Alejandro Garnacho thrills like a young Cristiano Ronaldo and Unai Emery’s Aston Villa transformation continues – Premier League hits and misses

Garnacho thrills like a young Ronaldo

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights of Fulham against Manchester United

Alejandro Garnacho was not even born when Cristiano Ronaldo made his Manchester United debut, but two decades later his own thrilling breakthrough is carrying echoes of his idol’s.

In the space of under two weeks, the 18-year-old has scored in the Europa League, produced two match-winning assists in the Carabao Cup, and now fired a first Premier League goal in the most dramatic circumstances possible to beat Fulham.

Erik ten Hag called him an “extra player” as he delighted at his sudden emergence at Craven Cottage and there was praise from elsewhere too. “He has the world at his feet,” said Jamie Redknapp. “He has a lot of talent,” added a smiling Bruno Fernandes.

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Garnacho was thrown on when the game appeared to be slipping away from Manchester United, the Argentina youth international replacing Anthony Martial on 73 minutes, but his impact was immediate, his brief being to tear into makeshift right-back Bobby Decordova-Reid, who was on a yellow card, at every opportunity.

Within a couple of minutes, he had almost won a penalty off him, the Fulham man relieved to survive a VAR check, but Garnacho was not finished. “He has brought something to the left,” said Gary Neville. Fulham could not get a handle on him.

Soon, he could be seen releasing Luke Shaw for a cross from which Scott McTominay should have scored, but in the end it did not matter.

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The goal arrived as the clock ticked into the final minute of stoppage time, Garnacho finding Christian Eriksen, then demonstrating a breath-taking mixture of speed and composure to first motor away from Decordova-Reid, then beat Bernd Leno from the angle.

The away end behind the goal exploded in celebration and his thrilling breakthrough suggests Garnacho will have Manchester United fans off their feet on many more occasions in the future. Like a young Ronaldo, all skill and swagger, he looks destined for great things.
Nick Wright

Robinson can cause England problems at World Cup

Image: Fulham's Antonee Robinson impressed against Manchester United

Gareth Southgate may have looked at Manchester United’s win at Fulham and seen a lot of mixed things.

Marcus Rashford looking dangerous in the United attack but not getting on the scoresheet. Luke Shaw showing a lot of promise going forwards but looking vulnerable against Fulham substitute Dan James.

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But one player that could give the England manager something to worry about is Fulham left-back Antonee Robinson, who is set to line up against the Three Lions later this month for the United States in the World Cup group stages.

Image: Robinson is heading to Qatar with the United States next week

The left-back was a constant thorn in the United defence as he linked up well with Willian on Fulham’s left, as Marco Silva’s side targeted Tyrell Malacia playing at right-back. Robinson winning the ball high up the pitch and releasing the Brazilian on the counter attack was the key action that started the move Fulham’s equaliser through James.

At the World Cup, Robinson will likely be linking up with the likes of Christian Pulisic or Gio Reyna in what could be a tricky flank for England to manage.

Considering there is plenty of indecision about who will appear at right-back for England this winter, Southgate may have to come up with a plan to deal with Robinson and co for the November 29 clash.
Sam Blitz

Signs of Villa improvement under Emery

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Aston Villa’s win at Brighton

Two Premier League games as Aston Villa manager and two wins for Unai Emery – who said football management was difficult?

And there are already signs of improvement under the new manager, both as a team and for individual players.

That being said, the start of their 2-1 win at Brighton did not go well at all. The Villa defence were caught out and Douglas Luiz easily muscled out by Alexis Mac Allister. Playing out from the back cost them in midweek against Manchester United in the Carabao Cup and did so again inside a minute at the Amex.

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But then came a bit of grit and determination to come back into the game with Danny Ings’ double. The striker has now scored four goals in four Premier League games since Steven Gerrard departed, having scored five in 31 under the former manager.

While Ollie Watkins – missing for Aston Villa through illness on Sunday – had been the preferred striker under Gerrard, Ings is giving the new coach a strong case for starting him regularly after the World Cup break.

