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

Erik ten Hag’s derby selection backfires while Mikel Arteta appears to be building something special at Arsenal.

1) Ten Hag confuses with Casemiro derby decision

Erik ten Hag is nothing if not a Serious Football Man, but there was an element of comedy about Manchester United’s unravelling at the Etihad.

“out of respect for his big career”.

It was there in the comment from Ten Hag that Cristiano Ronaldo did not appear

That may or may not be a brilliant caustic joke. More significantly it was there on Casemiro’s face as he came on with the game already dead, having worked his way through five Champions League medals only to discover that, in fact, he’s not as good as Scott McTominay. So, some useful information there for the Brazilian. Ten Hag is the latest United manager caught between ill-fitting celebrity signings and coherent team building. A 37-year-old celebrity black hole was never likely to be a Ten Hag kind of guy. But not starting Casemiro, a midfielder who has been the best in the world in his role, made very little sense.

2) Leeds and Villa stink out Super Sunday

Leeds and Aston Villa don’t like each other. Their previous four competitive meetings included 23 yellow cards and red card. A pre-season “friendly” in Australia also boiled over. Sunday’s tally of seven yellows and the red shown for Luis Sinisterra’s second bookable offence, “not intelligent play” as his manager, Jesse Marsch, put it, was about par. Stuart Attwell, the referee, was at times lenient but was offered no choice about the second booking when Sinisterra put his foot out to block a free-kick. The Colombian was suckered into his reflex reaction by Douglas Luiz taking the kick quickly but could have few complaints. He was not alone in being distracted by the skullduggery and aggression that dragged the game downwards as a spectacle. Marsch accused Villa of trying to slow the game down to “snail’s pace”.

We came here to frustrate Leeds.”

Steven Gerrard admitted

It made for a poor selection for the showpiece Sunday 4.30pm slot.

3) Arsenal feel genuine sense of hope under Arteta

“You see a sense of something that is unique and real,”

Mikel Arteta said after watching Arsenal take Tottenham apart.

The league leaders are having fun: they are not the finished article but there is a self-belief and genuine joy in their play, as well as in their interactions with one another, that suggests nobody should put a ceiling on their potential. Aaron Ramsdale poked his head into the press conference room afterwards with a chirpy “hello” and, a little later, explained

“We all have this fire burning inside because of what happened,” 

“The day I returned to pre-season the standard of training had increased. People [are] demanding more off each other.

”missing out on Champions League football is contributing to their energy. “

He said

They are delivering it and, with a spluttering Liverpool visiting the Emirates next, Arsenal can justifiably feel a level of hope that had deserted them for years.

4) Is Conte’s counterattacking working for Tottenham?

Never has an Antonio Conte team played a league season with less than 50% possession. Right now, Tottenham’s cumulative total is 48%. So who’s responsible, is it a problem, and can it be changed? Tottenham’s inability to keep the ball is partly tactical and deliberate: a low defensive block, a reliance on the counterattack, a two-man midfield picked for physicality rather than control. This need not be a weakness in itself. Conte would argue that without a midfield playmaker such as Marcelo Brozovic, Andrea Pirlo or Cesc Fàbregas, and with four high-class forwards, he is simply playing to Tottenham’s strengths. But it does mean they will often be forced to soak up pressure against the more technical sides. 

5) Anxiety grips Anfield amid defensive uncertainty

The apprehension inside Anfield was palpable as Liverpool struggled to preserve a 3-2 lead over Brighton. It was also revealing when Jurgen Klopp compared the anxiety – that he shared – to the early “heart attack” days of his reign, when he would glare at supporters heading for the exits before the final whistle. The doubts are back, with good reason. Roberto De Zerbi’s side were irrepressible at times and could have been four up inside 17 minutes. While Liverpool’s ability to recover cannot be overlooked, nor can their defensive weakness. With Arsenal and Manchester City up next in the Premier League, the recurring flaw needs addressing immediately. 

“We are trying to put pressure on the ball but teams are adapting to us as well,” 

“Defending starts from the front and we all do that together. We have to get back to that consistency, and play with joy and freedom. But it all starts with doing it together and working hard.” 

Admitted Virgil van Dijk, whose error allowed Leandro Trossard to secure his hat-trick.

