PL hits and misses: Boehly’s harsh welcome, Hasenhuttl job worries
With Todd Boehly enjoying a harsh welcome to the Premier League and Ralph Hasenhuttl booed by his own fans, here’s the latest Premier League Hits and Misses…
This game between two teams out of form and with very little in the Premier League left to play for wasn’t designed to be so thrilling.
Sure, Chelsea are yet to mathematically wrap up a Champions League spot for next season – and their recent alarming form is cause for concern heading into next weekend’s FA Cup final – but Todd Boehly saw first hand the ride that awaits him as the club’s new owner.
Sat next to chairman Bruce Buck, the American billionaire went through the full range of emotions to knock out the sleep from the night before. Boehly’s consortium had signed an agreement to purchase Chelsea only in the early hours of Saturday morning.
But he has walked into mounting problems for Chelsea, who had appeared to be cruising to third place. Taking just a single point from trips to Manchester United and Everton has left them less certain of Champions League qualification – and those fears weren’t eased by this self-implosion at home to Wolves.
Just two victories in seven Premier League games is hardly ideal preparations for Liverpool in less than seven days’ time.
“Of course [it feels like a defeat],” Thomas Tuchel said. “I reminded the team to execute the match plan with more precision and we did this to go 2-0 up, but then we took more risks.
“We invited the counter-attacks and big chances. When you do this, you lose confidence and you invite the opponents to smell that something is possible when it is absolutely unnecessary. In some points, we played like we were 2-0 down and not 2-0 up.”
Romelu Lukaku at least offered green shoots of a recovery for the future but all that was overshadowed by the Blues relinquishing their winning position.
The 28-year-old fell foul of Chelsea and manager Tuchel at the turn of the year after a damaging interview with Sky Italia in which he had revealed dissatisfaction in west London.
Perhaps the presence of the club’s impending new owner offered the Belgian just the lift he had been looking for – but Tuchel’s refusal to focus on his individual display suggests the damage has already been done.
Pascal Gross shouldn’t be able to take the mickey out of Manchester United.
He’s a fine player don’t get me wrong – and one that has thrived under Graham Potter – but he’s uncapped by his country and most Premier League football fans wouldn’t notice him if they walked past him in the street. But he plays for a football club with a clear identity that thrives as a unit which in turn makes players thrive wearing the Brighton colours.
This brilliant Brighton side are everything this United side are not. Well-coached, well-trained, full of desire, full of skill and full of confidence in their approach. When their manager talks, they probably listen. When Ralf Rangnick tells his Manchester United players what to do, they have a strange habit of staring into space.
And here Gross was at the Amex toying with Manchester United with his side remarkably 4-0 up in a Premier League match. He had already sent Raphael Varane – a World Cup and Champions League winner no doubt – out for a hot dog with a nice dummy before dinking a finish past David de Gea to make it 3-0. But then he engaged ultimate humiliation mode for the visitors, revelling in the “Ole’s” from the home crowd to produce two Cruyff turns past Brazilian international Fred on the touchline before backheeling a pass through the legs of Diogo Dalot to the utter joy of a delirious home faithful.
Moments later, De Gea decided to take 30 seconds longer than usual from a goal kick. Timewasting at 4-0 down. Damage limitation at 4-0 down. A new low? You bet it is.
Southampton’s 3-0 defeat at Brentford felt like a bit of a breakwater.
Not in terms of the scoreline, which has been par for the course away from home for some time. Nor for the performance, with seven of the last 10 Saints games ending in defeat.
But when Ralph Hasenhuttl brought on Oriel Romeu for the last seven minutes in place of Stuart Armstrong something changed.
The travelling support had been otherwise loud and supportive in spite of what they watched unfold, but this was the straw which broke the camel’s back. “You don’t know what you’re doing,” began as a murmur from a few in the away end but quickly grew to a significant number, and soon morphed into a chorus of “sacked in the morning”.
It wasn’t the whole of the away end, but it was a significant proportion.
This Southampton squad has not had huge investment, even when Danny Ings was sold for £25m last summer, but patience with losing football – and pitiful losing football at that, conceding twice in 61 seconds at Brentford – only runs so far.
Even Hasenhuttl admitted after the game his side “are not playing like a Premier League team” in recent weeks.
His sides have always been streaky, and outside the club he has always been respected for his innovative style and Southampton’s ability on their good days.
But two more performances like their capitulation at Brentford in their final games of the season and there might not be many more good or bad days for Hasenhuttl at St Mary’s.
Crystal Palace made five changes for the visit of Watford on Saturday and it made for an exciting attacking line-up. Star man Wilfried Zaha lined up with exciting young talent Eberechi Eze – who has made a great comeback from an Achilles injury he picked up around this time last year – and with Michael Olise and Odsonne Edouard.
Their talent was on show throughout. Olise was named man of the match and topped the rankings for shots inside the box – joint with four of his team-mates – passes into the final third and crosses. He also made the most dribbles and won the highest number of duels.
