English Premier League

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

Alex Iwobi is drifting, Pellegrino is on dangerous ground and Manchester United produced a classic performance.

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Clockwise from left to right: Jamie Vardy, Mauricio Pellegrino, Dele Alli, Alexis Sanchez and Roy Hodgson Composite: Getty Images, BPI/REX/Shutterstock


1. Iwobi missing something vital in his make up

It always feels unfair to single out a young player, not least one who seems with each performance these days to become a one-man Arsenal social media event, a living banter-meme. Just check out Alex Iwobi on Twitter the next time Arsenal are playing – and hope he never makes the mistake of searching his own name. But watching him against Watford it was tempting to wonder about stalled progress, and a comfort zone at the wrong moment in his career. He has been more productive since Christmas, has made an effort to make more decisive forward runs. But he remains a strange footballer, a creative midfielder who seems to be always shuttling in vaguely the right area, but who somehow ends up doing very little actual creating. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has shown the fruits of moving on to develop. Iwobi still seems unsure of his place in the pecking order, too mannered to have any real sharp edges, and in danger of becoming a poster boy for late-Wenger drift. Barney Ronay

2. Alli can shine in Kane’s absence

Mauricio Pochettino will have hoped he would never have to do without Harry Kane. But after the England striker limped off against Bournemouth he put his plan C into action as Fernando Llorente was left on the bench, with Erik Lamela coming on to form a potent front three to provide guile, speed and movement. The upshot was that Tottenham did not miss their talisman and they came from behind to win. Dele Alli was afforded the central role from where he converted a cross like a natural No 9, while Son Heung‑min reached 12 goals for the season, leaving the manager relieved and relatively optimistic, even if he needs to do without Kane for an extended period. In what has been a tough season for Alli, he may well be able to revel in being the focal point of a team living in Kane’s prolific shadow. Will Unwin

3. Conte at ease before Barcelona return

Chelsea should have won this by a country mile but were pegged back by the spirit of Crystal Palace and, specifically, Wilfried Zaha. When asked if he was disappointed at the way his team relaxed in the game, Antonio Conte said: “Sometimes you can think the situation is easier than it is.” That was about as far as the criticism got. To hear the Italian soft-pedalling on a matter is unusual given the voracity with which he has torn into so many aspects of his own club this season. Chelsea have largely performed to their capabilities in the bigger matches, so getting the players up for Barcelona on Wednesday should not require a confidence boost from the manager. Instead it was as if the Italian wanted a break from any of the nitpicking. Even the toughest, most obdurate of characters needs a day off sometimes. Paul MacInnes

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A fan wearing a scarf bearing the image of Antonio Conte during Chelsea’s match against Crystal Palace. Photo: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

4. Hodgson talking tough over relegation

The good news for Crystal Palace came with confirmation that Yohan Cabaye, Mamadou Sakho and Ruben Loftus-Cheek will resume full training on Monday morning, alongside the excellent Wilfried Zaha, ahead of the critical trip to Huddersfield on Saturday. More troubling had been the team’s slapdash first-half performance which even Zaha could not rectify. “There were a lot of players who didn’t give me the sort of commitment and desire,” Roy Hodgson said. Christian Benteke was the one player hooked at the break, “but it would be unfair to put it totally on him”. The manager retains belief in his group and has urged his players to show more mental courage, and Palace will attack a more appealing run-in with gusto. “We certainly won’t go gently out of the league,” he said. “We’re going to make it as big a fight as we can. They’re going to have to bash us over the head to get us down.” Their recovery must begin in west Yorkshire. Dominic Fifield

5. Tosun and Walcott make their mark

Sam Allardyce took extra satisfaction in Everton’s win not only because of the team’s first clean sheet since Boxing Day but also the impact of two January signings, Cenk Tosun and Theo Walcott, who both helped to quell discontent around Goodison Park. Tosun sealed victory with his second Everton goal – created by the crucially fit-again Leighton Baines – and showed the work-rate and commitment that supporters have craved from the team this season. After a slow start to his Everton career, the Turkey international is beginning to repay a transfer fee that could rise to £27m. “We had a winter break in Turkey but in England they don’t,” the striker said. “I had seven or eight days off and then played the Tottenham game without being in the best shape. I was not good physically but the training in Dubai and here made me better. Now I feel better physically and I feel sharper. I hope it will be better in the next few weeks.” Andy Hunter