6) Lage leaves legacy of style without substance

Bruno Lage’s struggles with Wolves threw up a philosophical question: how long can it be acceptable to play decent football and look nothing like winning a match? Sunday’s sacking brought the answer. At the London Stadium, the classier play came from Lage’s team but Wolves showed nothing like the incision that brought West Ham’s goals. Wolves had won just once in 15 league matches and scored only three this season. Without the suspended Nathan Collins, their defence was ravaged by West Ham’s Jarrod Bowen. At Chelsea next Saturday, whoever is in charge, Wolves will be again without Collins, Ruben Neves, also suspended, and likely the injured Pedro Neto, with Matheus Nunes also a doubt. Lage was booed by Wolves fans for subbing off Nunes, a prelude to a fierce barracking that came at full-time. 

“If a new manager comes in, he’ll still have the same problems,” 

Lage said on Saturday, accepting the inevitability of his departure.

7) Longstaff thanks loyal fans after Fulham rout

If anyone epitomized Newcastle’s hunger in the hammering of Fulham then it was Sean Longstaff. While Miguel Almirón deservedly took the headlines for his wonder strike, the 24-year-old midfielder set the tone throughout at Craven Cottage as Eddie Howe’s side took full advantage of Nathaniel Chalobah’s early red card for his poorly timed challenge on Longstaff. The lifelong Newcastle fan clearly enjoyed celebrating his goal with the travelling supporters just before half-time and, on a day when most of the country’s rail networks ground to a halt, Longstaff paid tribute to their commitment. 

“You can make it as difficult as you want for them but they’re always going to pack out the away end no matter where it is,’’ 

“That’s why they are the best supporters in the world and we are privileged to play in front of them.” 

He said. 

8) Eze edging towards top form for Crystal Palace

It was an afternoon of fury and frustration for Crystal Palace, and overall they did not play well, but in defeat by Chelsea there were still positives for the south London club. Among them another encouraging display by Eberechi Eze almost a year on from his return to action after a serious knee injury. The 24-year-old was an especially lively presence in the first half, connecting midfield with attack and twice forcing Kepa Arrizabalaga into duty with viciously hit low drives. Eze also carried out his share of defensive duties and, allied to his other performances this season, most notable in the 1-1 draw at Liverpool in August, there is little doubt this is a player who is slowly but surely working his way back to the consistently high levels he was at for Palace before his unfortunate setback. Sachin Nakrani

9) Lampard pleases fans with added steel

Frank Lampard repeatedly alluded to the strength of character in his Everton squad after victory at Southampton, a spirit that was often conspicuous by its absence last season. Conor Coady and James Tarkowski have forged a steely partnership in front of Jordan Pickford, while Idrissa Gueye and Amadou Onana, two more summer signings, dictated the midfield at St Mary’s. Another of Everton’s eight new faces, Dwight McNeil, scored the winner to send the 3,000-strong away support home happy. 

“The fans fought against a train strike, the cost of living, all these things that are there all the time at the moment,” 

“There is definitely a sense that the fans are appreciating and seeing a character in the team that they want and they demand. There has been a change of personnel and I think it was needed. We tried to bring in good people as well as good players. I think we’ve done that in lots of areas.” 

Lampard said.

 

10) O’Neil stamps his mark on Bournemouth

On the face of things, a goalless draw at home to Brentford is a poor result for Bournemouth, the exact kind of game a promoted side would hope to win. But looked at in context, this particular goalless draw at home to Brentford represented progress. When Gary O’Neil succeeded Scott Parker after the 9-0 defeat at Anfield, Bournemouth had conceded 16 times in three games; in the four they’ve played since, they have been breached just four times. Broadly speaking, O’Neil has used the same players as his predecessor; what has changed is that his defense is better organized. But what’s really changed is that his defense is more confident, thanks to a manager who believes in his players and has convinced them that they belong at this level. There remains work to do – lots of it – but a team that looked extremely likely to go down now look in with a serious chance of staying up.

PosTeamPGDPts
1Arsenal81221
2Man City82020
3Tottenham Hotspur8917
4Brighton7614
5Chelsea7013
6Man Utd7-312
7Newcastle8411
8Fulham8-211
9Liverpool7910
10Brentford8310
11Everton8010
12Leeds709
13AFC Bournemouth8-139
14Aston Villa8-48
15West Ham8-47
16Southampton8-57
17Crystal Palace7-36
18Wolverhampton8-66
19Nottm Forest7-114
20Leicester7-121

Source: The Guardian

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