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

Guardian writers on 14 January 2019

1) Improving Brighton show off Hughton’s astute work

Brighton did not quite park the bus against Liverpool but they certainly played with acute awareness of their own limitations. In December 2017 they were beaten 5-1 at the Amex by Jürgen Klopp’s side; this time around they were still in it to the end, eventually throwing centre-back Shane Duffy up front, but a narrow defeat did not leave anybody feeling too down. “We didn’t want to be punished [with] three or four because they can embarrass you,” Duffy said. “At half-time we said we had to stay in the game as long as possible because we might get a chance, but it didn’t happen today.” But Brighton deserve credit. They are running the top sides closer these days and it is not as if all those games have been contested from inside their shell. Running Liverpool as close as they did was more evidence of the astute work Chris Hughton is producing. Nick Ames

• Match report: Brighton 0-1 Liverpool

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2) Fulham flatter to deceive as Ranieri puts on brave face

Fulham played like world beaters for two minutes at Turf Moor and like a beaten side for too long afterwards. The start they received through André Schürrle’s exquisite opening goal was beyond anyone’s expectations, though what followed was all too familiar. Claudio Ranieri claimed his side deserved a point, though he admitted Fulham managed only three goal attempts for all their passing and movement outside the box. “They didn’t ask that many questions,” Sean Dyche said, which was a bit rich coming from the manager of a winning side unable to muster a single shot on target. “We played well, we will not give up,” Ranieri said, putting a brave face on the fact that his side can ill-afford to squander points against fellow strugglers. Fulham did play well, but it is what happens in the final third that counts. Paul Wilson

• Match report: Burnley 2-1 Fulham

3) Wagner left to lament lack of VAR

Another messy refereeing decision, another vote for technology. Confusion reigned after Lee Mason retracted his decision to award Huddersfield a penalty and, as David Wagner said, such a reverse comes at a cost. Would a video assistant referee have aided Huddersfield’s fight for survival? “In general I’m not a fan of it, because it stops the emotions,” Wagner said. “But if you have emotions like I have at the minute and in the past, then yes, it would help.” Huddersfield feel hard done by, with Wagner – without a win since November – referencing Michael Oliver’s failure to give his side a penalty at Brighton last month. “I know the officials do nothing on purpose but it looks extremely unlucky and unfortunate for us,” he added. By the time VAR is introduced in the Premier League next season, it will probably be too late for the Terriers. Ben Fisher

• Match report: Cardiff 0-0 Huddersfield

David Wagner was unhappy with the match officials in Cardiff.
David Wagner was unhappy with the match officials in Cardiff. Photograph: Kieran McManus/BPI/Rex/Shutterstock

4) Sarri could have done with Fàbregas’s passing skills

Jorginho’s impact on Chelsea after his arrival from Napoli was a major reason for their successful start under Maurizio Sarri but the manager’s admission that his deep-lying playmaker is “in trouble” after the victory against Newcastle was intriguing given the departure of Cesc Fàbregas to Monaco on Friday. “Have you seen the match? After 20 minutes he lost a lot a balls,” said Sarri. “It’s unusual, so I think maybe he was tired. If Fàbregas was on the bench I think he would have been on the pitch in the second half.” Moves for Cagliari’s Nicolò Barella or Leandro Paredes of Zenit St Petersburg could yet be sanctioned, although Sarri appeared frustrated that he has only a limited say in transfer dealings. “In my opinion we need two players,” he said. “If you ask me something else I don’t know what to answer because I am not in charge of the market.” Ed Aarons

• Match report: Chelsea 2-1 Newcastle

5) Gracia shows he can take tough decisions

Watford’s 2-1 win over Crystal Palace was probably celebrated heartily by most of their players, not least Tom Cleverley, whose winning goal was his first since October 2017 after a year spent on the sidelines with hamstring and achilles problems. But spare a thought for Ken Sema, the man who Cleverley replaced after 68 minutes: not such an unusual thing, until you realise that Sema himself came off the bench, introduced when Will Hughes suffered concussion after a collision with Mamadou Sakho on 19 minutes. Sema was not injured , but did manage to pick up a booking shortly before Javi Gracia decided to replace him, 49 minutes later. “It wasn’t an easy decision but in that moment I thought I had to do it,” Gracia said, when asked about substituting a substitute. “I’m very sorry because I don’t like to do it but I had to do it.” Nick Miller

