Premier League weekend review: What we learned

22 Apr 2024
villa wwl

Alex Keble on the key talking points, including how Aston Villa were able to dismantle Bournemouth

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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:

- Rogers being Emery's perfect weapon
- Brentford's success without Toney
- Arsenal winning ugly
- Burnley's great escape is on
- West Ham's difficult year so far
- Everton closing in on safety
- Liverpool's rotated side produced a refreshed performance

Rogers dismantles Bournemouth in tweaked midfield role

The secret to Unai Emery’s success is restlessness. He is forever tweaking his tactical set-up to expose flaws in the opposition, which makes it almost impossible to predict Aston Villa’s formation – or stop them from taking you apart.

This wasn’t Villa’s best performance of the season, but it was quietly efficient for two reasons: Villa’s refusal to play out from goal-kicks, which nullified AFC Bournemouth’s press, and Emery’s deployment of Morgan Rogers as part of a fast-transitioning front four.

The basic idea was to get behind Bournemouth’s high line at every opportunity with a more direct and counter-attacking game than we are used to seeing from Villa.

This all started from Emiliano Martinez, who attempted 29 long passes (his second-most in a Premier League game this season) and ended with a pass accuracy of 70.4 per cent (his fourth-lowest of the campaign).

As well as neutralising Bournemouth’s pressing traps, this meant feeding Ollie Watkins without needing to play the ball through a congested midfield.

Emery made the surprising decision (albeit one partially forced by injuries and suspensions) of fielding Rogers, Moussa Diaby and Leon Bailey in the same team, with Rogers, nominally on the left, playing alongside Diaby as a second No 10.

morgan rogers v bou

Rogers was invariably the free man, picking up the ball between the lines to set Villa away, leading directly to the first goal, scored by Rogers, and the second, which Rogers (circled in black) pre-assisted.

Rogers pre-assist

Clearly, Emery had spotted a Bournemouth weakness in defending the No 10 space and coping with fast transitions. It was yet another tactical masterclass that took Villa one step closer to UEFA Champions League football.

Brentford’s post-Toney life looks just fine

Just over a week ago Brentford were sleepwalking into trouble, but back-to-back wins has completely changed the mood.

Now 10 points clear of the relegation zone with four games to go, Thomas Frank’s side are all but safe. Who would have thought the solution to their problems would be losing Ivan Toney?

Since his return from suspension in January, Toney had started every single Brentford league game, up until three matches ago, when an injury began a period out of the starting XI. They won nine points from the 12 games he started. They’ve since won seven from the last three.

Toney has made no secret of his desire to leave the club, telling Sky Sports in January that he would like to “play for a top club". The last fortnight suggest Brentford will be just fine without him, thanks in no small part to Yoane Wissa’s performances.

Wissa has scored six goals in his last nine matches and his first Premier League brace on Saturday meant he became the first ever Brentford player other than Toney to reach double figures in the competition.

wissa v toney

He and Bryan Mbeumo tore Luton Town to shreds. A sharp counter-attack led by Mbeumo released Wissa for his brilliant first goal, and then just before half-time, Wissa picked up the ball on the halfway line and, via two one-twos, bagged his second.

Mbeumo ended the match with two assists and two pre-assists, while Keane Lewis-Potter and Kevin Schade – one of the two forwards who came off the bench – also got on the scoresheet.

Ten goals, seven points and forwards scoring for fun: it’s been a brilliant three-game sequence for Brentford, and all without their talisman.

The thought of Toney getting his big-money move this summer shouldn’t worry Brentford supporters anymore.

Arsenal have the resilience – and defence – to last the distance

It wasn’t a stylish or swashbuckling Arsenal performance, but at this stage of the season it doesn’t need to be. Aesthetics and tactical purity are for the early parts of the season. In a run-in, you tick off the wins any way you can.

What will have impressed Mikel Arteta is yet another clean sheet – Arsenal’s sixth in a row in Premier League away matches and 15th of the season – and the all-around defensive sturdiness of his team’s performance.

Wolverhampton Wanderers were limited just five shots on goal, which is mightily impressive from the visitors considering most assumed Gary O’Neil’s counter-attacks would be a thorn in Arsenal’s side.

After back-to-back defeats to Bayern Munich and Villa, and with mistakes creeping in over the last fortnight, it was exactly what Arsenal needed - and evidence they will last the distance in the title run.

Arsenal won just three of their final nine Premier League matches last year, a sequence that began with consecutive draws, against Liverpool and West Ham United, in encounters Arteta’s side had been leading 2-0.

