Arsenal are paying for their poor transfer business, Pickford is showing his worth to Everton and Manchester United are making life hard for themselves.
1) Arsenal’s bright future held back by bad buys
As Arsenal edged their way back into the game against Manchester City, there was plenty for Mikel Arteta to take heart from. Yet for all their grit and assurance, the possibility that the hosts might actually steal any points from an uncharacteristically sloppy City side remained painfully distant. With the exception of the burgeoning partnership between Kieran Tierney and Bukayo Saka, which faded after a bright first half, too few Arsenal players were able to inject their play with any urgency.
Perhaps this will be remedied by the return of Gabriel Martinelli but, either way, it does not speak well of the £72m Nicolas Pépé – who traipsed off after 73 unremarkable minutes – nor the exorbitantly salaried Willian, who sat out the game as an unused sub. A club that recently made dozens of staff redundant must learn to use its money better – and not just for the sake of PR.
2) Pickford embodies Everton’s collective focus
Car horns rang outside Anfield as Duncan Ferguson led Everton's players in a wild celebration inside the away dressing room. After a near 22-year wait for victory at Anfield, an outpouring of enthusiasm was understandable and strengthened the value of a derby that Carlo Ancelotti compared to Roma v Lazio for strength.
Throughout the game, though, it was Everton's calmness and cool concentration that separated their success from many previous derby outings and from a Liverpool side now suffering 98 years of the club's worst home record. The concentration and quality in the Everton ranks was embodied by Jordan Pickford.
As the equally outstanding centre-half Michael Keane said: “There is a lot of pressure and a lot of people on his back after what happened in the home game, even though it was an accident. It takes mental strength to come back and perform like he did at Anfield. We are really lucky to have someone like him.”
3) Midfielders slow United down
Manchester United seem insistent on making life hard for themselves in matches they should be winning with ease. Against Newcastle, they started two defensive midfielders in the form of Fred and Nemanja Matic, two players who sit deep and play the ball out at the slowest possible pace. Considering Newcastle’s main attacking threat, Callum Wilson, is currently sidelined with an injury, it seemed unlikely they would ever offer much concern, as proved by their 28% possession at Old Trafford.
United were always going to dominate the ball for the whole match, so why not start someone with the vague capability to use it in order to give forward momentum? Juan Mata, Mason Greenwood and Amad Diallo would all have offered a more positive outlet than the two sitters. Instead United had to struggle, structureless, to a tame victory over a side with little to offer in the final third apart from at set-pieces.
4) Pragmatic Hammers at their best
For so long, West Ham gave preference to beauty over substance. Instead of pursuing players who were able to work hard, they spent time and money trying after glamorous goals. This made it possible to play against them. But under David Moyes, the vibe is distinct.
The Scot is willing to make a contract and is willing to put back players who have been forgotten elsewhere. Through signing Vladimir Coufal for £ 4m, he fixed West Ham's problems at right-back and his side's gritty win over Tottenham owed much to a fine effort from Craig Dawson, who has proven the doubters wrong since joining Watford on loan. Dawson may be out of fashion, but he's trustworthy.
In central defense, he was a pillar alongside Issa Diop, helping West Ham contain Harry Kane and cope without the wounded Angelo Ogbonna, their best center-back. In West Ham's push for Champions League promotion, the centre-unfussy back's attitude has played a significant role.
5) Doomed Blades pay price for lack of ambition
If defeat at Fulham was, to all intents and purposes, the final nail in Sheffield United’s coffin then they went down fighting in one sense given Chris Wilder’s fury at the non‑award of a late penalty. Wilder had a point about Alphonse Areola’s challenge on Jayden Bogle, although so did anyone who simply saw a hard-won 50/50. Dwelling on that would deflect from the fact that, in all other regards, the Blades did not do enough. This is nothing like the ambitious team that captivated onlookers last season though the personnel are not vastly different. They did not trouble Areola until the 65th minute, gathering some impetus straight after falling behind; even a win might have been academic in the wider scheme of things but one wonders whether they might regret not having a go. Instead they niggled through the first two thirds of the contest and offered Fulham encouragement. Any glimmer of light has been extinguished.
