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Premier League

5 thoughts from Saturday's Premier League action

theScore examines the most important developments and discusses the biggest talking points from Saturday’s busy slate of Premier League action.

Manchester United’s season unravels

Those who thought things couldn’t get worse for Manchester United after last week’s draw with Leicester City were proven wrong by Ralf Rangnick’s uninspired men during Saturday’s lifeless display at Goodison Park.

Facing a struggling Everton side in the midst of a battle to stave off relegation, Manchester United once again failed to get the job done, losing 1-0 in a contest fittingly decided by a goal that deflected off the much-maligned Harry Maguire. Though there was hardly anything Maguire could’ve done to get out of the way of Anthony Gordon’s strike, United still had well over an hour to find an equalizer.

But the usual lack of creativity and urgency paved the way for a pitiful display that severely dents the Red Devils’ hopes of qualifying for next season’s Champions League. Having won less than half of their Premier League games under Rangnick, United face the realistic prospect of missing out on qualifying for Europe entirely.

Now that 17th-placed Everton have joined fellow basement dwellers Watford and Burnley in interrupting United’s attempts to revive their campaign, the Red Devils’ confidence is presumably at a season-low heading into the final seven games of the year, which include pivotal showdowns against Liverpool, Arsenal, and Chelsea.

Differing views on rivalries

An interesting dynamic is developing in Merseyside.

Everton, despite their aforementioned win Saturday, remain firmly entrenched in the relegation battle. Naturally, the Toffees’ flirtation with the drop is generating plenty of smiles in the red half of town. It brings up an interesting question for Liverpool fans: Do you actually want Everton to plunge into the Championship?

For some, answering in the affirmative is easy and obvious. Others may grapple with it a little bit more.

John Powell / Liverpool FC / Getty

It’s a question about the different ways people experience fandom, really. Is it “better” to see your hated rivals drop into the second tier and hold that over them for years, or do you prefer to enjoy the thrill of (likely) winning the derby at least twice per season, thus keeping the enmity fresh and alive? There is no correct answer. Both viewpoints are valid.

Following along with the feelings of Liverpool fans on social media in the coming weeks – as Everton’s relegation either becomes reality or Frank Lampard manages to keep the team up – will be fascinating.

Arsenal’s edge evaporates

Arsenal will only have themselves to blame if they miss out on qualifying for the Champions League for a sixth successive season.

Coming out of the international break, the Gunners controlled their own destiny thanks to a superior points total and games in hand on top-four challengers Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester United, and West Ham United. But that advantage is a thing of the past for a club in serious danger of missing out on a top-four place after Saturday’s costly slip-up at home to Brighton & Hove Albion.

In desperate need of a positive response following a humbling midweek loss to Crystal Palace, Mikel Arteta’s men hardly gave the Emirates Stadium anything to get excited about early on in a match against the low-scoring Seagulls. Whatever plagued Brighton’s attack in the weeks before the team’s visit to north London certainly wasn’t an issue Saturday.

Arsenal paid for their poor start in the 29th minute when the visitors opened the scoring, while Enock Mwepu’s brilliant strike padded Brighton’s lead. Arsenal’s furious charge late in the game was only good enough for a consolation goal.

Although the absence of injured stars such as Thomas Partey and Kieran Tierney didn’t help, the result will ultimately go down as a colossal failure for a team running out of time to salvage the season and deliver a Champions League berth that their fans so desperately crave.

Tuchel gets desired response

Whatever Thomas Tuchel said, it worked.

On the back of conceding a combined seven goals in damaging defeats to Brentford and Real Madrid over the past week, the Chelsea bench boss held a private meeting in which he dressed down his players for the uninspired performances. Tuchel said the Blues had lacked structure, intensity, and investment – particularly in the defensive phase.

“It was not a discussion type of meeting, it was more that I gave my point of view, and that’s sometimes also necessary,” he told reporters on Friday.

Catherine Ivill / Getty Images Sport / Getty

“I think it’s necessary so that the players understand it. If the manager is sometimes angry, I think I had some reasons, and I presented my reasons and from there on we go,” he added.

While the meeting didn’t seem quite like the hairdryer treatment that Sir Alex Ferguson was famous for, coming from a typically sanguine character, it was a significant admission. It had the desired effect, too: Chelsea blasted Southampton on Saturday, scoring four times in the opening 31 minutes en route to a 6-0 win.

