Premier League Takeaways – Gameweek 30+
With Premier League football returning while we’re stuck in lockdown, our football writers are watching more football than ever. So, after every set of fixtures we’ll be bringing you a batch of opinions that our writers have gathered over the gameweek. With 12 games in gameweek 30+, there was plenty for our team to talk about.
Jack Donnelly – Despite an imminent takeover, Newcastle should cement Allan Saint-Maximin in their plans
While Newcastle fans should be overjoyed at the prospect of a Roman Abramovic-esque takeover on Tyneside, they should be just as overjoyed to have a player of Allan Saint-Maximin’s quality leading their line.
ASM was instrumental in the Magpies’ 3-0 victory over Sheffield United on Sunday. The Frenchman opened the scoring with a low drive into the bottom corner and spent the rest of the afternoon running the Blades’ backline ragged with his speed and trickery. Completing seven out of his nine attempted dribbles (the most attempted on the day), he threatened Sheffield United even before they went down to ten men.
Before his return from injury in January, Newcastle were playing some uninspired, one-dimensional football that had fans dreading the weekend. Now, Newcastle have arguably the most entertaining player in the league and should the rumoured takeover eventually go through, the new owners should keep ASM in mind when planning for the club’s future.
Jamie Braidwood – United’s new midfield partnership could prove problematic elsewhere on the pitch
Manchester United improved considerably after the introduction of Paul Pogba in the 1-1 draw against Tottenham on Friday night, and there were glimmers of a promising partnership with Bruno Fernandes in United’s midfield. Without wanting to jump to conclusions based on a 30-minute showing, both Pogba and Fernandes were able to enjoy time on the ball and create openings for forwards Anthony Matial and Marcus Rashford, but without getting in each other’s way.
The 4-4-2 diamond deployed by United in the second half seems to be the system identified by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in order to get the best out of his midfield playmakers, but it does leave questions elsewhere. Notably, with United playing a narrow midfield and two central forwards, the ball was often funnelled out wide to full-backs Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Luke Shaw against Spurs, and their end product was disappointing. Wan Bissaka’s delivery from wide areas had started to improve prior to lockdown, but there will be extra responsibility placed on his and Shaw’s shoulders with United’s play set to be dictated by Pogba and Fernandes in central positions.
Graeme Sinclair – The relegation battle down to just four?
If the first round of fixtures told us anything about the relegation battle, it’s that there’s a big gap between Watford and the four teams below them. Now, I risk looking like a fool by declaring Watford safe while being one point off the drop, but using the evidence I saw over the weekend, it’s a statement I am okay saying.
For starters, on 21 points, I think it’s safe to say that Norwich are already preparing for life in the Championship next season. When you spend only £700,000 on recruitment in the transfer window it’s always going to be an uphill climb. Add on a team that has Grant Hanley, and that hill becomes Mount Everest.
Bournemouth & West Ham are perhaps more surprising teams to be in a basement battle, but both have faced a number of problems throughout the season. For Bournemouth, it’s less about what’s happened and more about what’s to come. Remaining fixtures against Wolves, Leicester, Spurs & both Manchester clubs have Cherries fans very concerned about their team. In West Ham’s case, it’s simple – hire a manager as unambitious, uninspiring & mediocre as David Moyes and every bad event that happens is on you.
Finally, there’s Aston Villa. Villa have looked the best of the bottom four in their return, and the boost of a John McGinn return gives Villa fans optimism. However, the defence is still shaky, the goalkeepers are frightening & they have no prolific goal scorer. My prediction is that Villa are the team to stay up, but I don’t say that with any confidence.
Struan Garvie – Is David de Gea finished?
One question that always springs up when a team concedes is whether or not the keeper could have done better. This is a question that has been foreign to Manchester United fans over the last few years, down to the consistency and heroics of their Spanish shot stopper, David de Gea. During his nine seasons at Old Trafford, de Gea established himself as one of the world’s best keepers, winning the last six consecutive Player of the Season awards at the club.
Despite his pedigree, de Gea has not been at the same level this season. Multiple mistakes against the likes of Crystal Palace, Watford, Everton earlier in the campaign, with one more against Spurs on Friday evening, United fans have seen their keeper as more of a villain than a hero. While it is often said that a truly fantastic keeper can win a team 12 points per season, it seems quite the opposite this season – de Gea has cost his team those points. He has attracted more criticism than praise, with a verbal assault from Roy Keane including the label: “the most overrated keeper I’ve seen in a long, long time.”
The pressure from the fans for De Gea to be dropped perhaps would not be as vocal if United loanee Dean Henderson, currently at Sheffield United, wasn’t having such an impressive season. In the Premier League, Henderson has kept the joint highest clean sheets with 11 – three more than de Gea’s eight. Furthermore, Henderson has conceded six fewer goals (25 compared to 31) and has a save success rate of 76.42%, with de Gea having less again with 71.56%. While stats don’t always tell the full story, these stats, along with the media buzz clearly show that Henderson has been the better keeper this season.
