Following the latest round of Premier League action we look at five things we learned from the festive fixtures.
Wood finds form for Forest
The Nuno Espirito Santo era is up and running at Nottingham Forest, as the Reds ended a run of seven games without a win by beating Newcastle at St James’ Park.
It was an upset result inspired by Chris Wood, who came back to haunt his former team with a hat-trick. The 32-year-old became only the fourth Premier League player to score a treble against his former team, in a masterful centre-forward performance.
Wood’s treble took him to seven goals in the Premier League this season, a timely return to form for the forward in the absence of last season’s leading scorer, Taiwo Awoniyi. Wood had struggled for a regular role at Forest, but has proven his pedigree at this level with six goals in nine games.
On repeat 😮💨 pic.twitter.com/ms5nvGo1sm
— Nottingham Forest (@NFFC) December 26, 2023
Wood’s seven goals have come in just 642 minutes of Premier League football, with the Forest forward averaging 0.98 goals per 90 minutes this season. That’s a better ratio than Erling Haaland (0.97).
An ode to Liverpool’s Jack of all trades
Joe Gomez has spent nine seasons at Liverpool, a time which has been punctuated by good spells, poorer spells, and fitness problems. Almost a decade after his arrival at Anfield, the defender has failed to nail down a fixed position, but is that adaptability in fact what has prolonged his career with the club?
Right-back, centre-back, left-back. Gomez has played them all this season. Currently, the 26-year-old is occupying the latter, with injuries to Andy Robertson and Kostas Tsimikas having left Liverpool without a recognised left-sided option.
Though far from a natural, he has filled the role admirably in recent games. Against Arsenal, he came off the bench to win 7/8 duels and made more tackles (4) than any other player on the pitch, helping nullify the threat of Bukayo Saka in the process. On Boxing Day, he was solid once more in a Liverpool clean sheet at Burnley, as the Reds went top of the Premier League table at Turf Moor.
Gomez’s future at Liverpool was in doubt last summer after he struggled for favour in 2022/23, but he has been resurgent this season and has carved himself out a niche as Jurgen Klopp’s man for any job in the backline. That could be priceless to the Liverpool boss, as he navigates a tricky period without key personnel.
Time to free Foden in central role?
Phil Foden made his desire for more minutes in a central position clear this week, after starring during Manchester City’s 3-1 win at Everton. Foden was dubbed the heir to David Silva when first breaking into the City side, but now into his fifth season as a first-team regular has failed to nail down a clear position.
Pep Guardiola and Gareth Southgate have each shown reluctance to use Foden centrally, with reservations over his defensive work in a midfield position. However, a sparkling performance at Everton has proven what Foden can produce when given the keys to the midfield.
The 23-year-old was the best player on the pitch as the Citizens came from behind to beat Everton, scoring a stunning goal to equalise after Jack Harrison’s opener at Goodison Park. It was a moment of magic when City needed one, in the absence of Erling Haaland and Kevin De Bruyne.
— Manchester City (@ManCity) December 28, 2023
“You know how much I like playing in the middle,” Foden said after the win.
“Thanks to the manager he keeps playing me in there at the moment and long may it continue because I enjoy it every time I play in there.”
Full of neat touches and evasive movement in the final third, it was an example of what the Stockport-born star can do when given licence to create centrally. De Bruyne’s impending return to fitness could complicate plans, but Foden deserves a run through the middle.
Madueke proves a point to Pochettino
It’s been a frustrating season so far for Noni Madueke. The winger has found himself on the fringes at Chelsea this season, with Mauricio Pochettino having overlooked the 21-year-old for much of the campaign.
Madueke had featured for just 130 minutes in the Premier League before this week’s win over Crystal Palace. Even in Cole Palmer’s absence through suspension, he was overlooked again against the Eagles, with Ian Maatsen preferred at right-wing.
Rather than sulk, the England u-21 international came off the bench to prove a point to Pochettino. With wasteful finishing again looking likely to cost Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, Madueke won and converted a late penalty to hand the West Londoners all three points.
— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) December 28, 2023
Madueke showed bravery to take the responsibility from Chelsea captain Conor Gallagher, before sending Dean Henderson the wrong way from the spot. It could be the sliding doors moment in his Chelsea career.
Board must back Postecoglou in January
Ange Postecoglou could hardly have been a bigger hit since taking charge of Spurs, with the Australian’s attractive brand of football and media-friendly personality having won admirers further afield than North London.
Spurs’ season, however, is in danger of unraveling without badly needed additions next month. The club’s defensive injury crisis worsened with the loss of Cristian Romero this week, with the World Cup winner not expected to return until February. With Micky van de Ven also out with a hamstring issue, Spurs were forced to field full-backs Emerson Royal and Ben Davies as a makeshift pairing for the defeat to Brighton this week.
“They gave everything but it just wasn’t enough”
Ange’s assessment of tonight’s defeat at Brighton 🗣️ pic.twitter.com/YhwmsH66Xr
— Tottenham Hotspur (@SpursOfficial) December 28, 2023
The Seagulls cut through the unfamiliar backline to claim a 4-2 win at the Amex Stadium, a blow to Spurs who missed out on the chance to move back into the Premier League’s top four. Spurs face in-form Bournemouth in the Premier League this weekend, before a January schedule that includes the start of their FA Cup campaign (Burnley) and a trip to top four rivals Manchester United. Defensive additions are needed, and quickly, or the club’s promising campaign might just fall apart.