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 fixtures.
Things are getting interesting down at the bottom of the Premier League, with defeats for Brentford, Leeds and Everton dragging each of those sides closer towards the divisional dogfight.
Manchester City took advantage of Liverpool’s Carabao Cup final commitments to extend their lead at the top, whilst there were crucial wins for West Ham and Tottenham in their pursuits of Champions League football.
Following the weekend’s action, we pick out the heroes and villains from the latest Premier League fixtures.
Hero – Ryan Fraser
Newcastle are up to 14th as the club’s renaissance under Eddie Howe continues, the club’s 2-0 win at Brentford extending their unbeaten run to seven league fixtures.
January additions in Dan Burn and Matt Targett have settled swiftly, whilst Newcastle’s impressive run of form has also seen several once maligned figures come to the fore under Howe’s management.
Joelinton has been a player reborn since being moved into a box-to-box midfield role, whilst Ryan Fraser produced arguably his best performance for the club in the win at Brentford, tormenting his full-back and providing a constant supply of ammunition into the penalty area.
Ryan Fraser's game by numbers vs Brentford:
– 90.5% pass accuracy
– 7 key passes
– 6 accurate crosses
– 3 shots (one on target)
— The Chronicle (@ChronicleNUFC) February 26, 2022
Much was made over the potential dynamic between Fraser and Howe after reuniting at St James’ Park, with the winger having effectively downed tools during Bournemouth’s relegation in 2019/20 as he approached free agency, missing the final games of the Covid-extended season.
The duo appear to have put the past behind them with Fraser having looked somewhere closer to his Bournemouth best of late, impressing off the left flank and providing an assist against Brentford.
Howe will hope the winger can now rekindle his form from 2018/19, in which Fraser scored seven goals and provided 14 league assists under Howe at Bournemouth.
Villain – Michael Keane
Michael Keane has been a regular target for the Everton boo-boys this season with the centre-back having endured a challenging campaign, his latest error unlikely to have done much to boost his popularity on the terraces.
Everton had been heading towards a valuable point against Manchester City at Goodison Park, only for Keane’s mistake to allow Phil Foden to steal in and net a late winner.
🗣 "That is what champions do!"
Phil Foden pounces on an unfortunate deflection to break the deadlock 🔒 pic.twitter.com/X737K65VDE
— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) February 26, 2022
The centre-back was caught flat-footed as Foden nipped in to turn home a cruel winner, condemning Everton to a defeat that leaves the Toffees perilously close to the Premier League’s relegation places.
Hero – Kurt Zouma
Kurt Zouma has been in the headlines for the wrong reasons of late, but the defender demonstrated his importance to the West Ham side with a superb performance in the club’s 1-0 win over Wolves.
David Moyes was full of praise for the France international following a commanding showing in which he made two tackles, three interceptions, four blocks and 11 clearances, in addition to winning four aerial duels.
— West Ham United (@WestHam) February 28, 2022
“I thought Kurt was exceptional today. Strong, commanding, he had a couple of incredible blocks late in the game when we needed him. He was powerful in the air and aggressive at times,” Moyes told his post-match press conference.
Zouma’s importance to the side saw West Ham continue to field the defender despite his cat-kicking disgrace earlier this month, a controversial decision but one that has helped keep alive their Champions League chase.
Villain – Cristiano Ronaldo
Cristiano Ronaldo has failed to find his form in recent weeks and the Portugal captain endured another frustrating afternoon as Manchester United were held to a goalless draw by Watford.
Ronaldo struck the post when well placed as the Red Devils dominated the first half and failed to make amends in a sub-standard showing, the offside flag also denying the 37-year-old a goal as Ralf Rangnick’s side suffered yet another setback.
It’s now just one goal in his past eight Premier League appearances for Ronaldo, who needs to rediscover his goalscoring touch if United are to keep ahead of the chasing pack in the race for a top four finish.
For a footballer whose career has been propelled by an unwavering self-belief, Ronaldo has looked uncharacteristically short on confidence in recent weeks.
