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Premier League

Thoughts and analysis from compelling weekend of Premier League action

theScore examines the most important developments and biggest talking points from another entertaining weekend of Premier League football.

Chelsea are broken again? Of course they are

Chelsea are smack-dab in the middle of the Premier League table, and that’s probably about right. Some days they look like legitimate contenders, others like cannon fodder. They win when they’re expected to lose and lose when they’re expected – or at least in position – to win.

Saturday was one of those days. You’d think they could take an undermanned and wounded Newcastle United, even without direct assistance from manager Mauricio Pochettino, who had to sit in the stands as penance for a few too many referee lashings. With 11 senior players out injured, Newcastle needed three goalkeepers just to fill out their bench.

But you wouldn’t know it watching the 4-1 shellacking at St. James’ Park. Chelsea were second best all over the pitch. Newcastle hounded them and bullied them off the ball. Even Chelsea’s wisest old head, 39-year-old defender Thiago Silva, made a fatal error, coughing up possession under the breath of the tireless Joelinton.

Darren Walsh / Chelsea FC / Getty

How could such a brutal and heavy defeat follow encouraging performances against Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City? The truth is that Chelsea have been a work in progress for 18 months, and they’ll continue to resemble a construction site for as long as they carry this loosely assembled roster of 30 players. Very little links the players Pochettino has at his disposal, and too many of them have considerable kinks in their games. Benoit Badiashile is very much not ready to start games – how can he be when he’s missed so much time? – and Mykhailo Mudryk goes nowhere in a hurry. Marc Cucurella is a full-back, but is he really? Conor Gallagher can’t seem to get the ball to settle between his feet, Nicolas Jackson is reverting to the mean, and Enzo Fernandez’s performances have barely been worth half of the £107 million that Chelsea paid to sign him.

Raheem Sterling is the only player who’s taken any responsibility. While he’s never been the greatest decision-maker and often runs himself into dead ends, he’s at least shown the appetite to take the game to his opponents.

As battered and bruised as Newcastle are, they’re a team in the truest sense of the word, with a clear style of play that Chelsea can only envy. Even as players struggle to meet the demands of Eddie Howe’s high-octane system, others can step up and produce. Chelsea have a bunch of passengers who expect someone else to take the wheel. – Anthony Lopopolo

Did international rigors ruin the league’s main event?

Jurgen Klopp has complained about Liverpool playing in the early Saturday slot after international breaks in the past, and his side’s 1-1 draw at Manchester City certainly lacked the pace and chaos that have defined the teams’ meetings in recent years. The Premier League’s top match of the weekend – and easily one of its biggest fixtures of the campaign – failed to live up to its billing.

Mohamed Salah, who played two full matches on either side of the African continent for Egypt, assisted Trent Alexander-Arnold’s equalizer but failed to register a shot while he was easily subdued by Nathan Ake. Julian Alvarez, usually a bustling attacking presence in Manchester City’s midfield, wastefully skied an effort over the bar and generally labored through 90-plus minutes after representing Argentina in two matches. Dominik Szoboszlai scored twice and totaled 220 touches over two appearances for Hungary; at the Etihad Stadium, he seemed to lose energy toward the end of the first half and was eventually substituted in the 72nd minute.

Michael Regan / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Alisson appeared the most jet-lagged of all. The Liverpool goalkeeper played every minute as Brazil continued its World Cup qualification campaign with two worrying defeats, and his commitments in Rio de Janeiro and Barranquilla, Colombia, clearly took their toll. His sliced clearance in the first half was punished when Ake sauntered through three Liverpool players and set up Erling Haaland for a clinical finish, but the day could’ve been much worse for Alisson.

His kicking was poor. One attempt to move the ball away from danger went straight to Phil Foden on the edge of the box; the City attacker, perhaps slightly discombobulated after being gifted possession by the league’s best goalkeeper, shot tamely at Alisson. The shot-stopper also dallied on the ball for too long and was almost caught out by a lunging Haaland.

Alisson’s fortune continued into the second half when Ruben Dias tapped in at the far post. The goal was ruled out when Manuel Akanji was adjudged to have fouled Liverpool’s No. 1 while trying to head the ball. In truth, the biggest factor in Alisson’s failure to catch the cross was his poor handling. It was a soft decision that went in Liverpool’s favor.

