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

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

Thursday, 8 March, 2018 - 06:45
Eden Hazard cut a frustrated figure, Son Heung-min is in good form, Arsenal have hit a new low and Riyad Mahrez caught the eye. Composite: Getty, Getty, EPA, the Guardian
London - Guardian Sport
1) Lack of Chelsea ambition reflects poorly on Conte

There is something striking about watching the defending champions cede their title to their successors, and this was a particularly mournful way to go about it. The last time a title-winning Chelsea team visited the side that was destined to succeed them they lost 2-1 to Leicester in December 2015 and promptly sacked their manager. This display is unlikely to accelerate Antonio Conte’s apparently inevitable summer departure, but a performance so stripped of ambition and attacking quality certainly reflected poorly on him. “My tactic was: don’t concede space between the lines,” he said. “If you concede space at Manchester City you risk losing with many goals down.” Aggressively stripping the team of the personnel and instructions necessary to effectively attack hardly affected Chelsea’s chances of avoiding defeat, it simply limited their losing margin. What Conte failed to see is that for a team of Chelsea’s recent history, ambition and resources an emphatic thrashing is not the only form of humiliation. Simon Burnton

2) Wenger not only one to blame for Arsenal’s problems

The frantic search for blame is a key part of the football experience, but in most situations there’s plenty to go round and no need to be sparing; though Arsène Wenger is Arsenal’s lightning rod and with good reason, the malaise is far from all his fault. David Dein and pals failed to predict television money outstripping bums on seats as football’s major source of revenue, likewise an elite club’s ability to sponsor everything and partner with anything; Stan Kroenke isn’t as interested in a winning team as he is a profitable business, part of the reason Wenger has been retained so much longer than made sense; and a succession of talented players have shrunk and failed. Which is to say that the sooner Wenger leaves the better for everyone, him included – but plenty of others have failed in bringing us to this miserable point. Daniel Harris

3) Tottenham have strength in depth to beat Juventus

Son Heung-min scored his 15th goal of the season on Saturday and his 10th in the league. He gave a man‑of-the-match performance, not just for his goals but his attacking thrust. The South Korean is in good form but, as Spurs approach the biggest match of their season so far, against Juventus on Wednesday, he is not alone. Dele Alli, the subject of so much finger-wagging, laid on a superlative assist against Huddersfield. Christian Eriksen was quieter but still slid a single pass 40 yards through a crowd of half a dozen players. Érik Lamela and Lucas Moura got minutes from the bench, with the recruit from Paris Saint-Germain catching the eye once more. In many home games at Wembley, breaking through the opposition’s defensive line has proved hard for Spurs. But now they have greater attacking options than before and are firing. Can they make the difference in midweek? Paul MacInnes

4) Benítez spells out the difference for his Newcastle team

Newcastle fans endured the familiar regret of what Rafael Benítez could have delivered this season with reasonable investment in his squad. “A Championship team with a Premier League manager,” was Steven Gerrard’s description. Seven of Newcastle’s starting lineup played in the Championship last season – but a collection of modest talent restricted Jürgen Klopp’s flying team to three shots on target. Newcastle had two, but could not profit. “Three shots on target, I was surprised,” Benítez said. “We wanted to be strong in defence and create more in counterattack. We couldn’t do it, why? Because we have a very good team in front of us. We got into some good positions and we were running full pace but still we couldn’t beat them. When you pay money you pay money not just because of their technical ability. It’s the quality, the decisions and the physicality. Everything that is the difference between teams.” Andy Hunter

5) Allardyce leaves his fate in hands of his players

Sam Allardyce believes he is powerless to stop the Everton fans from barracking him, arguing it is only his players who can alter the views of the unhappy supporters about their increasingly unpopular manager. “The only people who can change the fans on what they think and what they say are the players,” the Everton manager said. “They have to go out and perform to a level and win matches and bring everybody back onside.” Supporters targeted Allardyce after he substituted Cenk Tosun and Gylfi Sigurdsson at Turf Moor but he is confident he can cope with the abuse. “I’ve been around long enough to know it comes your way sometimes. You have to be big enough to ride it out. It’s not nice, it’s not what you want to hear, but you’ve got to accept the responsibility when you’re the No 1. You take the good, the bad and the ugly with it.” Richard Jolly

