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

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

Wednesday, 13 March, 2019 - 07:00
Harry Maguire is delighted with Leicester’s higher tempo; Alisson’s fury against Burnley was justified; and Ayoze Pérez masterminded Newcastle’s wild comeback win. Composite: Reuters/PA/Action Images
London - The Guardian Sport
1) Arsenal ride luck after Xhaka sets them on winning course

Manchester United arrived in north London having won every away game under Ole Gunnar Solskjær, including a comprehensive FA Cup fourth-round victory at the Emirates. Arsenal had an unbeaten run of their own to protect – they haven’t lost at home in the league since the opening day – and Granit Xhaka’s early goal enabled them to maintain that run. Arsenal rode their luck at times, but Unai Emery’s three-man defence restricted the visitors’ threat on the break, while the deployment of both Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang up front paid off. Victory takes Arsenal’s tally against their fellow ‘big six’ teams this season to 12 points – double what they managed in Arsène Wenger’s farewell season. With a relatively kind run-in, a top-four finish (preferably above Spurs) now appears firmly within reach – an achievement most fans would have taken before their first season with Emery at the wheel. Niall McVeigh

2) Guardiola moves closer to emulating Ferguson and Mourinho

Pep Guardiola now has eight matches left in his effort to emulate Sir Alex Ferguson and José Mourinho by retaining the Premier League title. After the 3-1 win over Watford he said: “Today we start a competition with nine games, not a competition with 38, and we played the first one. We won it and now we don’t have time to think much [because for] 21 days we don’t play in the Premier League. It’s nice to be top of course. When people asked if Liverpool feel the pressure when top of the league, I said I preferred to be on top than behind. It’s always better to be there because it’s in your hands. But my feeling is the same as a few games ago: we are going to drop points [so] keep the distance with Liverpool as much as possible and arrive in the last fixtures with the opportunity to win the title.” Do so and Guardiola will make City the first team since Manchester United a decade ago to win consecutive Premier Leagues. And he will join Ferguson and Mourinho in an exclusive club. Jamie Jackson

3) Coady displays his England credentials for Wolves

There was plenty to admire in Wolverhampton Wanderers’ rugged defence at Stamford Bridge but, at a time when England options feel slim before the naming of Gareth Southgate’s senior squad, Conor Coady’s display marked him apart. The captain organised what, at times, was a back eight, and flung himself in front of everything. At 26, and with the stress very much on youth, he must have wondered if his England chance had been and gone. Yet Southgate has problems at centre-back. Harry Maguire, John Stones and Lewis Dunk, capped in November and outstanding for Brighton on Saturday, will surely be picked for the forthcoming Euro 2020 qualifiers against the Czech Republic and Montenegro but, with Joe Gomez and Phil Jones injured, Eric Dier only recently back to fitness and the form of James Tarkowski and Michael Keane under scrutiny, Coady is in contention. “What I see every day is a fantastic player, a captain,” offered Nuno Espírito Santo of the defender. He merits his chance. Dominic Fifield

4) VAR would have worked to rule out Westwood’s goal

“In most countries the first goal would have been disallowed,” Jürgen Klopp said diplomatically of Burnley’s opening score, when Alisson was impeded by James Tarkowski and prevented from reaching Ashley Westwood’s corner. He is probably right, but only because in most countries attacking players know better than to lay even a finger on a goalkeeper, such is their level of protection.

Here we like a little more hurly-burly, though Tarkowksi’s interference was clearly excessive and to add insult to injury Alisson was booked for complaining about it. This at last is a situation VAR will be able to improve next season. Unlike Raheem Sterling’s first goal against Watford or Presnel Kimpembe’s now infamous handball against Manchester United this controversy did not require interpretation of the rules or a subjective opinion on the part of the referee. It was a foul, pure and simple, and replays would have confirmed the fact. Paul Wilson

5) Maguire warms to Rodgers’ fitness regime

For about half of Brendan Rodgers’s first home match in charge, Leicester were aggressive and quite thrilling. Fulham looked set to be thrashed. But Leicester could not sustain their dominance and were worried for a while before getting the win. Harry Maguire’s verdict augured well for the future but reflected badly on Rodgers’s predecessor, Claude Puel. “That is what we want to get to over 90 minutes,” said the England defender. “We will get fitter with the way [Rodgers] wants to work and it is something we are looking forward to. All year, especially at home, we haven’t played with a high enough tempo. He has probably seen that and watched all our previous games. We are working hard to increase the tempo and make it a lot more exciting for the fans to watch.” Paul Doyle

