Premier League hits and misses: Newcastle win again and there’s reasons to believe for Jesse Marsch’s Leeds despite defeat

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Howe working his magic on Tyneside

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Highlights from Newcastle’s win over Brighton

“Surely Newcastle are safe now,” said Jeff Stelling on Soccer Saturday after Eddie Howe’s side earned a hard-fought 2-1 win over Brighton.

It is hard to disagree. No side is on a longer current unbeaten run in the Premier League than Newcastle, who are now without defeat in eight games and have opened up a seven-point lead on 18th-placed Burnley.

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

“I still think we’re in a relegation battle and it’s very important the players feel that because we can’t let up, we can’t stop. It’s lifted us in terms of the points, but we haven’t achieved anything,” Howe said afterwards. Deep down, he will surely be confident of guiding his team to safety.

On January 15, Newcastle were 19th on 12 points. They are now 14th on 28 and behind only Liverpool in the Premier League form table. St James’ Park is beginning to feel like a fortress.

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Some shrewd January signings, coupled with a real work ethic under the former Bournemouth boss, has the club dreaming again.

Newcastle’s new owners will hope this brilliant run of form is just the start of an upward trajectory.
Dan Sansom

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Liverpool’s grit underlines why it might be their year

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Liverpool’s win over West Ham in the Premier League.

Liverpool have played much better than they did in their 1-0 win over West Ham, including in games they have failed to win.

On paper, it was an underwhelming performance and afternoon for the Reds, but Jurgen Klopp didn’t label it that way. He called it a “special win” and when you think about it, he’s got a point.

The question levelled at any team hoping to challenge Manchester City for the Premier League title is a simple one – could they, as City could, win the 10, 12, maybe 15 games in a row necessary to topple Pep Guardiola’s side off their perch?

The fact Liverpool got the job done, in spite of their performance rather than because of it, should help to make their claim. It was their 12th win in a row, in all competitions, in a run where they have now kept eight clean sheets – including Saturday’s victory.

  • Liverpool 1-0 West Ham – Match report
  • How the teams lined up | Match stats

“You cannot win the amount of games we have won in the last few weeks without stress and luck from time to time,” was Klopp’s exact assessment.

Manchester City will certainly know that; when they edged Liverpool to the title in 2018/19 by a solitary point, three 1-0 victories from their final five games, including that famous night against Leicester City when Vincent Kompany struck a memorable winner, got them over the line.

The situation is not quite the same here, but Liverpool are doing as much as they can. And given they are only likely to get better, rather than worse, it would take a brave soul to pick between the two title contenders at least before they meet at the Etihad next month.
Ron Walker

James back to bolster Chelsea

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

“We’ve missed him for such a long time that we got used to it.”

Such was the length of Reece James’ spell on the sidelines, and the glut of games Chelsea have had to navigate in his absence, that Thomas Tuchel seemed to have forgotten just how influential Reece James is.

After James’ performance at Burnley, it wasn’t lost on the Chelsea head coach – and neither should it be to the Blues’ Champions League-chasing rivals.

Chelsea were second best throughout the first half of Saturday’s trip to Turf Moor, with Tuchel revealing he needed to repeat his pre-match instructions to his players during the break. His rallying call worked, and an emphatic victory was sparked by James,

On what was his first Premier League appearance since his return from the hamstring injury which had ruled him out since December 29, the England international showed Chelsea exactly what they have been missing.

His superb weaving run and rasping finish opened the Burnley floodgates, and he then teed up Kai Havertz for the German’s second of the afternoon as his eagerly-anticipated return to Premier League action saw him register his fifth goal and sixth assist of the campaign.

“Once he is back you see what you miss,” Tuchel added. “These positions are very important positions if you play with this structure. It puts things into perspective when you see what we missed.”

With such an important cog of Tuchel’s machine back – and seemingly better than ever – a campaign which has already delivered world domination may not be over yet for Chelsea.
Jack Wilkinson

  • Burnley 0-4 Chelsea – Match report and highlights
  • Chelsea fans chant ‘Abramovich’ during Ukraine tribute
  • How the teams lined up | Match stats

Worrying outlook for Burnley

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Burnley manager Sean Dyche says after Crystal Palace’s first goal the team lost their shape.

It was a case of what might have been, and a case of what might unfortunately be to come for Burnley.

Miss chances of the quality they missed in a first half they dominated against European and world champions Chelsea, and defend as poorly as they did in the second half, and their Premier League status could well expire come the end of the season.

The Clarets were, in the words of boss Sean Dyche, “excellent” in the first period. Every player in claret and blue stuck to their assignment and an off-colour Chelsea were there for the taking.

The only thing missing was a goal, but when Dwight McNeil was presented with the opportunity to deliver just that after Edouard Mendy flapped at a cross, the chance was squandered.

Burnley let Chelsea off the hook, and the visitors ruthlessly made them pay the price. The opportunity to climb above Everton and out of the bottom three was not seized and the Clarets’ goal difference – dented by four unanswered second-half goals – is now worse than the Toffees’.

The hope for Burnley is that they clearly have a performance within them. Their three-game unbeaten run before Tuesday’s defeat to Leicester – and their first-half display against Chelsea – proved that.

Dyche’s challenge now is to consistently deliver that form, for if Burnley are to continue in the same vein as this latest outing, their top-flight days almost certainly look numbered.
Jack Wilkinson

Debut defeat but Marsch has reasons to believe at Leeds

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Leicester’s win over Leeds

Jesse Marsch was positivity personified after Leeds’ defeat at Leicester. While another loss ramps up the intensity in their battle against relegation, the performance on the pitch provided more than enough signs that this Leeds team have the potential to pull away from danger before the season’s finale.

