Premier League winners and losers: Potter and Rodgers pay the price while Newcastle and top two shine

Dave Tickner
Premier League winners and losers featuring Newcastle, Potter and Rodgers

Arsenal and City rumble on at the top, Newcastle take control of the CL chase while further down the league it was Sacking Sunday…



A very good time to produce their best performance of the season. That’s three wins in a row now after a mini-slump that left this fine season of theirs in danger of yielding ‘only’ Europa or Conference football.

This was the best of the three, clearly, and the most important as they regained full control of their own top-four destiny. As much as anything else, they’ve dragged United back sufficiently that it’s now three, four or five teams fighting for two spots rather than two, three or four fighting for one.


Newcastle No. 9s
They love a No. 9 at Newcastle, don’t they? No other clubs love strikers. Only Newcastle. The Newcastle fans. Taking their tops off and loving strikers. That’s what they do. The tops and the strikers. The number nines.

Still, though. They were treated to not one but two fine performances on Sunday. Alexander Isak was superb from the start, and was unfortunate that his immense all-round efforts had caught up with him by the time United deployed their one-man defence joker card and so it was left to Callum Wilson to step off the bench and Shearer Marcus Rashford out of the way before Shearering his pinpoint header off the post for a fully deserved and match-sealing second Newcastle goal of a wonderful afternoon.


Manchester City without Haaland
Remains hilarious that it’s possible even to make the argument about City being better without the fella who scores all of the goals at all, never mind that the evidence is so frequently compelling. Watching Liverpool be swept aside in the second half by a parade of clever City players doing clever things was a reminder of what City were before Haaland. In the Premier League (if emphatically not the Champions League, which is this season’s real quiz) they really were a more effective team without the brilliant Norwegian battering ram.


Manchester City without Cancelo
This one is more straightforward and represents Pep Guardiola’s big win of a challenging (by his and City’s standards) season. Joao Cancelo is a wonderfully gifted footballer but Guardiola’s decisive victory in their personality clash has been to City’s benefit in far more clear-cut fashion than the Haaland weirdness. Cancelo’s last 10 City games threw up four defeats, a red card and several bookings. City have nine wins and five clean sheets in 12 games since Cancelo’s departure, with just two conceded in a seven-game winning run. The loss of Cancelo’s creative skills has also not exactly been keenly felt, with 35 goals in their last 11 unbeaten games.

Anyway, there are 16 whole conclusions on City keeping themselves in the title race here, go read them.


Jack Grealish
Second-season syndrome means something very different at Manchester City under Pep Guardiola. Who knows, maybe even Haaland will crack it next season and start being a valuable member of the team making a worthwhile and meaningful contribution like Grealish is now.


Unai Emery
Only Arsenal and Manchester City have more points than Unai Emery’s Aston Villa since his appointment, which is excellent. And to those who sniff and say that’s a small sample size we say this: show some respect for the 12th longest-serving current manager in the Premier League.

Even in the actual table, Villa are now just a couple of points away from the European placings. A top-half finish at Chelsea’s expense would be funny and now quite likely but for a team that won only two of its first 11 league games this season – and those against Everton and Southampton – to now be looking as high as seventh or even sixth is truly remarkable.

Emery may have been doomed from the start in attempting to follow Arsene Wenger at Arsenal but he was never a David Moyes. He showed it in Spain and we’re delighted to see him doing it in Our League. And given where Arsenal now find themselves, we’d like to think even their supporters can be happy for him. It’s nice to be happy, isn’t it? Doesn’t happen often. Don’t worry, we haven’t totally lost the plot. Proper bumper losers section coming up in a bit.


Leandro Trossard
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Arsenal’s remarkable season is how it hasn’t simply been a case of everything falling into place. They have faced challenges and adversity but overcome them every time.

Mikel Arteta deserves huge credit for making Eddie Nketiah believe he could replace Gabriel Jesus, for giving Rob Holding the certainty that he could step into William Saliba’s shoes and that his new hair had totally fooled everyone. Convincing Granit Xhaka that he is in fact a goalscoring midfielder (or Ben White that he is in fact a goalscoring right-back) appears to be an act of pure witchcraft, but Arteta and his team are stumbling upon altogether too many of these unlikely solutions for it to be dismissed as good fortune.

