Brighton and Bournemouth are booming, while Callum Wilson predicted his brilliance. But Leeds are sliding towards the abyss as a ‘broken’ club in the ‘sh*t’.
In this current era of perennial football ownership angst, it is a wonder just how simple Tony Bloom and Brighton have made it look. Don’t get it wrong: they operate with the same advantages and constraints as any other club outside the gilded elite. It’s just that the poker expert plays his hand considerably better than everyone else.
The biggest win in Brighton’s top-flight history, a victory which keeps them in a strong position for European qualification, and one secured with none of their four most in-demand assets starting. Moises Caicdeo, Alexis MacAllister, Kaoru Mitoma and Evan Ferguson played 84 combined minutes against Wolves and will all stay for the 2025/26 Treble if they know what’s good for them.
After explaining how he was “disappointed that we didn’t put the game to bed” and “let me enjoy the last 20 minutes by scoring a couple more” in the 1-0 win over Southampton, Gary O’Neil must have been delighted that Leeds were tucked in nice and tight with third and fourth goals in the final half an hour of a 4-1 victory.
Bournemouth are suddenly 10 points clear of relegation. The Cherries have picked up 2.11 points per match against the sides from 16th to 20th, basing their survival bid on beating the teams around them. Sorry, those who used to be around them; they are now behind Chelsea on goal difference alone. What a phenomenal job O’Neil has done.
Manchester City’s little and large
Erling Haaland and Julian Alvarez have started nine games together for Manchester City, in which they have scored 11 and eight goals respectively. Both have scored in six of those matches and neither have scored in three (0-0 v Dortmund in October; 0-1 v Spurs in February; 3-0 v Sheffield United in April). It’s all or nothing with that partnership, but the far former more often than not. And Pep Guardiola is using it with increasing frequency to help fuel this trophy pursuit.
“A little week like that is perfect really, training, sun and a bit of relaxation to switch off from football for a few days,” said Callum Wilson of Newcastle’s warm weather training camp in March, a break the Magpies embarked on after three wins in 10 Premier League games, with a run of six wins from seven commencing since their return.
“You feel like you’re ready to go again, like it’s a new season for me and all of a sudden it’s just going to be goals galore flying in the next few weeks,” Wilson added of that opportunity to “recharge the batteries”. With eight goals in April after scoring seven times in the previous eight months, it does seem to have gone to plan. The 31-year-old has the best minutes-per-goal ratio this season of any actual mortal – 103.6, ahead of Alexander Isak (107.8) but behind only Haaland (70.9). There aren’t enough warm weather training camps in the world to catch him.
It bore the hallmarks of one of those starting line-ups which get posted on Twitter intermittently by football meme accounts, with some sort of caption about how ‘Sir Alex Ferguson was winning trophies with teams like this’. Think Wolfsburg 2009/10, when Michael Owen scored a hat-trick to drag a defence of Park Ji-sung, Darren Fletcher, Michael Carrick and Patrice Evra, stationed in front of Tomasz Kuszczak, to victory at the home of the Bundesliga champions.
A defence of Diogo Dalot, Victor Lindelof, Luke Shaw and Tyrell Malacia at least featured three players in their natural position with starting keeper David de Gea behind, but the way some suggested Man Utd’s season would disintegrate without Lisandro Martinez and Raphael Varane made it seem like a mishmash selection.
It was anything but as that backline was instrumental in keeping Aston Villa from scoring for the first time since late October. Erik ten Hag deserves enormous credit for finding such balance despite injuries, with Lindelof the standout performer. That late block from Douglas Luiz summed up an accomplished display from a centre-half who pocketed Ollie Watkins and misplaced two passes all game against a ferocious press to make Bruno Fernandes’ moaning all worth it.
From absolutely nowhere, six consecutive Premier League starts for the first time in his career has reintroduced Jones as Liverpool midfield option at the perfect time. They needed his tenacity and energy at the back end of this season and his “big head” will come in handy when the Reds need to revamp their entire engine room.
A first Premier League win of the season for Brentford when having the most possession. After mastering the pressure-soaking counter-attack against Man Utd (33.3%), Leeds (31.1%), Brighton (27.5%), Manchester City (25%), West Ham (36%), Liverpool (27%), Bournemouth (49.9%, and yes that arbitrarily numbered technicality is stretching it), Southampton (48.3%), Fulham (36.2%), Southampton again (33.6%) and Chelsea (27.1%), Thomas Frank’s side enjoyed 69% of the ball while beating Nottingham Forest. Nice.
Still locked just one Premier League goal behind Erling Haaland, which is fitting given his glorious performance as a selfless No. 9. Ayew knitted it all together beautifully against West Ham as the fulcrum around which an excellent Crystal Palace attack buzzed.
No forward in Europe’s top five leagues has made more tackles in the attacking third (21) and only four have been fouled more often (79). Wilfried Zaha (73) and Jack Grealish (70) finally have competition for that particular Premier League crown from Ayew, the king of attacking self-sacrifice finally getting his due.
Lucky sod. It remains the case that no player has ever won the Premier League title with three different clubs; enjoy that while it lasts because Brighton are getting England’s 2014 World Cup squad back together for the ultimate redemption arc.
The catalogue of errors was torn up in favour of an anthology of mistakes. A triple substitution at half-time is some going from Julen Lopetegui, who suffered the heaviest defeat of his entire 20-year career regardless.
