Man Utd slump at sparse Theatre of Dreams and Tottenham flatter to deceive but Arsenal’s Brazilian teenager shows the way…
Last Updated: 23/01/20 12:22am
Boos – and early exits – as Man Utd pressure builds
By the time the final whistle sounded around Old Trafford, the stadium was barely even half-full. Many of the home supporters had booed their side’s performance at the break. A similarly directionless second-half display gave them little incentive to stick it out until the end.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side had the chance to close the gap on the top four after Chelsea’s draw with Arsenal. Instead, they are left to reflect on the eighth Premier League defeat of an increasingly wretched season. The problems are mounting and the pressure is rising on the man in the dugout.
Since Solskjaer was made permanent manager in March, Manchester United have now lost more Premier League games than they have won, taking just 42 points from a possible 96.
It’s fewer than Wolves, Crystal Palace and Everton and it raises serious questions over their direction.
Son winner papers over Spurs cracks
Boos were ringing around the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium moments before Heung-Min Son scored Spurs’ winner 11 minutes from time against basement side Norwich.
They were soon replaced by delirium as the club claimed a first league win of 2020 and scored their first league goals since December 28, but fans have long memories and won’t forget how bad they were against a Norwich side who look destined for a Championship return.
In previous weeks it’s been the absence of Harry Kane which has been their main issue, but he would have had little impact on their approach to Ben Cantwell and Teemu Pukki, who could have had a couple of goals apiece had they brought their shooting boots.
Tottenham look rudderless and perhaps the addition of Willian Jose, as looks likely, may help, but it’s difficult to see what Jose Mourinho is trying to do at the moment, because for now at least it isn’t working.
A costly victory for Leicester?
Leicester were back to their incisive best as they tightened their grip on a top-four finish in the Premier League with a 4-1 victory over West Ham, but the victory could have come at a huge cost for Brendan Rodgers and his side.
Following shock back-to-back defeats to Southampton and Burnley, the Foxes got back to winning ways as goals from Harvey Barnes, Ricardo and a double from Ayoze Perez ensured they maintained their stranglehold on third place, despite a tense half-hour in the second period on the back of Hammers captain Mark Noble’s 50th-minute penalty.
But after what has been a relatively injury-free season for Leicester, Rodgers saw midfielder Nampalys Mendy and star striker Jamie Vardy limp off in the first half.
Rodgers was quick to play down Vardy’s injury scare but he also backed his side to cope without the Premier League’s top goalscorer, if he has a spell on the sidelines.
“It wasn’t his hamstring, so that’s good news for us,” said Rodgers. “He just felt a twinge in his glute, so we will wait and see on that one in the next day or so, but thankfully his hamstring is fine, and we’ll assess things over the next couple of days.”
When asked if his side could cope without Vardy, he added: “He’s a fantastic player and very, very important for us, but you are never going to succeed or do well if you just rely totally on one player. Of course, when you have a player of his quality, he is always going to be a miss, so it’s particularly important to have players who can come into a game and you don’t change so much of your rhythm.
“Kelechi (Iheanacho) came in and he was very, very good. He wants to run in behind, he was powerful, his touch was good, he works ever so hard, and he always looks like he can create and score goals. I thought he came in and did very well.”
Despite the positive words, Rodgers will be hoping for good news on Vardy with a crucial Premier League clash with Chelsea on the horizon and FA Cup and Carabao Cup clashes against Brentford and Aston Villa respectively up next.
Young Brazilian shows brighter future for Arsenal
It’s now three successive draws for Arsenal in the Premier League following their 2-2 draw at Chelsea, but the point at Stamford Bridge felt like a big moment for Mikel Arteta and his side.
The Gunners have long been criticised for a lack of character and a lack of leaders but following David Luiz’s 28th-minute dismissal after Shkodran Mustafi’s woeful attempt at a back pass, every Arsenal player stepped up as they came from behind twice to secure a share of the spoils in west London.
“I am [proud],” Arteta said following the match. “The spirit they showed, the character, the fight and the leadership was there as well.
“You have to really stand up. When someone makes a mistake, it can happen in football, so someone has to take a red card for him. It can happen.
