Sports

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

1) Guardiola puts pep in City’s step

After 35 minutes, a free-flowing Manchester derby ground to a halt so that a supporter could receive medical attention. The players took the opportunity for a drinks break. Pep Guardiola seized the moment and gave João Cancelo a dressing-down: a proper Pep talk. It was animated, intense, cartoonish and very Guardiola. Ralf Rangnick spoke to his team too, but in his usual measured way – managerial rather than inspirational. He had tried to play Guardiola at his own game, which was bold. “I see your false nine,” he seemed to say, “and I raise you … two false nines!” Manchester United were trying to out-pass Manchester City, which is like trying to out-press Liverpool. A depleted United made a decent fist of it in the first half, even though Kevin De Bruyne was running through his greatest hits. But whatever Guardiola said at half-time lifted City to another level. United fell apart and Guardiola, whose record in home derbies is curiously patchy, was rewarded with his biggest win over them. Tim de Lisle

Quick Guide

How do I sign up for sport breaking news alerts?

Show

  • Download the Guardian app from the iOS App Store on iPhones or the Google Play store on Android phones by searching for ‘The Guardian’.
  • If you already have the Guardian app, make sure you’re on the most recent version.
  • In the Guardian app, tap the yellow button at the bottom right, then go to Settings (the gear icon), then Notifications.
  • Turn on sport notifications.

Thank you for your feedback.

2) Rashford’s derby conquests seems a long time ago

Whatever happened to Marcus Rashford? He used to love a Manchester derby, feeling it in his bones as a Wythenshawe boy, running rings round Martín Demichelis. If Rangnick had known about that, Rashford might have got a start on Sunday. As it was, he was left on the bench, even though all United’s other strikers were indisposed: Cristiano Ronaldo injured, Mason Greenwood unavailable, Anthony Martial loaned out, Edinson Cavani fussing about his fitness. The obvious move was to rehabilitate Rashford and back him to turn a corner. Instead Rangnick showed so little faith in him that he fielded two false nines, Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba, plus his preferred wingers in Jadon Sancho and Anthony Elanga. Sancho rose to the challenge, Elanga wilted and by the time Rashford appeared, the game was up. He had one chance to show his pace and his class, but as so often in recent weeks he dithered and ran into traffic. Rangnick, who had talked about Rashford as if he was a beginner, may need to remind him how good he can be. TdL

3) Coutinho could lift Villa to next level

When Ollie Watkins confessed that Philippe Coutinho thinks too quickly for him and that he can find himself fooled by his new teammate’s movement, one of the Brazilian’s former colleagues could surely empathise. Steven Gerrard jokingly attributed his 2015 decision to leave Liverpool to Coutinho. “He was one of the reasons I called it a day and went to America,” he said. “In most training sessions, he was too quick for me. He is the reason I have six screws in my left groin and I am probably on my way to a new hip.” If it explains why Coutinho was too good for Southampton, it underlines why Gerrard wants a special talent in his side to help propel Villa to another level. “All good teams have these type of players, game-changers who the opposition are really concerned about before a ball is kicked,” he said. “Phil has that status.” Richard Jolly

The Fiver: sign up and get our daily football email.

4) Howe’s Newcastle project taking shape

As one of Eddie Howe’s managerial predecessors at Newcastle once put it, “possession can be overrated”. Alan Pardew’s point appeared vindicated as, despite Brighton enjoying 68% of possession, they lost a fourth straight league game. In contrast, Howe’s team have won five of their last six and are unbeaten in eight. Steve Bruce’s successor has transformed certain players almost beyond recognition. Ryan Fraser – the scorer of one goal and creator of the other – is a reborn winger while Fabian Schär, who headed the second goal and has formed a solid partnership with the outstanding Dan Burn, no longer looks a liability and Joelinton is a big hit as a reinvented midfielder. It speaks volumes that Bruno Guimarães, Howe’s marquee January signing from Lyon, was restricted to a tantalisingly promising late cameo from the bench. Louise Taylor

Dan Burn and Newcastle celebrate after their win. Photograph: Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

5) Chelsea relish the return of James

The return of Reece James after two months out is a bittersweet moment for Chelsea. Sweet because of his importance to Thomas Tuchel’s system: his energy and movement, dribbling and finishing, as displayed in the 4-0 win against Burnley. Bitter because, as Tuchel put it: “Once he plays you see what you missed.” It’s no exaggeration to posit that Chelsea might still be in the title race but for his absences: of the four games against Liverpool and Manchester City, he missed two, went off injured in one and was sent off at Anfield with Chelsea 1-0 up. Chelsea won none of those games. Jonathan Liew

6) Have Leicester unearthed a future captain?

