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theScore examines the most important developments and biggest talking points from another entertaining weekend of Premier League football.
Pep needs a rethink
Something’s amiss at Manchester City.
As a creator, Erling Haaland made telling contributions during Sunday’s pulsating 3-3 draw with Tottenham Hotspur. He showed great awareness to cut the ball across for Grealish, who put City back ahead in the 81st minute, and, as the match edged toward its conclusion, set up Grealish on a one-on-one opportunity that could’ve earned all three points. However, referee Simon Hooper, who initially allowed play to continue, stopped the breakaway to give City a free-kick. It was yet another perplexing decision in a wretched campaign for Premier League officials.
But Haaland was also wasteful. In the first half, he steered the ball wide from 10 yards out with the goal at his mercy and somehow lifted another inviting chance high into the stands. There were some unlucky elements to City’s outing – Jeremy Doku and Julian Alvarez hit the woodwork in the opening stanza – but ultimately, City failed to kill Tottenham off. It was the same scenario in their previous Premier League matches against Liverpool and Chelsea.
The attack must be more clinical and can lose intensity once they’re ahead, the latter of which could hint at complacency but is likelier the result of missing Ilkay Gundogan (now at Barcelona) and Kevin De Bruyne (injured). However, that’s still not the biggest issue.
The defense is unraveling.
Josko Gvardiol is taking longer than his fellow summer arrivals to acclimate to Pep Guardiola’s game plan and the pace of English football. He can be exposed at left-back; jostling, jinking wingers can outmaneuver him and right-back Kyle Walker is too far away to bail him out with his pace. Guardiola was right to substitute Gvardiol given the freedom Dejan Kulusevski was enjoying down the flank, but his replacement, Nathan Ake, summed up City’s defensive problems with Tottenham’s third goal. Ake lacked sharpness and aggression when Brennan Johnson’s cross sailed over, letting Kulusevski leap above him and head past Ederson.
Sharpness and aggression were also missing for two of Chelsea’s four goals, both of RB Leipzig attacker Lois Openda’s strikes on Tuesday, and the lethargic passing that preceded Giovani Lo Celso’s finish at the Etihad Stadium. Statistically, Manchester City’s current defense is only slightly better than the backline deployed during the opening months of Guardiola’s tenure, when Aleksandar Kolarov sometimes filled in at center-back and other full-backs, like Pablo Zabaleta and Bacary Sagna, were well past their best.
Last season, playing four center-backs brought more solidity to Guardiola’s team. It was the solution that led to City winning the treble. This term, the center-back department – whether it’s three or four center-backs fielded – is what must be fixed. Guardiola needs to get creative once again to strengthen his side’s charge for trophies.
Liverpool are mentality monsters again
Who expected Liverpool to concede as many goals to Fulham as they had allowed in their previous 10 home matches combined? But when the defending is “awful,” as Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp made clear, the improbable gains a few percentage points.
Defending was optional at various points of Sunday’s chaotic match at Anfield, which ended 4-3 in favor of Liverpool following a two-goal outburst at the end of regular time. Trailing 3-2, Liverpool turned the result on its head when substitute Wataru Endo and Trent Alexander-Arnold rifled unstoppable shots in the 87th and 88th minutes.
That it required such heroics may alarm Klopp, whose side had striven so hard to restore the mystique around Anfield after last season’s breaches. But the late comeback proved something more important in that Liverpool have reacquired the mental strength that delivered many of their most famous results during Klopp’s eight-year reign.
“At 3-3, everyone could see the boys wanted more,” Klopp told reporters, including The Guardian’s Will Unwin.
Klopp referred to his players as “mentality monsters” when they were regularly fighting for trophies. After spending a season in the wilderness, the term could apply again. His next-man-up philosophy is back in full force, with Endo showing incredible calm off the bench and Cody Gakpo injecting energy. There is no selfishness in this team or time for the players to get down on themselves. Darwin Nunez had missed enough chances for any striker to throw a tantrum, but he kept his head and kept going, channelling his frustration by urging the crowd to make more noise. Though he couldn’t get on the scoresheet, Nunez celebrated hardest of all his teammates when Endo and Alexander-Arnold fired back. That’s what Klopp has always demanded: full buy-in from each one of his players in good times and bad.
That sense of self-belief vanished during the 2022-23 campaign, when the Reds dropped points to the likes of Nottingham Forest, Leeds United, Wolverhampton, and Bournemouth. Every setback threatened to derail their season.
Now you get the sense that Liverpool welcome the challenge.
It’s not that they just fought back Sunday. They scored some ridiculous goals in the process. All four of Liverpool’s goals came from distance, including Alexis Mac Allister’s spectacular half-volley. Mac Allister hadn’t scored for Liverpool before Sunday’s contest, going 16 fixtures without hitting the net. But something had changed.
“Before the game you could see Macca’s foot is right today,” Klopp said. “He was really into shooting. I thought, ‘Wow, you better try it.’ And he obviously thought the same.”
Shorthanded Newcastle pass another test
It’s no secret that Manchester United and Newcastle United aren’t on the same level.
The gulf between the two clubs appeared long before Saturday, and recent results and run of form offered a clue as to what may transpire, but the evidence from over 100 minutes of action at St James’ Park revealed a Grand Canyon-sized abyss.
