What did we learn during matchweek 26 of the 2021-22 Premier League season?
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Here’s a look at 10 things which stood out, as our writers Joe Prince-Wright (JPW) and Andy Edwards (AE) share their observations from across the most recent Premier League games.
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Let’s get to it.
1a. Title race back on (Manchester City 2-3 Tottenham/Liverpool 3-1 Norwich): Liverpool were victorious, while Manchester City lost on Saturday, cutting the defending Premier League champions’ lead to six points. Liverpool’s three points earned turned to three points gained with Man City’s defeat, with them now having played one more game again. Liverpool, winners of five straight (by a combined score of 12-2), can pull to within three points when they play their game in hand, against Leeds United, next Wednesday. Liverpool are still to visit the Etihad, on April 9. (AE)
1b. Kane nearing return to his best (Manchester City 2-3 Tottenham): He’ll need some more weeks and months of prolific goal-scoring to match the raw numbers of his best seasons for Tottenham, but Kane is more frequently showing flashes of brilliance when he drops into midfield to facilitate play with his long-range passing. The timing of his run for Tottenham’s second goal was also a familiar sight with Son Heung-min picking him out with an inch-perfect cross. His ability to receive and retain the ball in transitional moments not only makes Spurs a threat in attack, but it relieves immense pressure on the defense when a simple ball out to midfield isn’t immediately returned to the final third. He scored twice (and had another disallowed for offside – VAR) and provided the assist-before-the-assist on the other goal, perhaps leaving Manchester City with deeper regrets over their failure to sign him in the summer. (AE)
2. Strength in numbers (Liverpool 3-1 Norwich): Jurgen Klopp is currently in possession of an embarrassment of riches in attack. Diogo Jota arrived last season to make the trio a quartet, and Luis Diaz was signed in January to round out the quintet (likely with an eye toward someone, or perhaps someones, leaving in the summer). On Saturday, though, Jota (12 Premier League goals this season) and Roberto Firmino (4 goals, 3 assists) were unavailable due to injuries, but it mattered very little in the end. It was simply a matter of time before Mane and Salah would do what they always do. (AE)
3. Chaos in the pouring rain (Leeds 2-4 Manchester United): This was the Premier League at its absolute best. Man United raced into a lead. Leeds scored two goals in quick-succession to equalize. Then it was end-to-end for the final 20 minutes but the Red Devils won. The atmosphere at Elland Road was electric throughout, even though it boiled over as objects were thrown at several United players from the stands as they celebrated goals. The conditions added to the chaos as the wind swirled, rained poured down and shots flew in. This is a game which will be shown again and again to sum up the madness of the Premier League. It was beautifully nuts. Leeds played their part and could have easily won it, but injuries continue to hit them hard and Marcelo Bielsa’s boys dug deep to get back in the game. Leeds and Manchester United on their own are crazy teams. Put them both together in horrendous conditions at a fired-up stadium and this is what happens. (JPW)
4. Lukaku, Chelsea an incompatible match (Crystal Palace 0-1 Chelsea): Romelu Lukaku’s first spell at Chelsea can easily be written off as a player being too young to arrive into one of football’s most chaotic clubs and find success through all the surrounding noise. Lukaku’s second spell at Chelsea appears much the same, as Thomas Tuchel deploys a tactical system which isn’t suited to the $135-million striker, who in turn looks beyond miserable in his present predicament. Here’s a very real stat: Lukaku touched the ball twice — two times — in the first half of Saturday’s game, and one of the two started the game in the center circle with 0:00 on the clock. In 45 minutes, Lukaku touched the ball once during open play, in the 5th minute, meaning he went 43 minutes between touches of the ball (he finished his 90-minute shift with 7 touches). Everyone appears to be at fault in this costly mistake of a transfer, with a swift resolution likely in the summer. (AE)
5. Top-four is on for Arsenal (Arsenal 2-1 Brentford): West Ham, Tottenham and Man United are also showing signs of inconsistency but Arsenal are looking the most likely right now to finish in the top four. They are getting stronger defensively and their young attacking stars are getting better as the season goes on. The only issue is whether or not Lacazette will score enough goals late in the season but the Gunners are going to go very close to being back where they believe they belong: in the Champions League. (JPW)
6. Top-four not so far away (Wolves 2-1 Leicester): Not only are Wolves within six points of the top-four after being Leicester, but they’re beginning to rival the quality of the other, more established sides in the chase. While Manchester City choke the life out of teams through possession and own the league’s best defensive record as a result, there’s not a better side in the Premier League when it comes to the actual act of defending, individually and collectively, than Wolves. Bruno Lage’s side simply doesn’t make mistakes, nor does it miss assignments or rotations, and that gives them a shot at three points every time they take the field, no matter the opponent.
7. Sarr undoubtedly a star (Aston Villa 0-1 Watford): All five of Watford’s wins this season have come with Sarr in the starting lineup — they haven’t won a game without him all season. Given that he missed nearly three months (10 games) due to injury and international duty, the Senegalese forward’s presence, and absence, have been the story of Watford’s season. The last time they won, Sarr injured his knee in the same game. (AE)
8. Burnley finally click in attack (Brighton 0-3 Burnley): This was the game they had waited for. They scored with three of their four shots on target and this was peak Burnley under Sean Dyche. Burnley have drawn so many games this season and remain tough to beat. However, in attack they just haven’t had the right combinations of luck, clinical finishing and nastiness. That changed at Brighton. Weghorst and Cornet caused so many problems and Brownhill’s goal summed up that their luck may well be changing. (JPW)
9. Saints’ high-line is risky, but works (Southampton 2-0 Everton): Calvert-Lewin thought he had given Everton the lead early in the second half but Saints’ high-line worked very well once again from set pieces. They take a big risk because all it takes is for one man to get his timing wrong, but Saints are so well-drilled on set pieces defensively and they charge out together. That left three Everton players offside and moments later Saints took the lead. It is all about the small margins for Hasenhuttl and his coaching staff. (JPW)
10. Magpies continue to dig deep (West Ham 1-1 Newcastle): They were missing some big players in Trippier, Wilson, Lascelles and Allan Saint-Maximin, but Newcastle dug deep and got a valuable point on the road. Newcastle are now six games unbeaten in the Premier League and they’ve conceded just four goals in that run. That shows you how much they have improved defensively under Eddie Howe and that wasn’t something many thought he could do. Dan Burn and Matt Targett have hit the ground running since their arrival in January and both were superb at West Ham. Going forward Newcastle were dangerous on the break and Newcastle have given themselves a great platform to pull away from the relegation zone in the coming weeks. (JPW)
What did we learn during matchweek 26 of the 2021-22 Premier League season?