Premier League hits and misses: Subs strike again for Manchester United while it is same old story for Leeds

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Subs strike again for Man Utd

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Manchester United’s win against Leeds United.

It was not long ago that we were talking about another Manchester United crisis following their FA Cup exit and draws with Burnley and Southampton in the Premier League.

However, two wins later and things are looking up again for Ralf Rangnick and his side as they held off a spirited Leeds fightback to strengthen their grip on fourth place in the Premier League.

  • Match report and highlights – Leeds 2-4 Man Utd
  • How the teams line up | Match stats

It did look a little precarious for United at Elland Road after Leeds’ quick-fire double at the start of the second half had brought the scores level.

But in tricky conditions, United’s quality shone through, and it took an extremely bold decision from Rangnick to help swing the game in their favour.

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Ralf Rangnick admits Manchester United’s reaction after conceding two quick goals in the second half against Leeds to go on and win the game was what pleased him most

Paul Pogba had been one of United’s better players, but he was replaced by Fred, and Sky Sports’ Gary Neville, who was co-commentating on the game, was left surprised at the decision to take the Frenchman off. However, the move paid dividends for United as Fred scored after just three minutes of being on the field before Anthony Elanga, who came on alongside Fred to replace Jesse Lingard, added United’s fourth to seal all three points.

United have now scored 10 Premier League goals via substitutes this season, which is at least four more than any other side, and it was another feather in the cap of Rangnick, who has not been afraid to make bold substitutions in his short time at Old Trafford. Just ask Cristiano Ronaldo.

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However, the move sealed what could be a crucial victory for United after seeing Tottenham and Arsenal pick up victories on Saturday.

The focus now turns to a Champions League tie against Atletico Madrid in midweek safe in the knowledge they have a four-point cushion to West Ham in fifth, despite the games in hand of Spurs and Arsenal.
Oliver Yew

Under-the-radar Wolves win again

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Wolves’ win over Leicester in the Premier League.

Perhaps it is because they go about their business in a quiet manner, winning games comfortably but not by huge margins and conceding so infrequently that they have the joint-second best defensive record in the Premier League.

But Wolves have gone under the radar and firmly established themselves as genuine top-four contenders over the past three months or so, boosting their hopes with Sunday’s 2-1 victory over Leicester at Molineux, their fifth win in six games.

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

This one was not particularly straightforward, with Brendan Rodgers’ Foxes dominating for large spells after equalising through Ademola Lookman shortly before the break – just the second goal Wolves have conceded from open play in 13 league outings.

But with only the two real chances of note, the hosts found the back of the net to move to into seventh on 40 points.

Ruben Neves found the back of the net with a sweet strike from 20 yards just nine minutes in, while Daniel Podence’s first league goal since December 2020 – ending a barren run of 29 games – proved to be the winner. They are now only just behind fourth-placed Manchester United with the added bonus of up to two games in hand over many of the teams around them.

Inspired by the reward of three points but not the performance, head coach Bruno Lage is, understandably, hungry to build upon the success he has brought since replacing Nuno Espirito Santo at the helm. Having now matched last season’s win total of 12 with 14 games to play, his side are clearly onto something good.
Dan Long

Same old story for Leeds

Image: Leeds conceded four or more goals for the fourth time this season

It was the same old story for Leeds against a team towards the top end of the Premier League. They lost.

They do a lot of losing against such teams. This latest defeat to Manchester United means they have lost seven of their eight games against teams in the top six this season, conceding 32 goals in those fixtures.

If you stretch that record to teams in the top half then Leeds only have one win from 11 Premier League games.

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Marcelo Bielsa admits he is worried by the number of goals that Leeds are conceding, after a 4-2 defeat to Man Utd meant the Yorkshire club have now conceded 50 goals in the league

What is to blame then? Of course, injuries to key players in the spine of their team – Kalvin Phillips, Patrick Bamford and Liam Cooper, are all automatic starters for Marcelo Bielsa – is a factor.

Perhaps they could be a bit more savvy in the way they set up against players with superior players but it seems Bielsa would rather retire than change his style of football. And good luck to him. Leeds remain the most entertaining team in town.

