Premier League: 10 talking points from the weekend’s action

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1) United old boys bring an end to Solskjær saga

It is a footnote to the weekend’s biggest story, but the final nail in Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s coffin was partly hammered in by four players who were at various points deemed not good enough for Manchester United. Ben Foster, Craig Cathcart, Tom Cleverley and Joshua King all made vital contributions to a Watford performance that brimmed with energy, intent and endeavour. United’s class of 2021 lacked all those qualities, and plenty more. They were simply overrun and, while Solskjær’s departure was both inevitable and correct, they might wonder whether a better engagement with the basics might have helped their old manager’s cause. After the final whistle Bruno Fernandes communicated to the away support that United’s players should take the brunt of their ire. In truth the blame for an unholy mess can be shared throughout the club, but Watford’s gang of old boys cast their successors’ efforts into stark relief. Nick Ames

2) Title tilt shaping up for Liverpool

In the aftermath of Liverpool’s customary Anfield cruise against Arsenal, Trent Alexander-Arnold heralded the start of a defining period in what “is kind of looking like a three-horse race” for the Premier League title. For all of the injury disruption in midfield, and the end of a club record-equalling unbeaten run at West Ham, Jürgen Klopp’s team look impressively equipped and motivated on the evidence of Saturday’s display. “The second half was probably our best pressing that we’ve had this season, it was back to what we do,” said Alexander-Arnold, who has provided six assists in his last nine games. “We put them under immense pressure and won the ball back and we were able to punish them with Diogo [Jota]’s goal.” The return of the Champions League this week affords Klopp opportunity to improve the match fitness of Takumi Minamino, Thiago Alcântara and others with the group already won, a rare luxury at this juncture. Andy Hunter

3) Newcastle are sunk without midfield anchor

Impressive going forward, hopeless at the back, Newcastle certainly entertained during an utterly chaotic 3-3 draw with Brentford. A positive Covid test confined Eddie Howe to his hotel room, but Newcastle’s new manager may have been most concerned with a midfield in which Jonjo Shelvey shone but Joe Willock underwhelmed. If he intends to continue in this ultra-attacking vein, Howe desperately needs a midfield enforcer to protect a Championship-standard defence. Indeed without such an anchor, the second tier is almost certainly where Newcastle, currently bottom of the Premier League and winless this season, will end up. As good as Allan Saint-Maximin and an apparently reborn Joelinton proved at the front of Howe’s 3-4-3, they could not camouflage the defensive fissures exposed by Ivan Toney’s desire to prove a point. Back in 2018 Newcastle sold Saturday’s star performer to Peterborough having deemed him sub-standard. Louise Taylor

4) Rüdiger and wing-backs show worth

Not only are Chelsea’s wing-backs flourishing as part of Thomas Tuchel’s free-flowing attacking interplay, they are also important with set-piece deliveries. Reece James and Ben Chilwell have contributed five assists and seven goals between them this season. With James outstanding on the right flank – and just about everywhere else as he roamed and interchanged – Chilwell delivered the corner against Leicester for Chelsea’s fifth headed goal of the season, when Antonio Rüdiger rose to open the scoring. Rüdiger’s Fantasy League points tally continues to reflect his worth at both ends of the pitch and Tuchel is optimistic the Germany defender, whose current deal expires in the summer, will sign a new contract. “We want him to stay,” the Chelsea manager said. “This is very clear and he knows it. He is fully committed to Chelsea right now. I am absolutely sure that he feels the trust and the respect and the love from club and spectators.” Pete Lansley

5) Conte revolution will take time despite win

Watching Leeds skate around Spurs in the first half, the impression was of a Subbuteo team playing a table football team, one all movement, angles and variety, the other stiff, slow and predictable. There are various reasons for this – Spurs are low on confidence and have a new manager still formulating his ideas. They are also low on pace, numbers and creativity in midfield so, though they turned the match around they will continue to struggle until that changes. It’s easy to understand why Antonio Conte wants the safety in numbers of three centre-backs, likewise his desire for three in attack – but this affords the former little protection and the latter little service. Consequently, Conte must either settle on a centre-back pairing or trust a strikeforce of Harry Kane and Son Heung-min, then add another body to his engine room, because that is the only way his team will control games. Daniel Harris

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6) Everton’s problems predate under-fire Benítez

