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Premier League: 10 Talking Points from the Weekend’s Action | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Clockwise from top-left; Tom Cleverley failed to impose, Joe Ledley starred for Crystal Palace, Alexis Sánchez provided Arsenal relief, and Jonny Evans and company will give Diego Costa a true test. Composite: Rex/Getty/Reuters

1) Long-term Matip injury would be significant

Hands have been wrung and doom predicted about Philippe Coutinho’s injury, likely to keep him out of the Liverpool team until next month. And to an extent, rightly so: he has been their most impressive attacking threat this season, and the sight of that front four dovetailing has perhaps been the most pleasing in the division. However, the 4-3 defeat to Bournemouth on Sunday suggested that another injury absence might be more significant, namely Joël Matip. The Cameroonian centre-half has been a quiet, calm example of consistency, exactly the sort of thing that Liverpool missed against Bournemouth. The simple scoreline, plus a cursory viewing of the game, indicated Jürgen Klopp’s men will be okay scoring goals without Coutinho, but preventing them without Matip who has a minor ankle injury, could be more problematic.

2) Ledley and Puncheon do the damage

The mood at Selhurst Park after this result was of a corner turned. That, it seems fair to say, is a tad premature. Six defeats in a row do not happen by chance and Alan Pardew faces Manchester United and Chelsea after the crucial fixture at Hull City next weekend. But one distinct positive for Crystal Palace’s fans will have been the resilience shown by Pardew’s players in a disciplined win against Southampton. Key to the performance were three players who starred in Tony Pulis’s Palace incarnation: Damien Delaney, Joe Ledley and Jason Puncheon. Their play was characterised by hard work, physicality, and taking the right decisions at the right times. Delaney kept Charlie Austin shackled, Ledley unsettled Saints’ passing rhythm and it was a typically smart piece of anticipation from Puncheon that led to their third goal. It all added up to Palace never truly being threatened by Claude Puel’s misfiring side, who lost concentration at crucial moments.

3) Mourinho losing his touch and United losing points

The troubling thing about José Mourinho in the past 18 months or so is that new weaknesses keep emerging in his teams. His apparent ability to get players to do anything for him went west, as did defensive solidity, and now there is apparently a lack of mental fortitude. The late penalty conceded fairly clownishly by Marouane Fellaini, then converted by Leighton Baines, was the fifth goal Manchester United have conceded in the last 10 minutes of games this season, costing them eight points. Those points would have put them just one behind Manchester City and snapping around the Champions League places: as it is they are a fairly distant sixth. Mourinho protested after the game that in all his team’s six draws they have been the better side, but it’s not much use if they continually throw results and points away at the last.

4) Cleverley fails to impose himself on Everton team

It was interesting that, in response to a series of lacklustre performances, Ross Barkley was the man dropped from the Everton side by Ronald Koeman against Manchester United. Yet whether you think his demotion was harsh or not, not many could defend the identity of his replacement. It was tricky not to feel sorry for Tom Cleverley, removed after 65 insipid minutes to the sound of cheers from his own fans, but you can also understand why those fans were happy to see him go. It’s seven years since he made his senior debut and, in that time, he hasn’t really made clear exactly what sort of player he is, and the question that poses itself is: what’s he for? The moment that seemed to irk the Goodison crowd most came when he played a backwards pass near the edge of the United area as an attack built, thus removing all momentum from it, and seemed to sum him up neatly. Perhaps Barkley does need a spell out of the team, but replacing him with Cleverley, a player for whom a sideways pass seems to represent the height of ambition, is not the way to go.

5) City have no excuse despite referee mistake

Leaving aside the touchline fracas when the game was won, the major debate at the Etihad Stadium was over whether David Luiz should have stayed on the pitch long enough to be fouled by Sergio Agüero in the final minute. The fact that he was the last defender when he illegally blocked Agüero’s run on goal in the first half is not really the point. The rulebook makes no mention of last defender, despite the term’s common usage, focusing instead on whether a clear goalscoring opportunity has been denied. That is of course harder to judge, and it seemed to everyone present that Anthony Taylor bottled out of making a judgment by pretending nothing had happened. Doubtless the referee would have been criticised too had he dismissed David Luiz, because he was still a long way from goal, and there would have been even greater outrage had he booked the defender, which is the least the offence deserved, and let him stay on the field. Yet some sympathy for the official is possible. There is no room for compromise in these situations, referees must choose between all or nothing. Taylor chose nothing, perhaps wrongly. Manchester City still had an hour of football and the useful gift of an own goal to try to get over it.

