Solskjaer has brought a Fergie-style belief to Man United, young Gunners are key to Arteta’s revival and Dias is the leader City have missed… the 10 THINGS WE LEARNED in the Premier League
- Manchester United are joint top of the Premier League after beating Aston Villa
- Harry Kane and Son Heung-min continue to thrive for Spurs but need support
- Mikel Arteta has his young stars to thank after Arsenal won a third game in a row
- Ruben Dias looks like a worthy successor to Vincent Kompany at Man City
- Liverpool are on the slide and injuries are now catching up with the champions
- Sportsmail takes you through 10 things we learned in the Premier League
A new year brings new hope and the Premier League pushes on in 2021 amid Covid outbreaks and chaos.
Only one match was postponed as the top flight kicked off the new year, with Burnley v Fulham called off because of a number of cases in Scott Parker’s squad, although a handful of other teams pressed ahead without a number of coronavirus-stricken players.
A title race that looks to be one of the most open in Premier League history took another interesting turn as Manchester City’s challenge gathered pace when they beat out-of-sorts Chelsea 3-1 despite suffering an outbreak of their own.
That result leaves Blues boss Frank Lampard facing huge question marks over his future – we know the Chelsea board are particularly unforgiving and won’t hesitate to make a change if they feel it can rescue their season.
The Premier League kicked off 2021 with a bang as Manchester United went top of the table
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s revolution at United continued as they went joint-top of the league alongside Liverpool after beating Aston Villa 2-1, while Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham bounced back from a sticky spell to dispatch Leeds 3-0.
And just as their rivals are gathering momentum, the champions Liverpool are losing stuttering.
Here, Sportsmail goes through the 10 things we learned after the Premier League kicked off a new year.
MOURINHO CAN’T RELY ON KANE AND SON ALONE
Tottenham’s dynamic duo show no signs of slowing down. Harry Kane and Son Heung-min were both on the scoresheet once again in their win over Leeds and it was the England captain’s deft through ball that found his South Korean team-mate to double their lead on Saturday.
The pair’s understanding is almost telepathic – that assist was the 13th time they have combined this season, equalling a top-flight record set by Chris Sutton and Alan Shearer at Blackburn.
That record will surely be beaten in the coming weeks, and they’re just four short of breaking Lampard’s all-time record of 36 goals with Didier Drogba at Chelsea.
Harry Kane (left) and Son Heung Min combined once again in Tottenham’s 3-0 win over Leeds
But Jose Mourinho needs his other outfielders to contribute, with Steven Bergwijn yet to score
Jose Mourinho admitted they were both doing ‘special things’ and will be aware they hold the keys to success this season, but the team’s recent winless patch of four games highlights their need for others to step up too.
Steven Bergwijn – usually found supporting the pair on the right wing – has failed to score this season, while Gareth Bale has struggled to stay fit.
Toby Alderweireld’s goal against Leeds was something of a collector’s item, but Spurs need goal contributions from midfield – something they’ve lacked since Christian Eriksen left. With Dele Alli firmly out of Mourinho’s plans, it could be an area to target in January.
SOLSKJAER INSTILLING A FERGIE-LIKE BELIEF
The Manchester United sides of old were renowned for getting the job done under Sir Alex Ferguson – often from a penalty or in stoppage time.
It was the belief that, if the team played their game, they would win it – and that’s exactly the philosophy Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has created at Old Trafford in recent months. Beating Aston Villa – courtesy of another Bruno Fernandes spot kick – sent them joint top with Liverpool, immediately leading to suggestions we could have a classic title race on our hands.
Winning games ugly has been a problem for Solskjaer during his time at United, but he deserves credit for going away and rebuilding a team when confidence was rock bottom. His side had secured a late win over Wolves previously and four wins in five represents a huge turnaround in their fortunes.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has taken a leaf out of former boss Sir Alex Ferguson’s book after his side showed they can win games ugly
The Norwegian has turned the club’s fortunes around and transformed them into contenders
They’ve not lost in the league since a dismal 1-0 home loss to Arsenal at the start of November, and Solskjaer is now getting the most out of his attacking options after early-season struggles.
