Premier League: 10 talking points from the weekend’s action

Guardian sport on 9 December 2019

1) Aston Villa’s forward line needs improving in January

The difference between finishing 17th and 18th in the Premier League is often a striker who can score 10 goals a season. Aston Villa’s line is being led by Wesley, a £22m summer signing from Club Brugge. Thus far he has scored four goals in 16 Premier League appearances, the last coming more than two months ago. There is no doubting the Brazilian is short of confidence, not troubling Kasper Schmeichel on Sunday, but his hold-up play and lack of physicality must be a concern for Dean Smith whose reserve, Jonathan Kodjia, was deemed not worthy of replacing Wesley in Villa’s thrashing. Admittedly, Leicester’s defence is the best in the league but Jonny Evans and Caglar Soyuncu barely broke sweat. January is fast approaching and Smith will have to do some business to avoid the drop. Do nothing and Villa’s fate could be sealed quickly. Will Unwin

• Match report: Aston Villa 1-4 Leicester

2) Bournemouth up against it with back four all injured

Bournemouth are likely to face Chelsea without any of their first-choice back four after Nathan Aké sustained a hamstring injury against Liverpool. Bournemouth’s defensive frailties were exposed after Aké, who left the stadium on crutches, was forced off 10 minutes before the interval. Steve Cook will be out for several weeks after a hand operation, while Adam Smith and Charlie Daniels are also injured. To make matters worse, Callum Wilson was also withdrawn with a suspected hamstring problem, leaving Dominic Solanke as the only fit first-team striker with Joshua King also injured. Bournemouth are on a five-match losing run and Eddie Howe said: “We have players missing through injury but one result can change everything and galvanise. I believe we are good enough but we need that result quickly.” Ben Fisher

• Match report: Bournemouth 0-3 Liverpool

3) Nuno needs to give his favoured players a rest

A long season could take its toll on Nuno Espírito Santo and Wolves. The head coach knows his best XI and is keen on playing it in every game, with as few changes as possible – 11 Premier League games unbeaten prove it works. They have qualified from their Europa League group and are battling at the right end of the Premier League table but things are about to get more hectic as the pressure increases. There were signs of players switching off when Brighton scored twice in three minutes to turn the match around. Mental fatigue sets in quickly for players who are having to take concentration to new heights twice a week to keep Wolves at the desired level. It might be time for Nuno to have more faith in his squad – they are at home against Besiktas on Thursday – in order to achieve their long-term aims. Will Unwin

• Match report: Brighton 2-2 Wolves

4) Lampard wants his young team to toughen up

Duncan Ferguson was so caught up in the emotion of leading Everton to victory against Chelsea that Frank Lampard was among the many he kissed after the final whistle. He gave the Chelsea manager little else on an emotional day at Goodison Park, and Lampard was quietly seething at his team’s failure to match Everton’s physicality, as they succumbed to a third defeat in four league games. “They have to get used to it quickly,” he said. “You give them a tiny bit of room because of the youth of some of the team but at the same time they are not silly, they know that physical contact happens in games like this and we have to deal with it better.” As for the smacker from Ferguson, Lampard took it well. “I think he did, yes. But fair play, he was very in the moment and I understand how much passion he has for the club. I hate to lose but you have to give respect to someone like Duncan, because I am sure that meant a great deal to him.” Andy Hunter

• Match report: Everton 3-1 Chelsea

5) Guardiola claims Manchester City are falling behind

With Manchester City 14 points behind Liverpool after this defeat Pep Guardiola admitted that maybe the side who won the past two league titles and claimed a historic domestic treble have fallen behind. “United have the quality to defend and the quality to attack on the counterattack and you have to accept that is the level we face against United, Liverpool, Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Juventus,” Guardiola said. “That is the teams we have to face and the reality is maybe we are not able now to compete with them. So we have to improve and accept it and move forward. We are 14 points behind for the mistakes we have done, for the quality of our opponents and especially as well the things we cannot control. That is the reality but we have to continue. We are at the beginning of December and we have other competitions to play and other games to fight in.” Jamie Jackson

6) Wan-Bissaka is developing into United mainstay

Manchester United’s transfer policy post-Sir Alex Ferguson has been at best opportunistic and at worst myopic. The most recent window, however, indicated a change in tack and a willingness to invest in heavily scouted young talent, particularly in the shape of Aaron Wan-Bissaka. He defends first and second, and attacks third, unlike many modern full-backs. His attitude, strength and pace all outdo his technical ability, but the number of one-on-one situations he wins is no fluke. His attacking threat is only likely to grow, given his stamina and ability to get into the right positions. United spent £50m on the full-back but his rapid development suggests he can be a constant in the United side for the next decade. Wan-Bissaka should end up being fantastic value for a hierarchy lacking praise in recent years. Will Unwin