“What cannot happen is that afterwards we don’t stand up for him. Every single player did it with belief as well. I could sense it at half-time that they believed they could get back in the game.”
10 – Gabriel Martinelli is the first teenager to score 10+ goals in a single season for Arsenal (all competitions) since Nicolas Anelka in 1998-99. Wonder. #CHEARS pic.twitter.com/Y79dUpXFS3
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) January 21, 2020
No player embodied Arsenal’s spirit quite like Gabriel Martinelli.
This time last year, the 18-year-old was playing in Brazil’s regional leagues with Ituano FC. But it has not taken him long to make a name for himself in the Premier League. His stunning breakaway goal at Stamford Bridge made it two in two games since he stepped in for the suspended Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, taking him to 10 for the season in all competitions.
It’s still very small steps for Arsenal, but led by Martinelli, there are signs of a brighter future for the Gunners under Arteta.
Oliver Yew and Nick Wright
Laporte shows what Man City have been missing
Aymeric Laporte’s inclusion in the Manchester City defence was a surprise at Sheffield United on Tuesday night.
The Frenchman had not been involved with City’s first team for almost five months after a serious knee injury but the performance he put in was reassuringly familiar for Pep Guardiola.
The Blades managed only one shot on target in 90 minutes against City’s reinvigorated defence, and while Nicolas Otamendi dominated the defensive statistics ahead of his centre-back partner, it was notable how much calmer Guardiola’s backline looked with Laporte in it.
“We missed him a lot,” said Guardiola. “He has something we don’t have in the squad. He makes our build-up quicker, not because the other ones can’t, but because he is the only left-footed central defender. For the way we want to play, he is so important.”
The manager went on to label Laporte “the best left centre-back in the world” after the game and while one match at Bramall Lane won’t prove that alone, the seamless manner with which he slipped back into the City backline will be of huge encouragement.
Chelsea crying out for attacking support
There was a familiar air of frustration to Frank Lampard in his press conference after Chelsea’s dramatic draw with Arsenal at Stamford Bridge.
For the umpteenth time this season, the Blues were made to pay for not killing off a game they were dominating. Arsenal scored with their only two shots on goal. Chelsea could only convert twice from their 19.
Afterwards, Lampard referenced the expected goal statistics which show that Chelsea are the least efficient side in the Premier League at converting chances at home. He could also have pointed to the fact that they have more shots than Liverpool and yet scored 11 fewer goals.
It all adds up to highlight Chelsea’s need for attacking reinforcements, and their issues could now be compounded by an injury to top scorer Tammy Abraham.
Chelsea are chasing PSG’s Edinson Cavani, among others, but we are already approaching the final week of the January transfer window and they seem little closer to finding a solution.
Bournemouth answer Howe’s battle cry
There was fighting talk from Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe ahead of this vital test against fellow south coast strugglers Brighton and he will have been delighted with the spirit, quality and attitude of his side in a crucial 3-1 win.
Aaron Ramsdale was supreme in goal, adding a string of fine second-half saves to the brilliant one-handed, close-range stop he made to deny Neal Maupay with the game goalless in the opening period.
His you-shall-not-pass attitude was matched by his outfield team-mates, who, after weathering the early storm, buzzed around the pitch closing down their opponents and then showed their ability in possession, with Harry Wilson and Callum Wilson both finishing well either side of Pascal Gross’ own goal.
Could this be a turning point for Howe and Bournemouth? Certainly, it will ease the pressure on the manager but the job is far from done. This was just Bournemouth’s second Premier League win in 13 and that streak leaves them with work to do over the coming months. They have a brutal run-in, too, meaning they must back this result up.
But importantly for Howe, his players and their upcoming opponents, this was a timely statement that Bournemouth haven’t given up on the battle.
Southampton in shape under Hasenhuttl
Ralph Hasenhuttl wore a beaming smile as well as fancy gloves as he revelled in the moment once more with his travelling supporters. For a fourth Premier League game in a row on the road, his side had taken maximum points as Crystal Palace were beaten 2-0 at Selhurst Park.
