Premier League hits and misses: Spineless Everton need Dele Alli spark as Matt Doherty’s turnaround in form continues

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Has Dele earned his first Everton start?

Image: Dele Alli came on in the 69th minute

Frank Lampard waited another 14 minutes after Harry Kane had scored Tottenham’s fifth before he turned to Tottenham’s one-time favourite.

Dele Alli was the poster boy of the cherished team Mauricio Pochettino built, but the feeling is that professional life stifled his joy of playing. It is the only way of explaining how he has ended up at Everton.

He enjoyed a meteoric rise under Pochettino having arrived as a precocious 19-year-old in the summer of 2015 but he only scored nine times in Tottenham’s new stadium before his departure for an initial free transfer at the end of January.

That he failed to fulfil his rich talent in the white of Tottenham is a source of frustration and regret for the majority of those who filled the stands on Monday night, but he must show his hunger to prove he belongs at the highest level again.

  • Tottenham 5-0 Everton – Match report and highlights
  • How the teams lined up | Match stats

Tottenham’s running stats have shot up since Antonio Conte’s arrival but it is a curiosity that Alli didn’t therefore thrive under the Italian, given how he excelled in this category among his peers at MK Dons and notably under Pochettino, who recognised him as the fittest member of his squad.

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Jamie Carragher says Everton’s defence is at a Championship level and feels there is a frightening lack of athleticism in the group.

Lampard resisted calls for a first start but there were flashes of his craft in a cameo which eventually came 24 minutes into the second half. By then, the damage had been done long before. This is a poor Everton side he has landed in midway through a season.

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“We’ve seen a real uplift and unification at Goodison and we’ve now got two home games that will hopefully make things seem more positive,” Lampard said after this chastening loss, the heaviest of his managerial career.

“It’s a mentality issue if you concede two or three in the first half, irrespective of where you are in the league.

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Everton manager Frank Lampard is already looking forward to getting back out at Goodison Park in their next match against Wolves after suffering a 5-0 defeat at Tottenham.

“It’s a jolt and a shot to show us. We’ve got a lot of home games left so it’s important that I remain positive but we can’t shy away from what happened tonight.”

At times, Alli looked all alone on the pitch as he was instructed to play off Richarlison, chasing a lost cause.

The world wants to see Alli back playing with a smile on his face and having fun, but he has walked into a bad situation at Everton. Only once safety is secured will we see his old, infectious ways but he will expect to start soon judging by the spineless performance of those who failed at Tottenham.
Ben Grounds

Doherty’s unexpected turnaround in form

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Tottenham’s win over Everton in the Premier League

Harry Kane took the headlines and understandably so but it was not his partnership with Heung-Min Son that helped him to his two goals in the 5-0 thrashing of Everton but an unlikely Tottenham team-mate. Has Matt Doherty had a better game for Spurs?

The delicate pass for Kane’s first goal was delightful. The lofted ball that barely required the striker to break his stride was almost as good for the second. The burgeoning relationship with the impressive Dejan Kulusevski suddenly looks like an asset to Antonio Conte.

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Doherty has been much maligned since arriving from Wolves in August 2020 and given that the Republic of Ireland international is now 30 years old perhaps this renaissance has come too late to convince everyone that he represents the long-term solution on the right.

But Spurs supporters are warming to his work rate and that willingness to stick at it. Confidence is growing and, now operating in the role that persuaded the club to sign him in the first place, Doherty looks much improved. A feel-good story on a feel-good night for the club.
Adam Bate

Arteta’s warning for in-form Arsenal

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights of Arsenal’s win against Watford

Arsenal moved up to fourth with their 3-2 win over Watford at Vicarage Road and there seems little danger of complacency creeping in under Mikel Arteta.

The Arsenal manager cut a frustrated figure on the touchline for much of the encounter – even berating his players immediately after they had scored their second goal – and later used the opening section of his post-match press conference to chastise their defensive display.

  • Watford 2-3 Arsenal – Match report and highlights
  • How the teams lined up | Match stats

“We were really good going forward,” he said. “We had the right organisation and energy to do it and we scored three magnificent goals, but we didn’t have the same energy and commitment defensively,” he said. “That’s why we suffered.”

