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Premier League midweek fixtures: Five things we learned

Premier League midweek fixtures: Five things we learned, featuring Phil Foden in a central role, Kai Havertz silencing his doubters, and Manchester City’s Cole Palmer regret.

Southgate must be bold – Play Foden and Bellingham in central areas

Jude Bellingham seems certain to start in a central position for England this summer, with the Real Madrid midfielder the lead support to Harry Kane. A prolific season for the Spanish side as a marauding midfield presence has meant Bellingham has sealed the number ten role for club and country.

The consensus has been that Phil Foden – too good to leave out of the side – will take up a wide role, but should Southgate roll the dice with both players in the middle? England’s depth of talent is almost unrivalled in world football and, in Foden and Bellingham, the Three Lions boast two of the best and in-form creatives in Europe.

Foden continued a career-best campaign with a hat-trick against Aston Villa and was untouchable in periods drifting between lines, with the 23-year-old too talented to be shoehorned into the side.

Using both in central midfield would provide a headache for opposition teams to manage, with Declan Rice holding the fort behind. It’s certainly a role that Pep Guardiola believes brings out the best in Foden.

“He can do whatever he wants. He’s a really top-class player,” Guardiola said at his post-match press conference.

“He is open-minded. He has to understand the game. He has to focus in some things. Sometimes he is a little bit distracted in what he has to do defensively but he has a natural talent. A gift.

“He is special for the pace and work ethic. He has an incredible sense of goal. You have the feeling when he is attacking the last line that he is going to score. It’s not easy to find it and that’s why he is so special in those central positions.”

It’s time England start playing to their strengths and worry less about opposition sides.

Goalkeepers the difference for struggling sides

It’s often said a good goalkeeper is worth multiple points a season and a number of shot-stoppers proved that theory to be correct this week. Several struggling sides relied on performances from their number ones this week, with Brentford’s Mark Flekken and Everton’s Jordan Pickford earning man-of-the-match honours to earn their teams points against Brighton and Newcastle respectively.

Arijanet Muric also continued his impact since replacing James Trafford at Burnley. The Kosovo international is now unbeaten in three Premier League games since taking the gloves and was excellent once again as the Clarets drew with Wolves.

Muric made a fine stop to keep Burnley in the game and reduced the pressure with three high claims and accurate long distribution. He’s fast becoming a cult hero at Turf Moor.

Havertz silencing doubters

The noise surrounding Kai Havertz was unmissable across the season’s opening weeks with criticism of Arsenal’s decision to sign the German widespread. Fast forward to the run-in and Havertz has been a driving force in the club’s move into title contention.

The 24-year-old has shone in a central role leading the line and extended his recent record to four goals and three assists in his last six league appearances for the Gunners.

His influence has knitted together the Arsenal attack and he has 12 goal involvements for the season, a better return than he managed across each of his three campaigns at Chelsea.

There are few suggesting Havertz is a waste of money anymore.

Manchester City’s Cole regret?

Few around the Etihad were overly upset when Cole Palmer departed last summer, with the youngster deciding to leave Manchester City after being delivered an ultimatum: stay or leave permanently.

Palmer made just two league starts last season, each of which came after the title was won, and felt he was ready for first-team football. After a loan move was ruled out by the Citizens, he signed for Chelsea and has been one of the stories of the season.

The 21-year-old’s incredible debut campaign reached new heights on Thursday as Palmer scored a hat-trick against Manchester United. His treble included two goals deep into stoppage time, turning defeat into victory for Mauricio Pochettino’s side.

Palmer now has 16 goals and eight assists in the Premier League this season and he leads all u-23 players in Europe for goal involvements. More than Erling Haaland, Bukayo Saka, Phil Foden, and Jude Bellingham.

On the evidence of the season so far, it’s impossible not to think there could have been a place for Palmer in Pep Guardiola’s plans. A look on loan, at least. Guardiola insisted he wanted to keep the forward, though not with enough conviction to persuade Palmer to fight for his place. City’s loss has been Chelsea’s gain.

The end for Erik at Old Trafford?

The numbers don’t tell the whole story, but they don’t half paint a miserable picture at Manchester United. For the second successive game, the Red Devils collapsed late on, with concentration – or character – to blame for dropped points against Brentford and Chelsea.

Manchester United led Brentford until the 99th minute, while the game had stretched to the 100th minute with Ten Hag’s team ahead against Chelsea. They ended those two contests with a total of one point, results that leave their Champions League hopes in tatters.

The loss to Chelsea was a new low, as Cole Palmer scored twice in 82 seconds deep into stoppage time to turn the game around. Dejected at full-time, the question is for how much longer will the fans support the current regime?

Ten Hag has been let down by his players on numerous occasions, not least the lack of reaction to close Palmer down for Thursday’s decisive goal. But almost two full seasons after his arrival, progress has been limited, despite massive spending.

Granted, success often takes time and Liverpool and Arsenal are examples of that, though each of those teams were showing signs of progress at this stage. United have gone backwards from last season. No side in Europe’s top five leagues has conceded more shots on goal than the Red Devils (225), a staggering statistic for a team with their ambitions.

Read – Premier League Team of the Week – Matchday 31

See more – Premier League Awards: Hat-trick heroes, outrageous assists

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