Hits and misses: Knotweed back at Man Utd? Top four gone for Arsenal?
This high-stakes clash was the polar opposite of the encounter between Liverpool and Manchester’s other club this weekend. Man City vs Liverpool represents a meeting of two of the game’s greatest minds, a masterpiece between the league’s title protagonists in a class of their own.
By contrast, Goodison Park hosted a festival of the doomed involving two clubs in desperate need of a reset. But Everton are not dead. This was a step in the right direction.
It was this month three years ago that they produced arguably their best performance of the Farhad Moshiri era against Manchester United, outclassing them 4-0 to provoke a memorable rebuke from Gary Neville.
The defeat exposed all the problems facing Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. A fifth successive away defeat for the first time since 1981 would contribute to their failure to qualify for the Champions League.
“I’ve often said that clubs over the last seven years, if you’ve got weeds in the garden, then you’ve got to get rid of them,” said Neville.
“But there’s some Japanese knotweed at that football club and it’s attacking the foundations of the house. It needs dealing with properly.”
So much has changed and yet so much has stayed the same at United, who look no closer to competing for the big prizes.
Despite coming off in the 64th minute, Marcus Rashford attempted more shots at goal (3) and had more touches in the opposition’s box (6) than any other player in the match. It is scant consolation for the disgruntled travelling fans but the forward looking a bit more like his old self is a small crumb of comfort that Rangnick can take with him back to Manchester.
Only a couple of weeks ago it felt as though Arsenal were favourites to land fourth place and a long-awaited return to the Champions League. But in the space of six days, their hopes of returning to Europe’s top club competition have suffered a significant blow.
The defeat to Crystal Palace on Monday Night Football was a bad one. Arsenal, harassed and harried by their London rivals, never got going and made costly mistakes. It was the worst performance they’d served up since the early weeks of the season.
A young side is prone to inconsistency, though, and the real issue was not that loss but how they’d respond. The answer Arsenal fans saw on Saturday would have alarmed them.
While Brighton didn’t bring the same frantic pressing style to the Emirates that Palace showed at Selhurst Park, Arsenal were still slow out of the blocks again, sloppy in possession and disjointed in attack, with the forced reshuffle caused by Thomas Partey’s absence and Nuno Tavares’ form not working.
Gabriel Martinelli was denied an equaliser by a marginal offside call on the stroke of half-time but that would have been harsh on Brighton. Arsenal laboured with the ball and lacked zip or a clear approach, as Mikel Arteta conceded afterwards. It wasn’t until Martin Odegaard made it 2-1 in the 89th minute that Arsenal showed the required intensity levels.
Twice this week Arsenal have passed up opportunities to go fourth. With injuries, fixtures and points totals now counting against them, Arsenal have it all to do if they are to now overhaul neighbours Tottenham. Come the summer, they may look back on this week as the moment their encouraging season unravelled.
Heung-Min Son now has 17 Premier League goals this season and in this form might yet rival Mohamed Salah for the golden boot. That connection with Harry Kane looks as lethal as ever, with the England captain’s assist for the third goal highlighting his extraordinary vision.
But perhaps it is time we talked about this being a magical trio at Tottenham as well as a perfect partnership. Dejan Kulusevski raced through to score from another Kane assist and then turned provider for Son for the fourth goal. The Swede has been a revelation since his arrival.
There is not much that Kane and Son lacked but he has added it. A natural left-footer, he knows when to slow the game down as well as speed it up, and that calmness in the final third sets him apart from the other contenders for that third position in the Tottenham attack.
Gareth Bale’s return to the club on loan from Real Madrid last season had briefly hinted at a dream team of a forward line – and the Welshman did deliver goals. But Kulusevski has been better. This time, it looks like it might be enough to carry Spurs into the Champions League places.
Within 21 minutes at St Mary’s, Chelsea had delivered the response needed of them after two damaging defeats.
Marcos Alonso, Mason Mount and Timo Werner had all struck to quickly lay any concerns to rest having been stunned by Brentford 4-1 a week ago and then humbled 3-1 at home by Real Madrid.
Thomas Tuchel made four changes from their Champions League quarter-final first-leg defeat with Mateo Kovacic, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Timo Werner and Marcos Alonso all put into the team.
The switches helped Chelsea be more aggressive against a Southampton side known for their tenacity. It meant when Chelsea won the ball back quickly, they could counter-attack immediately and capitalise on the space in behind the Southampton defence. The Blues were so good at hustling the Saints midfield that the combative Oriol Romeu was hooked after just 35 minutes having been thoroughly overrun.
Kovacic and Ngolo Kante were relentless in their pressure while Loftus-Cheek, despite playing out of position at right-wing back, played a crucial part in Chelsea’s physicality, but also in attack by being involved in two goals. Alonso, too, also delivered the important opener with a trademark arrival into the box.
Then there was Werner who showed his value after being benched against Madrid with two goals from enough chances to score five, not that it mattered in the end because Chelsea found their sting again.