And suffer they did. All three of their goals were beautifully worked, featuring slick passing exchanges reminiscent of Arsenal’s best sides under Arsene Wenger, but at the other end their carelessness presented Watford with chances a better side would have taken.

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Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta says the 3-2 win over Watford in the Premier League shows his side have come a long way together, adding that they deserve their current league position.

Arsenal hung on the end, surviving five minutes of stoppage time after Moussa Sissoko had reduced their advantage late on, but Arteta’s eagerness to focus on the flaws in their performance shows he knows there is a long way to go in the race for a Champions League finish.

His exciting young Arsenal side have put their destiny firmly in their own hands with a run of eight wins from 10 Premier League games. But there are bigger tests ahead if they are to make it over the line and, at the back, at least, Arteta knows they will need to be stronger.
Nick Wright

‘De Bruyne is the perfect footballer’

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Manchester City’s win over Manchester United

“He is the perfect footballer,” said Jamie Redknapp about Kevin De Bruyne’s performance in the Manchester derby.

“He has the technique of Paul Scholes and the physicality of Steven Gerrard,” he added.

It is hard to argue with that. Remember, this is a player that managed to win back-to-back PFA Player of the Year awards. His peers think he’s the best in the Premier League and this showing only reaffirmed that.

  • Manchester City 4-1 Manchester United – Report and highlights

His talents shone brightly against Manchester United’s powderpuff midfield – a club that can only dream about having a player with the drive, determination and skill of a De Bruyne. Whilst Fred “was waiting for a bus” according to Roy Keane’s scathing assessment of his performance, Manchester City’s maestro was skipping around the pitch like a Ferrari.

There were two goals and an assist for the Belgian. And, a five further chances were created for his team-mates – no player created more. De Bruyne has now had a direct hand in 89 goals in 100 home Premier League appearances (37 goals, 52 assists) for Manchester City.

“He’s back to his best,” said Pep Guardiola.

“He struggled playing with pain at the start of the season but Kevin is back absolutely to his best. So strong. I’m delighted as he’s scoring goals. I have spoken to him about just being focused on assists but he has to score goals. I’ve told him you have to win games. He’s scoring a lot now and hopefully can continue to be fit.”
Lewis Jones

No case for the defence for Man Utd

Manchester United will have been lucky to get any change out of £180million for the expensively-assembled defence Ralf Rangnick fielded in the Manchester derby. After a chastening afternoon at the Etihad Stadium, United can only hope a returns policy was still active.

City were superb – any defence in world football would have struggled with their fabulously fluid attacking display, but perhaps not to the extent of this United back line.

Harry Maguire, the world’s most expensive defender, has had two-and-a-half-years to forge a partnership with Victor Lindelof, yet the pair looked as though they had never met each other, let alone played alongside each other, at times during City’s demolition.

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Roy Keane says the Manchester United players will apologise for their performance after defeat to rivals Manchester City but there is too much style in the squad over substance.

United’s full-back’s offered scant relief for what was a shambolic defensive display. If anything, their contributions only added to the misery. Caught napping, Alex Telles desperately tried to prevent Kevin de Bruyne slotting home the opener, but to no avail.

With a one-goal deficit to overturn in the second half, Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s nonchalant start, which featured countless dispossessions in the United area, invited even more pressure before the dams were catastrophically breached.

Not for the first time, United’s weathered defence wilted under the examination, and the most damning element of this most painful defeat was that City appeared to come off the field looking like they had plenty in reserve.

The gap, the chasm, to Manchester City stands at a sobering 22 points. And with no case for the defence, the foundations upon which that sizeable task is undertaken, looks as unstable as ever.
Jack Wilkinson

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 seven points clear of 18th-placed Burnley.

  • Newcastle 2-1 Brighton – Match report and highlights
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“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.

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

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
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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 a 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 smiled and hugged 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.

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During Norwich’s game with Brentford, an angry Brandon Williams soon turned into smiles after realising the opponent who hauled him to the ground was none other than Brentford’s new signing Christian Eriksen.

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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