However, it’s now just five points between them and the drop zone. A nervy end to the season awaits Bielsa’s boys.
Lewis Jones

Leeds' defensive woes: The damning stats…

This was the fourth time Leeds have conceded 4+ goals in a Premier League game this season – no side has done so more often so far this term (also Newcastle and Norwich City).

Leeds have conceded 12 goals from set-piece situations in the Premier League this season (excluding penalties), with only Leicester (14) conceding more such goals so far this term.

At 21 years and 355 days, Leeds goalkeeper Illan Meslier became the youngest goalkeeper to concede 100 goals in the Premier League (now 102). This was his 59th game in the competition, with only five goalkeepers conceding their 100th Premier League goal in fewer appearances than the Frenchman.

Encouraging signs for Leicester despite extending winless run

At first glance, things do not look particularly good for Leicester at this moment in time. They are nine points off the bottom three and have not won a Premier League game since December 28 – a run of five, with just two points collected along the way.

Given the fact the Foxes have finished fifth in each of the last two seasons, there is reason to be concerned and it is somewhat understandable that the pressure is, supposedly, mounting on Brendan Rodgers.

Image: James Maddison returned to action for Leicester against Wolves after requiring medical attention in Thursday's Europa Conference League win over Randers

But there are a series of mitigating factors contributing to their slump. Jamie Vardy, Jonny Evans, Wesley Fofana among others remain part of a lengthy injury list at the King Power, while Covid-related postponements mean they have two games in hand. Win them both and they could be back into the top half again, even if a top-six push looks unlikely at this point.

Stats alone, of course, do not win matches, but though they lost 2-1 to Wolves on Sunday, the match stats made for impressive reading. Leicester had 17 shots, seven of which were on target, had a pass success rate of 88 per cent and dominated the ball, with 65 per cent of the possession.

As a result, Rodgers was spritely when he spoke to Sky Sports after the final whistle: “Sometimes after you lose a game there’s obviously disappointment and frustration, but I was very enthused by the team today,” he said.

“I thought lots of our play was really, really good. We’re started to see in a number of the last games the bits of our Leicester returning back to our levels of play and creativity. Keeping that performance level up is important, that intensity, that collective pressure and then, eventually, they will get the wins.”
Dan Long

Complete Kane stuns Man City

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Tottenham’s win at Manchester City

With one swing of his weaker left foot, Harry Kane sliced Manchester City’s defence wide open.

Pep Guardiola’s side had kept seven clean sheets in their previous 10 Premier League games but Kane ensured they were breached only four minutes into this one.

It was Dejan Kulusevski who put the ball in the net for the opening goal, of course, the Swede converting from Heung-Min Son’s square pass, but the chance only came about thanks to Kane’s brilliance and the result that followed was mostly his work too.

  • Man City 2-3 Tottenham – Match report and highlights
  • How the teams line up | Match stats

City dominated the ball but they could not get near Kane.

The pass for Kulusevski’s opener prompted Jamie Carragher to call him “one of the best passers of the ball in the Premier League” and it is a line the Sky Sports pundit would find himself repeating.

His goals won it – the first brilliantly taken following an impeccably-timed run into the box to meet Son’s cross; the second a header into the corner to spark wild celebrations among the travelling fans – but it was his distribution that showed his completeness.

Kane is much more than just a goalscorer and, against the side who tried to sign him “four times” in the summer, according to Guardiola, he chose a good time to show it.

His movement, dropping into pockets of space between City’s defence and midfield, showed his intelligence, while his masterful use of the ball showed the full extent of his ability.

“He’s got the vision to see things and the technique to deliver on what he sees,” said Graeme Souness afterwards.

It is a lethal combination – and that’s before you even consider his goals. For Manchester City, this was a painful reminder that Kane can do it all.
Nick Wright

Here we go, Saka and Emile Smith Rowe…

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Arsenal’s win against Brentford

At full-time, Status Quo’s hit Rockin all over the World sounded out and it meant one thing, Smith Rowe and Saka had done the business again for Arsenal.

