Premier League: 10 talking points from the weekend’s action | Football


1) Wolves’ early wobble is a distant memory

“Perfection doesn’t exist but we are always chasing it,” Nuno Espírito Santo said after Wolves’ thoroughly deserved draw at Arsenal. It was a nice line from a manager who tends to prefer that his players’ performances do the talking. While his side were nowhere near flawless on Saturday they were certainly impressive: there is no doubt Wolves are one of the best-coached teams in the Premier League and they look back to their old selves now after an uncertain, Europa League-addled start to the campaign. They have not lost in the top flight since mid-September and a four-point haul from their visits to the Etihad and the Emirates suggests they will lift themselves into contention for this season’s European spots. Wolves do not offer a thrill a minute but few sides have their technical and tactical clarity; they dominated for sizeable periods and, even without the injured defender Willy Boly, are a formidable prospect once again. Nick Ames

Match report: Arsenal 1-1 Wolves

2) VAR providing more questions than answers

Liverpool’s win over Aston Villa on Saturday was achieved despite more VAR-related controversy. Afterwards Dean Smith said he was pleased that he and the other 19 Premier League managers will meet authorities this week to discuss changes to VAR. “They are talking to the right people,” Smith said. “I was at a meeting last Thursday and every manager is going to another meeting this Thursday. Then the CEOs and the Premier League will get together and decide where they’re taking it. You can’t scrap it now, there are 28 countries using it. We all wanted it to find the right decisions but there was always going to be teething problems. We need to find a happy medium. I feel they’re taking a little bit of authority away from the referee. If he thinks it’s a goal and VAR are telling him there’s something [to disallow it] other than a factual reason, I’d like him to go over and have a look himself.” Paul Doyle

Match report: Aston Villa 1-2 Liverpool

Roberto Firmino tucks away a chance against Aston Villa only for VAR to rule his armpit was offside.

Roberto Firmino tucks away a chance against Aston Villa only for VAR to rule his armpit was offside. Photograph: Simon Stacpoole/Offside/Offside via Getty Images

3) Cook gives Southgate something to stew on

Gareth Southgate has chopped and changed his defence since taking charge of England three years ago, with Fikayo Tomori, last month, the 13th different centre-back called up to the squad on his watch. Could Steve Cook be the 14th? Lewis Dunk, a friend of the 28-year-old’s from his time at Brighton, from whom he signed for £170,000 seven years ago, and Tyrone Mings, who played second fiddle to Cook at Bournemouth, have both been given chances by Southgate and the form of the Bournemouth captain, who shone on his 150th Premier League appearance on Saturday, is not likely to have gone unnoticed. “Gareth leaves no stone unturned, so all he has to do is to continue to perform at his consistent best for us,” said the Bournemouth manager, Eddie Howe. “Displays like that [against Manchester United on Saturday], where he was, for me, pretty faultless throughout are certainly going to do his cause no harm.” Ben Fisher

Match report: Bournemouth 1-0 Manchester United

4) Brighton head to Old Trafford with nothing to fear

Graham Potter’s Brighton moved into the top half of the table with Saturday’s 2-0 victory over Norwich City. Although it might seem natural to think of the 3-0 home win against Tottenham a month ago as a turning point in their season, the feeling among fans is the fortunate 3-2 victory against Everton last week was more of a watershed moment. Saturday’s Leandro Trossard-inspired victory over Norwich sent Brighton up to eighth, two places above Manchester United, to whom they travel on Sunday. The days when clubs of Brighton’s stature visited Old Trafford aiming merely for damage limitation are long gone. With their summer recruit Trossard fit, Brighton will face Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s misfiring United believing they can register a third straight win in the Premier League. Luke McLaughlin

Match report: Brighton 2-0 Norwich

5) Less is more for deadly Vardy

Brendan Rodgers has admitted Jamie Vardy’s renaissance at Leicester is down to a “more synchronised” approach to defending from the front. The former England striker scored his 10th Premier League goal of the season against Crystal Palace on Sunday to move one ahead of Sergio Agüero and Tammy Abraham in the race for the Golden Boot, and is scoring at a rate that would see him surpass the 24 he racked up in Leicester’s title-winning season. “He’s not having to press the whole back four,” Rodgers said. “Jamie is a guy who would run all day for you, so now he is doing shorter bursts, which he is very good at. He’s also playing more central and staying on the last man because he is such a threat. He is a really top striker for this level and he is really enjoying his football.” Leicester are six points clear of fifth-placed Arsenal, who they host on Saturday. Ed Aarons

Match report: Crystal Palace 0-2 Leicester

6) A difference of opinion at Stockley Park?