6) Burnley need to find goals fast

The last time Burnley were in the Premier League, they won three games away from home, two of which were too little, too late efforts, with relegation already confirmed. They had a similar problem when they were in the top flight in 2009–10 too, that time winning just one, drawing one and losing the rest. The pattern seems to be repeating itself this season: the 2-0 defeat at Stoke on Saturday was their fifth reverse in six games on the road, and the only time they have avoided a loss was a goalless draw at Old Trafford at the end of October. Maybe even more troubling is that they have scored only once away from Turf Moor, a penalty consolation in a 3-1 defeat at Southampton. Sean Dyche was quick to criticise Stoke’s apparent gamesmanship and the refereeing on Saturday, but that is not the reason they’re falling down the table. NM

7) More wins could lead to more Short money

Sunderland’s manager smiled at the suggestion his players were starting to resemble a “David Moyes team”. It has taken time but Moyes is showing his ability by somehow making the Wearside team look much more than the sum of their parts. If specialist defensive tutorials with Lamine Koné and Papy Djilobodji have helped, his attacking work on Victor Anichebe has been transformative. Three vindicating wins in four games have bred optimism but, to maintain the upward trajectory, Moyes wants victory in a trio of key games this month against Swansea City, Watford and Burnley. Such success would represent more than the collection of nine crucial points; it might persuade Ellis Short, the club’s owner, to invest in much needed playing reinforcements next month. Short would welcome a takeover but securing one might involve a little speculating to accumulate, preferably starting with Yann M’Vila’s long awaited importation from Rubin Kazan.

8) Past performance could be guide to Spurs’ gain

Are Tottenham Hotspur ready to make their move again? When Spurs lost at Chelsea on the Saturday before last, their Premier League record stood at W6 D6 L1 and they sat fifth in the table, which was a mirror image of their numbers from the corresponding point of last season. Last time out they then drew at home against Chelsea, whereas on Saturday they hammered Swansea City. In other words, Spurs are statistically better off now than when compared with their superb season of 2015‑16. What happened last season was they went on an extraordinary run at around this time. Can Mauricio Pochettino’s team fashion a repeat? Their elimination from the Champions League was a blow but they could benefit from a clarity of domestic focus. Harry Kane is back from injury and firing and there were signs of greater collective fluency against Swansea. Pochettino’s players have tended to enjoy a physical dividend from his conditioning programme. He senses a turning point.

9) Evans and McAuley will give Costa a true test

When Chelsea try to extend their Premier League winning sequence to nine matches on Sunday, they will be confronted by better defenders than they found at Manchester City on Saturday. Few teams have a central defence as strong as West Bromwich Albion’s Northern Irish-axis. Jonny Evans is a consummate defender whom John Stones, for instance, might have benefited from studying if Evans had not been deployed in midfield when City won at West Bromwich in October. And Gareth McAuley, who turns 37 on Monday, has played every minute of every league match for Albion this season and been superb for most of them: strong, savvy and like Evans, always liable to contribute a goal from set pieces. Watching Diego Costa – on excellent form himself – take on that pair at Stamford Bridge should be one of the highlights of next weekend.

0) Wenger looks for consistency after difficult November

Even if he famously banned Arsenal’s players from eating chocolate, Arsène Wenger must have been relieved to crack open his advent calendar on Thursday after another disappointing November. Their return of 1.7 points per game in the Premier League was a slight increase on previous years, but a costly Champions League draw against Paris Saint-Germain and the tame defeat of Wenger’s second string by Southampton in the EFL Cup last week showed his side remain vulnerable. The dismantling of a West Ham side in disarray was the perfect response, even if Arsenal’s manager knows there will be much stiffer tests ahead with trips to Everton and Manchester City to come this month. “Recently, we lost a little bit the quality of our game, and we started [to lose] a little bit with results,” he said. “A draw here, a draw there, a draw against PSG that was not completely convincing, and today we found the flow again. So I think we just have to concentrate on the quality of our game and try to repeat that week in, week out.”

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