It’s a song that has become synonymous with Arsenal’s season with the Gunners fans fitting the names of Smith Rowe and Saka into the song, and it’s the first time it has been heard at the Emirates after a game. However, it’s not the first time that it has been heard coming from the stands this season, highlighting the importance of both the English youngsters to the Gunners’ campaign.

  • Arsenal 2-1 Brentford – Match report and highlights
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It was starting to look like a frustrating afternoon for Arsenal as Brentford held firm amid an onslaught from Mikel Arteta’s side. The Gunners had 16 efforts on goal in the first half, but just two on target as their wastefulness threatened to derail their top-four hopes once again.

With the 0-0 draw with Burnley at the end of January still fresh in the mind, the nerves were starting to build at the Emirates Stadium.

Arteta praises 'impressive' Smith Rowe and Saka

Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta on Smith Rowe and Saka:

“I understand the supporters love that song [Rockin all over the world].

“Everybody loves that song because they are players that have been raised in our system. I am really happy that we have players that take the responsibility and they manage to win games for us. It is really impressive at that age.”

You could sense the anxiety from the stands as the fans knew how big a game this could be, especially as West Ham dropped points earlier in the day and with Spurs and Man Utd facing Man City and Leeds respectively this weekend.

However, Smith Rowe and Saka stepped up for the Gunners once again, grabbing the goals which ultimately sealed a massive three points.

Smith Rowe has now netted nine Premier League goals this season and the only player to score more in a single campaign in the competition for Arsenal when aged 21 or younger was Nicolas Anelka in 1998-99 (17). Raheem Sterling (10) is the only English player with more Premier League goals this season than Smith Rowe.

Saka registered his 11th goal involvement in the Premier League this season (seven goals, four assists), the most of any U21 player and a haul bettered only by Jarrod Bowen (16), Mason Mount (13) and Trent Alexander-Arnold (12) among English players.

Their importance to Arsenal cannot be emphasised any more.
Oliver Yew

No need for Man City panic

It is only a week since Manchester City’s 4-0 win over Norwich stretched their lead at the top of the Premier League table to 12 points. After their 3-2 defeat to Tottenham, however, that lead could be cut to three when Liverpool face Leeds on Wednesday.

The picture of the Premier League title race has changed dramatically but City supporters should resist the temptation to panic. In Spurs, they met a ruthless opponent with a striker whose killer touch they would dearly love to have themselves.

City lacked the same ruthlessness, creating better chances than Spurs but failing to take them, and there were also uncharacteristic defensive errors, such as Ruben Dias’ decision to try and catch Heung-Min Son offside for Tottenham’s opening goal, and Kyle Walker’s weak aerial challenge for the third.

It should be remembered, though, that this was City’s first Premier League defeat since late October. In fact, since that 2-0 reverse against Crystal Palace, Guardiola’s side have taken 44 points from a possible 48, the only prior slip-up being the 1-1 draw with Southampton in January.

City have a habit of bouncing back from setbacks such as Saturday’s and that should serve them well in the remaining months of the campaign. Their last defeat prompted a 12-game winning run. Coincidentally, they have 12 games left to play this season.
Nick Wright

Klopp’s tactical tweak does the job

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Liverpool’s win against Norwich

Scoring three goals against Norwich is something that Liverpool fans have been accustomed to over the years, with Saturday’s win the 10th occasion in the last 12 games when they have put at least three past the Canaries.

But it was harder work for Jurgen Klopp’s men than the 3-1 scoreline suggested, with Milot Rashica putting the ball in the back of the net early in the first half – only to see it flagged for offside – before giving Norwich a shock lead just after half-time.

It needed a double substitution and a tactical tweak just after the hour mark for Liverpool to really get going, with the introduction of Thiago Alcantara and Divock Origi sparking the turnaround at Anfield.

Man-of the-match Kostas Tsimikas was the architect of Liverpool’s equaliser, with the Greek international’s cross converted by Sadio Mane with an improvised acrobatic volley.

  • How the teams line up | Match stats
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Then came a landmark strike for Mohamed Salah, who showed remarkable composure to prod home his 150th goal for the club, before an expert finish from January signing Luis Diaz ensured Klopp’s men piled the pressure on leaders Manchester City ahead of their game against Spurs.

