Gerrard’s emotional return ends in defeat

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Steven Gerrard received a standing ovation from Liverpool fans on his return to Anfield as Aston Villa manager.

“I appreciate the support and the bond that I have with the Liverpool fans,” Gerrard told Sky Sports after Aston Villa’s 1-0 defeat to Liverpool at Anfield. The result was not what he wanted but the reception was special for him and his family.

As he pointed out, it is not just the 17 years that he spent as a Liverpool first-team player. This is a story that began when he was eight years old and may yet have many chapters still to come if his career plan works out. Memories are everywhere for him at Anfield.

Glance to his right and he could envisage the strike against Olympiakos that made Liverpool’s Istanbul miracle possible. Glance to his left and he might recall the left-footed volley against Levski Sofia that sparked his touchline embrace with Gerard Houllier.

Houllier returned here as Aston Villa manager just over a decade ago and waved to the Kop – a move that was badly received among the travelling support. Gerrard had clearly been wary of painting himself as a Liverpool manager-in-waiting on his own return.

“I wanted to handle it in the most professional way for me and for Aston Villa.” In truth, while there was good feeling before and after the game, it was the action that took centre-stage, chants for Gerrard soon being drowned out by chants of Liverpool early on.

There had been pointed applause for the Aston Villa supporters before acknowledging the Kop. Thereafter, Gerrard’s focus was on his team and he set his side up well, limiting Liverpool to half-chances while the game was goalless as they defended bravely.

He left it late before sending on Danny Ings and Emiliano Buendia and there was a tinge of regret that he had not taken it to Liverpool earlier, but it was probably the right call. A gung-ho approach against Jurgen Klopp’s team rarely works out well for the opposition.

The emphasis on organisation made sense but one moment of quality proved the difference. Mings was three-quarters of the way towards the man-of-the-match award. But on an afternoon when Gerrard had a number of special moments, Salah needed only one.
Adam Bate

Salah’s penalties are part of his greatness

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Liverpool’s win against Aston Villa

As the trend to look to statistics becomes ever more popular, it has become customary to use non-penalty goals data because it removes the advantage of being a nominated penalty-taker when comparing two players. But penalties are still hugely important.

Mohamed Salah has scored 15 of them in a row in the Premier League for Liverpool. That is a record only bettered by the former Southampton penalty expert Matt Le Tissier. While other clubs have had their problems from the spot, Salah is proving reliable.

Against Aston Villa, it was not even an opportunity gifted to him by the work of others. He won the penalty himself, stealing ahead of Tyrone Mings in front of the Kop to relieve the tension at Anfield after the opposition had stifled the home side for over an hour.

The penalty award sparked wild celebrations but Jurgen Klopp did not join in. “I hate that people start celebrating that moment,” he said. “There is still a possible goalkeeper save and I am really happy that we think it has the exact same importance of every other goal.

“There are goals during a season that are much easier than a penalty, scored from two yards from a square ball or whatever, so if somebody says they don’t count the same then I don’t understand it, they count exactly the same and they should always.”

It was his second Premier League penalty of the season, taking his goal tally to 14, well clear of any other player in the competition. Even without them, he has scored three more than anyone else. But, as Klopp pointed out, with Salah, it is all part of the package.
Adam Bate

Questions remain over Aubameyang’s absence

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Arsenal’s win against Southampton

After the game question after question came for Mikel Arteta from journalists wanting to get more information on Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s absence after Arteta had revealed his captain had been dropped over a ‘disciplinary breach’.

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Ahead of Arsenal’s match against Southampton, Mikel Arteta reveals that captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has been dropped from the matchday squad because of a breach of discipline.

But Arteta refused to give anything away.

Arteta said: “He had a disciplinary breach, that applies to everybody. That’s a non-negotiable and when that happens, he’s out of the team. Whatever happens in the dressing room, I cannot share. I am sorry. I’m telling you the reason, I cannot lie, it was that, this is where I stand. From my side, I will never [say what the breach was.]”

However, there are plenty of questions that remain unanswered as the speculation mounts on Aubameyang’s future at Arsenal after his latest disciplinary breach at the club.

Will the Arsenal skipper be available for that game? Is he still the Arsenal captain? Is there a problem between Arteta and Aubameyang?

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Mikel Arteta was very happy with his side’s performance in the 3-0 win over Southampton, but the Gunners manager was not interested in discussing Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s disciplinary situation.

When asked if Aubameyang’s absence was for one game and whether he’ll be back for West Ham, Arteta gave a hint he would be back in the squad with a nod, but when asked about the captaincy, the Spaniard reiterated: “Let’s talk about the game, thank you so much.”

There will be more questions to come for Arteta regarding his captain, starting with his pre-match press conference early next week before the game against the Hammers, and Arteta may have to come up with the answers if he wants to avoid any further distractions in the build-up to what is a huge game for the Gunners in the race to qualify for the Champions League.
Oliver Yew

Two PL wins, but a mixed bag for Rangnick

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Manchester United’s win against Norwich

After a fairly impressive victory against Crystal Palace in Ralf Rangnick’s first Premier League game, some were hailing his arrival as a new era at Manchester United. The 4-2-2-2 was going to be the way forward and lo and behold, Cristiano Ronaldo could fit into a pressing system.

The midweek draw against Young Boys was an anomaly – a completely new XI filled with fringe and youth players was the ideal chance for Rangnick to get to know his squad, but did little to tell us how United had progressed thus far under the interim coach.

Saturday’s match against Norwich was another chance for a study of Rangnick’s United. The regular first team starters had a week with no football and time to work more in-depth with the manager – but the results were not as encouraging as some would have hoped.

For large parts of the game, Manchester United were outplayed by a team bottom of the Premier League table. Norwich certainly had more heart and fight, and were only denied deserved points by an inspired David de Gea.

United looked lethargic, with their star players failing to shine. Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford and Ronaldo ranked as the top three for possession lost, Fernandes doing so a worrying 27 times. Jadon Sancho again looked out of place as he continues to struggle since his summer move.

Sky Sports’ Gary Neville said: “It was lethargic from minute one. On the ball they were so sloppy it’s untrue. They gave it away so many times it was unbelievable.

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Gary Neville claims Manchester United were lucky to beat Norwich in the Premier League and suggested Ralf Rangnick’s players were too sloppy in possession and disappointing in defence

“The big mystery for me was why Manchester United were so lacking in energy. I thought they would be a lot better than that, particularly with the fact those players out on the pitch have had a free week to prepare for this match.

“So it’s a little bit of a mystery in terms of today’s game. We’ll know a little bit more after Tuesday’s game, as will Ralf Rangnick. He’s still finding out about his players.”

But there are positives. It’s a third successive victory and Rangnick has continued his perfect start in the league. United also kept another clean sheet, showing that the German has already had an impact on a defensive unit that was in disarray just a few weeks ago.

Rangnick says he wants more intensity from his side, and it’s hard to disagree. Better sides than Norwich will easily pick up points against United if improvements are not made soon.
Charlotte Marsh

Chelsea get the result but not the performance

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Chelsea’s win against Leeds

Fortune certainly shone on Chelsea here. Thomas Tuchel’s side may have got back on the winning trail but there seems some underlying problems the manager needs to sort if they are going to keep up with Liverpool and Manchester City in the title race – in both attack and defence.

Chelsea have now conceded eight goals across their last three games in all competitions, as many as in their previous 18. Even the usually unflappable Thiago Silva looked a little bit chaotic in his defending and when Cesar Azpilicueta was replaced, he looked like a defender that had been given the run around. There is a feeling Ben Chilwell’s presence down the left is also being missed with Marcos Alonso always liable for a mistake at a key moment, as shown by the opening goal.

Leeds were good value for their two goals scored.

It was in attack where Chelsea really failed to hit their usual heights. Timo Werner was marked out of things by Stuart Dallas down the left while Kai Havertz still looks very raw and lacks the presence needed to lead the line for a title-chasing side. Chance creation figures were low, too. If you take out the penalties, Chelsea only created an expected goals tally of 1.2 – their third lowest total of the season at Stamford Bridge. Leeds goalkeeper Illan Meslier didn’t have much to do other than picking the ball out of his net three times. If it wasn’t for some horrendous decision making from Leeds players inside the box, then Chelsea wouldn’t have left with maximum points. Improvement is required if a serious title challenge is to be mounted.
Lewis Jones

Has the bar been set too low on VAR?

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Manchester City’s win against Wolves

This was attack vs defence for 90 minutes, and few could begrudge a Man City victory given their dominance, but the VAR decisions at the Etihad were puzzling

After setting a ludicrously high bar in its inception in the Premier League, has the bar now been set too low for VAR?

Before half-time, a Max Kilman handball in the box – the Wolves defender leaned into a Jack Grealish cross, with his just out from his body – went unpunished and seemingly without proper review. Wolves got lucky.

And it was far more of a handball than the actual penalty award, an inconclusive incident in which a Bernardo Silva cross seemingly hit the armpit of Joao Moutinho.

Add to that an “undeserved” initial yellow card for Raul Jimenez before he was sent off, and the result was a very unhappy Bruno Lage.

The image of VAR has undoubtedly improved this season – there seems to be less detective work over marginal decisions, and the flow of games has improved – but if we’re in the business of getting calls correct, one fears we may have gone too far the other way.

It begs the question: What’s the point?
Gerard Brand

Norwich must use their tools for survival

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Norwich manager Dean Smith claimed that he was disappointed by the standard of refereeing in their 1-0 defeat to Manchester United and suggested the United players were too influential in decisions

Norwich did not deserve their defeat against Manchester United. In the second half especially, they had by far the better chances and play, but could not find a way past an in-form David de Gea.

They showed the heart and grit you need for a Premier League relegation battle. Despite losing their captain Grant Hanley early on to a shoulder injury, they did not let it affect them and managed to keep United at bay defensively – penalty aside, of course.

But perhaps their biggest issue remains converting their chances. Yes, De Gea made some incredible saves, but there were also chances Norwich should have scored. Teemu Pukki, Billy Gilmour and Ozan Kabak were just a few of the players to go close, but they remain with just eight Premier League goals this season.

In a relegation battle that could come down to goal difference, Norwich are on minus 24. If Burnley and Newcastle win this weekend, they could move themselves out of the bottom three, leaving the Canaries adrift at the bottom.

But it was arguably one of their performances of the campaign so far and Norwich have all the tools to beat the drop – now they just need to take them into their games going forward.
Charlotte Marsh

Bees have backbone to beat drop

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Brentford’s win against Watford

Brentford’s concerns would have started turning into genuine anxiety had Watford hung onto victory on Friday Night Football.

It would have left them with one win in nine, potentially four points above the bottom three and with Manchester United, Manchester City and Aston Villa to come in their next five games.

With David Raya, Ethan Pinnock, Kristoffer Ajer, Sergi Canos and Ivan Toney all missing too, it would be difficult not to worry for their threadbare squad.

But the manner with which the Bees dragged themselves to victory in the final six minutes, to jump 10 points clear of the drop, for now, defies technical ability or tactics.

It was a victory built on mindset, never-say-die attitude and self-belief. With a quarter of an hour to go, Bryan Mbeumo’s first-half curler was the only time the Bees had really tested Daniel Bachmann. 15 minutes later, they had beaten him twice.

“I don’t think everything was fantastic today,” said an honest Thomas Frank at full-time. “But the mentality from the players was fantastic.”

That mentality, as much as the five missing players, will be what sees Brentford extend their Premier League stay into a second year. Because on the evidence of their comeback character, they won’t be heading back to the Championship.
Ron Walker

Troost-Ekong typifies Watford’s lack of composure

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Jamie Carragher says Watford are strong in attack but thinks they are currently the worst team in the Premier League at defending

When William Troost-Ekong lunged in on Saman Ghoddos in the depths of stoppage time at the Brentford Community Stadium on Friday night, it was inevitable what would happen next.

“You just can’t make challenges like that in the box,” said Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher afterwards. “In this day and age, with VAR, you’re not going to get away with it.”

By then, of course, Bryan Mbeumo’s penalty had wrapped up a sensational comeback for the hosts, consigning Watford to a deflating defeat which heightens their relegation fears.

Troost-Ekong’s panicked tackle proved costly but it was just one of many moments in which Watford lacked composure. Claudio Ranieri rued their “many mistakes” after what would have been a much-needed win, and first clean sheet of the season, slipped away.

Watford were in control of the game after Emmanuel Dennis’ first-half header but when Brentford started to crank up the pressure, their defending became ragged, and nervousness consumed them.

At the end of it all, their passing accuracy rate stood at just 57.6 per cent – the lowest by any Premier League team in any game this season. Watford can trouble the best teams in attack but without composure or control, they will keep falling short.
Nick Wright


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