Following the latest round of Premier League action we look at five things we learned from the weekend fixtures.
Elliott a game-changer, but Liverpool need anchor
Liverpool escaped from Crystal Palace with a 2-1 win that moved the Reds top of the table, but there was little convincing about the performance of Jurgen Klopp’s side. A controversial red card saw the game turn in Liverpool’s favour, after Jordan Ayew was dismissed for two bookings, with Palace leading.
Harvey Elliott continued his habit of influencing games off the bench, as the 20-year-old fired in a stoppage-time winner. Elliott has started just once in the Premier League this season, but has proven to be an effective option from the bench. After late assists to help Liverpool come from behind to earn results against Wolves and Luton, the England u-21 international fired home his first goal of the season at Selhurst Park to snatch the points.
A stunning late winner from our 💎 pic.twitter.com/Ysx36p8IYV
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) December 9, 2023
While Elliott is banging on the door for inclusion in midfield, issues remain in Liverpool’s new look side. Wataru Endo was poor at Palace, filling in for the injured Alexis Mac Allister as the deepest of the midfield three. The Japan international is the only available defensive midfield option in Klopp’s squad, but lacked imagination in possession and struggled with the physicality of Palace.
The 30-year-old was a stop-gap signing after missing out on Romeo Lavia and Moises Caicedo last summer, and his underwhelming start at Liverpool has heightened the need for an engine room anchor. Finances and availability will dictate whether one arrives in January, but a specialist defensive midfielder could make the difference in Liverpool’s title challenge.
Solanke making case as England wildcard?
Five wins in seven games have seen Bournemouth pull clear of relegation trouble, with the impact of Andoni Iraola beginning to be felt. The Cherries produced a superb performance to beat Manchester United 3-0 this week, earning a first-ever league win at Old Trafford in impressive fashion.
Iraola arrived with a reputation for high-energy football, and it has taken time for the Spaniard’s demands to take shape, but Bournemouth are beginning to look like a well-drilled outfit.
At the forefront of their improvement has been Dominic Solanke. The 26-year-old leads the line superbly for Bournemouth, with intricate link-up and admirable work-rate. Goals have been the problem in preventing Solanke from reaching the next level, though he has found his goalscoring groove this season.
Solanke hit his eighth of the campaign with a flicked finish at Manchester United, with this already the best return of his Premier League career. Only Jarrod Bowen (9) has scored more goals among English players in the Premier League this season, while the lack of form and/or fitness of Ivan Toney, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Callum Wilson and Tammy Abraham could see Solanke position himself in contention for an England call.
Gareth Southgate has said his squad will be selected on form and, while that has not always been true, if Solanke can continue his recent form across the festive period, he could be in line for inclusion in the spring.
Title talk banned, but the table does not lie
John McGinn insisted he is banning the ‘T-word’ at Aston Villa, despite the club’s best start to a season since the club were last crowned champions in 1981.
Villa are being backed as genuine title contenders after a second straight win over last season’s top two, beating Manchester City and Arsenal in consecutive games at Villa Park. It’s now 15 successive home wins in the Premier League for Unai Emery’s team, who are just two points off new leaders Liverpool in what is shaping up as a fascinating battle at the top.
35 – Aston Villa have earned 35+ points after 16 games of a top-flight campaign for the fifth time (counting 3pts per win all-time), after:
1898-99 – Champions
1899-00 – Champions
1910-11 – 2nd
1980-81 – Champions
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 9, 2023
Villa have consolidated a position in the Champions League places and talk has now turned to a potential title tilt. While those at Bodymoor Heath are refusing to get carried away, Villa have arguably been the most consistent team in the Premier League since defeat at Liverpool in September.
Emery’s arrival has brought the best from players who struggled under the past regime, with Leon Bailey and Lucas Digne among those much improved. The club’s midfield is among the most difficult in the division to play against, while Emi Martinez and Ollie Watkins offer real quality at both ends of the pitch. There’s a long way to go, but Villa have shown this week that they don’t fear anyone.
Spurs wonderfully watchable again
Some had suggested the bubble might have burst for Ange Postecoglou at Spurs, with the North Londoners having gone five games without a win in the Premier League. The Australian’s back-to-back-to-back Manager of the Month accolades were followed with a winless run, one which had seen Spurs drop from table toppers to fifth. With injuries mounting and results on the slide, Postecoglou needed a response this weekend, and got one.
How much is a Spurs season ticket?!!! https://t.co/wgeQyf87cy
— Jamie Carragher (@Carra23) December 10, 2023
Spurs were brilliant against Newcastle, playing the sort of fluid attacking football that has become associated with the North Londoners under Postecoglou. Despite notable absences, Spurs found their groove to sweep aside the Magpies in a 4-1 win. Son Heung-min created two goals and scored another, while Richarlison hit a brace to send Spurs on their way to an emphatic result.
Spurs dominated possession (57%) and won a higher percentage of duels (59%) than in any other game so far this season. Postecoglou’s side have also managed more touches in the opposition box than any other team in the Premier League this season, evidence of the new manager’s front-footed philosophy. After some turgid football in recent campaigns, Spurs are a wonderful watch again.
Spurs have completed more than double the amount of passes (239/277) than Newcastle (115/154), and have had 65% possession to Newcastle’s 35%.
— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) December 10, 2023
Pochettino under pressure?
Todd Boehly is not afraid to make a big decision. Thomas Tuchel was sacked at Chelsea just a season-and-a-half after lifting the Champions League, before Graham Potter was hired and fired in less than seven months.
The American turned to Mauricio Pochettino during the summer, a coach with a reputation for developing young talent and with previous experience of the Premier League. Pochettino has continued to bang the drum regarding patience with Chelsea’s long-term project, but is that fast becoming a personal plea for time?
The Argentine has endured difficult start to his tenure at Chelsea, winning just five of his opening 16 Premier League games in charge. A disappointing performance at Manchester United was followed by another defeat at Everton this weekend, a seventh of the season for the West Londoners who sit 12th in the table.
— DR Sports (@drsportsmedia) December 10, 2023
More than £1 billion has been spent on players since Boehly’s takeover, with £435.5m of that investment coming last summer. Who really is in charge of recruitment at Chelsea right now is uncertain, granted, but there’s no doubt that more should be expected from a squad as talented as this. Pochettino is coming under increasing pressure.