PL hits and misses: Erik ten Hag gets Marcus Rashford call right; David Moyes under pressure at West Ham

Ten Hag gets Rashford call right

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Manchester United’s win against Wolves in the Premier League

Manchester United boss Erik ten Hag has placed great importance on his ‘rules’ but for all the drama surrounding Cristiano Ronaldo, the biggest test of them might have been provided by Marcus Rashford. It could not have gone better for the Dutchman.

Rashford, in form after scoring in his previous two games following his return from Qatar, overslept and missed a team meeting. But Ten Hag’s maintained his authority by dropping the player for the trip to Wolves – then bringing Rashford on to win the game.

  • Wolves 0-1 Man Utd – Match report and highlights
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The result is that everyone at United is clear that discipline is non-negotiable, Rashford’s scoring run continues and Ten Hag’s team are into the top four for the first time this season. This looks to be a club on the right path for the first time in a long time.

“We have taken a good step,” said Ten Hag. “But there is a long way to go. We have to win every game to get into a position where you can win something. That is what we are aiming for. It demands hard work from everyone.” Under him, you sense it will happen.
Adam Bate

Arsenal purring – and can hit you from all angles

One of the clues to knowing when an elite team is in front of your eyes is how they can hurt the opposition from all angles. Rarely can an all-conquering team rely on just one area of attack. Arsenal can hit you from the left, from the right and through the middle. Brighton felt the force of that as the Gunners stretched seven points clear.

Gabriel Martinelli, Martin Odegaard, Bukayo Saka and Eddie Nketiah all found the net as Arsenal’s ability to spread the goals around is proving a huge strength in their unexpected push for the Premier League title.

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  • Brighton 2-4 Arsenal – Match report & highlights
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They now have four players who have scored five or more Premier League goals this season – Martinelli, Odegaard, Saka and Gabriel Jesus. No other team can lay claim to that.

And Nketiah will be joining that party before long if he continues his strike rate that has seen him score in both his starts since the injury to Jesus. There is an argument to be made that Jesus may have not scored the one Nketiah got at the Amex Stadium such was the poacher-like instincts shown by the Arsenal youngster – that’s his speciality. Arsenal are doing just fine without the Brazilian as there is no overreliance on a certain individual. It could take them all the way.
Lewis Jones

Wolves really need Cunha to fire

Image: Marcus Rashford gives Man Utd the lead

Matheus Cunha, Wolves’ new signing, was watching the defeat to Manchester United from the stands and will be eligible for their next game against Aston Villa. His new team desperately need the Brazilian forward to make the difference in front of goal.

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Wolves competed for much of the game against United, continuing their promising start under new head coach Julen Lopetegui. But the failure to score means that they remain the lowest scorers in the Premier League. Diego Costa has no goals in seven starts.

The veteran worked hard enough. Raul Jimenez came on and was close to finding the equaliser. Cunha does not have the pedigree of those two but at 23 he is considerably younger and much more mobile. Wolves are banking on him transforming their attack.
Adam Bate

Gray reignites Lampard’s Everton adventure

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Manchester City’s draw against Everton in the Premier League.

It was still someway short of the witching hour on New Year’s Eve when Demarai Gray spooked Ederson to breathe life into Everton. “Sometimes, football pays you back in different ways,” said Frank Lampard after watching his side absorb the Alamo at Manchester City to earn a precious point.

The past two performances have been Everton’s year in microcosm: A home defeat to Wolves where missed chances led to the inevitable sucker-punch and subsequent supporter unrest. But the roles being reversed at the Etihad.

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Fans will be happy to wave goodbye to 2022, but they will tell you Everton have a wonderous way of sucking you back in when you least expect it.

Against the defending champions, there was evidence of team unity in abundance being led by a manager ready to continue the fight in the New Year.

With Conor Coady back available and Ben Godfrey now injury-free alongside the excellent James Tarkowski, Everton have their solid foundation reassembled. Should Jordan Pickford commit his future to the club, it would mark the perfect start to 2023.

Gray’s goal was reminiscent of one he scored just over a year ago against Arsenal, but time has shown he cannot be relied upon to pull rabbits out of the hat on a regular basis.

The return of Ellis Simms from his Sunderland loan spell indicates there may not be too many funds available in the January window, but Lampard must build on this result to show he can be creative in getting the best out of those at his disposal.
Ben Grounds

Haaland ends 2022 with another record but hollow feeling

Image: Haaland celebrates his 21st Premier League strike

Everything appeared to be going as expected. It took just 24 minutes for Erling Haaland to do what Erling Haaland does, finding the net with a first-time finish – the third of just 18 touches from the Norwegian all game.

