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Premier League

Thoughts and analysis from dramatic weekend of Premier League action

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

Pochettino gives Chelsea courage

Go back a few weeks, and heads would’ve dropped. Manchester City going ahead would’ve presented a treacherous mountain to climb. Belief would drain from a group of Chelsea players who scored one goal in September. Composure would fray, Nicolas Jackson would hack shots into the stands, and Raheem Sterling would run down dead ends.

But on Sunday, Erling Haaland gave City the lead twice, and Rodri did it once. Chelsea fought back on each occasion.

Mauricio Pochettino is gradually getting a grip on the discordant squad he inherited. Chelsea’s press was magnificent in the barmy 4-4 draw at Stamford Bridge, ruining Manchester City’s usually precise and pacey buildup play. The ambition among Pochettino’s ranks was abundantly clear when, soon after going ahead 2-1, they hounded Rodri in his own defensive third.

Ryan Pierse / Getty Images Sport / Getty

It might be tempting to step off when Rodri has the ball in that area. He can resist pressing with his strength and awareness and quickly flip defense to attack once he works into space. But Marc Cucurella was on his tail. The persistence of Cucurella, clearly not dwelling on conceding the earlier penalty, forced Rodri backward into his own box and toward the corner flag. The City midfielder then jabbed the ball up the line before Chelsea collected the loose ball and attacked again.

Conceding four goals can happen against Manchester City – and that’s before you consider the soft penalty given to Haaland and the fortune needed for Rodri’s strike to deflect beyond Robert Sanchez. Chelsea could’ve won this. Ruben Dias was rash with and without the ball while struggling with the home side’s relentlessness. Bernardo Silva did well but was stretched when trying to aid the buildup play and support the attacks. The chaos didn’t suit City, and Chelsea knew it.

“We feel a bit exhausted, to be honest, after a game with that rhythm,” Rodri said after the match. “It wasn’t our best performance, and individually, we can look at ourselves because conceding four goals is not normal for us.”

Pep Guardiola’s side allowed four goals in a match for the first time since a 5-2 defeat to Leicester City in September 2020. It’s hard to think of a clearer sign that things are improving for Chelsea under Pochettino.

A very ‘Spursy’ result

Responding to adversity is one of the hallmarks of title-winning teams.

On the back of their chaotic, incident-filled loss to Chelsea – their first of the season – and missing a handful of critical starters, Saturday’s match against Wolverhampton Wanderers was always going to provide excellent insight into Tottenham Hotspur’s ability to sustain their outstanding start to the campaign.

Their response, sadly, left a lot to be desired. Tottenham went limp after Brennan Johnson’s first goal for the club in the third minute at Molineux. The manner in which Wolves stormed back to claim a 2-1 win was certainly dramatic – two goals in stoppage time – but it was hardly undeserved.

Catherine Ivill / Getty Images Sport / Getty

“We probably ran out of a little bit of legs there, which is understandable. A lot of those guys haven’t played, and they scored a couple of good goals,” Ange Postecoglou said afterward.

How Tottenham would cope without injured playmaker-in-chief James Maddison has, understandably, hoovered up a lot of attention. But Saturday’s defeat made it clear that defensive absentees will have a greater impact on the club’s fortunes. Micky van de Ven, Cristian Romero, and Destiny Udogie missed Saturday’s match through a combination of injury and suspension, forcing Postecoglou to start Eric Dier and Ben Davies in central defense against Wolves. The drop off was stark.

Under no real pressure, Dier carelessly hoofed the ball out of play, giving away possession right before Pablo Sarabia’s slick equalizer in the 91st minute – Davies couldn’t come across quickly enough to cover for him and block the shot on the play. The entire backline then fell asleep on Mario Lemina’s winning tally six minutes later. Tottenham fouled Lemina inside his own half, and the 30-year-old picked himself up, dusted himself off, and calmly jogged straight into the penalty area, totally undetected, to receive a pass and send the home crowd into a frenzy. Two lapses in concentration. Two goals against.

Tottenham’s depth will be tested in the coming weeks, especially during the jam-packed holiday slate of matches. The backups failed their first exam.

Magpies down to bare bones

Bournemouth poured forward again and again.

Newcastle United are so ravaged by injuries and worn by their demanding schedule that Emil Krafth, a largely forgotten defender who played one Premier League minute over the previous 18 months, was called off the bench at Dean Court on Saturday. Matt Ritchie hasn’t started a top-flight match since December 2021 but played for over an hour. Lewis Miley, 17, was handed his full league debut. Even Kieran Trippier, one of Newcastle’s most reliable players, has been uncharacteristically sloppy lately.

Eddie Keogh / Getty Images Sport / Getty

A better team than Bournemouth would’ve scored five, six, maybe more against the Magpies. Their 2-0 win didn’t adequately reflect their dominance over opponents limping and wheezing their way into the international break.

Trippier told media following the match that the club can’t use the full treatment room as an excuse. Still, he referred to that exact issue when disagreeing with a Newcastle fan immediately after the final whistle. He repeated: “How many injuries have we got? How many injuries have we got?”

The answer is 10, plus two suspensions.

