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

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

Thursday, 18 April, 2019 - 06:15
Clockwise from top left: Scott Parker, Raheem Sterling, Brendan Rodgers, Anthony Knockaert and Jordan Henderson. Composite: Getty Images, Rex/Shutterstock, Reuters
London - The Guardian Sport
1) Henderson relishing his licence to roam

After 76 minutes, when he was withdrawn to a deafening ovation, Jordan Henderson’s work was done. A lung-busting display by the Liverpool captain set the tone for a vital victory, a relentless performance typified by the moment when he burst to the byline and supplied a hanging cross for Sadio Mané to convert. Henderson asked Jürgen Klopp if he could play further forward in a “more natural” No 8 role – one he has impressed in for his country – and he flourished there against Chelsea. Mohamed Salah’s rocket, another peerless defensive display by Virgil van Dijk or indeed Mané’s 18th league goal of the season will likely dominate the post‑match discussion, but as the business end of the season takes hold, Henderson is just where he wants to be: at the very heart of Liverpool’s push for the title. Ben Fisher

2) Anfield scoreline does little justice to Sarri’s adventurers

On the back of a defeat that means Champions League qualification – barring a Europa League triumph – is no longer in their own hands, the inevitable doom and gloom enveloped Maurizio Sarri and Chelsea. Four wins going into this game failed to mask the discontent that persists over the Italian but there were reasons for supporters to be cheerful at Anfield. Chelsea arguably edged the first half and after falling two goals behind they passed up four glorious chances; Eden Hazard fluffed his lines and struck a post, César Azpilicueta slid a gorgeous ball across the box and Gonzalo Higuaín dawdled when played through on goal. If Chelsea can be more clinical in their remaining four league matches, including a trip to Old Trafford, they may yet get the job done. BF

3) Sterling’s service to City could land him end-of-season gong

Raheem Sterling found Selhurst Park a hospitable place, and not just because of the space Crystal Palace’s defenders gave him. Sterling was not taunted or abused in south London, as he often is. This was due partly to a mutual respect, born out of the T-shirt Sterling wore while on England duty in memory of the Palace youth player Damary Dawkins. But there was something else. From being a note of variation, Sterling has become the main attacker in this City team, the player who sends a chill through opposition fans. He now has 12 goals and five assists since December, not to mention a sense of playing without fear where others have stuttered. The player of the year award is based around conduct on and off the pitch. On both counts Sterling is making a decent case. Barney Ronay

4) Spurs’ engine room suddenly looks understaffedMauricio Pochettino will be without Harry Kane for the Champions League quarter-final second leg at Manchester City on Wednesday, and has doubts over two other players who would otherwise be certain to start. After the 4-0 win against Huddersfield, the Spurs manager said that Dele Alli, who broke his hand in the first‑leg win last week, was coming to terms with playing in a protective cast. Pochettino did not know whether Alli would be available. The bigger concern is Harry Winks, who felt his groin in training on Friday and was not in the squad for Huddersfield. Winks was man of the match in the first leg, when he made his first start since being sidelined with – yes – a groin problem. Was it all a ploy from Pochettino to sow doubts in the mind of his City counterpart, Pep Guardiola? Possibly. But Winks, whose ability to get Spurs up the field under pressure, would be a huge loss. David Hytner

5) Reckless Knockaert slumps from hero to zero

Quite what was going through Anthony Knockaert’s head when he took out Adam Smith on Saturday only the Frenchman will know. But having already given away the ball to allow free‑flowing Bournemouth to double their lead on Saturday, the tackle capped a disastrous few minutes for the player who scored the winning goal at Selhurst Park a few weeks ago as Brighton completed their first league double over bitter rivals Crystal Palace in 35 years. Knockaert will now miss their important showdown with Cardiff on Tuesday as well as the meetings with Wolves and Tottenham as Chris Hughton’s side battle for survival in a season where they have reached the FA Cup semi-final for the second time in their history. A draw should be enough to hold off Neil Warnock’s side but Knockaert will be hoping they are already safe by the time he returns against Newcastle on 27 April. Ed Aarons