Although he has come in for criticism for some of his performance, Tyrone Mings was also vital to Aston Villa’s success at the Amex. He made a match-high 10 clearances and although a 26th-minute booking may have made some fans wary, he managed to keep his nose clean for the remainder of the game.

He was needed too as Brighton continued to pile forward, especially in the closing minutes. Boubacar Kamara (6), Luiz (4) and John McGinn (4) also contributed with their fair share of tackles too.

Coming from behind and holding on for victory against an in-form Brighton will do Aston Villa’s confidence the world of good. You feel like there would not have been the same reaction and mentality to come back if Brighton had scored in 50 seconds under Gerrard.

Some may say there is always a new manager bounce, especially under one so experienced as Emery, and it is easy to see the impact he has already had. Aston Villa have now won back-to-back Premier League games for the first time this season, seeing them into 12th and putting daylight between themselves and the bottom three.

They may wish to keep the momentum going, but a World Cup break allows Emery to work properly with his players as well as plan for a vital January transfer window. He will be hoping that mentality carries through to the return of the Premier League after Christmas.
Charlotte Marsh

Evolving Odegaard inspires Arsenal

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights of Wolves against Arsenal

Martin Odegaard tends not to attract as many plaudits as fellow Arsenal attackers Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli and Gabriel Jesus but it was indisputably his night at Molineux.

His two goals, struck in the space of 21 second-half minutes, ensured Arsenal capitalised on Manchester City’s defeat by Brentford and went five points clear at the top of the Premier League.

The win capped a remarkable start to the season and Odegaard’s contribution at Molineux underlines his importance to it. Arsenal’s playmaker has now added goals to his game. With six, he is in fact their top scorer in the Premier League. He only needs one more to match his total for the whole of the last campaign.

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Mikel Arteta praised his captain for becoming “more ruthless in front of goal and having that edge to win matches” in his post-match interview with Sky Sports and it is certainly a welcome development given how much else he was already giving them.

As always, he could be seen knitting together Arsenal’s attacks, the 23-year-old instrumental in helping break Wolves down, while also working tirelessly off the ball, covering 11.3km, more than any of his team-mates, and frequently helping regain possession.

It was in the Wolves box, though, that he really made his presence felt, and showed just how much his game is evolving.

For his first goal, an instinctive run to meet Fabio Vieira’s cross in the six-yard box. For his second, a deft piece of control and a rifled finish made to look far easier than it was.

In many ways, he is the embodiment of this Arsenal side. Humble and effective. Young and improving. His thrilling evolution reflects that of the group as a whole. The future looks tantalisingly bright.
Nick Wright

Toney responds with majestic masterclass

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from the match between Manchester City and Brentford

It was not just Ivan Toney’s two goals at Manchester City that might have left Gareth Southgate wondering if he had made the right decision not to take him to Qatar.

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It was the way Toney played with a presence, almost a swagger up against the champions. In the very first minute he fancily flicked the ball into a team-mate. In the 97th, he flicked in the winner. From start to finish it was a statement performance.

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The Soccer Saturday panel react to Ivan Toney’s late winner for Brentford at the Etihad

The only thing Toney did wrong was not scoring a hat-trick, but he gave himself the best chance with all six of his shots on target. He had the most touches of the ball out of any Brentford player and played the most passes of their outfielders. This was a masterclass in leading the line, bullying a defence, in the backyard of possibly the best team in the world.

The focus was naturally on Erling Haaland’s return to the City line-up yet Toney stole the show. He will not be going to the World Cup with England, but he gave everyone a reminder of why he went mighty close to doing so.
David Richardson

Kulusevski the difference maker for Spurs

Image: Dejan Kulusevski is mobbed by team-mate Heung-Min Son

Tottenham have long been regarded, perhaps lazily, as a one-man team. When Harry Kane’s out, they have no chance, is the common perception.

That is no longer the case.

Well, perhaps Spurs are still a one-man team but that man is no longer specifically Kane. It’s Dejan Kulusevski.

