liverpool were deservedly beaten by a team they put nine unanswered goals past earlier this season, and this season of turned corners quickly resembles a baffling maze.
As added in the previous edition of this column: ‘The Liverpool that Jurgen Klopp built would have known to savour that result and performance before putting it to one side and moving on. As much as Man Utd’s reaction will shape their season, the same has to be said for their conquerors.’
Trent Alexander-Arnold admitting the opposition “probably wanted it more than us” and Klopp declaring that “we played for pretty much 95 minutes the game Bournemouth wanted to play” suggest that said Liverpool reaction was suboptimal.
The mentality monsters look inhibited. Liverpool have now lost three games this season to teams who were 20th at the time: Nottingham Forest, Leeds and Bournemouth. They are 12th in a Premier League away table, below Southampton and level with Leicester. Their longest unbeaten run this campaign is shorter than Bournemouth and Everton’s and equal to Nottingham Forest’s.
Those remaining few shocked by Liverpool flitting so seamlessly between the incredible and the ignominious will soon learn that the Reds are content to rely on reputation instead of reinvention. That will only get Liverpool so far – and absolutely not into the Champions League.
“They are getting a very experienced Premier League manager,” said David Moyes of his own actual self upon his second appointment as West Ham manager. “I think there’s only two or three managers with a better Premier League win record. That’s what I do, I win.”
Moyes does indeed rank third for wins as a Premier League manager (250), behind only Sir Alex Ferguson (528) and Arsene Wenger (476). But he also ranks third for games as a Premier League manager (647), second for defeats as a Premier League manager (226, 13 behind Harry Redknapp) and second for goals conceded as a Premier League manager (819, 30 behind Redknapp).
That’s what he does, he wins. And he loses. And his teams concede many goals. Those are the consequences of longevity rather than ability.
“I’m here to get West Ham wins and get them away from the bottom three,” Moyes said in December 2019. Now outside of the relegation zone on goal difference alone, the Hammers are back to that miserable square one almost three and a half years later. And with 15 wins from his last 53 Premier League games, it really doesn’t feel as though Moyes is equipped to rescue them this time.
The perfect hat-trick: a stud-raking high boot into Kai Havertz’s stomach, perhaps the single worst offside trap in recorded history and a header missed under no pressure from about two yards.
There are more culpable individuals in Leicester’s sleepwalk towards relegation. Brendan Rodgers was taunted by his own fans and booed for the substitution of Papy Mendy, while Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall missed a sitter and Wout Faes continued his hapless debut season. But it does sum the situation up neatly when Amartey, who has not improved since joining the Foxes as an average defender in their title-winning season, is starting games regularly.
It is fundamentally harsh to single out one player from a poor Nottingham Forest performance, but it did not feel like a coincidence to read reports that Jesse Lingard’s one-year contract at the City Ground was not planned for a renewal after a disappointing display against Tottenham.
Making his first start since late December, Lingard had neither a shot nor created a chance, extending his personal run of Premier League games without a goal or an assist to 29. Steve Cooper made his point by bringing the 30-year-old off at half-time. Easy scapegoat though he is, Lingard himself will admit it simply hasn’t worked out for any of the parties involved.
A severe punishment for an unintended infringement, perhaps, but a tackle which did lend itself to misfortune. There will be a 10-game Premier League stretch in which Casemiro has been suspended for seven matches, been sent off in two and lost 7-0 in the other. Man Utd need a little more reliability and stability than that in central midfield.
Fulham without their talisman
In the three Premier League games Joao Palhinha has missed this season, Fulham have lost 4-1, 3-2 and 3-1. Only once in his 24 appearances have they conceded more than two goals. No wonder there is a potential £60m auction for Europe’s leading tackler.
🤯 10 of the 37 league goals Fulham have conceded this season (27%) have come in the 3 games Joao Palhinha has missed through suspension… pic.twitter.com/2fZk0Qn2Ly
— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) March 12, 2023
Jonny Castro Otto was pretty dreadful for 68 minutes and Rayan Ait-Nouri’s positioning and awareness for Newcastle’s winning goal was deplorable. It is a kinder assessment of Hugo Bueno but condemnatory of Wolves that they are so heavily reliant on a 20-year-old academy product who only made his professional debut five months ago.
“Right now I’m king of the castle, everything is good. Then we lose the next five games and I’m sh*t.”
Brentford did win their next game against Fulham, but Thomas Frank knows exactly how this works.
Looks like we won’t get all the goals on next week’s Match of the Day. And forget nipping out to squeeze one final pint in before last orders. It was fun while it lasted.
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