Naive Newcastle and Ten Hag tactics hammered but Liverpool, Madueke and Arsenal are winners
Liverpool may yet join Arsenal in next season’s Champions League, particularly if Newcastle continue playing like that and Erik ten Hag keeps making errors.
If those final minds hadn’t been changed about weak, soft, bulliable Arsenal, that really ought to do it. That was as impressive an isolated win as any Premier League club has recorded this season.
There have been worse weekends in the history of Liverpool Football Club, who are essentially one Alisson goal away from reaching next season’s Champions League final at this point. No fans were in attendance to witness the 10-game unbeaten run which snatched qualification from 8th and eight points back from fourth place on March 14 in 2020/21; plenty have been on hand to push them through a sequence of six consecutive wins, four of which have come at home, to render a gap of eight points behind 4th in 8th on April 3 almost entirely obsolete.
Not since Birmingham in December 2009 has a Premier League team secured five straight victories by a single goal. For only the fourth time in Jurgen Klopp’s reign, Liverpool have won back-to-back league games 1-0. This is not a leisurely stride to fourth place. They are doing things the hard way and grinding each possible point out of this, avenging previous setbacks against Leeds, Nottingham Forest, Fulham and now Brentford in the process.
But that pipedream has suddenly become a reality. There remains work to do but with both Newcastle and Man Utd dropping points and only Brighton a factor to consider behind them, Liverpool’s salvage mission is on.
Harry Kane and Mo Salah
For the first time since October, both Kane and Salah scored in a round of Premier League fixtures while Haaland did not. Their respective exploits for Spurs and Liverpool have been understandably overshadowed but they are still brilliant players who so often elevate their teams from ordinary to excellent, who so regularly turn one point into three.
Todd Boehly threw so much at the wall that some of it had to stick. Madueke has played 382 Premier League minutes across four starts since joining in January, yet already only two Chelsea players have completed more dribbles than his 22. The winger brings something different to any other member of that bloated squad, which is justification alone for continuing to pick him.
While a great deal of work does need to be done on his decision making in the final third, Madueke is at least trying things and being positive on the ball instead of afraid of it. That is a welcome trait in a struggling team devoid of confidence. Chelsea’s problems have given the 21-year-old a licence to express himself and play freely, which would not ordinarily exist in a team with proper coaching and a coherent vision. That landscape has to change next season but at least Madueke will start a new regime with more confidence and credit than pretty much all his teammates, ready for those bad habits to be eradicated.
The picture will become clearer on Monday, when each of the four teams below Leeds play, but Allardyce could not have realistically expected much more from three training sessions in preparation to face a phenomenal side in imperious form.
Big calls were made and goal difference, which could yet be decisive, was preserved. “It’s still 0-0,” was almost certainly uttered at half-time in the away dressing room at the Etihad; Leeds won the second half 1-0.
Ahead of a summer during which hundreds of millions will be set aside for model midfielders by desperate clubs hoping to restructure their most important position, Gundogan proved that the best investment Manchester City could make is to renew his contract.
There is no more intelligent or versatile player in the Premier League than one who can score with two of his 192 touches, complete 58 more passes than the opposition and still miss a penalty. Jude Bellingham, Declan Rice, Moises Caicedo and Alexis Mac Allister could never.
Should not be considered as a candidate for the permanent Spurs post until he has managed outside of April and May, but Mason has shown a tactical versatility, ability to compromise and capacity to make difficult decisions which point to an exciting future for the 31-year-old.
Some may consider steadying ships abandoned by Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte to be a simple task of putting arms around shoulders and reinstating ketchup to the menu, but Mason has done excellently to stabilise Spurs in difficult situations. And any man who drops Eric Dier is in line for a statue.
Wolves at Molineux
Not sure what else to expect when signing Craig Dawson and Mario Lemina but there is something glorious about each of Wolves’ nine home Premier League wins this season coming by a scoreline of 1-0. For the first time since 1975 they have recorded four consecutive league victories at Molineux; for the first time since 1969 they have done so without conceding.