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights of Tottenham against Leeds

He has now started seven Premier League games this season, Spurs are unbeaten in those matches, winning five and scoring on average 2.9 goals per 90 minutes. Without him in the starting XI, Spurs have lost four of those matches and the average goals per 90 drops to 1.4.

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The flying Swede missed 10 games across all competitions after suffering a hamstring issue while on international duty in September. Spurs really missed him. He took just two minutes off the bench during his comeback to supply an assist for Kane in the 2-1 defeat to Liverpool last weekend – a game Spurs were unfortunate to lose. But he was fit to start against Leeds.

Boy did he deliver in what was a wacky 4-3 game involving two teams who had little stability in key areas of the pitch. Spurs carry such a greater sense of danger and directness with Kulusevski on the pitch. He only has one thought in his mind: go forward at pace and create, create, create. Against Leeds, he made 12 total dribbles over the 90 minutes – that’s a phenomenal number. No player has made more in a single game this season. From those dribbles he created four chances for his teammates – no player on the pitch created more and of course there was the all-important assist for the winning goal, scored by Rodrigo Bentancur.

That’s 13 assists since joining on January 31. When assessing his assists per-game ratio, his return is the best in the Premier League at an assist every 62 minutes – a ratio better than assist king Kevin De Bruyne’s. He’s that good.
Lewis Jones

Nunez emerging from Mane’s shadow

Image: Darwin Nunez celebrates putting Liverpool back in front

Many fingers pointed towards Sadio Mane’s departure as one of the reasons Liverpool are not performing at the level of recent seasons this term.

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A key figure in that argument was Mane’s replacement Darwin Nunez, who was not producing the numbers despite being an £85m arrival from Benfica.

But Nunez’s confident display against Southampton epitomises the confident forward the Uruguayan is now becoming. He now has seven goal contributions in his last seven Liverpool games in all competitions, six of those are goals.

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from the match between Liverpool and Southampton

He took both chances expertly against the Saints. The first was a confident first-time finish by adjusting his body to reach a difficult ball – symbolising how he is starting to adjust to life in Merseyside despite the challenges of a new country.

The second saw him take the ball from Mohamed Salah’s toes – a sign of his intentions to become Liverpool’s main man not just this season but in the future.

Now Mane is becoming a distant memory at Anfield and there is a new in-form player in Liverpool’s ranks. Nunez can now be a key figure at this World Cup coming up for Uruguay and should his confidence continue, he is capable of a similar impact for Liverpool in the second half of the season.
Sam Blitz

Positives in defeat for Jones

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Nathan Jones says he has learnt a lot about his Southampton squad after taking charge of the side for the first time in their 3-1 defeat to Liverpool.

A ninth Premier League defeat of the season saw Southampton slip to 19th in the Premier League table but this one felt a little different. Nathan Jones left Anfield empty-handed but with plenty to build on.

He had only had one full training session with his new players following his appointment as Ralph Hasenhuttl’s successor on Thursday but his impact could be seen in their performance.

There was a change of system, the 49-year-old switching to a back three, the same formation he used at Luton Town, but most striking was the positivity and adventurousness of their play.

Southampton attacked Liverpool from the start, striking back immediately after Roberto Firmino’s opener through the excellent Che Adams and throwing bodies forward at every opportunity.

There were defensive issues in the first half, when Darwin Nunez’s double ultimately took the game away from them, but Southampton approached the second period with even more energy and intent, forcing a string of fine saves from Alisson.

The outcome may have been different had one of those opportunities found the net. A goal would have certainly made for a nervy finale inside Anfield. But nobody could accuse Saints of lacking courage and there was plenty of industry too.

According to Premier League tracking data, Southampton covered more ground than Liverpool (114km to 112km) and registered 157 high-intensity sprints to the hosts’ 129.

