Each week we preview the Premier League action and discuss some of the division’s major talking points.
Palhinha setting standards, again
In an era where top teams use data in recruitment more intensely than ever, it remains astounding that Joao Palhinha slipped through the net of England’s elite. Several of the Premier League’s top teams have targeted defensive midfield steel in recent windows, but each missed out on the Portugal international.
Last season, Palhinha produced 147 tackles in the Premier League for Fulham (47 more than his nearest challenger) after arriving for a bargain fee of £20m from Sporting Lisbon. It’s been more of the same this season from the 28-year-old, who after seeing a proposed move to Bayern Munich collapse, has continued setting about opposition midfielders with snarl and bite.
Come for the tackles, stay for the strike.
Sit back and enjoy João Palhinha vs Brighton… 🍿 pic.twitter.com/VU15nV2ynR
— Fulham Football Club (@FulhamFC) October 30, 2023
He’s again leading the Premier League for tackles (45) and has a combination of sheer statistical numbers and an eye test that shows he would not look out of place in any engine room in Europe. His age might be an obstacle to a big-money move, but there’s little doubt Palhinha is one of the best number sixes around right now. No player in Europe’s top leagues has made more successful tackles since his arrival at Fulham.
Time running out for Ten Hag?
Manchester United are rarely far from crisis, but even by recent standards the past week has been a bad one. Crushing home defeats to Manchester City and Newcastle in league and cup have placed the Red Devils at a new low, in a start to the campaign which has see Ten Hag’s team lose eight of their 15 fixtures in all competitions.
Some (Yes, we’re looking at you, Gary Neville) have blamed the ownership for the club’s decade-long decline and while the Glazers have huge responsibility for United’s fall, the current players and manager must take their share of the responsibility.
What we’re hearing on Erik ten Hag’s #MUFC future:
▪️ Manager safe – for now
▪️ But unrest growing in squad
▪️ Maguire & Sancho situations caused disquiet
▪️ ‘Play more football’ comments v Brentford went down badly
▪️ Ownership uncertainty is complication
▪️ No succession plan
— The Athletic | Football (@TheAthleticFC) November 3, 2023
The Americans in the boardroom might be viewed as financial leeches, but are the Glazers to blame for the basic errors plaguing this team? Was Diogo Dalot’s complete lack of awareness for two Newcastle goals this week due to the distraction of dividends being taken by the ownership? Or Antony’s refusal to use his right foot (among other faults) due to the leaky Old Trafford roof?
The argument stretches only so far and almost 18 months into the role, Ten Hag has failed to align his squad with clear style of football. That, after more than £400m spent on the squad, is inexcusable.
Can Calvert-Lewin earn England inclusion?
It’s been a tough couple of seasons for Dominic Calvert-Lewin. The forward’s fitness issues have seen the Everton striker struggle for consistent form, with the 26-year-old having lost his England place as a result.
At the time of Calvert-Lewin’s last cap in July 2021, the Toffees target-man was viewed as the lead deputy for Harry Kane with the national side. His fitness issues have since opened up the competition for a place in Gareth Southgate’s plans, with Ollie Watkins impressing in the recent international break to strengthen his argument. With Ivan Toney, Callum Wilson, Eddie Nketiah and Tammy Abraham among the number nines who will be eyeing a Euro 2024 place, Calvert-Lewin must find form to place himself back in the conversation.
Calvert-Lewin gets his 5️⃣0️⃣ Premier League goal! 🔥
That touch and finish… pic.twitter.com/B7BhOA4L8N
— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) October 29, 2023
After scoring the winner at West Ham last time out, Calvert-Lewin has now scored three goals in his last five appearances, and is averaging a goal every 118 minutes in the Premier League this season. It’s a small sample size, but one that will offer encouragement to both Sean Dyche and Southgate.
How will Wolves cope without Neto?
Wolves have been dealt a major blow after Pedro Neto was stretchered from the pitch during last weekend’s draw with Newcastle. A hamstring issue is expected to sideline the winger for an extended period, the latest piece of cruel injury luck for Neto.
The 23-year-old has been one of the Premier League’s star performers over the season’s opening weeks, leading the league for assists with seven goals created. Gary O’Neil now faces a huge task to replace Neto’s influence, for a Wolves side who have traditionally lacked cutting edge in the final third.
