Premier League: 10 talking points from the weekend's action

Guardian sport
·10 min read
<span>Photograph: Shutterstock</span>
Photograph: Shutterstock

1) McTominay needs to expand role to take United forward

At the start of Scott McTominay’s United career, his place in the team seemed predicated in José Mourinho’s antipathy towards Paul Pogba, his receipt of the manager’s player of the year award the nearest Mourinho could get to presenting it to himself. Since then, though, McTominay has improved by several orders of magnitude, contributing power, tenacity and personality – skills that have been crucial in helping United improve from sixth to second. They still struggle to dominate, however, and when Pogba is absent the entirety of the creative burden rests with Bruno Fernandes, who had an off-day at Stamford Bridge. To take the next step, they need McTominay to develop his passing – in particular around both boxes, but also with regard to the one and two-touch play that controls games – or they will remain a team able to beat the best when at their best, but whose average level stops them competing over the course of a season. Daniel Harris

• Match report: Chelsea 0-0 Manchester United

2) A change at the back could liberate Blues

Chelsea are on a good run and the work done by Thomas Tuchel is a big part of that. But considering they had home advantage and a six-point deficit to make up on Manchester United, he was excessively conservative, and the result reflected that. Most likely, he doesn’t trust his defence – with good reason – but sitting N’Golo Kanté and Mateo Kovacic in front of three centre-backs did not look like the best way to win the game, and sure enough his team struggled to craft chances. Given the state of things when he took over, some initial caution was understandable, but now things are settled he might consider switching to four at the back in order to stretch the play, liberate Callum Hudson-Odoi, and make it easier to create overloads in wide areas. Chelsea can be almost as hard to watch as they are to beat, which should never be the case with the attacking talent they have. Daniel Harris

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3) Parker’s forwards need to find cutting edge

Fulham’s lack of cutting edge is all that seems to be keeping them in the relegation zone but Scott Parker is sure that his forwards are growing in confidence as the season progresses. “In match situations we’ve not managed to kill games off,” Parker said after Sunday’s 0-0 draw against Crystal Palace that saw Ademola Lookman and Josh Maja come closest to earning victory for the visitors. “But this is a young team and we have unbelievable quality in that sense – it’s now trying to get that to click at the right moments. I’d be more concerned if we weren’t creating chances.” Yet having managed just 21 goals so far and with a testing set of fixtures to come in March, they need to find their shooting boots quickly or it will be too late. Ed Aarons

• Match report: Crystal Palace 0-0 Fulham

4) El Ghazi arrives fashionably late at Villa party

“You have to give him time and then he’ll come to the party,” said Dean Smith of Anwar El Ghazi following the Aston Villa winger’s match-winning display at Leeds. It was a line of managerial diplomacy, touching on a need for greater consistency from the 25-year-old as well as patience from those around him, but the winger showed he can be worth the wait with a decisive contribution at Elland Road, the stadium where he was wrongly dismissed on his last visit in 2019. Despite Marcelo Bielsa’s claims of Leeds’ dominance El Ghazi was the most potent threat on the pitch, particularly in the first half when he seized responsibility in the absence of Jack Grealish and tested Illan Meslier regularly. El Ghazi had taken advice from Bielsa, his former manager at Lille, before deciding to join Villa. He chose an opportune moment, and venue, to party on Saturday. Andy Hunter

• Match report: Leeds 0-1 Aston Villa

Anwar El Ghazi scored Aston Villa&#x002019;s winner against Leeds.
Anwar El Ghazi scored Aston Villa’s winner against Leeds. Photograph: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

5) Foxes injury list could leave them to rue quiet window

Brendan Rodgers looked glum at full time. He looked even glummer as the man from Radio Leicester informed him the airwaves were already alive with callers asking if Leicester City were about to repeat the collapsing act of last season. Rodgers pointed to injuries: here Harvey Barnes and Jonny Evans were added to the list. Jamie Vardy looks drained and has one goal since Christmas. The parts of a weakened squad are being pushed to their limits. Chelsea and Liverpool will surely push hard for a top-four spot. Should Leicester miss out on the Champions League again it will be hard to avoid the feeling a fine feat of management has been let down by an unwillingness to gamble on readymade reinforcements in the transfer window. Leicester have signed three players for a combined £50m in the last 18 months. There is a danger all the fine results and the fine football could add up to little more than a few nice memories. Barney Ronay

• Match report: Leicester 1-3 Arsenal

6) Agüero and City drifting apart in final days

As Sergio Agüero enters the final months of his Manchester City contract the question is whether he will be offered a new one. The club’s record goalscorer played 61 minutes of this hard-fought win and looked understandably off the pace given his injury-blighted year. In offering no guarantees of future playing time, Pep Guardiola added to a sense of drift regarding where Agüero and City may be heading. “He has to continue to train good and be positive. It is difficult,” said the manager. “I was injured for a year and I struggled a lot to come back. We want to help him but at the same time, Raheem [Sterling] and Phil [Foden] and Bernardo [Silva] didn’t [start]. I always judge the performance. Players performing well have more chances to play than the other ones. That is not [only] for Sergio, it is for everyone. At the end, there will be games that will be tight and difficult and we will need Kun [Agüero].” Jamie Jackson

