February 26, 2021, 19:20

Premier League hits and misses: Manchester United swagger returns

Premier League hits and misses: Manchester United swagger returns

Can Emery turn around Arsenal’s fortunes?

Leicester City piled the pressure on Unai Emery and Arsenal as Jamie Vardy and James Maddison scored to condemn the Gunners, who are sixth after just one win in their last six Premier League matches, to a 2-0 defeat.

The defeat at the King Power Stadium was another galling 90 minutes for the Gunners and they now sit eight points off the top four with Emery’s remit to take the club back to the Champions League now looking further away than ever since his appointment last May.

  • Leicester 2-0 Arsenal – Match report and highlights
  • What now for Unai Emery?
  • Premier League Table | Fixtures | Top scorers

Two wins from 10 in the league has seen the pressure mount on Emery’s position with “Emery Out” once again trending on Twitter in the immediate aftermath of the game. Reports suggest Emery’s job is safe for now, but is he really the right man to turn around the club’s fortunes after the international break?

Emery, who has called for calm, insists he can still take Arsenal forward despite the poor run of form. “For me, as a coach, it’s about continuing stronger and improving with our players,” he said. “I am speaking with the club to stay calm and to stay patient to improve and recover some confidence with some circumstances.

“We are receiving criticism, but I know that’s my job. I’ve had lots of moments like that, but I’ve recovered by working to get confidence. We need to stay calm and also keep improving things.”

There are no real signs of improvement though. The Gunners have earned 87 points from their 50 Premier League games under Emery (W25 D12 L13) – one fewer than they won in their final 50 under Arsene Wenger (W27 D7 L16).

Their record of 17 points and -1 goal difference is their worst start to a top-flight season after 12 games since 1982-83. They also had just one shot on target for the second successive match, unacceptable for a squad with attacking talents of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette, Mesut Ozil and Nicolas Pepe.

If the Spaniard is given the dreaded vote of confidence to turn things around at the Emirates, there needs to be considerable improvements – and fast.
Oli Yew

Spurs stuck in transition

Football waits for no one. Mauricio Pochettino is trying to refresh his Tottenham team, to find a way towards success in “the next chapter” he has repeatedly referred to. But wantaway players, injuries to new recruits and the relentless, testing nature of the Premier League and Champions League continues to stall that evolution.

Meanwhile, Spurs’ rivals are marching away from them. This uninspiring draw against a Sheffield United team which caught Spurs cold with their intensity and then, after cancelling out Heung-Min Son’s opener, had Pochettino flicking through formations in search of a response in the second half, has left Tottenham way down the pack.

  • Tottenham 1-1 Sheffield United – Match report and highlights
  • Pochettino: I need time to rebuild

Adrift in 14th, with fewer points than Steve Bruce’s much-maligned Newcastle, Tottenham are already 11 points off the top four. It’s a long way back and the reality is that, even at this stage of the season, Champions League football next season is looking less likely by the week. Pochettino has spoken about solving problems in January. That could come too late.

It’s five Premier League games without a win now. In fact, Spurs have only beaten Aston Villa, Crystal Palace and Southampton in the top flight this term. That’s a wretched return for Champions League finalists. More worryingly, they are no longer playing the Pochettino way; passive out of possession, careless in possession and unable to feed Harry Kane.

With Christian Eriksen dropped to the bench alongside Toby Alderweireld, and Danny Rose excluded from the squad entirely against Sheffield United, it is clear Pochettino is looking to shift to the future. But the balance, the blend and the quality of the alternatives just isn’t there right now. In this demanding world of football, patience is at a premium and Pochettino needs some relief to ease the pressure on the rebuild.
Peter Smith

A swagger returns to Old Trafford

At full-time in the win over Brighton, the Manchester United fans sang a song from their old school catalogue of chants. “You’ve only come to see United,” was directed towards the Brighton fans in the away end – and it was hard to argue, considering the dominance shown by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s vibrant attacking team, led by a monstrous performance by Marcus Rashford.

  • Manchester United 3-1 Brighton – Match report and highlights
  • Solskjaer thrilled with Man United performance
  • How the teams lined up

United’s star man was a constant livewire playing on the shoulder of the Brighton defence in the first half before dropping deeper after the break and showing some serious quality when in possession. After a sticky start to the campaign, he’s hitting top gear. And, there’s surely more to come.

One swallow, of course, doesn’t make a summer and the table shows United are still nine points off the Champions League places. Post-match, Solskjaer referenced the challenge facing his team to chase down the early pace setters, identifying they have a big job on their hands to get back in the top four.

However, with Rashford at the forefront in this kind of form, United – if they keep playing with this energy, quality and bite – are capable of putting a winning run together between now and Christmas. That’s five wins in his last six for Ole, who has regained control of the wheel.
Lewis Jones

It’s Liverpool’s title to lose

Pep Guardiola did his best to put on a brave face after another painful Anfield defeat, but there was a hint of resignation from the Manchester City boss.

Not for the first time, Jurgen Klopp conjured up a formula that his Liverpool players carried out to perfection. Guardiola’s philosophy was found wanting and City’s title defence floundered.

  • Liverpool 3-1 Man City – Match report and highlights
  • The Gary Neville podcast

Liverpool have been building towards this moment for the last two seasons and Anfield rightfully rejoiced as the realisation of their strongest title challenge in three decades set in.

If the champions of the last two seasons failed to halt Liverpool, what chance does anyone else have of stopping what now looks to be the inevitable?

