Feature

Premier League weekend review: What we learned

By Alex Keble 9 May 2023
Jorginho

Alex Keble discusses Jorginho's influence, Guardiola's tactical tweak and free-scoring Forest

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There was plenty of drama and an abundance of goals from top to bottom in the Premier League over the weekend. Alex Keble looks at the key talking points and tactical lessons.

Jorginho’s measured control gives Arsenal hope

Throughout Arsenal’s four-match winless run they lacked control - over the contests and over their feelings. From blowing two-goal leads to conceding inside the opening minute, they missed a soothing presence to recycle possession and add some simple elegance into the heart of things. In retrospect, it turns out they were missing Jorginho.

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The Italian played just 54 minutes of those matches, coming on as a substitute against West Ham United when the score was already 2-2, and at Manchester City when Arsenal were 3-0 down. In hindsight, maybe Mikel Arteta could have played Jorginho more, especially considering Thomas Partey’s recent decline in form.

Jorginho wasn’t flashy in the 2-0 win at Newcastle United, but he constantly demanded possession from the base of midfield, gracefully passing the ball around the corner to manoeuvre Arsenal around an aggressive Newcastle press.

The knock-on effect of having a player who breaks a press, moves the team into commanding territory and sucks the atmosphere out of a raucous stadium cannot be overstated.

Jorginho’s statistics v Newcastle

The number that sticks out here is "fouls won" - itself an indicator of Jorginho’s capacity to give Arsenal total control in the face of fierce pressing.

It was a performance that should ensure he keeps his place in the starting XI, especially as it aligns with what we’ve already seen from him in cameos since his January arrival.

Looking at Arsenal’s numbers per 90 in the Premier League this season, Jorginho is first among midfielders for progressive passes (10.3), short passes (30.0), medium passes (30.0), touches (84.6) and carries (54.1).

He will certainly be crucial for the next match - the visit of a high-pressing Brighton & Hove Albion side who showed their vulnerability once that press was beaten in Monday's heavy defeat to Everton.

See: When can champions be decided?

Gundogan capitalises as Leeds sit too deep

Sam Allardyce faced an almost impossible task for his first match in charge of Leeds United and will likely be satisfied by the fighting spirit he saw in the 2-1 defeat at Manchester City.

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Man City were dominant and could have won by a far bigger margin, with Erling Haaland missing several good chances amounting to 1.0 xG (Expected Goals). His six shots were his joint-most in a Premier League match without scoring, while Ilkay Gundogan missed a penalty as the hosts found it easy to sweep through an ultra-defensive Leeds shape.

Allardyce's players sat behind the ball and crowded the central areas, but having had so little time to work with his team, there were inevitably a few mistakes. Most notably, Leeds dropped five to 10 yards too deep once City worked the ball to the edge of the penalty area, enabling Gundogan to score two near-identical goals from unmarked positions.

Gundogan goal
Leeds were too deep in these moments, allowing Gundogan to arrive late into space to score

Credit goes to Pep Guardiola for anticipating the extreme defensive caution and picking a more ambitious attacking line-up to counter-act it. Although we have seen Gundogan sweep the ball home from this position before, it is never usually when he has started as the deepest City midfielder.

The decision to play Gundogan over Rodri was, presumably, designed to give City an extra man in attack. Leeds probably did not expect to have to track a third City midfielder. In the above image, note that Man City have seven players in the box at the moment the ball is struck.

Gundogan's second goal v Leeds

Leeds are running out of time, and it doesn’t get much easier. Allardyce has six days to recalibrate their defensive shape before the visit of Newcastle who, prior to their loss against Arsenal, had scored 13 goals in three outings.

As for Guardiola's side, they are just beginning a sequence of matches against opponents all likely to cram the penalty area as Newcastle did. With Sean Dyche’s Everton up next, they will need Haaland’s finishing to return to normal.

Kane’s one-man show continues

Harry Kane’s headed winner against Crystal Palace lifted him above Wayne Rooney in the all-time Premier League goalscorers list with 209.

See: Kane beats Rooney's tally and sets record for headed goals

He is now 51 goals short of Alan Shearer's record, having played 124 fewer matches. At his rate this season – 26 goals in 35 matches – Kane will surpass Shearer's total in two years.

