Football: Key talking points from the English Premier League weekend

LONDON (REUTERS) – Talking points from the English Premier League weekend:

1. Rangnick has work to do to overhaul Man United

Manchester United’s interim boss Ralf Rangnick can take some positives from their 1-0 wins against Crystal Palace and Norwich City in the Premier League under his tenure but a six-point haul from the two games flattered their performances.

United showed signs of defensive improvement after the German took charge, albeit against modest opposition, with his all-out pressing tactics consolidating a shaky rearguard which leaked goals under his predecessors.

However, United looked bereft of a cutting edge up front in both games and although Rangnick may argue the team showed the patience they had lacked, he will be aware that moving up a level will not be an easy task.

2. Sterling joins 100 club in timely manner

Raheem Sterling is not always the first name on the Manchester City team sheet, but he made the most of his chance against Wolverhampton Wanderers on Saturday (Dec 11) to join an elite group of Premier League players.

The England international’s 66th-minute penalty was enough to earn his side a sixth successive league victory, as he showed great composure under pressure, slotting the spot kick down the middle.

City boss Pep Guardiola was full of praise for Sterling and his willingness to step forward and take the penalty, given he had missed his last three, with the strike crucial to earn a below-par City victory against a determined Wolves side.

3. Gerrard handles Anfield with style

“One club” players are such a rarity in the modern game that when they enter management with another team, there is a risk that the club’s fans can be sceptical of their commitment to them.

Few players are as connected with one club as much as Steven Gerrard was with Liverpool and with many observers feeling he would one day return to Anfield as manager, his move to Aston Villa was widely viewed as a “stepping stone” switch.

But Gerrard is astute enough to know that fans of a club with a rich history like former European champions Aston Villa, would not take kindly to their club being viewed as merely a stopping off point on the way to the “real job”.

So Gerrard was quite right to keep the focus of his return to Anfield on Saturday with his current club – refusing to be drawn into nostalgic talk of his time at Anfield and barely acknowledging the applause and chants from the Liverpool faithful.

After the game, he remained resolutely on message, ducking invitations to talk about the “emotions” of the occasion.

Gerrard may well end up as Liverpool manager one day but his chances of that appointment are much higher if he succeeds in his current role and that requires keeping the Villa fans behind him.

4. Everton home relief was all too brief

There was a glimmer of relief last Monday when Everton came from a goal down to beat Arsenal but manager Rafael Benitez is back in the firing line after Sunday’s loss at Crystal Palace.

While he might argue Everton had a chance to leave London with at least a point, they performed for only the last 20 minutes of the 3-1 defeat and dropped down to 14th in the standings.

Everton looked timid and bereft of confidence as Palace dominated the first half, going ahead at half-time and then 2-0 up after an hour thanks to Everton’s defensive frailties.

Benitez prides himself on his defensive work and will be mortified by their sloppiness at the back, and irritated by the petulant response of Richarlison to being substituted. It stoked up the travelling support.

But it was replacement Salomon Rondon who pulled one back and was involved in two more excellent chances to level.

But in the end, Palace slotted in one more – courtesy of another defensive slip – heaping pressure solidly back on the Everton manager.

It was always going to be tough for an ex-Liverpool boss to win over Everton supporters, even with his track record, and a run of one win in their past 10 matches means he is now feeling the heat.

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