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

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

Thursday, 8 February, 2018 - 07:15
Christian Benteke misses a chance, Carlos Carvalhal , Mousa Dembélé, Sam Allardyce and Eddie Howe. Composite: Reuters, Getty Images, REX/Shutterstock
London - Guardian
1) Liverpool defence worthy of praise for once

Liverpool’s oft-maligned defence deserved a little credit here. For almost the entire game they kept Spurs at bay, with Dejan Lovren and Virgil van Dijk making important blocks and Loris Karius looking a decisive shot‑stopper. Perhaps Liverpool could have been slightly quicker to close down Victor Wanyama when the Spurs substitute equalised but when Karius stood tall to deny Harry Kane from the penalty spot it appeared the home side had answered most of the criticisms of their defensive solidity. When Mohamed Salah scored at the other end in the 91st minute Anfield was ecstatic, yet Liverpool’s luck ran out with the second penalty. Van Dijk did not really kick Erik Lamela, the Spurs player just inserted himself between the defender and the ball. It was an accident but it cost two home points and a rare opportunity for Liverpool to feel good about their defending. Paul Wilson

2) Allardyce ready to write off Everton’s season

Sam Allardyce was conscious it would dominate the discourse when he defined his Everton team’s performance as “crap” but plain talking was the only way. “In the dressing room you can’t defend the indefensible,” he explained. Brushing off a bad performance is one thing. Writing off the season is another. But after what he witnessed in a 5-1 thrashing at Arsenal, Allardyce was minded to take expectations for the months ahead to the low sides of acceptable. “These players have had a lot of changes and a lot of pressure and a lot of games under their belt,” he said. “Not only new faces on the pitch but new faces behind the scenes. So, let’s write this season off as quick as we can by staying in the Premier League and then sort it out for the start of next season. Too many inconsistencies in our performance levels at the moment.” Amy Lawrence

3) Defensive forwards the way ahead for Burnley

Burnley’s equaliser came with a cross from a right-back, Matthew Lowton, and a finish from a left winger, Johann Berg Gudmundsson, but it was notable that, unprompted, their captain, Ben Mee, identified their non-scoring strikers for praise. Ashley Barnes has four goals in 28 games this season. Sam Vokes has not struck for three months but Burnley may have the division’s best defensive forwards and Mee said: “The two boys up top did really well, hassling and harrying them. Those were our tactics; go with two boys up top and get the ball forward and try to disrupt them.” Whereas others have retreated against City, the notion that attack is the best form of defence has proved profitable. Albeit pursuing different approaches, the four teams to take points off City this season – Everton, Crystal Palace, Liverpool and now Burnley – have fielded either two or three genuine forwards, near all noted for their physicality. Richard Jolly

4) Benteke’s confidence hits rock bottom

When Christian Benteke ran on to Patrick van Aanholt’s through ball in the ninth minute against Newcastle United, he was one‑on‑one with the goalkeeper. There was an inevitability about what happened next. The Crystal Palace striker saw his shot blocked by Karl Darlow. Towards the end of the game, Benteke had a header cleared off the line by Ciaran Clark and the bottom line is that the ball will not go in for him this season. Roy Hodgson, the Palace manager, noted that Benteke’s all-round game had been sound but strikers thrive on goals and the statistics show that the Belgian has scored only two in 20 matches. “Benteke will be bitterly disappointed he didn’t take those chances,” Hodgson said. With Alexander Sorloth signed on the final day of January, Hodgson has an alternative up front. The pressure is on for Benteke. David Hytner

