Spurs’ performance slump comes home to roost
“It was similar to the last couple of games at home,” said Tottenham manager Ange Postecoglou when quizzed in Saturday’s post-match press conference.
He admitted that Spurs have not been at the levels they want over the last few matches. Their last two at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium saw them beat Brentford and Brighton, but neither were easy or all that convincing.
And against Wolves, those nervous moments that Tottenham had been able to navigate over the last few weeks – or at least, find goals to paper over the cracks – finally came back to haunt them.
Despite having Heung-Min Son back in the XI alongside Richarlison, James Maddison and Dejan Kulusevki, they ended the first half without a shot on target. Worryingly, only four of their 15 shots in the game overall were.
But it was their inability to stop Wolves on the counter, added to some questionable defending for Joao Gomes’ opener, that was their ultimate downfall. While Postecoglou insisted Spurs’ defending had been ‘outstanding’ this season, it has not been their crowning glory in recent weeks.
Now, they have a fortnight before they take on Crystal Palace. The buzz words of ‘hard work’, ‘move on’, ‘be ready for the game’ are all well and good, but Tottenham need to pull themselves out of a performance slump.
Already slipping into fifth by two points after this defeat, that could widen even further by the time March 2 rolls around. There’s still plenty of football left to play, but Tottenham will want to have their fate in their own hands heading into the business end of the season.
Have Chelsea found their spirit?
Pep Guardiola had spoken of Chelsea’s quality beforehand, describing them as “an exceptional team” but the suspicion was that this might be the familiar sound of the City boss praising opponents only for them to leave the Etihad Stadium on the end of a beating.
But Chelsea had their tactics spot on. They knew that City would have most of the possession but if they were able to be composed when under pressure and play that extra pass rather than just clear it, the openings would appear. They managed it time and again.
Cole Palmer has that calmness, Malo Gusto has the energy from deep. Nicolas Jackson and Raheem Sterling have not always been as ruthless as they should have been this season – to say the least – and they missed chances in Manchester. But the goal was superb.
Mauricio Pochettino will be just as pleased by the resilience shown. Conor Gallagher ran himself into the ground. Axel Disasi came up with block after block. Chelsea lost the lead late on. But they have found their spirit recently. That could be more important in the long run.
Haaland fluffs his lines for once
Erling Haaland is a fantastic player who is likely to end the season as the Premier League’s top goalscorer again, provided he remains fit.
But, having scored twice late on last weekend against Everton to signal his return following two months out, this was quite possibly his most frustrating evening in a Manchester City shirt. The life of a striker.
Daniel Sturridge told Sky Sports: “He goes onto the pitch with the expectation of scoring goals. He’s going to go home feeling down about himself, lower than a snake’s belly.”
Jamie Carragher added: “He’s probably not had a game like this in a Manchester City shirt.”
Haaland had nine shots and an xG total of 1.71 against Chelsea, his most for both without scoring in a single game for Manchester City in all competitions.
It was so unusual to see the chances being squandered. Haaland has had his body language questioned by Pep Guardiola, he pushed away a camera on the pitch at the final whistle here, but what can never be in doubt is his mentality.
Guardiola isn’t concerned.
“I played 11 years and scored 11 goals so I can’t give too much advice to Erling [Haaland]. The next one he will score.”
City have now fallen behind in eight of their last 13 Premier League matches. Rodri again delivered a big moment, but here was a reminder that they cannot rely on one man to dig them out of a hole.
Gary O’Neil – the manager of the season?
When Julen Lopetegui left Wolves in the lurch three days before the start of the season, not many gave them hope of surviving relegation let alone having a successful season. But they had an ace up their sleeve in Gary O’Neil, whose reputation is growing with every ‘big six’ team they swat aside. Beating Manchester City, Chelsea and now Tottenham twice is a sensational feat.
O’Neil has simply made so many of these Wolves players better. He hasn’t moaned about the lack of funds to strengthen – he’s just got on with his job. A tactical triumph all round.
He’s built a Wolves team that can be devastating on their day. Spurs saw this up close as they walked straight into the traps set by O’Neil. Pedro Neto dazzled once again, Joao Gomes scored twice, Craig Dawson led the defensive line majestically. The manager himself called their scintillating counter-attack “the one thing we know we can do”.
But he also added that Wolves now need to link differing styles of play together. Against Tottenham, they had just 29.1 per cent of possession, fewer shots and a lower xG – similar numbers, you’d imagine, against Manchester City and Chelsea too. It is clear these games are where they thrive.
However, last weekend in a home defeat to Brentford, the script was flipped. They had 71.1 per cent of the ball and almost twice as many shots. Adapting to how different opponents may play against them is the next step in O’Neil’s impressive Wolves evolution. With or without the ball, goals and wins are paramount.
But there is one thing that is in no doubt – the future under O’Neil’s watch is a bright one. Wolves have a gem.
Lewis Jones and Charlotte Marsh
Liverpool frightening regardless of the injuries
Liverpool could have up to nine absentees ahead of next Sunday’s Carabao Cup final against Chelsea. Games against Man City and Everton follow soon after. Jurgen Klopp says he has problems ahead of a crunch period of the season as his side fight on four fronts.
