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

Guardian sport
Clockwise from top left: Antonio Conte celebrates Chelsea’s win; Dele Alli scores a penalty for Tottenham; Dan Gosling and Josh King; Dominic Calvert-Lewin after scoring for Everton. Composite: Getty Images

1) Puel goes sort of nuclear to press his penalty point

Claude Puel does not make many headlines with his quotes to the media. Indeed it is often a challenge for the press simply to hear him. The Southampton manager routinely whispers his way through his news conferences and it has been easy to suspect that the microphone at St Mary’s is faulty. It was working at White Hart Lane, however, and if Puel did not exactly thunder into it he made the point that his Southampton team ought to have had a penalty for Ben Davies’s challenge on Dusan Tadic. Put it this way, he said, if Tottenham were going to get one for Steven Davis’s tackle on Dele Alli, Tadic deserved one too. He had a point. Puel was also unhappy Alli’s penalty had come while Southampton were unable to introduce Shane Long for the injured Manolo Gabbiadini. Puel and his Southampton team were on the wrong side of the marginal calls. David Hytner

Match report: Tottenham Hotspur 2-1 Southampton

2) Pulis shows his soft side – yes, really

There is a sense that if there is one manager in the Premier League who would never put his arm around under‑performing players, who would sooner combine a kick up the backside with a rabbit punch to the ribs, it is Tony Pulis. However, if Pulis were a caricature he would not be able to point to 25 years of overachievement and the 59‑year‑old might not have got West Bromwich Albion’s players to bounce back from two defeats in order to beat Arsenal on Saturday. “The manager brought us in on Monday and we all thought we were going to get a dressing‑down about the last two games, but he didn’t,” Jonny Evans said of Pulis after the 3-1 defeat of Arsène Wenger’s team. “He just put them aside and said: ‘We’ve got 10 games to go, let’s go and enjoy them, pick ourselves up and go at them.’ I thought it was excellent the way he did that.” Paul Doyle

Wenger determined to stay on as Arsenal manager
Match report: West Bromwich Albion 3-1 Arsenal
Secrecy over contract will do little to silence Wenger’s detractors

3) Gosling leads by example at Bournemouth

If I was going to climb Everest I would want him by my side

Eddie Howe of Dan Gosling

The Bournemouth squad travelled to Dubai for a warm-weather training camp on Sunday but a hypothetical hike up Mount Everest spoke bigger volumes of a personality, and key midfield cog, at Eddie Howe’s disposal. “If I was going to climb Everest I would want him by my side,” Howe, Bournemouth’s manager, said when asked about Dan Gosling, again preferred to Jack Wilshere in the heart of midfield. Gosling, who has made more than 100 top-flight appearances, has had to be patient for his chance but since coming on at half‑time at Manchester United this month he has played every minute, which have yielded Bournemouth seven points from a possible nine. “I think he has been outstanding,” Howe said. “He is that kind of character, a real team player and he is at his best every day in training and he wants to win – his running and his desire to win is infectious.” Ben Fisher

Match report: Bournemouth 2-0 Swansea City

4) Watford’s slippage could spell trouble for Mazzarri

Could Watford really be dragged into the relegation battle? Recent performances would suggest that it may yet happen, even if much will depend on at least one of Middlesbrough, Hull City or Sunderland mounting a sustained run of victories as the season heads for its finish. With 31 points already, two more victories should be more than enough to make sure and Watford’s meeting with David Moyes’s Sunderland side on 1 April at Vicarage Road may settle a few nerves. The future of Walter Mazzarri appears less clearcut, however. The Italian would become the first Watford manager to complete a year in charge since the departure from Vicarage Road of his compatriot Gianfranco Zola in 2013 – four other managers have come and gone since – if he lasts beyond the summer but the recent run of only one point from four matches will not have helped his cause. Ed Aarons

Match report: Crystal Palace 1-0 Watford
Allardyce looks to Crystal Palace chairman to keep Zaha

Walter Mazzarri, pictured doing his Three Tenors’ impersonation, needs a crescendo to Watford’s season. Photograph: PPAUK/Rex/Shutterstock


5) Klopp will view bewildering campaign as missed opportunity

Liverpool’s curious season continues. They go into the international break with their unbeaten record intact. Of course, that refers to their record against their other top six rivals. Having seen off Chelsea, Tottenham, Manchester City and Arsenal and remained undefeated against Manchester United, Jürgen Klopp will no doubt look back upon this campaign as a missed opportunity. Liverpool were, for long periods against City, the better side. But their latest display highlights what a bewildering team they can be: wretched against Burnley, Bournemouth, Hull, Swansea and Leicester, but bewitching in beating the champions elect and pushing the best to one side. Lack of strength in depth is an obvious consideration and Klopp may well feel it is high time the Liverpool owners, Fenway Sports Group, backed him a little more seriously in the transfer market. Mark Dobson

Match report: Manchester City 1-1 Liverpool
Guardiola: Manchester City draw with Liverpool ‘one of my happiest days’
Barney Ronay: Sterling adds improvised flourish to Guardiola’s solid lines
Michael Cox: Klopp and Guardiola cancel each other out in frantic contest


