January 26, 2022, 21:00

Premier League hits and misses: Liverpool weaknesses make for almighty spectacle, and Chelsea must start firing soon

Premier League hits and misses: Liverpool weaknesses make for almighty spectacle, and Chelsea must start firing soon

Liverpool weaknesses make for almighty spectacle

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Tottenham’s match with Liverpool in the Premier League

Manchester City may be favourites for the Premier League title. They may operate in a frightening, machine-like manner, destroying their opponents, barely in third gear. They may have the most watertight defence. They may be able to do all of that without playing a proper striker, too.

But there’s no doubt who the best team to watch are, and it may be their undoing in this title race.

Liverpool have been involved in a few basketball matches this season, and this was the best. The 2-2 draw at Spurs on Super Sunday was a game for the ages, a much-needed boost given the recent postponements and concern over what Covid will bring to the footballing schedule next.

  • Tottenham 2-2 Liverpool – Match report and highlights
  • How the teams lined up | Match stats

Liverpool’s utterly unapologetic style – a high line, 100mph, full-backs committing – makes them incredibly potent in the final third. Even without Mohamed Salah firing on Sunday, they created a dozen chances.

But if the opposition fancies taking them on, it can also make them exceptionally weak in their own half. Spurs did go full throttle and the outball was constantly on. Few could have complained if this game ended seven each.

For the neutral, it’s a joy to watch, but if this is going to be a 90+ point season, Liverpool will need more control in games. They have reverted to the Liverpool of Klopp’s second and third seasons, around 2017 and 2018, where risks were wilfully taken.

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  • Premier League table
  • Premier League fixtures
  • Premier League results

Many forget that Klopp’s side were rather conventional for large parts of their 2019/20 title win, and one wonders if a middle ground needs to be found to keep on City’s tails.
Gerard Brand

Stuttering Chelsea must start firing again – and quickly

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Wolves’ draw with Chelsea

Will Chelsea head coach Thomas Tuchel look back at this period of the season as the reason his side did not go on to win the Premier League?

The once seemingly unstoppable Blues were three points ahead of both Man City and Liverpool after cruising to a 3-0 win at Newcastle at the end of October, with the champions and Reds dropping points that weekend.

However, since then, Tuchel’s side have been surprisingly held at home by Burnley, Man Utd and Everton, while they also only just managed to squeeze past an out-of-form Leeds United team 3-2 at Stamford Bridge thanks to an injury-time Jorginho penalty.

  • Wolves 0-0 Chelsea- Match report and highlights
  • How the teams lined up | Match stats

Meanwhile, on their travels, Chelsea have also been uncharacteristically off colour at times, struggling to get the better of relegation-threatened Watford, before then twice throwing away a lead to lose 3-2 at West Ham United.

Now, on a ground where title rivals Liverpool recently dug deep to grind out a last-gasp 1-0 win, Chelsea have dropped yet more points and the initiative in the race for the championship.

The visitors may have enjoyed 64 per cent possession at Molineux, but that was to be expected against a Wolves team who like to sit back at home against the top sides and play on the counter.

What was not so expected was the Blues’ total tally of shots on target from that wealth of possession, just the solitary effort when Wolves No 1 Jose Sa did brilliantly to deny Christian Pulisic midway through the second period.

All of which meant Chelsea had failed to score in an away Premier League game for only the second time under Tuchel and the German – who was admittedly missing a number of players with Covid, including strikers Timo Werner and Romelu Lukaku – needs to get his players, particularly his front men, firing again, and quickly, if the Blues are to maintain their title challenge this season.
Richard Morgan

If at first you don’t succeed, try x 38

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Manchester City’s win at Newcastle in the Premier League

If at first you don’t succeed, try again 38 times. Joao Cancelo finally opened his account for the Premier League season, scoring with his 38th shot on goal in Manchester City’s 4-0 win at Newcastle. To be able to beat a team in the same league as you while not even bothering to come out of second gear was a scary sight for all other teams in the Premier League. Cancelo was at the heart of City’s devastating attacks.

  • Newcastle 0-4 Manchester City – Match report and highlights

This was yet another performance to showcase his importance to this Manchester City machine, also picking up his fourth assist of the campaign to help open the scoring. In truth, that goal was more to do with some horrific Newcastle defending from Ciaran Clark and Martin Dubravka than Cancelo’s brilliance. That calamitous pair deserved the assist.

There was no denying Cancelo being the architect on his goal though. It was a thing of beauty from a player that is just getting better and better under watch of Pep Guardiola in his unique full-back position. For his goal, Cancelo combined with Kevin De Bruyne and Riyad Mahrez before leaving Joe Willock and Isaac Hayden in his wake with two skilful swivels and smashed a powerful effort past Dubravka.

