Pressure on Potter rises
As the only club to hold a 100-per-cent record when facing Spurs at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in the Premier League, Sunday’s trip to north London for Chelsea felt like it represented a pivotal moment for Graham Potter.
Help his team maintain that impressive record at the home of their rivals and the manager would go a long way to relieving the pressure upon his shoulders, not to mention winning over the fans who called for his departure after the dispiriting defeat at home to Southampton last weekend.
But, at the same time, it felt like a defeat, coupled with another performance lacking intensity, aggression and – most importantly – goals would ratchet up the noise surrounding Potter’s position to unbearable levels.
Unfortunately for the former Brighton boss, the latter scenario is what played out at Tottenham, with Spurs comfortably seeing off the feeble challenge posed by Chelsea as they triumphed 2-0 to end a run of eight matches – spanning nearly five years – without a Premier League win over the Blues.
It is hard to see where Chelsea turn from here. The message coming from Stamford Bridge after the loss to Southampton was that Potter still had the support of Todd Boehly and the rest of Chelsea’s owners, but that faith will be pushed to the limit in the wake of yet another hugely disappointing display.
Conte returning to a Spurs side with real momentum
When Antonio Conte was given doctor’s orders to stay in Italy to recover from gallbladder surgery, Tottenham were in the midst of some bumpy form after back-to-back defeats at Leicester and AC Milan.
But the Italian is set to return this week, with both himself and Spurs in much healthier shape.
The 2-0 win over Chelsea backed up last weekend’s 2-0 victory over West Ham to move them four points clear of fifth-placed Newcastle.
Conte is re-joining a team that now has real momentum heading into a crunch three games as Spurs fight on three fronts.
On Wednesday, Tottenham go to Sheffield United in the fifth round of the FA Cup, followed by an away trip to Wolves in the Premier League on Saturday, and then it is the second leg of their Champions League last-16 tie against AC Milan at home on March 8.
Spurs are brimming with confidence at exactly the right time – and Conte has his assistant Cristian Stellini to thank after making it four wins from four when standing in this season.
Asked if Conte will come back to a team more confident than when he stepped back, Stellini said in his post-match press conference: “Yeah, happier for sure, because we had a good game.
“We have to follow the momentum and be consistent in the performance.
“This is what we spoke with the team a lot, but the performances were also good before and sometimes not consistent. Now we are consistent and we have to follow in this way.”
The next three fixtures will be a great test of whether Spurs can remain steady – they have not won four games in a row this season and have not won five consecutive games since March 2021.
But, after keeping three successive Premier League home clean sheets for the first time since April 2019, Conte will be returning to a team that looks more in his image: defensively sound, disciplined and organisationally strong.
“I am glad to stay here and to keep the chair of Antonio warm,” Stellini said.
The Spurs assistant has done more than that, though, by giving his returning head coach a red-hot seat with plenty to build on for the season-defining run ahead.
Liverpool’s defensive frailties exposed again
Liverpool arrived at Selhurst Park a wounded beast, having been bested by Real Madrid on Tuesday evening in the Champions League.
Some fans may have been hoping that a trip to a ground where they have won every match since the 2014/15 season would be the perfect antidote, facing the team Jurgen Klopp has beaten the most in the Premier League.
But they arguably came away with a point due to a lack of cutting edge from their opponents rather than anything of their own making. In fact, they came close on a few occasions to being the masters of their own downfall.
Inside 13 minutes, Trent Alexander-Arnold’s sloppy pass was intercepted by Jean-Philippe Mateta. His eventual shot was palmed away by Alisson. He was also at fault before the striker lashed an effort onto the crossbar.
Andy Robertson also had some indecisive moments, as did the team as a whole. The scars of their Champions League defeat were easy to see. They looked like a team who were at Selhurst Park to not lose, rather than win.
You felt throughout that Liverpool were there for the taking. On another day against a more cut-throat team – and as we saw on Tuesday evening – you feel like the Reds could be on course for a heavy Premier League defeat.
But a third successive clean sheet in the Premier League will edge the confidence up a notch while Klopp and his players will try everything to shore themselves up at the back ahead of a pivotal run of fixtures.
Olise stars, but Crystal Palace team-mates must match his level
There’s always a sharp intake of breath whenever Wilfried Zaha is missing for Crystal Palace. He remains their star forward and brings undoubted quality to the team.
But on Saturday, a new star emerged in Michael Olise. He is hardly a new face to regular watchers of Crystal Palace, but has sometimes been dropped as Patrick Vieira tries to balance his array of attacking talent.
However, he more than stood up to the test against Liverpool, taking on and beating players that have won it all in club football, some lauded as among the best in the world in their positions.