5) Howe puts Bournemouth back in fashion

At Christmas time Bournemouth looked in severe trouble. Successive 4-0 defeats by Liverpool and Manchester City had left them in the bottom three and the poverty of their performances – along with Eddie Howe’s unwillingness to stray from his open, idealistic approach – rang alarm bells. Six weeks on they have taken 15 points from seven games and are seven points above the relegation zone; given how compacted things are below them it would require some collapse to take them down now. This comeback win against Stoke City was achieved by a squad who Howe left more or less intact in the transfer window. Their winner was scored by Lys Mousset, a forward who had not previously scored a league goal in 18 months since arriving from Le Havre. Howe’s commitment to improvement through coaching keeps paying dividends in an age where such clear thinking has gone out of fashion. Nick Ames

6) Gross gives Hughton glimpse of best

David Moyes was preparing to introduce Jordan Hugill when Pascal Gross let fly and ended West Ham United’s hopes of salvaging a draw. It was a wonderfully emphatic strike from the Brighton & Hove Albion midfielder, who had already created the opening goal for Glenn Murray in the eighth minute. However, Chris Hughton wants more from Gross. Brighton’s winless run had coincided with the German’s dip in form since he scored the only goal against Watford on 23 December but he was back to his best against West Ham. “With the finishing ability he has arguably he should score more goals,” Hughton said. “That type of player can be a bit hit and miss, that is the nature of that position. With Pascal there is always that balance. He is not going to sprint past players but has a lovely ability on the ball and he gives the team so much.” Jacob Steinberg

7) Dembélé shows he is a serious player for Spurs

Mousa Dembélé is a very good midfielder: very few players can beat men in central areas, very few players have such strength in possession, and very few players use a prodigious backside as effectively. Yet the feeling persists that given his skillset, he should be even better than he is, consistently imposing himself on the biggest games – and perhaps he is on the cusp of making that change. In midweek – not against much, it is true – he was dominant, and at Anfield on Sunday, grew into things. Improving through the first half, he was crucial in the second, hauling his team forward with bustling dribbles and sensible passes, in the process elevating the performances of those around him, the mark of a serious player. His challenge now is to keep it going; next weekend, Spurs host Arsenal, and three days after that visit Juventus. There is work to do. Daniel Harris

8) Swansea find belief under Carvalhal

Carlos Carvalhal was at it again, picking up points and making them, too, in his own inimitable way. Swansea’s revival under his guidance continues to gather momentum – unbeaten in seven games in all competitions and out of the relegation zone after Federico Fernández’s second-half equaliser pegged back Leicester in the sort of game the Welsh club would have lost earlier in the season. The turnaround under Carvalhal is startling, given that he has been working with the same squad who were anchored to the bottom of the table and appeared doomed when he was appointed at the end of December. “When we arrived the team was almost dead,” he said. “I wasn’t in the crematorium but the team was there. The funeral car was waiting. But when we won at Watford we started breathing and after this the players are believing. The psychological part of the team is very strong now.” Stuart James

9) Huddersfield need new ploy – and quickly

Judging by Huddersfield’s display against Manchester United, it was not hard to work out why they find themselves in the relegation zone. David Wagner’s side were level at half‑time but could easily have found themselves in front if their manager had decided to be just a bit bolder. In the end the result was predictable as United cantered to victory against a team who bear little resemblance to the side who won the corresponding fixture in October. Wagner has overachieved by securing a return to the top flight for the first time in more than 40 years but if that is to continue the German will need to come up with a new gameplan quickly. Ed Aarons

10) West Brom more watchable and have room for optimism

West Bromwich Albion were one point above the relegation zone when Tony Pulis was sacked in November and now they are bottom of the Premier League, four points below the next worst side. But the club were still right to ditch Pulis. West Brom are much more enterprising and watchable under Alan Pardew. That matters, no matter what league they wind up in. What is more, they can still avoid the drop, with Jonny Evans and the suddenly essential Grzegorz Krychowiak expected to return next week and Daniel Sturridge gaining sharpness. The Liverpool loanee showed flashes of his class during Albion’s home defeat against Southampton on Saturday and could revel when he and Jay Rodriguez are fully fit. Would Krychowiak have found form and Sturridge have joined if Pulis were still manager? Unlikely. Paul Doyle

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