They’ll be whispering it quietly at Anfield but the title is Liverpool’s to lose.

Jack Wilkinson

Penalty call does not disguise Man City’s problems

The penalty incident that preceded Liverpool’s opening goal was the major talking point at Anfield, but while Manchester City can count themselves unfortunate that Trent Alexander-Arnold’s handball was not penalised, there can be no hiding from the issues which continue to undermine them at the other end of the pitch.

  • Liverpool 3-1 Man City – Match report and highlights
  • The Gary Neville podcast

Their back four, comprised of Kyle Walker, John Stones, Fernandinho and Angelino, was brutally exposed by Liverpool. Their panic was apparent from the outset and it was summed up by the moment late in the game when Stones collected a goal kick straight from stand-in goalkeeper Claudio Bravo and launched an inexplicably poor crossfield pass directly into the Anfield stands.

City have been without Aymeric Laporte since September and they are plainly no closer to finding a solution to his absence. At this stage of last season, they had conceded five goals. The defeat to Liverpool means their total this time around already stands at 13. Their defensive struggles are already threatening to wreck their season.
Nick Wright

Richarlison is every bit the talisman for Silva and Everton

Richarlison had gone eight Premier League games without a goal, coinciding with Everton’s slide down the Premier League table since his double in a 3-2 win over Wolves at the start of September.

Saturday’s game with Southampton was on a knife-edge heading into the final 15 minutes, but the Brazilian showed his mental strength and importance to his team in firing home the winner to secure a pivotal 2-1 victory.

  • Southampton 1-2 Everton – Match report and highlights
  • Marco Silva: I don’t feel the pressure

The 22-year-old produced an all-round display at St Mary’s, with more touches in the opposition box (8) and more shots on target (2) than his team-mates while also ranking second for the number of times he regained possession (10).

“We made a big effort as a club to sign him and the fans here love him,” enthused Everton boss Marco Silva. “I am here to protect my players until the end and Richarlison is not a diver. He’s a big, big talent.”

During his time in England, Richarlison has only scored twice in 25 league games against the traditional top six, and so earning a reputation for delivering on the biggest stage must be the next challenge.
Ben Grounds

Wolves learning how to juggle

Not in the circus sense of course, but Wolves are starting to learn how to juggle the demands of a domestic season in England along with the Europa League. They have already played a whopping 24 games this season, but they are beginning to beat the grind.

Their 2-1 win in the West Midlands derby against Aston Villa was their seventh unbeaten game in the Premier League and halted a run of three successive draws. They have never gone eight games unbeaten in England’s top flight, last racking up seven in a row between March and April 1974, and could make history if they win or draw against Bournemouth after the international break.

  • Wolves 2-1 Aston Villa – Match report and highlights
  • Premier League fixtures
  • How the teams lined up

While Aston Villa were dealt some real blows injury-wise, Wolves did not really look like letting them through at Molineux and it only took a bizarre goal-line technology-aided decision that saw Villa score a late consolation. They should arguably have won by more too, hitting the bar twice and Raul Jimenez, in particular, wasting three good chances.

Wolves will head into the two-week break inside the Premier League’s top half – currently in eighth with 16 points, level with Manchester United and Bournemouth – and are on the verge of qualifying for the Europa League round of 32.

Wolves waited until September 28 for a Premier League win following their busy pre-season schedule and have only lost once since – ironically, a 2-1 defeat to Aston Villa in the Carabao Cup – but Nuno Espirito Santo looks to have got his team in order to truly compete in the Premier League and beyond.
Charlotte Marsh

Aston Villa’s injury gut punch

It just was not Aston Villa’s day at Molineux and the signs were there ahead of kick-off. Jack Grealish was not fit enough to make the squad, having picked up a calf injury against Wolves in the Carabao Cup, while ever-presents Tom Heaton (calf) and Bjorn Engels (hip) were surprising injury omissions.

The injuries just kept piling up for Villa too. It was a sorry sight to see Jed Steer go down with another Achilles injury just seven minutes into his first Premier League start this term. Having performed magnificently for Aston Villa in the second half of last season, this was his chance to show what he could do in Heaton’s absence, but it was cut agonisingly short.

  • Aston Villa fixtures

Take nothing away from Orjan Nyland, he did well as Steer’s replacement, but there was a huge smack of bad luck for Villa to have lost their first and second-choice goalkeepers for a derby game.

Then there was Matt Targett, who may have been grateful for the substitution having really struggled in the first half. He could not keep Adama Traore under control on the right and gave the ball away on a number of occasions, handing Wolves an even greater advantage. He looked to have an issue with his vision after being caught in the face by Matt Doherty, with Neil Taylor marshalling the left-back spot well when he came on.

They were a few more nervy moments too, with Tyrone Mings hurt just after Aston Villa had made their final substitution in the 69th minute. Although Mings was able to continue, misfortune seems to be a theme for Dean Smith’s side in a season where they have not had the rub of the green.

Villa now have the international break to get Grealish, Heaton and Engels back to fitness and hope that players heading off to represent their countries do not pick up any other niggles.
Charlotte Marsh

The case for Newcastle’s defence

Newcastle’s defenders were at it again on Saturday, with both DeAndre Yedlin and Ciaran Clark on target as Steve Bruce’s side came from behind to beat Bournemouth 2-1 at St James’ Park and record successive league wins.

Source: skysports.com

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