Premier League hits and misses: Chelsea players keep focus to win at Norwich; Newcastle’s survival push continues

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Chelsea show maturity to block out the noise

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Chelsea’s win over Norwich

Chelsea’s second-half performance in the 3-1 win at Norwich, a side who can barely buy a point, let alone a win, did not make a good watch for Thomas Tuchel or the visiting support at Carrow Road on Thursday night.

But ignore it.

That Chelsea’s very future was called into question on the morning of the game, that two of their starting line-up – including their captain – may now not have their contracts extended whether they like it or not owing to Roman Abramovich’s sanctions, and that despite that furore they raced into a two-goal lead inside 15 minutes was mighty impressive against anyone, Premier League whipping boys or otherwise.

  • Norwich 1-3 Chelsea – Match report
  • How the teams lined up | Match stats

Anything with three points attached would have been good enough for Tuchel, although he may not have said it, given a fortnight ago he admitted the rumours around the club had put his side off their preparations for the Carabao Cup final.

If speculation was enough to distract them then, how much would the actual reality hurt? Not nearly as much as it could was the answer, and one which must have pleased him.

Whatever the reason for their second-half slump, be it mental fatigue or as their manager put it, “thinking we were a bit further ahead than we were” is debatable but with greater issues to worry about at Stamford Bridge, there seems little point.

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Tuchel said it was business as normal for the football side of Chelsea ahead of kick-off. Despite the noise, the rumours and the worries over their future, for the most part his players showed him at Carrow Road that he might just be right.
Ron Walker

Bamford’s back but Leeds’ goal struggles continue

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Aston Villa’s win over Leeds

It is now six straight Premier League defeats for Leeds. They have conceded 21 goals in those losses, highlighting the obvious defensive issues Jesse Marsch’s side have.

However, for all Leeds’ problems at the back, they struggled to create anything of note in the 3-0 home defeat against Aston Villa, and even in difficult runs before, a lack of opportunities is not something we have come to associate with Leeds in their last two seasons in the top flight.

They had just four shots against Aston Villa, their fewest in a home league match since September 2016, which was also four against Huddersfield.

“Leeds didn’t create much, especially in the first half,” Clinton Morrison said on Sky Sports News. “I thought they were poor in the opening 45 minutes. Then they brought on Joe Gelhardt and Patrick Bamford, and they looked more threatening at the start of the second half, but they only had half chances. They didn’t create any clear-cut chances.”

  • Leeds 0-3 Aston Villa – Match report and highlights
  • How the teams lined up | Match stats

A lack of solidity at the back and lack of goals up front. That is not a great recipe as Leeds look worryingly over their shoulder at the relegation zone. However, new boss Marsch has not got time to ponder the negatives as he looks to steer his side to safety with a huge game against relegation rivals Norwich coming up on Sunday.

Defeats to Leicester and Aston Villa, although damaging, will not define Leeds’ season. Defeat to Norwich is unthinkable.

“This weekend is massive,” Morrison added on Sky Sports News. “Leeds have got Norwich, Brentford have got Burnley and Everton have Wolves. They are three massive games.

“Leeds just have to take care of their own business and beat the teams in and around them, starting at Norwich. They have to go and get three points against Norwich if they want to stay in the Premier League.”
Oliver Yew

Wing-backs give Wolves different dimension

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Wolves’ win over Watford

Ruben Neves scored the goal of the night, while Raul Jimenez marked his return to the starting line-up after being benched for the last two games by slotting in the opener. But just as significant as the return of the Mexican was the inclusion of Rayan Ait-Nouri.

The young wing-back gives Wolves so much more thrust out wide and that was evident in the team’s 4-0 win over Watford at Molineux on Thursday evening. Fernando Marcal had deputised for the defeats against West Ham and Crystal Palace and it was an issue.

  • Wolves 4-0 Watford – Match report and highlights
  • How the teams lined up | Match stats

Wolves are reluctant to cross the ball into the box – Bruno Lage insists that is not their strength. So that puts an onus on the wing-backs to provide some penetration otherwise the team can appear too placid, constantly recycling the ball back into midfield.

Ait-Nouri changes that with his close control, driving runs and the ability to glide with the ball at his feet. With Jonny Otto making his first Premier League start of the season after recovering from long-term injury on the other flank, there was a new energy.

