The start of something special for a few teams?
Welcome to the Premier League Week in Review, where we take a look back at everything that has happened in the last week or so in England’s top flight league. We go over our player of the week, name three winners and losers, and discuss what we learned. And man, did we learn quite a bit.
Player of the Week
Bruno Fernandes, Manchester United
What else is there to be said that has not been said already? The Portuguese midfield magician has been a revelation since his arrival in Manchester, becoming United’s most important player and arguably among the best players in his position in the league. In United’s last two games, 3-0 and 5-2 demolitions of Brighton and Bournemouth, respectively, Fernandes was the best player on the pitch, pulling the strings from midfield and acting as the conductor of the terrifying Manchester United attack. His finishing ability and eye for a pass were on full display in both games, amassing three goals and two assists over those two matches. Two incredible performances from one incredible player, his rise to near-world stardom is coinciding with a potential phoenix-like rise of the new Manchester United.
Honorable Mention: Mason Greenwood (Manchester United), Allan Saint-Maximin (Newcastle United), Jarrod Bowen (West Ham United)
Winners of the Week
1.) Manchester United
Yes, the competition was not great, but oh boy did United look good. Yes, there were issues in defense (R.I.P. Harry Maguire’s ankles), but United showed they have enough firepower in attack to be an absolutely terrifying team for the rest of the season and going into next season. The midfield pairing of Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba has been nothing short of outstanding, and Ole has seemingly found a working front three of Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, and Mason Greenwood. The movement of the front three and ability of the midfielders to provide for them and score themselves makes United an incredibly fluid, difficult to predict, and hard to stop team when on the attack. They have the ability to counter with pace through all three of the front players, as well as utilize the creative ability of Pogba and Fernandes to pick apart teams sitting back and defending. This team is on the cusp of title contention, and while they definitely are not there yet, this attack is a major part of the larger solution for Solskjær. I would say United are currently the favorites to finish in the newly formed race for third place between them, Leicester, and Chelsea.
In a similar vein to United, you can sense that the pieces are starting to come together for Mikel Arteta at Arsenal. The Spaniard’s shift to a back three has provided some needed defensive solidity and seemingly brought out a consistently solid David Luiz. The back three has also juiced up the Arsenal attack, adding in the element of attacking wing backs to the equation. The wing backs, Kieran Tierney especially, have shone in the last two games, while Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Eddie Nketiah, Bukayo Saka, and Nicolas Pépé have all put in solid shifts in attack. Granit Xhaka and Dani Ceballos have been solid in midfield, despite some shakiness in the second half against Wolves, and things seem to be progressing on keeping Ceballos in North London for at least one more season. Positive improvement on the pitch sees the Gunners with a solid chance at qualifying for the Europa League next season, which is a massive improvement compared to where they were when the season resumed a few weeks ago. The most important developments have happened off the pitch, though, as the club confirmed new contracts for youngsters Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli, and rumors in the tabloids indicate that there is positive momentum leading toward a contract extension for Aubameyang. For a season that seemed to be falling apart at the seams when the league was suspended, Arsenal and Arteta have done well to not only get back on the rails, but begin building toward something great.
3.) West Ham United
I will not lie, I absolutely did not see West Ham’s win over Chelsea coming, and I know I am not alone in this. The Irons have been largely hapless this season under both Manuel Pellegrini and David Moyes, but when they needed it most, they seemed to pull the rabbit out of the hat here. The Chelsea defense was shockingly poor, having difficulty dealing with the creative ability of Jarrod Bowen and pure dynamic unpredictability of Michail Antonio. It was a match seemingly defined by chaos, with Andriy Yarmolenko’s 89th minute winner the epitome of this, coming on a wild counter after Chelsea were pushing for a winner. It is one of those games that makes you miss having fans in the stands, as the delirium that ensued following Yarmolenko’s goal would have been that much better with fans in attendance at the Olympic Stadium. While their 2-2 draw to Newcastle was disappointing, having conceded twice from winning positions, results around the relegation zone meant that the single point they got at St. James’ Park lifted them to four points above the drop zone with five matches to play. They are not safe by any means, especially since they still must play Norwich, Watford, and Aston Villa, but they get a tiny extra bit of security from the drop. That win over Chelsea may be the reason that the Irons stay up.