His luck ran out when he played through the final minutes with an apparent leg injury.

There seemed to be more tired players in Liverpool’s ranks, which hints at how Klopp’s side fared. Manchester City missed a huge opportunity to beat their title rivals. However, for the neutral viewer, the game was a little disappointing when compared to previous clashes between the northwest rivals. The Premier League could’ve scheduled the fixture for later in the weekend to try to get the teams’ stars in better condition but, most of all, this was yet another example of players toiling to meet the demands of modern football’s grueling calendar. – Daniel Rouse

Youngsters thrive in febrile Goodison atmosphere

It wasn’t a setting where players could meditatively drift into positions and calmly nudge the ball around. Goodison Park was a din. Protests against Everton’s 10-point deduction and vociferous receptions for Manchester United players created an angry atmosphere inside the ground that would make some footballers cower and cringe.

Some footballers, but not Kobbie Mainoo and Alejandro Garnacho.

Garnacho’s performance in Sunday’s 3-0 win at Everton will live longer in the memory than Mainoo’s due to one moment. The rest of his outing was fairly forgettable as he habitually lost possession (his passing accuracy was a derisory 56.3%) and only completed one dribble, but he etched his name in Premier League folklore with one of the finest goals in the competition’s history.

Shaun Botterill / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Diogo Dalot’s cross was poor. Garnacho and Anthony Martial were nearing the 6-yard box but the delivery floated around 6 yards behind them, forcing the former to retreat and then spring himself into the air to have any chance of connecting with the ball. Garnacho’s movement and athleticism for the strike were perfect; the ball sailed out of Jordan Pickford’s reach and into the far corner. The winger’s goal was comfortably better than Wayne Rooney’s iconic overhead kick against Manchester City in 2011.

Mainoo’s display lacked the explosiveness of Garnacho’s goal but, in his first start for the club, he was the best player on the pitch. The 18-year-old’s technical ability and consistency through Manchester United’s youth teams have impressed his coaches. His maturity belies his years, and his tactical intelligence has been nurtured through playing a variety of midfield roles in the academy.

Nevertheless, the ease with which he slotted into the midfield alongside Scott McTominay must’ve defied all expectations.

The Everton supporters’ fury intensified as the game slipped away and refereeing decisions went against them, but Mainoo was unflappable in the middle. He made himself available for passes at every opportunity. He was even willing to collect the ball off goalkeeper Andre Onana and then immediately progress play with a smart pass or intelligent turn into space.

Simon Stacpoole/Offside / Offside / Getty

Mainoo was also crucial off the ball. He prevented both Idrissa Gana Gueye and Dwight McNeil from scoring during a prolonged spell of Everton pressure while United led 1-0.

Mainoo was a standout player during United’s preseason program but suffered an injury in July that he only recently returned from. If he had stayed fit, one wonders how his team would’ve fared. Erik ten Hag has wanted more mobility in the No. 6 role for some time, and the local teenager appears tailor-made for that duty. – Rouse

Quick free-kicks

Ramsdale survives rough cameo

Aaron Ramsdale was always going to play against Brentford on Saturday. The terms of David Raya’s loan deal prevented Arsenal from playing the goalkeeper against his parent club, leaving Ramsdale as the obvious candidate to fill the void. So he played, not because Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta wanted to see a reaction from the goalkeeper he recently relegated to backup, but because he had no choice. That left Ramsdale as a sort of sitting duck, and he started the game with understandable nerves, nearly gift-wrapping Brentford a goal when he dithered on the ball in the penalty area. Though he eventually collected a clean sheet in the 1-0 win, Ramsdale needed two goal-line clearances to preserve it. Credit must go to his teammates, who seemed legitimately invested in his success, however short term. They embraced him at the end of the match, lapping up an important win as much as the fact that he had escaped another potential setback in a season full of them. Now, he has to bide his time until he gets a chance to leave in January. Allowing him to depart is the humane thing to do. – Lopopolo

