Following the latest round of Premier League action we look at five things we learned from the weekend fixtures.
Do we have a real relegation battle?
For much of the opening months of the campaign, the prospect of a tightly fought relegation battle appeared unlikely. The three promoted sides all struggled to get points on the board, with much talk about the growing gap between the Premier League and the Championship.
Everton’s 10-point deduction added a sub-plot to the drama, while the promoted teams have begun to chip away at the gap between them and the sides in the safety positions. This weekend, each of the promoted trio earned results on the same weekend.
Luton pulled off a shock after beating Champions League hopefuls Newcastle 1-0, with Andros Townsend’s header downing his former club at Kenilworth Road.
Doughty’s delivery 🤌
Barkley’s flick-on 💪
Townsend’s header 🙌 pic.twitter.com/Go8zloBoOB
— Luton Town FC (@LutonTown) December 24, 2023
Burnley, meanwhile, earned an impressive 2-0 win at Fulham, while Sheffield United ended Aston Villa’s 15-game winning run on home soil with a battling 1-1 draw at Villa Park. With both Crystal Palace and Nottingham Forest on concerning winless runs, and Everton still far from clear of danger, the battle to survive might just be closer than we first anticipated.
A Boxing Day showdown between Sheffield United and Luton just got a little bigger.
Bournemouth should brace for Solanke bids
There’s nothing that attracts interest in the January transfer window like a striker scoring goals. For teams looking for mid-season improvements, goals are often at the top of the wish list.
Dominic Solanke’s stunning form for Bournemouth might just lead to big bids in the New Year after the forward reached 11 goals in the Premier League with a hat-trick against Nottingham Forest this weekend.
Before this season, Solanke had failed to fulfil the potential that once saw ex-Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho say he would blame himself if the forward failed to go on to become an England international.
Indeed, there was a surprise from some when Bournemouth turned down a £40m bid from West Ham for the striker last summer after Solanke had scored just six top-flight goals last season. That decision has been vindicated, however, with Solanke having propelled the Cherries’ upturn under Andoni Iraola.
Words don’t do his performance justice 🤯 pic.twitter.com/9tpEuD1HhG
— AFC Bournemouth 🍒 (@afcbournemouth) December 24, 2023
His hat-trick against Nottingham Forest showed the centre-forward qualities that Solanke’s game has previously been accused of lacking, with two outstanding headers and a poacher’s finish from close range. Admirable work ethic and intelligence had long been there, but an improved confidence when chances present has taken Solanke’s game to a new level.
After failing to make the grade at Chelsea and Liverpool, there might be a club prepared to offer the 26-year-old another European chance this January.
Richarlison revival continues
Richarlison’s first season at Tottenham proved forgettable. A big-money recruit, he mustered just three goals in 35 games and took his fair share of flak in the process.
Harry Kane’s presence did little to help Richarlison find his role in a Spurs shirt, and the former’s departure has freed space in the forward line. With new manager Ange Postecoglou having implemented a brave and bold brand of football, Richarlison is beginning to find his feet in the capital.
The Brazil international made it four goals in three games with the opener against Everton this weekend, his sixth of the season in all competitions. The return to form and confidence of the forward could hardly have been better timed for Tottenham, as leading scorer Son Heung-min prepares to depart for the Asian Cup in the new year.
“He’s at his best right now!” 🔥
— Tottenham Hotspur (@SpursOfficial) December 23, 2023
On current form, there will be confidence that Richarlison can fill that void, as he looks to rediscover the level that saw him score 53 goals in 152 games for Everton. At the weekend, the travelling Toffees gave their former favourite a warm applause despite his role in their defeat.
Meek Manchester United must find a striking solution
Manchester United’s struggle for goals continued as the Red Devils crashed to a 13th defeat of the season in all competitions at West Ham. Erik ten Hag’s team are unable to create or convert chances with any form of consistency, with Alejandro Garnacho wasting their best opportunity at the London Stadium with a shot straight at the goalkeeper when well placed.
United have scored just 18 goals in the Premier League this season, with only bottom-of-the-division Sheffield United having managed less. Rasmus Hojlund’s wait for a first league goal extended into a 15th game, and the pressure is mounting on the £72m summer recruit to find his feet. The 20-year-old will, unfairly, be judged on a price tag placed on him by others and is currently struggling under the scrutiny of that spotlight.
Manchester United have played 26 games this season.
They’ve lost 13 of ’em.
— B/R Football (@brfootball) December 23, 2023
Better too is required from Marcus Rashford, Bruno Fernandes, Garnacho and Anthony. Combined, that quartet have six league goals from 64 appearances this season. On their performances so far this season, the Red Devils are a mile off competing for Champions League football.
Ten Hag’s side have now gone four games without a goal, the club’s longest run in 31 years.
Endo exit untimely for Liverpool
Liverpool continue to be linked with signing a defensive midfielder in January, though injury issues elsewhere might change the focus of the Reds’ recruitment team. Those absences, notably in defence, and the recent improvement of Wataru Endo have lessened the calls for reinforcements to anchor the midfield.
The Japan international was viewed as a stop-gap signing in the summer after Liverpool missed out on Romeo Lavia and Moises Caicedo, brought in from Stuttgart for a fee of £16.25m to bolster numbers.
At 30, this was a player to add experience now, but a sluggish start in the Premier League raised concerns. Against Arsenal this weekend, however, Endo produced his best performance in a Liverpool shirt.
🏅🇯🇵 Wataru Endo v Arsenal:
Minutes: 90 Min
Acc. Passes: 88%
Tackles Won: 100%
Aerial Duels Won: 100%
— LFC Transfer Room (@LFCTransferRoom) December 23, 2023
He snapped into challenges, won three tackles, and helped Liverpool get back into the game after Arsenal’s quick-fire start at Anfield. Given his recent improvement and increasing importance, the upcoming Asian Cup is untimely for Jurgen Klopp, who will lose Endo in a fortnight as the midfielder departs to captain favourites Japan at the tournament.