PL hits & misses: Liverpool not tough enough, Ramsdale redemption
Forget the defending, Liverpool need to get tougher
Liverpool looked back to their best at the start of the season. Scoring goals, keeping clean sheets. There’s no problems in the final third but at the back things are going downhill.
Against Brighton, they took a two-goal home lead for the 250th time in the Premier League era, and for just the sixth time they did not win the game. Liverpool never looked in control against a talented Seagulls side but at 2-0, a team with their experience and desires for this season have to see the game out.
This isn’t a one-off either. The draw against Brentford last month had the same feel. Liverpool twice led, and were twice pegged back in a match where you never felt confident they would see out victory – and clearly, neither did they.
Conceding goals is one thing, but mentality is another. When Liverpool romped to the title in 2019/20 they were so strong at dealing with big moments in games, but their ability to control momentum is lacking at the moment. They don’t possess that composure and determination at this point, and even Jurgen Klopp decided against defending their mental toughness after this latest disappointment.
“It looked like bit by bit by bit we lost another player, body-language wise,” was his assessment. “Then all of a sudden it wasn’t there anymore.
“We didn’t play football anymore, we should’ve played more between the lines, and attacked the centre, which we didn’t do.”
Ramsdale another example of Arteta boldness
Mikel Arteta can’t be accused of shirking bold decisions during his time as Arsenal manager.
To name just a few: He never hesitated to drop Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette for not doing enough defensive work. He unapologetically promoted youth last season. And he was ruthless in his clearing out the deadwood at the Emirates.
You can add the signing and subsequent use of Aaron Ramsdale to that list.
Everyone raised their eyebrows in the summer – £30m for a goalkeeper who had been relegated twice, while few were complaining about Bernd Leno’s status as No 1 – but not only is the 23-year-old now Arsenal’s main man between the sticks, he might become England’s before too long.
Ramsdale made eight stops – including one save-of-the-season contender from James Maddison’s free-kick – to go along some smart distribution as he continued his fine start to the season. He’s an infectious character – “he’s full of energy in the dressing room” Arteta said afterwards – and is becoming a fan favourite, no doubt fuelled by the fact he was written off so early.
Ramsdale the brick wall
Of the goalkeepers to have faced more than two shots on target this season, only Édouard Mendy (89.7 per cent) is enjoying a higher save percentage than Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsdale (85.7 per cent), who has saved 24 of the 28 shots on target he has faced.
This was an excellent day for Arsenal and Arteta, and not just to prove the doubters wrong over Ramsdale. Speaking of Aubameyang and Lacazette, the pair gave perhaps their best display yet of defending from the front as Arsenal went to 4-4-2 without the ball. They’re fully signed up, and while Arsenal are able to keep a consistent XI, the improvement shows no sign of slowing down.
But Arteta refuses to get too comfortable, saying after the game: “We need to carry on, we haven’t done anything. We’ve won a couple of matches, we’re not where we want to be still. We ask a lot of things to improve, let’s keep humble, keep working hard and go game by game.”
Ronaldo, Cavani experience priceless for Ole
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer called for his Manchester United players to do their talking on the pitch after a week dominated by rumours, reports, and reflection off it in the aftermath of Sunday’s humbling at the hands of Liverpool.
After the proverbial eyebrows had been raised and then lowered following confirmation that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had started Cristiano Ronaldo and Edinson Cavani alongside each other in the Premier League for the first time, the veteran strikeforce answered their manager’s call.
With a combined age of 70, and a staggering combined career goals tally in excess of 1,000, it shouldn’t really have come as a surprise to see Ronaldo and Cavani spearheading United out of this most torrid of weeks.
Yes, Spurs were the most-ideal opponents for United to face on their first step to recovery and redemption, but United’s encouraging performance would have counted for nothing had the ball not found its way into the home net.
After weeks of talk on what Ronaldo cannot do, the Portuguese gave a timely reminder of his predatory instinct in front of goal as he peeled off Ben Davies to volley United emphatically into a first-half lead.
Another lethal finish followed early in the second half, only to be ruled out for offside, but Ronaldo’s telling contribution culminated in an equally exquisite assist for Cavani to put the game out of Tottenham’s reach.
Sky Sports’ Gary Neville labelled Solskjaer’s tactical switch and team selection at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium a “last throw of the dice”, one which had uncovered a “winning formula” and a path out of the storm which has engulfed Old Trafford.
When he needed it most, by luck or design, the right numbers came up for Solskjaer. After such an influential performance from Ronaldo and Cavani, it looked to be the latter.
Chelsea clear at the top and will take some stopping
Thomas Tuchel was firm as he played down the importance of Saturday’s slip-ups for Liverpool and Manchester City, following Chelsea’s 3-0 demolition of Newcastle. He insisted his side’s focus was solely on their own performance at this stage in the season and there would be no extra celebration because of results elsewhere.
But Chelsea supporters will quite rightly begin to feel confidence about their chances of reclaiming the Premier League title this season. They’ve had arguably the toughest start to the season on paper and they’re three points clear at the top. They’re going to take some stopping.
This wasn’t the first time Newcastle have been outplayed this season and it won’t be the last but there is something in the way Chelsea were able to dismantle their opponents, despite being without Romelu Lukaku, Timo Werner, Mateo Kovacic and, in a late change, Mason Mount.