The Premier League leaders definitely didn’t show that in Saturday’s 4-1 win at Brentford. Mohamed Salah stole the show on his return as he delivered a goal and an assist off the bench. Cody Gakpo, another substitute, produced the same feat.
Few teams could lose their biggest threats, Diogo Jota and Darwin Nunez, and step up their performance. Klopp has a point, losing depth at this vital stage is potentially damaging, but he has a uniquely stacked array of forwards to cope with such an eventuality.
Liverpool managed to average three goals per game in the four matches Salah missed through injury and with Nunez unlikely to be out for long, there is no reason the forwards can’t step up again without Jota. Liverpool guarantee goals, whoever is playing.
Is Mbappe needed? Arsenal looking complete
Arsenal began the weekend dreaming about Kylian Mbappe. They will end it questioning if they actually need him.
Since the winter break, when all the talk was about whether the Gunners needed to strengthen up front, Mikel Arteta’s side have 21 goals in five Premier League matches. That run includes five goals past Crystal Palace, six in the West Ham net, now five against Burnley.
Still, some will claim Arsenal need that 30-goal-a-season striker. But three reasons suggest they don’t.
The first: among those 21 goals since January 20, there have been nine different goalscorers – showing a desire to spread firepower around the team through personnel. Arsenal don’t need an Erling Haaland if they have multiple players on 15 goals and defenders contributing from set-pieces.
The second: Arsenal have a starlet in Bukayo Saka who can take on the goalscoring mantle, if one star is needed. “I have no idea, I don’t think Bukayo needs much motivating,” said Arteta after the game when asked if Saka was affected by the Mbappe links.
The 22-year-old has 12 goals this season including seven in his last six league games and is right in the mix for the Golden Boot.
And the third: Arsenal aren’t conceding, meaning less is needed from up top. While they’ve scored 21 at one end, they’ve conceded just twice at the other. One was an own goal against Liverpool, the other a late consolation at Nottingham Forest.
In short, Arsenal are looking complete.
Watkins continues to stake claim for place in Southgate’s Euro squad
While England fans lick their lips at the prospect of the Three Lions’ chances at this summer’s Euros, given how many players are hitting top form, Gareth Southgate must have a perpetual headache.
Harry Kane still can’t stop scoring for Bayern Munich, Ivan Toney is back from his ban and firing for Brentford, while Bukayo Saka and Phil Foden are just going from strength to strength.
Ollie Watkins has not had too many chances to show what he’s capable of on the international stage. He has earned nine caps since his debut in March 2021, but only started three times and played for more than an hour just twice.
He was left out of the Euro 2020 squad and the World Cup 2022 squad, too – but there’s no doubt it’s time to start looking at him for this summer’s squad.
Against Fulham at Craven Cottage, it was his finishing masterclass that helped Aston Villa to their second Premier League win of 2024 and helped them take control of the intriguing battle to reach the top four. Another hat-trick escaped him on this occasion, but his double took him to 18 goals – his best return in four seasons in a Villa shirt.
Granted, he will not be the main man. But the opportunity to take an in-form player, capable of playing as a No 9, but also out wide, to Germany should be one Southgate does not pass up.
Performances just as damaging as results for Moyes
David Moyes’ supporters will point to that Europa Conference League win at the end of last season, as well as the fact that West Ham are still eighth in the Premier League despite a miserable 2024.
But Moyes can’t trade off that magical night in Prague forever. The reality is that his side haven’t won in eight games. Their push for Europe is seriously faltering, while the style of football leaves plenty to be desired.
West Ham fans must look at their contemporaries – Aston Villa and Brighton, for example – and wonder why their team can’t play with similar ambition.
Villa, Brighton and the like won’t win every week, but they at least go down fighting. At the moment, West Ham don’t even do that.
With Jarrod Bowen, Michail Antonio and Mohammed Kudus leading the attack, the visitors managed just three shots on target at the City Ground.
The trouble with playing the more conservative brand of football favoured by Moyes is that, when results turn, fans don’t even have entertaining football to cling onto.
Despite their top-half position, West Ham are comfortably in the bottom half for goals conceded, expected goals and possession percentage.
That helps to explain why so many Hammers fans want to see change in the dugout. It’s not just the defeats, but the manner of them that is so damaging.
Bruno unleashed into exciting new role
As Eddie Howe referenced after another chaotic St James’ Park draw, Newcastle aren’t at their best. Performances are disjointed. Howe’s team charged to the Champions League last season playing a very controlled game – they have no control at the minute. There have been 41 total goals scored in their last nine games across all competitions.
It’s exciting, yes, but they are stagnating in the Premier League table. Someone who is on the up is Bruno Guimaraes. He once again flourished playing further forward, contributing hugely to Newcastle’s chance creation. He officially made three chances for his team-mates and it was his cross – that didn’t count as a key pass – that was smashed home at the second attempt by Ritchie for the equaliser.
He’s looked a little rash and unmotivated this season in his role playing at the base of Newcastle’s three-man midfield but the switch to play him closer to the attackers has unleashed an exciting version of the Brazilian. He’s made 23 runs into the box across his last three games, which is more than he’s made in his previous 14 games combined in the Premier League, highlighting his added attacking licence. This new role is right up his street.