Edwards and Luton are the perfect fit

Richard Heathcote / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Everything is mapped out at Luton Town. Their decade-long rise from the fifth tier was built on prudent planning rather than short-term fixes, and their restrained summer transfer window demonstrated that. The club’s present shouldn’t come at the cost of its future; lavish recruitment followed by relegation would’ve undone years of careful work at Kenilworth Road. The on-pitch expectations are similarly pragmatic. Before the season started, Rob Edwards ensured his squad was equipped to deal with setbacks – a club promoted on a third-tier budget would, of course, encounter them – and that preparation has paid off. Luton have overcome a rough start to climb into 17th place following Saturday’s 2-1 win over Crystal Palace. The Hatters are an anomaly in an era where fans crave big-money signings and demand instant results, but their considered approach is their biggest strength. Edwards is the personification of Luton’s philosophy. – Rouse

First sacking of the season must be close

At this stage of last season, Scott Parker, Thomas Tuchel, Bruno Lage, Steven Gerrard, and Ralph Hasenhuttl had already been dismissed. There’s yet to be a managerial change this term, with Julen Lopetegui’s mutual departure from Wolverhampton Wanderers coming a week before the campaign began. That’ll change soon. Vincent Kompany’s refusal to tweak Burnley’s approach has resulted in a naive and error-strewn outfit that, somehow, sits bottom of the table below Everton, who are saddled with a 10-point deduction. Paul Heckingbottom, meanwhile, is a victim of elements outside of his control. He didn’t deliberately weaken his squad over the summer – buying and selling are rarely the responsibilities of modern managers. However, there’s been little evidence to suggest he has the ability to pull the Blades out of the relegation mire. Both Kompany and Heckingbottom are on borrowed time. – Rouse

Game of the season so far?

John Walton – PA Images / PA Images / Getty

Don’t let the modest scoreline fool you. Aston Villa’s 2-1 comeback win over an ailing Tottenham on Sunday was arguably the most entertaining contest of the season thus far. The end-to-end action began almost immediately. The two teams, battling for a spot in the top four and playing with aggressive high lines, each had a pair of glorious chances within the opening five minutes of the match. Spurs took the lead through an unlikely source in Giovani Lo Celso, who was making his first Premier League start for the club since Nuno Espirito Santo’s reign. Villa answered 60 seconds later, only for Ollie Watkins’ goal to be ruled offside by VAR. Pau Torres’ equalizer on the stroke of halftime stood, though, and Villa, buoyed by Unai Emery’s tactical changes at the interval, went on to claim all three points thanks to a slick winner by Watkins, who wouldn’t be denied. Son Heung-min, buzzing all match, wasn’t so lucky; he had a hat-trick of tallies chalked off after agonizing reviews. This game had everything and could’ve legitimately finished level at five apiece on another day. These two sides lock horns in the reverse fixture in early March. Don’t miss it. – Gianluca Nesci

Stat of the weekend

Can Ange Postecoglou restore the good vibes at injury-hit Tottenham?

Tweet of the weekend

Liverpool need to sign Alexis Mac Allister’s brother, Kevin, just for the memes.

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Premier League

Liverpool win League Cup on Van Dijk's dramatic ET goal

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Virgil van Dijk scored in the 118th minute against Chelsea on Sunday to win the League Cup for Liverpool and deliver the first trophy of Jurgen Klopp’s farewell season.

Van Dijk’s header settled a wildly entertaining final that somehow ended goalless after 90 minutes at Wembley Stadium.

Unlike the previous two finals between these two sides – which Liverpool won on penalties after 120 minutes of goalless football – they created enough chances to muster a clear winner. Each team had goals disallowed for offside, had hit posts, and produced goal-line clearances. Goalkeepers Djordje Petrovic and Caoimhin Kelleher combined for 19 saves – many of them spectacular.

The 1-0 win keeps the Reds in contention for a continental quadruple and denies Chelsea a first title since Todd Boehly’s consortium took over in May 2022. It also robbed Chelsea manager Mauricio Pochettino of a first title in England.

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It also comes as Liverpool deal with a massive injury crisis. Klopp fielded three teenagers in the final and had another two on the bench because of injuries to Mohamed Salah, Diogo Jota, Darwin Nunez, Dominik Szoboszlai, Trent Alexander-Arnold, and Alisson.