In the second half, he easily rode a James Milner tackle in midfield as he drove Crystal Palace forward. Minutes later, he breezed past Jordan Henderson down the right wing. He looked like a player without fear, and rightly so.
He continued to set up his team-mates too – but this is where he was almost let down. Final crosses and finishes were poor from those around him as the Eagles registered a third Premier League game of the season without a shot on target.
There’s no doubting Olise was the creative spark Crystal Palace needed and had, they just could not harness it in front of goal.
Ultimately, the 21-year-old epitomises the squad Vieira was handed when he arrived at the club – young, exciting attacking players who can make stuff happen.
Vieira told Sky Sports after the game: “I think that was one of his best performances. I think he was really good tactically. Defensively, he was really smart in the way he defended, and, in possession, every time he had the ball he created the danger that we want to create chances.”
When asked how good Olise can be, the Crystal Palace boss added: “It depends on him, how much he wants to be there with the best. It will be about the sacrifice he is prepared to make and how hard he is prepared to work. But he is passionate about the game. He loves the game. We just have to help him as a football club to grow.”
There’s no doubting Olise will continue to shine. It’s whether those around him can rise to his level and turn Crystal Palace’s draws into victories.
Lewis unleashes Gundogan and Man City
Is City’s cloak of invincibility slipping? It has been asked this past week. It was questioned whether Pep Guardiola no longer has a harmonious dressing room.
When the cracks have emerged in title rivals before, City have gone into overdrive. Not this season. It is they who have left the door ajar. It is not the City we’ve become accustomed to.
So they came to the Vitality Stadium to take the points and to make one at the same time. Three unanswered first-half goals from Julian Alvarez, Erling Haaland and Phil Foden blew Bournemouth away.
After a winless midweek in Europe, Guardiola’s side delivered the response he wants. Certainly in terms of the first 80 minutes of this match. Pep, ever the perfectionist, will be disappointed to lose the clean sheet so late on.
Kevin De Bruyne, who missed the Leipzig game through illness, was fit enough only for the substitutes bench – but it was the use of Rico Lewis which allowed Ilkay Gundogan to decide this match before the interval.
Lewis has not started a game, indeed been used at all, since City were beaten at Tottenham earlier this month, but it was his ability to cut inside which would allow Gundogan licence to drift forward – De Bruyne-like – and cause so much damage.
Foden helped himself to a goal and an assist in the first half, as did Haaland – onto 27 Premier League goals which surpasses Sergio Aguero as the most in a single Premier League season for City – with 13 games still to play. Big moments for big players.
Foden’s only other goal since the World Cup came in the convincing 4-0 win over Chelsea in the third round of the FA Cup. For Haaland, it was just his second in his last seven games to quieten the noise around whether City are getting the best out of him. They face Newcastle next up at the Etihad – it is as you were in the title race.
Bournemouth must remain in touch come April
Bournemouth were without the injured Marcus Tavernier – and the hosts missed last week’s match winner at Wolves. But it won’t be in games such as these that their Premier League status will be decided.
Gary O’Neil brought Chris Mepham into the team in what was the only change from the Cherries’ win at Molineux, but on the same day his country were beaten by England in the Six Nations, Welshman Mepham was faced with a baptism of fire – his own goal compounded a torrid evening for the centre-back.
Jefferson Lerma reduced the arrears late on with his first goal since October – and O’Neil pointed to the positive of having drawn the second half.
“In terms of effort and endeavour and the response to going behind, we were on the front foot,” he said. “You could feel from the fans that they were on board with the type of performance that we put in.
“We just came up a little bit short against a very good team. It was an interesting test for them at half-time because you feel the game is done.
“The second half needed to be a response and we showed the world that we did. The fourth goal could’ve killed the boys off but we still created opportunities.
“I’m disappointed that we didn’t score a couple more. When you’re a player, you get to reflect on these games and see the level City are at. There’s a lot I will take from today and build on the positives.”
O’Neil knows the nature of this division means his side must start collecting more points, however. Bournemouth have won only one of their nine Premier League games since the World Cup break, losing six times, with their five points accrued during that time fewer than any other side.
They face a crucial April with fixtures against Southampton, West Ham and Leeds – those are the games that will decide whether they stay in the Premier League or not.
Toothless Everton issue reminder of their relegation worries
Optimism was beginning to rise around Goodison Park. Everton have been burned before but Sean Dyche knows how to get a side out of relegation trouble.
Back-to-back 1-0 wins, both scrappy but both effective, had lifted them two places and one point above the relegation zone. Half an hour against Aston Villa was enough to remind Goodison Park, and the world, why they are where they are.
Despite racking up 15 shots and an xG of 1.69, their fourth-highest tally of the season, they did what they’ve now done 10 times in 24 games and failed to score.