6) Solskjær hatches a plan for Camp Nou

Ole Gunnar Solskjær believes that in Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard, Manchester United have an attack that can overturn the 1-0 deficit to Barcelona in their Champions League quarter‑final second leg on Tuesday. He admitted United were fortunate to defeat West Ham on Saturday but pointed to what may be his frontline in Spain. “You look at the quality of those players and that gives us a threat,” he said. “We carry a goal threat but of course what we did against PSG must give everyone a huge confidence boost because that experience was probably the best they have had for many years. They are probably dreaming about another at the Camp Nou.” United beat West Ham without the suspended Ashley Young and Luke Shaw, the latter also suspended for Barcelona. Nemanja Matic is fit to travel and Solskjær believes he has a way to win. “We have a decent plan. I hope it’s decent – it’s a plan anyway.” Jamie Jackson

7) Warnock keeps his head as foot-of-the-table decider beckons

Dwight McNeil, Burnley’s exciting 19-year-old winger, impressed, creating both goals for Chris Wood on a day when Sean Dyche’s side should have been at least three goals up before the game became mired in controversy. It revolved around a penalty award that seemed set to offer Cardiff a chance to equalise before the referee – alerted by a linesman to the perceived offence – decided, correctly, that it was not a spot‑kick after all. Neil Warnock – once he had got over his initial fury – said his sanguine demeanour was down to a desire to dodge further Football Association fines but perhaps he realised the need not to waste energy crying over spilt milk when his 18th-placed side have a pivotal game at Brighton on Tuesday. Lose and Cardiff are all but relegated; win and they are only two points behind Chris Hughton’s faltering team. Louise Taylor

8) Time for Parker to cut loose the mercenaries

Scott Parker is trying to make a claim to become the permanent Fulham manager and his ambitions will have been aided by their victory against Everton. But now that he has shown he can pick up Premier League points it might be a better idea to show what his team would look like next season. Many of those who started on Saturday are likely to depart Craven Cottage in the summer and the new manager will need a plan. Parker called up the talented 16-year-old Harvey Elliott to his squad against Everton but he did not get off the bench. There are others among the academy ranks, such as Matt O’Riley, who could play a key role in bringing Fulham back up – much in the way Ryan Sessegnon did. Those who have taken the club down do not merit a long goodbye, and a touch of ruthlessness will only help in the long run. Will Unwin

9) Rodgers taught tactical lesson by Newcastle’s old master

There would be complications, admittedly, but Manchester United and Everton are two of the teams currently above Newcastle who would be better off with Rafael Benítez as their manager. Another is Leicester, whose recently arrived boss Brendan Rodgers was schooled by Benítez on Friday night. Rodgers said he learned a lot from watching his side fail to pick a way through a team who defended deeply and smartly – an experience with which his predecessor, Claude Puel, was familiar. One obvious lesson is that Leicester could do with a different type of striker for when Jamie Vardy is neutralised, and Kelechi Iheanacho is not the answer. If Mike Ashley is not careful Newcastle could lose Ayoze Pérez as well as Benítez this summer, and some other club will pay the £16.5m needed to sign Salomón Rondón permanently from West Brom. Paul Doyle

10) Redmond reaping benefits of Hassenhüttl appointment

Southampton have been transformed by Ralph Hassenhüttl. A team who were drifting towards relegation and were often easy to play against have become fearsome opponents and exciting to watch. Joy has returned to St Mary’s. Nathan Redmond has been one of the main beneficiaries from the change. Though he had not scored for seven matches before his brace in this win against Wolves, he has been in excellent form. “For me it is unbelievable that he was very much criticised last season in this stadium,” said Hassenhüttl. “He likes this kind of pressing football because he can attack and run a lot. That’s the best thing for him as he sees that if he works hard and he is doing it for the team, then the supporters will immediately support you in a completely different way. It’s a very positive thing for him and helps us a lot.” PD

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