Marsch called the display a “big step forward” on what had come before and throughout the contest they were the more threatening side. After a first clean sheet in the opening 45 minutes of an away game since October, they’d recorded eight second-half efforts at goal before Harvey Barnes struck decisively against the run of play for the Foxes. There had been impressive saves from Kasper Schmeichel and missed moments from the visitors.

  • Leicester 0-1 Leeds – Match report and highlights
  • How the teams lined up | Match stats

With Leeds playing a 4-2-2-2 formation and often switching to a front four – in and out of possession – it was clear Marsch has been busy during his four days of training ground time. Those patterns of play and ideas will become even more effectively executed over the coming weeks.

While the sight of the fast four forwards Dan James, Raphinha, Jack Harrison and Rodrigo running at the Leicester backline was a worrying one for Leicester’s defenders, there is also the prospect of Patrick Bamford returning to fitness. The fit-again striker didn’t make it off the bench at the King Power but it is tempting to suggest this game could have gone the other way if Leeds had a finisher of his ability on the field.

A post-match huddle in the centre circle saw Marsch issue a very public backing for the efforts of his team in defeat on Saturday. Platitudes without points at this stage of the season don’t count for much – but with some favourable fixtures coming up, Leeds’ supporters can take encouragement from the start to the post-Bielsa era.
Peter Smith

Will Villa be able to keep revitalised Coutinho?

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

Aston Villa’s twinkle-toed Brazilian loan signing Philippe Coutinho was at it again on Saturday in helping to dismantle an in-form Southampton side 4-0 at home, with the playmaker having a hand in three of his side’s goals, including another for the man himself.

  • Aston Villa 4-0 Southampton – Match report and highlights
  • How the teams lined up | Match stats

His manager and former Liverpool team-mate Steven Gerrard was rightly purring at the full-time whistle, stating that “with all due respect to everyone else on the pitch, he [Coutinho] showed a level that was above the game. He really showed his form of old and it was a pleasure to be in the stadium.”

And with good reason too as the 29-year-old has now been directly involved in six goals in only four top-flight appearances for his new team at Villa Park, with three goals and three assists, attacking numbers that will surely make the rest of the Premier League sit up and take notice.
Richard Morgan

Magical Eriksen shines on first Brentford start

It was like Christian Eriksen had never been away.

On his first Brentford start, and his first start since suffering cardiac arrest playing for Denmark against Finland at Euro 2020 nearly nine months ago, the midfielder produced a sublime display at Norwich that reminded us all of his genius.

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Highlights from Brentford’s win at Norwich

But if sentiment and emotion was clouding any judgement, then the statistics confirmed his remarkable performance.

He had the most touches (68), the most passes (46), the most passes in the final third (17) and the most crosses (9) of any Brentford player at Carrow Road.

  • Norwich 1-3 Brentford – Match report and highlights
  • How the teams lined up | Match stats

He had a key involvement too in Brentford’s first two goals with his corners contributing to both.

And any doubts about his fitness were put firmly to bed, as he played the full match – including eight minutes of added time at the end of the game.

He also showed his willingness to get stuck in as he picked up a yellow card for a cynical foul on Brandon Williams. His rugby-style tackle even sparked an amazing moment as the Norwich defender went to lose his temper, only to realise it was Eriksen and so smiling and hugging his opponent instead.

It really was a joy to see Eriksen back doing what he does best: creating for others, floating into space and pressing the opposition.

And the best thing for Brentford is that he is only just getting started.

“I think he was good, but I think he will be even better than this,” Bees boss Thomas Frank said after the win. “If you ask him, I am pretty sure he will say he can be even better.”

If the 30-year-old does indeed improve then in the short term he will have Brentford looking up the table rather than down, and will become the club’s “greatest ever signing”, as Frank suggested last month.

Image: Christian Eriksen impressed on his full debut for Brentford at Norwich

But in the long term, Brentford will prove to be a stepping stone for Eriksen, who will have his sights set on a return to one of Europe’s elite clubs in the summer.

For now though, it is time to appreciate his astonishing comeback, which is a much-needed feel-good story.
Declan Olley

Palace are perfect but Wolves in a rut

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Highlights from Crystal Palace’s win over Wolves

As away performances go, Crystal Palace’s display at Wolves was perfect. Within 10 minutes of kick-off, Molineux had been quietened by the visitors’ confident start. They pushed high up the pitch, moving the ball with a purpose and when they did lose possession they immediately pressed to win it back. Wolves did not have any answers.

Now 10th, Palace need not to be looking over their shoulder at what’s behind them – if they even were anyway. Patrick Vieira’s side are regularly picking up points, having avoided defeat in five of their last six Premier League matches, and his spoke afterwards about the importance of keeping their momentum.

  • Wolves 0-2 Crystal Palace – Match report and highlights
  • How the teams lined up | Match stats

Palace have a very winnable FA Cup quarter-final tie against Everton coming up this month and should focus on ending this season on a high in the league in preparation for next season. Their first-half performance at Wolves should set a benchmark for what they can achieve.

While Palace’s season is on a high, Wolves’ appears to be on the downturn with three consecutive defeats dampening their hopes of a top-four finish. Their lack of goals – just 10 at home in the league – was always going to catch up with them, but the decision to leave Raul Jimenez on the bench in their last two matches seems strange.

Palace’s centre-backs Joachim Andersen and Marc Guehi had an easy afternoon as the hosts missed having a focal point up front. But frustrated boss Bruno Lage appears to have bigger problems after accusing his younger players of not working hard enough following an injury to Ki-Jana Hoever in the first-half against Palace.

Wolves’ season is beginning to unravel.
David Richardson

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