He is a joy to watch. As are Manchester City, who are the Christmas No.1 and firm title favourites now.
Lewis Jones

Martinelli taking advantage of Auba absence

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Arsenal’s win at Leeds

It’s a question that has been asked on an almost daily basis since Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s absence from the Arsenal squad – just who will fill his shoes.

January is around the corner, who could Arsenal target? Everton striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin has been linked, but he has been hit hard by injuries this season.

Or could Arsenal look inside their own ranks? Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe have flourished under Mikel Arteta and it’s starting to look like Gabriel Martinelli is the next player in line to star for the Gunners.

  • Leeds 1-4 Arsenal – Match report and highlights
  • How the teams lined up | Match stats

He was quite simply unplayable in the first half at Leeds. Their makeshift defence – decimated by injuries – could not stop Martinelli making those vital runs as Alexandre Lacazette lured in the Leeds centre-backs, leaving the space.

Martinelli capitalised with two goals to boot. The first saw him in the right place at the right time to turn home a loose ball – again after good work from Lacazette – with his lifted finish simply sublime.

He topped the match rankings for goals (2), shots on target (2), chances created (5) and crosses (5) and has now scored three goals in his last two Premier League games.

When asked how big a step is Martinelli is taking, Arteta told Sky Sports: “Huge. That’s why you have to prepare a player. You can’t throw in a player when you think he’s not ready.

“Gabi has made the right steps and is evolving in the right direction. He has huge potential and I don’t know where the ceiling is. He has so much still to improve.

“He’s very humble, he works hard and he puts his head down. When that happens, his big passion in life is football and I think good things are going to happen for him.”

The scariest part of it all is that Martinelli is only 20 years old. Some Arsenal fans have been waiting a while for the youngster to come into his own and now with the absence of Aubameyang, he is finally getting his chance.

He looks determined to grab it with both hands too as Arsenal continue their charge into the top four.
Charlotte Marsh

Will Bielsa ever compromise his style?

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Graeme Souness and Jermaine Beckford discuss Marcelo Bielsa’s style of play and whether it is suiting Leeds in their current position in the Premier League

Gary Neville described their defending as akin to what you would see in an U9s game. Graeme Souness also referenced the sorts of things you would ordinarily see on the playground.

But this is the Premier League, where mistakes get heavily punished. Arsenal picked off their opponents at will during the first half as Leeds were the architects of their own downfall, conceding three times through losing the ball in crucial areas.

Such a high-risk approach when coupled with an injury list that now stands at 12 senior first-team players following the first-half withdrawal of Jack Harrison spells danger.

  • Leeds fixtures

Marcelo Bielsa inherited and stabilised the club when they were 13th in the Championship before taking the Whites on an unforgettable journey to ninth in the Premier League last term, but he now concedes the current plight is the biggest test of character for himself and his players during his four years in Yorkshire.

Image:
Leeds players look dejected as Arsenal go 3-0 up at Elland Road

“You have to have a tolerance to the frustration,” Bielsa said. “You need to be very convinced in a big way in how you’re going to absorb these types of moments.”

Bielsa retains the support of the crowd at Elland Road – describing the way the fans serenaded him as full-time approached as “an act of love towards the badge” – but having conceded 14 goals in three games, the unconditional affection directed towards him should never be taken for granted.

There may come a point when Bielsa must make a decision between sticking to his principles and putting the immediate needs of the club first. His managerial style has taken Leeds back to the top flight, but keeping them there may require him to adapt. At least until his key players return from injury.
Ben Grounds

Wolves are not the team for the neutrals

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Wolves manager Bruno Lage was unhappy with the officials on Sunday

Wolves find themselves firmly ensconced in the top half of the Premier League table under Bruno Lage and were applauded from the Molineux pitch following their goalless draw with Chelsea on Sunday but no neutral is going to accuse them of being entertainers.

The team’s last seven games have featured only four goals in total – two for and two against. That is the fewest number of goals scored across a seven-game period for a Premier League team since the turn of the century. This latest game only had 12 shots in it.

  • Wolves 0-0 Chelsea- Match report and highlights
  • How the teams lined up | Match stats

There was so much to admire defensively against Chelsea, the back five shuffling across expertly to prevent any space for the opposition. Wolves have the third-best defensive record in the Premier League this season, conceding only two goals in seven games now.

But that is coming at a price. Only Norwich have scored fewer goals and Wolves did not even muster an attempt on goal in the second half against Chelsea. Their 5-3-2 formation is certainly compact but Raul Jimenez and Daniel Podence were starved of support.

The approach has been understandable during a tricky run of games that has seen Wolves face the top three teams in a fortnight. But there will be an expectation that Lage’s team open up a little more at home to Watford on Boxing Day. If they can remember how…
Adam Bate

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