While former United boss Mourinho has had stick for going a goal up and sitting in, only to capitulate, Solskajer’s side are always positive and patient in their approach. Their 6-2 win over Leeds last month showed what they can do when the team is in full swing.
A huge game against Liverpool is coming up, and they will need plenty of the same confidence to come away with a result from that. If it’s a positive one then we really can talk them up as serious title contenders.
Injuries finally taking a toll on champions
Monday night’s defeat by Southampton was only the second time Liverpool have failed to score in two consecutive games under Jurgen Klopp.
After draws against West Brom and Newcastle, this latest setback is a sure sign all is not well with the Premier League champions.
Just as Manchester City and United are on the uptick, the Reds are on an alarming skid, compared to their usual high standards anyway.
Having papered over the cracks with Joe Gomez and Virgil van Dijk out for the long haul, the injuries now seem to be catching up with Liverpool and they look drained.
Playing the likes of Fabinho in defence means Liverpool lose their control in midfield
Joel Matip cannot stay fit either and starting Jordan Henderson and Fabinho, two midfielders, against Southampton is clearly far from ideal.
Both Henderson and Fabinho add so much to the dynamic of the team in midfield and Klopp’s men lose an element of control when they’re shifted to the back.
Diogo Jota’s absence is another massive blow given his electric start to life on Merseyside and Liverpool fans will fear that without a sharp turnaround, their title defence may be in jeopardy.
HUDSON-ODOI NEEDS MORE GAME TIME
Blues boss Lampard has become something of a tinkerer this season as he desperately searches for a winning formula. He’s shifted Timo Werner out wide, given chances to Olivier Giroud and Tammy Abraham, switched his midfield options and rotated his centre-back partners.
In Sunday’s 3-1 home loss to Man City he drafted in new signing Hakim Ziyech on the wing despite him only recently returning from injury, but the £37m Morrocan star failed to sparkle. He was brought off for Callum Hudson-Odoi, who netted Chelsea’s only goal of the game.
It wasn’t long ago the English winger was being talked about as a Bayern Munich target, but has found himself down the pecking order under Lampard after a £240m spending spree this summer.
Callum Hudson-Odoi deserves more game time after scoring a consolation for Chelsea in their 3-1 defeat to Manchester City
He’s started just twice in the Premier League, but the 20-year-old has shown he can be effective when given the opportunity. He’s started three of Chelsea’s Champions League games, and scored in two of those outings. He also came on in their 3-1 loss to Arsenal and provided the assist for their consolation.
Lampard did give him a chance by starting him in the 1-1 draw against Villa, but he needs more time to get into his groove. With the Euros coming up next summer, he’ll be keen to show Gareth Southgate he deserves to be on the plane but he needs a run of games. He could be the key to reviving the club’s fortunes.
EZE COULD SOON BE ON THE ‘BIG-SIX’ RADAR
One English youngster that continues to impress is Crystal Palace’s Eberechi Eze. No defender has an easy game against Eze, just as Sheffield United discovered on Saturday afternoon.
The 22-year-old notched his second goal of the season after collecting the ball in his own half and gliding past a handful of players, before slotting past Aaron Ramsdale from just outside the box.
Eze caught the eye once again for Crystal Palace by gliding past a host of players to score
He could soon be on the radar of some top sides after some electric displays this season
It showed off his confidence to take players on and it is this type of talent that Palace need in order to steer clear of danger. With two goals and two assists he has not exactly set the league on fire but his quality is undeniable, and with some nurturing he could develop into something really special.
The Euros may come too soon for Eze but he has done his chances of a big move in the future no harm by showcasing his menacing dribbling and flair. He scored 14 goals in his final season at QPR and joined Palace for around £17m this summer.
