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Premier League: 10 talking points from the weekend’s action

·9-min read

1) Tuchel’s tactics disguise his greatest talent

It is true that Thomas Tuchel’s decision to replace Mason Mount with N’Golo Kanté at half-time against Tottenham had a profound impact on the match. But Tuchel’s managerial skill goes far beyond formations and tactics. Through the strong relationships he builds with players and the team spirit he engenders, he has created an environment in which he can take these decisions while running little risk of alienating players such as Mount. “Everybody is humble enough to accept it,” the captain, César Azpilicueta, said of the conversations that took place at half-time. It helps to have players of Kanté’s calibre to call on, of course, with your team on the back foot. But a strong-willed manager with less emotional intelligence than Tuchel would doubtless end up with a dissatisfied, restless group of players, as has happened more than once at Chelsea. Tuchel is a very modern manager, but his old-fashioned expectations of selflessness and teamwork are making Chelsea a formidable force. Luke McLaughlin

2) Greenwood and Sancho pay price of Ronaldo’s presence

Cristiano Ronaldo scored and Manchester United won. Outstanding news for both. But as United scraped their way to a slightly fortunate victory, you still wonder about their attacking efficiency. The tactic of piling crosses into the box may suit Ronaldo and to a lesser extent Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba, who can both deliver well and feast on second balls. But it’s hard to see where Mason Greenwood – who thrives on quick interchanges and short passes and who had a thwarted, frustrating afternoon – fits into this picture. Ditto Jadon Sancho, a late substitute here, or Marcus Rashford when he returns. Still, Ronaldo scored and United won. Perhaps for now, that’s all that matters. Jonathan Liew

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3) Konaté offers Klopp defensive options

When Liverpool beat Crystal Palace in May, it completed the salvage job with the rookies Rhys Williams and Nat Phillips as the centre-backs. Come Saturday’s rematch they could field the incomparable Virgil van Dijk and the £36m debutant Ibrahima Konaté. “The potential is outstanding,” said Jürgen Klopp. There were glimpses of it: when Konaté kept up with Wilfried Zaha as they chased a diagonal ball and as he forced Christian Benteke wide before he shot. Perhaps the lone time he was caught out was by Odsonne Édouard before Alisson rescued Liverpool. “The Premier League teaches you harsh lessons,” reflected Klopp. “It is a special league.” But in Konaté’s maturity and attributes there were indications that Liverpool’s recruitment team may have excelled again. “Physicality, technique, game understanding, it’s all there,” said Klopp. With a full complement of four fit centre-backs, it will be intriguing how often he uses Konaté. Richard Jolly

4) Gabriel gives Gunners solid foundation

There is still a way to go for Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal to prove their doubters wrong following a difficult opening month, but consecutive victories against Norwich and Burnley have at least eased the pressure on the Spaniard somewhat. One significant boost for Arteta has been the return of Gabriel, with Arsenal posting back-to-back clean sheets since the Brazilian’s comeback from injury. The 23-year-old was sensational at Turf Moor on Saturday afternoon, dealing with the aerial threat posed by Chris Wood and Ashley Barnes with aplomb. Arsenal have long been on the hunt for a player to command and organise their defensive line, and Arteta will be certainly hoping he has now found the answer in Gabriel, whose partnership with Ben White is showing initial signs of real promise. Aaron Bower

5) Bailey may be Villa’s new gamechanger

With Aston Villa preparing to visit Old Trafford next weekend, Ole Gunnar Solskjær may be tempted to remind everyone of Manchester United’s match against Nottingham Forest in February 1999, when Solksjær scored four goals in a 12-minute cameo off the bench. That may stop Villa fans getting carried away with Leon Bailey’s impact during his 21-minute appearance against Everton on Saturday. Then again there is a key difference between the two games: United were already 4-1 up against Forest when Solskjær came on, whereas Villa were locked in an edgy battle until Bailey transformed the match. In a post-Jack Grealish environment that looks increasingly bright, Dean Smith can change the way his team plays from match to match and within games. Villa are a growing force. United have been warned. Paul Doyle

6) Toney an England contender?

