Ole Gunnar Solskjaer gets a reaction, Tammy Abraham makes an England statement and Wilfried Zaha fails to spark…
Last Updated: 13/01/20 12:00am
Solskjaer gets the result and the reaction
After three poor performances, Manchester United couldn’t have hoped for a better fixture than bottom side Norwich at home.
Despite being faced with a yellow wall, United moved the ball faster to stretch Norwich. They knew they’d have it in wide areas for the majority of the game, so Solskjaer’s decision to start Juan Mata was inspired; he produced two world-class deliveries for the first and third goals.
His team have been criticised for failing to break down low blocks, and relying solely on pace, particularly at Old Trafford.
But United proved on Saturday they can pull sides about and punish them centrally, without relying on the channels.
Now, United desperately need consistency. Next up? Liverpool away. So much for momentum…
Abraham lays claim to Kane spot
On the day that Harry Kane assured the world his recent surgery was a success, Tammy Abraham was laying claim to his England starting spot with his 13th Premier League goal of the season.
Abraham has easily assuaged the pre-season fears that Chelsea, having lost three forwards over the summer and under a transfer embargo, would struggle for goals. He’s seamlessly made the transition into the first team after shining in the Championship at Bristol City and Aston Villa.
Against Burnley, he popped up in between the defenders to head home a pinpoint Reece James cross and as Frank Lampard assessed after the game, Abraham really should have nabbed his second Premier League hat-trick of the season. He missed three glorious chances in the middle of the second half – one of which was a carbon copy of his scored goal – but at 22 years old, he is by far the finished product.
His performance would surely have been noticed by England manager Gareth Southgate as he looks at his options for the March internationals and Euro 2020. Abraham is the most obvious choice to replace Kane – who is sidelined until April – and the upcoming games represent the perfect opportunity for the Chelsea striker to stake his claim to a starting spot, especially if he continues performing in the same vein.
City send out timely reminder
If Liverpool are the best team in Europe, Manchester City must be second. They’ve won nine of their last 10, scoring 32 goals in the process.
It’s easy to forget this, given Liverpool’s dominance, but in most other seasons, City would be flying. Yes, their defence has looked leaky, and they may have work to do in the market at centre-back, but in nine out of the 11 positions, they are staggeringly impressive.
Momentum is valuable going into the Champions League knockout stages, and City have it in abundance. And more importantly, they have squad depth outside of centre-half. They were able to rest Raheem Sterling, Bernardo Silva and Kyle Walker on Sunday, and it’s only a matter of time before the cup competitions take precedence over the league.
Pep Guardiola has refused to catastrophise over a difficult domestic season, and seems quietly confident – or is it a fiery determination to prove his doubters wrong? – that City will come away from this season with at least one trophy. On current form, and with the Premier League “gone”, as Guardiola admits, who would bet against that?
Zaha trying too hard?
Judging by Wilfried Zaha’s two performances against Arsenal this season, the Gunners were absolutely correct not to stump up £80m for his services in the summer.
They offered £40m for the winger, with Palace valuing their star player at something close to double that price.
In both fixtures this campaign against the side that wanted him, Zaha has been on the edge of the game, partly, it must be said, due to the service from his team-mates and his manager’s defensive focused game-plan.
This lack of impact on the game left him frustrated at times at Selhurst on Saturday, meaning, in total, he’s only completed four dribbles against Arsenal this season and when you consider he recorded 12 in his last home game against West Ham, it’s a big drop down on his usual levels.
Zaha also had just two touches in the opposition box in the 1-1 draw – the lowest amount he’s had in any game this season.
Perhaps it’s a case of Zaha trying too hard against the club that showed interest in him? Or perhaps he is playing in a team that can’t utilise his talents?
The agreement to team up with the renowned Israeli negotiator Pini Zahavi and part with his long-time agent Will Salthouse has only further enhanced the talk of him moving away – but he will need to play better than this to secure the move he desires.
Bournemouth sliding, Watford flying
While the Hornets deserve immense credit for their blend of craft and power which helped them to this emphatic win, Bournemouth looked a side so badly devoid of confidence it was almost painful to watch.
Eddie Howe can be under no illusions after his side’s latest dire performance in a very long list – the Bournemouth boss faces a huge task to keep the Cherries up.
At the back they were ponderous, in midfield they were lethargic, and up front they were toothless.
Their opposition were anything but. Nigel Pearson has taken the shackles off Watford’s star men, allowing them to play with freedom. At the same time, Pearson has instilled a solid defensive foundation from which his side can build.
If Bournemouth are to avoid relegation, they would do no harm taking a leaf out of Watford’s book.
Tottenham unearth treasure in Tanganga
Tottenham are going through a tough time. Jose Mourinho was all too quick to highlight his injury-plagued side’s “great difficulties” to come up with solutions in Saturday’s defeat to Premier League leaders Liverpool.