Match report: Crystal Palace 1-2 Watford

Kurt Zouma celebrates after scoring for Everton v Bournemouth
Kurt Zouma celebrates after giving Everton the lead. Marco Silva’s side went on to defeat Bournemouth 2-0. Photograph: Alex Livesey/Getty Images

6) Everton’s loan stars provide Silva lining

Relief was etched all over Marco Silva’s face as Everton claimed an invaluable first win in five home league games. The contributions of Kurt Zouma and André Gomes were not lost on the Everton manager, both overcoming subdued starts to bring much-needed strength, a finishing touch in front of goal in the defender’s case, and composure to the display. Not that Gomes should have seen out the 90 minutes, however, with the midfielder fortunate to escape a second yellow card. The two took responsibility that other senior Everton players did not, a concern for Silva given that both are at the club on loan. “We didn’t have the conditions to sign them [permanently],” the Everton manager explained. “In that moment a loan was the best and maybe the only solution. Let’s see what we can do in the future with these two players.” Andy Hunter

• Match report: Everton 2-0 Bournemouth

7) Hasenhüttl gives Saints new resolve

Southampton’s gutsy 2-1 victory over Leicester felt like the sort of game that they would have lost prior to Ralph Hasenhüttl’s appointment. There was more than half an hour remaining when Leicester, who were playing with an extra man following Yan Valery’s dismissal, halved the deficit and it was easy to fear for Southampton at that point. Yet it says much for the renewed belief that Hasenhüttl has instilled, and in particular the way that the team is organised defensively, that Southampton saw the game out without ever looking that uncomfortable. The Austrian has been in charge for only seven league matches but he has already won as many (three) as Mark Hughes. “The difference has been unbelievable,” said James Ward-Prowse, who scored the opener. “We have a clear structure and a plan of what do with and without the ball.” Stuart James

• Match report: Leicester 1-2 Southampton

8) Lukaku out in the cold as Rashford shines

The sight of Romelu Lukaku in tracksuit and raincoat as Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial fed off the passing of Paul Pogba pinpointed the most marked change in Manchester United since José Mourinho settled his bill at the Lowry hotel. After returning from the leave of absence he took over Christmas, the Belgian has yet to fit into Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s strategy, which at Wembley seemed little more sophisticated than playing on the break and hitting those fleet-footed forwards as quickly as possible. Despite scoring in his last three matches, a target man does not fit United’s requirements, and just as Solskjær had to accept from Sir Alex Ferguson, goals cannot guarantee a starting place if the team is better served by players who bring more overall. Meanwhile, it remains a mystery why Mourinho failed to see much in Rashford. John Brewin

Spurs 0-1 Manchester United: player ratings

Samir Nasri made his first Premier League start for West Ham against Arsenal.
Samir Nasri made his first Premier League start for West Ham against Arsenal. Photograph: Chloe Knott - Danehouse/Getty Images

9) Nasri could be the bargain of the season

Samir Nasri had a point to prove during West Ham’s impressive victory over Arsenal. Not only was Nasri fuelled by the desire to silence the constant taunts from the away end, where Arsenal’s fans relished the opportunity to jeer a player who left them for Manchester City in acrimonious circumstances in 2011, he was also energised by the task of demonstrating why Manuel Pellegrini was determined to sign him. Given a second chance after returning from an 18-month doping ban, Nasri has embraced the challenge of showing that he has lost none of his technical ability. He still needs games to improve his fitness after his long exile but the Frenchman sparkled in the No 10 role and produced a composed assist for Declan Rice’s winner. Much more of this and West Ham will feel that they have landed the bargain of the season. Jacob Steinberg

• Match report: West Ham 1-0 Arsenal

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10) Son shows Spurs what they’ll be missing

It was the final bow of Son Heung-min’s extended farewell before he belatedly headed to the Asian Cup. Tottenham will miss the awareness of space and weight of passing that set up Harry Winks for an early, missed chance. With Mousa Dembélé off to the Chinese Super League, Eric Dier and Victor Wanyama still absent with long-term ailments and Moussa Sissoko suffering a hamstring twang in the first half, resources are stretched to breaking point. A quartet of Harry Kane, Christian Eriksen, Dele Alli and Son hauled Mauricio Pochettino’s team through seven wins in eight matches during the most gruelling part of the season but their energy levels have visibly flagged; Kane limped off in pain at full-time. Whichever of Lucas Moura or Erik Lamela replaces Son has big shoes to fill but there is nobody to step in for the other three. John Brewin

• Match report: Spurs 0-1 Manchester United


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