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If that happens, perhaps Kane will get the recognition he deserves and be seen as one of the greatest players in English history.

Like Shearer before him, the fact Kane scores so regularly in a team who are rarely fighting for honours makes his achievements greater, yet his lack of silverware is often counted against him.

Kane the talisman once again

Imagine the numbers Kane would get if Spurs were as good as Man City, who regularly hit 100 goals in a season. This is particularly the case when it comes to assists. While Kane’s numbers here aren’t particularly strong (46), he is one of the Premier League's most creative players, producing 125 shot-creating actions this season, the 11th-highest in the division and first among No 9s.

As for goals, Kane’s numbers are phenomenal, and invaluable to his team. He has scored 41 per cent of Spurs' total league goals this season, the highest share of any player in the competition, while his goals have won 24 points.

See: The race for Europe

Everton counters shake Brighton’s high-wire act

Even when there’s a neat tactical nugget to talk about – something that cleanly defines how a match was won – it rarely plays out with quite such consistency.

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All five of Everton’s goals in a surprise 5-1 win at Brighton came on the counter-attack, each one mirroring the last as an expression of Brighton’s over-expansion on the ball and of Dwight McNeil’s importance to Sean Dyche.

Everton’s victory was created in two parts. First, Dyche’s defensive coaching saw Everton stick rigidly to marking the spaces; to staying in their shape and refusing to be dragged around by the confusing and complex movement of Roberto De Zerbi’s players. They were stubborn, and it meant Brighton couldn’t find room to create.

The second part took advantage of Brighton’s all-out attacking high-wire act, evoking memories of De Zerbi's early days. Brighton often committed both full-backs and one centre-back forward, leaving a single defender back to cope with Everton counters led by McNeil and Alex Iwobi.

In the image below, the run-up to Everton’s match-changing second goal is clear. Abdoulaye Doucoure eventually turns up unmarked at the back post to score because it is far more difficult to track players when the whole team are sprinting back to help. Brighton only had one centre-back in place – missing a second calm head who could have kept track of the Everton runners.

Everton counter
Everton's counter-attack catches Brighton short at the back

It happened again and again, until Everton had scored five away goals in the Premier League for the first time since December 2018. Not since April 2021, when West Bromich Albion beat Chelsea 5-2, had a team starting the day in the bottom three won at a side in the top seven.

McNeil, with two goals, an assist and the delivery that forced an own goal from Jason Steele, took his goal involvements for the season to 10, a career-high for a man clearly enjoying himself since being reunited with Dyche. As at Burnley, the move towards fast breaks has released McNeil’s best qualities, giving Everton renewed hope of safety.

See: The relegation battle

The visit of Man City next weekend no longer looks quite so daunting for Everton. Guardiola is going to need a special plan to contain McNeil.

Free-scoring Forest back in the mix

The wildest of Bank Holiday Mondays, in which 21 goals were scored across only three matches, ended with a crucial victory for Nottingham Forest

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Forest are three points clear of the relegation zone after another brilliant attacking performance from Morgan Gibbs-White, Taiwo Awoniyi and Danilo.

Awoniyi’s presence up front has become an increasingly important focal point of Forest's attack, and his brace – his first since May 2022 in the Bundesliga – signalled his arrival as an effective Premier League striker.

Of greater importance was the constant threat of Gibbs-White countering through the middle of the pitch, complemented by Brennan Johnson’s running, and the late arrivals of Danilo, who, with four goal contributions in his last three matches, is a candidate for the best signing of the January window.

Danilo netted the all-important fourth goal against Southampton, assisted by a cheeky flick from Gibbs-White that epitomised his swagger since Steve Cooper tweaked things a few matches ago. There is an attacking efficiency and confidence to Forest that gives them hope of sneaking over the line despite a tricky fixture list.

Chelsea and Arsenal are difficult opponents for the next two matches, but the buffer provided by three points against Saints means there’s a decent chance Forest’s destiny will still be in their own hands on the final day, when they travel to Crystal Palace.

It bodes well that Forest have taken to scoring at a high conversion rate. They have outscored their xG in three of the last four matches, and scored four against Southampton from just eight shots on goal and an xG tally of 1.8.

Forest shots
Forest scored with all four of their shots on target v Southampton

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