Xherdan Shaqiri’s return proves timely for Liverpool, Jose Mourinho suffers a night to forget at former club Manchester United and is the Premier League title really out of reach for Leicester?
We discuss that and more in our Premier League talking points…
Shaqiri return is timely for Klopp
Xherdan Shaqiri had not started a single game all season. He had not started a Premier League game since January. At times in the last campaign, it seemed he had fallen out of favour with Jurgen Klopp. After his starring role in Liverpool’s 5-2 win over Everton, however, his prospects look far brighter.
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His goal, clinically taken from a superb Sadio Mane through-ball in the early stages at Anfield, was his first in almost a year and it set the tone for a fine individual performance.
Shaqiri had only recently returned from injury but there was no evidence of rustiness in the way he tore into Everton at one end and worked tirelessly to help his side defensively at the other.
The hope now is that his return to fitness and form will help ease the burden on Liverpool’s front three in the weeks ahead. And given the jam-packed schedule, it comes at a timely moment for Jurgen Klopp.
Everton arguing among themselves
If Marco Silva’s instruction to his players was to keep it tight, the gameplan was ripped up early on.
Despite five changes, Liverpool started fluidly, while Everton, in contrast, looked uncertain. It said a lot the Everton players were arguing among themselves, highlighting how unsure of their roles they appeared to be.
Other teams have not fared well when they have gone with three centre-backs away at Anfield and Everton went the same way.
Liverpool happily exploited them. When Silva switched to a back four after half an hour, with Bernard replacing Djibril Sidibe and Mason Holgate switching to right-back, it appeared that even the Everton manager was acknowledging he had made a mistake starting with a back five.
Everton showed some fight, but, despite their two goals, they never gave the impression they felt they could really go on and get back into the game. Silva has been unlucky with injuries in midfield, but the result was ultimately too much for him to continue to be manager.
United summon strength for Solskjaer
The headlines were already written. Jose Mourinho’s revamped Spurs were going to pile more pressure on an increasingly-beleaguered Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to leave the Norwegian with one match – against champions Manchester City – to save his job. But United flat out refused to stick to that script.
From the first whistle they fought for the shirt, they fought for themselves and, most importantly, their manager. They had the bit between their teeth, Marcus Rashford produced another imperious attacking performance while the returning Scott McTominay brought a much-needed physical presence back into midfield.
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There are few traits that you would associate with this Manchester United team and the era of dominance under Sir Alex Ferguson, but there is one that still rings true, and that’s write them off at your peril. Spurs were favourites on arrival at Old Trafford, but United came out fighting when their manager needed it most.
A night to forget for Mourinho
A first defeat in charge of Tottenham for Jose Mourinho and it came at one of the places he would have least wanted to lose at. Nearly a year since his sacking from Old Trafford, Spurs were really poor aside from Dele Alli’s moment of magic, rarely threatening the Manchester United rearguard.
Spurs were flimsy in defence under constant pressure from Rashford, their midfield was overrun by Scott McTominay and Fred, Heung-Min Son and Lucas Moura had off days and Harry Kane was virtually non-existent up front.
It is a result that leaves Tottenham languishing nine points behind Chelsea in fourth, which may already be an insurmountable gap in pursuit of a Champions League finish. Spurs and Mourinho have work to do.
Mount mastering Lampard’s trademark finishes
It was a cold Wednesday night 21 years ago when a young John Terry made his Chelsea debut against of all clubs Aston Villa, but on the Stamford Bridge stalwart’s return to his spiritual home, it was another fresh-faced youngster who grabbed the headlines.
Mason Mount has been one of the breakthrough stories of the 2019/20 Premier League season, and is a player who embodies the breath of fresh air sweeping through Frank Lampard’s youthful side.
There have been moments this term, as on Wednesday night, where Chelsea’s inexperience has been checked by a harsh lesson – as it was unexpectedly by West Ham in their previous home Premier League game.
But despite the slender margin of victory, Chelsea were back to their free-flowing best against Aston Villa with Mount delivering the knockout blow three minutes after the interval.
It was a tremendous strike that had shades of Lampard during his pomp about it, arriving late in the box to blast beyond Tom Heaton, and with it any lingering doubts that his early-season form had been a flash in the pan.
Jesus makes life easier without Aguero
It has been a difficult season for Gabriel Jesus, playing second fiddle to Sergio Aguero for the most part and failing to score in his previous eight games for Manchester City before the visit to Turf Moor on Tuesday night.
At Burnley he came alive again. He showed his sharpness early in with a smart backheel flick to beat Nick Pope – which was rightly ruled out for offside – before netting two absolute, and very different, beauties either side of half-time.
Aguero is likely to remain absent for the Manchester derby on Sunday morning, so Pep Guardiola will need Jesus at full pelt again at the Etihad.
The Brazilian is yet to score against Manchester United and has also failed to score at home since March 12, and hasn’t scored at the Etihad in the Premier League since mid-January. It would be a great time for him to end that run.
Attritional Leicester can’t stop winning
Seven wins on the spin for Leicester. Their longest winning run in the Premier League, and their joint-longest in top-flight history. Brendan Rodgers is doing a fantastic job at the King Power, and showed his side aren’t all about fancy football as they ground out a result against a Watford side who had clearly come for a point.
They owed some luck to their opener, a soft penalty awarded by Craig Pawson, but that itself may have been cancelling out his own decision to turn down what looked a very strong shout for a spot kick earlier in the game, and never stopped looking for a way through the visiting backline.
Much like their title-winning team, the one question is how long can Leicester keep this up. Realistically the title is probably out of reach, but the question of whether the Foxes can break into the top six is pretty much over, and that of whether they have top-four credentials might be soon, too.