6) Pérez makes it a happy anniversary for Benítez

It is Rafa Benítez’s third anniversary at St James’ Park. He has experienced relegation, promotion, survival and days like these. Newcastle came from 2-0 down to win 3-2 amid euphoric noise. Benítez ranked it with a promotion victory over Brighton and one against Manchester United last February. The memory of half-time, Istanbul, 2005, also follows Benítez and he said: “It was similar, because you have to give them something to believe.” Ayoze Pérez called half-time “quite strange, we were not so bad but were 2-0 down and missed a penalty”. Jordan Pickford felled Salomón Rondón but was not sent off. Lee Mason’s refereeing was idiosyncratic. Pickford saved Matt Ritchie’s penalty; Richarlison promptly made it 2-0 to Everton after Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s opener. Rondón made it 2-1, then Pérez struck twice, including an offside winner, in a breathless finale. Michael Walker

7) Sims turns back clock to spark Saints revival

Josh Sims’s debut for Southampton in November 2016 felt significant. The 19-year-old academy graduate tore Everton apart from the right wing and, quite rightly, received a standing ovation from the St Mary’s crowd on his late substitution. The big time was surely around the corner but instead Sims went on to make limited appearances under Claude Puel and then Mark Hughes prior to a loan spell at Reading, where he also featured rarely. A dead end had been reached, but then came Sims’s impact as a half-time substitute in Saturday’s 2-1 victory over Tottenham. In his first appearance for Southampton since returning from Reading, the 21-year-old turned back the clock with a display full of drive and craft. Afterwards, Ralph Hasenhüttl described Sims as someone who has “good solutions on the ball” and for the winger the hope must be that Southampton’s latest manager gives him a proper chance to prove himself at the club. Sachin Nakrani

8) Camarasa’s class gives Warnock something to smile about

Neil Warnock had the last laugh on Saturday, when he joked that Víctor Camarasa’s personal staff would “be on the phone and probably want a scan” after the Spaniard came off with cramp against West Ham. Camarasa upset Warnock a couple of weeks ago because, according to the Cardiff manager, the midfielder “listens to his physios, his medical people and Tom, Dick and Harry from abroad” before declaring whether he is fit. Whether that is the case or not, there is no doubt about Camarasa’s importance to this Cardiff side. Signed on loan from Real Betis in the summer, the 24-year-old has been superb this season, bringing a touch of class to a gritty and workmanlike team. He scored Cardiff’s second against West Ham and it was his run from inside his own half that carved West Ham open for the first. Warnock had better hope he stays fit. Stuart James

9) Dunk excels for Brighton to give Southgate a nudge

Lewis Dunk has timed his return to form well. The defender was excellent in Brighton’s win at Crystal Palace, denying Wilfried Zaha and Michy Batshuayi goals with excellent last-ditch blocks, and he has an outside chance of keeping his spot in the England squad. Dunk made his international debut against the USA in November and Chris Hughton believes the 27-year-old deserves another chance to impress Gareth Southgate after helping Brighton recover from their recent dip. “What got him the cap in the first place is what he has now,” Brighton’s manager said. “There wouldn’t be any player in the England manager’s thinking that is not going to be up and down. They’re not all going to be brilliant every week. He’s a centre-half, he’s going to be tested in this division. I don’t think he’s changed. He’s still the same level of player as he ever was.” Jacob Steinberg

10) Siewert faces future of further toil at doomed Huddersfield

Jan Siewert has pledged to stay positive until the end of a Huddersfield season where relegation is close to becoming a mathematical reality. But what may await him beyond that? The Championship, where both the standard and the drama have been high this season, is no hiding place where a fallen club can lick its wounds, as Stoke, Swansea and West Brom have proved. The latter sacked Darren Moore on Saturday because automatic promotion was ebbing away and the record of managers parachuted into clubs already heading downwards from the Premier League is anything but wonderful. John Gregory and Paul Jewell at Derby, Alan Pardew at Charlton and Felix Magath at Fulham perished quickly in the second tier. There, Siewert faces a task just as difficult as escaping relegation has proved. John Brewin

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