He is a manager who instils that belief in his players. But even he surely cannot quite believe how good Leandro Trossard has been. That’s now seven assists for a January signing who has already been deployed in every attacking position going for the Gunners and has slotted into the team so seamlessly that the very idea that his hat-trick for Brighton at Anfield was this season feels absurd.

We know this season has been a bit timey-wimey all round, but Trossard at Arsenal feels just so instantly good and correct and just right that we simply cannot any longer accept the idea that he hasn’t been knocking the ball around with Odegaard, Saka, Martinelli and the rest for at least three years.

Arsenal's Leandro Trossard and Mikel Arteta

Mikel Arteta
There was never a single moment’s doubt that Arsenal’s response to City’s 4-1 dismantling of Liverpool would be equally emphatic. That utter certainty that Arsenal wouldn’t Arsenal all over themselves in such a situation is Arteta’s greatest achievement of the season so far.


Nayef Aguerd
West Ham might not be in quite such strife had Sunday’s matchwinner been around all season. He was immense at the back, which West Ham’s gameplan absolutely required him to be, and took his goal so well that VAR decided to spend four minutes looking at it in wonder.


David Moyes
On a technicality
because we’ve checked and apparently even the absolute grimmest, most joyless and perfunctory 1-0 wins are still in fact ‘wins’. Stupid sport.



Are in the bottom half of the table, fully deserve to be in the bottom half of the table, are a disorganised, lopsided mess of a ludicrously expensively-assembled football team and on course for the club’s worst league season since the Premier League cut to 20 teams in 1994. Stop giggling at the back.

Two managers have come and gone with hefty payoffs, but hey, it’s only money and it’s Chelsea so that doesn’t matter. Just spend some more, see what happens. Congratulations to Julian Nagelsmann on his imminent eight-year contract, and further congratulations to Nagelsmann for the six-year pay-off heading his way in 2025.


Graham Potter
Clearly not the only thing wrong at Chelsea, but clearly neither blameless nor a long-term solution to the problems at Stamford Bridge. It’s a shame to see all that good work over several seasons tossed away for this, and it doesn’t require 20:20 hindsight to declare that of all the Big Six it was Chelsea who looked the worst possible fit for Potter, especially mid-season, especially this season.

His obtuse and misleading deployment of xG numbers as a defence for his side’s home defeat to Aston Villa was a woeful final straw. He is not a daft man and thus must know why trying to use xG in this way would annoy everyone, from the dads for whom the letters ‘xG’ represent a Modern Football red flag of a size exceeded only by the words ‘zonal marking’ to those who actually like and use xG properly.

And it was not like this xG miracle represented a one-off misfortune that could be so easily explained away. This was part of a pattern of misfortune stretching back many months. Potter’s Chelsea had won only four of their last 19 Premier League games, and those four wins all came against teams currently embroiled in the nine-team relegation fight.

And that is what Chelsea are this season. Of their 10 wins in the Premier League – itself a ludicrously unacceptable number – only one has come against a team currently in the top half. And that was against Aston Villa in October. And Aston Villa now are, as Saturday showed, a rather different prospect now.

Strip away the money-spaffing Chelsea nonsense of it all and Potter has looked like a mid-table manager in charge of a mid-table team. Which inevitably all reflects pretty badly on…


Todd Boehly
It’s not going brilliantly, is it? Thomas Tuchel may have slightly lost his mind towards the end there, but remains an elite, Champions League-winning coach sacked at least in part for failing to show the bolshy American gobshite sufficient deference, binned five days after having Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang bought specifically for him and replaced with the more compliant Potter, a project manager who needs time and ideally a pre-season to impose his ideas and methods.

Instead, come January, Potter was given a parade of galacticos he neither wanted nor needed in an eye-watering FFP-baiting megabucks splurge that continues to make absolutely no sense. The squad has had close to a billion quid lavished on it across a couple of transfer windows and remains conspicuously short of a top-class goalkeeper, holding midfielder and number nine.

Boehly isn’t the first offensively wealthy and supremely confident buffoon with no clue about football to imagine that he can just waltz in and dominate, but he might be the funniest.