How long before Terry’s move into management?
There were two huge banners unfurled ahead of kick-off in his honour. There were pre-match cheers and tributes. And at full-time another ovation for Chelsea’s iconic former captain John Terry.
He said he’d never play against Chelsea but returning to Stamford Bridge for the first time in a professional capacity since retiring in 2018, Aston Villa’s assistant coach felt the love.
In the opposite dugout was his former teammate and long-time pal Frank Lampard. It is tempting to wonder if, despite his warm welcome, Terry glanced over mid-match and, seeing Lampard – inexperienced but revelling in his managerial role and getting so much out of his young Chelsea players – was a little envious.
Terry wisely avoided rushing into management when he hung up his boots and has learnt valuable lessons alongside Villa boss Dean Smith. But it feels the time will soon come for Terry to spread his wings and manage a team of his own.
It will be intriguing to find out how the ultimate leader as a player fares in the unpredictable world of football management…
Crystal Palace impress but worry for Bournemouth
There is a lot to be said for the character of a team in football, and Crystal Palace had that in buckets on Tuesday night. They lost Mamadou Sakho and Patrick van Aanholt inside half an hour to a red card and injury respectively, but they never looked like having a hastily rearranged defence. This may have been linked to a vastly below-par Bournemouth attack, but Crystal Palace were much the better side all over the pitch – especially in the second half – and deserved to take three points from the game.
Bournemouth, however, need to desperately find some answers to solve their troubling form. They have lost their last four Premier League games and showed a worrying lack of goalscoring chances at Selhurst Park, with only one or two springing to mind. Crystal Palace goalkeeper Vicente Guaita was barely tested all evening, despite the likes of Harry Wilson, Callum Wilson and Dominic Solanke starting, and you would not have known they were a man up.
Following the game, Eddie Howe took full responsibility for the recent slump and vowed to find solutions. But they will need to have those and then some in their next two games against Liverpool and Chelsea. Bournemouth can be a match for anyone when at their best but in this current form, another Premier League win could be a while off yet.
Southampton steadily marching to safety
It was another vital Premier League win for Southampton, who are coming up with the big results when it matters. Admittedly, they got themselves into a relegation battle but against the teams around them, they are picking up points and that is exactly what they need to be doing.
Saturday’s win against Watford has clearly given the Saints a big boost of confidence and they took that into the Norwich fixture. In the first half, they looked dangerous going forward – particularly Danny Ings – and restricted their opponents to very few chances. Norwich were much improved in the second half and Southampton cannot profess to have been solid at the back, but they did not fall apart and that will only add to the upward momentum.
The three points has pulled the Saints out of the bottom three at the expense of Everton and they have a favourable run of fixtures coming up. Newcastle, West Ham and Aston Villa are all to come before Christmas and Southampton must now be looking at those games as more chances to be away from the relegation battle before 2020.
Drinkwater handed baptism of fire
You wait 639 days for a Premier League appearance and you are then told to play in a different system against an angered Manchester City.
Danny Drinkwater was handed his first Burnley start in the Premier League on Tuesday – and his first in the top-flight in 21 months – but it was hardly the type of match that allowed the exiled on-loan Chelsea midfielder the chance to make up for lost time.
A 2016 Premier League title winner with Leicester, Drinkwater excelled alongside N’Golo Kante under Claudio Ranieri in a 4-4-2 – the go-to formation almost every week for Clarets boss Sean Dyche. But with Pep Guardiola’s side welcomed by a darkened dressing-room at Turf Moor, the spotlight was on whether Drinkwater could grasp his opportunity in the absence of the injured Ashley Westwood.
Dyche turned to Drinkwater, whose loan expires on January 6, as part of an unconventional three-man midfield. But asked to just be a body, the game bypassed the 29-year-old with City benefitting from the fresh legs of the recalled duo Rodri and Bernardo Silva.
“He stuck at it and we know he needs football, everyone knows he needs football,” said Dyche of Drinkwater after the 4-1 defeat. “We weren’t expecting him to run the show by any means but he does need football and how do you get him football unless he plays.”
Dyche will need all of his squad members in the coming weeks, and the prospect of facing City with one or two absentees may well have forced his hand.
Having overcome an ankle injury sustained during an altercation on a night out in Manchester, Drinkwater will hope to feature more prominently in a system that suits the strengths of his temporary home as well as himself.
Wolves might have some squad depth after all
Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo had plenty to be pleased about as his team saw off West Ham 2-0 at Molineux. This was Wolves’ 28th game of the season and having had to play Sheffield United on Sunday, they were going into this one with less time to prepare than the visitors. And yet, his small group of players continue to impress.
Joao Moutinho shows no signs of fatigue and once again provided the assist for the opening goal – turned home by Leander Dendoncker – but it was the second that will provide most comfort for Nuno. His substitutes combined for it with Pedro Neto’s neat lay-off expertly converted by Italy international striker Patrick Cutrone.
“I am happy for Patrick,” he said afterwards. “We need all the help we can get. This is what we want, players who come from the bench and give us solutions. We are a small squad so we need everyone.”
With Max Kilman also looking assured at the back when stepping in for his full Premier League debut at the weekend, these are encouraging signs. Nuno did not make a single substitution in that game against the Blades. The recent contributions of these fringe players should encourage him that he can now do so with confidence.
Before that though, Thursday marks a special occasion for the players. After 21 days without a break, the manager has granted his players a rest. “They deserve it,” said Nuno. With Wolves having now gone ten matches without defeat in the Premier League for the first time in almost 50 years, there’s no doubt about that one.
This article was originally published by Sky Sports and reproduced with permission.