Premier League weekend review: What we learned

By Alex Keble 29 Apr 2024
Haaland, Man City

Alex Keble on the key talking points, including Man City's 2-0 win at Nott'm Forest

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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:

- A Dutch revolution for Liverpool?
- Why Man Utd's midfield remains problematic
- How Forest exposed a possible weakness in Man City
- Why Arsenal are well equipped to win the title
- Everton's improving defensive displays
- Sheff Utd on cusp of unwanted record
- Wolves' duo can provide strong finish
- Injuries catching up with Villa
- Iraola inspires Bournemouth to a new high
- Weary Palace need to bolster numbers

Gakpo and Gravenberch hint at Liverpool’s Dutch revolution 

Liverpool’s slump over the last five Premier League matches hasn’t just changed the mood music for Jurgen Klopp’s departure. It has changed the landscape for his likely successor Arne Slot, who may now feel he inherits a team in need of a fresh start.

Poor finishing from Liverpool’s forwards explains a record of one win and five points across those matches. There is no need to read into it any more than that. The Reds are still creating as many chances, they just aren’t putting them away.

Liverpool's attacking efficiency 2023/24
Per match First 30 PL matches Last 5 PL matches
Goals 2.3 1.4
Shots 20 23
Shot conversion % 12% 6%
xG* 2.3 2.3
Points 2.33 1.0

*xG=Expected Goals

If Slot does indeed take over at Liverpool, as has been reported, he will have been impressed by what he saw from his two Dutch compatriots, Ryan Gravenberch and Cody Gakpo.

In bursts, Gravenberch was strong and skilful in weaving out of West Ham United's challenges and recycling possession, showing the kind of press-resistance and composure that will be vital to the Guardiola-inspired tactical setup Slot could impose.

He completed seven take-ons and made seven recoveries - more than anyone on the pitch on both counts - and with a total of five, ranked second for progressive carries.

gravenberch touch map v west ham

Gakpo, yet to hit top form after two years at the club, is similarly a player better suited to Slot’s tactics than Klopp’s. Against West Ham he slowed the game down and, playing as a "false nine", added a much-needed measure of control to offset the wildness of this Liverpool team.

In the first half of last season Gakpo amassed nine goals and 12 assists in 14 appearances for PSV Eindhoven, who at the time were challenging Slot’s Feyenoord for the Dutch title. The potential new Liverpool boss is bound to be an admirer.

Slot will know how to get the best out of the two Dutch players still waiting to make their mark at Anfield. They might prove to be the totems of Slot’s revolution.

Man Utd’s midfield problems again overlooked by Ten Hag

Erik ten Hag’s post-match comments have raised eyebrows for a while now, but after a disappointing 1-1 draw with Burnley he took things to a new level.

“We are one of the most dynamic and entertaining teams in the league at this moment," Ten Hag told the BBC. “We are creating loads of chances by playing good football. Every team gives up opportunities. But when it is up to us, it is weird.”

Every team gives up opportunities, it is true. But nobody gives them up quite like Manchester United, who conceded a 2.06 xG against Burnley, which was the third-highest xG Vincent Kompany’s side have earned all season.

In a pattern we have repeatedly seen, Man Utd were astonishingly open in central midfield, allowing Burnley to carry the ball unchallenged through the centre and launch attack after attack.

Burnley had 39 progressive carries of the ball, the joint-most anyone has managed against Man Utd this season.

To take just one example below, Casemiro is breezed past in central midfield to leave an extraordinary amount of space to run into. One pass later, Wilson Odobert has a glorious chance to win the match in the fifth minute of added time.

Burnley carry

Ten Hag was half-right. Man Utd are entertaining. Just not for the reasons he would want them to be.

Forest’s counter-attacking threat offers hope to Arsenal

This was not a routine win for Pep Guardiola, and you could feel his slight anxiety in the post-match press conference.

“It's similar to what's happened in the past [title races] with Liverpool,” he said. “If we draw a game, we're not going to win the Premier League.”

Only once in 2024 have Manchester City conceded a higher xG than Nottingham Forest’s 1.93 on Sunday, and that was in their 1-1 draw with Liverpool.

Man City's xGA comparison 2023/24
Fixture Man City xGA*
Liverpool 1-1 Man City 2.7
Nott'm Forest 0-2 Man City 1.93
Man City 1-1 Chelsea 1.44
Man City 3-1 Burnley 1.44
Newcastle 2-3 Man City 1.30

*xGA=Expected Goals Against

Forest had a simple counter-attacking game plan and it nearly worked. Before Erling Haaland secured the points, Chris Wood had two glorious chances, both from six yards, and Murillo somehow missed an open goal thanks to Forest’s fast breaks down the flanks.

Man City’s high-line was countered successfully for long periods of the match, and on another day, Guardiola’s side would have dropped points.

It was certainly encouraging for upcoming opponents Fulham, Wolverhampton Wanderers, and Tottenham Hotspur – as well as for Arsenal.

Arsenal have all the tools to win their first title in 20 years

They might not have gained any ground in the title race, but after jumping the final big hurdle, Arsenal will have renewed confidence they can win all their remaining matches and capitalise on any slip-up from Man City.

What should have impressed and emboldened Arsenal supporters most of all was the tactical dexterity of the performance.

As we highlighted in our post-game analysis, Arsenal were unusually defensive in the north London derby, happily sitting back and targeting Spurs on the counter-attack, showing the sort of humility and tactical reactivity that is anathema to Ange Postecoglou.

It was emphatic evidence that Arsenal are considerably improved compared to this time last season.

Mikel Arteta has multiple options and a variety of different methods to get his team over the line, which has in turn created a resilience and self-confidence that simply wasn’t there in 2022/23.

