Sunday 18 February 2018 / 09:33 PM


Talking points and analysis from the weekend’s Premier league action

Everton at breaking point

Falling to their ninth defeat in 13 matches, the Toffees again looked toothless in a 2-0 loss to Leicester City – despite dominating possession early (finishing with 59%) and winning the shot count. It’s put further pressure on interim manager David Unsworth, who was left fielding questions about whether or not Everton were destined to duke it out in a relegation battle for the rest of the season. A far cry from their intentions when they spent more than £150m in perceived upgrades, Everton need to undergo some serious changes if they are any hope of lifting themselves out of this hole.

On the flipside, newly-appointed Leicester manager Claude Puel enjoyed a successful start to his tenure, the Foxes re-discovering their brilliant counterattack that played right into the flaws of their struggling opposition. It was a standout performance for midfielder Demarai Gray, who help spearhead a revived Leicester attack that led them to a momentous victory. A stark contrast from the fears of a few weeks ago, they now sit one win outside the Europa spots.

No Kane, no pain

Harry Kane’s absence shouldn’t diminish the significance of Manchester United’s victory over fellow contenders Tottenham, even if it does put an asterisk of sorts on the win and leaves us with a huge ‘what if’. It was a closely contested showdown that remained scoreless past the 80-minute mark until substitute Anthony Martial rose to the occasion and delivered the decisive blow, certifying his impact as a super-sub that is capable of match-winning plays.

Reading over the numbers without the score in mind, Spurs appeared to have found their feet and implemented their regular game-plan: 55.2% possession, 77% pass accuracy to United’s 70%, and 13 shots to their 11. Without context, it’d be fair to assume a Spurs victory, and with Kane in the picture it’s fair to think that they may have found their way to the net.

He wasn’t, and they didn’t, and that is something in itself: Spurs can’t rely on Kane to be their only source of offence, and with the entire leagues eyes cast on this game it’s likely teams will take even more of a restrictive approach in guarding the striker and force Spurs other players to beat them. They’ll need to continue to build on their tactical diversity that unlocked their attack if they hope to keep progressing.

Some credit can go towards United’s defence that still hasn’t conceded a home goal, but the game fed more into the narratives of both sides — Spurs offence as a smokescreen and United as an enigma — than it did give us answers to the burning questions.

Being Arsenal

Arsenal came out shaky, nervously conceded a goal, went about their business and then stole the game back late from Swansea City. Usually a come-from-behind win would lead to more optimism.

Saed Kolasinac’s thunderous driving effort levelled the scores before he assisted Aaron Ramsey’s winner, but it’s more of the same from Arsenal who can’t get out of their own way to put forth a dominant display. They’re a paradox: disappointing in their output whilst avoiding the lack of security that has plagued the likes of Liverpool and Everton.

Straddling both sides of the fence has found them right around where their talent level suggests they should be, but although they are tied on points with Chelsea they represent where the elite tier ends and the next begins. That’s not OK: fifth spot would be a failure of a season, a sideways movement again failing to qualify for the Champions League. They need to find a way past one of the four teams ahead of them, but before carving a path they have to get out of their own way.

What can only be described as a weak 2-1 win makes for a perfect snapshot of their season thus far.

Liverpool rebound

Among the lessons learnt about mid-tier teams thus far, topping that list may be the acknowledgement that Huddersfield are no joke. Liverpool were quiet in the build-up for good reason, yet to hit their stride and up against a fearless unit of tenacious workers, there was potential for another setback. That in mind, walking away with a confident three points by way of three second-half goals is a major relief for the Reds, with the pressure building after their demoralising loss to Spurs a week earlier and a placid first half that ended with a missed penalty.

The Terries bring the worst out of their opposition and Liverpool’s resilience to come out of the sheds and find their feet and get home comfortably is reassurance that we haven’t really seen this year, and an encouraging sign of character that might stabilise their team as they attempt to rejoin the title race. It wasn’t the season-altering win that they’d hoped for a week earlier, but a step in the right direction when another slip may have seen them fall off a cliff. Relief, to say the least.

Parting shots

• After their disastrous early season, if anyone deserves to steal a draw with a 97th-minute goal it’s Palace. West Ham fans were the only ones disappointed when that went down.

• Stoke just find a way: whilst we wrote them off and celebrated Watford’s early-season success, they’re just as pesky as ever and know how to own the 1-0 dour upset – this time against Stoke – better than anyone in the league. They may not be consistent, but they’re still a nuisance.

• Are Brighton a legitimate mid-table side? The signs point more towards yes then no, and they were unlucky not to walk away with a victory, Southampton tying the game on their only on-target shot.

• Even without Kane on the field, he managed to find his name called in the stands, by way of this hilarious chant. The travelling Spurs fans called out Romelu Lukaku, “you’re just a shit Harry Kane”, throughout the match.

• City were at their kaleidoscopic, breathtaking best as they dismantled West Brom early, but conceded late in attempting to hold off a comeback. Whilst not a concern, it’s happened enough now to be something to watch going forward.

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About the author

Brayden Issa

Brayden is a Sydney-based sports management student and sports fanatic, specialising in rugby league, basketball, football and cricket. He is concerned with everything related to professional sports performance and management.

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