Feature

Premier League weekend review: What we learned

By Alex Keble 8 Apr 2024
Salah Nunez

Alex Keble on the key talking points, including Liverpool's shock 2-2 draw at Old Trafford

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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, including:

- Liverpool lacking a clinical edge
- Arteta using his wingers to defeat Brighton
- How Guardiola is utilising De Bruyne
- How Reguilon inspired Brentford's comeback
- West Ham taking a big step towards Europe
- Guimaraes starring again for Newcastle
- Postecoglou's half-time changes proving decisive
- Luton's late win sparking safety hopes
- Chelsea's concerning defensive record
- Calvert-Lewin earning his luck for Everton

Liverpool lack clinical edge against top six

When reviewing the 2023/24 season Manchester United supporters might consider their biggest achievement was stopping Liverpool winning the title.

The 2-2 draw at Old Trafford on Sunday was another chaotic performance from Erik ten Hag’s side. Liverpool should have won easily, as our tactical analysis highlighted, but once again the visitors were wasteful.

Profligacy against top-six opposition is becoming a serious problem for Jurgen Klopp.

Since beating Aston Villa 3-0 in September, Liverpool have failed to win a single one of their seven matches against the current top six, drawing five and losing two.

In the process, they scored just seven goals from an Expected Goals (xG) of 11.9 and 124 shots, meaning in those matches Liverpool scored once from every 17.7 shots, more than double their Premier League season average of every 8.7 shots.

When the curtain comes down in May, it might be the difference between a fairytale ending for Klopp and another near miss.

Liverpool's results v top six since October
Results Shots xG
Spurs 2-1 Liverpool 12 1.3
Man City 1-1 Liverpool 8 0.6
Liverpool 0-0 Man Utd 34 2.3
Liverpool 1-1 Arsenal 13 1.0
Arsenal 3-1 Liverpool 10 0.4
Liverpool 1-1 Man City 19 2.7
Man Utd 2-2 Liverpool 28 3.6
Arteta uses width to work round Brighton defence

Arsenal’s defensive solidity continues to be the bedrock of everything Mikel Arteta does, and the clean sheet at Brighton & Hove Albion was one of their best displays so far.

The Gunners have now kept five consecutive clean sheets on the road for the first time since April 1997 and only in one match in 2024 have they accumulated an Expected Goals Against (xGA) of greater than one.

Arsenal's xGA v goals conceded (GA) in 2024
Opp xGA GA Opp xGA GA
CRY 0.35 0 SHU 0.24 0
NFO 0.47 1 BRE 0.97 1
LIV 0.37 1 MCI 1.02 0
WHU 0.22 0 LUT 0.34 0
BUR 0.31 0 BHA 0.53 0
NEW 0.16 1 - - -

But the result on Saturday, which was Brighton’s first home defeat in the Premier League since August, was more about the intricacies of Arteta’s attacking tactics, adapted at the Amex to use greater width to work around Brighton’s congested midfield.

Roberto De Zerbi always packs the middle, which is why Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Jesus sat unusually high and wide, ready to receive longer passes. The best example was for that crucial opener as Jesus, driving from out wide in the bottom left of the image below, earned a penalty.

Arsenal penalty

For the second goal, built down the other wing, Jorginho was unusually aggressive in attacking the right-hand space that Saka – on the floor following a heavy challenge – is supposed to fill, suggesting this was a deliberate ploy from Arteta.

Arsenal attempted 25 take-ons, their third most in a match this season, as part of the plan to drive at Brighton from out wide.

To illustrate just how unusual it was for Arsenal, compare the Gunners' average positions against Luton Town in their previous fixture (image one) with their average positions at Brighton (image two).

Arsenal tactical formation v Luton
Arsenal tactical formation v Brighton
De Bruyne exploits gaps in Glasner’s 5-4-1

Kevin De Bruyne was at the top of his game in the early Saturday kick-off, a brace taking him to 100 goals for Manchester City in all competitions.