6. Mawson deserves England call

The only upside for Swansea to Jordan Ayew’s 11th-minute sending off against Huddersfield was that it gave them another chance to demonstrate the defensive fortitude that they have developed under Carlos Carvalhal. They rose well to that challenge and truly earned their point, even if Huddersfield would have won if Tom Ince or Steve Mounié had finished more sharply, or if Scott Malone had been able to connect with the ball from close range after being picked out by Ince. Overall, Swansea’s three central defenders kept Huddersfield at bay, with Alfie Mawson particularly defiant. It was further evidence that Gareth Southgate should include the 24-year-old in the England squad to be announced this week, especially if the manager intends deploying a back three at times at the World Cup in Russia this summer. Paul Doyle

7. Sánchez shows his worth

Manchester United’s win was their most accomplished of the season, a classic demonstration of how José Mourinho feels all opposition should be dispatched. United were mentally tough, muscular and executed their chances ruthlessly. Unlike Manchester City, who fashion a glut of opportunities each time they step on to the turf, Mourinho’s blueprint relies on a killer touch in the rare openings his team manage. What he requires, then, to challenge seriously for the title next season is to up creativity and the goal return. The solution may be Alexis Sánchez, who again misfired but never stopped niggling away at Liverpool. There is no question about his attitude, so once form is discovered how high United might fly will fascinate. Last season the Chilean scored 30 in 51 outings for Arsenal. Imagine what that weight of goals could do for the Mourinho project. Jamie Jackson

8. Pellegrino rolls the dice

Where do Southampton go from here? On Saturday Mauricio Pellegrino pressed football’s equivalent of the nuclear button and accused his underachieving players of “giving up”. After one win in 17 league games, the Championship beckons and the fans are calling for the manager’s head. Pellegrino says senior professionals have much for which to answer. “I observed some players who gave up,” he said following a comprehensive Newcastle victory. “I’m really disappointed. We were never a threat to Newcastle. I must apologise to our supporters because we did not represent our club well enough. You can have good players but without personality it’s really difficult to compete. We have to switch on our spirit. The players are intelligent, they know what they did.” Pellegrino can only hope his side are shamed into improvement. Louise Taylor

9. Vardy keeps confounding the doubters

The sight of Jamie Vardy filing a contender for goal of the season with a brilliantly executed, controlled volley provided a gentle reminder, for anyone who needed one, that the 31-year-old is one of the Premier League’s outstanding strikers. Only Harry Kane, Sergio Agüero, Raheem Sterling and Mohamed Salah have scored more league goals than Vardy this season, and it is tempting to wonder whether the England international would have a few more to his name if he was playing for a top-six club. Vardy may not be everyone’s cup of tea but those who dismissed him as a one-season wonder after Leicester’s title triumph or, in Michael Owen’s case, as someone who is “not a natural finisher” could not have been more wrong. He has scored 51 Premier League goals in the past two and a half years and his latest – with his weaker foot, no less – was technically superb. Stuart James

10. West Ham protests overshadow another Hart mess

In different circumstances the story would have been a poor display by Joe Hart. The West Ham goalkeeper looked nervy on his first league start since 29 November and he was slightly fortunate that attention had turned to the crowd trouble at the London Stadium by the time his failure to hold Johann Berg Gudmundsson’s shot allowed Chris Wood to score Burnley’s third goal. Yet the protests against West Ham’s board by furious supporters did not completely overshadow Hart’s shoddiness. “I want Joe to have an opportunity to play,” David Moyes said. “But you cannot keep making mistakes. Joe is mentally strong. He has played for big teams in big games. He has a lot of England caps. Goalkeepers live with times when they will mistakes.” Yet Hart has made too many this season. It is impossible to see him keeping his spot as England’s No 1 at the World Cup. Jacob Steinberg


SOURCE: The Guardian UK – Sports

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