There were no signs of that at Wolves; no signs that Arsenal will buckle under the pressure.

“I think the resilience has been brilliant,” goalscorer Leandro Trossard told Sky Sports after the match. “Then it’s up to the boys to show great character and mentality and I think we did that today.”

There is no doubt Arsenal have matured considerably since the run-in 12 months ago. They will push right to the end.

Burnley are back in the fight against relegation

The most improbable "great escape" in Premier League history is now on the cards. This was a must-win encounter for Burnley; the most high-pressured 90 minutes of their season. That Vincent Kompany’s players handled it superbly tells us the near-impossible could happen.

In early March Burnley were rock bottom and 11 points from safety having won 13 points from 24 matches. Seven matches and 10 points later, they are just three behind Nottingham Forest in 17th – with Forest visiting Turf Moor on the final day.

Burnley, then, just need to make up one more point on Forest to move within two points before their head-to-head, and although their encounters are tough it is feasible.

There are two good reasons to believe.

First, goalkeeper Arijanet Muric, whose errors against Everton and Brighton Hove & Albion cost Burnley three points, was excellent at Bramall Lane, making 10 saves and conceding just once from a post-shot xG of 2.9 (which means the average Premier League goalkeeper would be "expected" to concede 2.9 goals based on the shot placement).

Second, Lyle Foster scored his first goal since 30 December, ending a run of seven Premier League starts without one.

If Kompany can get Foster and David Datro Fofana in form at the same time, and if Muric is back to his best, then Burnley can stay close to Forest before their six-pointer on the final day.

Nightmare first half all-but ends West Ham’s hopes of Europe

West Ham look exhausted and have been for a while, but this was a new nadir for 2024, a year of decline that looks likely to end with a disappointing league finish.

David Moyes’ side have won just four of their 21 matches in all competitions in 2024 and have the fifth-lowest win percentage in the Premier League this calendar year, with 19 per cent, behind only Burnley (13.3 per cent), Sheffield United (13.3 per cent), Nott'm Forest (15.8 per cent) and Everton (18.8 per cent).

They are still eighth for the time being, but with Brighton and Chelsea having at least two matches in hand each, there is little hope of finishing in the top seven.

In fact, with Manchester City, Liverpool, and Chelsea still to play West Ham will do well to make the top 10.

As for Sunday’s encounter, we probably should have seen it coming. Oliver Glasner’s aggressive pressing game picked off Liverpool the previous weekend and was always likely to prove too much, physically, for a West Ham side that has played 10 European matches this season.

Eberechi Eze and Michael Olise were outstanding, both grabbing a goal and an assist, but the way West Ham capitulated to those two said more about the visitors’ tiredness than anything else.

Everton take a giant step towards safety

Everton look safe. The gap to Luton in 18th is five points and Everton have played a match fewer, suggesting Nott'm Forest and the current bottom three are the only ones left in the fight.

Sean Dyche will be relieved, but it must be said Everton have had their fair share of good luck this month.

The 1-0 win against Burnley was courtesy of a dreadful error from Muric, whose pass was closed down by Dominic Calvert-Lewin, and on Sunday both of their long-range goals really ought to have been saved by Matz Sels, who faced a grand total xG of 0.34 in this game.

And that’s before we even get onto Forest’s three major penalty appeals.

Sometimes the difference between safety and relegation is simply good fortune. Everton, with two wins from their last three matches, will hobble over the line - and they won’t care one jot about how they did it.

Klopp’s rotations work perfectly in refreshed Liverpool performance

Not unlike Arsenal, Liverpool were scrappy and a little nervous - but they got the job done, and that’s all that matters.

The tension in Craven Cottage was understandable. Jurgen Klopp took a big risk resting Mohamed Salah, Darwin Nunez, Alexis Mac Allister, and Dominik Szoboszlai, but it was a risk that certainly paid off as squad players Harvey Elliott and Ryan Gravenberch in particular offered something different.

Fatigue is psychological as much as physical and a tired team start to move in predictable patterns. It was refreshing, then, to see Liverpool score in unusual ways, from Granveberch’s superb strike to Trent Alexander-Arnold’s free-kick.

After a few disappointing results this month, characterised largely by wastefulness in front of goal, Liverpool needed a ruthless showing like this.

The ability to score out of nothing is a trait Liverpool will need as an exhausting season draws to a close. The return of Alexander-Arnold and Diogo Jota, both on the score sheet on Sunday, could be season-defining.

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