Losers of the Week
1.) Norwich City
Norwich continued their trend of looking decent at times in open play but being unable to score, despite the talent they have going forward. A 4-0 demolition at the hands of Arsenal followed by a very disappointing 1-0 loss to Brighton caps off four matches without a point and without a goal since the league season restarted, leaving the Canaries seven points from safety with five matches remaining. While they have matches remaining against Watford and West Ham, they must also face Chelsea and Manchester City, two matches in which they would be very unlikely to pick up any points. It looks like Norwich will be relegated to the Championship. Their season can really be characterized by one lasting image: the shot of midfielder Todd Cantwell slumped onto the pitch following the Brighton loss, a look of defeat and resignation on his face. Despite the talent that Norwich have, including the dynamic, exciting Cantwell, they have never been able to fully figure it all out for an extended run of games.
2.) Sheffield United
Chris Wilder and his merry band of Blades have ran into a serious stumbling block in their hunt for European football next season. Sheffield United had failed to win since the season restarted before a 3-1 win over Spurs this week, but a 1-1 draw to Burnley in the very next match continued this stuttering form that has seen the Blades fall out of the European places into ninth, one point behind Arsenal in seventh with five matches remaining. The European dream is beginning to die for Chris Wilder’s team, and while their next four games (Wolves, Chelsea, Leicester, Everton) can reverse their fortunes completely, it is hard to envision Arsenal’s new form massively slowing down. It feels like it will be either Wolves or Arsenal occupying sixth, with the other occupying seventh. Eighth can be a European place if City’s appeal of their European ban fails, but it is not safe to assume that will be the case. Chris Wilder needs positive results in those four matches to get into Europe, but without that, it will likely be a mid-table finish for the Blades. Mid-table is nothing to scoff at for a newly promoted team, but the knowledge that it could have been much more might be painful for Sheffield United fans to deal with.
Whatever good form and positive energy existed when Nigel Pearson was hired is now gone. Watford have failed to win a league match since their shock 3-0 win over Liverpool back in March, and that rut in form has dragged them right back into the relegation fight, leaving them clinging onto safety by only a point. The Hornets’ attack has struggled to find their feet since the league season resumed, with Ismaïla Sarr and Abdoulaye Doucouré especially being unable to regain their pre-lockdown form. They still must face Norwich and West Ham, which should allow them to pull away from the relegation places, but with Manchester City and Arsenal as their final two games, there is significant pressure to get positive results in their next three games before that awful finishing duo. Anything less than five points in their next three matches could leave them in serious danger of going down, with at least seven points being the ideal target. Watford are good enough to stay up, but that is the thing about the relegation race this season; you could say that about every team that is fighting the drop.
What we Learned
1.) Arsenal and Man United are building something special
This has been covered in other areas of this post, but it is worth emphasizing again. Both teams began a rebuild this season, and you are beginning to see the image of what these rebuilt giants can become. Manchester United have built a terrifying attack, with really an attacking five that can rival the best in the league. Arsenal have found stability in a back three that is able to get the most out of the players at their disposal. Both are moving toward finishing in a European place this season, which will provide them a solid platform to build on in the coming transfer window. Both have flaws in defense, Arsenal especially, but the vision is there for what Solskjær and Arteta want to create. Next season might be too soon to consider either a true contender, but they are two teams to watch over the next 12 months.