On this occasion, he has his manager to thank for the goals and the assist.

Pep Guardiola deployed De Bruyne almost as a secondary left winger, sitting him far out to the left in order to take up a position in the awkward space that opens on the outside of the central midfielders in Oliver Glasner’s 5-4-1.

de bruyne touch map v palace

Being so important to the counter-attacks, Jordan Ayew and Eberechi Eze were often a little bit higher and wider than Crystal Palace’s two central midfielders, opening a pocket of room that Guardiola targeted.

De Bruyne, working with Jack Grealish, caused a problem in this gap between Ayew and Adam Wharton.

For the first City goal Grealish draws players away to give De Bruyne the space, a common feature.

KDB goal v Palace

The first three City goals, and many other chances, were built down that side.

KDB goal 2 v Palace

There is growing concern that City are going behind too early in matches, as the table below shows, but with De Bruyne in this kind of form – and under the guidance of a tactical genius who knows just where to deploy him – it doesn’t seem to matter.

Most times Man City have conceded first
Season Conceded first
2019/20 12
2016/17 11
2023/24 11
2021/22 8
Reguilon asks questions of Villa’s “big-team mentality”

“It's frustrating,” Ollie Watkins said after Aston Villa blew a 2-0 lead to draw 3-3 with Brentford. “We lacked that big-team mentality where they kill games off, which is really disappointing. I'm not belittling my team. I'm part of it. I feel we need to somehow figure out when we're 2-0 up how to just shut up shop.”

He has a point. Villa have made a habit of conceding in sudden bursts in 2024.

They let in three goals in less than 10 second-half minutes on Saturday, following a clear pattern.

Villa's quick concessions of goals in 2024
Match Quick concessions
Villa 3-3 Brentford Three goals in nine minutes
Man City 4-1 Villa Two goals in seven minutes
Villa 0-4 Spurs Two goals in three minutes (twice)
Luton 2-3 Villa Two goals in six minutes
Villa 1-3 Newcastle Two goals in four mins

On Saturday, the issue was tactical as much as it was psychological.

“It was my mistake, I have to correct it,” Unai Emery said after the match. “Because [Sergio] Reguilon crossed three times for three goals. I have to correct it.”

All three were sloppy goals to concede. For the first, Villa failed to reorganise quickly enough after clearing a corner, meaning their back four were all mixed up and Lucas Digne, now at right-back, couldn’t handle Reguilon.

reguilon heat map

The second and the third goals were quick thinking and direct balls into Reguilon, whose aggressive attacking play took advantage of Leon Bailey failing to track back.

As Watkins said, Villa need to learn how to shut the game down - which starts with wide players like Bailey working hard to get back and help.

Ward-Prowse helps West Ham take big step to Europe

When James Ward-Prowse signed for West Ham United in the summer it looked a perfect fit: David Moyes' teams are superb at set-pieces and Ward-Prowse is arguably the best in the business.

But after some early success, it hasn’t quite worked out that way. Before Saturday’s match Ward-Prowse had contributed just two goals or assists from set-pieces (excluding penalties) in his last 17 matches in all competitions.

In fairness to the midfielder, this might have more to do with his team-mates finishing than his deliveries. West Ham are third in the Premier League for set-piece xG, with 11.78, but are all the way down in 12th for goals, with nine.

If you want a job done properly, do it yourself.

Ward-Prowse, left frustrated by his team-mates’ inability to convert his centres, cut out the middle man on Saturday, scoring the winner direct from a corner.

It ended a four-match winless run for West Ham and moved them to within one point of Manchester United in sixth. If Moyes can get those set-pieces right, they should qualify for the UEFA Europa League again.

Guimaraes stars as Newcastle eye UEL

As injuries start to clear up Newcastle United are returning to the kind of form that earned them a top-four finish in 2022/23.