Hwang Hee-chan’s best form since becoming a Premier League player is timely, but with Gonçalo Guedes, Daniel Podence and Adama Traore all leaving last summer, there’s a lack of options in wide areas. Could Saša Kalajdžić be handed a chance? The towering target-man is far from a like-for-like replacement for Neto, but has scored twice in just 51 minutes of Premier League action this season. O’Neil could opt for experimentation this weekend, against a Sheffield United side who are rooted to the bottom.
Forest fortress a good test for ambitious Aston Villa
Sunday’s schedule provides a brilliant Midlands match up at the City Ground, as Nottingham Forest take on in-form Aston Villa. Two teams with proud histories (and three European Cups) go head-to-head, with the latter keen to maintain their recent form and push for Champions League qualification.
Villa are just a point outside the top four and only four from leaders Tottenham after a strong start to the campaign, one which has seen the club extend their winning run on home soil to 12 consecutive games. Unai Emery’s team travel to face another side with a strong record at home this weekend, with Forest a tough nut to crack at the City Ground.
Forest are unbeaten in their last seven Premier League games at the venue, while Steve Cooper’s side have lost only two of their previous 19 games in Nottingham. Forest might be six without a win, but their home form means Sunday shapes as a real test of Villa’s Champions League credentials.
Can Newcastle end Arsenal hoodoo?
Newcastle’s 3-0 win at Manchester United in midweek was a performance littered with positives for Eddie Howe, who saw several of his second string step up to earn the club a place in the Carabao Cup quarter-finals.
Newcastle’s squad is stretched at the moment with Alexander Isak, Sven Botman, Harvey Barnes, Jacob Murphy and Elliot Andersen all injured, while Sandro Tonali will miss the next 10 months through suspension. In midweek, Howe saw full-back pairing Tino Livramento and Lewis Hall excel, with that duo signed in the summer with an eye on the long-term.
Joe Willock also scored his first goal since a long injury lay-off and Howe will be happy with how his squad has coped with their considerable absences. Arsenal are the visitors this weekend in a huge clash at St James’ Park, as the Magpies look to continue their push for consecutive top four finishes.
Newcastle will need to improve on a wretched recent record against the Gunners however, having lost 19 of the last 22 meetings in all competitions. Newcastle have only scored in one of the last 10 games between the teams.
Luton look to stop potent Reds attack
Luton and Liverpool will meet for the first time in 15 years this weekend, as the Hatters host the six-time European champions at Kenilworth Road. A clash restricted to cup competition for three decades is now revisited in top-flight football, though Luton face a sizeable task to earn a result.
Mired in the relegation places, Luton have failed to keep a clean sheet since their Premier League return. Rob Edwards’ side could become just the second team to concede in each of their opening 11 games of a Premier League season (also Leicester – 18 games in 1994/95) this weekend.
It would be a brave person to back against Liverpool finding the net, with the Reds having looked a real threat in the season’s opening weeks. Mohamed Salah has recorded 12 G/As in the Premier League already this season, while Darwin Nunez has scored in each of his last three appearances after a spectacular strike against Bournemouth in midweek.
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) November 2, 2023
Diogo Jota or Cody Gakpo are expected to complete Liverpool’s front three, in what will be a huge challenge for Luton’s leaky rearguard.
Palmer pleasantly surprising at Stamford Bridge
Cole Palmer might just be the most popular player at Chelsea right now. Palmer’s talent was clear during his cameo appearances at Manchester City, but few would have envisaged quite how well the 21-year-old would have started at Stamford Bridge.
Standing out in a squad as talented as Manchester City’s is difficult, but there’s good reason Pep Guardiola kept Palmer in his plans, until the moment came for the forward to take a leap of faith. Palmer was outstanding as Chelsea eased into the Carabao Cup quarter-finals in midweek and has consistently been one of the Blues’ brightest performers since making his debut.
8.3 – Cole Palmer is averaging 8.3 progressive passes per 90 minutes in the Premier League this season, the most of any player to start at least four games.
8.3 – Cole Palmer
8.0 – Kieran Trippier
6.4 – James Maddison
6.4 – Billy Gilmour
6.4 – Pervis Estupiñán
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) November 1, 2023
In different roles he has thrived, with Palmer’s invention having helped link a Chelsea forward line that has struggled across the past 18 months. The England u-21 international can appear languid in style, but Palmer’s press regained possession in the build up to Raheem Sterling’s goal against Blackburn and there is an intelligence to his game in and out of possession.
Eyebrows were certainly raised when Chelsea spent £42.5m to sign a player with just three Premier League starts to his name, but Palmer has pleasantly surprised since his switch to west London. England recognition will not be far away if the forward continues his current form.