Referee Jon Moss finally consented to the baying home crowd. Everton don’t know how to win, according to Sean Dyche, but they found a way to hold on despite Manchester United’s best efforts to go quietly. This is a poor United side and this abject display spearheaded by the anonymous Cristiano Ronaldo laid bare the size of the task facing Erik ten Hag if he is appointed.
But the day and this occasion was about Everton. Richarlison, the tireless Brazilian, embodied Frank Lampard’s calls for energy and fight for the cause in response to the second-half capitulation at Burnley.
There were Herculean efforts by all those in blue, from Alex Iwobi and Fabián Delph – the unlikely couple – in midfield and of course from Gordon, who has the footballing world at his feet.
Jordan Pickford was no bystander, playing his part to twice deny Marcus Rashford and then Ronaldo in stoppage time. This was a backs-to-the-wall performance from Everton, another twist at the bottom and another twist of the knife in United’s Champions League hopes.
“I’ve got to give the lads a lot of credit here having lost twice in a week,” Frank Lampard said. “To go again Saturday morning against a team that’s fresh and full of quality was excellent. It was joined-up with the fans, it’s been good here since I’ve arrived by that’s not a given. The players put the effort in. We’ve been due one of those, a deflection, something to hang onto.
“I’m pleased for Anthony. He feels it, he’s grown up here and he’s mature beyond his age. No wonder the fans love him. It’s always a team effort and Jordan made two big saves in the first half and an outstanding one at the end. It felt outstanding. His quality makes the save. Jordan is England’s No 1 for a reason and he absolutely showed it today.”
“We know it’s in our hands, regardless of the others, to stay in the league. Some people around me have been calculating how many more points or wins we need but I’m not focused on that. We just need to keep performing like this.”
The Spirit of the Blues plays out and they have never shown so much spirit this season.
“He’s a class act,” Jamie Carragher said of Bruno Guimaraes after he produced a man-of-the-match display in Newcastle’s 1-0 win over Wolves on Friday Night Football. The more the Brazilian plays, the more there is to admire about him.
On his first home Premier League start for the Magpies since arriving from Lyon for £40m in January, the midfielder oozed quality from the first minute at St James’ Park before he left the pitch to a standing ovation shortly before the final whistle.
The 24-year-old’s exquisite backheel volley against Southampton last month showed he possesses world-class attributes and he proved once again why Newcastle made him their most expensive signing so far under new ownership.
Completing 37 of 41 passes, winning possession seven times and making four tackles, it was a dominant performance against a Wolves outfit who went into the game still with an outside chance of qualifying for next season’s Champions League.
Newcastle boss Eddie Howe told Sky Sports Guimaraes gives his side a “different dimension”. His South American flair does exactly that, but he also has a strong work ethic and combative attitude.
Despite last weekend’s 5-1 defeat at Tottenham, Newcastle have been transformed under Howe and are now 10 points clear of the relegation zone. They are almost certain to become the first team to avoid the drop after failing to win any of their first 14 games.
With safety almost secured, they can now afford to have one eye on building towards what they hope will be an exciting future. Guimaraes is certain to play a starring role.
Bruno Lage described Wolves’ 1-0 defeat to Newcastle on Friday Night Football as an opportunity missed for his side in their push for European football and it is hard to disagree with him.
It was an abysmal first-half display, which Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher said could only get better after the break, but there was minimal improvement in the second 45 minutes.
Wolves’ approach to sit back and soak up the Newcastle pressure worked for large parts of the first half, but they offered nothing going forward and failed to register a single shot on target until the 81st minute.
The absences of Ruben Neves and Leander Dendoncker were sorely felt in midfield with teenager Luke Cundle, making just his second Premier League start, struggling to get to grips with the game as Newcastle’s £40m January signing Bruno Guimaraes ran riot.
It’s a case of ‘what if’ again for Wolves fans, who will be wondering why their team failed to turn up at St James’ Park when a win would have moved them to within two points of fourth-placed Tottenham and up to sixth, albeit momentarily.
There was no sugar coating Roy Hodgson’s assessment of Watford’s survival hopes after their latest setback at the hands of Leeds.
“We have no reason to be confident,” the former England boss said after watching his team succumb to a ninth successive Premier League defeat at Vicarage Road.
The Hornets became the first Premier League side in a decade to match that unwanted record. The last team to do so, Wolves, were relegated, and it’s becoming increasing difficult to see how Hodgson can turn things around and avoid what would be the first top-flight relegation of his illustrious career.
As the unlikelihood of Watford hauling themselves out of the mess they find themselves in increases, so too does the improbability of Leeds surrendering the healthy position they have battled themselves into under Jesse Marsch.
Three wins in a four-game unbeaten run have transformed the fortunes of the Yorkshire club, who were once staring at the plight now engulfing Watford.
Marsch has galvanised a group of players many feared would struggle to adapt to methods other than those of predecessor Marcelo Bielsa. Such fears look incredibly misguided now, with Marsch having surely guided Leeds to another season in the Premier League.