Their trajectory has virtually been an upward curve ever since the 9-0 drubbing to Leicester at the end of October.
“We’re very brave and we’re not scared about anything,” Hasenhuttl said after witnessing his side prevent Palace from registering a shot on target.
When asked how he has managed to take Southampton from relegation candidates to outside European contenders in the space of just a couple of months, he added: “A lot has changed.
“Not only the shape – for sure, we never played a back five again. It’s always the 4-2-2-2 now which is a shape I was playing for a long time at my last club [RB Leipzig].
“It takes time as it’s tactically very demanding. We weren’t brave enough at the beginning of the season to do it. We were a little bit scared and lost a little bit our philosophy. But we’ve found it.”
Having suffered the biggest home defeat in English top-flight history, it would be something special were Southampton to go on to clinch a European spot – but they are now just three points off fifth place. It has been a remarkable turnaround.
Grealish tries to do it all… again
It’s almost as if Jack Grealish looks around at his team-mates and thinks: “Give it here, I’ll do this.” They don’t mind, either.
At times he does too much, dribbling past three but stopped by the fourth on one occasion, but it’s hard to blame him. For the last four games, Villa have not had a recognised forward, meaning Grealish is trying to do everyone’s job in attack.
For all of Villa’s reckless abandon in the final third against Watford, Grealish’s passing accuracy in the opposition half was at 85 per cent (1st in team), he got involved in 21 duels (1st in team), won seven fouls (1st in team) and made four key passes (1st in team).
His tenacity on the edge of the box, opening up space for Matt Targett for the umpteenth time, forced the leveller, and though he was not involved in the winner, he was Villa’s man of the match.
In fact, in Villa’s last 13 games, he’s been the Sky Sports MOTM no less than six times, including four times in the last seven games. At the moment, he’s trying to single-handedly carry his boyhood club to Premier League survival.
Kean to impress
For 94 minutes, this Everton performance was about the real Moise Kean standing up. This was the first glimpse as to why many shrewd observers had been predicting big things for the striker when he signed in the summer.
Yes, the final two minutes will be the period most will remember as Newcastle transformed from toothless to tremendous courtesy of Florian Lejeune’s bonkers double salvo but the night belonged to the 19-year-old striker, who grabbed his first goal for the club.
This was a performance full of power, energy, class and a cool finish just when Everton needed an opening goal. Barely a month ago, Kean was taken off by caretaker manager Duncan Ferguson just 19 minutes after coming on as a second-half substitute and it looked like his Everton future could be in serious doubt.
However, he’s been given a chance to impress by Carlo Ancelotti and looks stronger and more motivated after making back-to-back starts for the first time as an Everton player.
Palace’s threadbare squad reaches its limit
After Crystal Palace’s five-game unbeaten league run came juddering to a halt against Southampton, manager Roy Hodgson was left to reflect on the threadbare nature of his squad.
Christian Benteke, Andros Townsend, Jeffrey Schlupp, Mamadou Sakho, Patrick van Aanholt and Luka Milivojevic (suspended) were on the list of absentees name-checked by the Eagles boss following a bruising period.
While Southampton were in a position to give their talisman Danny Ings a rest from the start and were able to call upon the superb Jannik Vestergaard in the absence of Jan Bednarek, Hodgson was forced to ask the same starting XI that had ran themselves into the ground to earn a 2-2 draw at Manchester City to go again.
It was soon apparent that this was an unrealistic demand, and Palace were second best in all departments. Hodgson looked forlornly to his substitutes with his side trailing 2-0 in search of answers.
“I thought we did what we could do and had three senior players on the bench, albeit Connor (Wickham) hasn’t played too many games,” he conceded following the loss.
“Joel Ward and Max Meyer are returning from injury, but the second goal was a massive blow. If we had kept it to one goal maybe the ball would’ve bounced our way even without playing well. But at 2-0, they had their tails up and it would’ve been a hard ask. It never looked as though we were going to achieve that.”
It has been a fine season so far for Palace, but here the need for reinforcements to prevent undoing the good work had been brutally exposed.
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Source : Sky Sports