Arsenal have all the tools. They have the momentum. They have the league position. And after Forest threatened the City goal so many times in Sunday's late kick-off, they have the confidence to believe that if they keep winning, the title will be theirs.

Another classic Dyche win points to progress next season

Everton have won four of their last five Premier League matches – and they couldn’t have done it in a more "Dychian" way.

Ten of their 12 wins this season have been to nil, including each of Everton's last four matches at Goodison Park. Only the top three have a better defensive record than the 48 goals conceded by Sean Dyche's side. Indeed, only Arsenal have scored more than Everton's 18 goals from set-pieces .

Top Premier League defences 2023/24
Team Clean sheets Goals conceded
Arsenal 16 28
Everton 12 48
Man City 11 32
Newcastle 10 55
Fulham 9 55
Liverpool 9 36

Clearly this is a team fully invested in Dyche’s methods and, as we’ve been saying all season, having forwards fit and firing is all Everton needed to complete the transformation.

In recent weeks it has been Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s return to form that has done it, but this time it was Idrissa Gueye, who scored his second goal in three matches to make Everton mathematically safe.

They won’t be able to rely on Gueye consistently, of course. But if Everton can find another goalscorer to support Calvert-Lewin - they remain 19th for goals scored, with 37 - next season could be a lot brighter than this one.

Isak is ruthless as Newcastle relegate Sheff Utd

Sheffield United are set to be relegated to the Championship. It has been a long time coming, but a fitting portrait of their season that it should be confirmed against Newcastle United, who beat them 8-0 back in September.

The team that put the first nail in the coffin has now put in the last.

Things could get worse for Chris Wilder. Sheff Utd are only three short of the all-time Premier League record for goals conceded, and are averaging 2.8 goals against per game, more than any team before them.

Worst PL defensive records
Premier League Matches Conceded Per match
Swindon (93/94) 42* 100 2.4
Sheff Utd (23/24) 35 97 2.8
Ipswich  (94/95) 42* 93 2.2
Derby County (07/08) 38 89 2.3
Fulham (13/14) 38 85 2.2

*In the first three Premier League seasons, the league consisted of 22 clubs playing 42 matches. This was reduced to 20 clubs for the start of the 1995/96 season and has remained at this number ever since.

Unsurprisingly, the league’s leakiest defence was easy pickings for in-form Alexander Isak, who has now scored 19 Premier League goals this season, the most by a Newcastle player in a single top-flight campaign since Alan Shearer netted 22 times in 2003/04.

Isak has also scored in each of his last seven Premier League home matches, with only Andrew Cole (8 in 1993/94) and Shearer (15 in 1996/97) ever putting together a better sequence for the club.

Those goals have helped Newcastle to four wins in their last six, putting them four points clear in seventh, the final European spot.

At this rate, Eddie Howe will rightly back his players to catch Man Utd and seal UEFA Europa League qualification. 

Cunha and Hwang partnership shows what Wolves have been missing

Wolves have ended their six-match winless run just in time to ensure Gary O’Neil’s impressive debut campaign doesn’t end with a whimper.

If it had done, then he could fairly point to injuries in the forward line as the reason Wolves faded away.

Matheus Cunha’s assist for Hwang Hee-chan’s opener was the first time these two had combined for a goal this season. That’s not a surprise. It was the first time they had started together in the Premier League.

cunha luton pass map

Both have missed periods of 2023/24 through injury, as has Pedro Neto, and the cumulative effect has been a significant blunting of O’Neil’s counter-attacks.

Cunha especially has been missed. He has started only six Premier League matches in 2024, scoring five goals and assisting another.

Who knows where Wolves would be had Cunha stayed fit.

Exhausted Villa will need better luck with injuries next season

Aston Villa got away with this one. Chelsea were the better side - even at half-time when the hosts were leading 2-0 - with only a late, overturned goal denying Mauricio Pochettino a comeback win.

What went wrong? The short answer is that Villa are exhausted. They surely did not intend to sit quite so deep, having held 29 per cent possession, less than in any other Premier League match this season.

A long campaign riddled with injuries has caught up with them. At Villa Park on Saturday it was a familiar story as Emiliano Martinez and Youri Tielemans withdrew through injury.

Villa’s superb over-performance in the league has prevented their injury crisis from getting more attention. But with central midfielders seemingly on a constant rotation on the treatment table, Unai Emery has worked miracles in keeping his side competitive.

Iraola has orchestrated Bournemouth’s best-ever top flight season

In many ways this was just another routine home win for AFC Bournemouth: since their first of the season on 28 October, only Man City (0) and Liverpool (1) have lost fewer home Premier League matches than Andoni Iraola’s side (2).

But thumping Brighton & Hove Albion 3-0 was an historic day for the club. Iraola has now officially overseen Bournemouth’s best-ever Premier League season with 48 points won.

There are still records to be broken. They are only one point behind West Ham in eighth spot, which would be Bournemouth’s highest-ever league finish, and they are five points off the final European spot.

It’s a long shot, but Iraola has given supporters reason to dream.

Palace will need new recruits as tiredness sets in

Crystal Palace were superb in the first half at Craven Cottage, once again looking electric in the transition as Oliver Glasner's tactics take hold. Then fatigue set in.

“It was the third game in six days and the legs are tired, the head is maybe a little bit tired,” said Glasner. “We didn’t have the efficiency we had against West Ham [but] we pressed from the beginning in their half and we had good balance.”

That final point is revealing. Under the new regime pressing for a full 90 minutes is the requirement, but in order to do that the players will need to be fitter and the squad will need to be bigger.

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