There is no doubt United fans still appreciate de Gea and everything he has done for the club. But, after nearly two seasons of bad form, I suspect it won’t be long until Dean Henderson’s name is being sung from the Stretford End at Old Trafford.
Taylor Murray – Ayew and van Aanholt are the standouts in a hugely underrated Palace team
Crystal Palace have gone through the motions in recent years – it seems so long ago since Frank de Boer could only muster five games in charge. The club have finally settled on Roy Hodgson as manager and while it may have been seen as a bit of a “been there, done that” appointment, Hodgson has amassed knowledge of how to solidify and unite a team.
He has done exactly that and Palace have perhaps been one of the most underrated teams in the division this season. In the past, they were typically known as “Zaha’s team” but this season, especially with the Ivorian forward playing anything but his best football, the team have really come into their own and are one of the most defensively solid clubs in the league. Vicente Guaita has been excellent in between the sticks, while the likes of Gary Cahill and Scott Dann have stood out under Hodgson’s brand of football.
However, while Hodgson has reinvented how Palace play their football, two names have really exploded at Selhurst Park this season. In a season where the team has become much less reliant on Zaha, both Jordan Ayew and Patrick van Aanholt have attracted heaps of praise.
From left-back, van Aanholt manages to be one of the most influential players in Palace’s attack. Over his three seasons at Selhurst Park, PVA has recorded 17 goal contributions in 95 appearances. However, this season, working under Hodgson has allowed his defensive game to improve tremendously, while quick counter attacks bring the best out of his attacking ability as he has the facility to bomb forward. With his own individual improvement, Palace have improved as a result and PVA has shown himself to be one of the club’s most important players.
At the other end of the pitch, Jordan Ayew has escaped the shadow of his brother Andre to establish himself as a top quality player. After a torrid time in Marseille, scoring 14 times in 111 appearances, Jordan arrived in London with a point to prove. With nine goals in 29 appearances for Palace this season, the Ghanaian striker has been the beneficiary of Zaha and van Aanholt’s playmaking efforts and looks set to be an important player for Palace for years to come.
In their 2-0 over Bournemouth on Saturday night, the world was able to see just how important both Ayew and van Aanholt are to Crystal Palace as they target a top half finish. If Hodgson can build his team around these two, Palace have a very bright few years ahead of them.
Seán McGill – The scale of Arteta’s Arsenal challenge has been laid bare
The live television broadcast of a 3pm Premier League game on a Saturday for the first time in history pushed English football into uncharted waters this weekend. For Arsenal fans however, there was gut-wrenching sense of déjà vu.
Despite taking the lead through Nicolas Pépé, Arsenal were once again devoid of solidity and resilience, with goals in the final 15 minutes from Lewis Dunk and Neal Maupay consigning the Gunners to a 2-1 defeat.
It’s this fragility that is clouding the largely positive work Mikel Arteta has done since returning to the Emirates late last year. The Spaniard has given his side a clear tactical shape and style that they were sorely lacking under his predecessor Unai Emery. But the notion that there is a soft underbelly beneath the surface at Arsenal has certainly not been dispelled since Arteta’s appointment, and their performances since the restart may have only amplified it.
For years, Arsenal were ridiculed for seeing a place in the top four as a solid achievement. In order to put his side within touching distance of that standing again, the former Manchester City assistant has to rectify a porous defence, a lack of creative spark, a horrendous away record, and a crippling lack of mental strength. Arteta’s first managerial role may well prove to be his toughest.
Cameron Wanstall – Liverpool’s lack of depth in defence is incredibly concerning
Liverpool’s goalless derby draw had one major talking point: Dejan Lovren. The Croatian’s dismal 20-minute performance caused fans to question the club’s reluctance to sign reliable reinforcements in defence.
During his short time on the pitch, Lovren can count himself lucky for not being at fault for three Everton goals. First, he turned his back on a cross after being caught slacking by a through ball. From the resulting corner, he wasbeaten in the air after reacting slowly.Minutes later, he managed to fall overwhile tussling with Richarlisonbefore falling over for a second timewhile desperately lunging inatthe Brazilian while in the penalty area.
Lovren was brought on due to Andy Robertson’s absence and in-game injuries to Joel Matip and makeshift defender James Milner. Should Lovren not be trusted to start the next game, Jurgen Klopp will need to look towards the academy. Neco Williams is a solid back-up at right-back but the squad is still short at centre-back and left-back. Ki-Jana Hoever, Sepp van den Berg and Yasser Larouci are likely to fill the gaps for the remainder of this campaign but heading into next season investments must be made to ensure there are experienced, reliable deputies for each defensive position.