2.) We all aren’t sure what to take from Man City 4-0 Liverpool
Part of me thinks this resounding victory for City was Pep’s men throwing down the gauntlet for the title challenge next season, staking their claim as arguably the best team in England despite their unfortunate season this term. Part of me also thinks this was an über-motivated City team taking advantage of a figuratively, and probably literally, hungover Liverpool team. Part of me wants it to mean everything, and another part of me wants it to mean nothing. That is where I am at. This is a match that served as a good reminder that City are still a very strong, albeit flawed, team that is capable of winning the title and Champions League basically every season. However, the results around this game, mainly City’s losses to Chelsea and Southampton, remind you of the major flaws in this team (notably in defense) and why Liverpool won the title so easily in the first place. City will likely be title contenders next season, as I do not see Liverpool running away with the title again, but they still have things to fix in order for them to fully be in contention again. It is wild that we are saying this about arguably one of the best teams ever assembled in the Premier League era, but here we are. Leroy Sané’s departure will likely hurt the Citizens, but it does provide them with the funds to bring in a much-needed center back partner for Aymeric Laporte. Bringing in help at fullback will also be important, and while the COVID impacted transfer market will likely not hinder City all that much, it is ever more important for them to stay within the UEFA Financial Fair Play rules, since their entire organization now operates under a microscope. So in conclusion, does City thrashing Liverpool mean anything? Not really. Will City be title contenders next season, though? Probably.
3.) One step forward, two steps back for Everton
It was very difficult to find a place in either the winners or losers tab for Everton, despite being a team that we need to discuss. Carlo Ancelotti’s team seemingly took a massive step toward European football with two…let’s call them gritty…wins against Norwich and Leicester, but their drab and uninspiring 1-0 loss to Spurs yesterday acts as a sudden crash back to Earth for the Toffees, seemingly in a way that only Everton can provide. Ancelotti deserves incredible praise for the work he has done so far on Merseyside, guiding a very weird squad to an outside chance at finishing in a European place, seemingly punching above his weight with a thin and not incredibly talented Everton team. Europe was seemingly a bridge too far, however, and unless Everton win their remaining matches and a miracle happens around them, it is unlikely that they will be playing in the Europa League next season. There is definitely an argument that not being in the Europa League, and especially not having to deal with whatever wild schedule comes out for the Europa League qualifying rounds, is a blessing in disguise for an Everton team that is not quite ready for that step up. However, having to deal with their neighbors’ title celebrations must make life especially difficult for Evertonians, who are still frustrated at the apparent lack of progress in their team after all of these years. They are on the right track, but they have a long road ahead of them. Trust the process, Evertonians. Trust the process.
4.) Great week for young English players
This was a momentous week for four young English players in the Premier League: Manchester City’s Phil Foden, Manchester United’s Mason Greenwood, Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka, and Liverpool’s Curtis Jones. Foden started proceedings in City’s 4-0 thumping of Liverpool, scoring and assisting in a fantastic display against a very good side. Greenwood followed suit with three goals in two games, with his second thunderous strike against Bournemouth being the pick of the bunch. The young United striker continues his Wayne Rooney-esque ascendancy to superstardom, while, across the city, Foden demonstrated that he just might be able to live up to his “Stockport Iniesta” nickname. The other two are an interesting pair. Arsenal forward Bukayo Saka and Liverpool midfielder Curtis Jones both signed new deals at their respective clubs this week, with Saka’s coming at a major relief to Arteta and the Arsenal hierarchy. Both are considered to be very promising young players at their clubs, both being academy graduates, and both clubs and managers will likely be overjoyed having them tied down to long-term deals. Both also scored their first Premier League goals this week, both ironically on half-volleys, in Arsenal’s 2-0 win over Wolves and Liverpool’s 2-0 win over Aston Villa, respectively. Both players are very good stories, and seeing them succeed at the top level for their boyhood clubs is heart-warming. If you are English, seeing the progress of these four players has to be exciting, and given the amount of young talent in the England player pool at the moment, one has to think that it is only a matter of time before “football comes home”.
5.) What a goal from Che Adams
Let’s just all take a moment to talk about Che Adams and his goal against Man City. Firstly, if you have not seen it, go watch it. Now that you have, yeah, what a goal. The goal by itself is already quite impressive, having the confidence to chip a keeper as good and athletic as Ederson from that kind of distance as well as having the technical ability to pull it off, is quite remarkable. However, that is not the full story. That goal was Adams’ first ever Premier League goal, having arrived at Southampton from Championship side Birmingham City before the season started. He featured about 30 times for Saints in all competitions, failing to score until this moment. I genuinely cannot think of a more astounding way to score your first Premier League goal, considering the manner the goal was scored, the opponent it came against, and the fact that it was the winning goal. A moment so unique and insane for the young English striker that it deserved its own special shoutout.
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