Despite this year’s World Cup break, Haaland’s 21st goal meant he had scored the most by a player before the turn of the year in a single Premier League season. Only Harry Kane (26) has scored more this calendar year despite his August arrival. But the floodgates wouldn’t open.

Instead, City drifted and Everton got underneath Haaland’s skin. A robust challenge from Ben Godfrey inside the first minute had left him without a shoe and pricked him into action.

Towards the end of the first half, a foul on Haaland yielded a free-kick in a dangerous area and he reacted to the decision by punching the air in celebration, much to the delight of City fans, who chanted his name. Moments later it seemed his enthusiasm had perhaps got the better of him as a rash tackle on Vitalii Mykolenko landed him a booking.

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Pep Guardiola was pleased with Manchester City’s performance despite their disappointing 1-1 draw against Everton.

Haaland was less to the fore in the second half and City’s efforts to reclaim the lead proved in vain and the game ended in frustration for Pep Guardiola’s men.

“We played really good in the last three games and it makes me feel optimistic,” said Guardiola. “Dropping points at home is always tough but I’m always trying to make our game good and we have continued to do it.

“I would say they had eight in the back. In that situation, it’s movement and attacking at the right moment. In general we did it. We didn’t allow them transitions. They made a fantastic goal and when that happens you say congratulations but in general we did really well.”
Ben Grounds

Newcastle end new era with reminder of progress

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Newcastle’s draw against Leeds in the Premier League.

“The away team coming here, it’s a sign of how far we’ve come that they were time-wasting and taking seconds out of the game.”

Eddie Howe’s reflection on Newcastle’s memorable year was a reminder of the progress they’ve made.

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Newcastle have won 78 points from 44 games under Howe – they were 19th in Premier League with no win in 11 when he took over. They should have made it to the 80-point mark against Leeds but were frustrated by a mix of poor finishing and fine goalkeeping from Illan Meslier.

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Newcastle boss Eddie Howe cut a frustrated figure after a goalless draw with Leeds admitting his team needed to ‘do better’ and not get drawn into time-wasting.

It was a rare occasion this year when their supporters left St James’ Park unhappy. Newcastle won 41 points at home in 2022 (P18 W12 D5 L1), with only Liverpool (48) and Man City (44) winning more in the Premier League points on their own patch.

The expectation for those long-suffering fans now is to win. They will enter the new year with what feels like a new club.

Jones’ Saints are alive, but only just

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Fulham’s win against Southampton in the Premier League.

This already felt like a big match for new Southampton manager Nathan Jones who despite having been at the helm at St Mary’s since November 10, was taking charge of just his third Premier League at Fulham on Saturday after replacing Ralph Hasenhuttl on the south coast.

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Jones lost his first two matches by the same 3-1 scoreline, at Liverpool just before the World Cup and then at home to rivals Brighton and Hove Albion on Boxing Day, meaning he was really hoping for a case of third time lucky at formidable Craven Cottage.

However, despite impressing for large spells of the clash in the capital in their best display so far under the Welshman, the Saints still fell to their third defeat in a row under their new boss and this one, coming so late on in a game that could have gone either way at the end, will have stung.

In fact, Jones described Joao Palhinha’s 88th-minute winner as “devastating”, especially given how well his players had done to level matters in the second half, but that all counted for nothing come the full-time whistle.

And now the former Luton Town boss must somehow try and get his team up for a massive relegation six-pointer at home to fellow strugglers Nottingham Forest on Wednesday night in a clash the Saints, still rock bottom, a point behind their opponents in midweek, simply must win if they are to avoid getting cast adrift.
Richard Morgan

Leeds must build (again) on defensive display

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Leeds head coach Jesse Marsch says his side weathered the storm for a good point against Newcastle.

Perhaps it was the New Year’s Eve excitement or the fact few people gave them a chance of taking a point from St James’ Park, but Leeds’ defensive display at Newcastle on Saturday was outstanding.

The Magpies were on a six-match winning run with second place in their sights, but were unable to move past a stubborn and resolute Leeds – something that has not always been their calling card. They have conceded the fifth-highest number of goals in the Premier League this season and have been known for their high-scoring encounters – at both ends – since their return to England’s top flight.

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Some of Saturday’s clean sheet – their first since another goalless draw against Aston Villa at the start of October – was down to Newcastle’s poor finishing. However, take nothing away from Leeds’ performance, they also played their part.