It cannot be long before Ivan Toney enters the England conversation. There is even an argument that the striker was deserving of international recognition last season, after scoring a record 31 goals in his first season in the Championship. Toney scored a typically nerveless penalty in victory at Wolves on Saturday but was a pest across the pitch, winning fouls to gain territory and countless aerial duels. The 25-year-old has scored (33) or assisted (11) 44 league goals for Brentford, more than any other player in England’s top four tiers since the start of last season. Ollie Watkins, whom Toney replaced at Brentford after signing from Peterborough, and Patrick Bamford are among those behind Harry Kane in the pecking order but if he keeps going like this the domineering Toney will surely prove impossible for Gareth Southgate to ignore. Ben Fisher

7) Practice makes perfect for Guardiola

Manchester City were in rare misfiring form against Southampton, their lack of rhythm remarkable. Pep Guardiola offered an honest appraisal of his team’s failings, explaining that the link between his back five of Kyle Walker, João Cancelo, Rúben Dias, Nathan Aké and Fernandinho had failed to build play as he demands. Then, the manager said how this can be fixed. “Practise, practise,” he said. “Convince them [the players] that this is the way we’ve done it for many years and it’s good to do it. When something is not good in our pressing and the game we play, we have to practise. We knew the way they [Southampton] were going to press, because we played them last season, but we struggled a little bit to [combat] it. Our football depends a lot on how good we do the process in the buildup and when it happens well our strikers and wingers play better. And our attacking midfielders too. We struggled a bit.” Jamie Jackson

Fernandinho goes to ground against Southampton
Fernandinho was not at his best against Southampton. Photograph: Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images

8) High-flying Seagulls have landed a bargain

In a transfer window dominated by megastars and superclubs, Marc Cucurella’s £15m move from Getafe to Brighton went largely unnoticed but the early signs are that Graham Potter has hit the jackpot. Brighton have been strangely short of specialist left-backs in recent years, with Dan Burn generally asked to fill in there. Burn (6ft 7in, broad shoulders, short back and sides) is a fine defender but his deployment at full-back has always seemed at odds with Potter’s front-foot approach and it’s fair to say that Cucurella (5ft 8in, spindly frame, flowing black locks) is a different player altogether. On his home debut the Spaniard played more passes, and did so with greater accuracy, than any of his teammates. He also spent more time in the opposition half than his own. The artfully bearded Spaniard will not look out of place in the voguish coffee shops of Brighton; in a division stocked full of top-class full-backs, he already seems right at home. Alex Hess

9) Sublime Sarr exposes Norwich frailties

Norwich and Watford may have been promoted together but Ismaïla Sarr’s quality provided a painful Premier League lesson for Daniel Farke’s side. Defensive frailty will be ruthlessly punished in the top flight and Sarr’s pace and skill tormented the home defence. Ozan Kabak’s weak attempt to challenge Emmanuel Dennis before his headed opener hardly helped. After Norwich fought their way back into what seemed a crucial match to build confidence, Sarr scored twice to take the game away from them. The winger is beginning to consistently bring the best from himself, the kind of form that can help the Hornets remain in mid-table. The problem for Watford may be holding on to a player who was linked with bigger clubs during the summer. Norwich are bottom and pointless but if there is something to cling to, it is Teemu Pukki’s crisp finish that levelled the match at 1-1. His goals can offer hope but Norwich are certain to be relegated again if they don’t improve at the back. Luke McLaughlin

10) Bruce and Bielsa could both use a win

Tactical anarchy prevailed on the pitch at St James’ Park, while the mood in the stands veered from mutinous to passionately supportive, sometimes within the same minute. Chaos and confusion reigned. Make no mistake, Steve Bruce is deeply unloved by the majority of Newcastle fans – many of whom made persistent calls for his head - but home supporters appreciated their team’s resolve and, particularly, Allan Saint-Maximin’s attacking brilliance. The Frenchman’s equaliser left both sides seeking their first Premier League wins of the season and Marcelo Bielsa looking unusually anxious. It is the first time in his three-year tenure that Leeds have gone five league games without victory and the injuries sustained by Raphinha and Luke Ayling on Friday highlight the downside of the manager’s determination to rely on a relatively small pool of senior professionals. The average age of the visiting bench was 19 and this lack of experienced cover could prove costly. Louise Taylor

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