The last time a team had three or more teenagers on the field in a League Cup final was in 2007 when Arsenal lost to Chelsea with Theo Walcott, Cesc Fabregas, Denilson, and Armand Traore in the starting XI.

Chelsea have now lost six consecutive domestic finals dating back to the 2018-19 season. It’s another black mark against a club that’s spent more than £1 billion since Boehly’s group acquired it from Roman Abramovich in a £4.25-billion deal.

“In extra time, it’s been Klopp’s kids against the blue billion-pound bottle jobs,” former Manchester United defender Gary Neville said on Sky Sports, per Agence France-Presse. “Special managers do special things. He is a monster manager.”

Klopp has won eight major trophies since being appointed Liverpool manager in October 2015. And it may not end there: His team leads the Premier League table, is in the fifth round of the FA Cup, and has advanced to the round of 16 of the Europa League.

Mike Hewitt / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Liverpool are rebounding well from last season, when they finished outside of the Champions League places in fifth and failed to win a trophy.

But Sunday’s final was far from straightforward. Liverpool lost midfielder Ryan Gravenberch to injury early in the first half after Chelsea’s Moises Caicedo accidentally stepped on his ankle. Without a natural replacement, Klopp threw on right-back Joe Gomez and moved Conor Bradley, who had already been deputizing in that position, into Salah’s usual slot on the right wing.

Liverpool also survived numerous goalmouth scrambles and heaved a sigh of relief in the 32nd minute when the VAR ruled Raheem Sterling’s goal offside.

Van Dijk then thought he had put the Merseyside outfit 1-0 up after 60 minutes when he steered in a strong header from Andrew Robertson’s free-kick. But the VAR caught Wataru Endo standing in an offside position before freeing Van Dijk with a pick on Chelsea defender Levi Colwill.

Liverpool’s Cody Gakpo and Chelsea’s Conor Gallagher each hit the post as both teams vied for an elusive goal. It would stay 0-0 until Van Dijk made good with the game’s 42nd attempt on goal.

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Premier League

Key thoughts and analysis from Saturday's Premier League action

Find the biggest stories from across the soccer world by visiting our Top Soccer News section and subscribing to push notifications.

theScore examines the most important developments and biggest talking points from Saturday’s slate of action in England’s top flight.

New era, same old Man United

Jim Ratcliffe is now a co-owner of Manchester United, and if he didn’t understand the size of the rebuilding project in front of him, Saturday’s crushing 2-1 loss to Fulham surely hammered it home.

The good vibes that Ratcliffe’s arrival had inspired earlier this week hardly lasted. United didn’t just lose at home to an opponent that hadn’t beaten them at Old Trafford in 21 years, they collapsed entirely, allowing Fulham full control of the game, only responding for brief moments at a time. The form that helped United win their last five matches was nowhere to be seen. If anything, they played as badly as they have at any point in Erik ten Hag’s tenure. For the 14th time this season, United conceded at least 17 shots, exposing themselves to myriad counterattacks as they foolishly threw caution to the wind.

Michael Regan / Getty Images Sport / Getty

United’s problems have less to do with individuals and more to do with the system Ten Hag so desperately wants them to play. Pressing is clearly not in the DNA of many of his players, and yet he insists they do it, even at the expense of their goals-against record and the acres of space left behind. United can’t mark man-to-man, either, and often get outmuscled by bigger opponents on corner-kick routines, as they did when Calvin Bassey scored the opener in the 65th minute. Fulham’s Tosin Adarabioyo blocked Christian Eriksen from tracking Bassey’s run, and the United midfielder bailed entirely. No one helped or noticed.

Losing both Luke Shaw and Lisandro Martinez has obviously harmed their bottom line, but if United can’t function without these two players, then they have to play differently without them. They can’t afford to play such a high line or leave as much space behind them as Harry Maguire did when he tried to dispossess Adama Traore in the closing seconds. The consequence of his and United’s foolhardy approach was a 97th-minute gut punch that further derailed their hopes of a top-four finish.

Ratcliffe likely sees the chemical imbalance in the squad. Ten Hag wants to play a certain way but can’t sustain anything with the players at his disposal. That could mean a change of manager or more intentional signings. Because right now, nothing fits, and when United happen to capture lightning in a bottle, as they did in previous wins over West Ham United, Aston Villa, and Luton Town, it just doesn’t last. They’ll just continue to swing between good form and bad form until the end of the season, and that won’t get them Champions League football.