Lage had been critical of Ki-Jana Hoever’s preparation against Palace, a game in which he trudged off the field injured, while Marcal, more of a defender than a wing-back, has limitations going forward. Ait-Nouri and Jonny help Wolves to create again.
Adam Bate

Norwich refuse to go quietly despite Chelsea defeat

Image: Norwich City's Teemu Pukki celebrates scoring against Chelsea

For 45 minutes at Carrow Road you wondered if you were watching Norwich’s slow and painful slump back to the Championship nearing its destination. Outplayed, out-thought but most worryingly outfought, too, Dean Smith’s side were booed off after a limp opening half against Chelsea.

Being second best to the Champions League winners is no surprise. But Norwich lacked any kind of intensity, or tangible desire, the bare minimum against any opposition, outclassed or otherwise.

The Blues won seven corners in the first half, and could have scored from all of them. Far from being beaten by a better side, Norwich were routinely failing to do the basics.

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Whatever Dean Smith said at half-time, there was only one team in it for long periods of the second half. Norwich changed shape and added the effective running and direct pace of Milot Rashica, but more importantly they were quick into the challenge, defended as a unit and attacked with purpose.

On another day, they might have rescued a point against Tuchel’s side. That may prove scant consolation with a five-point gap to safety and time fast running out, but fear not. With Leeds, on a run of six straight defeats themselves, next up and confidence raised by that credible second-half performance against Chelsea, there is an opportunity to build against a genuine relegation rival this weekend.

Another performance like the opening half against Chelsea, however, and the Canaries may as well start planning their trips to Preston and Swansea next season.
Ron Walker

Belief key for bruised Watford ahead of pivotal home games

Image: Watford failed to record a shot on target at Wolves

“Our confidence isn’t high,” accepted Watford boss Roy Hodgson after his side’s poor 4-0 defeat at Wolves.

A decent start quickly fell away when Raul Jimenez scored the opener from close range and a Cucho Hernandez own goal and bad mistake from Ben Foster gave the home side a virtually unassailable lead with just 21 minutes on the clock.

Watford showed some more intensity in the second half but still failed to register a single shot on target, with Ruben Neves’ brilliant lob underlining the difference between the two teams on the night. You couldn’t begrudge the large number of travelling fans, who felt they’d seen enough long before the final whistle, heading home early.

It was a deflating night and the result leaves Watford with a huge task on their hands if they are to stay in the Premier League. They have now played three games more than fourth-bottom Everton, who remain three points above them.

But there is still hope.

Free-falling Leeds are only four points ahead on the same number of games, while most importantly Watford have fixtures against the sides immediately above them still to come at Vicarage Road.

Those home games against Everton, Leeds, Brentford and Burnley will go a long way to deciding Watford’s fate. It’s not over yet – and the players have to believe that. In these crunch final weeks, attitude will be key.

“Defeats hurt and defeats leave scars,” added Hodgson. That was plain to see after Wolves opened the floodgates in the first half at Molineux. The Watford players will have to show more resolve away to Southampton on Sunday if they are to kickstart this survival bid.
Peter Smith

Classy Guimaraes gives Newcastle another dimension

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Newcastle’s win over Southampton

There is a new star on Tyneside. His name is Bruno Guimaraes.

On his first start for Newcastle since arriving from Lyon for £40m in January, the Brazilian impressed during his side’s 2-1 win over Southampton and capped a classy performance with an exquisite second-half goal, which proved to be the winner at St Mary’s.

Replacing Joelinton in Eddie Howe’s starting XI, the 24-year-old proved exactly why Newcastle made him their most expensive signing so far under new ownership and on this showing, he could soon become their main man.

  • Southampton 1-2 Newcastle – Match report & highlights
  • How the teams lined up | Match stats

He looked fearless from the start against a Southampton side who previously had not lost at home in the Premier League for 10 matches and, although Newcastle were already on an eight-game unbeaten run before this game, his flair and creativity gave them a different dimension.

“It was a brilliant finish from a player who has got outstanding attributes and I was really pleased for him,” said Newcastle head coach Eddie Howe.

Striker Chris Wood added: “Bruno with a bit of Brazilian flair to bring into the team! It’s unbelievable for him. His first start for the club and he’s already a fan favourite which is fantastic to see because he’s got a lot to give us.”

Guimaraes was serenaded by the away fans throughout and received a standing ovation when he was brought off on 66 minutes. If this performance is anything to go by, Newcastle have found themselves a new hero.
Dan Sansom

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