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Premier League: 10 Talking Points from the Weekend's Action

Premier League: 10 Talking Points from the Weekend's Action

Tuesday, 6 April, 2021 - 06:45
Thomas Tuchel had an unexpectedly awful Saturday; Fabinho shone in Liverpool’s midfield; and George Baldock puzzlingly played on after a head injury. Composite: Getty; PA; Rex

1) Fabinho in midfield achieves Liverpool balance

The post-match talk was of Trent Alexander-Arnold ramming it down the throat of Gareth Southgate. But Liverpool’s performance also spelled out why the full-back has struggled to the extent of being considered expendable by England. For Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson to have maximum attacking impact they require a balanced midfield to create space and time to burn forward. Fabinho has spent most of the season either in central defense, standing in for Virgil van Dijk, or on the absentee list. His restoration to midfield and Liverpool’s improvement either side of the international break is little coincidence. The Brazilian’s assurance and simplicity make those around him better, fulfilling the same function as Fernandinho does for Manchester City. Fabinho’s presence also settles the much-improved Thiago Alcântara into his desired passing rhythm. It appears highly unlikely that Jürgen Klopp will return Fabinho to central defense anytime soon. John Brewin

Match report: Arsenal 0-3 Liverpool

2) Guardiola wary of Dortmund’s threat

After watching his team patiently, skilfully and comprehensively dispose of Leicester on Saturday, Pep Guardiola’s thoughts turned to the next step on Manchester City’s road to potential glory: Tuesday’s Champions League quarter-final first leg against Borussia Dortmund. His message was clear: Dortmund may only be fifth in the Bundesliga after losing to Eintracht Frankfurt at the weekend but they have the ability to spring a surprise if City are not as determined to dominate as they were at Leicester. “I will not find one single play from Borussia Dortmund without quality,” said Guardiola. “They have spent a lot of money on young players and pay a lot of money to agents to bring these players there. Because they have incredible quality. It’s not just [Erling] Haaland. Maybe they didn’t find consistency in the Bundesliga this season but over one or two games, they are able to do anything. When they can run, they kill you.” Paul Doyle

Match report: Leicester 0-2 Manchester City

3) Flaky Chelsea leave Tuchel fuming

On 9 April 2006 Chelsea produced one of their best performances at Stamford Bridge. José Mourinho’s side were 1-0 down to West Ham when they lost Maniche to a red card in the 17th minute, but they were determined not to let Manchester United back into the title race. They responded like champions, beating West Ham 4-1, with Didier Drogba typically inspirational. Yet similar defiance was in short supply when the current Chelsea side went down to 10 men against West Brom. Unlike their predecessors, they were not prepared to suffer after Thiago Silva’s dismissal in the first half. Unable to soak up pressure, Chelsea relinquished their lead and lost 5-2 to a struggling side, and they defended abysmally. Thomas Tuchel was unimpressed with his team’s lack of mental strength. Chelsea’s manager was adamant that losing Silva was no excuse for the repeated concessions. He will demand an immediate reaction against Porto on Wednesday. Jacob Steinberg

Match report: Chelsea 2-5 West Brom

4) Pereira puts himself in the shop window

Matheus Pereira’s match-winning show at Stamford Bridge ought not to have surprised anyone who had an eye on last season’s Championship. During the Baggies’ promotion campaign, the Brazilian was probably the foremost flair player in the division. And yet before Slaven Bilic was sacked in December, Pereira scored only once, and that came in a 5-2 September loss to Everton, signposting a Premier League season of struggle for player and team alike. A brace in a 3-2 derby defeat of Wolves in January momentarily suggested Pereira could be a Sam Allardyce rescue-act wildcard in the style of Jay-Jay Okocha at Bolton or Jermain Defoe at Sunderland, but he had drawn a blank since January. Two superb goals and a speed of thought that ravaged Chelsea suggest that, even if West Brom gets relegated, another Premier League suitor might decide he doesn’t go down with them. JB

Match report: Chelsea 2-5 West Brom5) Arteta’s reaction to limp Arsenal defeat is telling

Perhaps the biggest worry for Arsenal after such a supine performance against Liverpool was the reaction it provoked from their manager. “It’s one that really shocked me,” said Mikel Arteta, and their defeat will definitely have confirmed a few impressions about several of his squad. This was a big opportunity for Arsenal’s domestic season to remain live, and they never looked remotely like grasping it. There is a perception that Arteta is given a free pass by people bowled over by his intelligence and the evident esteem in which he is held throughout the industry. He has certainly needed plenty of slack because Arsenal’s squad and broader infrastructure have both been lacking ever since Arsène Wenger’s departure, and judging him halfway through a rebuild would be premature. It is a concern, though, that he could not get a tune out of his players on an occasion of such consequence and that the fact so clearly rattled him. If he cannot inspire a revival against Slavia Prague on Thursday the question marks will start to gather once again. Nick Ames