Southampton made life easy on the reigning European champions – the Saints seem to do this at least once every season – but there’s a clear link between Tuchel’s eruption and his team’s performance. Being an astute tactical mind remains paramount to the success of any coach, but understanding how to manage people is still central to the job. Having been questioned in some circles for his handling of the Romelu Lukaku situation earlier in the season, the German undeniably got this one right.

“Sometimes you have to handle things like this, it isn’t amateur football,” Tuchel said.

The numbers behind a ‘miracle’

Tottenham manager Antonio Conte used the word “miracle” when talking about Spurs’ pursuit of a top-four finish earlier this month. While he perhaps didn’t mean it quite like that, it’s certainly fair to say the Italian has engineered an incredible turnaround given the state of the north London outfit just a few months ago.

Since Conte replaced Nuno Espirito Santo in November, Tottenham have collected 42 points, third-best in the league behind the two title front-runners, Manchester City and Liverpool.

Spurs’ 4-0 win over Aston Villa on Saturday was their fourth consecutive victory. They’ve scored 14 goals in that spell to take control of fourth place and now control their own destiny in the Champions League race.

With Harry Kane, Son Heung-Min – who scored a hat-trick against Villa – and Dejan Kulusevski striking up a fruitful bond almost immediately after the latter arrived in January, Spurs – in true Conte fashion – have become absolutely devastating on the break.

What seemed impossible a short time ago is a real possibility now. Miracles do happen.

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Premier League

3 thoughts from Saturday's Premier League action

theScore examines the most important developments and discusses the biggest talking points from Saturday’s reduced schedule in England’s top flight.

Stones is a legitimate right-back option

Maybe this is meant to be a brief thing. While Kyle Walker deals with fitness issues and new left-back Sergio Gomez settles in at the club, John Stones has appeared at right-back in some Manchester City games.

Center-backs filling in at full-back often enact a classic portrayal of the role – Ben White has overlapped Arsenal’s right-sided attacker with some success in the season’s opening weeks. Stones’ interpretation, however, seems more studied. He slides neatly into midfield alongside Rodri when City are in possession, providing protection from counter-attacks and ensuring his side dominates the ball in this area of the pitch. Stones’ extra defensive cover on the right also frees up Joao Cancelo for more attacking work down the left.

The ease with which Stones has slotted in as an inverted full-back is impressive. It also indicates that this might be the result of hard hours on the training ground as Pep Guardiola tries to formulate more tactical options for his versatile team.

Stones shrugs off Boubacar Traore Nick Potts – PA Images / PA Images / Getty

There must be a caveat from Saturday’s 3-0 win: it was Wolverhampton Wanderers. This might be the most toothless version of Wolves to play in the Premier League (even less potent than the side that scored a paltry 32 goals, yet still survived, in the 2009-10 season), and their day was made more difficult when Nathan Collins was sent off for a wild challenge on Jack Grealish.

While Stones wasn’t overworked at Molineux, he exuded confidence with the ball, linking up the backline and midfield with short passes, and dealt admirably with attacking left-back Rayan Ait-Nouri. He’d already passed a sterner test three days earlier, too. He calmly addressed Borussia Dortmund’s threat, which mostly came down his flank, before stepping upfield to unleash a vicious strike that turned the tide of the Champions League group-stage fixture.

And Stones isn’t only a viable choice at right-back. He took sole ownership of No. 6 duties when Rodri was substituted in the 81st minute, skipping through challenges and dictating City’s tempo with his passing. Given Kalvin Phillips’ injury issues, Stones could be asked to deputize for Rodri a few times in the coming weeks.

Newcastle’s steep learning curve

Bournemouth were largely negative in their approach at St. James’ Park, relying on last-ditch blocks, Neto’s goalkeeping, and the woodwork to keep Newcastle United at bay. In the final 10 minutes of the first half alone, the Cherries headed or smashed away seven clearances.

This is what the “big six” deal with most weeks. The Magpies will need to get used to it. They’ve quickly become one of the division’s strongest teams following their Saudi-backed takeover, so opponents have adapted accordingly. The most pragmatic way for bottom-half sides to approach Newcastle matches is to pack bodies in front of their creative players and then try to inflict damage on the break.

