Premier League things we learned with Harry Maguire, Erling Haaland and Antonio Conte
The New Year was ushered in with another full round of Premier League action and it’s very much advantage Arsenal at the top.
While Mikel Arteta’s side were not entirely convincing in their 4-2 win at Brighton, they nonetheless went seven points clear after Manchester City were held by Everton earlier in the day.
It was a happy Hogmanay for Manchester United, too, as they moved into the top four with a slender victory at Wolves before sides around them, including Newcastle and Tottenham, dropped points.
Arsenal stormed into 2023 on a high as they won at Brighton to move seven points clear
Erling Haaland was a furious figure as Manchester City were held at home by Everton
Chelsea were held to a draw at Nottingham Forest, while problems mount for Southampton and West Ham.
Here’s what we learned from the latest top-flight action.
Tottenham’s season could easily unravel amid fan anger
Remember when Tottenham won five of their first seven Premier League games this season? It certainly seems a awful long time ago now.
Sunday’s dismal home defeat to Aston Villa saw Spurs struggle to get out of first gear. Harry Kane and Son Heung-min barely had a sniff of the ball in attacking areas, while the defence was opened up at crucial moments and Hugo Lloris made another error.
Antonio Conte looked absolutely crestfallen on the sidelines and the furious support vented at chairman Daniel Levy.
Tottenham were dreadful as they were beaten at home by Aston Villa on New Year’s Day
But this mood of rebellion isn’t going to be easily quelled. Conte in the past may have performed his usual trick of threatening to walk if not backed in the transfer market.
Levy can point to the £60m spent on Richarlison last summer, as well as significant sums on Cristian Romero, now a world champion, and Yves Bissouma.
There’s also the mitigation of having influential players such as Richarlison, Dejan Kulusevski and Rodrigo Bentancur currently out with injury.
Antonio Conte’s side were booed off, while angry fans chanted for Daniel Levy to go
‘When they return, performances should improve, so no need for January investment,’ could easily be Levy’s attitude if Conte knocks on his door.
So the Italian boss is in a bind. He is the one who needs to address Tottenham’s inexplicable habit of falling behind in games – that’s 10 in a row now they’ve conceded the first goal – and other problems that were clearly never far below the surface.
On January 15, Tottenham play leaders Arsenal in their next home league game. Nobody at Spurs can be looking forward to it.
Daniel Levy will simply point to money spent last summer to face down any criticism
Chelsea can’t afford to be left behind
A far from happy New Year for Graham Potter at Chelsea, too, as they dropped points on the road for the fourth straight match in a 1-1 draw at Nottingham Forest.
They are in serious danger of being cut adrift from the top four and the prospect of not qualifying for the Champions League next season is pretty unpalatable.
With the emergence of Newcastle as a force, Man United gathering strength and Liverpool coming back into form, Chelsea will face an uphill struggle to finish in the top four.
Todd Boehly will surely be less trigger happy when it comes to managers than Roman Abramovich and Potter will be allowed time to build his project, but only making the Europa League undoubtedly heightens the pressure.
Chelsea are in real danger of being cut adrift from the top four as they dropped points again
Having started strongly at a vociferous City Ground, Chelsea faded away alarmingly, managing only one shot in the second-half despite Potter throwing on the likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Hakim Ziyech and Conor Gallagher to offer fresh legs.
They certainly shouldn’t lack depth of quality though Graeme Souness made the point it was ‘madness’ to sell Timo Werner and Romelu Lukaku when they’re crying out for a marksman.
That overlooks the fact both strikers flopped badly at the club, with Lukaku also an unhelpful agitator off the pitch too.
Graham Potter started promisingly but his honeymoon period is well and truly over now
Top quality, good value centre-forwards will be a precious commodity in January and Chelsea should be doing better in front of goal with what they have.
At least they’re strengthening at the back with the £33m signing of Benoit Badiashile from Monaco. It’s hard to know whether that is really the root of their problems.
Oh well, Manchester City next…
Godfrey showed defenders how to get under Haaland’s skin
It took just nine seconds for Everton’s Ben Godfrey to dump Erling Haaland on his backside.
Erling Haaland lost his boot when Ben Godfrey clattered him in the first minute
This probably seems like football’s equivalent of bear baiting but 90 minutes later and Everton had picked up an unexpected point at the Etihad, relieving the pressure on Frank Lampard, and the Norwegian cut a mighty figure of frustration.
Though he scored his 21st league goal of an absurdly prolific season, Haaland was too pumped up and ran a disciplinary tightrope when he lunged into Vitaliy Mykolenko and caught James Tarkowski with a flailing arm.
In between, Haaland was whipping up the crowd when he did win a free-kick. Clearly, Everton had succeeded in rattling him.
Afterwards, Pep Guardiola revealed he needed to have a calming word with the striker. ‘I told him to be careful because we can’t play 10 against 11 – and he reacted well,’ he said.