6) Did Tuchel go too far with Hudson-Odoi?
Imagine trying your best but making a mistake, and then watching your boss yell at the heavens, bury his head in his hands or throw himself back in his seat for a conference with various assistants in which the exasperation is plain – or simply scream at you. Not great for confidence, right? The headline act of Thomas Tuchel’s professional dramatics in Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Southampton was his removal of Callum Hudson-Odoi, who he had sent on as a half-time substitute, followed by a post-match monstering of his application levels, but plenty of other Chelsea players were on the end of the manager’s frustration. Football is a tough game and players must develop extraordinarily thick skins but it feels reasonable to wonder whether Tuchel’s histrionics will grate at any point. “I was not happy with the energy and the attitude and the counter-pressing so we decided to take him off again,” said Tuchel afterwards.
7) Maitland-Niles getting what he needs with Baggies
When Ainsley Maitland-Niles made his deadline day switch to the Hawthorns there was hopeful talk of more minutes in his preferred central midfield role. The 23-year-old could not have asked for greater backing in that regard. Primarily used out wide at Arsenal, either on the wing or further back, Maitland-Niles has been thrust firmly into the center of Sam Allardyce’s survival plans, having now started three consecutive games in the middle of the park to decent effect. Only Matheus Pereira and Mbaye Diagne have provided more key passes since Maitland-Niles’ debut against Tottenham. At Burnley, Maitland-Niles was the pick of a poor bunch on either side, carrying the main threat for the ten-man Baggies with the third-most touches (46) and by far the highest pass completion percentage (86.4%) amongst his teammates. Maitland-Niles will not save this dire West Brom team, but if he can emerge from his loan in the west Midlands with an enhanced reputation in his preferred central role then he will consider his four months as a Baggy time well spent.
8) Guardiola should give Fernandinho extra year
Fernandinho returned to the Manchester City lineup for the first time in the Premier League since the defeat of Sheffield United at the end of the January. The Brazilian’s contract is up in the summer and some feel his eight years at the Etihad will come to an end. The 35-year-old midfielder’s performance at Arsenal showed perfectly what he can continue to bring to a Pep Guardiola side. His fitness is unquestionable and so is his quality in the center of the park. At Arsenal his ability to break up play and intercept passes was highlighted as he took control of the midfield area, repeatedly being the man to instigate City’s attack as he reinvigorated the side when it was most needed. Guardiola would be wise to to keep some experience around next season, with Sergio Agüero looking likely to depart in the summer, and Fernandinho’s certainly got plenty of time left in his legs.
9) All-or-nothing run continues for Leeds
By now, Leeds supporters know the drill. They have become au fait with taking all or nothing under Marcelo Bielsa and while they were down on their luck in defeat at Molineux, it was another game where that solitary point eluded them. From 24 Premier League matches, they have 10 wins, 12 defeats and only two draws, the last of which came in mid-November. It would be easy to say they missed Kalvin Phillips – they have won just one of the six league games the midfielder has missed this season – but Patrick Bamford had a goal ruled offside and Liam Cooper missed a hat-trick of chances. Wolves have underwhelmed but Friday’s victory helped them above Leeds in the table. “There were very few periods where we were not the dominant side,” said Bielsa afterwards. On Tuesday Bielsa’s side host Southampton in a rearranged game that provides an instant opportunity to bounce back, but they are unlikely to settle for a point.
10) Smith bemoans Grealish injury leak
Dean Smith is looking into a potential training-ground leak that allowed news of Jack Grealish’s injury to emerge in advance of Aston Villa’s 2-1 defeat by Leicester City. The Villa manager believed that news of the leg injury would “certainly” have aided Leicester’s cause. Grealish missed 13 games of Villa’s promotion-winning season two years ago with a serious shin injury but Smith said the England player’s latest problem was “not a recurrence of an old injury and certainly not long term”. “I was made aware on social media there were rumours he was not going to play,” said Smith. “If that is coming out of our training ground I will find out where it is coming from and reprimand whoever it is coming from. It is something I would not be happy with.” Smith hopes his captain could be fit either for Saturday’s trip to Leeds United or the game at Sheffield United four days later.