Absentees

Player Reason Expected return
Miguel Almiron Injury Unknown
Javi Manquillo Injury Unknown
Callum Wilson Injury Unknown
Bruno Guimaraes Suspended Nov. 25
Alexander Isak Injury Late November
Sven Botman Injury December
Elliot Anderson Injury Late December
Dan Burn Injury January 2024
Jacob Murphy Injury January 2024
Harvey Barnes Injury January 2024
Matt Targett Injury February 2024
Sandro Tonali Suspended August 2024

At least the international break has come at a good time for Newcastle. Their next match against Chelsea on Nov. 25 will signal the return of Bruno Guimaraes – Newcastle have failed to win all seven league matches the Brazilian has missed since his debut – and could feature Alexander Isak, who has eight goals over 14 appearances in all competitions. Miguel Almiron and Callum Wilson could also be called back sooner than expected.

And besides, this is what Newcastle wanted: the club is competing on three fronts in the Premier League, Champions League, and the League Cup, and will enter the FA Cup in January. Newcastle’s transformation since the Saudi Arabian takeover two years ago has been quick and undeniably impressive. They’re comfortably ahead of where Manchester City were at the same stage of the Abu Dhabi era.

There are still plenty of reasons to be positive on Tyneside.

“We need to dust ourselves down and come back in strong,” manager Eddie Howe said.

Quick free-kicks

Should Kulusevski play centrally?

With an ankle injury expected to sideline primary creator Maddison until January, Tottenham need to get creative to compensate for the extended absence of the team’s leader in assists. Shifting Dejan Kulusevski into a more central role is a possible solution. The Swede, who views himself as more of a No. 10 than a winger, thrived operating in that area during his breakout season with Parma. Kulusevski drives the play forward differently than Maddison – the Englishman is second in the Premier League in progressive passes, while Kulusevski sits second in progressive dribbles – but has the necessary creativity to unlock opposing defenses. However, making that switch could create more personnel problems than it solves considering Tottenham’s lack of depth on the wing. It’s worth at least having the discussion.

No relief for Rashford

OLI SCARFF / AFP / Getty

Erik ten Hag’s prediction that Marcus Rashford would soon return to form didn’t come to pass in the 1-0 win over Luton Town. For the second match in a row, Rashford operated on the right flank, making room for Alejandro Garnacho on the left. He tested Luton with some decent crosses but otherwise labored through a 12th straight outing without a goal. Ten Hag gives the impression that he wants to play Rashford into form. But that may only be due to his lack of trust in who could replace the 26-year-old academy graduate: Antony, Anthony Martial, and Facundo Pellistri.

Everton starting to click

After years of poor recruitment and a conveyor belt of managers with clashing playing philosophies, Sean Dyche is somehow extracting some reasonable performances out of Everton. Three victories, a draw, and one defeat since the start of October have taken the Toffees from being just a single point above the relegation zone to forming a considerable eight-point cushion. Saturday’s entertaining 3-2 win at Crystal Palace featured some classic sleeves-up Dycheian defending and promising performances from Vitaliy Mykolenko, Jack Harrison, and super-sub Idrissa Gueye. James Tarkowski was at fault for Palace’s second goal but otherwise impressed with five tackles and eight clearances.

VVD is all the way back

Virgil van Dijk has put his 2020 knee injury behind him for good. The Liverpool defender was at his graceful best in the Reds’ 3-0 win over Brentford on Sunday, anchoring the defense with the assured, composed performance that was so common prior to his ACL tear. The Dutchman’s positional sense always made him a good candidate to make a successful return from one of the sport’s most debilitating injuries. Crucially, Van Dijk has also recaptured the physical powers that, combined with his football IQ, made him a colossus at the back during his peak. He’s returned to that elite level this season, and Liverpool are much better off for it.

Elanga impressing at Forest

Manchester United were far too hasty in allowing Anthony Elanga to depart. The 21-year-old Swedish winger is taking full advantage of his increased opportunities following his €17.5-million move to Nottingham Forest. He’s already played more league minutes for Steve Cooper than he accumulated all of last season with the Red Devils and has turned that into a team-leading three assists. Elanga scored his first goal of the campaign in Sunday’s 3-2 defeat to West Ham United, too. Had United exhibited a little more patience with a young player who was showing promise in the early stage of his career, they could have reaped the rewards of Elanga’s development. Instead, they’re left with minimal options on the wing behind Alejandro Garnacho, who’s still growing.

JWP filling the void

West Ham United FC / Getty Images Sport / Getty

West Ham lost their best player and captain when Declan Rice got his big move to Arsenal this past summer. Replacing him was always going to be an enormous task. James Ward-Prowse is giving it a proper go, though. The set-piece wizard signed for a relatively paltry £30-million fee in August and is a low-maintenance player who provides leadership on the pitch for David Moyes to go along with his unrivaled delivery from dead-ball situations. Ward-Prowse’s two assists, both prototypical deliveries from corner kicks, turned a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 victory over Forest on Sunday. He now has nine helpers across all competitions for West Ham on the campaign. His 17 dead-ball assists in the Premier League since 2020-21 are by far the most in England’s top flight. What a weapon to have in your arsenal.

Stat of the weekend

An important reminder to never switch off a Tottenham match before the final whistle blows. There’s always the potential for drama.

Tweet of the weekend

“We ain’t got no history.”

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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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