April 21, 2021

Man Utd

News

Premier League – THINGS WE LEARNED following return from the international break

10 min read

There was much anticipation over the return of the Premier League following the international break – and the weekend’s action didn’t disappoint.

There were twists and turns at both ends of the Premier League table, most notably at Stamford Bridge where West Bromwich Albion stunned Chelsea 5-2 in the Saturday lunchtime game. 

But with Arsenal collapsing at home to a rejuvenated Liverpool, Tottenham throwing away more leads – this time at Newcastle – and Manchester United finally starting to see the return to form of Mason Greenwood, there were plenty of narratives to follow. 

Here’s Sportsmail’s wrap up of things we learned from another eventful weekend in the Premier League.

Chelsea's shock defeat at home to West Brom had an impact at both ends of the league table

Chelsea’s shock defeat at home to West Brom had an impact at both ends of the league table

Chelsea saw their 14-match unbeaten run under Thomas Tuchel come to a stunning end

Chelsea saw their 14-match unbeaten run under Thomas Tuchel come to a stunning end

Manchester City are miles clear of their rivals

Manchester City winning the Premier League has been on the cards for a long time now but their domination since December continues to amaze.

In all competitions , hey have won 26 of their last 27 games and there appears to be little sign of stopping them as they challenge on four fronts for trophies, with the Champions League, FA Cup and League Cup also in their sights.

While they have been beaten by nearest rivals Manchester United in this period, they were expected to be given another test by Leicester City on Saturday.

Instead goals from Benjamin Mendy and Gabriel Jesus sealed a comfortable three points at the King Power Stadium to take them 18 points clear of the third-placed Foxes.

After a win at Leicester City, Manchester City are cruising towards another league title

After a win at Leicester City, Manchester City are cruising towards another league title

So far ahead of most of the pack are Pep Guardiola’s side that results elsewhere mean by the time they play Leeds United in their next Premier League game, they could have already secured a Champions League place with seven games to play.

With 14 points separating them from United in the table, having played a game more, they are now just four victories away from their third Premier League title in four years.

All this success is coming in a season which has brought the decline of their ageing greatest ever goalscorer in Sergio Aguero too.

Could you imagine how much further in front they would be if they had a world class finisher in their prime leading the attack?

Fabinho and Thiago are finally clicking for Liverpool 

This time last month, Liverpool had started Fabinho and Thiago Alcantara seven times in the same line-up and failed to win any of those games.

But something has clicked as with the pair now in midfield, the Reds have won their last three matches as they look to end a turbulent campaign on a high.

The pair were outstanding at Arsenal, along with James Milner, in the centre of the park as they made a tricky looking trip to the Emirates Stadium look easy as Jurgen Klopp’s side strolled to a 3-0 victory.

Although an injury decimated season has seen Liverpool’s hopes of defending their Premier League title end miserably, hopes of still securing Champions League football next term are high.

Fabinho (left) and Thiago Alcantara (centre) starred in the Liverpool midfield against Arsenal

Fabinho (left) and Thiago Alcantara (centre) starred in the Liverpool midfield against Arsenal

The impressive win at the Gunners – producing a third clean sheet in a row – has reinforced a view that Liverpool may finally be over their mid-season wobble and getting back to their best.

With the likes of Mohamed Salah also returning to form, the Reds are finally hitting their stride in the top-four battle in sixth place – now just two points behind Chelsea in fourth.

Chelsea’s shock loss blows top-four race wide open

The top-four has been a close battle all season, but with the Manchester clubs flying, Leicester keeping the points ticking over and Chelsea looking unstoppable under Thomas Tuchel, it was starting to show a likely final top-four lineup.

But the Blues’ catastrophic 5-2 hammering at home to West Bromwich Albion has sparked the race for a Champions League place into life again.

It’s not to suggest it’s all downhill now for Chelsea, who had been on a 14-match unbeaten run under Tuchel before the Stamford Bridge defeat.

