Premier League: 10 talking points from the weekend’s football action | Premier League

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1

Familiar lesson beckons for Levy

Ange Postecoglou found enough blue sky in the Spurs squad he inherited to make a pair of sailor’s trousers out of the opening 10 games of the season. The rest of the season since then feels like a return to the mean. Spurs would currently be eighth in the Premier League if their form outside of that supercharged start was rolled out across an entre season. Fifth place is probably above par for this miscellaneous group of players and the manager’s own first look at the league. And while defeat in the north London derby will sting, as will the high likelihood now that Spurs will finish outside the Champions League spots, it is also important to remember that fast start was also real, a taster of how Postecoglou can make this team hum with the right ingredients. Spurs are well-placed financially. The lesson here is that Daniel Levy needs to back his man in the summer – does this sound at all familiar? – and build on the good times of Ange Year Zero before any judgment can begin to be passed on the ultimate ceiling of this Spurs iteration. Barney Ronay

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2

Haaland makes profligate Forest pay

The City Ground has rarely been homely for Manchester City. This was their first win at Nottingham Forest since February 2000, five months before Erling Haaland’s birth. Haaland began on the bench following a stop-start, injury-hit spell where City’s most fluent performances, like Thursday’s 4-0 rout of Brighton, have come in his absence. That was not the case against Forest, again proving thorny opposition, denying Pep Guardiola his customary control and repeatedly posing problems to his weary defence. Had Chris Wood brought his shooting boots, the situation could have become critical. Instead, Haaland’s introduction on the hour allowed him to showcase his set of skills. The forward’s mere presence distracted a Forest backline that had muscled Júlian Álvarez out of the game. That allowed City’s midfield more space, with Haaland clinically finishing a 30-pass sequence that felt like a counter attack, inflicting a killer blow on flagging opponents. Forest paid the price for profligacy and their continued inability to defend corners. Josko Gvardiol’s first-half header was the 23rd goal conceded from set-pieces this season, comfortably the league’s worst record. Niall McVeigh



3

Injuries catch up with Liverpool

On a cool east London afternoon, the heat firmly went out of Liverpool’s title challenge, and as the touchline spat between Jürgen Klopp and Mohamed Salah demonstrated, now is well and truly the time for recriminations and reprisals. There are a host of reasons for why things have unravelled for Klopp in his final season in charge and one of them has undeniably been injuries. All clubs get them but Liverpool have been ravaged by aches and strains to first-team players, with only five not missing at least one game this campaign because of a fitness issue. Who knows why this has been – could be bad luck, could be how hard Klopp works his players, could be something to do with the medical staff – but, whatever the case, the long list of absences is something Arne Slot must look into and address when, as expected, he takes over in the summer. Sachin Nakrani



4

United mess not all Ten Hag’s fault

After 34 games Manchester United have 54 points under Erik ten Hag. A decade ago last Monday (22 April) David Moyes had accrued 57 points after 34 games and was sacked. There is no call here to remove Ten Hag, the comparison is drawn to illuminate how England’s record 20-times champions have stood still since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in May 2013. If the prevailing view was that replacing an all-time great would be tricky, 11 years of malaise is a damning indictment of the Glazers’ ownership and shines a beacon on the club’s back-of-house mess. Sir Jim Ratcliffe, surely, has to comprehend how this, plus the more than 60 separate injuries and illnesses suffered this season, affects the ability of Ten Hag – or any manager – to send out on to a football field a consistent, winning team. Jamie Jackson



5

Dyche pulls off major achievement

Sean Dyche for manager of the year? He has a strong argument after guiding Everton to safety with three games to spare despite everything that has been thrown his way this season. It is, as he said after victory over Brentford, the biggest achievement of his managerial career. Playing style, equalling an unwanted club record of 13 games without a win and a 6-0 capitulation at Chelsea undermine his case. But no other Premier League manager had to make a profit in last summer’s transfer window because of the club’s previous financial mismanagement, protect his players from the impact of a ludicrous 10-point deduction (reduced to six on appeal), then a further two-point deduction, while keeping Everton’s uncertain future in the background. Only Arsenal have kept more clean sheets this season than Everton, who would now be level on points with widely admired Brighton but for the deductions. “You wouldn’t imagine half of what I’ve been managing,” said Dyche. “And why should you? Some of it is private, some of it is just best kept alone. But if I wrote my fifth book since I’ve been here it would be considered fiction.” Andy Hunter



