Roy Hodgson proved that no-one can read a Premier League team quite like him, while Chelsea’s fourth manager of the season brought no change to their luck.
A football team is made up of 11 players, and even though the goalkeeper wears different colours, they are still a part of that team. At Anfield, and despite conceding two goals, Aaron Ramsdale put in a performance for Arsenal that was worthy of a championship.
It’s been a longstanding complaint that goalkeepers don’t get the credit they deserve, but Ramsdale’s performance against Liverpool spared his team what could yet prove to be a crucial point come the end of this contracting season.
Manchester City remain an object in the mirror which may be closer than it appears, lumbering along in Arsenal’s tailwind, arms outstretched and groaning, and giving up a two-goal lead from such a commanding position invites inevitable questions, such is the electron microscope under which each tiny twist and turn is scrutinised. But if strikers can be celebrated for scoring winning goals, then goalkeepers should be too, for producing actually match-winning – or in this case point-saving – saves.
It does feel a little unfair to be comparing Erling Haaland to a lumbering zombie. Never in the history of George Romero movies did the undead move with such grace and poise. When finding new superlatives becomes impossible, and talking about how difficult it is to find them also becomes impossible, then what else is there, really, to say? Another two goals away to Southampton, his 29th and 30th of the Premier League season; more than Chelsea.
The bottom line seems to be that he just reads the game five to ten seconds ahead of everybody else. His first goal at St Mary’s started with a run from a deep position, sweeping round the static Southampton defenders and gifting himself the perfect position to which to score from close range. For the second, a dart forward, three steps back, and a bicycle kick in open space because that first movement sucked his marker out of position. Premier League defences seem to have no answer, and its debatable whether they ever might.
The decision of Crystal Palace to bring in Roy Hodgson until the end of this season after they sacked Patrick Vieira felt like one borne of a degree of panic, but perhaps you don’t get to Roy’s age without learning a thing or two about how to read an opposing team.
Crystal Palace went in at half-time at Elland Road on Sunday with reason to be pleased, with a stoppage-time goal having brought them level in their relegation six-pointer against Leeds, but evidently Roy had seen something in his opponents.
Refreshed and newly aggressive, Palace tore through Leeds in the second half with four goals in 32 minutes that stunned the home crowd. They still have work to do, but this was a big step towards ensuring the continuation of Premier League football at Selhurst Park.
The biggest question following West Ham’s 5-1 home shellacking at the hands of Newcastle was whether David Moyes could survive until the end of the season. That result, which had plunged West Ham back towards the relegation places like an icy bath, heightened speculation, but in truth West Ham have been inconsistent rather than bad over the last few weeks.
Since their really bad run came to an end in the middle of January, they’ve won four, drawn three and lost three in the Premier League, and their win at Fulham felt like a bit of an amalgam of all of this. They didn’t play particularly well and needed an own goal to get over the line, but at this point of the season it’s all about getting those points on the board, no matter how they come your way.
It only took 11 minutes for Anthony Martial to score after coming on in the first match of the weekend between Manchester United and Everton, and his goal couldn’t have been better timed. Eight minutes after his goal sewed up a 2-0 win, Marcus Rashford was replaced after picking up an injury.
It was a timely reminder, considering that he was replaced by Wout Weghorst, of how important it is that Martial continues his recovery from his injury and gets back into that first XI. Manchester United are in a strong position for a Champions League place, but they don’t want to be relying on Weghorst for goals to get over the line.
The Spurs old guard
While attention might have been focused elsewhere than at The Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Saturday afternoon, Heung-min Son and Harry Kane were rolling back the years to serve a sharp prod in the ribs of considerably better times than Spurs have been undergoing of late. It was the sole bright spot in a weekend which ended with what we can only presume to be their third-choice manager, Ryan Mason, in charge of things.
This may well be the last that we see of this partnership, and for all that this result felt completely unjust, after the few weeks they’ve been through as their club lurches from crisis to crisis, Spurs supporters at least deserved to see these two players, who defined such happier times, pulling a goal each out of the bag.
Brighton’s position on the moral highground
They’ve long since passed the point at which apologies from PGMOL are going to do any good whatsoever. With a sequence of refereeing and VAR decisions that defied much rational explanation at Spurs, it’s not difficult to see why Brighton supporters are increasingly becoming persuaded that they are on the receiving end of something more systematic than just a succession of bad decisions.
The obvious consolation that they can take from this defeat is that they know within themselves that they were the better team. Their position atop the moral high ground is unbreachable.
But small wonder Roberto De Zerbi could barely keep control of his emotions as he was sent down the tunnel after an altercation with what looked like half the Tottenham bench. Stellini followed him for failing to control his own people.
If the Premier League table had a slightly unusual look by Saturday evening, it was probably the sight of Aston Villa in sixth place. Villa have crept up by stealth with six wins and a draw from their last seven matches. Just four weeks ago, they were still in the bottom half of the table, but now they’re pushing hard for European football and even though Nottingham Forest didn’t offer a great deal of opposition at Villa Park, it was another solid performance in a run that has had a transformative effect on Villa Park, with Emery making a mockery of those who doubted that his appointment was a coup for the Villa ownership.