Hodgson will be aware he may struggle to keep him, but should the big clubs come calling he won’t go on the cheap.
BLADES CONSIGNED TO HISTORY’S SCRAP PILE
What do you say to your players when you’re losing every game? That’s the challenge for Sheffield United boss Chris Wilder at the moment after his faltering Blades side suffered their 15th defeat of the campaign already against Palace.
But it is not just the losses he has to worry about, it’s the fact his team can’t buy a win. They’re still the only team in the Football League without one and they’ve now become the first team to go 17 games without a victory since Bolton Wanderers all the way back in 1903.
That’s really not a stat the Blades want to be associated with. Especially a team that won so many plaudits last season for their style of play and attacking set-up, with a manager being linked to a handful of high-profile Premier League posts.
Sheffield United became the first top division side to go 17 games without a win since 1903
But unfortunately, their slump back to the Championship appears inevitable with a daunting 12 points separating them from safety. Are they the worst side in Premier League – or even top division – history? The stats make a mighty good case for it, but let’s not forget that most of their defeats have been by one or two-goal margins.
Derby County – who picked up the worst points total in the Premier League with 11 – were getting hammered week in week out, and the Blades will be desperate to at least finish with more than that. This is going to be a cruel and challenging season for Sheffield United, but their focus will be to stop breaking unwanted records.
RUBEN DIAS IS THE SECOND COMING OF KOMPANY
Manchester City are on the comeback trail after a sluggish start to the campaign, but while the likes of Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling get the headlines, £65m defender Ruben Dias has been keeping things solid as a rock at the back.
If you’re one of the most expensive defenders in the history of the game, you better be good – and Dias has been repaying his princely transfer fee so far, tightening what was a leaky back four before he joined.
Defence was seen as an area of weakness for Pep Guardiola to address and Dias has stepped in to give them organisation and leadership – even inspiring John Stones after the Englishman was brought back into the team alongside him.
Ruben Dias is slowly paying back his £65m fee with a series of solid displays for Man City
His presence at the back and leadership is reminiscent of club legend Vincent Kompany
After beating Chelsea 3-1 – conceding in stoppage time – City have now won 11 games with the Portuguese stopper in the team, conceding seven in that time. Just before his debut they conceded six in just two games.
His sturdy presence is reminiscent of club favourite Vincent Kompany – so reliable and a key component in helping City winning their first four Premier League titles.
Fans have felt that City have not had a like-for-like replacement since he departed in 2019, and there’s every chance they might have found it now. Since a disappointing 2-0 loss to Spurs in November, the team have let in just two league goals.
HAS BIG SAM BEEN FOUND OUT?
Sam Allardyce is so often a Premier League struggler’s get out of jail free card, but is his number finally up?
The veteran boss has never been relegated – boasting a survival ‘blueprint’ that has seen him rescue the likes of Everton, Sunderland and Crystal Palace, but it has not been a happy start to life at West Brom.
He is already the second favourite to be sacked after losing back-to-back home games to Leeds and Arsenal, conceding nine goals across both. It’s a major cause for concern, particularly as Allardyce prides his teams on being rigid in defence.
Sam Allardyce is struggling to make an impact at West Brom after heavy back-to-back defeats
Appointing a new manager that doesn’t have an immediate galvanising effect is a nightmare – and it happened to the Baggies the last time they were in the top flight.
Four managers were in charge in 2017-18 – starting with Tony Pulis before Alan Pardew took over from caretaker Gary Megson, but was axed in April as Darren Moore oversaw their relegation.
And history looks like it could very well repeat itself, with Allardyce still waiting for his first win. There is still time to rally the troops – they are only six points from safety but face some tough games coming up against Wolves, in-form West Ham and Man City.
ARTETA’S YOUNG GUNS ARE KEY
It was once said you’ll never win anything with kids, but it seems they’ll win Mikel Arteta the confidence of Arsenal’s board.