The World Cup break will give Jones time to put his stamp on the side, but even in defeat there were glimmers of encouragement about what their future might hold under the Welshman.
Nick Wright

Everton should prepare for January now

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from the match between Bournemouth and Everton

Ask any Evertonian, and they will tell you how regularly the club leave it until the final day of the January transfer window to complete the biggest chunk of their mid-season business.

But there can be no excuse this time. This time, it cannot pass by as a window remembered for the business that was not done.

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This result peaks the anxiety among supporters. It is a squad weak on the ground and it is a group that looks jaded just 15 Premier League games into the season.

Lampard has worked through the thirds. He has a world-class goalkeeper behind a new centre-half pairing that look like they have been playing together for years. It is a defensive triangle to rival most top-half teams.

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Frank Lampard said he could understand why the Everton fans voiced their frustrations after the final whistle of the 3-0 defeat to Bournemouth

The new midfield three – Amadou Onana, Alex Iwobi and Idrissa Gueye – are combative, tireless and mobile – in stark contrast to the lightweight imitations of previous years. But it lacks goals.

That would not be such a problem if the front three were scoring, but that is Lampard’s next act.

He has stabilised his side’s core but both he and director of football Kevin Thelwell spent the run-up to the summer Deadline Day looking for difference-makers in the final third. Unusually, Lampard now has six weeks before business can officially be concluded to get ahead.

Ben Brereton Diaz, a name mentioned in the summer, has continued scoring at Blackburn, but their elevated position as Championship title challengers makes the Chile striker attainable but only at a premium.

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There was a confrontation between Everton’s players and fans after the final whistle of their 3-0 defeat to Bournemouth

Mohammed Kudus’ Champions League exploits and Cody Gakpo’s season in general with PSV prior to his World Cup call-up for the Netherlands mean the ship has sailed on those two targets.

The sprinkle of stardust on top should not wait until deep into January when significant strides can be made in these dormant World Cup weeks.

With Dominic Calvert-Lewin allowed to recover between now and Boxing Day, among others, the break has come at the right time for Everton. Now, Lampard has to put it to good use.
Ben Grounds

Wolves show Lopetegui fight and flaws

For the first time since the 2003/04 season, when they were relegated to the Championship, Wolves will be bottom of the Premier League at Christmas.

But there were reasons to be positive, despite Saturday’s 2-0 defeat to league leaders Arsenal, with the start of Julen Lopetegui’s era at Molineux imminent.

Introduced to the home fans before the game, Lopetegui took the acclaim during a lap of the pitch six years after Wolves first tried to appoint him.

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It has been a long wait and the former Spain and Real Madrid manager will be expected to work wonders to beat the drop but will have to tackle the same problems as caretaker Steve Davis and Lage.

Lopetegui will need reinforcements in January – especially a striker – for Wolves to extend their top-flight stay to a sixth season.

He will have at least been encouraged by the hosts’ resilience, despite defeat, which will be desperately needed during the relegation battle to come.
Jack Wilkinson

Tavernier provides Bielsa with template for success

Image: Marcus Tavernier broke the deadlock against Everton

If Marcelo Bielsa is to take over the reins at Bournemouth, he will inherit a player in Marcus Tavernier few in the Premier League can rival on present form. Even before Everton surrendered to a second meek collapse in a matter of days, the former Middlesbrough midfielder was already terrorising Vitalii Mykolenko.

The right flank was a constant outlet before a two-goal lead was established inside 25 minutes. Tavernier already looks well-suited to Bielsa’s infamous murderball.

The 23-year-old enjoyed a slice of good fortune in capitalising on Jordan Pickford’s error but he was alert to the loose ball, duly becoming the first ever Bournemouth player to both score and assist in back-to-back Premier League appearances.

Image: Tavernier celebrates his instinctive opener

Bournemouth interim boss Gary O’Neil said: “He’s been incredible. He’s got so much energy and he’s done loads of work on adding quality to the end of it. You’re now seeing improvements. I’m delighted for Tav as he’s a great lad and he’ll do whatever you ask him to do. I’m just pleased he’s now getting the reward for his hard work.”