6) Calvert-Lewin’s potential begs question over Rooney quest

Dominic Calvert-Lewin brought up two landmarks in three days. His first Premier League goal came on Saturday and his 20th birthday on Thursday. It is a shame in some respects he is not a few days younger. Two teenagers, Tom Davies and Ademola Lookman, have scored in the top flight for Everton this season. Calvert-Lewin was nearly a third, a statistic that would have underlined their belief in youth. If it means each is a successor of sorts to Wayne Rooney, it makes the stated interest of Ronald Koeman and the director of football, Steve Walsh, in bringing back an old Evertonian look all the odder. Were Rooney re-signed, Calvert-Lewin, Lookman and Davies would probably be afforded fewer opportunities and Everton, so vibrant now, might appear stagnant. If Romelu Lukaku has propelled them onwards in 2017 and Ross Barkley has underpinned their rise, the newcomers have been symbolic catalysts. Richard Jolly

Match report: Everton 4-0 Hull City
Daniel Taylor: Lukaku’s ambition is the same as Ronald Koeman’s

Dominic Calvert-Lewin enjoys scoring Everton’s first goal. Photograph: Martin Rickett/PA

7) Boro’s fighting spirit faces its major test next month

I know we'll take that fighting spirit for the rest of the season

Middlesbrough's Steve Agnew

Defeat by Manchester United left Middlesbrough with an uphill task but Steve Agnew, the club’s caretaker manager, said he had a “clear view” of how to avoid relegation from the Premier League; perhaps he had glanced at the calendar and the three matches in six days at the start of next month. Boro travel to Swansea and Hull before hosting Burnley on 8 April. Then, mathematically speaking anyhow, they could rise as high as 15th. Should they fail to take anything from those matches they would be all but relegated. Agnew, who appointed the Bristol-based Joe Jordan as his assistant for the run-in, has made no secret of wanting the job on a permanent basis and commended his players’ spirit after this defeat on Sunday. But it is next month they really need to show it. “I know we’ll take that fighting spirit for the rest of the season,” Agnew said. Ben Fisher

Manchester United’s Mourinho refuses to discuss Middlesbrough spat
Match report: Middlesbrough 1-3 Manchester United

8) Unbeaten until the end – Chelsea fancy their chances

After Gary Cahill’s late, late show stole Chelsea all three points, Antonio Conte was asked if his side could remain unbeaten in the final 10 games. Chelsea have lost only once in 22 Premier League outings since a 3-0 reverse at Arsenal on 24 September, and Conte said: “It is incredible I think what we are doing. For sure at the start of the season it was very difficult to put Chelsea in the teams who fight for the title. The start of the season wasn’t bad and then we changed a lot [to a three‑man defence, after defeat against Arsenal]. Then we stay at the top of the table and I have to thank all my players because they are working hard. They are showing me in every game a great commitment and a great will to fight.” Do not wager against Conte’s men keeping the 2-0 defeat at Tottenham on 4 January as the only one in 32 matches by remaining unbeaten until 21 May. Jamie Jackson

Match report: Stoke City 1-2 Chelsea

Antonio Conte asks for a lift to the changing room from his goalkeeper, Thibaut Courtois. Photograph: ProSports/RexShutterstock

9) Will Sunderland take Moyes down with them?

Maybe I would have been better going into Ukraine's civil war than Sunderland

Lee Congleton

Lee Congerton, the former sporting director at Sunderland, had some interesting things to say when unveiled as Celtic’s head of recruitment last week. The one‑time Chelsea chief scout and Hamburg technical director did not enjoy the internal politics on Wearside and jokingly, or maybe half‑jokingly, claimed he might have been better off taking up a job he had been offered with Metallist Kharkiv in Ukraine. “Maybe I would have been better going into Ukraine’s civil war than Sunderland,” said Congerton, whose private views on the reasons behind the club’s current plight would be instructive. Many fans interpreted a rare visit from Ellis Short, the Sunderland owner, on Saturday as a sign that David Moyes was set to be sacked. That appears unlikely although Short has form for March managerial dismissals, but one thing seems certain – relegation beckons. Louise Taylor

Match report: Sunderland 0-0 Burnley
Said & Done: ‘I’m carrying on with my career, dude. I’m starting over’

10) West Ham can’t afford many more of Bilic’s ‘mistakes’

Anticipating that Leicester City would still be tired from their midweek exertions against Sevilla, Slaven Bilic asked his players for a fast start. Instead West Ham United gave away three cheap goals inside the first 38 minutes. Despite a dramatic late push for an equaliser, West Ham paid for their early, inexplicable doziness. They are winless in their past five matches and although they are nine points above the bottom three, their form is deeply concerning. West Ham are lacking in pace and creativity on the ball and intensity and aggression out of possession, and have forgotten how to defend. Darren Randolph does not convince in goal and there is a shortage of basic organisation throughout the entire 11. “Mistakes happen,” Bilic said. They are happening a lot. West Ham have conceded 52 goals in 29 matches, a record that raises questions about Bilic’s future. Jacob Steinberg

Match report: West Ham United 2-3 Leicester City

Pos Team P GD Pts
1 Chelsea 28 38 69
2 Tottenham Hotspur 28 34 59
3 Man City 28 24 57
4 Liverpool 29 25 56
5 Man Utd 27 19 52
6 Arsenal 27 22 50
7 Everton 29 21 50
8 West Brom 29 1 43
9 Stoke 29 -9 36
10 Southampton 27 -3 33
11 AFC Bournemouth 29 -12 33
12 West Ham 29 -12 33
13 Burnley 29 -11 32
14 Watford 28 -15 31
15 Leicester 28 -14 30
16 Crystal Palace 28 -10 28
17 Swansea 29 -27 27
18 Hull 29 -32 24
19 Middlesbrough 28 -13 22
20 Sunderland 28 -26 20
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