Virgil van Dijk immense for Liverpool against Man City, Aston Villa lose their heads against Spurs – Premier League hits and misses

Plus: Pep Guardiola causes a stir by substituting an angry Kevin De Bruyne; Lewis Dunk shows he’s the complete defender in Brighton’s shutout of Nottingham Forest; West Ham’s England hopefuls fluff their lines in draw with Burnley

Van Dijk immense in makeshift backline

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from thrilling draw between Liverpool and Manchester City

In all the theatre of Liverpool’s pulsating 1-1 draw with Manchester City at Anfield, the one-on-one duel between Erling Haaland and Virgil van Dijk late in the first half stood out.

Jamie Carragher had described the fixture as “the highest-quality game in Europe” in the build-up. And there it was, distilled in one moment. The best striker up against the best defender.

Haaland did manage to get his shot off. But the back-peddling Van Dijk did just about enough to ensure it was not an overly threatening one. Carragher labelled the passage of play a “draw” between the two players. But Van Dijk came out on top in the end.

  • Liverpool 1-1 Man City – Match report and highlights
  • Should Liverpool have had late penalty against Man City?

Image: Virgil van Dijk found himself one-on-one with Erling Haaland

In fact, that tame shot was Haaland’s only one of the afternoon. A player who averages more than four of them per game barely threatened. It was down in large part to Liverpool’s captain.

He did have one shaky moment when the Norwegian nicked possession off him deep in Liverpool territory. But this was another game in which he has stepped up when his team-mates needed him.

He had to be at his best. Not just because of the quality of Liverpool’s opponent but because of the state of the defensive unit around him. Ibrahima Konate’s absence meant his centre-back partner was the 21-year-old Jarell Quansah. At right-back, there was the 20-year-old Conor Bradley. At left-back, a right-footed centre-back in Joe Gomez.

In front of second-choice goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher, Van Dijk held it all together, making a string of vital defensive interventions and bringing some much-needed composure on the ball, his pass success rate of 97.5 per cent the highest of any player on the pitch.

For Liverpool, after subjecting City to a second-half onslaught following a difficult first period, the only regret was that they could not turn one point into three. Without Van Dijk, though, they would likely have ended up with nothing at all.
Nick Wright

De Bruyne sub a big, but correct, decision

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

Kevin De Bruyne in unhappy with the Manchester City bench after being substituted at Anfield

Sometimes, the big games call for big decisions. Pep Guardiola has had his fair share of both, and made another one against Liverpool on Sunday.

Kevin De Bruyne has proved his talent time and again – his corner for John Stones’ opener a prime example. But overall, he arguably did not have his best game against Liverpool.

For much of the match, Liverpool’s midfield three of Wataru Endo, Alexis Mac Allister and Dominik Szoboszlai overran that of Man City’s. Guardiola knew the game plan was not working, and a different approach was needed.

  • Jamie Carragher: Liverpool will want Arsenal to win at Man City
  • Premier League table | Watch free Premier League highlights
  • Get Sky Sports | NOW Sports Month Membership – just £21 a month for 12 months

Taking De Bruyne off in any game of such magnitude is a huge call – but it was needed. He simply was not keeping hold of the ball when Man City craved control, and was not able to be his efficient self going forward either.

Matteo Kovacic was one of the introductions – as was Jeremy Doku, who hit the post late on – and Man City began to claw back some control in the middle of the park. Yes, Liverpool still created openings, but they certainly matched up better.

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola insisted there is no issue with Kevin De Bruyne after the Belgian looked frustrated to be substituted off against Liverpool at Anfield

As Roy Keane said, De Bruyne needed a pep talk from Pep on the bench after airing his complaints as he came off. He maybe had a point after good first half, but football is a team game and ultimately, the Belgian will know that is the case.

Explaining his choice, Guardiola told Sky Sports: “That’s good. He will have a chance next game to prove himself. We need a player who keeps the ball. It’s not about pressing. Kovacic is really good at that. We were happy with Kevin. It’s not a problem.”

It’s an ominous warning that a player of De Bruyne’s calibre is being told to ‘prove himself’, but it is rare that he – or Man City – will have two below par games in a row. And while Guardiola’s move may not have affected the scoreline in their favour, it did not lose it either and in a title race this close, it could make all the difference come May 19.
Charlotte Marsh

Villa lose their cool in Spurs rout

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Tottenham’s win against Aston Villa in the Premier League.

John McGinn chose the wrong day to lose his head as Aston Villa imploded and handed Tottenham the initiative in the race for the Champions League.