O’Neil has done a superb job to stabilise Bournemouth after Scott Parker was sacked following the 9-0 defeat to Liverpool in August. If this is to prove his swansong, he saved his best performance until last.

The talk is that Bielsa is the external favourite to take over permanently at the Vitality Stadium – something O’Neil was at pains not to disclose despite praising the Argentine’s managerial capabilities.

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Gary O’Neil said he is still unsure of his future as Bournemouth caretaker manager after recent reports that Marcelo Bielsa may be appointed soon. O’Neil spoke after the Cherries convincingly beat Everton 3-0 at the Vitality stadium.

Tavernier was the marquee summer signing when he arrived for £12.5m but it is proving to be a very shrewd piece of business that prospective new owner Bill Foley will certainly acknowledge as he seeks to enhance the club’s global appeal with a high-profile appointment.

What awaits O’Neil next remains uncertain, but his ability to coach the best out of Tavernier – and a group dismissed as not good enough by Parker – means he should not be short of options.
Ben Grounds

Barnes the underrated star of Leicester’s revival

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights of Leicester’s win at West Ham

It’s been quite the turnaround for Leicester in the last few weeks. While James Maddison’s headline-grabbing form has earned him a World Cup place and Wout Faes’ introduction hugely improving the Foxes’ defence, it’s arguably Harvey Barnes who has been the underrated star of the recent revival.

Let’s start with a stat – Barnes has registered 18 Premier League goal involvements in 2022 (10 goals 8 assists), a figure bettered by only four other English players (Kane 34, Maddison 23, Toney 23, Saka 19).

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Two of those 10 goals have come in the last two Premier League outings and they were similar in timing. Against Everton last weekend, Barnes scored in the 86th minute to seal a 2-0 win. At the London Stadium, it was a 78th-minute goal to again secure a 2-0 victory. Both goals were of top quality and the 24-year-old has now scored in all five of Leicester’s Premier League wins this season.

Barnes was the driving force behind Leicester’s attack and you could hear the West Ham groans every time he flew down the left wing. Barnes had the joint highest number of shots in the Leicester side (2), the most dribbles and was involved in the most duels (14).

He had a hand in the Foxes opener too, showing superb anticipation for Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall’s drive into space. It’s that kind of football intelligence that will further drive Leicester up the league.

With the World Cup just eight days away too, it’s hard not to foresee which players could be included at Euro 2024. If Barnes continues on his current trajectory, you would expect him to be challenging for a place.

For now though, he will have six weeks to rest, recover and work on his game to further improve ahead of a busy second half of the season.
Charlotte Marsh

Why can’t West Ham finish?

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West Ham manager David Moyes says he understands the fans booing at full-time following his side’s defeat to Leicester

It was another frustrating afternoon for West Ham. They lost a third successive Premier League game, which leaves them hovering perilously close to the relegation places heading into the World Cup break.

But it’s hard to see how they came away without finding the back of the net. The Hammers had 18 shots to Leicester’s nine and had the same number on target (6). The big difference though lies in the 2-0 scoreline – the Foxes were far more clinical.

On paper, West Ham have formidable attacking options, but they are just not firing. Jarrod Bowen, Gianluca Scamacca, Said Benrahma and Lucas Paqueta all missed chances, while Tomas Soucek had a goal ruled out for offside.

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Let’s not forget Michail Antonio – who missed the game through illness – Pablo Fornals and Manuel Lanzini are pretty handy in front of goal too. But West Ham have still scored the third-lowest number of goals in the Premier League this season.

David Moyes went some way to try and explain his side’s lack of cutting edge this season: “We’ve done a lot of good things, but we just can’t find a way of scoring goals at the moment. Whatever we do, we just can’t find a way.

“We’ve not got our set-pieces as good as we had or whatever it may be. We’ve had lots of situations like that, goals in open play not as regular as we’d hope. But not for the want of trying or not trying to get that to work.”

Moyes also said he would rather his side went into the World Cup break in good form. Not to question the thinking, but I would argue this has come at the perfect time for the Hammers.