They are the Premier League’s lowest scorers, have netted more than once in a game only twice this season and their two top league goalscorers, Demarai Gray and Anthony Gordon, were on the bench and have already left the club respectively.
Everton had so many promising positions. But so little idea what to do with it. Forty-four touches in the opposition box was the 28th highest of any team in a game this season – yet only two of their 15 shots were from inside the Villa area.
Of those, Neal Maupay should have bundled home the opener moments before Villa took the lead, but his weak effort allowed Tyrone Mings to clear off the line.
Dyche can only do so much. They have kept two of their six clean sheets in his four games so far, and are clearly so much more organised than they were under Frank Lampard. Even on Saturday, they were well-drilled and rarely cut apart until they were pushing for an equaliser late on.
But that won’t put the ball in the back of the net. The goals and points they need require the sort of composure and finesse that this Everton side does not possess.
At this point, their survival may come down to the status of Dominic Calvert-Lewin. Even not fully fit, he offers a genuine goalscoring threat and is the kind of striker Dyche has always relished working with.
Without him, it feels like things may be heading back to square one.
‘Why sack David Moyes if the man you need to replace him with is David Moyes’
“If you don’t win your first game you might not get the second game in football management so if you don’t win your 250th you might not get your 251st,” said David Moyes as he celebrated a huge milestone in becoming just the third manager to pick up 250 Premier League wins. Only Arsene Wenger (476) and Sir Alex Ferguson (528) have more.
Experience when dealing with huge amounts of noise regarding your job is priceless and Moyes is making an art out of winning games such as the one vs Nottingham Forest. When the pressure is at it’s highest, Moyes seems to ignite a performance within his West Ham players. He did it against Everton. He did it vs Forest. It’s perhaps why the Hammers have decided against relinquishing him of his duties. Why sack David Moyes if the man you need to replace him with is David Moyes?
His skillset in generating big wins in pressure cooker environments would make him incredibly appealing for an owner looking to preserve their club’s position in the Premier League.
Southampton and Leeds spring to mind.
But he is West Ham’s man for now and on this showing any fears of relegation are way off the mark. The only way should be up now.
Cooper’s gamble backfired as Forest capitulate
It was hard to see this Nottingham Forest capitulation coming with 20 minutes to go and the game at 0-0. Steve Cooper has instilled a doggedness and defensive solidity since they were thrashed 4-0 by Leicester in October and there was a sense that the home crowd were starting to turn as Brennan Johnson started to find space in dangerous areas.
But the Forest structure crumbled under pressure from a rejuvenated West Ham attack who opened the floodgates once Danny Ings put them in front. Forest couldn’t cope with the intensity and sank in feeble style.
Maybe Cooper – who has had the golden touch for most of his Forest tenure – has to take a fair chunk of the blame for this hammering. Perhaps sensing three points when having to withdraw Jonjo Shelvey due to his current match fitness issues, Cooper opted for Andre Ayew, pushing an extra body into their attacking shape. “The game was there,” Cooper said. “We felt the tension inside the stadium.”
But the gamble backfired as that extra space in midfield helped West Ham stamp their authority with Declan Rice and Lucas Paqueta. In a blink of an eye West Ham were 4-0 up. And that tension inside the stadium that Cooper referenced had turned to sheer jubilation.
Gracia’s pragmatism already paying off for Leeds
Javi Gracia has made an instant impact at Leeds – and he has not even been in the job for a week.
The Whites looked far more organised and defensively solid under the new head coach as they kept just their fifth Premier League clean sheet of the season in a much-needed 1-0 win over fellow strugglers Southampton.
Leeds were not sparkling going forward – Gracia will have to make them more threatening – but their improved structure under the Spaniard was apparent as they restricted a below-par Saints to just two shots on target.
What will also encourage Leeds fans is the way their team closed out the game following Junior Firpo’s 77th-minute winner.
Gracia brought on midfielder Marc Roca for striker Patrick Bamford in the 86th minute to ensure the win, and it worked, as Leeds maintained control of the game, even coming close to adding a second through another substitute Crysencio Summerville.
Kicking their habit of conceding late goals in the league this season – nine in the final 15 minutes of games so far – will be a major target for Gracia.
“Today I think is good for the confidence of all of us,” he said in his post-match press conference. “We know it’s only one step, but for us in this moment it’s an important step.
“We know it’s only one win, only three points, but it’s something really special for us.”
The victory, that ends a 10-game winless run, will give the 52-year-old a positive base to build from in the weeks ahead, while it also provides both Leeds players and fans with genuine hope and belief he can get them away from relegation trouble.