As Brendan Rodgers’s key players trickle back from injury, it is increasingly difficult to ignore the emergence of the latest homegrown Leicester player to seize his chance. Harvey Barnes’s sleek finish was the difference against Leeds on Saturday but Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall, who joined the club aged eight, put in another all-action display and his manager believes the 23-year-old midfielder, who excelled on loan at Luton last season after a spell at Blackpool, has the makings of a future captain. “He’s a real throwback for me,” Rodgers said. “He is one that can get up and down, but also put his foot in – he loves a tackle. I think at some point he’ll be a skipper here. He leads, he inspires, he’ll give a voice – he’ll say what he thinks. But he is very respectful, very humble, and is a great ambassador for the club and for the academy.” Ben Fisher

Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall put in another all-action display against Leeds.
Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall put in another all-action display against Leeds. Photograph: Tony Obrien/Reuters

7) Liverpool’s defence stand up to be counted

The attacking riches of the Premier League’s top two enthral but defensive pedigree has also shaped the destination of recent titles and may do so again. Liverpool’s title defence eroded without Virgil van Dijk and company last season; the year before, Manchester City were unable to keep pace with Jürgen Klopp’s champions after losing Aymeric Laporte. Collectively, Liverpool struggled to contain West Ham and Michail Antonio in particular yet individual contributions from Trent Alexander-Arnold, Andy Robertson, Ibrahima Konaté and Naby Keïta were critical to securing a fortunate, invaluable win. “If the organisation is wrong for a moment it doesn’t mean you can’t defend the situation in other ways,” as Klopp put it. Alexander-Arnold broke his own record by registering a 16th assist of the season, with a potential 20 games still to play. “He knows where the dangerous situations are in the opposition box,” said his manager. “It is also very helpful when you work together for a long time because the strikers know what to expect.” Andy Hunter

8) Saka shows qualities beyond his age

Bukayo Saka’s levels just get higher and higher. He has more direct goal involvements this season – 13 – than any top-flight player under 21 and recorded two of them with a goal and assist against Watford. Saka is still a young player and that is evident in his freshness; there is a cleanness and clarity to his play, though, that would befit a top footballer many years older. Mikel Arteta believes his experience from Euro 2020, when he missed a key penalty in the final and took awful abuse on social media, has made him stronger. “I think so,” he said. “I think experiences like that mark your career. And what you learn from those difficult moments is much more probably than if you had scored that goal.” Saka has gone on to score and set up plenty more; he is the driving force in a vibrant side that has a return to the big time in its grasp. Nick Ames

Bukayo Saka after scoring at Watford.
Bukayo Saka after scoring at Watford. Photograph: Nigel Keene/ProSports/Shutterstock

9) Unflappable Toney proves his worth

The headlines were beckoning Christian Eriksen, making his first start for Brentford at Norwich, but nobody told Ivan Toney. After getting back in the groove by scoring three times in his previous four games, he scored three times in half an hour. A crisp tap-in at the far post after a corner, two ice-cold penalties – both slotted to Tim Krul’s right – and Toney had not just the match ball but Brentford’s first-ever hat-trick in the top flight. Norwich managed more shots (15 to Brentford’s 10) and possession (59%) but Brentford were far more efficient thanks to Eriksen’s effortless corners and Toney’s fine finishing. After a drought in December, Toney now has 11 goals from 27 appearances in all competitions. A year and a half ago, Brentford paid £6m for Toney. He is worth a fair bit more now. TdL

10) Diligent Zaha is the complete winger

Wilfried Zaha has long been renowned for his mercurial creative skills but, at 29, he is now proving he can combine craft with graft. The Ivory Coast winger, due to face England at Wembley this month, scored his ninth Premier League goal of the season, from the penalty spot, to seal a superb win at Wolves after making the first for Jean-Philippe Mateta. But it was his tracking and pressing that showed how much he has developed under Patrick Vieira this season. “He’s in a good period,” the Palace manager said. “He was fantastic out of possession. We played well and he was part of the team that defended well.” When asked whether Zaha’s temperament had improved, Vieira replied: “I don’t want that to change, because that’s part of who he is, and we need this kind of passion.” Peter Lansley

Related Articles

Back to top button