Following the latest round of Premier League action, we pick out some of the heroes and villains from the best and worst of the weekend’s fixtures.
Manchester United’s first league game since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s departure ended in a 1-1 draw at Chelsea, the west Londoners held at Stamford Bridge in a result that saw Manchester City and Liverpool close the gap.
Norwich maintained their unbeaten start under Dean Smith with a goalless draw with Wolves, whilst Steven Gerrard made it successive wins in charge of Aston Villa after beating Crystal Palace.
Elsewhere, Newcastle remain without a win after a 2-0 defeat at Arsenal, whilst there was goals galore on Claudio Ranieri’s return to Leicester as Watford lost a six-goal encounter at the King Power Stadium.
Heroes and Villains from the Premier League weekend.
Hero – Ilkay Gundogan
Ilkay Gundogan’s brilliant run of form proved the catalyst behind Manchester City’s title success last season, the midfielder embarking on a purple patch of goalscoring to propel Pep Guardiola’s side.
Gundogan’s start to the current season has been less spectacular, but there are signs in recent weeks that a crucial cog in City’s system is getting back to his best.
The Germany international scored one and provided another in the 2-1 win over West Ham this weekend, a result which saw the champions close the gap on leaders Chelsea at the summit.
15 – Ilkay Gündogan has scored 15 non-penalty goals in 37 Premier League appearances since the start of last season; the most of any midfielder, ahead of Bruno Fernandes in second place (13 in 49 apps). Fox. pic.twitter.com/tHpQOcHOMi
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) November 28, 2021
Gundogan’s return to goalscoring form is a welcome boost for a City side sharing the goals this season, with his strike this weekend typical of his performances last season as he arrived into the box to convert Riyad Mahrez’s cross.
Gundogan has performed several roles admirably in Guardiola’s midfield and the 31-year-old looks set to be a vital figure once again as the champions look to defend their title.
Villain – Neil Maupay
Graham Potter was far from pleased after his Brighton side were booed off the pitch by sections of the crowd at the Amex Stadium this weekend, the fans voicing their frustration after another wasteful performance from the home side.
It’s now eight games without a league win for the Seagulls after a goalless draw with Leeds, the club’s positive start to the season in danger of being undone following a concerning run of results.
Brighton were dominant and had 20 efforts on goal, but just four hit the target with Neil Maupay guilty of wasting his side’s best opportunity with a glaring miss from close range.
The Frenchman has plenty of positives to his game, but lacks the clinical touch Brighton require at the top end of the pitch and their unwanted habit of spurning chances has blighted otherwise pleasing progress under Potter’s management.
The signing of a centre-forward might just be high on the Seagulls’ agenda as the winter window fast approaches.
Hero – John McGinn
Steven Gerrard is understood to have urged John McGinn to shoot more following his arrival as Aston Villa boss, his calls rewarded this weekend after the Scotland international fired in a superb winner at Crystal Palace.
McGinn has been a fans’ favourite ever since he walked through the door at Villa Park and it is not difficult to see why following his effervescent performance at Selhurst Park this weekend.
— Aston Villa (@AVFCOfficial) November 27, 2021
The 27-year-old covered every blade of grass in an all-action showing for Villa, his impact underlined with some remarkable statistics from his weekend performance.
McGinn’s mix of defensive grit and attacking guile saw him win 12/13 ground duels contested against Palace, in addition to winning each of his seven attempted tackles and completing each of his three dribbles.
The midfielder will be a central figure in Gerrard’s revolution at Aston Villa, one which has began with back-to-back wins to raise hopes of a successful season.
Villain – Everton
The pressure on Rafael Benitez is beginning to mount as Everton’s winless run extended to seven games, defeat at Brentford raising further questions about the Toffees and their under-fire manager.
Everton’s problems pre-date Benitez’s appointment and the Spaniard has not be aided in his challenge to revive the club’s fortunes, injuries to key players including Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Abdoulaye Doucoure leaving the side void of quality.
Handed minimal funds during the summer as the board cut back on the wasteful spending of recent windows, Benitez has been unable to truly add to a squad rotten with mediocrity.
7 – Everton are winless in seven Premier League games (D2 L5), their longest such run since April 2016 under Roberto Martínez (also seven). Rocky. pic.twitter.com/31dU5Geswu
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) November 28, 2021
Everton were missing arguably their three best players – Calvert-Lewin, Richarlison and Doucoure – against Brentford and it painfully showed, their performance lacklustre and uninspiring in a 1-0 defeat to the Bees.