6

De Zerbi sorry as season fizzles out

Roberto De Zerbi can never be accused of not wearing his heart on his sleeve. The Brighton manager cut a disconsolate figure when he spoke after his side’s humbling defeat against Bournemouth. He admitted there were “no excuses” for the way their season has fizzled out since being eliminated from the Europa League by Roma in March. Having been widely criticised for admitting his future on the south coast is in doubt before talks with owner Tony Bloom at the end of the season, the Italian seemed contrite about the way things have unfolded since then. “You spoke a lot about my press conference after the Roma game and it was part of myself,” he said. “I will always be honest and I’m sorry for our fans – they don’t deserve this. But I can give my word on the attitude of my players. We want to make our fans proud every game.” Ed Aarons

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Bournemouth celebrate their third goal of the game as Brighton’s Facundo Buonanotte looks dejected. Photograph: Adam Davy/PA

7

Wolves rage against the machines

Sat near Wolves vice-president Robert Plant, Premier League CEO Richard Masters was treated to this season’s Molineux routines. Following the Led Zeppelin medley that usually precedes kick-off, fans in the Jack Hayward Stand rolled out the latest terrace hit. “Fuck VAR” was heard throughout the 90 minutes, and as Stockley Park deliberated over both Wolves goals, the same fans roared the ironic “woaahhhhhh” that was once traditional for a goalkeeper taking a restart. “We want our football back” was also given repeat airing. On Friday, Masters had conceded the VAR process’s application needed to improve “the situation for fans.” The next day saw him hear how a VAR referendum in Wolverhampton would overwhelmingly favour total abolition, to adopt Swedish football’s refusal. Gary O’Neil faces an FA hearing this week after reacting to the denial of a Wolves equaliser against West Ham. His continued agitations against video officialdom’s failings only add to his popularity among Wolves fans. John Brewin



8

Villa close in on their targets

Aston Villa’s draw at home to Chelsea secured a place in the Europa League next season – a spot Mauricio Pochettino can only dream of at the moment – but given how Villa’s season has panned out, the explicit aim is to go one better and return to the premier European competition. Villa will finish above Manchester United for the first time in the Premier League era, though admittedly that may say more about United’s struggles. With three league games to play, Villa are in pole position to claim fourth place but Tottenham’s games in hand means the race to qualify for the Champions League could go to the wire. Unai Emery was at pains to express his delight at securing at least some kind of European football. “We achieved one great objective we had, to get Europa League and still now with Tottenham we are a contender for fourth,” Emery said. Ben Fisher


Morgan Rogers after scoring in the draw with Chelsea. Photograph: Ryan Browne/Shutterstock

9

Glasner aims for Eagles to fly higher

With Fulham and Crystal Palace both assured of survival, a fourth draw in their last five meetings was no great surprise. Jeffrey Schlupp’s spectacular late equaliser at least provided some fireworks, helping Oliver Glasner’s side avoid a defeat that would have been undeserved. Palace played with greater purpose than their hosts and are clearly not content to rest on securing a 12th straight season in the top flight. In that run, the Eagles have finished every campaign somewhere between 10th and 15th, with points total in the 40s. Glasner, who brought the Europa League title to Eintracht Frankfurt, will have higher ambitions and given his impressive start, breaking into the top half’s soft underbelly next year looks a realistic target. Much may depend on Michael Olise and Eberechi Eze’s futures, and whether Glasner is backed with funds to replace them if they are lured away over the summer. Niall McVeigh



10

‘Free Salma’ protest at Newcastle

Before kick-off in a 5-1 home victory that would confirm Sheffield United’s relegation, Newcastle fans unfurled a giant banner proclaiming their love for the team’s two Brazil midfielders, Bruno Guimarães and Joelinton. Meanwhile NUFC Fans Against Sportswashing had urged supporters of the two sides to hold up smaller, “Free Salma” posters in the 27th minute. They referred to Salam al-Shebab, the University of Leeds student and mother of two whose PhD in Dental Medicine has been interrupted by the 27-year prison sentence she received after returning to Saudi Arabia on holiday and being arrested for social media posts promoting women’s rights. Although the resultant, low-key protest against her imprisonment was rather eclipsed by two more goals from Alexander Isak and another stellar performance on Guimarães’s part, such unwelcome publicity may well have been noted in the Kingdom. Louise Taylor




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