We look at seven talking points ahead of the Premier League weekend, featuring Phil Foden’s form, Rice’s return to West Ham, and the battle of Brazilian number nines.
Foden form makes him a must for England
Phil Foden has been billed as a future star of English football for some time, with a Golden Ball as England won the u-17 World Cup almost seven years ago catapulting his name into the limelight.
The Stopfordian street footballer is producing arguably the best form of his senior career right now, highlighted by a brilliant hat-trick as Manchester City beat Brentford 3-1 on Monday night. Even with Erling Haaland and Kevin De Bruyne back in the side, it was Foden who took control of the game, finding space among Brentford’s compact lines and delivering devastating end product.
For all his talent, Foden has failed to cement his place as an undisputed starter for England. Though a certainty to travel to the European Championship in the summer, it remains to be seen how Gareth Southgate accommodates the 23-year-old, with Bukayo Saka and Jude Bellingham appearing nailed for two of the three roles in support of Harry Kane.
— Manchester City (@ManCity) February 6, 2024
On the international stage this summer, where England may need decisive moments against deep-lying defences, Foden appears a weapon Southgate must select.
“How he moves in the small spaces, I have seen many, many really good players in the small spaces but the impact, the feeling you have when he has the ball there, ‘Oh he can score’, that’s difficult to find,” Pep Guardiola said after the win at Brentford.
“This combination, moving between the pockets and then after, being like a knife. I have seen really few [like him].”
Broja to follow Solanke path?
Fulham host Bournemouth in the Premier League this weekend in a fixture that will see Chelsea academy graduates spearhead the sides.
Armando Broja signed on loan for Fulham in January after finding a route to first-team football blocked at Stamford Bridge and the 22-year-old will hope a regular role can help him realise his clear potential.
In the opposition, will be a player who has benefitted from deciding to leave West London. Dominic Solanke was viewed as one of Chelsea’s brightest talents during his progress through the ranks but, at 19, decided to leave for Liverpool in search of opportunity. That move failed to work out as hoped before Solanke bounced back from a difficult start to shine at Bournemouth.
— Premier League (@premierleague) February 2, 2024
Now 26, Solanke has 15 goals this season and has placed himself in contention for England’s Euro 2024 squad. He offers perhaps the perfect example to Broja, whose senior career has had its own stuttering start, of what can be achieved with hard work after frustration at Chelsea.
Liverpool need nuisance of Nunez
Liverpool’s title hopes suffered a setback after losing at Arsenal last weekend, with the Reds second-best on a disappointing afternoon in the capital. Jurgen Klopp sprang a surprise by leaving Darwin Nunez on the bench, with the forward’s absence felt as Liverpool mustered only a sole shot on target at the Emirates.
Nunez continues to divide opinion and his wastefulness has ensured he is a figure of fun for opposition fans. He might be unfortunate, or profligate, depending on where your allegiance lies, but the optics suggest Liverpool are a better side when the 24-year-old is involved.
Liverpool have lost four games in all competitions this season and Nunez has failed to start any of them. His influence, putting fear into defences with pace, power and a magnetic ability to find himself on the end of chances, is less tangible but no less important than the numerical data.
Nunez’s ‘Captain Chaos’ nickname has been well-earned, but his unpredictability – particularly in the absence of Mohamed Salah – is also what makes Liverpool look more threatening.
Brazil number nines go head-to-head
It’s an indication of the current strength of the Premier League that the leading contenders to be Brazil’s number nine feature predominantly on these shores. Arsenal’s Gabriel Jesus already has 64 caps for his country, while the form of Matheus Cunha (Wolves) and Richarlison (Spurs) have put them in line for international recalls.
The latter has been exceptional in recent weeks to keep alive Spurs’ push for the top four. In the absence of Son Heung-min, Richarlison has picked up the goalscoring baton to ignite a Spurs career that struggled to get going last season. A brace at former club Everton last weekend took the 26-year-old to nine goals in eight Premier League games, with no player in the division having scored more goals since December.
⚽️ Richarlison has scored more Premier League goals (9) than any other player since the start of December pic.twitter.com/RLgpCJU9qC
— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) February 4, 2024
In opposition at the weekend with be a player who is pushing to rival Richarlison for the Seleaco squad. Joao Pedro’s first campaign at Brighton has been impressive with 19 goals in 32 games in all competitions. A first cap for the national side arrived in the autumn and Pedro has continued to go from strength to strength at the Amex. He has the hallmarks of another huge sale for the Seagulls.
Villa need reaction in top-four chase
Aston Villa’s form has floundered at a crucial period in the season, with a midweek FA Cup exit at home to Chelsea continuing a downturn in form. Unai Emery’s side have won one of their last five in all competitions and have lost back-to-back home games.
Villa had lost just once at home all season before recent defeats to Newcastle and Chelsea, and need to rediscover their form ahead of a crucial clash this weekend. Fourth hosts sixth at Villa Park on Sunday with Manchester United the visitors. The Red Devils arrive in good form after three consecutive wins and can ill-afford a slip-up against a direct rival for the top four.
A win for Villa would put clear room between them and Erik ten Hag’s team, opening up an 11-point advantage. In a campaign that could see five Champions League places awarded to English clubs, that would be a giant stride towards Europe’s elite for the first time since 1983.
Trippier chasing assist records
Newcastle turned down an approach from Bayern Munich for Kieran Tripper in January, with the Magpies reluctant to lose the club’s leading chance creator.
Trippier registered his ninth assist of the Premier League campaign during the club’s bonkers 4-4 draw with Luton last weekend and only Ollie Watkins (10) has more in the Premier League this season. The England right-back could become the first Newcastle player in 22 years to reach 10+ assists in a single season against Nottingham Forest this weekend.
Kieran Trippier’s 9 Premier League assists this season is the best return of his career.
Impressive. 👏 pic.twitter.com/afd6EB7xsD
— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) February 3, 2024
Next in the 33-year-old’s sights will be Trent Alexander-Arnold’s landmark for the most assists by a defender in a season (13). The record for a Newcastle player in a single Premier League campaign (15) also appears within reach, achieved by Nolberto Solano in 1999/2000.
Rice returns to West Ham with Arsenal ambitions alive
Declan Rice’s departure from West Ham felt inevitable in the summer despite the high of Europa Conference League success last season.
The midfielder had been on the radar of the Premier League’s top teams for some time before Arsenal won the race to sign the 24-year-old in a club record £105m deal. Rice has been excellent in his opening months at Arsenal and was outstanding in the 3-1 win over title rivals Liverpool last week, a result which kept the Gunners alive in the title race.
Declan Rice on his dream midfield partner 💭 pic.twitter.com/VchstndAZf
— ESPN UK (@ESPNUK) February 7, 2024
Mikel Arteta’s team travel across the capital to take on West Ham this weekend, in what will be Rice’s first return to the London Stadium in the Premier League. Beaten twice by West Ham already this season in all competitions, Arsenal will need Rice at his best against his old side. There is little room for error in a tense title race.