Worse still for Wolves is that it really should be them in Brighton’s spot. They used to be the team chipping away at the glass ceiling, barging into the VIP parties, making themselves the most unwelcome of guests. That opportunity has passed and ambitions are rather less grandiose.
It should shame those who have presided over this Wolves slump from consecutive seventh-placed finishes to mid-table obscurity and relegation fears that their starting line-up cost £145.6m, yet it was summarily dismantled by the side Brighton put together at an expense of £63.6m. Money is all well and good but it truly is no replacement for expertise, foresight or planning, none of which Wolves seem to boast currently.
It was in the 67th minute of the defeat to Bournemouth, shortly after Dominic Solanke had made it 3-1, when a ‘broken’ Leeds owner Andrea Radrizzani took full responsibility ‘for this shit’. He described the situation as ‘unacceptable’ and ‘ridiculous’, rather like a Premier League chairman sending out grovelling DMs to supporters during a relegation six-pointer.
‘Broken’ is certainly the word for Leeds. An aimless squad. A manager seemingly uninvested to the point that some are calling for the previous caretaker – Michael Skubala and his one draw and two defeats from three games – to reassume control. A group of players whose only response to being told they’re not fit to wear the shirt was to ignore the supporters who had travelled four and a half hours, watched that risible performance and waited in the team hotel for any semblance of recognition; that video of the beaming young Leeds fan being routinely ignored by departing players as he waved and stood patiently for an autograph is heartbreaking.
— ian (@igrattan) April 30, 2023
The Leeds United Supporters Advisory Board delivering a vote of no confidence in the board and team, declaring the season to be ‘a humiliating disaster’ while calling for individuals to ‘be made accountable’ and ‘immediate changes to be made’, was the perfect end to a dreadful weekend in a regrettable season.
Up next? A trip to Manchester City, then the visit of Newcastle. By the time games against West Ham and Spurs come around, it will surely be too late to save Leeds from relegation. The battle to rescue their identity and restore pride has already been lost.
Southampton were leading Arsenal 3-1 on April 21 before the impressive Romeo Lavia was replaced by Ibrahima Diallo in the 86th minute; Martin Odegaard and Bukayo Saka took advantage of the lack of midfield resistance to salvage a draw. And that is even before mentioning the decision to bring off the irrepressible Carlos Alcaraz at half-time.
Southampton were drawing 1-1 with Newcastle on April 30 before Theo Walcott was introduced for Moussa Djenepo, with Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Adam Armstrong and Mohamed Elyounoussi coming on in a triple substitution seven minutes later, the scores still level.
Walcott proceeded to score an unfortunate own goal, Wilson punished a Maitland-Niles mistake to make it 3-1, Armstrong’s only two touches were from kick-offs and Elyounoussi failed to make an impact.
“The aim was to win the game, that is always the aim,” Selles said of the triple substitution. “We had a plan and thought that with refreshment in the front, we can continue finding spaces and continue with our game plan. It didn’t work.” Quite. His changes tend not to, and four points from those games to be within a win of safety have been transformed into one and a six-point gap to survival.
The Brentford manager’s confirmation that each of his substitutions “were planned yesterday if we were struggling as a plan B,” with Josh Dasilva deployed “as the widest player”, made for an accidentally unflattering comparison with Cooper.
While the Bees retained their sting through those prearranged changes – and indeed Dasilva’s winning goal cutting in from the wing confirmed their prescience – Cooper brought on the dreadfully ineffective Andre Ayew, the world’s worst wall in Cheikhou Kouyate and Ryan Yates, whose role inexorably changed within seconds of his introduction.
Making each of those alterations at separate times, while Frank made two double substitutions and then a single one to maximise his three windows, left Nottingham Forest susceptible to the issue they encountered in the closing stages, when Danilo could neither continue nor be replaced and his side had to finish with 10 men. They were drawing 1-1 at that stage but soon succumbed to the extra pressure that situation unnecessarily invited.
Starting to think he might not be a Champions League calibre centre-half. Daft as Cristian Romero’s tackle on Cody Gakpo was to concede the penalty, it was forced by Dier’s decision to step out and upend Salah despite the Liverpool forward never actually being in possession of the ball.
That, summarily failing to track Gakpo’s run for the second goal and misplacing far too many passes made for quite the performance from a player presumably suffering with Marcus Rashford flashbacks.
West Ham have conceded four goals or more in three separate Premier League games since the start of March, having last done so before then in January 2020 (4-1 defeat to Leicester). The David Moyes thing, as confirmed by Michail Antonio recently, of staying compact and keeping things tight is long gone. It’s almost like they need a fresh approach.
It’s never a great look for a No.10 to have no shots, create no chances and complete no dribbles in a game. That was Buendia’s lowest pass completion rate (56.3%) in a Premier League match since June 2020, when he made just 47.8% of his passes for Norwich in a 3-0 defeat to Southampton, and his highest amount of miscontrols (four) in one game since December 2021.
Beyond all that was the cardinal sin of often walking around after losing the ball instead of running tirelessly to win it back. Unai Emery will surely welcome the chance to use more of the options in this squad when they are fit and available. Philippe Coutinho might as well have a fair crack of the whip if, at the very least, it reenergises Buendia.
Very, very, very funny.