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Heroes and Villains: Premier League gameweek 22

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 City are cruising towards a fourth Premier League title in five seasons after increasing their advantage at the top of the division, the defending champions beating Chelsea 1-0 to move 11 points clear of the chasing pack.

 

Liverpool kept within sight of the runaway leaders after beating Brentford, whilst the spoils were shared in the relegation six-pointer between Newcastle and Watford and in an entertaining clash between Aston Villa and Manchester United.

Heroes and Villains from the Premier League’s weekend action.

Hero – Kevin De Bruyne

Kevin De Bruyne has made a happy habit of scoring against Chelsea, with the midfielder netting for the fifth time against his former side during Manchester City’s 1-0 win at the Etihad this weekend.

The failed spells of De Bruyne and Mohamed Salah at Chelsea are often resurfaced and, given each tends to produce against the west Londoners, it must be a narrative the Blues’ supporters are truly sick of.

De Bruyne’s moment of magic sealed three points and all but ended Chelsea’s involvement in the ‘title race’, moving City seemingly out of sight of the chasing pack stumbling behind in the distance.

De Bruyne is a sublime talent and his goal was another example of his elite class, driving forward dangerously before bending a precise finish beyond the dive of Kepa Arrizabalaga and into the far corner.

He failed to find his feet at Chelsea, but the reigning PFA Player of the Year is a big-game player and will go down as one of City’s greatest.

Villain – The Premier League

The farce that has become Premier League postponements continued this weekend as the North London derby was called off by the league’s officials.

The rules regarding Covid-related postponements has become one being manipulated by leading sides, with Arsenal the latest to request a cancellation amid a lack of options.

Mikel Arteta’s side were due to face Spurs in a huge clash that could have major consequences on the race for the top four, but were granted a postponement despite a seemingly limited number of Covid cases at the Emirates.

That the Gunners were deemed short enough to receive a postponement in a week where the club allowed two players – Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Folarin Balogun – to leave on loan is the latest example of the farcical situation the Premier League have allowed to continue this season.

Arsenal’s squad has been depleted through a combination of injuries, AFCON and Granit Xhaka’s senseless sending off in midweek, each not reason for a postponement this weekend.

It should be stressed that the North Londoners are not the first team to expose covid-related postponements, but the Premier League  – the entity that should be blamed here – must ensure they are now the last.

Hero – Marcelo Bielsa

In a period in which the league’s rules have been manipulated, credit must go to Marcelo Bielsa for his faith in youth amid Leeds’ lack of senior options.

It has been a challenging campaign for Bielsa and Leeds so far this season, but back-to-back wins have eased relegation concerns with the club’s latest an entertaining 3-2 win at top-four chasing West Ham.

Bielsa gave two teenagers debuts at West Ham and had 15-year-old Archie Gray amongst their substitutes at the London Stadium, whilst their eight teenage debutants this season is a Premier League record for a single campaign.

Huge credit must go to Bielsa, with clubs boasting considerably more resources having turned towards alternative tactics.

Villain – Michael Keane

Rafael Benitez’s reign at Everton is over following the club’s 2-1 defeat to Norwich this weekend, the unpopular gamble from owner Farhad Moshiri having backfired with the Toffees just six points above the Premier League’s relegation places.

Everton’s loss at Carrow Road means the club have now lost to each of the promoted sides this season, with a nightmare two minutes responsible for their defeat to the Canaries.

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Michael Keane was at the centre of a quick-fire capitulation as Everton hit self-destruct, first turning Josh Sargent’s cross into his own goal when under little pressure, before missing his interception in the build-up to Adam Idah’s second less than two minutes later.

The signing of reinforcements at centre-back should be a focus for the incoming manager.

Hero – Jack Butland

Once backed to become England’s number one goalkeeper, Jack Butland has had a watching brief for much of his time at Crystal Palace.

Signed for a fee of just £1m from Championship side Stoke in 2020, he made just one league appearance last season as he struggled to dislodge Vicente Guaita.

The 28-year-old has been handed a chance in recent weeks and bounced back from a glaring error in the FA Cup last weekend to produce a strong performance during Palace’s 1-1 draw at Brighton.

The Eagles were second-best for much of the contest and had Butland to thank for a hard-fought point, with the shot-stopper making a superb save from Leandro Trossard before keeping out Pascal Gross’ tame penalty.

Villain – Chelsea

Hopes from neutrals that Chelsea could reignite the title race proved short-lived across 90 minutes of action at the Etihad that demonstrated Manchester City are a level above at present.

Thomas Tuchel’s side lacked ambition as Romelu Lukaku was starved of the service, the forward’s supporting cast of Christian Pulisic and Hakim Ziyech anonymous throughout.

Lukaku’s performance was criticised by Tuchel with the Belgium international failing to hold onto possession and allow Chelsea to progress up the pitch, with the west Londoners also lacking creativity in the absence of Reece James and Ben Chilwell.

Ederson’s save from Lukaku when the forward burst through one and one was the decisive moment in the match, the fine line on which Chelsea’s challenge appears to have crumbled.

It was, however, the sole shot on target Chelsea have managed in two games against City in the Premier League this season.

Hero – Fabinho

Fabinho has emerged as an unlikely goalscorer for Liverpool during the absence of Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane this month, with the midfielder following his brace in last weekend’s FA Cup win over Shrewsbury with the opener against Brentford on Sunday.

The Brazil international has scored just seven goals for the Reds in three-and-a-half seasons, three of which have come across his past three fixtures.

Fabinho was the best player on the pitch as Liverpool beat the Bees 3-0 at Anfield, controlling proceedings from the centre of the park as Jurgen Klopp’s side climbed above Chelsea into second.

The 28-year-old often provides security to his side at the base of the midfield, but his recent run in front of goal – including heading in Trent Alexander-Arnold’s corner this weekend – has proven timely given the club’s AFCON absentees.

Given the flatness of their performance against Arsenal in midweek, this was a much-needed three points and an improved display for Liverpool.

Villain – Jadon Sancho

Jadon Sancho’s struggles this season have been well-documented and the winger faces a fight to prove his worth at Manchester United, with his role in the 2-2 draw with Aston Villa having done little to improve his prospects.

Sancho found himself amongst the substitutes with Anthony Elanga selected ahead of him, the England international watching on as the Swedish youngster produced a performance full of the energy and intent that has been lacking from his own game this season.

Sancho was introduced for the final 11 minutes with the Red Devils leading, but failed to make an impression of any sort as Ralf Rangnick’s side squandered their advantage at Villa Park.

The 21-year-old is low on confidence at present and has just one league goal this season, whilst Elanga’s encouraging showing has done little to improve Sancho’s hopes of a regular run in the side.

Read – Premier League Weekly Awards: Coutinho’s dream debut, Harrison’s hat-trick, and bye bye Benitez

Read Also – Premier League Team of the Week – Gameweek 22

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