The club’s season is in danger of unraveling and with a free-scoring Liverpool to come next in the Merseyside Derby – before clashes with Arsenal, Chelsea and Leicester in their next five – it could get worse before it gets better.
Hero – Jamie Vardy
Leicester returned to winning ways this weekend with a 4-2 win over Watford, a performance which saw James Maddison in sparkling form and Jamie Vardy return to his clinical best.
Vardy scored twice inside the opening half as the Foxes ran riot at the King Power Stadium, latching onto Maddison’s delicate pass to fire home his first goal in five Premier League fixtures.
The 34-year-old added a second with a brilliant header from another Maddison delivery, taking his total to nine Premier League goals for the season with only Mohamed Salah having scored more.
The most #PL goals aged 30 and over:
— Premier League (@premierleague) November 28, 2021
Vardy’s double also saw him move to a joint-record 93 goals scored since turning 30, the evergreen Foxes forward moving level with Ian Wright. It’s a truly absurd statistic and Vardy remains as lethal as ever when afforded shooting opportunities around on goal.
Villain – Marcelo Bielsa
Leeds remain just outside the Premier League’s relegation places after a goalless draw at Brighton, with Marcelo Bielsa’s side hugely fortunate to escape from the Amex Stadium with a point.
A combination of Illan Meslier and Brighton’s wastefulness ensured Leeds earned a draw, but questions will once again be asked of Bielsa’s side and the Argentine’s tactical tweaks.
Bielsa’s tactical shuffle saw Kalvin Phillips start at centre-back, whilst central defender Diego Llorente was at right-back and Stuart Dallas – a player regularly used at full-back – was named in midfield.
Marcelo Bielsa has downplayed rumours of a rift with Kalvin Phillips and says the Leeds United midfielder is available for Tuesday's game against Crystal Palace. pic.twitter.com/oEZ8RTTW2v
— Sky Sports News (@SkySportsNews) November 29, 2021
It was a strange choice from the 66-year-old, who also chose to withdraw fan favourite and England international Phillips at half-time after Leeds had been carved open during the opening 45 minutes.
Junior Firpo also deserves a mention in our villains section following his substitution at the break, the full-back overwhelmed by the electric Tariq Lamptey during the first half.
Hero – Diogo Jota
“A perfect signing as he has everything a Liverpool player in this squad needs; he has the technical skills, he has the physical skills and he is very smart so can learn all the tactical stuff quickly.
“You need more than 11 players in a squad and you need more than three strikers even though we play with three strikers and he was smart enough to see that”.
Those are the words of Jurgen Klopp following Diogo Jota’s two-goal contribution for Liverpool this weekend, the forward netting twice – including the fastest goal scored in the Premier League this season after 97 seconds – in the Reds’ 4-0 win over Southampton.
What a week at Anfield 🎮⚽️ pic.twitter.com/GMtBWVi3xd
— Diogo Jota (@DiogoJota18) November 27, 2021
Jota’s arrival from Wolves has been another brilliant acquisition from Liverpool’s recruitment team, with the Portugal international having now scored 20 goals in just 46 games since arriving at Anfield.
Comfortable across the front three and possessing the work-rate to lead Liverpool’s intensity, he has now scored seven league goals for the campaign, with Klopp’s team now possessing three of the Premier League’s four leading scorers.
Jota has become increasingly influential to this side and will have a major role to play when Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane depart for Africa Cup of Nations duty in January.
Villain – Newcastle
Newcastle remain rooted to the bottom of the Premier League after losing at Arsenal, the Magpies without a win in 13 league fixtures so far this season.
The uncertainty surrounding the ownership saw spending minimal during the summer, though the club did invest £25m to sign Joe Willock from Arsenal, following the midfielder’s prolific loan spell at St James’ Park last season.
Willock scored eight goals in just 11 league starts for Newcastle last season, but has failed to provide a single goal or assist in nine games since his move was made permanent.
The 22-year-old failed to make an impact in an anonymous showing against his former side this weekend, one of several Newcastle players who struggled to impact the contest with both Emil Krafth and Matt Ritchie poor.
Eddie Howe faces a major challenge to keep this side in the division and coaxing more from Willock will surely be high on his agenda, before the opening of the January transfer window provides a chance to bring in much-needed reinforcements.
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