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

Guardian sport
·10-min read

1) Mourinho can’t ride his luck against United

Manchester United are highly familiar with a José Mourinho team riding their luck against them. A key moment in his rise to prominence was Porto’s 2004 triumph at Old Trafford, where Paul Scholes had a goal chalked off for offside. The simmering rage on Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s face when Edinson Cavani’s “opener” was wiped away by VAR echoed Sir Alex Ferguson 17 years ago, and nine years after that when the disputed dismissal of Nani handed Mourinho’s Real Madrid a passage into the Champions League quarter-finals. A United team containing many of Mourinho’s former players will have been familiar with Tottenham’s botched blueprint to stay in touch with the top four. Keeping shape in defence and midfield was the bedrock for the brilliance with which Lucas Moura set up Son Heung-min to score. But unlike those Porto and Madrid teams, this Spurs team does not have the same resilience or quality to exploit good fortune. John Brewin

• Match report: Tottenham 1-3 Manchester United

Related: Devilish Solskjær deals fiendish blow to Spurs’ Champions League hopes | Louise Taylor

2) Kane’s vision puts him in a league of his own

As Harry Kane reels in the various players above him in the Premier League’s all-time scorers list, the temptation to compare him with the legends of yesteryear is inescapable. Kane lacks the impudence of Robbie Fowler, the elegance of Thierry Henry, the flair of Wayne Rooney or the ferocity of Alan Shearer – but he does possess one quality that eluded all of those greats: a superhuman awareness of his teammates’ whereabouts. His first-time layoff to Lucas Moura in the buildup to the opening goal on Sunday was another example of the visionary – whisper it, almost Bergkamp-like – playmaking abilities he has acquired in the past couple of years, his silky-smooth technique often belied by a leggy, lumbering frame. To have transformed himself into the complete attacker while planting his flag alongside the single-minded goalscorers on that all-time list is nothing short of remarkable. Only a stark decline will prevent him going down in history as the best of the lot. Alex Hess

• Match report: Tottenham 1-3 Manchester United

Harry Kane skips clear of Aaron Wan-Bissaka
Harry Kane skips clear of Aaron Wan-Bissaka in another display in which his all-round team play stood out. Photograph: Getty Images

3) City rest their best but Guardiola remains stubborn

Manchester City’s second league loss in 24 outings could be traced to Pep Guardiola resting seven of the players – including Kevin De Bruyne, Phil Foden and Ilkay Gündogan – who beat Borussia Dortmund 2-1 in midweek. For this to have been worth it, the manager must now guide City to their first Champions League semi-final of his tenure in Wednesday’s return in Germany. “Maybe I will play the same team in Dortmund,” Guardiola claimed after the defeat to Leeds. “I demand from every team I send out that they win. I don’t select competitions, or games. I don’t know if I’d made another selection what would have happened. If the others had played and you can assure me 100% that we’d have won then you can be a perfect manager. We are going to rest then go to Dortmund.” If City are knocked out by Dortmund, further questions will no doubt be asked. Jamie Jackson

• Match report: Manchester City 1-2 Leeds

4) Dyche and Burnley are still battling against the odds

Finally, Sean Dyche made a substitution, bringing on Joel Mumbongo, a forward without a senior goal in England – more than half an hour after Steve Bruce made his first changes, and more than 25 minutes since Allan Saint-Maximin had put Newcastle ahead. “We are putting on young players and they are putting on very good players,” reflected Dyche. “You look at some of the other teams and their benches. It is not a new thing. Today was quite obvious.” The difference in resources was symbolised by the sight of Bruce sending on the cavalry, in Saint-Maximin and Callum Wilson. Dyche had no such luxury, his replacements consisting of youngsters, defenders and defensive midfielders. It did include his biggest summer signing, but Dale Stephens cost only £750,000. It will underline the achievement if Dyche steers Burnley to safety. Normally when it is said a manager needs new signings, it is an exaggeration. In Burnley’s case, it is true. Richard Jolly

• Match report: Burnley 1-2 Newcastle

5) Trust Tuchel to decide Chelsea’s forward line

Thomas Tuchel cuffed away the invitation to give an easy headline: would he say this was his team’s best attacking performance yet? Actually no, he wouldn’t. A stroll past Crystal Palace is not the same as winning at Liverpool or Porto. In any case there was already an eloquent answer at Selhurst Park to calls for “a proper striker”, or the vague attempts to turn Tammy Abraham’s exclusion into some kind of cause. Tuchel knows what he wants, and believes, with time, Kai Havertz, Christian Pulisic and a blend of his more technical, possession-friendly attackers might just make that system work. It deserves to be tested. And maybe it’s time to show a little more trust after seven weeks during which Tuchel has only ever been a bad half-hour from having his entire (German, technocrat) methodology questioned. This was the only real lesson of a brilliant opening half-hour here against semi-somnolent opponents: trust in Thomas. Barney Ronay

• Match report: Crystal Palace 1-4 Chelsea

6) Could Robinson earn himself a move from Fulham?