6) Hughton fires Brighton to verge of survival

Brighton are almost there. The daunting nature of their run-in, with seven of their last 10 games against current members of the top eight, had been a source of unease, but a splendid upturn in form has hoisted them into the top half of a congested division. The manner in which they dismantled Arsenal in the opening half-hour here was a measure of their qualities. Glenn Murray has eight goals in 10 games and, while he has never been quick, mustered the most sprints in the in-game statistics. Lewis Dunk and Shane Duffy are rugged defenders and spread panic at set pieces. Moreover, there is a balance and organisation to this team which will surely see them clear of trouble. That stems from their manager. “This group are working so hard, giving themselves every chance,” said Chris Hughton. He will not rest easy just yet but, on this evidence, cause for celebration is close. Dominic Fifield

7) Mahrez plays waiting game to perfection

Riyad Mahrez is the best player outside the Premier League’s current top five clubs and it will be no surprise if Manchester City, along with others, try to prise him away from Leicester again in the summer. Admirers must be impressed by how he has regained form after digesting the disappointment of being denied a move in January. His continued fine performances – including his wonderful stoppage-time equaliser against Bournemouth on Saturday – mean if and when he leaves the club where he made his name, it will be on good terms. “It was a difficult situation ... but I was very pleased with the way the fans have been with me throughout this – I thank them all,” Mahrez said after the match on Saturday. “While I am here, I will keep giving everything for this club.” That is how to ensure a happy ending for everyone. Paul Doyle

8) Lambert gets his best players to give Stoke a chance

A glance at the Premier League table and Stoke City, indeed, remain in the mire, but one defeat in six matches since Mark Hughes was sacked and Paul Lambert’s arrival and three draws in succession suggests they have other plans. Their failure to win matches – one victory since Christmas – might ultimately be their undoing and if the spirit Lambert has garnered is not enough, then they will not go quietly, at least. Jack Butland made some classy stops at St Mary’s, while Joe Allen’s cute passing and Xherdan Shaqiri’s quick thinking may yet just dig them out of their malaise. The biggest plus point, compared with Southampton, for example, is that their star players have not gone into hiding in the circumstances but rather come to the fore. “We have got players that can turn the game on a switch,” Lambert said. Ben Fisher

9) Moyes not looking too far ahead for safety

David Moyes had already admitted that West Ham’s next two matches, at home against Burnley and Southampton, could define their season, when it was put to him that the widely held view outside of the club is that a team with their attacking talent will be “fine” and survive without too many problems. “I’d like the message to be that ‘we’ll be fine’, but the truth of the matter is that we’re not,” Moyes said after a chastening defeat against Swansea. A couple of wins and a couple of draws could be enough for West Ham, yet the pressure will be on if they fail to perform in the next two matches, because they still have to play both Manchester clubs at home as well as Arsenal and Chelsea away. The main problem is not hard to identify: with 54 goals conceded, West Ham have the joint‑worst defensive record in the league. This was the fifth time this season they let in four goals. Stuart James

10) Richarlison needs a breather from first-team action

Having arrived at Watford in August, Richarlison took the Premier League by storm, scoring five times in 12 appearances and generally impressing with his skill and strength. That now feels like a long time ago. The 20-year-old’s last goal came in November and this win against West Bromwich Albion made it five out of five league games under Javi Gracia that the Brazilian has been substituted. He reacted angrily to the decision and it is clear a situation is developing between player and manager, although the latter said: “I don’t think about the reaction of the players. I think only about the team.” Richarlison did catch the eye against West Brom with an acrobatic strike that flashed just wide, but overall he struggled to make an impact and it may be best if the forward is afforded a break. Away from the spotlight, Richarlison may just rediscover his early-season mojo. Sachin Nakrani

The Guardian Sport

Editor Picks