Following the latest round of Premier League action we look at five things we learned from the weekend fixtures, featuring the title contenders, a hopeless handball law, and Manchester United’s maligned men.
Momentum with Manchester City
There’s an ominous feel to Manchester City’s recent form. Pep Guardiola’s side have been down this road before, finding a run of momentum when it matters most. The Citizens broke Everton’s determined resistance to claim a 2-0 win at the Etihad on Saturday lunchtime, a 10th consecutive win in all competitions and a sixth straight in the Premier League.
Everton defended valiantly for much of the contest, but in Erling Haaland and Kevin De Bruyne, the champions have two players capable of taking any game away from any opponent. Haaland rasped in an instinctive first to open the scoring before City’s leading lights combined for the second late on.
— Manchester City (@ManCity) February 10, 2024
City are capable of stunning sequences of wins and appear to be gearing up for another right now. It could hardly have been timed more perfectly, with league fixtures against Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal to come before the end of March.
Those latter two teams are doing their best to end the Blues’ stranglehold on the division, but each will be aware they must be almost flawless to stop City’s quest for a record-breaking fourth crown in a row.
Can we please have some common sense on handballs?
In a week where The International Football Association Board (IFAB) have been in the headlines once again for proposing unwanted changes to the game, we had two prime examples of why interference from the organisation should be met with resistance.
The handball law has become a source of confusion and contention, with the current interpretation baffling to anyone who has played the game.
Luton’s fixture with Sheffield United saw bizarre spot-kicks awarded for both teams. Sheffield United were given a spot-kick when Vini Souza’s header struck the outstretched arm of Reece Burke, with the game halted as Chris Kavanagh consulted VAR, despite no appeals.
Kavanagh then visited the screen for a second time to award Luton a penalty in the second half, when Elijah Adebayo’s header hit the semi-raised arm of Souza, who was not even facing the play, from point-blank range.
Luton boss Rob Edwards admitted at full-time that he doesn’t know what handball is anymore, and he’s far from alone in that stance. Common sense, and a review of the current laws, are badly needed.
Let’s talk about Bruno
Bruno Guimaraes’s long-term future at Newcastle has been debated in recent months, amid suggestions the club could cash in on a big name to remain compliant with the Premier League’s financial rules.
Few players in Eddie Howe’s squad will command as much interest as Guimaraes, who provided another reminder of his class with a starring performance in the win at Nottingham Forest.
The Brazilian won six ground duels, completed 87% of his passes and won the game for Newcastle with two moments of magic. First, he arrived at the back post to volley home Kieran Trippier’s cross, guiding a first-time finish into the far corner. His tenacity in the tackle then led to Newcastle’s winner, as he reacted first to intercept a loose pass and rifle a finish into the bottom corner.
— Newcastle United FC (@NUFC) February 10, 2024
Guimaraes is one of the most complete midfielders in the Premier League and showed what he can do with greater licence to get forward. His reported release clause of £100m will not be enough to dissuade wealthy clubs in the summer if he continues to produce performances of this quality.
Arsenal send statement in title race
Arsenal’s emphatic win over Liverpool last weekend ensured the Gunners remained alive in the title race and the North Londoners followed that win with another statement this weekend.
Mikel Arteta’s side cut apart West Ham to win 6-0 at the London Stadium, leading 4-0 at half-time in a ruthless performance. West Ham, admittedly, were dreadful defensively and Arsenal capitalised with set-piece service. The highest scorers in the Premier League from dead balls this season, Arsenal extended that record with dangerous deliveries for William Saliba and Gabriel.
Arsenal have won their opening four league games of a calendar year for the first time since 1935:
◉ 5-0 vs. Crystal Palace
◉ 1-2 vs. Nottingham Forest
◉ 3-1 vs. Liverpool
◉ 0-6 vs. West Ham
The winter break did them the world of good. 👀 pic.twitter.com/fIqR0ESVol
— Squawka (@Squawka) February 11, 2024
Last season, Arsenal’s title challenge crumbled during the run-in as the Gunners squandered two-goal leads to draw with Liverpool and West Ham in consecutive games. This time around, Arteta’s team have swatted aside those same opponents and remain right in a race where each of the leading contenders appears in strong form.
Arsenal, who boast the best defensive record in the division, are a real threat from set-pieces and have a welcome spread of goalscorers, appear well-equipped to challenge for a first Premier League crown in two decades.
Manchester United’s maligned men make their mark
Representing Manchester United can often be a pressure cooker for players. No side in English football has such scrutiny placed upon them, with little hiding place for mistakes or bad periods.
Erik ten Hag’s team kept alive their hopes of Champions League football with a vital 2-1 win at Aston Villa this weekend, a result which closed the gap on the top four and saw several maligned members of the Red Devils squad thrive.
Andre Onana produced one of his best performances since arriving in England with a series of smart stops, reacting brilliantly to keep out Ollie Watkins and John McGinn. Meanwhile, Harry Maguire recorded an assist and was commanding at centre-back, and Scott McTominay came off the bench to produce his latest clutch moment.
Scott McTominay in the Premier League this season:
Subs on: 87′ vs Brentford to score twice in 2-1 win
Subs on: 73′ vs. Wolves to score in 4-3 win
Subs on: 73′ vs Villa to score in 2-1 win
It’s what he does 💥 pic.twitter.com/BirJxmt39t
— B/R Football (@brfootball) February 11, 2024
The midfielder headed home Diogo Dalot’s late cross to score his seventh Premier League goal of the campaign, four of which have come off the bench. The Scotland international’s goal was also his third match-winner of the season, with only six Premier League players having managed more.
Each of that trio has faced their fair share of tribulations and criticism but delivered in a must-win match for Ten Hag and his team.