Trossard helps Martinelli shine
Gabriel Martinelli’s goal proved decisive for Arsenal against Leicester and his player-of-the-match display owed a lot to the presence of Leandro Trossard, rather than Eddie Nketiah, in the No 9 role.
Nketiah, rested at the King Power Stadium having picked up a knock, is an out-and-out striker who rarely strays beyond the width of the opposition box but Trossard is far more inclined to drift towards the flanks and, specifically, to the left.
That’s good news for Martinelli, who loves to cut inside and interchange positions with his striker, much as he did for his winner on Saturday, when Trossard pulled wide and fed him on the inside, allowing him to finish beyond Leicester goalkeeper Danny Ward.
Gabriel Jesus, like Trossard, is a roving centre forward whose movement to the flanks helped Martinelli thrive in the opening months of the season, but the 21-year-old has proved far less effective when deployed alongside Nketiah.
Indeed, before his goal from the bench in last weekend’s 4-2 win over Aston Villa, Martinelli had not found the net in eight games in all competitions, all of which Nketiah started.
Now, however, as Gabriel Jesus continues his recovery from injury, Mikel Arteta knows he has another alternative in the absence of his main striker – and it’s one which suits Martinelli.
Leicester lost without Maddison
Nobody has scored more goals or provided more assists in the Premier League for Leicester than James Maddison this season, meaning alarm bells were raised when the teams were announced and he was nowhere to be seen.
Brendan Rodgers explained the midfielder – who had been suffering with a knee injury – was absent due to illness, and that had a knock-on effect on Leicester’s game plan.
The hosts seemed content to sit in and frustrate Arsenal, with Harvey Barnes and Kelechi Iheanacho their outlets on the counter-attack, but it was a strategy that failed to test Mikel Arteta’s side.
A draw would have been a good result for Leicester but once Gabriel Martinelli scored, they were unable to alter their approach.
Even the introduction of Youri Tielemans and Jamie Vardy from the bench failed to spark the Foxes into life and they ended the game with only one shot – the fewest any team has had in a single game in the Premier League this season – and an expected goals total of just 0.02.
Wins over Aston Villa and Tottenham, plus some much-needed arrivals in the January transfer window, looked to have turned the tide on Leicester’s disappointing season, but they now find themselves very much in the battle to avoid relegation – and hoping Maddison recovers in time to face Southampton on Saturday, live on Sky Sports.
Is Solomon ready to impact games from the start?
Fulham’s first-half frustrations were compounded by Joao Palhinha becoming the first player to pick up 10 yellow cards in the Premier League this season. Such is his importance to this side, Marco Silva is likely to suffer from his forthcoming two-game suspension.
But Fulham refused to allow an off-night to result in no return. Here, they avoided defeat after conceding the opening goal of a Premier League game at home for only the second time in their last 22 such games, also securing a draw against Bournemouth in October this season.
Just before the hour mark, Matheus Cunha was carried off on a stretcher following an innocuous challenge. Cunha was replaced by Adama Traore following a lengthy stoppage in play while he received treatment.
The incident sparked the hosts into life. Until then, Wolves had controlled proceedings and might have stretched their lead had Raul Jimenez found the inside of the post when rising unmarked.
It was only then that half-time substitute Manor Solomon once again showed his quality, picking up the ball at the edge of the box and curling it into the far corner.
Silva said: “I feel he is ready to start, but he’s not ready for 90 minutes. He can start games and maybe play 60 minutes. Soon, he is going to start from the beginning. He is a top professional, just like the others.
“Manor is working hard and is fighting for his position. I know he wants to start football matches, but it is the same for Harry (Wilson), Bobby (De Cordova-Reid) and the others. It is good to have healthy competition.”
After the disappointment of suffering a serious knee injury in the first game of the Premier League season against Liverpool, Solomon is making up for lost time. The question now is whether Silva still sees him as a specialist, deadly finisher in games or whether he is ready to contribute from the off.
Raul to come roaring back to form?
Raul Jimenez’s days at Wolves look numbered before Julen Lopetegui walked through the door. He hasn’t looked the same all-action centre-forward since returning from that horrific fractured skull sustained in 2020.
However, to even get back playing at the elite level is an achievement let alone trying to match or hit the heights of past performances that certainly ranked him as one of the best strikers in the Premier League at his best.
And he does remain half a yard short still but at Fulham on Friday night his intelligence and ability to occupy defenders in order to start attacks provided a great platform for Wolves to build. For the first time in a while, this was just his second Premier League start since August, Jimenez was a help rather than a hindrance to the team.
Jamie Carragher called his performance “fantastic” as the striker grabbed an assist for Pablo Sarrabia’s goal with a clever header to set up the opportunity. Wolves fans will be hoping this is the start of Jimenez finding consistency in his game.