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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Guardian sport

Premier League: 10 talking points from the weekend’s football

Adam Wharton, Kalvin Phillips, Danny Welbeck.
Adam Wharton, Kalvin Phillips, Danny Welbeck. Composite: Guardian Picture Desk

Etihad draw leaves title in balance

In their last two league games Manchester City have played their two title rivals and achieved the same result in wildly different styles. Unless Arsenal and City meet in the semi-finals of the Champions League – a rather less enticing prospect now – the next time any two of the current top three will face each other will be in Philadelphia on 31 July, when Liverpool and Arsenal are due to play a friendly. So the title will now be decided by results against the rest of the division and the good news for fans of fair fights is that the fixtures are remarkably balanced – taking the results of their opponents and adding any points deducted back on. The average current position of teams still to be faced by City is precisely 10, by Arsenal also 10, and by Liverpool 10.33. All have reasons to feel this is their year: Arsenal have the benefit of playing one more game at home and one fewer away; City the advantage of playing their harder fixtures at home, precisely where they would want them; and Liverpool get a two-point head start. Simon Burnton

Welbeck should head elsewhere

Danny Welbeck’s Brighton contract runs out in the summer and the striker might be considering where he will start next season. The 33-year-old scored a fine opener against Liverpool on Sunday and spent 90 minutes hassling defenders as Brighton played on the break. His workrate was impressive, often joining 10 teammates in the defensive third to slow Liverpool down as much as possible. Welbeck was arguably only starting because João Pedro was injured, while Evan Ferguson, who had not scored in his previous 22 matches, was on the bench. Considering the more youthful nature of competition for places to lead the line, if Welbeck is to get more regular minutes he might need to exit the Amex. If a new contract is not forthcoming or Welbeck thinks the time is right to leave, there will be plenty of offers for a wily striker who keeps proving he has plenty of football and goals in him. Will Unwin

Onana stands out amid United torpor

There wasn’t a huge amount for Manchester United to celebrate at Brentford on Saturday but, amid the general chaos, one major Erik ten Hag change is beginning to have a positive impact. When United lost 4-0 at Brentford last season one of the causes was David de Gea’s struggle to play out from the back. André Onana was brought in to resolve that and endured a nightmarish start at Old Trafford, regularly seeming to dematerialise in one-on-ones. He still may not be the beacon of calm authority many would like goalkeepers to be and it may be he is not United’s goalkeeper in the long term, but he is no longer an obvious problem that demands immediate resolution. His double save from Yehor Yarmolyuk and Keane Lewis-Potter was extraordinary, his judgment of crosses was much improved on his early weeks in the Premier League and Ten Hag praised a generally “brilliant” performance. Jonathan Wilson

Phillips central to Hammers collapse

Things went wrong for David Moyes’s West Ham side at Newcastle after he replaced Michail Antonio with Kalvin Phillips. First the midfielder conceded a penalty, won rather cleverly by Anthony Gordon and converted by Alexander Isak. Then the shoulder-dropping Newcastle substitute Harvey Barnes left Phillips trailing for Barnes’s second goal, a 90th-minute winner. Further confirmation it was not Phillips’s day arrived when the Manchester City loanee boarded the coach transporting West Ham to Newcastle airport. Heckling away fans had congregated outside it and when one called Phillips “useless” he flicked a retaliatory middle finger. If such controversy should not overshadow stellar performances from Isak, Barnes and, despite his 95th-minute sending off, Gordon, as well as West Ham’s Antonio, Mohammed Kudus and Jarrod Bowen, Phillips must regret ever leaving Leeds. Louise Taylor

Blades finally get it half-right

In their four previous games at Bramall Lane Sheffield United had gone in at the break 2-0, 4-0, 2-0 and 5-0 down. Given that they have only once recovered from a half-time deficit to avoid defeat this season – at Brighton in November, when 1-0 down at the break to draw 1-1 – clearly this was a trend needing to be broken. On Saturday they produced the first goalless first half in a Sheffield United game since December. “The narrative from everybody was … being out of the game after 25 minutes so we had to make sure we did something about it,” Chris Wilder said. “We had to have a gameplan to give ourselves a foothold in the game and allow our belief to grow, which I think we did..” The logic is sound: they’re not great at first halves, so make sure games are decided in the second. The bad news: they’re even worse at those. Simon Burnton