Newcastle’s season unraveling

At what point does Eddie Howe’s position come under serious threat?

Getting whooped by Arsenal is far from inexcusable, especially considering the roll that the title contenders are on at the moment; including Saturday’s dominant 4-1 victory at the Emirates, the Gunners have scored 18 goals in four Premier League matches – all wins – in February. What is inexcusable, though, is being wholly unprepared and overwhelmed right from the opening whistle. Newcastle looked lost in north London. Even the very best teams have bad days when things don’t click on the pitch, touches are a little off, and passes are wayward. But Newcastle struggled to even accomplish the most basic tasks. They didn’t look ready to deal with an Arsenal side that was always going to come flying out of the gate in response to its own meek midweek Champions League defeat in Portugal. That’s on Howe.

His players share the blame, of course.

A comedic sequence inside the penalty area led to Sven Botman’s own goal from a corner kick for Arsenal’s opener. They failed to track a simple run inside the penalty area on Kai Havertz’s tally. A sloppy turnover, of which there were many, led to Arsenal’s third marker. An inability to properly defend a corner kick (again) allowed the home side to grab a fourth.

Sure, the second half was better for Howe’s team, but only because it couldn’t possibly have been any worse than the opening 45 minutes. Arsenal had 34 touches inside the penalty area compared to Newcastle’s one in the first half, while the Magpies, flustered and incapable of handling Arsenal’s high press, lost possession 11 times in their own third of the field.

There have been some mitigating factors – Newcastle’s unfortunate injury issues have been discussed ad nauseam this season – but Saturday’s match showed two clubs going in totally different directions. Arsenal, after narrowly missing out on the title last season, have improved significantly once again and are pushing for top spot with renewed vigor. Newcastle, meanwhile, haven’t built on their brilliant 2022-23 campaign and are now almost the same distance away from fourth place (15 points) as they are from the relegation zone (17 points).

They’re conceding goals at an alarming rate – 12 in their last four league outings – and unless Howe can engineer a deep FA Cup run, this will be a lost season.

Quick free-kicks

Haaland needs to shut mouths again

Michael Steele / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Pep Guardiola was protective of Erling Haaland in midweek. “Don’t criticize, he will shut your mouth,” the Manchester City manager warned reporters after the Norwegian scored the only goal in a win over Brentford. It seems unfair for a striker who’s tallied 22 goals in all competitions, but Haaland will face scrutiny again after missing more inviting chances in City’s unimpressive 1-0 victory at Bournemouth. Many elements of the striker’s game are working fine – he excellently outmuscled a defender before his shot that preceded Phil Foden’s goal and has dominated other physical battles in recent weeks – but doubt has crept into Haaland’s finishing. One breakaway left him with only Neto to beat; the chance was on his weaker right foot, but that doesn’t excuse the timidness of the shot that floated well wide of the post. Haaland was substituted in the 75th minute. Manchester City haven’t been convincing for weeks and they, along with Haaland, must find some rhythm immediately with a run of Premier League matches against Manchester United, Liverpool, Brighton & Hove Albion, Arsenal, and Aston Villa on the horizon.

No overnight revolution at Palace

Don’t let the 3-0 scoreline fool you: Crystal Palace didn’t immediately embrace the principles of new boss Oliver Glasner and run riot. It was a routine victory over Vincent Kompany’s haphazard Burnley, who played with 10 men from the 35th minute. And although the new era at Palace started with a bang, Glasner’s work with previous clubs suggests his team is a long way from how he wants it to look. Filip Kostic averaged 12.5 crosses per game under Glasner at Eintracht Frankfurt, and it seemed Jordan Ayew, whose rush of 14 crosses included an assist for Chris Richards, was fulfilling a similar role. But don’t expect it to last. While Glasner changes his formation – he predominantly used a back-four at Wolfsburg but opted for a defensive trio at Frankfurt – he rarely deviates from his preferred approach of determined pressing and hard running. Ayew, 32, is among a considerable contingent of players at Selhurst Park whose pace doesn’t match the level Glasner demands. Plenty of changes should be expected in the summer as the Austrian forms a team to suit his philosophy.