Salah has now scored 25 in 30 appearances this season including 17 in 23 Premier League matches. His 150th goal for the club has come in 233 matches, making him the second-fastest Liverpool player to reach the milestone behind Roger Hunt (226)

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Jurgen Klopp was full of praise for Mohamed Salah after the striker scored his 150th Liverpool goal in the 3-1 win against Norwich

“It feels great. I’m always proud to score for this club and the most important thing is to win games which is what we did today,” Salah said after the win.

“What we can do is focus on each game and that’s the most important thing.

“We know when you fight with City, City most of the time they win games so all we can do is focus on ourselves and see what happens at the end of the season.”
Dev Trehan

Lukaku breaking the wrong kind of records

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Chelsea’s win against Crystal Palace

Romelu Lukaku had just seven touches – one of which was from the kick-off in the first half – as Chelsea snatched a late win at Crystal Palace.

It is the fewest touches in a single Premier League game for a player who has played the full 90 minutes since this data became available in 2003/04.

Another dismal display in a blue shirt for the £97.5m striker, who now has just one goal in his last eight matches domestically.

  • Crystal Palace 0-1 Chelsea – Match report and highlights
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It was a lethargic Chelsea performance – Thomas Tuchel says they are exhausted – which did leave Lukaku short on supply, but he showed very little in any area on the pitch. He failed to register a single shot, won none of his four duels and lost the ball two out of the six times he had possession.

Tuchel called for patience regarding Lukaku’s form at Chelsea on Friday, but it will be interesting to see whether the German can practice what he preaches as his star striker continues to struggle.
Zinny Boswell

When Antonio struggles, West Ham struggle

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from the 1-1 draw between West Ham and Newcastle

When a player is in such a crisis of confidence, it becomes difficult to watch sometimes. That is the case with Michail Antonio at the moment.

Everything he tries doesn’t come off. Simple passes go astray, crosses are easily cleared. His lack of zest in the final third is an explanation for West Ham’s lack of guile and creativity. You’d expect more from a team chasing the top four than just an expected goals figure of 0.81 against a relegation-threatened side. West Ham failed to have a shot on target in the second half, either.

  • West Ham 1-1 Newcastle – Match report and highlights

Antonio is the platform West Ham build from. He takes defenders all over the pitch with his running – to the extent it’s like having two strikers in one when Antonio is at his best. He is miles off it at the moment, not through a lack of endeavour but perhaps the busy schedule is catching up with him. Even David Moyes looked to the heavens when Antonio skied a speculative effort from 25 yards into the stands behind the goal. It was one of many poor decisions made by West Ham’s focal point.

The Hammers striker is on a run of just two goals and three assists in his last 17 Premier League games. Thankfully for Moyes, Jarrod Bowen has managed seven goals and six assists in that time to help West Ham keep in and around the top four.

Image: David Moyes needs more from Michail Antonio

Antonio needs taking out of the heat of this battle – but Moyes can’t. He just doesn’t have the replacement at his disposal, which begs the question yet again of why did they not look to strengthen in the January transfer window?
Lewis Jones

Newcastle show they can cope without Saint-Maximin

For much of the Steve Bruce-era at Newcastle there was an over reliance on Allan Saint-Maximin. Those days are gone under Eddie Howe. The Toon can’t afford to be a one-man team if they are serious about challenging towards the top end of the Premier League over the next few seasons. Yes, they missed his flair and creativity at times in their deserved 1-1 draw at West Ham but Newcastle coped just fine without the Frenchman. It was a day for Joe Willock to shine.

Bruno Guimaraes cost Newcastle £40m yet he’s only played six minutes since joining from Lyon. There is an obvious reason for that: the form of Willock.

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He has taken his game to another level since Newcastle splashed the cash on their star midfielder. Willock has the shirt and in this form, he can’t be dropped. Playing in a free role just off Chris Wood is exactly what gets the best out of the former Arsenal man. His strengths are his decisive runs into the box and with Jonjo Shelvey and Joelinton mopping up in behind him, he is thriving – as shown by his cleverly taken goal.
Lewis Jones

Write off Burnley at your peril

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Burnley’s win against Brighton

Graham Potter was under no illusions of the task placed in front of his Brighton team. Many have written off Burnley’s survival chances, but not Potter – and after Saturday’s 3-0 victory at the Amex, the Clarets’ relegation rivals would be wise not to fail into that trap.

