Five things we learned from the midweek Premier League fixtures as Man City extend their advantage
1. United play like Arsenal to give Sanchez a poor start.
Perhaps it was a way of making Alexis Sanchez feel at home. His Premier League debut for Manchester United bore unwanted similarities with many an Arsenal game: an away defeat, a dreadful start, some shambolic defending and rather incoherent tactics. United were behind in 11 seconds to Tottenham and beaten by a side who looked sharper and cleverer. It was an inauspicious start for the Chilean.
It was also the first time Paul Pogba finished on the losing side in the Premier League since October 2016. His record suggests he is often a solution, but he was part of the problem at Wembley: with the Frenchman just joined in midfield by Nemanja Matic – Ander Herrera was on the bench – United found themselves outnumbered. They struggled to stop Spurs’ counter-attacks when Heung-Min Son, Christian Eriksen, Dele Alli and, from full-back, Kieran Trippier streamed forward.
It felt a reason why Jose Mourinho substituted Pogba. The manager was culpable, too: often accused of negativity, Mourinho was perhaps too positive in starting all four of Sanchez, Anthony Martial, Romelu Lukaku and Jesse Lingard. When Pogba’s replacement Marouane Fellaini hobbled off after eight minutes, it reinforced the impression that everything Mourinho tried went wrong.
2. Conte is the great loser of deadline day.
Antonio Conte finally landed a target man but was nonetheless the great loser of transfer deadline day. Olivier Giroud arrived too late to be registered. Michy Batshuayi departed before the game against Bournemouth, leaving Chelsea without a specialist striker. The Belgian, scorer of 19 goals in a Chelsea career that has only yielded 18 starts, may have come in handy in the absence of the injured Alvaro Morata, even if he probably would not have stopped the three goals Eddie Howe’s side scored in 17 second-half minutes.
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It is a defeat that raises the prospect that Chelsea could miss out on a top-four finish. With United losing as well, Manchester City’s win over West Bromwich Albion took them 15 points clear. If Pep Guardiola had felt frustrated that the window had not brought him a signing in attack, with Riyad Mahrez eluding him, that cushion means additions would only really have been required in other competitions. Even with David Silva going off injured and Leroy Sane and Gabriel Jesus already out, City’s Premier League lead is so huge that they may need fewer than 20 more points to become champions.
3. Walcott shows why Everton signed him.
Theo Walcott only played 49 minutes of Premier League football for Arsenal this season. While he was kept out of the team by Alexandre Lacazette, Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil, he felt underused then. That impression has been amplified by his start to life at Everton: a debut assist for Oumar Niasse’s equaliser against West Brom and then a first-half brace to defeat Leicester. Of all the attackers to have joined or left Arsenal in January – Sanchez, Olivier Giroud, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – Walcott’s move brought the least fanfare, but he has the most impact in a game played in 2018.
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That should not be a surprise. Even without always being at his best and when losing his place for the final few weeks of the campaign, he scored 19 goals in all competitions last season. Wingers who can be that prolific are rarities and most are owned by the top clubs. That return explained Everton’s interest and why he is an upgrade on the departed Aaron Lennon, another quick winger, but one who does not find the net anything like as often. It all explains why a pragmatist like Sam Allardyce wanted him as he ended Everton’s seven-game winless run.
4. Can provides a reminder of why he will be a loss to Liverpool.
If the focus was on two Germans at the John Smith’s Stadium, a third proved decisive. The latest managerial meeting of David Wagner and Jurgen Klopp went the way of the Liverpool manager, aided by his compatriot Emre Can. The midfielder admitted he was lucky with his opening goal, which came via a deflection. He won a penalty in part because of the clumsiness of Huddersfield’s Philip Billing. Yet he earned his good fortune in a hugely influential display.
If the last week has suggested Can, like his team, is an enigma – he was one of those who was particularly poor in the FA Cup exit to West Bromwich Albion – this was the latest reminder of his capabilities: forceful running, accurate passing, fine crossing, an eye for goal and the versatility to move from the holding position he had been occupying to the role of box-to-box runner. The opponents were only an out-of-form Huddersfield side but Can was a contender for man of the match in the victories over Arsenal and Manchester City. With his contract up in the summer and Juventus interested, Liverpool will miss him if he goes.
5. Cech’s latest error shows how he keeps on costing Arsenal points.
Go back three years and Jose Mourinho claimed he had two of the world’s three best keepers at Stamford Bridge: Thibaut Courtois and Petr Cech. It was the sort of rhetoric that made it seem a coup when Arsenal signed Chelsea’s long-time No. 1, albeit a year after he had been displaced by the Belgian. John Terry promptly declared that his team-mate for a decade would save Arsenal between 12 and 15 points a season.
Now the question is how many he costs them. Had his error at Swansea – a botched clearance that presented Jordan Ayew with a tap-in – been a one-off, it would have been embarrassing but forgivable. Instead it was his fourth error that has led directly to a goal this season. Rather than an asset, he is starting to look a liability. Meanwhile, of the goalkeepers who long seemed weak links at Arsenal, Lukasz Fabianski has excelled for Swansea and Wojciech Szczesny is set to take over from Gianluigi Buffon at Juventus. David Ospina, the one man who was blameless for the FA Cup exit to Nottingham Forest, may be a better bet than Cech now. His evening in defeat in Wales ended with him giving his shirt to Carlos Carvalhal, as a souvenir for the Swansea manager’s son. He remains an admirable character, but that is not enough.