Another wild weekend in the Premier League is done and dusted. We get you caught up on the action with the Weekend Review.
JUMP TO: Problems mount for Man City | Fred the man driving Man United | Liverpool to celebrate in front of no one? | Mourinho vs. Ndombele | Saint-Maximin provides some pragmatism | Opportunity tossed away by Watford | Sheffield United march on
City’s weaknesses could be ruthlessly exploited in Europe
The results themselves don’t really matter anymore, but with every Premier League defeat Manchester City suffer, there’s more concern for the games that do count for something — or, at the moment, THE game that counts. Pep Guardiola’s side might hold a solid advantage for the second leg of their Champions League tie against Real Madrid in a couple of weeks, but if they play then like they did against Manchester United on Sunday, one goal will not be nearly enough.
Guardiola did his slightly odd “I’m so happy” act after the 2-0 loss to United, essentially trying to pretend that he was pleased with the way his team performed and applied themselves after they were outplayed and beaten by United. Again.
Presumably that was just for the cameras, an unconvincing attempt to play down a worrying trend and the seventh league defeat of the season, something that has never happened to Guardiola before. He’s such an intense character that we know he’s probably fretting horribly behind the scenes — and rightly so.
The balance of his defence has been a problem all season, which has a knock-on impact on the midfield, and if that weren’t enough, he now has to worry about his goalkeeper, Ederson, who let one goal slip under his body and donated another to United with a careless throw.
Perhaps this is inevitable considering that all of their Premier League games since around December have essentially been pointless, so Raheem Sterling‘s admission this weekend that City have been “slacking” is to be expected to an extent.
All of these weaknesses will inevitably carry over into their European encounters, and you can be sure that Zinedine Zidane has been watching closely.
Fred the man who drives United
As for United, while the signing of Bruno Fernandes has of course proven to be the catalyst to their upturn in form over the past few weeks, this game again provided proof that Fred‘s revival from the punchline of last season to the relentless cog driving things from deeper in midfield could be the biggest sign that this revival is the real thing.
A weird end to the drought beckons
Liverpool could be champions by the time they next play. Their next league action is a week from Monday, when they travel to Goodison Park for the Merseyside derby, and in the interim, Manchester City play twice, against Arsenal and Burnley. In the admittedly unlikely event that they lose both of those games, it’s over.
More likely is that Liverpool win their next two games, meaning the title will be sealed at Anfield, against Roy Hodgson’s Crystal Palace. If the prevailing trend of health advice continues, there’s a decent chance that it will be behind closed doors, with the fans denied that moment of glory and catharsis that has been building for three decades.
Whatever happens, it looks like the end of a 30-year wait for a league title is going to be slightly weird.
Could Jose have been right about Ndombele?
It’s extremely tempting to go in two-footed on Jose Mourinho for his odd, passive-aggressive criticism of Tanguy Ndombele, choosing not to say the Frenchman’s name for some reason but making it clear whom he’s talking about to even the slowest listener. You wonder about the effect — not just on Ndombele but on the rest of the squad — that such a public roasting will have and if this really is the best way to boost morale.
But it isn’t as if this is a new development. Mourinho has done it at basically every club he has been at, which might be a sign that he should try something different, but equally it’s not a technique that only he uses.
If Ndombele actually isn’t fit enough — in the cardiovascular sense, not just free from injury — to compete at the levels of intensity required, then arguably he deserves to be criticised. Perhaps Mourinho should restrict this sort of thing to the dressing room, but managers tend to escalate tactics like this: If a quiet word doesn’t work, have a go in front of the squad. Then, if there’s still no response, the next step is to use the camera and the microphone.
This, admittedly, is supposition, and it could fail quite badly. Bawling out a player in public is risky: The best case scenario is that he responds and improves, and the worst case is it alienates the entire squad.
Saint-Maximin provides some pragmatism
Allan Saint-Maximin is usually, to employ a generous euphemism, “good value.” Translation: He’s usually extremely entertaining but often isn’t particularly effective. He can be like hiring a painter who produces a delicate watercolour of an old tree when what you actually needed was a few coats of emulsion on the kitchen wall.
But on Saturday against Southampton, Saint-Maximin was exactly the opposite, ruthlessly pressing Yan Valery, pouncing on some slack control and poking home the winning goal. It would be a crime to turn Saint-Maximin into a basic grafter, but a little more end product like we saw Saturday would be terrific.
Saint-Maximin and occasional flashes from Miguel Almiron aside, Newcastle have been a genuine chore to watch this season, but those three points at St. Mary’s almost certainly mean they’ll be in the Premier League again next season. Job done, if not enjoyably so.
An opportunity tossed away by Watford
Will Watford look back on this weekend and curse themselves for missing a golden opportunity? After the dizzying high of beating Liverpool last weekend, the realities of the Premier League survival fight kicked in with the grimness of returning from an exhilarating holiday to a week of constant drizzle, with the 1-0 defeat to Crystal Palace meaning they missed a chance when so many around them didn’t pick up points.
“We’ve missed an opportunity in many ways,” coach Nigel Pearson said after the game. “We should’ve been more decisive, especially in the first half, when we could’ve got shots away but instead tried to score the perfect goal.”
This is armchair psychology, but could this be a strange negative consequence of the Liverpool victory, the belief that came from that translating into overconfidence, the idea that they could do anything when in fact they just needed to do enough? If so, the defeat at Selhurst Park will act as a bucket of cold water to the face.
Sheffield United march on
Wolves might have missed an opportunity to keep up with the Champions League contenders by drawing 0-0 with Brighton, but Sheffield United ploughed on with another win, and it’s worth taking a moment to appreciate the technique required to score the only goal in their 1-0 victory over Norwich.
First, the cross: Centre-backs shouldn’t be able to cross like Chris Basham did, but as we know, Sheffield United’s centre-backs are not like normal centre-backs. His cross had curl, venom and purpose, taking out both Norwich centre-backs as they quite understandably edged toward the near-post, where they might have expected that ball to be delivered.
But it still wasn’t quite far ahead of Billy Sharp enough that he could naturally run into it and generate power for his header through momentum, so he had to manufacture the power. He did this by arching his back and launching himself off his feet to batter the header above Tim Krul, the Dutch keeper beaten by the force of the effort rather than anything else.
Sheffield United have surprised a lot of people this season, and this was just another way they have done that.