But it wasn’t all doom and gloom for Spurs, there were plenty of positives in defeat for Mourinho’s men because a fixture that would usually be banished from memory will be remembered for the day that Japhet Tanganga introduced himself to the Premier League.
The sight of the 20-year-old’s name on the teamsheet raised a few eyebrows before kick-off but a mature top-flight debut against two of the Premier League’s most lethal attacking threats, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah, left not only the Spurs fans purring but also his manager.
“The kid has reason to be very happy with his debut,” Mourinho said. “His first game in the Premier League, couldn’t be a bigger one and he did amazing.
“First on the right with Mane, then on the left with Salah and he was fantastic. Mane and Salah know who Tanganga is, they didn’t know before the game but now they know.
“It’s a good moment for him and also a message for the kids in the academy that when the player is the right player, with the right attitude and the right qualities the opportunity arises.”
Richarlison is Everton’s gem
Carlo Ancelotti can breathe a sigh of relief after beating Brighton. After the humiliating FA Cup exit to Liverpool’s second string, a small group of fans turned up at Finch Farm to vent their frustrations, before midfielder Fabian Delph became embroiled in an argument with supporters on social media.
The atmosphere at Goodison Park was tense against Brighton and you could feel the frustration in the crowd when Everton spurned some early chances. That all changed when Richarlison fired home. It was an impressive strike too, after going past two defenders, and the 22-year-old has now been directly involved in 11 Premier League goals this season – more than any other player at the club. Since his Premier League debut for Everton in August 2018, Richarlison has scored 21 goals in the competition, seven more than any other player. He’s a game-changer and is exactly what Ancelotti needed.
Also, in a week where it had been reported that Ancelotti was looking at a new goalkeeper, Jordan Pickford came to the rescue late on. Clean sheets are always important, but this one was extremely timely.
Burnley’s slump continues
Another Premier League game and another defeat for Burnley – their fourth in a row. While Sean Dyche’s side have never been a free-scoring outfit, they have only scored once in that period.
To compound matters further, Burnley have a pretty lengthy injury list. Against Chelsea, they were without Ashley Barnes and Jay Rodriguez with Chris Wood looking like he will have to carry the attacking burden for a little while. Even he took a heavy knock to the nose at Stamford Bridge, which the medical team continued to patch up throughout the first half.
Their recent poor run has left Burnley perilously close to the bottom three, although ever the pragmatist, Dyche doesn’t seem too worried, telling Sky Sports: “That’s our norm [to be in a relegation battle] bar one season. I’m surprised by your surprise and that we should be miles up the table because that’s probably not going to happen every season at Burnley. We have to fight for everything, we always have had to apart from that one season.”
It has been a theme with Burnley before – having a really poor run before surging into a winning streak and ending in a relatively comfortable Premier League position. They will surely be hoping that victorious spell is just around the corner.
Wilder signs and wants more
Sheffield United have taken 32 points from their first 22 matches back in the Premier League. This phenomenal achievement should have Chris Wilder reaching for the party poppers but he’s constantly striving for more.
It’s a philosophy that has got the Blades to where they are and it’s one of the reasons why the club have shrewdly decided to reward his quite staggering work with a new contract until 2024.
The Blades weren’t at their best for large parts against West Ham, something Wilder referenced post-match, but such is their belief within the camp, they still ran out relatively comfortable winners at Bramall Lane, despite the last-gasp VAR drama.
“There’s still a load of work to be done, we’re quite a distance off on a lot of things as a newly-promoted side,” Wilder said.
“We are not up to speed with a lot of the Premier League clubs, if not all of them, in certain aspects, whether it is academy or whether it is the training ground or investment into players.”
Battling Newcastle deserve credit
They are not playing free-flowing football or fighting for a European place, and are most certainly still in the relegation battle, but Newcastle are showing plenty of spirit in difficult circumstances.
A 1-1 draw against Wolves on Saturday snapped a three-match losing run, but again there was a cost as names were added to the substantial injury list, which is in double figures.
The situation appeared to be easing as Newcastle welcomed back Jetro Willems, Paul Dummett and Ciaran Clark from injury against Wolves, only for Dummett, as well as Dwight Gayle, to be forced off in the first half.
Steve Bruce said afterwards that he hasn’t seen an injury situation this bad in his 40 years in management, and believes the cause is fatigue after playing too many games.
However, amid the frustration, it must be noted that Newcastle are already eight points better off than they were at this stage under Rafa Benitez last season.
They are also six points above the relegation zone and showed encouraging signs in the early stages against Wolves, with the excellent Miguel Almiron looking a threat along with Gayle.
With fixtures still coming thick and fast in January it might be a while until Newcastle are at full strength again, but Bruce deserves credit for keeping them competitive and keeping them away from danger.
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Source : Sky Sports