Premier League winners and losers: Villa, Angeball and Liverpool impress while Man United and Chelsea hit new lows

Dave Tickner
Composite image: Erik Ten Hag looks miserable, Aston Villa celebrate victory over Arsenal, Newcastle players react to defeat at Tottenham
Misery for Ten Hag and Newcastle but joy for Villa

Angeball is back (it never went away), Liverpool are top of the league after a fifth win from behind already this season, while Aston Villa are title contenders whether Unai Emery likes it or not. Manchester United and Chelsea, meanwhile, are not title contenders.



Aston Villa
Title contenders until they aren’t. That’s now 15 home Premier League wins in a row, a statistic that would be absurd for your Citys and Liverpools, never mind a club that was trying to avoid getting dragged into a relegation fight when appointing Unai Emery barely a year ago.

Midweek victory against Manchester City was followed by another against Arsenal as Villa took down the two likeliest contenders for the title in the space of four days and squared a circle: Arsenal were the last team to take league points away with them from Villa Park after two late goals sealed a 4-2 win in February. Villa’s previous home game was another 4-2 defeat to ultimately relegated Leicester. It wasn’t something that screamed ’15 consecutive wins’ but Villa under Unai Emery have become a nonsense.

Logic tells you they can’t possibly sustain a title challenge, but this is already showing hugely promising signs of being one of those rogue seasons where Manchester City aren’t quite infallible. There are unexpected opportunities out there this season; everyone has flaws. Villa’s are currently less prominent or conspicuous than most.

Now read 16 Conclusions – the existence of which represents proof in and of itself that Villa are truly among the elite now.


Unai Emery
He doesn’t seem the sort to see it remotely this way, but Emery pipping Arsenal to the Premier League title is a narrative we can get behind. We wonder if he still thinks there are seven teams with better chances of winning the Premier League, though, because we’ve looked and looked and can see, at best, maybe three. Well definitely three. But also definitely no more than three.


Liverpool and their comebacks
Getting silly now. Liverpool’s points accrued purely from the nine games in which they’ve fallen behind would put them in mid-table just a point behind Chelsea. They’ve now won five games in which they’ve gone behind, and Jurgen Klopp’s new mentality monsters find themselves back on top of the pile after a Premier League weekend for the first time in two years. Their midfield rebuild had to be completed in double-quick time thanks to the Saudis and while it’s been done with remarkable efficiency it’s still the area of the field that makes you nervous. Certainly, for much of a difficult afternoon at Palace it was the midfield letting them down. We’re big Ryan Gravenberch fans, but that was alarmingly shit.

But what’s in Liverpool’s favour is the fact everyone else has their own flaws. They’re top now, they’re the only team to have lost only once (in what remains for multiple reasons the stupidest game of a daft season all round) and if they can hold off Arsenal at Anfield will very likely be top at Christmas.

That they would do so while being not at their best, with obvious scope for improvement and a fast finish only makes that more impressive. In a season of unexpected unpredictability, a known quantity like Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool at the summit is a dangerous prospect for the rest.


The desperate early struggles of the Andoni Iraola reign are firmly behind Bournemouth now. Thirteen points from their last five games culminating in smashing Manchester United to pieces at Old Trafford has lifted them clear of the relegation squabble and justified the boldness they showed in replacing Gary O’Neil – even if he himself has gone on to answer ‘flash-in-the-pan’ doubts rather nicely at Wolves.

Bournemouth showed ambition and daring with the appointment of Iraola and that’s to be encouraged. We make no apologies for being delighted to see it starting to work out so splendidly after the early teething troubles and hopefully more clubs will be emboldened to take a punt rather than stay cocooned in their familiar but limiting comfort blanket. Crystal Palace, we’re looking at you.


‘Angeball’s back!’ was the refrain after Spurs’ joyously entertaining evisceration of Newcastle on Sunday. But that’s not really true, is it? For Angeball to be back, we must accept the implication that it went away. And it didn’t. The arse-meltingly stupid defeats to Chelsea, Aston Villa and West Ham are every bit as Angeball as the thrill-a-minute victories. There really has only been one game in Spurs’ recent traumatic run of results that could be said to have deviated from the Angeball vision; a 2-1 defeat at Wolves in which their Conte-lite attempts to grimly hold a 1-0 lead for 87 minutes almost worked and then spectacularly didn’t.

Even when it’s been going so violently wrong, it’s remained clear that someone quite soon was going to wander helplessly into Tottenham on a day when they took rather than spurned their chances and dished out a paddling. An exhausted, injury-ravaged Newcastle were that team, but the nature of the performance really wasn’t all that different to what we’ve seen from Spurs in recent weeks. Apart from the fairly significant impact of taking multiple rather than single opportunities. Going 4-0 up proved an extremely effective solution to the problem of going 1-0 up and losing.

But the defeats are still Angeball. In summary: if you can’t handle Ange’s Spurs at their ludicrous 2-1 home defeats to West Ham, you don’t deserve them at their 4-1 demolitions of Newcastle.