A couple more defeats and the Spaniard’s head would have been on the chopping board, but three wins in a row have brought him and the Gunners back to life – and there’s been one consistent throughout… a crop of hungry youngsters.
Key to it all has been Emile Smith-Rowe, who has slotted into the No 10 position behind the striker, and with two assists from those three games he’s shown he can be the creative spark Arsenal have been missing.
Emile Smith-Rowe has stepped up for Arsenal by injecting some creative spark into midfield
Mikel Arteta’s decision to put his faith in more youngsters have paid dividends in their revival
No Mesut Ozil after Arteta banished him from all his squads, so in steps the 20-year-old to display the right attitude and deliver – starting with a big game against Chelsea in which he was key to the victory.
He was impressive again during the 4-0 win over West Brom, laying on the assist for Bukayo Saka – another youngster who has thrived of late. The 19-year-old left winger has two goals and an assist during Arsenal’s recent winning run, while Gabriel Martinelli has also looked dangerous on his two recent starts.
With the likes of Joe Willock, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Eddie Nketiah in his ranks, Arteta has a solid group of talent clearly aching to show they have what it takes to haul this team of underachievers up the table.
MOYES CAN RECREATE HIS EVERTON DYNASTY
Everton fans will have fond memories of what David Moyes did for their club during his 10-year spell at Goodison Park, but after his West Ham side went there and stole the three points, the Hammers faithful will be hoping for a similar reign.
Eyebrows were certainly raised when Moyes was announced as West Ham boss – again – last season, but after rescuing them from the drop he has managed to put together a run that has fired them just three points outside the top four.
David Moyes could create something special at West Ham after beating his old side Everton
Their 1-0 win over the Toffees – themselves surprise contenders for the title – was the latest of their scalps this season that include a 3-0 win at Leicester and a 3-3 draw at Spurs from 3-0 down.
Tomas Soucek, who scored the winner on Friday, has become a vital midfield asset for Goodison, with Mourinho recently hailing him as ‘the new Marouane Fellaini’ after encountering him earlier this season.
Moyes just needs consistency from his side and he could very well deliver what West Ham fans have craved for years – a regular spot in Europe. It’s ironic that his final game in charge of Everton was against West Ham. He brought so much success in Merseyside his new team have all the tools to repeat the feat.
CLUBS MUST GET TOUGHER ON COVID RULE BREAKERS
Coronavirus wreaked havoc on the Premier League last season after a three-month shutdown but a spate of outbreaks across the division has led to fears the competition could be halted yet again.
Teams have shown that their stringent safety measures are working in keeping any infected players isolated, and reminding their stars of their responsibilities in following the rules, but some don’t seem to have the message loud and clear.
Over Christmas we saw Tottenham trio Erik Lamela, Giovani Lo Celso and Sergio Reguilon were pictured at a party with family and friends. West Ham’s Manuel Lanzini was also in attendance.
The Premier League must crack down on stars who break Covid rules after Tottenham trio Sergio Reguilon, Erik Lamela, Giovani Lo Celso went to a party with West Ham’s Manuel Lanzini
Benjamin Mendy was defended by manager Pep Guardiola and left on the bench after hosting his own New Years’ Eve party
Lo Celso – who is currently injured – and Lamela missed Spurs’ 3-0 win over Leeds, but Reguilon was named on the bench.
Similarly at Manchester City, left-back Benjamin Mendy got into hot water for hosting a New Year’s Eve party, but was defended by Guardiola and named on the bench for their 3-1 win at Chelsea. All three clubs spoke out to condemn their actions and said the matter would be dealt with, but is it time for the Premier League to get tougher?
It seems a telling off and a place on the bench is all that follows, but fans have called for suspensions and even points deductions for offending players who believe the rules don’t apply to them.
Footballers must act as role models while the rest of the UK is locked down, but they also have a responsibility to adhere to protocols to ensure football can go on without further outbreaks.
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