Burnley have been here before, their track record of surviving the drop has underpinned this season’s bid for safety amid mid a run of promising yet fruitless performances against the division’s elite.

  • Brighton 0-3 Burnley – Match report and highlights

Rooted to the foot of the Premier League and eight points from safety at kick-off, few gave Burnley a chance of claiming a first victory since the end of October but claim it they did – and in emphatic style.

It was a performance which illustrated that Burnley have all the ingredients to haul themselves out of the predicament they find themselves in.

In Sean Dyche, they have a manager with pedigree, who won’t wilt under the pressure surrounding the club. In Wout Weghorst, they have a focal point in attack who, having just had his first taste of scoring in the Premier League, could really take off. And support the Dutchman, the precocious talents of Maxwel Cornet and Dwight McNeil.

Burnley have the tools at their disposal to secure another season of top-flight football but the only thing missing was the spark. The manner of this victory could be the catalyst they have been craving.
Jack Wilkinson

The Hodgson Effect is starting to kick in

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

As Clinton Morrison said in his post-match analysis on Soccer Saturday, “I have to give credit to Watford, they went there with a game plan and you could see the Roy Hodgson effect, the way they defended” and he is right.

The veteran former England manager is well known to take time imposing his game plan on his players when he takes over a new club, preferring to work for hours on hours on the training ground on the team’s shape and in particular, their defensive rigidity.

  • Aston Villa 0-1 Watford – Match report and highlights
  • How the teams line up | Match stats

All that hard work came to fruition at Villa Park on Saturday as Watford gave life to their previously slim survival hopes with a well-deserved 1-0 win at Aston Villa based around those rarest of things, a Hornets clean sheet.

In fact, it was Watford’s first Premier League away win while also keeping a clean sheet since January 2020, when they won 3-0 at Bournemouth, and it can be no coincidence they have now recorded as many shutouts in four league games under the 74-year-old as they had in their previous 36 top-flight matches combined.

And if Watford keep defending as resolutely as this in the remainder of the campaign, then they have every chance of beating the odds, and the drop.
Richard Morgan

Hasenhuttl’s army building momentum

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights of Southampton’s win over Everton

Southampton are reaping the rewards of sticking with manager Ralph Hasenhuttl.

The Austrian has overseen two 9-0 Premier League defeats since taking charge at the end of 2018, but Saturday’s convincing win over Everton saw his side extend their unbeaten run in the league to four matches. In all competitions, they have lost just once in 11.

  • Southampton 2-0 Everton – Match report and highlights
  • How the teams lined up | Match stats

Apart from the opening 10 minutes, Southampton dominated and could have scored more had it not been for an inspired Jordan Pickford in goal. The hosts had 19 shots, with 11 of those on target.

“The belief is absolutely there, we are convinced in our qualities,” said Hasenhuttl.

Saturday’s victory came after an impressive win at Tottenham and draws against both Manchester clubs. Southampton are growing in confidence and undoubtedly on an upward trajectory. They are playing some of the best football in the division.
Dan Sansom

Everton reminded of challenge ahead

Image: Frank Lampard accepts Everton are in a relegation battle after a disappointing 2-0 loss to Southampton

Everton boss Frank Lampard thought he had generated lift-off with last weekend’s 3-0 home win over Leeds in his third match in charge, but he will not need reminding that his side’s dismal showing at Southampton on Saturday keeps them well and truly in a relegation battle.

“I think it’s really clear isn’t it? The position we’re in in the table is clear, it’s not something we have to debate,” he said afterwards.

Despite starting brightly at St Mary’s, his side never really looked like scoring. They finished the match without a single shot on target.

Everton’s haul of 22 points from their first 23 games in the Premier League this season is their worst tally at this stage of a top-flight campaign since 1950-51, when they also had 22 and were relegated.

They are currently four points above 18th-placed Watford with a game in hand. Lampard has work to do at Goodison Park.
Dan Sansom

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