Young Clarets slowly finding footing

Craig Bellamy, Vincent Kompany’s No 2 at Burnley, is confident that the future is bright. Burnley have the youngest team in the Premier League and remain likely to go down, but they fought hard going down to 10 men against Chelsea and deserved a 2-2 draw. “Coming into this league been difficult,” Bellamy said. “We are the youngest team and Chelsea the second youngest and you do get better in this league over time.” Bellamy thought back to his career and joining Coventry City in 2001. He went down and was written off before soaring after moving to Newcastle. “I was a ‘waste of money’,” the Welshman said. “The next year I was PFA Young Player of the Year and finished in a Champions League spot. That was just belief. This league can knock you down – you learn and you improve and I feel the players are definitely doing that.” Jacob Steinberg

Dyche looks to psychology

Sean Dyche cut a composed figure after Séamus Coleman’s last-minute clanger handed Bournemouth victory to extend Everton’s winless streak to a club record 12 top-flight matches. His demeanour, he suggested, was not merely a front for the media: “There’s no point in me going mad at [the players] because it’s a mistake. It just feels worse because it’s a mistake at the end of the game and we’re on a tough run.” Dyche has vast experience of relegation battles, winning some, losing others. He knows when to use the carrot or the stick, and right now he believes his words – more than his actions – are key. “Everyone thinks [management] is about 4-3-3 and all that,” he said. “Trust me, the game has changed radically. Part of your role now is soft psychologist. I’m not a trained psychologist but you’re kind of a psychologist from years of doing what you do. I’ve been in football all my life.” Ben Bloom

Villa looking to squad depth

Aston Villa may have to sell big this summer, having posted a loss of £119.6m in their 2022-23 accounts, but their succession planning looks a lot healthier than most of their Midlands rivals. Wolves, whose five frontline injuries necessitated the inclusion of seven academy players in their matchday squad, only squeaked in under the Premier League’s permitted-losses barrier by offloading £150m worth of talent last summer. Nottingham Forest have been docked four points; Leicester City are also facing punishment. Clubs are allowed to lose up to £105m over a three-year period but even if Villa’s claim that their latest figures “are in line with the strategic business plan” looks dubious, their squad depth suggests they need not panic. If they sold Jacob Ramsey or Leon Bailey for £50m, they have the likes of Morgan Rogers, who cost an initial £8m from Middlesbrough in January, bursting through. Pete Lansley

Wharton the latest Palace gem

Crystal Palace’s admired recruitment department have unearthed another gem in Adam Wharton, the 19-year-old bought for £18.5m from Blackburn in January. If Eberechi Eze was the outstanding player at the City Ground, his runs dovetailed with Wharton, whose vision and weight of left-foot passes were on point on a number of occasions. To follow Eze and Michael Olise, Wharton is the latest Palace diamond mined from the EFL, where talent abounds if you look in the right places. Daniel Muñoz, the Colombian defender also signed in January, also put in a fine performance at Forest. Little wonder Dougie Freedman, the former Palace striker and manager turned Eagles sporting director, is one of the most respected members of football’s ever-growing class of front-office execs. That Palace are renowned as a talent factory is tribute to the department Freedman heads up. Wharton, capped by England Under-21’s last week, represents the latest proof. John Brewin

Luton wait on Chong

After coming so close to earning a point Luton’s walking wounded must somehow raise themselves for another big effort against Arsenal on Wednesday. Rob Edwards estimated that he has just 10 fit outfield players after injuries to Reece Burke, Alfie Doughty and the goalscorer Tahith Chong added to their woes. While the Luton manager must work out how to solve a defensive crisis, he will desperately be hoping Chong is able to feature against Arsenal after another impressive display from the Manchester United graduate who scored three goals in March, albeit within three defeats. “I’m really pleased with him,” said Edwards. “He’s been gaining in confidence and is having a growing influence. When we signed him we knew about his potential and he’s starting to realise that now. He’s still got a lot more room to grow, which is exciting for him.” Ed Aarons

Pos Team P GD Pts
1 Liverpool 29 40 67
2 Arsenal 29 46 65
3 Man City 29 35 64
4 Aston Villa 30 20 59
5 Tottenham Hotspur 29 18 56
6 Man Utd 29 0 48
7 West Ham 30 -5 44
8 Newcastle 29 12 43
9 Brighton 29 5 42
10 Wolverhampton 29 -4 41
11 Chelsea 28 2 40
12 Fulham 30 -1 39
13 AFC Bournemouth 29 -10 38
14 Crystal Palace 29 -15 30
15 Brentford 30 -13 27
16 Everton 29 -11 25
17 Nottm Forest 30 -16 22
18 Luton 30 -19 22
19 Burnley 30 -34 18
20 Sheff Utd 29 -50 15
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