Carlo Ancelotti’s last game as Everton manager was a 5-0 defeat at the Etihad Stadium. It was a sign of Rafa Benítez’s skills as a defensive strategist that this scoreline was narrower. Everton denied Antonio Conte’s Tottenham a shot on target but a sequel never felt realistic as City had 77% of possession. “To defend against a good team all the time is not easy,” said Benítez. Pressure told and Everton were depleted before they were defeated. Already without the spine of a side, in Yerry Mina, Abdoulaye Doucoure and Dominic Calvert-Lewin, they lost their most exciting winger, in Demarai Gray. As a former Liverpool manager, Benítez can make an obvious scapegoat but the problems predate his appointment. It is damning that a club who have spent half a billion on transfers under owner Farhad Moshiri had a bench of such mediocrity. Benítez, whose expenditure amounts to £1.7m on Gray, has been hamstrung by their past. Richard Jolly

7) Brighton letting it slip after heady start

Brighton began the season with a bounce but after eight matches without victory, early optimism is slowly fading. It was a familiar story at Villa Park, where they controlled large spells without baring their teeth. It was almost as if the noise surrounding Steven Gerrard’s first victory as a Premier League manager masked another slip, although they have only lost two games during this run, holding Arsenal and Liverpool to draws along the way. A glittering start suggested a team that battled relegation for the past four seasons could upset the normal order but bridging the gap is not easy. “Ninety-five per cent of all leagues are determined by finance,” said Graham Potter. “We are trying to be the 5% that makes a difference. You can only do that by having an idea and making your pound work harder than the rest.” Ben Fisher

8) Turf Moor thrills point to Clarets avoiding spills

A 3-3 draw, featuring five first-half goals and a second-half belter, between teams who started the match ninth and 18th, speaks volumes about the state of England’s top echelon: never has there been so much talent and never have matches as exciting as this one been so likely. This isn’t all good – it is rooted in a financial dominance that hands mid-to-low-ranking teams more money than title contenders elsewhere, though it’s also the case that the pool of high-level players has never been so deep. In any event, Burnley’s squad is not replete with players acquired solely with financial muscle; rather, it reflects Sean Dyche’s superb work. And, though Burnley remain in the relegation zone, 11 goals in seven games suggest he is developing a more expansive style that should see his team stay up comfortably once again. DH

Maxwel Cornet scored the final, superb goal of a thrilling 3-3 draw.
Maxwel Cornet scored the final, superb goal of a thrilling 3-3 draw. Photograph: Craig Galloway/ProSports/Rex/Shutterstock

9) Sargent finds order for Smith and Canaries

Do Norwich City have enough quality to stay in the Premier League? That’s one of the questions asked by radio provocateurs after the Canaries’ dismal start to the season. Dean Smith arrived last week with a firm answer – yes – and against Southampton he got to test his hypothesis in the flesh. Reinstating two naturally talented players in Billy Gilmour and Todd Cantwell to the side had a mixed success. Both struggled in the first half as the Saints dominated, with Cantwell taken off at half-time. Gilmour grew into the game as Norwich played higher, but it was Cantwell’s replacement Josh Sargent who affected the game more. Sargent has been criticised for his lack of goal threat but his intelligence and determination disrupted the visitors’ flow. Equally, the timing and bravery of Ben Gibson proved crucial in keeping the Canaries in the match early on. The qualities required to keep Norwich in touch extend beyond technical ability. Paul MacInnes

10) West Ham reminded of need for depth

There’s something very West Ham about beating Liverpool in rousing, memorable style, before losing tepidly to Wolves. And it will not have escaped David Moyes’s attention that his team’s next five league games include encounters with Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal, after which comes Spurs away in the League Cup quarter-final. Things can very quickly go wrong, something Moyes knows well from previous engagements. But if West Ham get through to Christmas still in the hunt for a Champions League spot, as the most settled of the contenders they’ll have a decent chance. When seeking a goal on Saturday, all three of their midfield creators were subbed, but the players who replaced them were not of comparable quality. After Daniel Kretinsky’s acquisition of a 27% stake in the club, Moyes should have funds available in January to address that. If he spends wisely, his team will immediately become an even more serious proposition. DH

Pos

Team

P

GD

Pts

1

Chelsea

12

26

29

2

Man City

12

19

26

3

Liverpool

12

24

25

4

West Ham

12

9

23

5

Arsenal

12

-4

20

6

Wolverhampton

12

0

19

7

Tottenham Hotspur

12

-6

19

8

Man Utd

12

-1

17

9

Brighton

12

-2

17

10

Crystal Palace

12

1

16

11

Everton

12

-3

15

12

Leicester

12

-5

15

13

Southampton

12

-3

14

14

Brentford

12

-1

13

15

Aston Villa

12

-4

13

16

Watford

12

-4

13

17

Leeds

12

-8

11

18

Burnley

12

-6

9

19

Norwich

12

-20

8

20

Newcastle

12

-12

6

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