• Match report: Manchester City 1-2 Manchester United

7) Bruce wants Ashley to drop ticket prices

A combination of industrial action on Newcastle’s Metro, the demands of Christmas shopping, a cold, wet afternoon and enduring disenchantment with the club’s owner, Mike Ashley, saw the crowd for Southampton’s visit drop to 42,303. That is the lowest at St James’ Park in the Premier League since November 2010, and 10,000 below capacity. The scores of empty grey plastic seats emphasised the shortfall. “We need to get St James’ Park full again,” said Steve Bruce, who advocated a cut in festive ticket prices. “It’s difficult for people to afford to come to the matches. Maybe the club has to try to help at this particular, difficult, time of year. Can they help our supporters when Christmas is coming? Maybe there’s something we can do to get the numbers back up. But the crowd that were here were terrific, they stayed with the team.” Louise Taylor

• Match report: Newcastle 2-1 Southampton

8) Wilder defends referees after VAR interference

After insisting last week that VAR was “sucking life” out of him, Chris Wilder had enough energy left to return to the topic on Sunday. He did so in defence of referees. “For players and managers to get to the position they’re in, they’ve got to work hard. And so do refs and officials,” he said after his side’s 2-1 win against Norwich. “I think [with VAR] we’re doing a disservice to the officials we have in this country.” The referee, Simon Hooper, certainly had a hard time of it at Carrow Road. The red card he showed to Chris Basham was reduced to a yellow by Stockley Park and a disallowed United goal subjected to a five-minute analysis (Hooper was cleared). This was far from the “minimum” interference that makes up VAR’s motto and hardly the first time it has happened. That both sets of fans were chanting against VAR by the end should be of concern to the Premier League. Paul MacInnes

• Match report: Norwich 1-2 Sheffield United

Chris Basham
Chris Basham (centre) had a red card reduced to yellow by VAR. Photograph: Joe Toth/BPI/REX/Shutterstock

9) Mourinho’s front four are firing and in tune

While it would be wrong to get carried away by Tottenham’s start to life under José Mourinho – mainly because that is exactly what he wants – there is little doubt they have done well, especially against Burnley when Spurs delivered a stunning display capped off by a dazzling solo goal by Son Heung-min. The hosts were well balanced and in tune, with the defence and two midfielders keeping their positions and looking to play sharp, forward passes to Lucas Moura, Dele Alli, Son and Harry Kane as quickly as possible. In turn they were devastating. Mourinho has clearly identified that quartet as being Tottenham’s principal strength, especially on the counter-attack. So long as they are fit, in form and well serviced, the team should thrive. Sachin Nakrani

• Match report: Tottenham 5-0 Burnley

10) Continuity the key for new man Pearson

In the two games Hayden Mullins and Graham Stack were in charge of Watford, they managed to create a positive atmosphere around the squad and got some desire back into a side which has been lacking it for a long time. A narrow 2-0 defeat against Leicester and a hard-fought home draw against Crystal Palace are not incredible feats but, considering what had gone before, the duo can be very proud of their efforts in a short period of time. Mullins says he is waiting to see if the new manager, Nigel Pearson, will keep the pair on the coaching staff but it could be a wise move to create some continuity at a club which has drifted. Having the energy and novel ideas of younger coaches alongside the assistant, Craig Shakespeare, could be Pearson’s smartest move to avoid more turbulence. Will Unwin

• Match report: Watford 0-0 Crystal Palace

Pos Team P GD Pts
1 Liverpool 16 26 46
2 Leicester 16 29 38
3 Man City 16 25 32
4 Chelsea 16 7 29
5 Man Utd 16 6 24
6 Wolverhampton 16 4 24
7 Tottenham Hotspur 16 7 23
8 Sheff Utd 16 3 22
9 Crystal Palace 16 -4 22
10 Newcastle 16 -6 22
11 Arsenal 15 -2 19
12 Brighton 16 -4 19
13 Burnley 16 -8 18
14 Everton 16 -9 17
15 AFC Bournemouth 16 -6 16
16 West Ham 15 -8 16
17 Aston Villa 16 -5 15
18 Southampton 16 -17 15
19 Norwich 16 -17 11
20 Watford 16 -21 9

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