Credit too has to go to goalkeeper Illan Meslier – it’s continuously baffling how he is only 22. He made five saves, made the most passes of his team (39) and had the third highest number of touches (56). You do wonder where Leeds could be without him in between the sticks.

Without wanting to sound like a broken record, Leeds must now find the key behind such a defensive display and harness it going forward. In a word, they must build on such an impressive point at one of the toughest Premier League grounds.

After every good performance though, it feels like the same sentiment is churned out – but it does not make it any more pertinent. Consistency is the lifeblood of any successful Premier League team.

They sit just three points above the relegation places and need to carry that grit and determination – something Leeds are renowned for – into 2023.
Charlotte Marsh

Faes feeling the effects of the World Cup?

Wout Faes had been at the heart of Leicester’s transformation since the September international break. The Belgian had brought real quality, leadership and stability to the Foxes’ backline and they’d conceded just three times in eight Premier League games in October and November with their summer signing in the side. It was form that earned him a call-up to the Belgium World Cup squad.

However, Faes didn’t get a minute of game time during his country’s struggles in Qatar and on his return, which has seen Leicester ship three goals to Newcastle and then lose at Liverpool through his two own goals, boss Brendan Rodgers has suggested the experience in the Middle East may have had an impact.

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Liverpool’s win against Leicester in the Premier League

  • Liverpool 2-1 Leicester – Match report and highlights
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There has been plenty of focus on the fatigue players will have built up by playing in the World Cup but the disruption to a player’s rhythm and focus can’t be dismissed, either. Rodgers is confident Faes will soon rediscover his fine form from earlier in this campaign but his damaging night at Anfield will live long in the memory.

The New Year offers a chance to put a frustrating finish to 2022 behind him. After Friday, he’ll be keen to wipe the slate clean.
Peter Smith

Liverpool sign off with a win – and optimism for 2023

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Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp says his side were not at their best in their 2-1 victory over Leicester

Liverpool ended 2021 with a 1-0 defeat to Leicester. Twelve months on, Jurgen Klopp was willing to overlook an underwhelming performance and focus on taking the three points from the same opponents to round off 2022.

There’s no denying, this is a Liverpool side shifting from one phase to the next and the first part of this campaign has had the hallmarks of that – big wins but also painful defeats; flashes of the quality which saw Liverpool challenge on four fronts at the end of last season, but also a vulnerability stemming from a midfield in transition behind an evolving attack.

Yet there is plenty to be encouraged about heading into the New Year. New signing Cody Gakpo watched on from the stands on Friday and looks set to be an excellent addition to the attack. It will be intriguing to see how he slots in alongside Mohamed Salah and Darwin Nunez – or “Captain Chaos” as Jamie Carragher calls him. It’s a thrilling front three.

Then there is the array of young talent bursting through the ranks, including Stefan Bajcetic, who scored on Boxing Day, to Harvey Elliott who showed his quality in the middle of the park against Leicester.

It may all take a while to click into place but if Liverpool can keep on picking up the points as they did against Leicester here, then they could be well primed in the New Year to turn this into another successful season.
Peter Smith

Brentford end profitable 2022 on a high

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Brentford’s win against West Ham in the Premier League

There was only one place to start Thomas Frank’s post-match press conference. Ivan Toney had appeared like the man who could not be moved after his starring role in Brentford’s third straight win over West Ham. But the sight of him on a stretcher in second-half stoppage time with a knee injury carried with it a sour note.

“Hopefully it’s good,” said Frank. “I don’t exactly know how he will be for the Liverpool game in three days’ time. It’s unlikely that he would come off unless it is something. It could be a little worse. It’s never a good sign but we don’t know enough yet.”

Possible disciplinary action for allegedly breaching betting rules hangs over the club’s talisman, but Toney looked in rude health in both scoring his 13th goal of the campaign and assisting another during this routine away victory. Brentford may be about to learn how to cope without him sooner than anticipated.

  • West Ham 0-2 Brentford – Match report and highlights
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Image: Ivan Toney was the standout with a goal and assist

The 26-year-old has until January 4 to respond to a Football Association charge relating to 262 alleged breaches, yet at the London Stadium he showed no sign of being under pressure after scoring his 20th Premier League goal of a profitable 2022.

Brentford are ninth in the table, and while the New Year could provide Frank with an early conundrum, you wouldn’t back against him solving it in style.

The Bees are unbeaten in five league matches, their longest run of games without defeat in the top-flight since March 1939.