Brendan Rodgers
Timing is everything. Leicester could and should have moved quicker. To paraphrase The Simpsons: why now, why not six months ago? And plenty of Leicester fans could see the worrying direction of travel even last season.

For Leicester to finally press the button as late as April is, clearly, a disaster. The expectation that Rodgers would get this archetypal Too Good To Go Down squad at least to mid-table was a fair one, but now looks a catastrophic misjudgement. We’ve been here before with Rodgers: when it goes wrong it goes wrong and swift, decisive action is the way forward.

Saturday’s defeat at Palace was grim in every way, and left little choice about what had to happen next. It’s unlikely Leicester’s next manager will be of Rodgers’ calibre, and that goes some way to explaining the reluctance to move on. But Rodgers in his first couple of years and Rodgers after that are different beasts, something Leicester – and even the man himself – should have been quicker to notice and accept.

History, though, will be kind to Rodgers’ years at Leicester. The two seasons spent almost entirely within the top four and the FA Cup win represent notable overachievement for a club who, in that time, boasted only the ninth biggest budget in the league. It might only represent the second most startling bottling of lightning in Leicester’s recent history but is no less remarkable for that. Nobody else has managed to sustain such Big Six-bothering form across such a period without sizeable external assistance.

The last 18 months were absolute sh*te, though.


Manchester United
Every bit as rotten at St James’ Park as they were at Anfield and fortunate to leave Newcastle with only a 2-0 defeat.

The Casemiro-less midfield was heroically bad, while Bruno Fernandes had one of those lose-the-ball-and-sulk-about-it days and ultimately everyone in red had an afternoon to forget. Were it not for David De Gea and Joe Willock keeping the score down it could have been ugly indeed.

But the truly worrying thing for United is that, for all their tangible improvement this season, this was no aberration.

United have now played six of the current top nine away from home this season and not only lost every time but often done so in horrific fashion: they’ve lost 4-0, 6-3, 3-1, 7-0 and now 2-0 in those games. It almost makes the 3-2 defeat at Arsenal look like a win. Most ridiculous of all, though, is that those six games account for over two-thirds of the goals United have conceded in the Premier League all season.


Erik Ten Hag
He’s earned a fine reputation for making game-altering changes during his first season at Manchester United. Taking off both his starting centre-backs at Newcastle and seeing how a one-man defence might work may not go down among his better life choices, but at least we now know for certain: one-man defences don’t work. Easy to scoff, but until you have the evidence right there in front of you it’s impossible to be absolutely sure. Callum Wilson enjoyed it, anyway.


Steve Cooper
Could really have done with three rather than one point from a six-pointer against Wolves, especially given the events of Sacking Sunday. We remain firmly of the opinion that Forest would be fools to part with him, but the undeniable truth now is that every other club in the relegation fight has changed their manager apart from Forest and West Ham, who we’re not convinced are a good example for anyone to be following.

Don’t think he survives a defeat – or possibly even a draw – at Leeds on Tuesday night. After that it’s a month until Forest face another team in the bottom nine, with Villa, United, Liverpool, Brighton, Brentford representing an alarming run of upcoming games if Tuesday hasn’t taken them to the sanctuary of the newly significant 30-point mark.


Jurgen Klopp
We’ve been thinking it for a while, but it really is probably best for everyone to have a clean break in the summer. Move on before things become really acrimonious. Make the split amicable. Everyone involved deserves that.


Virgil van Dijk
It was covered at length in 16 Conclusions, but f***ing hell. It really has been a dramatic collapse from a player who was the best in the world at what he does for a good while there.


Losing a six-pointer to a West Ham team playing like that was a drab and grave disappointment after the fun of that 3-3 draw against Spurs before the international break. The Hammers were there for the taking, but this time the Saints decided not to accept the gifts on offer. Odd decision.


Even when they don’t play. Even when Chelsea are stumbling into the bottom half. The first rule of Barclays – that the joke must always somehow be on Tottenham – still applies. Top-four hopes took a dent thanks to Newcastle, new manager hopes took a dent thanks to Chelsea and also Leicester. And we’re but a few short hours away from what looks the most nailed-on Dyching ever seen.