Miguel Almiron is most dangerous in counter-attacks LINDSEY PARNABY / AFP / Getty

Newcastle’s frustrations were beginning to show when Bournemouth took the lead through Philip Billing in the 62nd minute, and they could only respond via Alexander Isak’s successful penalty. Eddie Howe’s side lacked invention throughout and can’t expect a huge uptick in performance when the entertaining yet inconsistent Allan Saint-Maximin returns from injury. The majority of Howe’s players appear to lack the guile to unpick low blocks, and the men he called off the bench – Jacob Murphy, Sean Longstaff, and Chris Wood – seemed to be a concession of that weakness. Rather than patiently adhering to their game plan, Newcastle started to play a more direct, cross-heavy game as their desperation grew.

The next stage in Newcastle’s transformation has to be signing better playmakers. Miguel Almiron and Ryan Fraser simply don’t thrive when their team has the most possession – they’re most dangerous in counter-attacks, not against deep-lying defenses – and back-to-back home draws against Crystal Palace and Bournemouth isn’t the kind of form that earns top-four finishes.

At long last, the Son is out

“I like that he’s a bit angry,” Antonio Conte said about Son Heung-Min’s goal drought before Leicester City’s visit, adding, “he wants to try to change it.”

Son was last season’s true top scorer. Granted, he did share the Golden Boot with Mohamed Salah, but the Liverpool forward boosted his 23-goal haul with five penalties. Son didn’t attempt any throughout Tottenham Hotspur’s Premier League campaign, leaving that responsibility to Harry Kane, so reaching his overall tally was an undeniably more impressive feat than Salah’s.

The South Korean scored 12 of his goals over his final 10 league appearances of last term, helping Spurs clinch the fourth Champions League place at Arsenal’s expense. He was irresistible, marking a stark contrast to his return of no goals from the opening eight matches of this season (in all competitions). Son’s alarming dip in productivity threatened to harm his side’s ambitions for the campaign.

What an emphatic way to vanquish those concerns.

Just like that, Son is back on form ISABEL INFANTES / AFP / Getty

It took around 27 minutes for Son to bag a hat-trick after his introduction on Saturday, making him the first Tottenham substitute to record a Premier League treble. A fine Hugo Lloris save helped Spurs cling on to their one-goal advantage moments before Son was brought on, but the benched forward soon helped his side to a 6-2 victory.

Son’s opening goal wasn’t the fortuitous, scruffy close-range finish that people tend to associate with a player overcoming a bad run. It was a quintessential Son strike: a powerful run followed by an unstoppable right-footed smash into the top corner from 25 yards. His second was another effort plucked from the archives as he shifted the ball onto his left foot before bending it into the far corner from a near-identical spot as his first goal.

Son rounded off his treble following an exceptionally timed run. His return to form should strike fear into Tottenham’s rivals: One of the top flight’s deadliest strikers is “angry” and firing, and the proud Korean is also desperate to hit prime condition in time for his country’s tough group-stage matches at this winter’s World Cup.

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Premier League

2022 World Cup kits: Bright orange for Netherlands, vibrant look for Brazil

Nike released its line of World Cup jerseys for 12 of its 13 teams Thursday, bringing out vivid colors and an array of designs that characterize the countries they represent.

Nike is the latest manufacturer to reveal outfits for the 2022 World Cup, which begins Nov. 20 in Qatar. Adidas, which supplies seven countries, and Puma, which services six, unveiled their lineups in August.

Fans have criticized the manufacturers for using cookie-cutter designs. Puma came under intense criticism after releasing a lineup of jerseys with the same template, and a number of people have already signed a petition online to protest Nike’s USMNT jersey.

England, the only World Cup team in Nike’s stable that’s yet to officially unveil its uniforms, will reveal its collection on Sept. 21, after the country completes a period of mourning over the death of Queen Elizabeth II.

Here’s a closer look at the jerseys Nike revealed Thursday.

Australia

(Courtesy: Nike)

Australia’s home shirt takes inspiration from the sandy beaches of the Outback, using a noisy design to convey the coastal vibes that make the country such a hot destination for surfers and oceanographers.

Brazil

(Courtesy: Nike)

Brazil’s home shirt is as yellow as ever. Complete with bright green details and a classic collar, it’s a stunning representation of the vibrant side of Brazilian life. The jersey also contains hidden symbols, including the nation’s flag.

Canada

(Courtesy: Nike)

Canada will wear the same shirts that gave it luck during its historic World Cup qualifying campaign.

Croatia

(Courtesy: Nike)

Croatia’s home shirt is unmistakable. But Luka Modric and Co. will wear a variation of the usual chequered pattern we’ve all come to expect from the Balkan outfit.

