From a four-team title race to unexpected survival hopes, we are back with our weekly dose of all-too-impulsive conclusions to the latest round of Premier League fixtures.
Garnacho Can Set United’s Season Alight
There have been calls from plenty of Manchester United fans for Alejandro Garnacho to start more games, and given how he began the win at Everton on Sunday, it’s easy to see why. Within three minutes, Garnacho had flung himself into the air to meet Diogo Dalot’s deep cross and scored an overhead-kick entry to this year’s Puskás award. From there, United completed a 3-0 win that takes their current run to five victories in their last six matches.
United have quietly edged up the table and are now sixth, two points behind Tottenham in fifth and – somehow – only six points off top spot. They have won three games in a row, with Garnacho starting each one.
The Argentina international has tended to be an impact substitute for United, but he’s starting to show his maturity and an ability to play at his best for longer periods, when he had previously looked rather too inconsistent to start. Now, having scored his first goal of the season from his 16th attempt – and the most difficult of the bunch – confidence will be flowing. United still have room for improvement, and Garnacho can be key to igniting that.
Palace Have Actually Now Lost Their Best Player
Crystal Palace are one of a number of teams to have suffered dreadful luck with injuries this season, but while others have seen their squads decimated, Palace’s misfortune has been not so much in the quantity of injuries they’ve suffered. Instead, it has been the fact they have already lost key players for significant chunks of the season.
Roy Hodgson convinced his doubters he could entertain while steering Palace to survival in the second half of last season, with Eberechi Eze and Michael Olise at the heart of their creativity and the fine form in attack that fuelled their impressive end to the campaign. He has had to do without both of them for a portion of this season, though, with Olise finally making his goalscoring return to the starting lineup at the weekend.
But with Olise’s return came tough luck elsewhere – not with Eze again limping off, as he later suggested the injury wasn’t too bad – but with the sight of Cheick Doucouré needing a stretcher to get off the pitch.
The central midfielder is integral to his team’s success, largely in how effectively he breaks up play and distributes it. He leads his side for both tackles (34) and interceptions (20), with those tallies putting him ninth and fifth respectively in the entire Premier League. Palace haven’t been able to blow teams away in attack this season with Eze and Olise missing, so they have relied on solid defensive performances. Without Doucouré, clean sheets may be a thing of the past, so the pressure will be on Palace’s attackers once again.
Resilient Liverpool Can Win the Title
Liverpool weren’t at their best at the Etihad on Saturday. The game very much had the feel of an early kick-off that never really got going, though, and that meant the visitors didn’t have to be at anything like their best to get a result.
Manchester City huffed and puffed, enjoying 60% of the ball, creating 16 chances and generating 1.36 xG. That’s not masses of expected goals by City’s high standards, but it is more than they managed against Arsenal (0.48 xG), Brighton (0.75), Wolves (0.87), Newcastle (1.01) and Nottingham Forest (1.33) already this season. In other words, only against Bournemouth, Burnley, Fulham, Chelsea, Sheffield United, West Ham, and Manchester United have Pep Guardiola’s side created better chances than they did against Liverpool this weekend.
Liverpool didn’t do much going forward. There were long periods when they struggled to get the ball into the City half, let alone their penalty area.
But they clung on and stayed in the game, which meant they always had an outside chance of finding an equaliser. And Trent Alexander-Arnold popped up with one 10 minutes from time, so Liverpool left Manchester with a deserved point to halt City’s perfect home record in 2023, and potentially throw the title race wide open.
Neither of these sides ended the day top of the table – it was only the second time in Premier League history that the top two have met and then neither finished the day top of the pile – but Liverpool won’t be too concerned. After this draw, they have still only lost one Premier League game all season – when they went down to nine men and only lost in the final minute at Spurs. The resilience they are showing, particularly in getting this result, is the stuff of title winners.
Aston Villa Are More in the Title Race Than Tottenham
In case it wasn’t already clear, Aston Villa are a really, really good team. Under Unai Emery, they have gone from mid-table afterthoughts to genuine top-four contenders and maybe, just maybe, title hopefuls.
At least, if Tottenham were in the title race a few weeks ago, then Villa certainly are now. They came from behind to win at Spurs on Sunday – and overtook them in the table in the process – with goals from Pau Torres and that man Ollie Watkins, who now has seven goals as well as five assists for the season.
They survived an early Spurs onslaught and then another late one but struck twice in between to claim what could be a crucial away win. Their lofty league position is largely down to their immaculate home record (six wins from six), but this victory – only their third on the road this season – will give the team a huge boost. They are only two points off top spot and will be starting to dream of something incredible. There are three exceptional teams ahead of them – two of whom they host in the coming weeks – but all of them have shown they are fallible. Villa are, just about, in the title race.
Late Shows Could Keep Luton Up
They couldn’t, could they?
Luton were roundly written off before the start of the season having done little to improve the squad that won them promotion from the Championship via the playoffs, and they have been written off more than a few times since, not least in this very column.
However, after they followed up news of Everton’s 10-point deduction with Saturday’s win over Crystal Palace, Rob Edwards’ unlikely survivors are now four points clear of the drop zone, having picked up points in three of their last five matches.
On each occasion, late goals have been key. They scored twice at Nottingham Forest after the 83rd minute to rescue a draw, and an 80th-minute goal against Liverpool very nearly gave them a victory over the title-chasers. This weekend, a goal from Jacob Brown in the 83rd minute handed them a priceless three points.
Eight of Luton’s 12 goals this season have come in the final 15 minutes of matches, making up a whopping 67% of their goals. Only Arsenal and Liverpool (both nine) have scored more in that period, and no other team in the Premier League has scored more than 38% of their goals in the final 15 minutes of matches.
It wouldn’t be surprising for one of the Premier League’s lesser sides to struggle late on in games. You can easily imagine a team like Luton tiring after chasing the ball for 75 minutes against the best teams in the country at moving the ball about at pace. But Edwards’ side thrive late on, and when you couple that with their ability to stay in games thanks to a decent defence, you get a team with more than a fighting chance of staying up.