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Brentford manager Thomas Frank says it was ‘almost the perfect away performance’. He also said it’s ‘impossible’ to know how long Toney could be sidelined after he was stretchered off with a knee injury

“In terms of the position in the table, I try not to focus on that,” Frank said. “We need to have laser-focus to try to beat Liverpool. I’ll have a glass of wine tonight and look and think, ‘it’s not bad’, but we cannot celebrate longer than 24 hours and cannot get complacent.

“To everyone involved in the club, it’s been a fantastic 2022. We started it by beating Aston Villa and end it by beating West Ham. Two massive clubs who at this moment in time we’re above in the table. We should enjoy the moment and try to fly against Liverpool again.”

David Moyes may have to accept his side are in a relegation battle, but there are no such concerns for Brentford. Substitute Michail Antonio took an air shot and fell over, which rather summed up a disastrously bad night for West Ham but Brentford have hit all the high notes in a memorable 2022.
Ben Grounds

Moyes’ defiance can’t mask West Ham deficiency

Image: West Ham have failed to score in eight of their 17 league matches this season

David Moyes insisted West Ham played well against Brentford despite a fifth defeat in a row and a third at home.

They didn’t.

The Hammers did start well, Declan Rice hitting the post early on and Craig Dawson nodding a decent chance wide from a corner.

But Toney’s sucker-punch opener from a throw-in they defended poorly burst their balloon with well over an hour to play and from there, they ran out of ideas.

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Moyes said: “We played well with the ball tonight, but couldn’t make a good enough cross, finish – we get a penalty which was a couple of inches outside the box, Dec hits the post, Daws misses.”

West Ham did dominate possession, seeing more than 60 per cent of the ball in both halves, but after their early opportunities created very little.

Brentford came with a game plan to sit back and give the Hammers the ball, knowing there was a good chance they wouldn’t know what to do with it.

The most disappointing aspect about West Ham’s blunt attack was the players involved – Lucas Paqueta, Said Benrahma, Jarrod Bowen, Gianluca Scamacca.

The quartet cost the club a combined total of more than £110m, comfortably more than Brentford’s entire starting line-up.

Why they could not muster up the creativity between them for more than a couple of chances is a question Moyes may have to answer to David Sullivan and David Gold in the near future.

Scoring goals has been a problem for West Ham all season, and this was as toothless as any performance. And if performances don’t change soon, the manager might.
Ron Walker

Busy January ahead for Foley

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights of Crystal Palace’s win over Bournemouth in the Premier League

New Bournemouth owner Bill Foley has vowed “there’s no budget” when it comes to the January transfer window – and it’s quite clear the Cherries need reinforcements.

Chelsea exposed Bournemouth’s weaknesses on Tuesday but a home loss to Crystal Palace on New Year’s Eve is what will concern the Las Vegas-based billionaire most.

As the 78-year-old watched in person at the Vitality Stadium, the lack of quality in Gary O’Neil’s side was highlighted yet again. Palace had 10 shots in the first half. Bournemouth had one.

  • Bournemouth 0-2 Crystal Palace – Match report and highlights
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Defeat at Chelsea is excusable, but Bournemouth must start picking up results against the teams in the bottom half of the table if they are to avoid being dragged into a relegation scrap. They are now just three points above the drop zone after a run of six defeats in seven Premier League games.

Foley’s aim to add “four to five more players” to O’Neil’s squad desperately needs to come to fruition if Bournemouth are to remain in the top flight. The American has now seen for himself just how much work is required. Expect it to be a busy few weeks on the south coast.
Dan Sansom

Image: New Bournemouth owner Bill Foley watched in person at the Vitality Stadium on New Year's Eve

Olise stars as Palace recover from blip

What a difference five days makes. From a damaging 3-0 defeat at home by Fulham on Boxing Day to a convincing 2-0 win over Bournemouth on New Year’s Eve, Crystal Palace head into 2023 three points behind seventh-placed Fulham and with plenty of optimism for the future.

A lot of that optimism is generated by the huge potential of 21-year-old Michael Olise, who inspired Palace to victory against Bournemouth with a man-of-the-match display.

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The France youth international produced a performance beyond his years. His maturity in possession and decisiveness in the final third stood out on the south coast, while his excellence from corners was crucial in earning Palace all three points. He is now the youngest Palace player in Premier League history to provide at least two assists in a single game.

Olise has only shown glimpses of his quality since his move from Reading in the summer of 2021, but there is no doubt he has the capability to perform at a consistently high level in the Premier League. Under the guidance of fellow Frenchman Patrick Vieira, that should now be a realistic target.
Dan Sansom

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