France

(Courtesy: Nike)

France dazzles with one of the best collections of the bunch. The away kit features national imagery, while a golden cockerel stands out against the home shirt’s deep blue tone.

Korea Republic

(Courtesy: Nike)

South Korea summons the inner tiger in this year’s home shirt. The fiery red design, replete with tiger-stripe graphics, gives off a powerful vibe.

The Netherlands

(Courtesy: Nike)

Talk about Orange fever. With perhaps its boldest design in decades, the Netherlands will hit the pitch with a near-gold ensemble that catches the eye. The home shirt also contains a number of subtle symbols and a reference to the country’s Total Football tactics.

Poland

(Courtesy: Nike)

Poland’s home kit features a feathery design on each sleeve, paying homage to the white eagle that’s come to symbolize strength and solidarity in the eastern European nation.

Portugal

(Courtesy: Nike)

Portugal’s collection isn’t exactly a smash hit. The home shirt includes a diagonal separation of its national colors and aims to mimic the flag as it would sit against the body. The away edition features an off-white tone that offers some separation from the rest of the World Cup’s white uniforms.

Qatar

(Courtesy: Nike)

Qatar’s logo sits prominently on both of its kits. Classic maroon shading defines the home edition, and the away’s sandy design aims to capture the coastal contours of the Gulf nation.

Saudi Arabia

(Courtesy: Nike)

Saudi Arabia truly embraces its national colors. The away shirt comes with a dark green design that packs punch.

United States

(Courtesy: Nike)

Fans and players aren’t pleased with Nike’s creative input on the United States’ World Cup collection. “We just as angry as y’all!!!” forward Tim Weah wrote last month. “Tried to tell them,” midfielder Weston McKennie added.

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Premier League

5 thoughts from Tuesday's Champions League action

The Champions League rumbles on with Matchday 2 this week. Below, we dissect the biggest talking points from Tuesday’s action in Europe’s premier club competition.

Son becoming a big problem for Conte

Son Heung-Min has now gone eight games without a goal, and if his performance in Tottenham Hotspur’s surprising 2-0 defeat to Sporting CP on Tuesday is any indication, the drought will continue for some time.

Many expected Son to take his game to the next level, and rightfully so. The South Korean forward finished the 2021-22 Premier League season with 12 goals in his final 10 appearances, enough to earn him a share of the Golden Boot award. But his form in front of goal since the start of August has dropped dramatically. Son’s failed to convert any of his 18 attempts on goal, and only half of those have been on target.

Son didn’t register a single shot Tuesday against Sporting ‘keeper Antonio Adan, and one of his only two touches in the penalty area came from an offside position. He just couldn’t connect with the rest of his teammates. Clearly frustrated, Spurs boss Antonio Conte replaced him after 72 minutes – and Son’s lucky he even lasted that long.

Soccrates Images / Getty Images Sport / Getty

The 30-year-old’s substitute Dejan Kulusevski showed much more attacking impetus in the final quarter of an hour, appearing on the left and right to create chances. With Richarlison also comfortable playing on the left wing, Son’s place in Conte’s starting lineup could, and probably should, come under scrutiny.

Richarlison has played extremely well in his limited time on the pitch, showing greater compatibility with Harry Kane and the will to get into scoring positions. Initially signed to provide depth, the Brazilian forward could now earn a significant run in the team, with Kane up front and Kulusevski returning to his usual place on the right. That spells trouble for Son, whose native South Korea is banking on him to lead the way in the World Cup. But Conte can’t afford to wait for anyone – not even one of the Premier League’s best players.

That’s more like it, Liverpool

Jurgen Klopp got the response he demanded.

In a game Liverpool desperately needed to win after opening their Champions League campaign with an embarrassing defeat, Klopp’s men delivered a strong defensive performance on their way to beating Ajax 2-1 and picking up their first three points of the tournament.

The result offered a huge boost for a Liverpool side that was left reeling after last week’s abysmal performance in Italy.

In the aftermath of the 4-1 loss to Napoli, there was plenty of uncertainty about the Reds’ ability to rebound from what Klopp described as the team’s “worst” performance since his arrival. Klopp delivered “four or five days of absolute truth” to his struggling squad.

Although Liverpool’s route to victory was anything but direct, the rallying cry seemingly worked. After Mohamed Salah’s first-half goal, poor play from Trent Alexander-Arnold and Virgil van Dijk was largely responsible for Ajax’s equalizer before halftime. The Reds’ attack went sterile after the break until unlikely hero Joel Matip’s 89th-minute winner sent Anfield into a frenzy.