Spurs’ full-backs
Destiny Udogie scored a goal playing as an ACM. Pedro Porro created one from right-back and one from central midfield. Between them they had a goal, an assist, four shots, five key passes and 93 passes. Playing nominally as a full-back in this Spurs team looks enormous fun on days like this.


Son Heung-min
Two delicious assists and at last a penalty – quirkily, Spurs’ first of the season despite them having had more touches in the opposition box than any other team in the league – having taken over spot-kick duties from Harry Kane. That’s now 10 goals for the season for Son, matching his total from last season and making him just the seventh player to reach the landmark in eight successive Premier League seasons. Answers at the bottom of the page, fact fans.


Doubled his Premier League goal tally for Tottenham. Scored his first Tottenham goals with his feet. Revelled in a central role. Didn’t take his shirt off and get booked. Faint praise, but comfortably his best day out in Tottenham colours.


Chris Wilder
It wasn’t quite must-win territory, but a hard-fought victory over Brentford makes life far easier for Wilder as he settles back into the Bramall Lane big chair. The timing of Paul Heckingbottom’s demise, after defeats in back-to-back six-pointers, undoubtedly made life more difficult for Wilder. He started with a defeat to Liverpool and still has to deal with trips to Chelsea, Aston Villa and Manchester City before the year is out. Three points from a tricky but winnable home game like this therefore gives him something to build on and something to carry him through what are likely to be some traumatic days ahead. The Boxing Day home game with Luton sandwiched between those daunting trips to Villa and City already looks enormously pivotal.


Jack Grealish
Significant goals in back-to-back games for Grealish either side of his suspension for the defeat at Aston Villa. Manchester City needed more measurable output from their £100m man, and the signs are now promising. Manchester City needed that win, however it came.


Undoubtedly invigorated by the 10-point penalty and fuelled by the perceived injustice of it all, there is already scope for an idle thought experiment about whether the belly-fire Everton have been given by their punishment might end up worth more than 10 points in the final reckoning. Impossible to answer that for now, but what we do know is that without that punishment Everton’s current points tally would put them in the top half and just three points behind Newcastle and Brighton.

They are a proper Sean Dyche side now, and a pretty bloody good one. A facile victory over listless Chelsea provoked inevitable comparisons. Everton under Dyche currently have everything Chelsea under Mauricio Pochettino lack. Plans, identity, cohesion, togetherness. Relegation is already little more than a theoretical danger for a team that would have been utterly doomed by a similar punishment in either of the last two seasons.


The relegation battle
Everton’s punishment also appears to have invigorated everyone else in the relegation fight. Bournemouth are suddenly well clear of it all after four wins in five, Burnley have battered Sheffield United and battled to a creditable point at Brighton and now even Sheffield United show signs of life. The only team in the current bottom five to lose at the weekend was Luton, and a narrow defeat to Manchester City having taken a first-half lead is hardly shaming. Nottingham Forest and Crystal Palace find themselves sleepwalking into trouble under beleaguered managers.


What’s going on there, then? They’ve scored more home Premier League goals in four days than they managed in the entirety of their most recent relegation season in 2020/21. The 5-0 thrashing of West Ham followed an identical midweek result against Nottingham Forest and surely represents the most unlikely bout of goalscoring in recent Barclays history. Chuck in the six goals scored in a 4-3 defeat at Liverpool and a 3-2 win over Wolves and you’ve got 16 goals in four games from a side that had managed only 10 goals in their first 12 games.

After five different Fulham players got on the scoresheet against the Hammers, Marco Silva issued a plea that we now all stop talking about Aleksandar Mitrovic. To which we say NEVER.


Brighton and BTTS
The 1-1 draw with Burnley means it’s now 16 Premier League games and counting this season in which Brighton have neither kept nor allowed a clean sheet. Chuck in the end of last season and it’s 20 consecutive Brighton league games in which both teams have scored. The last clean sheet in any Premier League game involving Brighton is, inexplicably, Arsenal’s failure to find a way past them in a 3-0 defeat at the Emirates in May.


Steve Cooper
A point at Wolves kicks a can down the road, and even that 5-0 defeat at Fulham looks less terrible than it did 48 hours ago.


Ivan Toney
There really are a startling number of really very large football clubs in urgent, obvious and pressing need of a player precisely like Toney when he returns to football next month.



Manchester United
F***ing hell, lads. An apparently significant step forward against Chelsea is followed by two giant steps back against Bournemouth to leave United once again firmly in crisis corner, a land of cracked badges and leaked reports of unrest and ultimately a manager about to pay the price.

Erik Ten Hag’s share of the blame for United’s current woes is significant, but there surely can’t be anyone left now who truly thinks changing the manager is going to make any tangible difference in and of itself at a club simultaneously stuck in a rut and going round in circles.

The most absurd thing about a Manchester United team that has already lost seven times in the first 16 games of the season and faces Champions League eliminations is that it really could and should have been a lot worse. The Chelsea win in midweek stood out not just because United won the game but that they did so quite impressively, deservedly even. That’s been wildly rare this year.

