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

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

1) Manchester United’s tired bodies holding them back

Ole Gunnar Solskjær said Manchester United had “three or four weeks to catch up to a few teams”, and how it showed. United could not get out to prevent crosses or track Brighton’s runners. Their lack of match sharpness is a consequence of their lack of a pre-season. It was interesting to hear Gareth Southgate say the players in his England squad in early September who had played in European competition until mid‑August were the fittest because they had, effectively, played all the way through. Solskjær has a different view and feels comfortable in advancing it as mitigation, essentially because it is not his fault, rather that of these unprecedented times. But the message is United cannot do the basics because their bodies will not let them. David Hytner

• Match report: Brighton 2-3 Manchester United

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2) Burnley paying price for market failures

The transfer market is often painted as a one-size-fits-all answer for any team struggling for form. It is not, and Sean Dyche is proof that good old-fashioned coaching can improve a side as much as any signing. But good coaching can’t pad out a perilously thin squad, and at the moment Burnley’s failures in the market are coming back to haunt them. Since the team’s seventh-place finish three seasons ago, the only new arrivals to establish themselves in the first team have been Jay Rodriguez and Erik Pieters, neither of whom has been an unqualified success, while fees and wages have been wasted on Ben Gibson, Matej Vydra and Joe Hart. Dyche is aware of his problem: “We need players,” he said on Saturday. The transfer market doesn’t always hold the answer, but it can help. Alex Hess

• Match report: Burnley 0-1 Southampton

3) Ancelotti turning Calvert-Lewin into a proper target man

Amid his recent goal rush, it is easy to forget Dominic Calvert‑Lewin first broke into the Everton side as a winger. Only now is he coming of age as a centre-forward, a transformation driven as much by tactics as by technique. “He’s more focused in the box,” says the manager, Carlo Ancelotti, who has increasingly used Calvert-Lewin as a lone target man, with Richarlison in more of a support role. “He doesn’t spend a lot of energy outside the box.” This is borne out in the early numbers: while Calvert-Lewin is taking 4.3 shots per 90 minutes (compared to 2.9 last season), his passing stats and build-up play are well down, suggesting a player sharpening to a point: a forward increasingly focused on goalscoring output. Against Crystal Palace he had only 35 touches, fewer than any other Everton player, even Jordan Pickford. But most importantly, four of them were shots. Jonathan Liew

• Match report: Crystal Palace 1-2 Everton

Carlo Ancelotti watches on in the rain at Selhurst Park.

4) Mahrez still not quite fitting despite stunning goal

A lack of spectators in the Etihad Stadium allowed us a chance to hear just how hard Riyad Mahrez thumped the opening goal against the club he helped inspire to the 2015-16 Premier League title. Mahrez had added onus on him at Manchester City, due to Pep Guardiola’s relative lack of options, with Leroy Sané and David Silva departed, Bernardo Silva injured and Raheem Sterling playing centre-forward in the absence of Sergio Agüero and Gabriel Jesus. Mahrez is in his third season in Manchester and despite a goal and assist record that outstripped both Silvas in those first two campaigns, still appears something of a spare part. At Leicester he and Jamie Vardy operated ahead of a team of worker bees but for Guardiola he must work as part of an attacking unit of peers of similar class. Mahrez’s classy goal aside, they found very little together to trouble Leicester. John Brewin

• Match report: Manchester City 2-5 Leicester City

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5) Vardy too cunning for Manchester City’s defence

At an age – approaching 34 – when other strikers start to think about dropping into midfield or a lucrative final contract in China or the US, Jamie Vardy has developed further dimensions to his game. Or rather, he has made himself even more effective by paring back what used to make him so irresistible. The Vardy of Leicester’s title-winning team was perpetual motion, a pest buzzing around opposing defenders. Now, he waits for his moment and experience has only increased his expertise at knowing when to intervene. In post-match, he revealed something of the technique that won Leicester two of their three penalties. “If you’re both running at speed, whoever gets there first is going to be tripped by the player behind,” he said. His guile was far too much for Manchester City’s unfamiliar defensive partnership of Eric García and Nathan Aké. In short, he absolutely terrorised them. JB• Match report: Manchester City 2-5 Leicester City