The Bailey boom

Leon Bailey might represent the biggest individual transformation during Aston Villa’s Unai Emery era. Bailey didn’t start more than two Premier League matches in a row for Aston Villa before Emery’s predecessor, Steven Gerrard, was sacked in October 2022, but his importance in the Spaniard’s setup is growing by the week. Bailey tormented makeshift right-back Moussa Niakhate during the first half of Saturday’s 4-2 triumph over Nottingham Forest, repeatedly exposing Niakhate’s poor positioning while duping him and his teammates with trickery and pace. Bailey rolled the ball between the legs of Murillo and Felipe to assist Ollie Watkins’ opener and eased nerves when he tapped in Villa’s fourth goal. Despite starting just 13 league matches this season, Bailey has crammed in eight goals and seven assists, putting him second only to Watkins in goal contributions for his team. Bailey can become one of the key figures in Villa’s resurgence if he maintains his fitness.

Stat of the day

Are Manchester United lucky to be sixth in the table?

Tweet of the day

We should have seen that Newcastle performance coming.

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Premier League

Key thoughts and analysis from Saturday's Premier League action

Find the biggest stories from across the soccer world by visiting our Top Soccer News section and subscribing to push notifications.

theScore examines the most important developments and biggest talking points from Saturday’s slate of action in England’s top flight.

Chelsea look like a team again

Have Chelsea finally turned a corner? There have been plenty of false dawns before, but their performance against Manchester City on Saturday was too disciplined to ignore. Mauricio Pochettino asked his players to “be brave” before the match, and they were. They chased City all over the park, forcing turnovers in crucial areas while marking the likes of Kevin De Bruyne out of the game. Chelsea defended and attacked as a unit, which they’ve rarely done in the year-and-a-half since co-owner Todd Boehly began playing musical chairs with the furniture at Stamford Bridge.

What was most impressive was the way they stuck with City even as they passed the ball around the park, probing for an opening. Chelsea didn’t give the hosts a free inch. They pressed with the kind of precision that was hopelessly absent from some of their slapstick performances that plagued the early months of Pochettino’s reign. If anything, it was City giving away free yards, especially on the counterattack.

Darren Walsh / Chelsea FC / Getty

Naturally, Chelsea conceded ground over the life of the match, and eventually, the equalizer came off an unlucky deflection. They could only hold on for so long. But that’s because they gave so much in all areas of the field. They didn’t just park the bus and hope for a result from the beginning. They battled, expended energy, and put themselves in a position to take home a positive result. That’s why Pochettino decided to swap leading scorer Cole Palmer for Trevoh Chalobah in the 71st minute: The 1-0 lead was too precious to give up. Chelsea, after all, entered the match in 10th place. It would’ve been foolish to risk throwing it away when the tide was so clearly turning in City’s favor.

“It’s important that the players realize that football is really competitive and to reach the level we want, we need to suffer,” Pochettino told the BBC.

In truth, Chelsea have shown incredible team spirit since losing 4-2 at home to Wolverhampton on Feb. 4. Enzo Fernandez and Moises Caicedo have added bite to Chelsea’s midfield, and the misfiring Nicolas Jackson is evolving into a reliable provider, if not a finisher. The Blues overwhelmed Aston Villa to advance in the FA Cup, outfoxed Crystal Palace’s low block in an impressive 3-1 win, and went toe-to-toe during a battling draw with City.

Maybe there’s a reward for patience.

Liverpool’s test of resources, resilience

In an ideal world, Jurgen Klopp would’ve preferred the fourth official to display the No. 11 on his board with a small portion of the match left and Liverpool cruising to victory. Instead, Mohamed Salah was hurried onto the pitch in the 44th minute after Diogo Jota became the second of three players to suffer an injury in the 4-1 win at Brentford.

Trent Alexander-Arnold, Alisson, Dominik Szoboszlai, the luckless Thiago Alcantara, and long-term concern Joel Matip were already ruled out of the trip to west London. Jota, Curtis Jones, and Darwin Nunez were added to that list on Saturday.