Haaland was unable to find City a winner as they dropped points at home for the second successive game to fall further behind Arsenal.
Godfrey, meanwhile, was man of the match after a heroic defensive performance as Everton withstood a barrage of pressure.
He may also have shown Premier League defenders the most effective way to stop Haaland.
Haaland was clearly rattled by Everton’s physical treatment and risked being sent off himself
Arsenal still look vulnerable ahead of defining month
Buoyed by news of City dropping points, Arsenal surged into 3-0 and 4-1 leads at Brighton – yet they almost let it slip through their fingers.
When Kaoru Mitoma appeared to have made it 4-3, Mikel Arteta’s side were seriously wobbling and it was a great relief when VAR intervened to disallow it.
Going forward, the Gunners are making light of the absence of Gabriel Jesus. Martin Odegaard was excellent again, as was Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli. Eddie Nketiah is forcing some hasty reappraisals of his abilities after another goal.
Arsenal were on the ropes when Brighton saw their third goal disallowed by VAR
Yet they never completely killed off a Brighton side who were without their Argentine World Cup winner Alexis Mac Allister, plus Moises Caicedo, Danny Welbeck and Adam Webster.
Arsenal can’t rely on a policy of outscoring opponents, they need to be solid defensively as well.
That’s because while Brighton couldn’t find a route back into the game, some of their upcoming opponents most certainly would.
Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal are in a strong position but a defining few weeks now lies in store
On Tuesday it’s third-placed Newcastle United at the Emirates Stadium and the next six weeks contain season-defining games against Tottenham, Man United and Man City.
If they’re still seven points clear at the end of that daunting run, the fans can really believe it’s going to happen.
Maguire needs to consider his United future
If Harry Maguire thought his commanding performances in England’s defence at the World Cup would be his ticket back into Erik ten Hag’s plans, he was sadly mistaken.
Lisandro Martinez isn’t even back in Man United’s side after his World Cup exploits with Argentina but Ten Hag still doesn’t back Maguire to partner Raphael Varane at the heart of his defence.
For the second consecutive game, Luke Shaw was drafted in while Maguire warmed the bench. Shaw had never played as a centre-half before and yet he was trusted to start.
Harry Maguire warmed the bench again in Man United’s win at Wolves as Luke Shaw started – he eventually replaced Bruno Fernandes in the dying moments
The strange situation wasn’t lost on Rio Ferdinand in the BT Sport studio, who said: ‘If I’m Harry Maguire, I’m looking for a new club right now. He’s faultless for England. At Man United, it hasn’t worked out for him.’
Rio is probably right. Maguire may have to accept the reality of his standing in the eyes of Ten Hag and cut his losses by looking for a new employer.
Maguire needs to consider his Old Trafford future because Ten Hag clearly doesn’t rate him
Ten Hag has shown himself a man of convictions – just ask Cristiano Ronaldo – and if he doesn’t fancy you, it seems you’re fighting a losing battle.
Maguire has a contract until 2025 at Old Trafford but it’s clear which way the wind is blowing.
Moyes has three games to save his job
David Moyes has certainly been bullish in recent statements about being sacked by West Ham. Last week, he stared down his inquisitor and declared he retained the backing of the board.
David Moyes is in serious trouble after West Ham suffered a fifth straight loss
That was before they lost miserably to Brentford on Friday, the Hammers’ fifth consecutive league defeat either side of the World Cup.
This time last year, the London Stadium brimmed with optimism as they chased the top four and glory in the Europa League.
How things have soured for Moyes. Now they’re 17th and looking over their shoulder with only goal difference keeping them out of the relegation zone.
Next up in the league it’s Leeds away, Wolves away and Everton at home – all huge matches. It’s no exaggeration that Moyes has three games to save his job and West Ham must be taking at least five points from nine on offer.
Too many players – new and old – have been under-performing this season and there’s an air of them blowing their big chance last season by not investing in January.
Moyes is struggling to get a tune out of them now and his confidence in his job security will be seriously tested if they don’t win their next game.
Why was Liverpool’s defence sliced open like a knife through butter?
Liverpool were indebted to Sideshow Bob lookalike Wout Faes for stepping on rakes as they beat Leicester on Friday night.
But a second league win since the resumption, putting them in touch with the top four again, contained some worrying moments defensively.
How on earth did Virgil van Dijk and Joel Matip allow Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall to simply glide through the middle of them to open the scoring early on?
Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall glides through the Liverpool defence to open the scoring for Leicester
It wasn’t the last time Leicester, whose players do a good trade in playing on the shoulder of the last defender, broke through and with Liverpool’s forwards unable to put the game to bed.
Van Dijk and Matip are hardly a fresh central defensive pairing but they looked at times like they hadn’t met and it was surprising.
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