In only two of their eight Premier League seasons have Wolves ever earned more points at home than their current total of 29 (34 in 2018/19 and 31 in 2019/20). With one match left at Molineux against Everton, those home comforts have dragged them to mid-table.
A first win over Man Utd since The Chosen One was sacked, with Premier League safety delivered and a European semi-final to come. And it was entirely earned through excellent coaching and an effective gameplan carried out wonderfully.
Another successful relegation battle to add to the CV, presumably somewhere below ‘speaks Latin’.
Erik ten Hag
The public show of faith in David de Gea can be largely ignored, considering a) the Man Utd manager is unlikely to torch his starting keeper and bring in Tom Heaton or Jack Butland for five season-defining games in a month, and b) Ten Hag said similar about Cristiano Ronaldo shortly before his departure.
But far beyond that are issues in tactics, team selection and belief. De Gea is being asked to play a style he is blatantly not compatible with; the deployment of Luke Shaw at centre-half has engendered a defensive improvement but entirely sacrificed any attacking endeavour down the left-hand side; Bruno Fernandes has had his effectiveness stunted on the right; Wout Weghorst has his uses but will ultimately always be the lightning rod for criticism in goalless defeats.
Ten Hag’s substitutions have become predictable and futile, his systems rigid and his players so very obviously fatigued by a schedule that has not been managed appropriately. A lack of rotation and overreliance on the same faces delivered them a trophy and one foot in the top four but the risk was always that it wouldn’t be enough to drag them through the entire season. This looks like a team running on fumes because it is.
Without Marcus Rashford rescuing them in transition, and completely unbalanced by the injuries to Lisandro Martinez and Raphael Varane, Man Utd’s lack of squad depth and Ten Hag’s absence of answers is being exposed. Time might save them this season but no-one else seems particularly capable right now.
David de Gea
The highest-paid goalkeeper in the world.
As much as that game and their performance established Newcastle among the elite, their reaction to adversity demonstrated that they are very much new to this. Lessons need to be learned and considering how far they have come, there might be few better teachers than Arsenal.
Newcastle could have blown the Gunners away early on and can be excused for letting that overruled penalty entirely derail their momentum. But the way they fell into almost every trap Arsenal set thereafter, both tactically and in terms of provocation, was naive and foolish.
They allowed themselves to be guided by the fervent atmosphere of the supporters when it has to be the other way around at this level and particularly against such opponents. Newcastle need to channel that energy properly instead of letting it lead them into every battle. Not every tackle has to be a scrape on the Achilles or an elbow to the face. Control and chaos is needed, not just the latter.
The post-match quotes from Howe about time-wasting were typical one-eyed managerial bluster, but he will surely know Newcastle let that game slip from their command when cooler heads should have prevailed. As Dan Burn said: “We can’t do it and then complain when it happens to us.” But Newcastle can learn to respond to it far better.
“We are not here to be popular and to get other teams to like us. We are here to compete and to compete, we have to give everything to try and get a positive result. I’ve got no issue saying that. That is our job and that’s what we’re going to try and continue to do” – Eddie Howe having his cake in January.
“It was frustrating from our perspective. We wanted the ball in play, we wanted to find our rhythm. It was very stop-start. That was suiting, of course, the away team. As the home team, you want the ball in play, so it was frustrating in that sense for us, definitely. We can’t control that, that’s the referee’s job” – Eddie Howe eating it in May.
Nine players – every outfield starter bar the three centre-halves, plus two substitutes – combined to attempt 18 crosses without a single one being deemed accurate. Seems sub-optimal.
After scoring in 20 consecutive games come consecutive 1-0 defeats. There is nothing quite like streaky Unai Emery.
Had an opportunity to do something very funny by beating Chelsea at home to go above them and completely blew it. Bottlers.
Has only made two substitutions in each of his last two games. Forgot, hasn’t he?
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