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Premier League weekend review: What we learned

4 Mar 2024
Darwin Nunez

Alex Keble on the key talking points including Liverpool's late victory and how Man City won the Manchester derby

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After a thrilling weekend of Premier League goals and drama, Alex Keble looks at the key talking points and tactical lessons.

Newcastle change tactics to shore up defence

Having gone nine Premier League matches without a clean sheet, conceding 24 goals in that time, Eddie Howe needed to change something.

 But few expected him to make quite such a big tactical change on Saturday, not least Gary O’Neil, who refused to accept that his team’s 56 per cent possession was anything to do with Howe’s choices: “There’s no way Newcastle United let us have a lot of the ball,” he said.

They did. Howe decided to sit his team deeper than usual, focusing on compressing space between the lines and denying space in behind; a sensible decision given Newcastle's frequent goals conceded on the counter-attack over the last couple of months.

Only five times this season have Newcastle held less than their 44 per cent possession on Saturday, and those games were all against "Big Six" opponents or high-flying Aston Villa. It is rare to see so many Newcastle players hunched behind the ball, in the way that we can see below.

Newcastle v Wolves

The idea was to blunt Wolverhampton Wanderers’ own tactical focus on sharp transitions, and it worked perfectly. Crucially, a Newcastle player was dispossessed just three times, their lowest number in a Premier League game this season.

Reguilon and Roerslev show promise

After more dropped points made it just one win in five for Chelsea, understandably most of the post-match focus was on Mauricio Pochettino’s side.

But the most interesting thing about this game was Brentford’s new wing-back partnership of Sergio Reguilon and Mads Roerslev, who ran the show in their fifth Premier League start together.

Only Zanka (72) and Christian Norgaard (54) had more touches of the ball for Brentford than Reguilon (51) and Roerslev (47), and the two wing-backs had a huge influence in the final third.

Reguilon’s deflected shot dropped for Roerslev to score Brentford’s equaliser early in the second half, and Reguilon was also heavily involved in the second goal, his cross ultimately leading to Yoane Wissa’s acrobatic volley.

Then, at 2-1, Roerslev crossed for Reguilon to head onto the post. A few millimetres the other way and Brentford would have won the game.

player_- full pitch visualisation - 16x9 (4)
player_- full pitch visualisation - 16x9 (5)

It’s worth noting that Roerslev’s and Reguilon’s other four games together were against Wolves (a 2-0 win in which Reguilon assisted the opener), Liverpool and Manchester City twice. 

As Brentford’s matches get a little easier, Thomas Frank’s new wing-back pair will start making headlines.

Glasner’s Hodgson-esque system undone by errors

Last weekend we saw Oliver Glasner take a progressive stance in the 3-0 victory over Burnley but, as predicted, at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium the tactical set-up was completely different.

It has only taken two matches for Palace fans to witness Glasner’s malleability. He is not a dogmatic tactician. Instead, he prepares for matches by adapting to the opposition – even if that means channelling Roy Hodgson.

Crystal Palace held 22 per cent possession, their lowest figure of the season to date. Spurs' 78 per cent was their highest number under Ange Postecoglou, and their 728 completed passes were their most in a home match on record, since 2003/04. Glasner is not short on humility.

Aside from one obvious point of difference to Hodgson, with Glasner deploying a 5-4-1 system rather than a 4-4-2, this was just like watching the old Palace, and it would have worked if it weren't for some defensive errors in the second half.

Timo Werner’s first goal for Spurs came from a catalogue of mistakes from several Palace players.

Werner's goal v Palace

Palace were then unable to settle down after the restart, furiously urging each other to focus rather than take the deep breath that was required.

A second Spurs goal felt inevitable, and from that point there was no way back. Glasner’s biggest challenge over the next two months is to improve a Palace defence badly missing Marc Guehi.

Emery exploits Luton's high line but Villa wobble again

Following Manchester City’s 6-2 win at Luton Town in last week's FA Cup tie, when Kevin De Bruyne and Erling Haaland showed that going direct was the way to break Luton’s high and stretched back three, Unai Emery decided to follow suit.

Villa’s first two goals were the result of a clear tactical decision made by the visitors to put Ollie Watkins in behind as early and urgently as possible.

First, John McGinn won possession on the halfway line, and within seconds two forward passes had Watkins through on goal to score.

Quarter of an hour later, Douglas Luiz’s quick free-kick again put Watkins in to make it 2-0.

However, the manner of Luton’s comeback – prior to Villa’s substitutes Moussa Diaby and Lucas Digne combining for a late winner – will have troubled Emery.

In each of the last three matches Villa have had a big lead only for their intensity to drop, allowing the opponent back into the contest. On all three occasions Emery’s side have won, but all three have been awkward finishes to what should have been comfortable wins.

The Villa head coach must find a way to keep his players in control of the tempo – and the ball – when 2-0 up and cruising.

More missed opportunities for Everton

It has been the story of Everton’s season, and the longer it goes on the more the narrative becomes self-fulfilling.

When Beto stepped up to take Everton’s first penalty of the season, how many people inside Goodison Park expected such a big chance to be wasted, and was Beto one of them?

Everton are now winless in their last 10 Premier League games, including all seven in 2024. They had 22 shots in this match but still lost, making it the third time this season (out of five total) they’ve had 20+ shots in a game and still been on the losing side.