It had been a spiky and tense encounter until McGinn took it a step too far and was sent off for the first time in 244 appearances after Villa had already lost focus following James Maddison’s opener.

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

Unai Emery’s side didn’t recover to falling behind, conceding again within four minutes before McGinn compounded their frustration with his reckless tackle on Destiny Udogie. Villa allowed Spurs’ Heung-Min Son and Timo Werner to turn it into a rout late on.

Image: John McGinn is shown a red card

“We have to control our emotions, even when we are losing 2-0. We have a responsibility to be mature,” said Emery.

It should act as a learning curve for his side who escaped with a victory at Brentford earlier in the season when tempers boiled over. This time, against better opposition, they did not get away with it.

They have an important last-16 second leg against Ajax on Thursday in the Europa League followed by 10 league matches to achieve their Champions League dream. Villa must keep their cool.
David Richardson

Spurs forwards find shooting boots at the right time

Ange Postecoglou had plenty of reasons to be pleased after Spurs’ thrashing of Aston Villa. They’re now two points behind their rivals. They have a game in hand. And their goal difference is superior after an eight-goal swing.

But the most promising takeaway for Postecoglou from Villa Park was the identity of the scorers on Sunday. James Maddison, Brennan Johnson, Heung-min Son and Timo Werner. Postecoglou’s forwards are finding their goalscoring boots at the right time.

  • Live Premier League table | Fixtures | Results
  • Watch free Premier League highlights | Get Sky Sports on WhatsApp
  • NOW Sports Month Membership just £21 a month for 12 months | Get Sky Sports

“What’s important for us is that we scored four good goals from four key players who need to be scoring for us,” he said. “I keep saying that that’s the area of the park where I don’t think we’ve got bang for our buck, considering how hard we work in that front third.”

Spurs will need the collective power of their attacking arsenal to see them through a treacherous run-in, which includes a run of three consecutive games against the three title chasers.

The football at Villa, at least in the second half, resembled the Angeball that made Spurs so thrilling earlier this season. Combining this ruthless streak with that free-flowing style should see Spurs home in the race for Champions League football.
Zinny Boswell

Dunk shows he is the complete defender

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from the clash between Brighton and Nottingham Forest

This was a game where the Lewis Dunk of old was in his element.

He’s always been one to scrap, fight and make important clearances, learning that skill in the 2010/11 season when Brighton won promotion from League One. He needed all those attributes to help Brighton grind out this victory. That was all before he became one of the best playmaking centre-backs in the Premier League after a sensational development to his game that has led to him being in England contention for the Euros. But that’s the beauty of Dunk as a footballer – he can do it all.

  • Brighton 1-0 Nottingham Forest – Match report and highlights
  • How the teams lined up | Match stats
  • Premier League table | Watch free Premier League highlights

Defend his box when required. Switch 60-yard balls out to his teammates. And start attacks with clever and crisp passing. Were you watching Gareth Southgate? In this form, Dunk has a great chance of starting England’s first European Championship game against Serbia on June 16.
Lewis Jones

England hopefuls fluff their lines as Southgate watches on

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from the game between West Ham and Burnley

England boss Gareth Southgate will name his squad for the March friendlies against Brazil and Belgium on Thursday afternoon and he was in attendance at the London Stadium on Sunday afternoon, perhaps giving West Ham’s three internationals a last-minute chance to convince him they should be included.

Kalvin Phillips, James Ward-Prowse and Jarrod Bowen all started for the Hammers – but only two made it into the second half.

  • West Ham 2-2 Burnley – Match report and highlights
  • How the teams lined up | Match stats
  • Premier League table | Watch free Premier League highlights

After a pretty dire team performance in the first half, the former two were hooked at the break, replaced by Michail Antonio and Edson Alvarez.

Speaking after the game, David Moyes insisted the decision to withdraw them was not personal.

“I had to make some changes, In had to try and do something,” he said. “It could have been any one of many players who came off at that time. I just felt we had to try and get more attacking players on.” His approach worked.

Phillips has not enjoyed the best time in east London since his loan move from Man City, though has been a mainstay of Southgate’s squad for the best part of four years. Ward-Prowse, however, has not been part of the squad since September 2022 and his wait for a recall may go on.
Dan Long

Get Sky Sports on WhatsApp!

You can now start receiving messages and alerts for the latest breaking sports news, analysis, in-depth features and videos from our dedicated WhatsApp channel!

Find out more here.


No votes yet.
Please wait...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *