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Premier League and Old Firm derby: 10 talking points from the weekend

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1) Direct action has an impact at Old Trafford

“We decide when you play.” That was the warning handed out to Manchester United by the fans who invaded the club’s training centre during the week the European Super League was formed and then expired. It was one they delivered on in getting a blue-riband fixture with Liverpool postponed. They also managed to get Manchester City’s collection of the Premier League title postponed. Direct action achieved its aim: embarrassing the club and the Premier League, and reheating the latent outrage the failed breakaway caused. And most of all, reinforcing the detachment that so many supporters have felt during 16 years of ownership by the Florida-based Glazer family. Manchester United’s is an often disparate, divided support, with the ownership causing deep rifts between the many fan groups. What happened on Sunday was a show of collective strength and unity between such factions. Football authorities may abhor the actions that took place but they ignored the underlying reasons at their peril. John Brewin

Man Utd v Liverpool postponed after fans invade stadium

2) Classy Torres shows glimpse of Man City future

While Sergio Agüero indicated that he still has plenty to offer with a trademark finish at Crystal Palace, Manchester City’s other goalscorer at Selhurst Park also showed a glimpse of the future. Ferran Torres has been used only sparingly so far by Pep Guardiola since signing from Valencia last summer but in his 12th league start of the season, the 21-year-old’s strike little more than a minute after Agüero had given City the lead capped a sparkling performance that clearly enthused his manager. “Ferran scored a lot of goals but today was the first game I saw he could handle what it means to play the physicality of the Premier League,” said Guardiola. “He was a little boy and now he is a man. And that is good. You have this aggressiveness without the ball, the Premier League demands to be. His numbers are incredible for the minutes he’s played.” Ed Aarons

Match report: Crystal Palace 0-2 Manchester City

Ferran Torres celebrates scoring Manchester City’s second goal at Crystal Palace
Ferran Torres celebrates scoring Manchester City’s second goal, embellishing a fine performance. Photograph: Catherine Ivill/PA

3) Chelsea rearguard driving their end-of-season push

Let’s start with the headline statistics. In Thomas Tuchel’s 23 matches in all competitions, Chelsea have kept 17 clean sheets. They have conceded 10 goals and five of those were in the 5-2 home loss to West Brom. Yet what our eyes tell us takes things even further. They barely concede chances. Saturday’s 2-0 win over Fulham was a slight anomaly in that their opponents had sightings during the first half. Édouard Mendy had to make three decent saves but each of them was from medium to long range. Tuchel has made it so difficult for teams to get in behind his own; to enjoy space inside the area. The aggression, physicality and pace of Chelsea’s defending is really something. This is the challenge that Real Madrid must overcome in Wednesday’s Champions League semi-final second leg at Stamford Bridge, after last week’s 1-1 draw. Fail, and Chelsea will be in the final. David Hytner

Match report: Chelsea 2-0 Fulham

4) Elneny and Ceballos control the centre at Newcastle

Arsenal central midfield combinations tend to be judged by a formidable yardstick; how do they match up to Patrick Vieira and Emmanuel Petit? Mohamed Elneny and Dani Ceballos may not be quite in the same league as Arsène Wenger’s two famous French warriors of old but the reassuringly rugged Egyptian stalwart and the Spanish Real Madrid loanee still excelled at Newcastle, leaving Jonjo Shelvey and Sean Longstaff chasing shadows as Arsenal won 2-0. Elneny also opened the scoring, courtesy of a highly accomplished half-volley as Mikel Arteta’s side limbered up convincingly for Thursday’s Europa League semi-final second leg against Villarreal. Well before Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang added the second goal with a spectacular volley of his own, Elneny and Ceballos had fully emphasised the long running weakness at the heart of midfield undermining the spine of Steve Bruce’s side. Fortifying that department is arguably Newcastle’s summer transfer market priority. Louise Taylor

Match report: Newcastle 0-2 Arsenal

5) Watkins can miss chances but not minutes

The initial £28m Aston Villa paid for Ollie Watkins may have felt excessive for a 24-year-old. His early – and perfect – hat-trick against Liverpool showed he has the ability to trouble even the best defences, as Everton’s often frugal backline, who were run ragged, could testify. Watkins’ haul of 13 goals is excellent; his capacity to get in promising positions time and again means it could have been higher and his reaction to both the treble in October’s 7-2 thrashing and Saturday’s goal on Saturday was to say he could have scored more. But part of Watkins’ appeal lies in his relentlessness. He can miss chances, but not minutes. He is the only forward to play every minute in the Premier League and only sat out 10 minutes of Brentford’s 49 league and play-off matches last season. He seems irrepressible. Richard Jolly

Match report: Everton 1-2 Aston Villa

Ollie Watkins scores fo Aston Villa at Everton
Ollie Watkins scores fo Aston Villa at Everton as he continues a fine first season in the Premier League Photograph: Michael Regan/EPA

6) Leeds take it easy as Bielsa stonewalls on contract

Marcelo Bielsa’s next Leeds contract remains unsigned. The Argentinian will brook no discussion of the subject, and while such behaviour repeats the pattern of the previous two seasons the club’s supporters might well be getting worried about the potential loss of their messiah. The owner, Andrea Radrizzani, is hopeful of striking a deal that would calm nerves in West Yorkshire but three seasons at the club is already the longest time Bielsa has stayed at any club. Weekend speculation linked Leeds with Roma’s manager, Paulo Fonseca, who is likely to be free this summer and espouses a Bielsa style of play. Whatever may happen this summer, Leeds’ performance against Brighton did suggest something of a demob-happy group of players. Bielsa’s players were unusually lacking in energy in handing Graham Potter’s team a lifeline in their battle against relegation. Though Leeds players’ do have the easy excuse of a long and successful season back in the Premier League. John Brewin

Match report: Brighton 2-0 Leeds

7) Mitchell gives Hodgson hope for the future

Crystal Palace are starting to look to the future after confirming another mid-table finish in the Premier League. Their defence has generally been made up of experienced players the wrong side of 30, rarely filling anyone watching with much confidence. Fifty-four goals conceded in 32 matches before City’s visit will have been more than Roy Hodgson wanted, so he decided to give Tyrick Mitchell the chance to shine at left-back in place of the Dutch international Patrick van Aanholt. The 21-year-old acquitted himself extremely well against an exciting Manchester City forward line, putting in a fine block to prevent Raheem Sterling from opening the scoring. Mitchell looked confident throughout and deserving of his chance to play in the Premier League, now it is for Hodgson to persevere with the defender for the remainder of the campaign to give him a platform to build on next season. Will Unwin

Match report: Crystal Palace 0-2 Manchester City

8) Leicester get that familiar sinking feeling

Shortly after Leicester arrived at St Mary’s on Friday, James Maddison and Marc Albrighton pretended to practise their putting skills on the green turf but, after leaving Southampton with what amounted to a double bogey, they find themselves in a familiar position. Brendan Rodgers is not one to outwardly show his frustration but was clearly irked at his side’s failure to extend their advantage over the teams chasing a Champions League berth. At this stage last season they relinquished their place in the top four after losing three of their final four matches. Their game at home to Newcastle on Friday feels hugely significant given they then face Manchester United, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur, with an FA Cup final sandwiched between those matches. It looks set to be another nerve-jangling climax. Ben Fisher

Match report: Southampton 1-1 Leicester

Brendan Rodgers
Leicester’s performance at Southampton will have caused some anxiety for Brendan Rodgers. Photograph: Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP

9) Alli still a shadow of former self

The sight of Dele Alli in a Tottenham shirt was arresting, not least because of his hairband. When José Mourinho arrived in November 2019, Alli was highlighted as a project player, only to be swiftly consigned to the sidelines. Ryan Mason, Alli’s one-time midfield partner, restored Alli to the starting lineup for only the third time in the Premier League this season. A change of scenery had looked the most likely means to revive a flagging career, rather like Jesse Lingard, Alli’s teammate at the 2018 World Cup, and his West Ham loan. Mason offered a late-season chance to show Alli has something to offer when he is still only 25 and bound to a Spurs contract until 2024. But, as Gareth Bale scored a hat-trick, there were few signs of his former self, someone who once formed a triumvirate with Son Heung-min and Harry Kane, and he was by no means a junior partner. John Brewin

Match report: Tottenham 4-0 Sheffield United

10) Tavernier an asset Rangers will want to retain

James Tavernier cost Rangers only £200,000 from Wigan in 2015. Since then he has become a mainstay in Steven Gerrard’s side, captaining the club to their first Scottish Premiership title in a decade. He has shown fine leadership but his performances at full-back have been equally important, not to mention the 11 goals he has scored and nine assists provided in their triumphant season. Against Celtic he repeatedly put in dangerous crosses for strikers who struggled to convert; if they had shown more composure the victory margin could have doubled. His delivery at set pieces and in open play will bring interest in the summer, as he is one of the best attacking full-backs in Britain. Rangers will hope Tavernier will want to continue at Ibrox and keep building on their recent successes. At the very least, he will cost teams a lot more than the original outlay six years ago. Will Unwin

Source The Guardian

EltasZone Sportswriters, Sports Analysts, Opinion columnists, editorials and op-eds. Analysis from The Zone Team
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