10 things we learned in the Premier League - Matchweek 23
What did we learn during matchweek 23 of the 2021-22 Premier League season?
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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.
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Let’s get to it.
1. Grealish, Foden, Sterling, Jesus ineffective (Southampton 1-1 Manchester City): Not a single one of the four players who played across Manchester City’s front-three made a positive impact for their side. Raheem Sterling was wasteful with his best chance of the game, Foden disappeared aside from one sweetly hit volley, Grealish was a non-factor and Jesus is a shell of the impact sub he once was. Just because Manchester City don’t have a striker (or any semblance of a focal point for their attack) doesn’t mean they need one, if they can cope without the massive investment. Saturday’s frustrating attacking performance, on the heels of similar showings against Chelsea, Arsenal and Brentford (albeit in victories), seem to indicate that there is still untapped potential at the very top for Pep Guardiola’s side. (AE)
2. Reds finishing, lapses won’t let dominance make it easy (Crystal Palace 1-3 Liverpool): Buffalo Bills coach Marv Levy famously said, “What it takes to win is simple, but it isn’t easy,” and goodness, gracious, is that true for Liverpool. The Reds produce chance after chance after chance but finishing isn’t always at the required level -- pretty understandable when Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane are at AFCON -- and the club seems to have 2-3 shocking lapses at the back per game. There were three on Sunday, but Palace only took advantage of one thanks to a pair of saves from Alisson Becker (one on a chance he helped make more dangerous). (NM)
3. Fine margins (Chelsea 2-0 Tottenham): And we mean fine in a few different ways. First, there’s Kane’s shove on Thiago Silva being caught by Paul Tierney. It’s possible that had it not been called on the field, VAR might’ve said the Chelsea back made too much of an obvious but light shove. And then there’s the fine like the layer of gold dust Hakim Ziyech sprinkled on his ethereal strike to make it 1-0 to the Blues. Chef’s kiss? How about angel’s breath? Alien life form? Somethin’ else. (NM)
4. Rangnick subs the difference (Manchester United 1-0 West Ham): Well, he needed a goal and wasn’t going to pull Cristiano Ronaldo for the second-straight match, was he? But let’s give Ralf Rangnick plenty of credit for swapping out Fred and youngsters Mason Greenwood and Anthony Elanga for three attackers with plenty of experience and heroics on their resumes. Marcus Rashford (62nd minute), Edinson Cavani and Anthony Martial (both 82nd minute) were all responsible for the winner after Ronaldo passed to Martial racing down the left. The timing was spot on and put a little shine on CR7’s name after he was best spotted for his latest arms-in-the-air “I’m Ronaldo and I dove, give me a penalty” act. (NM)
5. Arsenal revisit early-season struggles (Arsenal 0-0 Burnley): Sunday’s performance was reminiscent of Arsenal’s early-season woes, when the possession was plentiful but the high-quality scoring chances were not. What’s worse, the Gunners were once again either wasteful or spectacularly denied in their precious few high-leverage moments. Mikel Arteta found a working formula when he effectively turned the team over to youngsters Bukayo Saka, Martin Odegaard and Emile Smith Rowe following Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s removal from the squad. The young Gunners had no real answers when Burnley retreated to an ultra-deep defensive shape in the second half, and Arsenal managed all of three shots in the final 25 minutes of a home game in which they desperately needed to beat the last-place team in the Premier League. (AE)
6. Professional Villa mimic their manager (Everton 0-1 Aston Villa): This was a very solid Villa performance as they looked more dangerous in the first half and took the lead at a crucial time. They then hold on quite comfortably in the second and their air of confidence and solidity mirrored how their manager Steven Gerrard played, and now manages, the game. Gerrard had a wry smile before, during and after the game whenever Everton’s fans hurled abuse at the former Liverpool captain. He had the last laugh at Goodison as his Villa side are developing a strong core and he’s pushed them into the top 10. The progress is there for all to see as Villa’s squad, aided by Gerrard’s quality new signings in Digne and Coutinho, have totally bought in to everything he stands for. (JPW)
7. Wolves keep surging (Brentford 1-2 Wolves): That is now three wins in a row for Wolves and they are well and truly in the European hunt under Bruno Lage with four wins from their last five, as they’re unbeaten in that run against plenty of the big boys. They’re probably in the Champions League hunt. They are just four points out of the top four and they’re winning these games without several key men. Raul Jimenez, Romain Saiss and Hwang-hee Chan are all out but Wolves keep on surging and they have so much belief in the way they play. They’re a horrible team to play against and they’re committed to defending. In many ways they have nothing to lose as they’re already exceeding expectations this season. That is dangerous for the other teams in around the top six, or even Premier League top four. (JPW)
8. Howe he needed that! (Leeds 1-0 Newcastle): Eddie Howe’s team has had its fair share of disappointments under Eddie Howe, twice in relegation scraps. Newcastle took an early red card at Norwich City and held on for a point and took a point off Watford last week... but they needed three. Throw in an FA Cup exit at home to Cambridge United and some questionable personnel preferences, and Howe badly needed a win especially with an international break approaching and the team off for a camp in Saudi Arabia. You’re welcome, say Shelvey and Martin Dubravka.
9. Take a bow, Josh Sargent (Watford 0-3 Norwich): From missing this chance earlier in the season, to simply getting a foot on (and scoring) this most unlikely chance for Premier League goal no. 1 of the season, to scoring again just 23 minutes later, it’s been a wild first six months since Sargent left Werder Bremen and moved to England. (AE)
10. Brighton draw yet again (Leicester 1-1 Brighton): They have now drawn seven of their last 10 and 12 of their 22 games this season, more draws than any other team. Brighton once again deserved more. They have only lost four times this season. Four. Only Chelsea, Liverpool and Man City have lost fewer games and if Brighton can turn just a few of these draws into wins, they will have a chance of finishing in the top six. Without Graham Potter and his assistant Billy Reid on the sidelines due to COVID-19 and self-isolation, nothing looked out of sorts for Brighton. They were so well-drilled and so tough to play against. The next step for them is putting more chances away. How often have we said that this season? (JPW)