theScore examines the most important Premier League developments by answering 10 key questions that arose from this weekend’s slate of action.
Were United too predictable vs. Bournemouth?
Manchester United lost 1-0 on Saturday against Bournemouth at the Vitality Stadium, and, for the hosts, dealing with the Red Devils’ biggest threats was a facile endeavor.
A look at United’s heat map at the half (right side) indicates an attack heavily skewed to the right. With Daniel James’ hot start and Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s desire to get forward, it’s an understandable approach. It’s also one that’s easier to defend.
James was United’s best attacker on the day and Bournemouth left-back Diego Rico had fits dealing with the Welshman. But it was all too predictable; too few diagonals to switch play and little in the way of creativity from an underwhelming midfield.
Why are Arsenal so poor at protecting leads?
Short answer: Unai Emery. For the third time in a week, Arsenal surrendered a lead, dropping two points Saturday in a 1-1 draw with Wolves. Dull, dire, and defensively feeble.
The result was peak Emery; star forwards fashioning opportunities from nothing, few chances created elsewhere, and a goal conceded thanks to poor defending. One good way to avoid surrendering leads is by outscoring opponents. It’s hard to see that happening when you’re outshot 25 to 10 at home.
Wolves weren’t much better, though Emery set his charges up to attack on the counter, a perplexing decision that invited pressure. Heck, at least he used his final change at 1-1 to swap right-backs instead of bringing on Nicolas Pepe. Fourteen points from the top, 12 from the bottom. Brutal.
What’s gone wrong at Norwich City?
In the wake of a defeat to Brighton, Norwich City have lost five of six, recorded just one point away from Carrow Road, and are without a victory since the shock result against Manchester City on Sept. 14. What’s gone wrong?
A slew of injuries haven’t helped, and that’s as good a reason as any for why they look so tired. “We have to try to climb Mount Everest at the moment without any tools, ” manager Daniel Farke said last week, according to Tom Prentki of The Telegraph.
There are other reasons, too. Farke’s preference for buccaneering football can leave gaps exposed, and Teemu Pukki, after starting the season in brilliant form, has gone six matches without a goal thanks to a dearth of service.
How much do Manchester City miss Sane?
Remember Leroy Sane? The fleet-footed German has receded into near-anonymity among Manchester City’s star-studded squad since damaging his ACL in the Community Shield. Even with a pantry packed with talent, City miss the 23-year-old German.
Sane is City’s most direct player, best suited for roasting defenders one-on-one. Both Bernardo Silva and Riyad Mahrez can beat defenders, but neither are traditional wingers in the mold of their injured teammate. If Sane was fit, he could play on the left, returning Raheem Sterling to the right side and pushing Silva into a more suitable central role alongside Kevin De Bruyne.
In the comeback win over Southampton, City had 26 shots to the Saints’ three, 75% possession, and 17 corners to their opponents’ zero. Still, it took two goals in the final 20 minutes. It happens. Sane’s inclusion could help, and a potential January return will make City more of a threat. Pep Guardiola is blessed with options.
Could Ake’s development prompt an Oranje change?
Bournemouth center-back Nathan Ake’s showing against United was stellar. Ake did more than hoof balls away from danger in marshaling attacks into less threatening positions, displaying an ever-growing technical acuity.
For manager Eddie Howe, the double pivot of Philip Billing and Jefferson Lerma lessens the need for depth at the defensive midfield position, but for the Netherlands, Ake’s progression could signal a position change.
With no chance of usurping Virgil van Dijk or Matthijs de Ligt, Ake’s future for the Oranje could be as a midfielder, especially when Ronald Koeman opts for a 4-2-3-1 featuring Frenkie de Jong and Marten de Roon. Drop De Roon, insert Ake, and allow De Jong to play a free role highlighted by penetrative runs forward.
Is Mousset’s form enough to keep the Blades sharp?
Sheffield United striker Lys Mousset became the first player in the Premier League this season to provide a treble of assists in guiding the Blades to a comprehensive 3-0 win over Burnley.
Mousset’s touch and movement set up both of John Lundstram’s goals, and the Frenchman’s slick through-ball for John Fleck made it 3-0. Might Mousset be enough to keep the relegation favorites up?
A lack of attacking options with top-tier resumes was cited as a reason why the Blades would go down, but with Mousset in form, and the rest of the team firing under Chris Wilder, that’s now eight points from a potential 12 in their last four league affairs. Sheffield United have climbed to sixth in the table. Next up: Spurs and Manchester United.
Could Liverpool’s slow starts come back to bite them?
Including Saturday’s win over Aston Villa, Liverpool have headed into the break in a losing position during four straight domestic outings. Jurgen Klopp’s charges have gone on to win all four matches.
In their last six in all competitions, Liverpool’s final goal came in the 95th minute (Leicester), 85th (Manchester United), 87th (Genk), 75th (Tottenham), 94th (Arsenal), and 94th (Aston Villa). Against Villa, the Reds scored twice after the 87th minute to maintain an unbeaten campaign.
Before scoring the winner, Sadio Mane was uncharacteristically poor, and the midfield did little to compensate for a strangely drab attack. Still, winning when you’re not at your best is a bigger indicator of Liverpool’s virtues than how they go about doing so.
Should the offside rule be changed?
Simply put, yes.
Forget the widespread concerns over VAR for a minute – we’ve opined plenty on that, anyway. Correct as the now-infamous offside call against Roberto Firmino may have been, according to the rulebook, it’s probably time to rethink the laws of the game when armpits start factoring into the equation.
Offside by an armpit. What a time to be alive.
What does Ayoze Perez do, exactly?
Leicester City are flying high, taking full advantage of the failings of some perennial contenders to thrust themselves into third place with Sunday’s win over Crystal Palace. This is no fluke, either. The Foxes are for real.
They have fashioned a vibrant squad built largely of exciting young players; the bulk of their recent transfer dealings have been home runs. It’s that success rate which makes the summer signing of Ayoze Perez all the more curious. Leicester forked over £30 million to activate the release clause in the striker’s Newcastle contract, and the returns have yet to merit the outlay.
Perez has scored three goals in 10 league appearances this season – all of which came in the wild outlier that was the 9-0 win over Southampton – and he’s contributing fewer than two shots per 90 minutes. Already firmly in the mix to be considered the third-best team in England this year, how much better would Leicester be if they hadn’t splashed £30 million on an attacker who has never proven particularly adept at filling up the stat sheet?
What to make of the Everton-Tottenham match?
Sunday’s 1-1 draw between Everton and Tottenham was strange and upsetting for multiple reasons, none more so than the horrific injury suffered by Andre Gomes. The Portuguese midfielder was stretchered off after appearing to break his leg through the combination of a Heung-min Son tackle, awkward fall, and collision with Serge Aurier.
Son, who was shown a red card, was visibly distraught upon seeing Gomes on the ground, and left the pitch in tears.
The match itself, meanwhile, was putrid. There were 11 total shots. A dismal first half at Goodison Park saw two teams totally devoid of any attacking ideas. Worse still, neither looked particularly bothered about it.
The hosts went into the contest two points above the relegation zone. Spurs need something, anything, to get their season back on track. Forgive the rah-rah nature of this point, but, both teams should have been fired up for this.
Instead, the weekend’s final fixture was completely flaccid for 45 minutes.
The second stanza was marred by an impossibly long VAR review before the aforementioned injury, giving the entire contest a strange, eery aura. The sooner we all strike it from our collective memory, the better.