Although Liverpool have a ways to go before they’re comparable to the outfit that dazzled last season, Tuesday’s victory was undoubtedly a relief for a club that’s underachieved for much of the season so far.

When heavyweights collide

That was fun.

Bayern Munich and Barcelona, familiar foes in recent seasons, delivered a rousing spectacle in Bavaria on Tuesday. It was only a group-stage affair, but the almost unhinged intensity and elite skill on display were befitting of a final. Both teams pressed fiercely, trying to play on the front foot and not allow their illustrious opposition any time to breathe. Tackles were flying, and bodies were often strewn across the pitch as the two sides went blow-for-blow, racing up and down the field and exchanging rapid attacks peppered with quick, clever passing sequences and exquisite dribbling.

Alphonso Davies and the rejuvenated Ousmane Dembele – and fellow winger Raphinha – engaged in a series of explosive tussles that were as entertaining as the actual match itself. A game within the game. Teenage midfielders Pedri and Gavi were two standout players in the first half as Barcelona, looking to regain their status as Europe’s elite footballing institution, played with the incisiveness, inventiveness, and swagger of their peak years. The club’s financial future may be tenuous, but things look bright on the pitch.

But Bayern, despite still looking vulnerable defensively when put under pressure, didn’t crack. Julian Nagelsmann’s decision to introduce Leon Goretzka to begin the second half was vital, and the German juggernaut helped turn the tide in his side’s eventual 2-0 victory.

“In the first half we had a lot of chances to score, and when you forgive so much against a team like this, you end up paying for it,” Pedri, wise beyond his years, said following the defeat.

Those ebbs and flows are the hallmarks of memorable Champions League nights.

The group stage of Europe’s premier club competition has been increasingly neutered as the gulf between football’s wealthy elite and everyone else has continued to grow over the years, making it more difficult for Cinderella stories to develop. But Tuesday’s clash at the Allianz Arena was a reminder of everything that’s still good about the tournament. When heavyweights collide, it’s still the most riveting show around.

Lewandowski’s rare off night

Captivating as Tuesday’s match in Bavaria was, it didn’t quite go according to plan for Robert Lewandowski.

The prolific Pole, who scored 344 goals in 375 Bayern appearances before departing for Barcelona this past summer, was given a predominantly warm reception upon his return. But a smattering of boos emanated from a fan base that isn’t totally at peace with the acrimonious nature of Lewandowski’s departure. Not quite hostile, but there was tension in the air.

“I think for Lewy, it was really an emotional game to come back,” said Bayern captain Manuel Neuer after the match. It’s impossible to know if that harmed the forward – even the most accomplished veterans can get butterflies – but whatever the reason, Lewandowski was just slightly off at the Allianz Arena. A rare sight over the years.

The 34-year-old spurned two glorious opportunities in the first half, whistling a volley just over the crossbar from inside the box before sending a close-range header at the back post right into Neuer’s chest. Another good chance went begging when Noussair Mazraoui made a last-ditch block late in the first half. From there, Bayern’s defenders corralled him, and whenever Barca did scamper forward menacingly, Lewandowski couldn’t find the right timing and connect with his teammates.

Lewandowski had nine goals in his first six games with Barcelona going into Tuesday’s encounter, but his dream start to the season ended with a thud in the one match he was surely more excited about than any other.

What’s happening in Group B!?

This comes with the caveat that it’s still very early – we’re only two games into this campaign’s Champions League, after all. But Group B, against all odds, is already shaping up to be a wild ride.

Club Brugge sit atop the quartet with a perfect record after waltzing into the Estadio do Dragao, a typically intimidating venue, and crushing FC Porto on Tuesday. Despite losing Charles De Ketelaere over the summer, the Belgian club certainly wasn’t lacking an attacking spark in its 4-0 rout.

MIGUEL RIOPA / AFP / Getty

The surprises didn’t stop there, though, as Bayer Leverkusen put their woeful early-season form behind them to claim a 2-0 win against overwhelming group favorites Atletico Madrid. Leverkusen went into the match having lost six of their eight games in all competitions to begin the new campaign, so naturally, they shut down Diego Simeone’s side. Throw all reason out the window.

Group B, viewed after the draw as lacking much intrigue or excitement, is flipping the script.

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