Match report: Arsenal 0-3 Liverpool

6) Head injury confusion for Blades’ Baldock

Elland Road was full of mysteries. How George Baldock was not sent off for an appalling first-half challenge on Tyler Roberts ranks high among them, but another puzzle centers on why Baldock – who did not even receive a yellow card for that two-footed lunge – was subsequently allowed to remain on the pitch for five minutes after receiving a blow to the head. Paul Heckingbottom, the Sheffield United manager, said concussion protocols had been adhered to but the right wing-back looked extremely groggy and was eventually replaced after complaining of blurred vision. Then there is the unsolved question of Marcelo Bielsa’s future. The Leeds manager likes to work on one-year rolling deals and there is nothing to suggest he will not sign another contract this summer – but until pen is applied to paper an element of doubt remains. Have the club got a plan B? Louise Taylor

Match report: Leeds 2-1 Sheff Utd

7) Toon step up a gear in relegation fight

Newcastle were unrecognizable from the side that surrendered 3-0 at Brighton two weeks ago – and it was not just down to the change in formation which shifted Steve Bruce’s team from 4-3-1-2 to the wing-back propelled five-man rearguard drilled into them by his predecessor Rafael Benítez. Granted, that default system helped immeasurably as they earned a deserved point against an unusually slapdash José Mourinho defense, but there was also a wholesale shift in attitude. Have players who seemed to want Bruce sacked reached a rapprochement with their manager or did they simply raise their game against top-six opposition? The answer is likely to be revealed at Turf Moor where Burnley lie in wait next Sunday, and then again at home to West Ham the following weekend. LT

Match report: Newcastle 2-2 Tottenham

8) Saints look back to their destructive best

When Ralph Hasenhüttl comes to analyze Sunday’s absorbing victory over Burnley, one of the resounding takeaways will surely be the welcome element of strength in depth, which had long eluded him and Southampton. Danny Ings demonstrated poise and panache to make a goalscoring return from a hamstring injury and Hasenhüttl was able to call on Moussa Djenepo and Che Adams off the bench, with Takumi Minamino an unused substitute alongside Alex McCarthy, who has lost his place to Fraser Forster. It was only a second league win in 13 matches but Southampton’s performance – the opening half-hour aside – was reminiscent of Saints at their destructive best, with Hasenhüttl no longer needing to rely on youth. “I think we are more and more coming back to the team we were at the beginning of the season,” the manager said. “We have more alternatives and that automatically leads to a better chance to be successful.” Ben Fisher

Match report: Southampton 3-2 Burnley

9) Parker adds spin but Fulham’s wheels are coming off

“Easy” was how Scott Parker described the job of lifting the spirits of his Fulham team after a catastrophic final 12 minutes. Even football’s foremost optimists would recognize he has some job on his hands. Two goals from Villa’s Trézéguet and a third from Ollie Watkins burned up one of Fulham’s chances of collecting valuable points, and burnished morale at Newcastle and Brighton. Parker, known for delivering Churchillian dressing-room speeches when he was a player – and while acknowledging that his team had conceded “easy goals, silly goals” – said he still believes that Fulham’s remaining seven matches offer “everything to play for”. The manner in which his players dropped their heads once Trézéguet had canceled out Aleksandar Mitrovic’s opener suggested not all of them share their manager’s self-belief. On Friday, Wolves visit Craven Cottage, where Fulham have struggled all season. A repeat capitulation would surely dent even Parker’s positivity. John Brewin

Match report: Aston Villa 3-1 Wolves

10) Brighton have rediscovered their cutting edge

Brighton have entered the Bizarro World. At the end of a long season in which they have persistently failed to convert openings into goals, Graham Potter’s side have suddenly begun to put away their chances with dead-eyed efficiency. Two weeks ago, Danny Welbeck and Leandro Trossard combined clinically to put Newcastle to the sword. This week, the former scored with his first sniff of goal during an opening 45 minutes in which a dogged and supremely well-drilled Brighton had Manchester United utterly rattled. Brighton’s players may have ended up beaten after that authoritative first half, but they will surely have departed Manchester with renewed belief that there is cutting edge in this squad after all. They are six points above the drop zone with some distinctly winnable games still to play. It is to Potter’s credit that for long spells his were the only side on the Old Trafford pitch that looked anything like the sum of their parts. Alex Hess

Match report: Manchester United 2-1 Brighton

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