Only twice in 2023/24 have Everton recorded a higher xG (Expected Goals) tally than their 2.7 on Saturday. West Ham United’s two goals in injury time were against the run of play, but that’s just how Everton’s season is going.

Fortunately for Sean Dyche, Everton’s remaining games at Goodison Park offer hope. Their final four are against Burnley, Nottingham Forest, Brentford and Sheffield United, four teams likely to give Everton enough chances to get the wins they need. 

The relegation battle

Position Pos Club Played Pl GD Points Pts
13 Bournemouth BOU 32 -10 42
14 Crystal Palace CRY 32 -17 33
15 Brentford BRE 33 -11 32
16 Everton EVE 32 -16 27
17 Nott'm Forest NFO 33 -16 26
18 Luton LUT 33 -24 25
19 Burnley BUR 33 -35 20
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Liverpool find a way with another super-sub goal 

We know Liverpool have often left it late this season, often come back from behind, and often require substitutes to get the job done, but it went to a whole new level at the City Ground on Saturday.

Darwin Nunez’s goal on 98 minutes and 35 seconds is Liverpool’s latest ever winner in the Premier League (since records began in 2006/07). 

It was in keeping with the vibe of these last few weeks, when Jurgen Klopp’s side have somehow kept winning despite a truly extraordinary injury crisis. Seven of their starting XI were absent for this one, only for substitutes to be involved in a goal for the 22nd time this season (11 goals, 11 assists).

Nunez takes the plaudits, but it was Alexis Mac Allister who deserves to be picked out for staying composed in the dying seconds to play a perfect cross for the striker. It was the sixth chance he had created, a new high for Mac Allister in a single match for Liverpool.

This could go down as one of the most important wins of the Klopp era, should Liverpool go on to beat Man City next weekend and win the title. 

Title race

Position Pos Club Played Pl GD Points Pts
1 Man City MCI 32 +44 73
2 Arsenal ARS 32 +49 71
3 Liverpool LIV 32 +41 71
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Liverpool simply could not have afforded to lose ground – and lose momentum – ahead of the showdown at Anfield. They will, however, need to up their performance levels on Sunday.

Man Utd’s top-four hopes fading

Erik ten Hag’s decision to play in an ultra-deep 4-4-2 striker-less formation allowed Man City to dominate the match and run out deserved winners, Marcus Rashford’s brilliant goal against the run of play only temporarily giving the illusion that United were competitive at the Etihad Stadium. 

Victories for Spurs and Villa have left Man Utd in a bit of trouble. Should Spurs win their game in hand they will be nine points above Ten Hag’s side while Villa, whom Man Utd have beaten twice this season, are 11 points clear in fourth.

There is barely enough time to turn around either points deficit, suggesting that United will be without Champions League football next season even if England is given a fifth spot for next season’s reformatted competition.

Race for Europe

Position Pos Club Played Pl GD Points Pts
4 Aston Villa AVL 33 +19 63
5 Spurs TOT 32 +16 60
6 Newcastle NEW 32 +17 50

Ten Hag hasn’t given up hope, mind.  

“So we caught up from January when we had the same questions and it can be a quick turnaround,” he said after the game. “We have another final and to try and get closer to them [Spurs and Villa]. Fifth spot can also be a Champions League place so we have to go for it and win our games.” 

That might be true, but it was harder to agree with Ten Hag’s assertion that only “small margins” decided the outcome at the Etihad, after he rejected a reporter’s suggestion there was a big gulf between the sides.

Man Utd were outplayed, managing just three shots on goal to Man City’s 27. They are 18 points behind their rivals and will finish below them in the table for the 11th consecutive season. The gap is big – and it’s widening.

Iraola lures Burnley into a trap

There are two ways of looking at Burnley’s 11th home defeat of the season, which incidentally is the most they have ever lost on home soil in a single league campaign.

Either Bournemouth were second best and Burnley - controlling the play for large periods - were simply punished for a couple of slack moments, or this game went almost exactly as Andoni Iraola wanted it to go.

Possession isn’t everything, certainly not when one team doesn’t really want the ball. Iraola likes to play in the transition, and therefore he was happy to lure Burnley forward before countering in behind.

That is why Burnley’s 75 per cent possession – their most in a Premier League game to date – is not particularly instructive, although allowing the hosts to have 20 shots cannot have been part of Bournemouth’s plan.

Nevertheless, the visitors were happy to soak up pressure, safe in the knowledge their chances would come. For Burnley, now 11 points from safety, it was an all-too-familiar story.

De Zerbi’s rotation affects rhythm again

Brighton & Hove Albion have always rotated heavily under Roberto De Zerbi, but the deeper we get into a long and exhausting season, the more it appears to be affecting the team’s performances.

De Zerbi’s side have failed to score in five of their last 11 matches, which is a dramatic downturn considering they had scored in a club-record 32 consecutive league games prior to that.

They have simply lost their rhythm, both in the final third and in their own third.

Another seven changes at Craven Cottage (their joint-most in a game this season) made it 103 changes to Brighton’s starting 11 in the Premier League this season, which is an average of 3.8 per game.

It is perhaps unsurprising, then, that Brighton couldn’t find fluency going forward - and made two unforced errors leading to Fulham goals.

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