Adama Traoré’s last-gasp winner at Craven Cottage deflected attention from the nonsensical application of VAR that had denied Willian José his first Wolves goal. It also took the shine off an outstanding performance from the Fulham left wing-back Antonee Robinson, who was the game’s best player and – not for the first time – posed a constant menace from the flank. Robinson was at the heart of Fulham’s most promising moments while operating tenaciously in his own half too. Fulham are likely to go down if they cannot get something from the imminent visits to Arsenal and Chelsea, so their standout performers from this campaign may prove tempting fodder in the pre-season transfer market. Robinson, a tenacious and tricky runner with an excellent delivery, arrived for only £2m from Wigan in August but Fulham would make a handsome profit out of him now. Nick Ames

• Match report: Fulham 0-1 Wolves

Antonee Robinson gets clear of Wolves’ Pedro Neto
Antonee Robinson gets clear of Wolves’ Pedro Neto to deliver a cross. The Fulham full-back could be in demand this summer. Photograph: Getty Images

7) Alexander-Arnold restores confidence before Madrid

Trent Alexander-Arnold turned the contest and the debate over England selection back in his favour with a 91st-minute winner against Aston Villa, although, in truth, Gareth Southgate’s dilemma was never about the right-back’s abilities in the opposition half of the pitch. More importantly for Jürgen Klopp, the defender’s goal also turned belief at Anfield for Liverpool before Real Madrid’s visit in the Champions League quarter-final second leg on Wednesday. The Premier League champions had 23 shots on Saturday, 10 on target, which was a marked improvement on previous home games and reflection of an aggressive, sharp display. To have still been without a win at Anfield in 2021 would have intensified Liverpool’s problems before Madrid’s visit. Alexander-Arnold delivered a vital release. As Klopp said: “For us in the moment it is not that easy and we have to work really hard, we need to have five chances to score a goal or 10 to score a goal. This helps, of course.” Andy Hunter

Related: Liverpool can live with Mohamed Salah’s misses but not without his hits | Sachin Nakrani

• Match report: Liverpool 2-1 Aston Villa

8) Martinelli brings cheer before Slavia tie

Sheffield United were ideal opposition for an Arsenal team trying to shake out their malaise before Thursday’s Europa League meeting with Slavia Prague. But Sunday night football came at the cost of Bukayo Saka limping off with a thigh injury that required ice. The sight of Gabriel Martinelli scoring was heartening. His last start came back on 30 January, his last goal in January 2020, when the world was a very different place. He and the busy Dani Ceballos indulged in the twinkling interplay that led to Alexandre Lacazette’s fine opening goal. While Martinelli and Saka’s futures seem secure, a few at Arsenal are playing for their futures. Granit Xhaka at left-back showed a willingness to put himself about, while Lacazette’s cool finish almost made up for a howling miss against Slavia. Nicolas Pépé, though, who did manage to score against Slavia, put in another performance to question just why Arsenal ended up paying £72m for him. John Brewin

• Match report: Sheffield United 0-3 Arsenal

Gabriel Martinelli celebrates with Willian
Gabriel Martinelli celebrates with Willian after scoring his first goal since January 2020 Photograph: Rui Vieira/EPA

9) Noble proves admirable stand-in for Rice

It goes without saying that West Ham would like Declan Rice back as quickly as possible from his knee injury. The midfielder is their best player and they lack depth in his position. So far, though, West Ham have maintained their push for Champions League qualification without him. Mark Noble has not let anyone down after joining Tomas Soucek in the middle. Although the club captain’s legs are slowing down, he still offers plenty of knowhow and he had a good game in his side’s 3-2 win over Leicester at the London Stadium. Impressive on his 400th appearance for West Ham, Noble was solid positionally, strong in the tackle and decent on the ball. That said, West Ham should not be relying on the 33-year-old in the long run. They need to sign at least one midfielder this summer. If they qualify for Europe they probably need to buy two. Jacob Steinberg

• Match report: West Ham 3-2 Leicester

10) Rodgers’ point of principle comes with risk attached

There is never a good time to lose key players unnecessarily, and Brendan Rodgers’ intense frustration at the absence of James Maddison, Ayoze Pérez and Hamza Choudhury in the defeat by West Ham was entirely understandable. But their absence was not enforced: it was Rodgers’ decision to leave the trio out after they breached Covid-19 protocols the previous weekend. In the context of the battle for the Champions League places, it was a brave decision. The manager clearly felt that the principle was paramount, that he should make a point to his whole squad, regardless of how crucial the match at West Ham was. If the worst should happen and Leicester are eventually knocked out of the top four by West Ham and Chelsea come the end of the season, Rodgers will inevitably wonder if it was a point worth making. The fans and the powers-that-be at the club may wonder, too. Luke McLaughlin

• Match report: West Ham 3-2 Leicester

Pos

Team

P

GD

Pts

1

Man City

32

44

74

2

Man Utd

31

27

63

3

Leicester

31

18

56

4

West Ham

31

12

55

5

Chelsea

31

19

54

6

Liverpool

31

16

52

7

Tottenham Hotspur

31

17

49

8

Everton

29

3

47

9

Arsenal

31

8

45

10

Leeds

31

0

45

11

Aston Villa

30

10

44

12

Wolverhampton

31

-10

38

13

Crystal Palace

31

-19

38

14

Southampton

30

-14

36

15

Burnley

31

-17

33

16

Brighton

30

-5

32

17

Newcastle

31

-19

32

18

Fulham

32

-18

26

19

West Brom

30

-34

21

20

Sheff Utd

31

-38

14