10 things learned in the Premier League: Week 29
Projects are supposed to take longer than this, but both Arsenal and Newcastle United are showing few signs that they can’t arrive at the end of season way ahead of schedule when it comes to their respective goals.
Arsenal clobbered Leeds after a cagey start, again showing the Premier League that they have little interest in succumbing their title interests to Manchester City’s pressure, while Newcastle United climbed into third place and might’ve scored five against Manchester United on another day.
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Yes, this was a wild Premier League weekend, one which saw Manchester City ask Liverpool, “Woah, what happened to you?” and also led to the firings of managers at two recent-enough Premier League champions: Chelsea and Leicester City.
And, of course, we still have one more match in Week 29. It’s a doozy between Everton and Tottenham -- Watch live at 3pm ET Monday on USA Network and online via NBCSports.com -- that will affect both ends of the table.
Here’s where our writers are living, as Joe Prince-Wright (JPW), Andy Edwards (AE), and Nicholas Mendola (NM) share their observations from across the most recent PL games.
10 things we learned in the Premier League: Week 29
1. Eddie Howe, Newcastle send message with fiery, controlling win over answerless Man United (Newcastle 2-0 Man Utd): Newcastle United was — am I really writing this? — remarkably superior to Manchester United on Sunday, which perhaps shouldn’t come as a surprise seeing as that Casemiro was missing from the Red Devils lineup. The Brazilian was the difference when the clubs staged a pretty even League Cup Final and his absence was screaming out from the pitch on Sunday as Newcastle controlled play but failed to convert chances for the first hour-plus at St. James’ Park (The finish came through Joe Willock and Callum Wilson headers in the late stages). That control is a brilliant sign for Eddie Howe’s project, as the ex-Bournemouth boss had his team well set-up in the first half but there would’ve been questions as to whether his adjustments would match Erik ten Hag’s changes for the visitors. And while there’s certainly a fair bit to question in Ten Hag’s decision to start Scott McTominay and Marcel Sabitzer with Casemiro absent (and Fred available), this story was all about Newcastle. The Magpies are — dare-we-say-it? — deservedly top four with under 10 matches to play. Wow. (NM)
2. Man City copes without Erling Haaland, crushes Liverpool (Man City 4-1 Liverpool): With their star striker out with a groin injury, City turned to Julian Alvarez to fill the significant void. Turns out having a World Cup-winning striker as a back-up option is pretty decent. La Arana scored the first, consistently made good runs, and Liverpool just couldn’t cope with the movement of Alvarez, Riyad Mahrez, Jack Grealish, Ilkay Gundogan, and Kevin De Bruyne (all of whom had at least a goal or an assist) in attack. It was a different feel to City’s attack and reminded you that even if goal-machine Haaland is out, they have a Plan B and it works pretty well. That plan won them the title last season and this display gives ammunition to those who say Haaland makes City a little too predictable to play against. They were anything but that against Liverpool as Guardiola was delighted with the movement, pressure and intensity of his forward quartet. Haaland was seen celebrating Alvarez’s goal jubilantly in the stands alongside his father, former City midfielder Alf-Inge Haaland, and this display showed there’s no need to rush Erling back and they can get him fully-fit for the Champions League quarterfinal showdown against Bayern Munich on April 11. (JPW)
3. Gabriel Jesus back fit is an unfair addition to Arsenal’s title chase (Arsenal 4-1 Leeds): We could write about Leeds’ choice of lineup but let’s be real: It doesn’t really matter who Javi Gracia rolled out there if Gabriel Jesus was going to continue to look nothing like a man who missed months of Arsenal’s title campaign. The ex-Man City man is proving the reason the Gunners might just roll past his former club for a Premier League title, even if they lose their head-to-head meeting with City in a few weeks. Jesus won a penalty and then worked a oh-so-pretty extended give-and-go — it wasn’t quite a 1-2 — with Leandro Trossard to make it 3-0 on a day that was only going to go one way despite Leeds’ opening half-hour (or so) of good fight. Almost everyone starred Saturday as the absence of William Saliba didn’t matter much for at least one day. We’ll see what happens against Liverpool next weekend. (NM)
4. Chelsea’s talented attackers still not finding their fit (Chelsea 0-2 Aston Villa | Graham Potter out): Perhaps Graham Potter felt pressure to plug Todd Boehly’s purchases into the Starting XI, but Chelsea’s trident lacks a barbed focal point (and now we’ll see whether Bruno Saltor feels that pressure). Kai Havertz can score — he had a goal in each of Chelsea’s last two Premier League games — and has size but he does neither of those things in the way you expect of a ‘Big Six’ center forward. If he did it regularly, the Blues’ wingers would be climbing up the Premier League assist charts. But that doesn’t forgive Mykhailo Mudryk, who scudded a breakaway chanced into the arms of Emiliano Martinez. And Joao Felix is a fun player but continues to look like a player who is ages away from his reputation (and he’s now 23, no longer 18). Noni Madueke took Mudryk’s place after 58 minutes and showed bright spots but shouldn’t be expected to be saving games for Chelsea at this stage in his career. Christian Pulisic entered late and forced an acrobatic save out of Emiliano Martinez. Raheem Sterling will return from injury and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will be available selection soon but this performance made it seem like Chelsea’s past few games weren’t the cleaning up a mess but the shoving of most of it under the bed, hoping that no one finds it’s still there. (NM)