Hero – Dejan Kulusevski
Harry Kane stole the show as Tottenham secured an emphatic 4-0 win at Leeds this weekend, the north Londoners bouncing back from a midweek defeat at Burnley in impressive fashion.
Kane’s clinical finish and creative showing led the way for Spurs, but the England captain and long-term accomplice Son Heung-Min appear to have a new threat to aid their attacking performance.
Dejan Kulusevski has enjoyed an impressive start to his career with the club since arriving from Juventus last month, with the 21-year-old producing an impressive display.
The midfielder opened the scoring in fine fashion, whilst he also registered a 91% passing accuracy, four dribbles and nine ground duels won at Elland Road.
Antonio Conte: "Kulusevski's only 21. I think he is showing that he is a fantastic player for the present but also, he if he continues in this way he can become a really important, top player" ⚪️ #THFC
"He is strong physically, good technically, he has no fear of the opponent". pic.twitter.com/mW6cKc4FQp
— Fabrizio Romano (@FabrizioRomano) February 27, 2022
The Sweden international has made an immediate impact and adds to Spurs’ creative options, a shrewd signing from Antonio Conte who hailed the flexibility Kulusevski can bring to his squad.
Villain – Marcelo Bielsa
Marcelo Bielsa’s reign at Leeds is over, as one of the most colourful chapters of the club’s modern history reached its conclusion with the dismissal of the popular Argentine.
Bielsa will always have a place in the affections of the Leeds fanbase for returning the side to the Premier League after a long absence, whilst his unique brand of football won admirers further afield than Elland Road.
However, the statistics towards the end of his tenure were damning, and a stubbornness from the veteran coach not to alter his approach has proven costly.
20 – Leeds United have conceded 20 goals in February alone in the Premier League, the most a side has ever shipped in a single month in the competition, and most in a month by a top-flight side overall since Newcastle in April 1986 (21). Dire. pic.twitter.com/7OkzzhZn9l
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) February 26, 2022
Leeds have become the first side since Sunderland in 2005 to concede 3+ goals in five consecutive league fixtures, whilst no side in Premier League history has conceded more than their 20 goals this February during a single month.
In the absence of key personnel including Kalvin Phillips, Liam Cooper and Patrick Bamford, Bielsa refused to adap and the consequences were a series of embarrassing defeats.
The loss to Spurs – a side which had lost four of their previous five – was perhaps the worst of the lot, as the north Londoners cut apart Bielsa’s side to secure a 4-0 win at Elland Road.
Hero – Christian Eriksen
Our Moment of the Week came at Brentford as Christian Eriksen made his return to football, the midfielder introduced as a second-half substitute during the Bees’ 2-0 defeat to Newcastle.
Eriksen was making his first competitive appearance since suffering a cardiac arrest at last summer’s European Championship, a harrowing and distressing incident that stunned the watching world.
Christian Eriksen returns to play his first competitive football match since his cardiac arrest at the Euros in June 2021.
Welcome back, Christian 👏 pic.twitter.com/fQQpUTsD95
— B/R Football (@brfootball) February 26, 2022
The return of the Denmark international – who has since been fitted with an Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD) which responds to life-threatening rhythms – was a welcome sight, a feel-good story at a time dominated by appalling scenes elsewhere across Europe.
Villain – Josh Dasilva
Eriksen’s return was the brightest part of an otherwise disappointing defeat to Brentford, who dropped ever closer to the relegation places after losing to Newcastle.
The resurgent Magpies leapfrogged Brentford in the Premier League table after a 2-0 win, with the visitors aided by the 11th-minute send off of Josh Dasilva.
Dasilva’s return from a long absence had been viewed as a huge boost to Brentford’s survival hopes, but the midfielder made an unwanted contribution after his high and mistimed challenge on Matt Targett earned him his marching orders and left the Bees with a huge task.
There appeared little malice, but it was a dangerous challenge and a deserved red card for Dasilva. His contribution to Brentford’s defeat leaves Thomas Frank’s side bottom of the form table and just three points above the bottom three.