Chelsea saw their 14-match unbeaten run under Thomas Tuchel come to an end on Saturday

Chelsea saw their 14-match unbeaten run under Thomas Tuchel come to an end on Saturday

But even though it took a Thiago Silva red card to prove they could be defeated, the vulnerability has been revealed and it will mean the likes of Tottenham, Liverpool, West Ham, Everton and Aston Villa are on high alert heading into the run-in.

Maybe Tuchel didn’t take the Baggies seriously enough but with a training ground bust-up on Easter Sunday between Antonio Rudiger and Kepa Arrizabalaga resulting in the defender being dismissed from the training pitch, maybe life is not as plain sailing at Stamford Bridge as many would have believed. 

Tottenham desperately need a new defence

Tottenham could have taken advantage of Chelsea’s defeat by moving above them into the top-four if they won at Newcastle on Sunday.

Instead, it was a familiar story for Jose Mourinho’s men who, after coming from behind to take the lead with two Harry Kane goals, yet again conceded an equaliser late on at St James’ Park.

Throwing away winning positions towards the end of games has been a story of Spurs’ season and many supporters are blaming manager Mourinho’s methods for their continual failure to close a game out.

Post-match, Mourinho could barely contain his frustration at his side’s inability and poor game management – and he has good reason to be angered.

Tottenham Hotspur once again threw away three points late on in a 2-2 draw at Newcastle

Tottenham Hotspur once again threw away three points late on in a 2-2 draw at Newcastle

Harry Kane could have already put the game to bed if he buried his chance to complete a hat-trick, but the real problems lie at centre back.

Mourinho doesn’t know who his best two central defenders are – and it’s easy to see why because none of them have shown any form to justify a place in the starting XI.

Toby Alderweireld is past his best as his years advance, Davinson Sanchez and Eric Dier continue to make basic individual errors and Joe Rodon is still getting to grips with the Premier League since his move from Swansea at the start of the season.

Until Mourinho can get a defence he trusts, there will only be so much he can do with this current Tottenham team. And that is very little. 

Arsenal go back to old ways without young stars 

In truth, Arsenal have not been in the best of form lately, having not won in their last three games since defeating Tottenham in the north London derby.

But the home 3-0 loss by Liverpool was most concerning considering the ease at which they capitulated to a team who have been vulnerable in the second half of this season.

It was notable however that among those absent from Mikel Arteta’s starting XI were key stars who have been major contributors towards the Gunners’ winter revival, following a very poor start to the Premier League season.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has often gone missing for Arsenal in big matches this season

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has often gone missing for Arsenal in big matches this season

Youngsters including Bakayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe have been sensational for Arsenal this term – but their injury-influenced absence was felt in the miserable defeat by the Reds on Saturday.

On top of that, striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s poor season continues and this might be one poor performance too many for Arteta, given his only goal against a side in the top half of the table was a penalty at Manchester United in November.

Maybe it’s time for another youngster in Gabriel Martinelli to also be given more first-team chances.

Leicester are not a safe top-four bet yet

There was no disgrace in Leicester losing 2-0 at home to runaway leaders Manchester City on Saturday.

But despite sitting third in the Premier League table, you feel the Foxes will be glancing over their shoulder come the run in.

With eight games to go, they may only be five points clear in a Champions League place come Monday night.

This time last season, they were also third but had an even bigger gap of eight points to Manchester United in fifth, who would go on to pip them to a top four spot on the final day of the season.

Brendan Rodgers will hope his Leicester side do not fall out the top four late on like in 2019-20

Brendan Rodgers will hope his Leicester side do not fall out the top four late on like in 2019-20

So Brendan Rodgers’ side have form when it comes to choking in the race to reach the Champions League and they need to start picking up results quickly from here, as they do not have a kind run-in.

They play top-four rivals West Ham next, and end the season with tests against Man United, Chelsea and Tottenham – with a clash against a Newcastle side fighting for top-flight survival also thrown into the mix.

It could be another rocky end to the year for the Foxes, who must now take advantage between those games with matches against West Brom, Crystal Palace  and Southampton. 

