Manchester United bounced back strongly this weekend, but they face a very tough test next up. Meanwhile, are their City rivals Europe’s second best team at the moment?
Plus, Wilfried Zaha’s worries, and Tottenham unearthed a new gem. All this and more to unpack from a big weekend of Premier League action!
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Solskjaer gets the result and the reaction
After three poor performances, Manchester United couldn’t have hoped for a better fixture than bottom side Norwich at home.
Despite being faced with a yellow wall, United moved the ball faster to stretch Norwich. They knew they’d have it in wide areas for the majority of the game, so Solskjaer’s decision to start Juan Mata was inspired; he produced two world-class deliveries for the first and third goals.
His team have been criticised for failing to break down low blocks, and relying solely on pace, particularly at Old Trafford.
But United proved on Saturday they can pull sides about and punish them centrally, without relying on the channels.
Now, United desperately need consistency. Next up? Liverpool away. So much for momentum …
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Abraham lays claim to Kane spot
On the day that Harry Kane assured the world his recent surgery was a success, Tammy Abraham was laying claim to his England starting spot with his 13th Premier League goal of the season.
Abraham has easily assuaged the pre-season fears that Chelsea, having lost three forwards over the summer and under a transfer embargo, would struggle for goals. He’s seamlessly made the transition into the first team after shining in the Championship at Bristol City and Aston Villa.
Against Burnley, he popped up in between the defenders to head home a pinpoint Reece James cross and as Frank Lampard assessed after the game, Abraham really should have nabbed his second Premier League hat-trick of the season.
He missed three glorious chances in the middle of the second half – one of which was a carbon copy of his scored goal – but at 22 years old, he is from far the finished product.
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His performance would surely have been noticed by England manager Gareth Southgate as he looks at his options for the March internationals and Euro 2020.
Abraham is the most obvious choice to replace Kane – who is sidelined until April – and the upcoming games represent the perfect opportunity for the Chelsea striker to stake his claim to a starting spot, especially if he continues performing in the same vein.
City send out timely reminder
If Liverpool are the best team in Europe, Manchester City must be second. They’ve won nine of their last 10, scoring 32 goals in the process.
It’s easy to forget this, given Liverpool’s dominance, but in most other seasons, City would be flying. Yes, their defence has looked leaky, and they may have work to do in the market at centre-back, but in nine out of the 11 positions, they are staggeringly impressive.
Momentum is valuable going into the Champions League knockout stages, and City have it in abundance. And more importantly, they have squad depth outside of centre-half. They were able to rest Raheem Sterling, Bernardo Silva and Kyle Walker on Sunday, and it’s only a matter of time before the cup competitions take precedence over the league.
Pep Guardiola has refused to catastrophise over a difficult domestic season, and seems quietly confident – or is it a fiery determination to prove his doubters wrong? – that City will come away from this season with at least one trophy.
On current form, and with the Premier League “gone”, as Guardiola admits, who would bet against that?
Zaha trying too hard?
Judging by Wilfried Zaha’s two performances against Arsenal this season, the Gunners were absolutely correct not to stump up £80m for his services in the summer.
They offered £40m for the winger, with Palace valuing their star player at something close to double that price.
In both fixtures this campaign against the side that wanted him, Zaha has been on the edge of the game, partly, it must be said, due to the service from his teammates and his manager’s defensive focused game-plan.
This lack of impact on the game left him frustrated at times at Selhurst on Saturday, meaning, in total, he’s only completed four dribbles against Arsenal this season and when you consider he recorded 12 in his last home game against West Ham, it’s a big drop down on his usual levels.
Zaha also had just two touches in the opposition box in the 1-1 draw – the lowest number he’s had in any game this season.
Perhaps it’s a case of Zaha trying too hard against the club that showed interest in him? Or perhaps he is playing in a team that can’t use his talents?
The agreement to team up with the renowned Israeli negotiator Pini Zahavi and part with his long-time agent Will Salthouse has only further enhanced the talk of him moving away – but he will need to play better than this to secure the move he desires.
Bournemouth sliding, Watford flying
While the Hornets deserve immense credit for their blend of craft and power which helped them to this emphatic win, Bournemouth looked a side so badly devoid of confidence it was almost painful to watch.
Eddie Howe can be under no illusions after his side’s latest dire performance in a very long list – the Bournemouth boss faces a huge task to keep the Cherries up.
Match report and highlights: Bournemouth 0-3 Watford
At the back they were ponderous, in midfield they were lethargic, and up front they were toothless.
Their opposition were anything but. Nigel Pearson has taken the shackles off Watford’s star men, allowing them to play with freedom. At the same time, Pearson has instilled a solid defensive foundation from which his side can build.
If Bournemouth are to avoid relegation, they would do no harm taking a leaf out of Watford’s book.
Tottenham unearth treasure in Tanganga
Tottenham are going through a tough time. Jose Mourinho was all too quick to highlight his injury-plagued side’s “great difficulties” to come up with solutions in Saturday’s defeat to Premier League leaders Liverpool.
But it wasn’t all doom and gloom for Spurs, there were plenty of positives in defeat for Mourinho’s men because a fixture that would usually be banished from memory will be remembered for the day that Japhet Tanganga introduced himself to the Premier League.
The sight of the 20-year-old’s name on the teamsheet raised a few eyebrows before kick-off but a mature top-flight debut against two of the Premier League’s most lethal attacking threats, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah, left not only the Spurs fans purring but also his manager.
“The kid has reason to be very happy with his debut,” Mourinho said. “His first game in the Premier League, couldn’t be a bigger one and he did amazing.
“First on the right with Mane, then on the left with Salah and he was fantastic. Mane and Salah know who Tanganga is, they didn’t know before the game but now they know.
“It’s a good moment for him and also a message for the kids in the academy that when the player is the right player, with the right attitude and the right qualities the opportunity arises.”