Salah’s return to contention and instant contributions to his team’s attacking cause couldn’t have been more timely. For his assist, he collected the ball between the lines and quickly sprung a side-footed pass to Alexis Mac Allister’s feet. For his goal, he preyed on a defensive mix-up and showcased his surprising level of strength to easily resist Nathan Collins’ challenge before slotting into the far corner.

One theme of this season has been how teams have dealt with absences. Eddie Howe failed to create a siege mentality or, with the exception of Lewis Miley, successfully lean on academy graduates during Newcastle United’s spate of injuries and suspensions, so his side gloomily trudged away from the European places. Others fared much better with setbacks, like Tottenham Hotspur soldiering through periods without James Maddison, Micky van de Ven, and Cristian Romero, Manchester City navigating long stretches without De Bruyne and Erling Haaland, and Fulham dealing with regular disruptions to their center-back contingent.

Now, it seems like it’s Liverpool’s turn to cope with a busy treatment room. Salah’s comeback has already lifted Klopp’s side, but potentially losing both Jota and Nunez means there could be a thorough examination of the Salah, Cody Gakpo, and Luis Diaz trio during a one-and-a-half week spell that features four matches.

Upcoming matches for Liverpool

Date Competition Match
Feb. 21 Premier League Luton Town (h)
Feb. 25 League Cup final Chelsea (Wembley)
Feb. 28 FA Cup Southampton (h)
March 2 Premier League Nottingham Forest (a)

And the game after that burst of matches? A visit from Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City on March 10.

Quick free-kicks

Arsenal’s confidence soaring

Make that 21 goals in five Premier League matches for Arsenal. What a turnaround for a club whose title prospects had seemingly come and gone. The Gunners went the preceding six games with just five goals scored, leading many to question their recruitment up front. That conversation ended quickly. Even Kai Havertz, an often confusing figure in the attacking third, has joined in on the fun. With leading striker Gabriel Jesus in and out of the lineup, secondary scoring has never been more important, and nine different players have picked up the slack in recent games. That’s a byproduct of Mikel Arteta’s style of play, which closely resembles Guardiola’s criss-crossing passing football at Manchester City, allowing everyone to participate in the buildup. And with three of their next four Premier League matches against defensively porous sides, Arsenal’s goal rush should continue.

Newcastle invite trouble

Marc Atkins / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Martin Dubravka’s slip in the 2-2 draw with Bournemouth was more than a goalkeeping gaffe. It was a peculiar passage of play by Newcastle. The Magpies aren’t known for playing it out of the back: Fabian Schar is their only defender who’s fully comfortable with the ball in his own third, and their goalkeepers, Nick Pope and Dubravka, are shot-stoppers rather than modern ball-playing ‘keepers. So, attempting to evade Bournemouth’s press was a bad idea. The Cherries, among the league’s top tacklers in the final third, cut off passing lanes and picked their moments to swarm. Sven Botman, Dan Burn, Anthony Gordon, Sean Longstaff, and Botman again were under pressure before Dubravka’s panic set in. He touched the ball with his right, and then, in his haste to get the ball to Schar while Dominic Solanke closed him down, the same foot slipped beneath him. Solanke’s easy tap-in was simply an example of Newcastle succumbing to one of their weaknesses and Bournemouth playing to their strengths.

Discount City at your peril

Manchester City are inevitable. Even on their worst days, they can get by. No one on City’s roster is happy about the 1-1 draw with Chelsea, and yet it’s a draw that keeps them within touching distance of first place. They remain four points off Liverpool with a game in hand because of Rodri’s 81st-minute deflected equalizer at the Etihad. It’s a goal that keeps the nerves off edge. Instead of dwelling on their first home loss in 34 matches – a run dating back to November 2022 – City can continue to look forward. The draw buys them time. That’s why City are impossible to count out. When they’re playing as badly as they did on Saturday – leaving yards of space behind them, practically inviting Chelsea to score on them – they get a kick save from Ederson that keeps the score in check. Even when they’re struggling to create solid chances, they retain enough of the ball to force their way through. They’ve conceded first in five of their last 11 league matches, and what difference has it really made?

Stat of the day

Haaland is allowed to have bad days.

Tweet of the day

They say title races come down to the smallest details.

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