6) Meslier seizes chance

Marcelo Bielsa says he is not a goalkeeping specialist but the Leeds manager clearly harbours both an eye for a keeper and the emotional intelligence to assess when to hurl one in at the deep end. That is what happened to the inexperienced 20-year-old Frenchman Illan Meslier during the final segment of last season, when he stood in for Kiko Casilla during the Spaniard’s eight-match suspension for racial abuse. Meslier responded by doing so well as Leeds won promotion that he is now Bielsa’s first choice. Admittedly eyebrows were raised when he conceded seven goals in his first two Premier League games but the youngster shone, making a handful of exceptional, game protecting saves, as Leeds prevailed 1-0 at Sheffield United thanks to Patrick Bamford’s late header. Like Meslier, Bielsa has retained faith in Bamford and a striker who supposedly cannot really finish has rewarded such belief with three goals in as many games. Talk about managerial nous! Louise Taylor

• Match report: Sheffield United 0-1 Leeds United

7) Lampard on thinning ice

Sentiment got Frank Lampard the job at Stamford Bridge but will not keep him in it. Chelsea need a better manager. So Lampard must improve or be replaced by an expensive upgrade. That’s the sort of ruthlessness he fancies, apparently, so he could have no complaints for once. On Saturday his team staggered to a draw against the worst team in the Premier League despite more individual mistakes and collective confusion. It is true that Chelsea’s defence may – or may not – be strengthened when Ben Chilwell and Édouard Mendy are available, and their attacking options will be enhanced when Christian Pulisic and Hakim Ziyech regain fitness, but so far there has been little evidence that Lampard knows how best to use the extravagant resources available to him. Paul Doyle

•Match report: West Brom 3-3 Chelsea

Frank Lampard after the 3-3 draw at West Brom.

8) Handball pedantry sapping enjoyment from the game

Another week, another slew of spot-kicks given for the most negligible offences imaginable. It is clear that the new guidelines on handball have left the sport in an embarrassing mess, and it is hard to spot anyone who benefits: players are being penalised unfairly, fans are faced with an even more stop-start spectacle and referees are made to look like joyless jobsworths. In a low-scoring sport, a penalty – ie a very probable goal – should only result from three things: an exceptional piece of skill, an exceptional mistake, or an exceptional stroke of luck. The International Football Association Board has managed to create a situation where crippling punishments are being doled out for nonexistent crimes, and unearned goals are being scored left, right and centre. Results are being warped, too: Spurs and Crystal Palace were both robbed of much-deserved points. Quite why Ifab felt the need to meddle in the first place is anyone’s guess, but the drive of football’s bureaucrats to sap the sport of sense, spontaneity and simple enjoyment continues apace. AH

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9) Slick Højbjerg looks a good fit for Spurs

It was largely forgotten among the late controversy but Pierre-Emile Højbjerg was integral to Tottenham’s near-total control against Newcastle. The midfielder’s £15m arrival from Southampton last month did not especially stir the senses but he has settled in quickly and forged a promisingly balanced partnership with Harry Winks. Hojbjerg adds stability but he can deliver a ball too, an outstanding first-half cross that should have created an opener for Harry Kane being only one example. Last season Spurs struggled to move possession on quickly enough but Hojbjerg has added urgency and drive so far in 2020-21. Yesterday his own poor luck mirrored that of Spurs, given he was very harshly penalised for the free-kick that began the chain of events for Newcastle’s leveller. The early signs are promising though and Hojbjerg, billed as such an exciting talent when a youngster at Bayern Munich, looks well equipped to thrive among the stars at last. Nick Ames

• Match report: Tottenham 1-1 Newcastle

10) West Ham benefit from Antonio’s can-do attitude

Michail Antonio has played across several positions for West Ham but has become a more than useful centre-forward. The Hammers’ lack of personnel and the struggles of the record signing and last-minute goalscorer Sébastien Haller have lately thrust the former Tooting & Mitcham player into the position of target man. Antonio’s mobility and energy caused huge problems for Wolves, who struggled with his willingness to drop deep and open up space for the two-times goalscorer Jarrod Bowen and Pablo Fornals as part of an attacking trident. He also served as the first line of defence to stop Wolves gaining composure in possession; they struggled all night to do so. If West Ham are to avoid a relegation battle this season, something which the hierarchy of the club certainly appear steeled for, then they will need Antonio to maintain his fitness and others to replicate his can-do attitude. JB

• Match report: West Ham 4-0 Wolves