Mason Greenwood back on track at Manchester United

It’s been a tough season for Mason Greenwood, but there are signs the 19-year-old striker is starting to build on his early promise.

Around a year ago, his Manchester United form had him down as a potential wild card to be included in Gareth Southgate’s Euro 2020 squad before the tournament was postponed.

He made his international debut for England in September’s 1-0 win in Iceland but after being sent home from the squad shortly after for breaking quarantine rules, his campaign has not kicked on. 

Southgate has not capped him since and he has only scored six goals in 40 Red Devil appearances this term.

Mason Greenwood's winner was his first goal in the Premier League at Old Trafford since July

Mason Greenwood’s winner was his first goal in the Premier League at Old Trafford since July

However, two of those were in United’s two most recent games including against Brighton on Sunday when he grabbed a crucial late winner to score his first Premier League goal at Old Trafford since July with a nodded effort. 

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has praised Greenwood’s work rate on the training ground recently, with the striker also admitting he has been working hard on his heading.

‘I scored a header which is something I’ve been working on a lot behind the scenes,’ he said. ‘It’s a confidence booster, I’ve not scored as many in the Premier League.’

Aston Villa are not a one-man team

Heading into their clash against Fulham, Aston Villa had been struggling for form having won just once since beating Arsenal at the start of February.

Across six of those seven games they had been without the injured talisman and skipper Jack Grealish, prompting fears that they had become over reliant on the 25-year-old. 

Those fears looked like resurfacing when they fell behind in the second half to struggling Fulham but a superb late fightback inspired by two-goal hero Trezeguet and England international Ollie Watkins ensured they could still produce the goods without their talented playmaker. 

Trezeguet scored twice late on to help Aston Villa come from behind and defeat Fulham 3-1

Trezeguet scored twice late on to help Aston Villa come from behind and defeat Fulham 3-1

Not that they would want to make a habit of having to produce late rescues though and they will hope Grealish will return soon after a setback in training prevented his comeback to the squad on Sunday.

Villa will be hoping it’s only a minor concern with the Villa Park win rekindling minor hopes that they could still compete for a Champions League place this term.

West Brom still in the hunt to stay up

Even after the weekend, a glance at the Premier League table would still have West Brom as big favourites to get relegated this season.

But there is less certainty behind such a prediction now after a stunning 5-2 victory at Chelsea.

It is not just the three points, nor that it came at the home of a high flying side previously unbeaten under their new manager – it was the sheer swashbuckling way that the Baggies went about their business in a manner not seen from them at all this term.

Callum Robinson scored twice in West Brom's shock 5-2 victory over Chelsea on Saturday

Callum Robinson scored twice in West Brom’s shock 5-2 victory over Chelsea on Saturday

These kind of performances can turn seasons around and morale will be sky high after such an emphatic win.

Sam Allardyce’e men are still eight points off safety with eight games to go and crucially are now starting to pick up regular points. 

But is it all coming too late in the season? 

Southampton do have some fight left…

After beating Liverpool at the start of 2021, Southampton were sixth in the table and just four points off the summit as they hoped to at least challenge for a European place.

Since then it has been a disaster at St Mary’s, as before the weekend they had picked up just four points in a miserable run that also saw them lose 9-0 to Manchester United.

Southampton came from 2-0 down to secure a 3-2 victory over Burnley on Sunday

Southampton came from 2-0 down to secure a 3-2 victory over Burnley on Sunday

Another defeat looked to be on the way on Sunday when they fell 2-0 down at home to Burnley, only for the totally unexpected to come when goals from Stuart Armstrong, Danny Ings and Nathan Redmond saw them take a much needed three points.

So bad had their form been that there were concerns over being dragged into a relegation fight as teams near the bottom started picking up points.

Although they are still four points away from the fabled 40-point mark of safety, the now 13th placed Saints should have just about enough left in them to creep over the line having pulled 10 points clear of Fulham in the bottom three. 

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