They have had a jam-packed schedule, including qualifiers for the Europa Conference League, and recent results suggest the players need time to rest and recharge before another busy period of the season.

Although Moyes pointed out that he is ‘always working with the players’, the break will give them time to improve every area of their game and integrate new signings further into the squad. This will hopefully include their quality in front of goal.

Football is not a complicated game – if a couple of those 16 shots find the net, you are more than likely to take some points. Now, it’s time for West Ham to convert those into goals.
Charlotte Marsh

Cooper’s new deal and tactical tweak paying dividends

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights of Nottingham Forest against Crystal Palace

Nottingham Forest’s concerning start to the season after signing an extraordinary 23 players in the summer led to fears over Steve Cooper’s future, despite the manager hauling them off the bottom of the Championship and into the Premier League via the play-offs in a matter of months.

But the club displayed a rare show of faith in their under-fire manager by awarding him a new contract in the wake of their 4-0 defeat at Leicester.

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While it would be a stretch to say Forest’s form has drastically improved since that dispiriting night at the King Power Stadium on October 3, there’s no doubt things have picked up for the East Midlanders.

Their upturn in form has not only coincided with Cooper’s new deal but also the decision by the manager to ditch his three-at-the-back formation in favour of a four-man defence.

Forest are unbeaten at the City Ground since the Welshman tweaked his tactics and have lost just two of the eight matches they have played since the defeat at Leicester.

Forest may remain in the relegation zone as the Premier League pauses for the World Cup but, thanks to home wins over Liverpool, Tottenham and now Palace in the last few weeks, Cooper and his players have started to turn around a season that threatened to be spiralling out of control.
Joe Shread

Main man Zaha fails to show for Palace

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Crystal Palace manager Patrick Vieira says their 1-0 loss against Nottingham Forest reflects his side’s season so far

Wilfried Zaha’s six goals and two assists in the Premier League this season have been worth 11 points for Crystal Palace, meaning only Erling Haaland (14) has earned more points for his side in the 2022/23 campaign.

Zaha has spent the best part of a decade fulfilling the role of Palace’s talisman, but his below-par performance embodied the tame manner in which the south Londoners entered the World Cup break at Nottingham Forest.

The Ivory Coast international marked his 30th birthday this week, but he entered his fourth decade in the worst way possible when he blew his chance to open the scoring for Palace from the penalty spot.

Things went from bad to worse for Patrick Vieira’s side when Morgan Gibbs-White scored but, despite having more than 30 minutes to respond, they ended the game with a non-penalty expected-goals total of just 0.33.

Even though they had less than a third of possession, it was Forest who conjured the majority of the chances. Meanwhile, Palace recorded a total of zero shots on target.

After entering the game with the opportunity to win three Premier League games for the first time since June 2020, Palace’s lack of consistency clearly frustrated Vieira when he spoke after the match and it was interesting to hear that he has already turned his mind to making signings in January.
Joe Shread

Chelsea lack identity under Potter

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Graham Potter is the first Chelsea manager to lose three consecutive Premier League games since Jose Mourinho in late 2015 – he incidentally lost his job the following month.

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That’s not to say Potter is under a similar amount of pressure, he’s not, but it’s hard to decipher exactly what a Chelsea team looks like under the former Brighton boss.

Forwards as wing-backs, central midfielders as makeshift wingers – it all feels a little desperate. “Potter doesn’t know his best team,” Sky Sports’ Paul Merson said this week.

Performances are disjointed, helped little by a series of injuries to key players, but the lack of Plan B is stifling productivity. When Joe Willock struck a sumptuous opener, with over 20 minutes remaining, you felt as if the outcome was inevitable. Will Newcastle end up replacing Chelsea in Champions League competition next season? It’s a distinct possibility.

If the England vacancy did happen to open up after the winter World Cup in Qatar – with many suggesting that will be Gareth Southgate’s final hurrah at a major tournament – it will be Eddie Howe’s name touted as the most likely successor, not Potter’s.
Laura Hunter

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