It is not exactly an exclusive to report that VAR decisions are taking too long. The 12 minutes of added time that allowed Everton to claim an equaliser were not all down to André Gomes’s horrific injury: there was a ridiculous three-minute delay to come to a conclusion about the ball hitting Dele Alli on the arm in the home penalty area. The ball did hit Alli on the arm, the arm was over the player’s head, so why no penalty? Taking three minutes then deciding nothing was amiss strongly suggests the Stockley Park officials had differing opinions. VAR is good at seeing everything but we are still no further down the road to consistency, and three minutes is simply too long for players to stand around scratching their heads, especially if it happens two or three times a game. We keep being told the process will get slicker and speedier. But opinions and arguments, it appears, are not to be rushed. Paul Wilson

Match report: Everton 1-1 Tottenham

VAR at risk of changing the spirit of football, says Pochettino – video

7) Guardiola plays it cool ahead of Anfield showdown

Despite the six-point gap Pep Guardiola is adamant Manchester City do not have to beat Liverpool at Anfield on Sunday. “We are going to try but I don’t think so,” said the manager, who joked about their rivals’ formidable home record. “How many centuries have they not lost at Anfield? We will see. Now we go to Italy [to play Atalanta] and when we come back we go to Anfield. We know what happened on Saturday beyond the result – they beat Aston Villa in the last minutes – and there are a lot of games left to play. Many things are going to happen.” Last season’s corresponding fixture was a 0-0 draw, while City’s 2-1 win at the Etihad in January’s reverse match proved vital to the defence of their title. Privately, Guardiola surely knows victory on Sunday, however difficult, could be pivotal in turning the title race back in City’s favour though he may be without David Silva, as he is a doubt owing to a muscular problem. Jamie Jackson

Match report: Manchester City 2-1 Southampton

8) Egan the unsung hero of Blades backline

Sheffield United may have exciting overlapping centre-halves but they also possess the Premier League’s joint-best defence. This was their fifth clean sheet of the season and significant credit must go to John Egan, who once again excelled at the heart of that central trio. Egan was once a promising youngster at Sunderland but an awful leg injury sustained on loan at Bradford required complicated surgery and there were fears his career might be over before it had properly begun. Instead, he battled back at Gillingham and then Brentford before Chris Wilder made him his defensive cornerstone. John Lundstram, Enda Stevens and Lys Mousset rightly commanded headlines as Burnley were shredded but the outstanding Egan was a very big reason why Sean Dyche’s side barely got sight of goal. Small wonder Blades fans fretted when the player who makes United’s unique system work limped off late on. Louise Taylor

Match report: Sheffield United 3-0 Burnley

9) Lampard’s patience with Pulisic looking a masterstroke

Has the real Christian Pulisic arrived? The winger started slowly at Chelsea after his £58m move from Borussia Dortmund but Frank Lampard’s decision to hold him back looks inspired. Pulisic is demonstrating why his fee was so high. Having shielded the 21-year-old when he was out of the side during September, Lampard has unleashed him in recent weeks and has watched him make a stunning impact. Pulisic came on to make important contributions in last month’s wins over Ajax and Newcastle and he looks determined not to lose his place in the starting line-up, following up last week’s hat-trick against Burnley with another excellent display at Vicarage Road. Pulisic scored the decisive goal against Quique Sánchez Flores’s side and only inspired goalkeeping from Ben Foster stopped him going home with the match ball again. Now he needs to maintain his form when Ajax visit Stamford Bridge on Tuesday. Jacob Steinberg

Match report: Watford 1-2 Chelsea

10) West Ham’s stand-in is falling short

“We need to find a reason why it happened”, said Manuel Pellegrini of West Ham’s defeat by Newcastle. And their losses to Everton, and Crystal Palace, and Oxford United. Pellegrini believes his team’s loss of form can be traced back to their shock Carabao Cup defeat to the League One side but it seems he is no nearer to fixing the problem. There was a general listlessness on Saturday and a naivety in pushing high up against Newcastle’s explosive counterattack. But one other factor Pellegrini might be considering is his goalkeeper. Roberto made his second appearance for the club against Oxford and has been in goal ever since following the long-term injury to Lukasz Fabianksi. The 33-year-old did not inspire confidence against Newcastle; caught in no-man’s land at a set piece for the second goal, he was too soft against Jonjo Shelvey’s free-kick for the third. Fabianski isn’t expected back until the new year now – he looks a better player with every match he misses. Paul MacInnes

Match report: West Ham 2-3 Newcastle


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