A new manager might make things better. They could easily make things much, much worse. Change is desperately needed at United, but it’s needed all over the club. From the ownership situation down.

We don’t find it surprising at all that Ten Hag has apparently ‘lost’ this squad of players. What we’re less certain about is whether that works as a criticism of the Dutchman or a feather in his cap. The ability to lose this squad of wastrels should arguably be the first thing on the list of job requirements for any United manager. What they need to do – with really quite strikingly few exceptions – is actually physically for real lose them and start all over again.

Manchester United with actual Anthony Martial starting up front in Premier League games in the year of our Lord 2023. An absurd and unsustainable situation. Change the manager if you want, Ten Hag could have few complaints really. But unless it’s part of a far wider change at a club rotting from the inside out it just resets the clock and starts it ticking again to the same, inevitable conclusion another 18 wasted months down the line.

MEDIAWATCH: Man Utd have made Erik ten Hag a ‘very lucky guy’ as Ratcliffe ‘swipes’ at Bruno Fernandes


Just once, we’d like for Arsenal to drop points in a game of association football and for this not to be apparent evidence of am inexplicable but very very real football-wide conspiracy to keep them from winning the league.

If only there were an alternative explanation for a very good side losing narrowly in an evenly-matched and well-contested game of football against another very good side who were already on a 14-match winning run at home. Is there any chance at all, do we think, that this might simply be a thing that sometimes happens? No, far more likely that it’s all been arranged and ordained by shadowy figures who desperately want Liverpool or sometimes Manchester City to win the league. It is frankly a miracle Arsenal are even in contention given the array of powerful forces ranged against them.


Visibly and understandably exhausted as injuries and those draining unfamiliar Champions League exertions take their toll. There will be no external sympathy from anyone for a club with the Saudi cheat code, but it doesn’t make their current problems any less real or acute. Even on their current run, Spurs are not a team you want to have to try and muddle through against while keeping an eye on a vast midweek Champions League game against Milan.

You don’t have to feel sorry for them, but you do have to acknowledge that it’s a difficult time.

That said, they absolutely did not help themselves against Spurs. Fatigue meaning they were half a yard off the pace when Spurs had the ball is one thing; Newcastle’s constant fondness for giving it straight back whenever they did manage to get hold of it quite another.

Whatever mitigation there may be, this was an unacceptable performance and a damaging result from a club with ambitions such that learning to cope with competing on multiple fronts is not an optional extra.


Callum Wilson
Oh, Callum. We understood but never really agreed with the righteous indignation about Wilson and Michail Antonio doing their little podcast and having a pop at other professional footballers. Football, as a rule, would be better if it took itself less rather than more seriously. But if you are going to do a podcast having a pop at other current professional footballers, you really are going to need a thicker skin than Wilson displayed by coming out and complaining about the opposition goalkeeper pulling a funny face after you’ve watched the subject of your most infamous ribbing score twice against your team in a 4-1 drubbing.


Kieran Trippier
Given an absolutely miserable afternoon by former team-mate Son Heung-min to end a miserable week for a player who seemingly acts as a pretty reliable overall barometer for Newcastle’s general fortunes. Unusual for a right-back, we’d suggest.


Surely now pound-for-pound the worst football team ever assembled. It’s an absolute mess, and the vaguely encouraging signs of a few weeks ago have evaporated into nothing. Conor Gallagher and Cole Palmer are admirable and exciting young players; they have no business being the best and most crucial players at a club like Chelsea or indeed any club that has spent such vast quantities of money in an 18-month period.

They’re no better than last season, and that is a damning situation after another £400m summer spend.


Mauricio Pochettino
He’s in real trouble. To come out after that pitiful display and thoroughly deserved defeat at Everton and suggest that more new signings were the solution may well be correct, but it’s very much from the ‘another mass’ school of problem-solving and suggests a manager already out of ideas and floundering in a job that should be a gift.


West Ham
Undoubtedly poured an awful lot of heart and soul into Thursday’s come-from-behind win at Tottenham, but it hardly excuses a drop-off on such a scale. Thirty goals conceded is an alarming number for any team, but especially a David Moyes one. Nobody outside the bottom three has conceded more.


Crystal Palace
Veering sleepily towards very real trouble under a manager who really does now look and sound like he’s too old for this shit. All of the other current strugglers bar maybe Forest are showing more signs of life than Roy Hodgson and his team. Wakey, wakey.


Losers, but only in the most grimly (yet importantly) statistical sense. In the last five weeks they have faced the three hardest home games of the season. They’ve emerged with only one point from those game but led all three and have shown that Kenilworth Road is a ground where they can compete with the very best. Now they need to show they can translate these kinds of performances into results against the rest. The 2-1 win over Crystal Palace is the benchmark, and there are inevitably now more such games on the horizon for the Hatters in home games that will define their season.


The Magnificent Seven: Wayne Rooney, Frank Lampard, Sergio Aguero, Harry Kane, Thierry Henry, Sadio Mane, Son Heung-min