Following the latest round of Premier League action we look at five things we learned from the weekend fixtures.
Watkins sends Southgate statement
Ollie Watkins has become somewhat of a forgotten figure for England. The Aston Villa forward won the last of his seven caps in March 2022, with Gareth Southgate having selected a host of centre-forwards ahead of the 27-year-old for recent squads.
Watkins timed his purple patch poorly last season in terms of World Cup selection, scoring 13 of his 15 league goals after the season’s post-Qatar restart. Watkins’ run of form was not enough to earn England appearances in either the summer or September, but there can be no ignoring him now.
In front of the watching Southgate, Watkins tore Brighton apart this weekend. He scored a second hat-trick of the season as Unai Emery’s side ran riot to record a 10th consecutive home Premier League win.
⚽⚽⚽ 🆚 Liverpool (2020/21)
⚽⚽⚽ 🆚 Brighton (2023/24)
— Aston Villa (@AVFCOfficial) September 30, 2023
Watkins never lacks in effort, but against Brighton he got his rewards. He burst into the box to turn in Matty Cash’s cross for the opener, before doubling the lead with a surging run and composed finish. His third was fortuitous, but the luck Watkins deserved for another all-action showing.
After watching Callum Wilson, Ivan Toney and Eddie Nketiah all earn nods ahead of him for recent squads, Watkins will feel he has done enough to warrant inclusion. He’s no longer knocking on the door for a recall, but banging it down.
Ten Hag can’t hide behind Glazers
The ongoing civil war between the Manchester United fanbase and ownership means the man in charge receives some grace. For Erik ten Hag however, that grace is reducing by the week.
A top-four finish and League Cup win was deemed above satisfactory for the Dutchman’s debut season in charge, but his second season has began disastrously with four defeats from seven Premier League games. It’s United’s worst start to a league campaign in 34 years, one which leaves the Red Devils tenth in the table and six adrift of the Champions League places.
🗣 “When you play Crystal Palace, you have to win.”
Erik ten Hag reflects on Manchester United’s fourth loss in seven Premier League games this season 🔴📉 pic.twitter.com/Wl1Rv3hGUG
— Sky Sports News (@SkySportsNews) October 1, 2023
Ten Hag is short on excuses. Admittedly his side have had injury problems this season, but this is a squad that has seen £400m invested into it since his arrival. Five of the team beaten by Crystal Palace at Old Trafford this weekend were Ten Hag recruits, signed for a combined £232m – before add-ons.
Roberto De Zerbi, Unai Emery, even Ange Postecoglou. Each have had far less, both in resources and time, to improve their teams, but have shown much clearer direction than Ten Hag to date.
VAR, incompetence, and a never ending crusade to ruin football
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, is there anyone still in favour of VAR?
Spurs and Liverpool began as most had hoped, a fixture played at a frenetic pace by two teams keen to go toe-to-toe. A contest packed full of incident and drama materialised, but ended with the narrative once again dominated by VAR.
Curtis Jones was shown a straight red card after consultation with VAR in the first half, an incident which in real-time could have gone either way, but replayed to referee Simon Hooper in the manner it was led to only one outcome.
— Match of the Day (@BBCMOTD) September 30, 2023
Liverpool will have felt disappointed but perhaps not wronged. That, however, can not be said for Luis Diaz’s disallowed goal, a decision which the PGMOL came out to apologise for just minutes after the full-time whistle. ‘Significant human error’ was cited for the failure to overturn the on-field referee’s decision to disallow the goal, a mistake most will deem inexcusable given VAR’s role to review major incident.
Spurs’ dramatic late win over Liverpool remained one of the games of the season so far. Sadly, however, VAR – or rather its continued misusage – is the overriding narrative once again. It won’t be, but its introduction to the game should be reconsidered.
Ange-ball has Spurs daring to dream
It might be lost among the aforementioned drama of officiating and controversy, but for Spurs this was a statement win. Ange Postecoglou has been a breath of fresh air for both north London and the Premier League, turning Tottenham from a club meandering from one failed project to another into a team the fans have fallen in love with.
These are still early days for the Postecoglou project, but Spurs are second in the Premier League table and unbeaten so far. Acid-tests against Arsenal and Liverpool have been navigated in recent weeks in the first real tests of the Australian’s regime, one which has Spurs playing a brand of football to excite a fanbase all too familiar with uninspiring pragmatism.
Ange Postecoglou is now unbeaten in his last 5️⃣1️⃣ home games 🏠👏 pic.twitter.com/t1bh66ikXp
— 433 (@433) October 1, 2023
The Spurs support will be cautious about investing too much in early season optimism, but Champions League football should be the target. Son Heung-min looks back to his best and enjoying a central role. Yves Bissouma has been reborn. James Maddison’s performances have perhaps provoked regret from rival recruiters.
There remain issues, of course, but the positivity can not be denied. Who knows how far Postecoglou can take this team. Regardless, it will be a fun ride to watch.
Wolves win was coming
Wolves secured the shock of the weekend after beating Manchester City at Molineux, with Pep Guardiola admitting his City side deserved their first defeat of the Premier League season.
Wolves have had a mixed start under new manager Gary O’Neil, who took over the side after Julen Lopetegui walked out just three days before the start of the campaign. This weekend’s win should serve as the template for Wolves moving forward, who defended resolutely against the Premier League champions and showed real threat on the counter. This was a win that had arguably been coming, with Wolves having created chances aplenty in defeats to Manchester United and Liverpool already this season.
What a moment.
— Wolves (@Wolves) September 30, 2023
Pedro Neto’s return to form and fitness is welcomed, while Hwang Hee-chan and Matheus Cunha were selfless in their defensive work and troubled City on the break. Wolves have long lacked goals and their squad does not possess a centre-forward option who can truly be relied upon, but there’s enough elsewhere – even after the summer sales of Ruben Neves, Matheus Nunes and Nathan Collins – to suggest O’Neil’s team can climb clear of danger down the bottom.