The mere suggestion that Saturday’s narrow 1-0 result was flattering for Manchester United would be the understatement of the year. Despite missing 13 players through injury, the Magpies still managed to overwhelm in the same fashion by which Tottenham were embarrassed last season in a 6-1 thrashing at the unforgiving stadium on Tyneside in April.
Manchester United were repeatedly under pressure, enduring wave after wave of attack from a Newcastle side that was able to generate countless opportunities without much resistance. In Manchester United’s attack, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial were rendered useless due to the team’s inability to get out of its own half. Rashford tossed his gloves away in anger after being subbed off, while Andre Onana was a fan favorite for all of the wrong reasons. The Cameroonian was relentlessly targeted after his costly blunders against Galatasaray on Wednesday in the Champions League.
But, overall, it was a lack of discipline, leadership, and a disjointed squad that doomed Manchester United and allowed Newcastle to put on a show with their fluid attack.
Newcastle would’ve obviously liked to have secured three points with a more clinical display after outshooting the Red Devils 22-8, but they won’t complain considering they’re dealing with an injury crisis that deepened when goalkeeper Nick Pope suffered what appeared to be a dislocated shoulder in Saturday’s game. His expected absence will likely pose another obstacle for a Newcastle team that’s exceeded expectations without a host of head coach Eddie Howe’s first-team regulars, such as Dan Burn, Callum Wilson, and suspended Sandro Tonali.
Arsenal living on the edge
A win’s a win. But the way Arsenal ended Saturday’s 2-1 victory dulled the shine of what should’ve been a celebratory outcome against a difficult Wolverhampton Wanderers side. In a match in which the Gunners played well enough for 85 minutes to win comfortably, Arsenal’s failure to kill the game off resulted in an unexpectedly intense end to the contest. Instead of putting the finishing touches on a game where they led by two goals after 13 minutes, Arsenal had fans on the edge of their seats after Wolves cut their deficit in half in the 86th minute. It ended up serving as a wake-up call for the hosts, who had seemingly switched off in the second half after dominating the opening 45 minutes. But Mikel Arteta’s men eventually saw the game out, with Arsenal registering their fifth victory by a single goal to pad their lead atop the Premier League summit. While it seems silly to suggest that a team coming off a 6-0 rout in the Champions League needs to be more clinical, Arsenal will need to convert their chances in front of goal more consistently if they have any hope of staying in front of the pack.
Yarmoliuk taking his chance
It took a spate of injuries for Yehor Yarmoliuk to be given opportunities to start for Brentford, but the Ukrainian teenager is quickly endearing himself to the club’s fans. He’s an energetic presence in the Bees’ midfield, keenly hassling opponents and sometimes snapping into challenges. The home crowd gave him a warm reception when he left Saturday’s 3-1 win over Luton Town in the 69th minute after attempting three tackles, completing over 93% of his passes, and producing three key passes. His promising performance followed his fearless full Premier League debut against Arsenal the previous weekend. Yarmoliuk is quickly dispelling any fears that his torn hamstring toward the end of last season with Brentford’s B team harmed his development.
Can Burnley kick on from here?
Before thrashing Sheffield United 5-0 on Saturday, Burnley had lost seven straight home matches by a combined score of 19-5. Vincent Kompany’s side, which won the Championship at a canter, had suddenly become relegation fodder. They couldn’t beat Chelsea, West Ham United, or Crystal Palace – all mid-table fare – so they had to prove they could at least beat the teams around them. That has now happened. The Clarets buried Sheffield United long before Ollie McBurnie was sent off in first-half stoppage time. They genuinely looked good. There were signs of Sean Dyche’s old Burnley – Jay Rodriguez’s goal after just 15 seconds came from a hopeful cross into the penalty area – and signs of the swashbuckling side that ran the second tier ragged under Kompany. With upcoming matches against Wolverhampton, Everton, and Fulham – all winnable – the Clarets have an opportunity to kick on and pull themselves out of relegation trouble.
West Ham should be more watchable
David Moyes repaired his reputation after returning to West Ham United at the end of 2019. He revived a team that had lost its way under Manuel Pellegrini with astute signings and simple yet effective game plans, with his crowning moment coming courtesy of June’s Europa Conference League success. Still, plenty of West Ham fans wouldn’t mind a change at the helm. Despite boasting the likes of Jarrod Bowen and Mohammed Kudus in their ranks, the Irons are often hindered by Moyes’ caution. James Ward-Prowse eventually hit a succession of balls toward Tomas Soucek and Bowen as they sought a late winner in Sunday’s 1-1 home draw with Crystal Palace, but for much of the match, West Ham seemed to fear losing more than they wanted to win. Moyes was given a generous transfer budget last season and has some talented attack-minded players at his disposal, so West Ham supporters have every right to expect more entertainment from their team. The club needs to raise its ambitions.
Stat of the weekend
Son Heung-Min joined an exclusive, though not entirely desirable, club with his performance at the Etihad Stadium.
Tweet of the weekend
Guardiola’s reaction says it all after Kulusevski scored a late equalizer for Tottenham in Sunday’s 3-3 draw at City.