10 things we learned in the Premier League - Matchweek 34
Here’s a look at 10 things which stood out, as our writers Joe Prince-Wright (JPW), Nicholas Mendola (NM) and Andy Edwards (AE) share their observations from across the most recent Premier League games.
[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]
Let’s get to it.
1. Aguero rolls back the years (Crystal Palace 0-2 Manchester City): Seeing Sergio Aguero score just his second Premier League goal since January 2020 was comforting. The way he expertly controlled then fired home on the half-volley reminded us of his incredible quality and the Argentine striker, if fit, still has lots to offer. It won’t be at City, as he will leave at the end of this season and clubs will be lining up to sign the free agent, but Aguero’s sharpness in the box sparked this game into life. He will surely play a big role as they aim to win the Champions League, and if they reach the final that will be his final game in a City shirt. Everything is set up for a late Aguero winner to seal glory (we’ve seen that before) and injury issues aside, it would be a perfect way for him to go out. (JPW)
2. Speaking of rolling back the years… (Tottenham 4-0 Sheffield United): Longtime Tottenham fans will remember Gareth Bale first as the dynamic left winger who torched Maicon (and plenty of other right backs) with near-sprinter speed, as well as the right winger cutting in from the right side to curl and smash beauties and beasts home from the edge of the penalty area. On Sunday, nearly eight years after he left for Real Madrid, Bale fully showed how different he is as a player, operating as a de facto second striker who makes runs off Harry Kane, to his first stint at the club. It’s a similar role to how Son Heung-min has operated the last few seasons alongside Kane, only slightly more direct and a lot more powerful with a full head of steam. The truth about Bale is somewhere in between scoring a Premier League hat trick and not being good enough to play for long periods of the 2020-21 season. (AE)
3. Tuchel is working (Chelsea 2-0 Fulham): It would be over-simplifying to say that Thomas Tuchel has fixed everything, as perhaps this is just the case of players like Havertz and Werner getting used to the Premier League (as well as both Christian Pulisic and Hakim Ziyech getting healthy). And, yes, Frank Lampard made it pretty easy to “fix” the defense by not playing Antonio Rudiger and under-deploying Cesar Azpilicueta. But Chelsea is a force at the back, with Man City the only team allowing fewer goals than the Blues. That’s incredible considering Chelsea had scored 33 goals and allowed 22 in PL play when Lampard was fired. Tuchel’s team has a 20-8 advantage since his hiring, and that includes a 5-2 loss with 10 men. (NM)
4. Iheanacho shows his set-up side (Southampton 1-1 Leicester): The Nigerian striker has collected a handful of assists each season but all anyone’s been talking about is his 14 goals in 14 matches coming into Friday’s match at St. Mary’s. But his cross to tie the score at 1 was very pretty and it’s notable that his assists-per-game is slightly higher at Leicester than it was at Manchester City. (NM)
5. Aston Villa depth steps up in Grealish’s absence (Everton 1-2 Aston Villa): Dean Smith surely wants another offseason to fortify his troop depth, because the Jack Grealish injury absence has definitely shown that the Villans attack is not driven by one man. Villa isn’t deep enough to snare a European place but El Ghazi’s show-stopping winner and Watkins’ industrious opener both showed that -- along with John McGinn and the injured Trezeguet -- there are pieces here. Yes, of course, Grealish drives the boat, chief. The 25-year-old is still tied for third in the PL for assists despite being out since Feb. 13, and Villa has 12 goals in that span... three of them coming against Fulham. Villa now has 48 goals this season. Grealish has the goal or assist for one-third of them and casts a big shadow, but Watkins’ 13 goals are more than all but six PL players this season. (NM)
6. Return to normalcy for Aubameyang (Newcastle 0-2 Arsenal): It’s very on-brand for this year in our world and Arsenal’s history that Aubameyang stop-start season featured three-straight PL absences with malaria. His assist was a lucky one on Sunday but his goal vintage Auba, and he’s perhaps quietly scored 10 goals in league play this season.
The Gunners are unbeaten across all competitions this season -- seven wins, two draws -- when Aubameyang gets a goal or an assist. (NM)
7. Europe a bit too far for Bielsa’s first PL voyage (Brighton 2-0 Leeds): Leeds will need to get to the summer for supplies (and health) after showing that Bielsaball can work in the Premier League. It took him some time to sort out his defense and injuries to Kalvin Phillips, Robin Koch, and Raphinha played big roles in what could’ve been a top seven finish. The continued growth of Illan Meslier and more comfort in England for Raphinha, Rodrigo, and Diego Llorente could make the club a force next season. (NM)
8. Everton too bad to be good, too good to be bad (Everton 1-2 Aston Villa): Carlo Ancelotti’s men must be tired or simply unable to operate at peak production without James Rodriguez, who was a late scratch from the lineup. There’s no other excuse for the misfiring Richarlison, sloppy Mason Holgate, or hung out to dry Jordan Pickford. Of course Calvert-Lewin found his goal and Lucas Digne was good as usual but this Everton team that showed so much promise early has thrown away Champions League hope as well as perhaps a Europa League place. The Toffees have taken just four of six points from Liverpool and Tottenham but just one point from Burnley and none from Newcastle. Infuriating.
And what could this have looked like had Ross Barkley not helped his old pals get on the scoreboard at his former home? (NM)
9. Fulham finished (Chelsea 2-0 Fulham): Scott Parker’s Cottagers continue to infuriate, boasting just four of their last 24 available points but getting that quartet against Liverpool and Arsenal. Fulham now maxes out at 39 points, which means that the Cottagers would have to win out while Brighton, Southampton, Burnley, and Newcastle would pretty much all have to fail to win another match (Fulham could, in theory, draw a match and find their way out since there are matches where that quartet face each other and could draw. It’s not a question of who returns to Craven Cottage. If Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa, Alphonse Areola, and Joachim Andersen are willing to play Championship football, this could be a force of a team. If not, many answers must arrive for the London set. (NM)
10. Quiet Magpies can’t muster more magic (Newcastle 0-2 Arsenal): The loss was Newcastle’s second in nine matches, joining two wins and five draws. The accumulation of results by hook and crook have helped the Magpies to a nine-point cushion over the bottom three, but safety is not assured yet because Leicester City and Man City are next on the fixture list and Fulham’s there on the final day. Fulham has Burnley and Southampton next before a meeting with Manchester United, who will have second-place sealed by then. Regardless of the unlikelihood of a Newcastle relegation, being thoroughly dominated by a substandard Arsenal should further underscore the need for a change in leadership. (NM)