This is the time of year at which footballers really start to earn their money, and by putting his laces through it for Wolves against Chelsea on Saturday, Mattheus Nunes may have finally paid back a proportion of the club-record £38m fee spent on him at the end of last summer. It was his first for the club, and coming at such a critical point of the season, opening up a four-point gap from the relegation places is all-important.
You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to start to wonder what is happening to refereeing standards. It may well be that they are under the glare of harsher and harsher attention, but the succession of refereeing decisions going against Brighton at Spurs on Saturday really does warrant more of a response than another written apology. Apologies aren’t going to pay Brighton the tens of millions of pounds in financial shortfall should they not qualify for European football, and they aren’t going to help if fans start drifting away from the game because they feel that the dice are simply too loaded against them, either.
The financial stakes are extremely high, and it can sometimes feel as though no-one really understands just how damaging all of this is, not only for specific individuals and clubs at specific points in the season, but also for the reputation of the Premier League and ultimately the game itself.
Perhaps the Premier League has spotted a gap in the market for a Netflix series called ‘When Referees Strike Back’ . Or perhaps, at half-time at Anfield during Liverpool v Arsenal, referee’s assistant Constantine Hatzidakis absolutely lost his mind. The cameras seemed to confirm that Hatzidakis elbowed Liverpool’s Andy Robertson in the throat as they left the pitch.
Now, everybody knows that players get up in the grills of match officials on a regular basis (and it doesn’t take much imagination to empathise with how annoying this must be), but the reality of the official’s position is that they have to remain above whatever is said to them. In an increasingly fractious atmosphere between officials and the rest, Hatzidakis’ action was about the least helpful thing that a match official could have done, and the PGMOL, who have been increasingly in the spotlight themselves this season, now have to take decisive action over what looked distinctly like a senseless loss of composure.
If there was one thing that was noticeable from Chelsea’s performance at Wolves, it was how little anything had changed. That anyone might have expected much different was somewhat surprising. After all, Frank Lampard had been in charge at Chelsea for two days, with Bruno Saltor having been in charge for the previous five days, and with Graham Potter having been in charge before that. The long-talked-about Chelsea managerial revolving door actually is now becoming a blur.
Amid this storm, the team continue to pump out the same tepid, half-baked football, devoid of inventive spark and still shorn of a reliable source of goals, despite having a wealth of options that don’t quite fit together.
The obvious temptation is to think back to their previous Champions League wins in 2012 and 2021 and wonder whether they could complete a hat-trick of such unlikely wins, but surely Real Madrid have got too much nous to be tripped up in the same way that others have been when faced with a Chelsea side in turmoil… haven’t they?
One step forward, two steps back. Leeds sit in the middle of the list of teams who are simply unable to pull themselves clear of the relegation places. A 2-1 win against Nottingham Forest had lifted hopes that perhaps this time they could put together something substantial to pull themselves clear of the dropzone, and when Patrick Bamford gave them the lead against Crystal Palace it felt as though perhaps Javi Gracia’s relatively restorative touch was set to continue.
But Leeds collapsed in the second half, not only completely absent a way of finding their way back into this game, but also falling away to an alarming extent, all of which resulted in their heaviest defeat of the season. They still seem determined to avoid relegation by the narrowest margin possible.
Mo Salah, from 12 yards
In a mixed bag of a season, it was another mixed day at the office for Mo Salah on Sunday afternoon. Three minutes from half-time, Salah pulled Liverpool back into a game that was slipping away from them, but early in the second half Diogo Jota went down for a slightly soft penalty kick, Salah stepped up and… put his shot wide of the post. It was the second time in four weeks that he’d done this, following an errant effort against Bournemouth in a match which they ended up losing 1-0, and the concern for Jurgen Klopp will be that this could start to form a worrying pattern.
Liverpool finally got their point against Arsenal with a late Roberto Firmino goal, but Klopp may well wonder what might have happened had his team had an extra 30 minutes of parity against an Arsenal team which ceded control after getting themselves into a dominant position.
The Empty Managerial seat at Leicester
You can’t have a new manager bounce if there is no new manager. Leicester City’s decision to sack Brendan Rodgers this late in the season has the feel of the last roll of a dice, and with both Graham Potter and Jesse Marsch having reportedly turned down their overtures it’s becoming increasingly difficult to see where the spark that keeps them in the Premier League is going to come from.
Adam Sadler was in charge for their important home match against Bournemouth, and… the results were not particularly encouraging, all the more so because it was one of the few players they have left who seems capable of hauling them clear whose mistake cost them so dearly. James Maddison’s loose backpass let in Phil Billing for the only goal of the game, a result which left Leicester one place off the bottom of the table after taking just one point from their last eight games. It is already starting to feel as though this change may have been made too late, and without enough of a succession plan in place.
Of course, it was always going to be a trade-off. Sean Dyche may not have been the manager that Everton wanted, but he was the manager that they needed. But this comes with some fairly heavy caveats, the most obvious of which is that fans will trade style for points, but those points have to be delivered and following a throughly insipid performance at Old Trafford in the Saturday lunchtime match Everton remain in the Premier League’s relegation places, with Dyche’s blushes only further spared by an excellent goalkeeping performance from Jordan Pickford, without whom things might well have ended up far worse than the final 2-0 scoreline suggested.