Zaha is in the midst of his best-ever scoring season in the Premier League, adding a 13th goal from the penalty spot to relegate Watford. He also had the most shots (3) – two of which were on target – and the highest expected goals.
Eze helped created the most chances (3), joint with Zaha, while Edouard had the highest number of touches in the opposition box. They ranked high in a number of other areas too.
Overall, Crystal Palace had 15 shots with seven on those on target, albeit against one of the worst defences in the Premier League this season. However, they only had one goal to show for it.
Yes, Ben Foster made a few good saves that kept the scoreline to just 1-0, but there were also a few questions around Crystal Palace’s finishing. They had all of the attacking prowess, but there were chances wasted, especially in the first half.
Crystal Palace manager Patrick Vieira told Sky Sports: “In the first half, we created a couple of chances that we should take and score those goals. In the second half, we didn’t create very much. I thought we were a little bit sloppy in our passes, in our movement.
“But we managed to win the game and we showed maturity. We managed to control the game even when we weren’t playing and that’s good because we’re growing up as a team and learning from those mistakes that we made from the start of the season.”
But there’s no denying the talent that is there. Injuries throughout the season preventing Saturday’s combination being used too often and there is clearly still work to be done, especially with younger players still developing. Crystal Palace remain on course for their highest-ever scoring season in the Premier League and the future is looking bright for further progress next year.
Watford’s relegation on Saturday was confirming the inevitable, much like Norwich’s the week before. Similarly to the Canaries, Roy Hodgson’s side were sent down at the hands of his previous club – as Aston Villa did to Dean Smith.
Although they faced an incredibly tough task, you would have expected Watford to show a bit of fight as they went down. But that’s not quite what was on show at Selhurst Park.
There was very little from Watford going forward – registering just six shots and only one on target. Their best chance came in the 80th minute when Craig Cathcart sent a header onto the roof of the net.
While the defending was better at the other end, Watford still needed Ben Foster at his best to pull off some superb saves to keep the Hornets in with a shout of some kind of result. There was also the sending off from Hassane Kamara, who had given away the winning penalty too, even despite his protestations of a push in the build-up.
Credit to the travelling Watford fans, they backed their team until the final whistle – but this process of promotion and relegation is well-worn territory for them. ‘Watford’s coming back’, they sang in the second half to the tune of ‘Three Lions’.
And you feel like they will, being part of a group of teams who breeze through the Championship but struggle to keep themselves in the Premier League. With Roy Hodgson leaving after the final game of the season, this is now a real time for Watford to reset, regroup and push again for promotion.
Whether it will garner any more stability in the coming years remains to be seen, but there are three more games for Watford to show their fans the fight they’ll need back in England’s second tier.
Brentford are increasing their hopes of retaining their upward momentum into another season with the way they are finishing their debut Premier League campaign.
Many clubs arrive in the top flight still with their winning mentality in tact in contrast to a Premier League largely characterised by inconsistency.
For some it will fade away over the course of a punishing division where even one win in four will probably be enough for survival, for others it will barely last through August, as last season’s Championship winners Norwich can attest.
It’s to unfancied Brentford’s credit that they have shrugged off a mid-season momentum loss, fuelled by Covid, injury and the mental difficulty of a bad run of form, and have now taken 13 points from their last six games – behind only Man City and Liverpool.
It’s even more impressive that they have pulled 11 points clear of the bottom three after that mid-season slump without playing the teams placed 17th and 18th in Leeds and Everton – who they face in their final two games. Perhaps it will prove their own bad luck to have to play them when both are fighting for their lives.
But whatever happens between now and May 22 they have a base to build on from next season, ending on a high note with the potential to avoid the so-called ‘second-season syndrome’ through the momentum they have rebuilt in the world’s strongest league.
“I like the way we have approached this season,” said Frank after the game. “Trying to attack, and focusing on the next game. I’m pleased with the win, the performance, and we have a good opportunity to finish on a high, we’ve had an incredible season, it’s unbelievable what we have shown so far, and imagine that we win the last two – that’ll be fantastic.”
Life under caretaker boss Mike Jackson could hardly have been sweeter for Burnley until 3pm on Saturday.
Unbeaten in his four games in charge with three consecutive wins, including a late turnaround victory at relegation rivals Watford last weekend, the Clarets were on course to beat the drop.
But their squad for the visit of Aston Villa contained no recognised striker on the bench with Jay Rodriguez (hamstring) and Matej Vydra (knee) both out injured.
Ashley Barnes partnered the out-of-form Wout Weghorst up front as Burnley spurned chance after chance in the first half while Villa clinically took theirs.
The return of winger Maxwel Cornet will be a boost – he came on in the second half and scored a late consolation – but Burnley have a problem in the forward area if Rodriguez and Vydra aren’t fit soon.
There’s an issue at the back too after centre-back and captain James Tarkowski came off injured in the first minute of the second half with a hamstring problem. This is not the time to lose one of their key leaders with two massive away games to come.