Eddie Howe’s side have won 10 points from their last five Premier League matches and, after winning just one of their first 10 away fixtures this season, drawing two and losing seven, have now won three of their last five.

Bruno Guimaraes was the difference-maker again at Craven Cottage. He scored his third goal in his last four Premier League away encounters and set the tone with his assertiveness in possession.

Guimaraes made 10 progressive passes, which was his fifth highest tally of the campaign, but more impressive still is that these accounted for 26 per cent of his 38 passes in total, which is by a considerable margin his highest percentage of the campaign.

Guimaraes pass map v Fulham

Clearly, he enjoyed the extra space in front of him. Newcastle held just 33.4 per cent possession, their second-lowest of the season after 27.4 per cent against Man City.

It allowed them to play a more transition-based contest, explaining why Guimaraes was able to thread so many vertical passes through the lines.

Postecoglou’s changes control Forest counters

From an attacking perspective, Tottenham Hotspur got it right from the outset.

Nottingham Forest were predictably ultra-narrow in their low block, which is why Spurs consistently hit the wings.

Timo Werner repeatedly beat his man to fire a low cross into the box (he produced 12 progressive carries, a season high), leading directly to the own-goal opener, and indeed all three of Spurs' goals came via the wings.

Timo Werner v Nott'm Forest

But throughout the first 45 minutes Forest were far too dangerous on the break, and if not for a terrible miss by Chris Wood the visitors would have been 2-1 up at the interval.

Ange Postecoglou deserves credit for boldly making a double substitution at half-time, replacing Yves Bissouma and Pape Sarr with Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Rodrigo Bentancur.

“It made a difference,” Postecoglou said. “I thought we needed some energy and legs in the midfield for the second half because I could see Forest were working really hard to maintain their grip on the game.

“I thought Pierre and 'Roddy' were outstanding in the energy they brought and the quality they brought in the second half.”

The two substitutes held possession better and screened well against the counter-attacks, giving Spurs the measured controlled they had lacked.

Luton’s comeback could spark home push

Ten matches without a win drains self-confidence. At 1-0 down with 70 minutes on the clock on Saturday, Luton Town supporters could be forgiven for wondering if their chances of safety were disappearing.

But Luton will not lie down. They have now earned eight points – 32 per cent of their total – in the final 10 minutes of fixtures this season after two late goals at Kenilworth Road gave Rob Edwards’ side their first win from behind this season.

Luton are still in the relegation zone on goal difference, but that result is monumental.

The winless run is over and self-belief is restored ahead of their final three encounters at Kenilworth Road, each of which they might have to win.

It’s a tall order, but after Carlton Morris’ late goal sent supporters into delirium, suddenly it feels possible again.

Chelsea’s defensive record a concern

Throughout the season all the talk has been of Chelsea’s inability to convert chances, but defensive injuries and a growing sense of exhaustion has seen an even bigger problem develop at the other end.

Chelsea have conceded at least two goals in each of their last seven contests in all competitions (15 in total). They have also let in 27 away goals in the Premier League this season, their most after 15 away matches since 1990/91.

Having to frequently change the centre-back partnership can’t be helping, but Mauricio Pochettino puts it down to inexperience.

“At 52-years-old, you identify really quick whether the team is ready to compete or not,” he said after the contest. “Maybe this group is not mature enough to compete in games every three days.”

Calvert-Lewin earns luck in vital win

To put it kindly, this was not the best football match you’ll see.

Nor was it a particularly good performance from the match-winner Dominic Calvert Lewin, who had 29 touches and completed just four of his 11 attempted passes (36.4 per cent).

Yet Calvert-Lewin’s work-rate was commendable throughout, and indeed it was by closing down goalkeeper Arijanet Muric that he forced the only goal of the contest in fortuitous circumstances.

He earned his own luck in that respect, scoring for the second consecutive game after failing in his previous 19 Premier League attempts.

It was enough to squeeze past Burnley and end Everton’s run of 13 Premier League fixtures without a win.

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