5. Leicester City not too big to be relegated (Crystal Palace 2-1 Leicester City | Brendan Rodgers out): By the end of the weekend, Leicester could very well find themselves in the bottom-three of the Premier League table. 18th-place West Ham (24 points) will host last-place Southampton (23 points) in east London on Sunday, and a win for either side will see the Foxes drop into 18th with 10 games remaining. With just two wins in their last 13 PL games, it is clear that Brendan Rodgers’ side is a legitimate relegation candidate. The Foxes will likely need 10-12 points between now and the end of the season, and it’s getting harder and harder to see them turning this sinking ship around. (AE)
6. Cherries push past Cottagers with powerful second half (Bournemouth 2-1 Fulham): The Premier League new boys are in very different situations this season. Fulham had European aspirations, while Bournemouth are scrambling to stay in the top-flight. Both showed why they may come up short but Bournemouth dug deep to secure a huge win. The Cherries started sluggishly and were punished for it, while Fulham then couldn’t kick on after taking the lead and looked totally out of energy in the second half. Bournemouth were brilliant after the break as their subs made a huge difference and Gary O’Neil’s side have given their chances of staying in the Premier League a huge boost. (JPW)
7. Game of the weekend will leave Roberto De Zerbi flustered (Brighton 3-3 Brentford): Credit Brighton for so many things: Its ability to recruit replacements for big name players and coaches, its stylish football, its three (3?!?) equalizers on Saturday. And credit them and Brentford for giving us a wonderful feast of attacking football on Saturday. It was awesome. Let’s do it again next year, yeah? But given Liverpool and Chelsea’s relative season failures, the Seagulls are going to waste one of their best chances — if not their best ever chance — to qualify for the UEFA Champions League because of draws like this (and March 11 at Leeds… and Feb. 11 at Palace… and Jan. 21 at Leicester). Yes those are good points for a team of Brighton’s reputation and expectations, but the reason they’re on the outskirts of the top four battle and not in the catbird seat is the missed opportunities to get three points from teams of, around, and behind their reputation. That’s no shot at Brentford, who will be feeling a similar vibe but will also know it was out-attempted 33-7. Part of that is a function of playing with a lead on three occasions, but... 33-7. (NM)
8. West Ham lands win in far-from-last cagey six-pointer of the Premier League season (West Ham 1-0 Southampton) This was not a classic. And there may be plenty of Premier League games like this between now and the end of the season because are so many teams involved in the relegation scramble. They can be slugfests which see teams go toe-to-toe and deliver hugely entertaining games but this game showed off the understandable nerves teams have about being relegated. West Ham were slightly better with their quality in the final third and that is why they won. However, as the Premier League table suggests, there is very little between the bottom nine teams this season. That gives hope to anybody down there, including Southampton, that they can get out of this mess. (JPW)
9. Aston Villa is legitimately solid (Chelsea 0-2 Aston Villa): It’s even more simple than the headline: Aston Villa is good. Unai Emery has organized a group of players who are capable of getting results and they all seem to understand their roles. That doesn’t mean that Ollie Watkins won’t miss a chance here or there — he did before scoring at The Bridge — or that there won’t be lapses at the back on occasion. But Villa’s players knows their jobs and also the goals of the opponent: Countless Chelsea crosses never reached their back post targets because Tyrone Mings and friends were ready for them. And when Villa got the ball? Zooooom. If Villa can manage a top seven place, it will not have been unearned by the players and, especially, their new boss. (NM)
10. Wolves defending no longer good enough to bail out attack (Nottingham Forest 1-1 Wolves): Once again this season, Wolves have gone for the “defensively solid but offensively deficient” approach, only this time their defensive record (42 goals conceded) is just as poor as the goal-scoring output (23). The goal they conceded on Saturday saw too many white shirts standing and watching the ball inside their own penalty area. Creating scoring chances is like pulling teeth for Julen Lopetegui’s side. Even their late equalizer came as a result of a blocked shot that turned into a through ball, rather than any kind of cohesive build-up. (AE)