• Match report: Manchester City 2-1 West Ham

7) Bruce left short in attack following injuries

Newcastle played well and probably should have won but they ended up potentially losing far more than just two points. If, as Steve Bruce fears, Miguel Almirón collected a serious, season-ending, knee injury and Allan Saint-Maximin’s hamstring problem sidelines him for several weeks they will struggle to escape relegation. Considering that the hamstrung leading scorer Callum Wilson is already out for at least the next six weeks, a team that struggles to convert chances will be left overly reliant on Joelinton and Andy Carroll in the attacking department. Bruce knows his job is already in jeopardy and must now somehow devise game-plans capable of undoing Newcastle’s next three opponents – West Brom, Aston Villa and Brighton – without his three foremost creative talents. Given that outwitting West Brom’s Sam Allardyce is never easy at the best of times Newcastle’s manager desperately needs to locate his often elusive tactical hat. Louise Taylor

• Match report: Newcastle 1-1 Wolves

Miguel Almir&#xf3;n could be out for a sustained period.
Miguel Almirón could be out for a sustained period. Photograph: Owen Humphreys/AFP/Getty Images

8) Blunt Blades must sharpen up for Cup

With confirmation of relegation only a matter of time, Sheffield United do not, realistically, have anything to play for this season except next month’s FA Cup quarter-final at Chelsea, and this game – another in which they were clearly outgunned by a bigger club – will have offered some practice for that. Much of it had the air of a cup tie between a leading side and game lower-league opponents. It wasn’t a rout – there’s a reason 14 of United’s 21 league defeats have been by only one goal – and Chris Wilder’s side gave Liverpool a game but they simply need to be much sharper up front to cause an upset. Once again, David McGoldrick and Oli McBurnie showed plenty of muscular presence on the ball but lacked mobility off it and ruthlessness in front of goal, the latter in particular squandering two presentable chances. The Blades can take heart from the performance of their goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale, who kept his side in the game before half-time with a string of excellent saves, but there was only so much he could do when faced with opponents of much greater talent and verve, and with a misfiring attack that is unable to alleviate the pressure. Tom Davies

• Match report: Sheffield United 0-2 Liverpool

9) Flat Clarets risk relegation battle

Given Burnley had not won at Spurs in the league since 1974 it was always a long shot to expect too much from Sunday’s trip to north London. But Sean Dyche made it clear that he had hoped to exploit any neuroses Tottenham were experiencing after a chastening run of form and was disappointed his plans went up in smoke within two minutes. On those occasions when Burnley are a yard short they can look very ordinary and it is arguably Dyche’s greatest feat that, when that does happen, he invariably drags them back up to the required level. Given home games against Leicester and Arsenal await, a similar trick will be required. Fulham’s uptick means the relegation battle holds far fewer certainties than seemed the case a few weeks back; Burnley can increase their five-point buffer over the coming days if they clear their heads but they run a risk of being sucked right back in, too. Nick Ames

• Match report: Tottenham 4-0 Burnley

10) Rules and referee at fault to help Baggies

There is no good reason why a wronged team should have to wait to take a free-kick. As soon as the referee has blown for a foul, the victims should have the right to restart play as quickly as they want to, without having to ask for permission. Too bad for the offending team if they are not ready. That would: (a) be more just (b) waste less time, which would be a good thing bearing in mind that in last season’s Premier League, where football is supposedly a game of 90 minutes, the ball was in play for an average of 55 minutes and 49 seconds a match and (c) referee Lee Mason might not have got himself into the laughable muddle that caused such confusion in Saturday’s game between West Brom and Brighton. Mind you, Brighton could not complain too hard about the ineptitude of others after a match in which their diabolical finishing reached new lows, with two missed penalties. Paul Doyle

• Match report: West Brom 1-0 Brighton

Pos

Team

P

GD

Pts

1

Man City

26

36

62

2

Man Utd

26

21

50

3

Leicester

26

15

49

4

West Ham

26

9

45

5

Chelsea

26

16

44

6

Liverpool

26

13

43

7

Everton

24

4

40

8

Tottenham Hotspur

25

14

39

9

Aston Villa

24

12

39

10

Arsenal

26

7

37

11

Leeds

26

-1

35

12

Wolverhampton

26

-6

34

13

Crystal Palace

26

-14

33

14

Southampton

25

-12

30

15

Burnley

26

-16

28

16

Brighton

26

-7

26

17

Newcastle

26

-17

26

18

Fulham

26

-11

23

19

West Brom

26

-35

17

20

Sheff Utd

26

-28

11