It’s not just against the top teams where the title is decided. It’s also being able to put away teams like Newcastle, teams like Norwich, teams like Brighton, who frustrated Liverpool. Crystal Palace underlined the point at the Etihad.
Chelsea’s strength in depth must surely be the envy of all their rivals; their consistency could be what separates them from them. They clearly have a world-class coach and their players are full of belief after their Champions League glory at the end of last season. A lot of boxes are being ticked by the boys in blue.
It’s early days, as Tuchel says. But Chelsea are already the ones to catch.
Livramento can lead bright Saints future
Ralph Hasenhuttl directed his Southampton players to lock hands and head over to a bouncing away end at the final whistle at Vicarage Road, acknowledging how the travelling supporters had played their part in this important victory.
Saints have developed a nasty habit of dropping points from winning positions, more than any other side since the Austrian took charge (64) and that happened once more last time out at home to Burnley, resulting in a fifth draw of the season.
Against a very flat Watford, it required a superb one-handed save late on from Alex McCarthy to ensure that didn’t happen again but a point would’ve flattered Claudio Ranieri’s team.
After a harrowing first game against Liverpool, the Hornets may have thought they had turned a corner when handsomely victorious at Everton last weekend but Southampton should’ve had this game sewn up by half-time.
At 25 years and 298 days, Hasenhuttl has the third youngest average age among the Premier League’s starting XIs this term. The continued development of several young talents spearheaded by the excellent Tino Livramento suggests there’s a bright future built on attractive football at St Mary’s, if the team can achieve its full potential.
Not 19 until November 12, Livramento is the best among those talents and continues to impress at this level, becoming only the third 18-year-old in Premier League history to play 10 consecutive games.
“He will get better,” Hasenhuttl said. “When you play with 18 years at this level and in this way, then you have a big future. We’ve got an atmosphere where young players can develop really well.”
Vieira gamble paying off
Everyone at Crystal Palace needs a huge pat on the back.
From the players right up to the decision-makers at board level. To make a move from the stability of Roy Hodgson to the unknown of Patrick Vieira was a bold move in the summer.
Hodgson guaranteed survival but the club are ambitious for more and with Vieira in charge, they may hit those heights. Hodgson built his success from a strong base in defence. Vieira is doing the same but is allowing his players more freedom to push higher up the pitch – it’s a brave tactic to implement so early into a new job. However, the Arsenal legend is getting his message across.
From the first minute against the champions, Palace were thumping into challenges high up the pitch in a bid to stop the City machine at source.
Led by the effervescent Conor Gallagher, it was a ploy that worked a charm. His tenacity caused the error that sent Wilfried Zaha through on goal for the opener. Even before the sending-off on the stroke of half-time, Palace were dealing with the City threat in an organised fashion.
A spell of pressure eventually came but Vieira’s defence snapped into tackles when required and got the stroke of luck you need when you win away from home at a big team when Phil Foden’s foot was offside to deny City’s equaliser. But this was more than just a performance based on luck. Palace are going places fast under their impressive new boss.
Watford must get ‘champion’ Sarr firing again
Ismaila Sarr was demonstrably furious at being substituted last weekend with Watford’s game with Everton in the balance, but Claudio Ranieri’s side subsequently scored four goals in 12 minutes in his absence.
After the sulk, Southampton were wary of a thoroughly wound up Sarr, who had been fouled more times than any other player in the Premier League this season.
That was added to on Saturday as Saints took it in turns to halt the Senegalese from hitting his stride in the second half on another frustrating afternoon for Watford’s talisman. His early-season form has made him a target for opponents and while that has now hit the buffers with the Hornets’ fixtures about to turn, Ranieri has called for patience.
“You know with these types of players, Sarr is a champion,” the Italian head coach said. “With all champions, they have some matches which aren’t so easy.
“And then sometimes, everything they touch is then fantastic. I’m very happy with the performance of Sarr as he tried his best. Sometimes he could’ve tried a few more one-v-ones or played the right pass but that’s what happens with champions.”
It’s Arsenal up next at the Emirates Stadium, followed by Manchester United at home, Leicester away before Chelsea and Manchester City back at Vicarage Road.
Supporters who booed at the final whistle will no doubt have circled Southampton as a must-win game given that daunting run of fixtures, but having got what they deserved, Ranieri believes his side can collect points “in other ways” after this missed opportunity.
For Sarr, the prospect of facing the Premier League’s brighter lights could afford him more space but it is vital for Watford’s survival hopes they get him back firing again.
Burnley relief but more than a blip for Brentford?
At the 10th time of asking, at last – a win for Burnley. The Premier League drought is over, and not only is that their first league win of the season, but also their first at home since January.
Sean Dyche admitted afterwards he was sounding like a broken record having previously said Burnley’s performances had not been as bad as their results, and the relief was evident around Turf Moor as three first-half goals – the first time they’ve ever done that at home in the Premier League – saw off Brentford.
Thomas Frank’s side, meanwhile, may have only just tasted their first Premier League defeat on the road, but that’s now three losses on the spin and a slight cause for concern after their terrific start.
With just a home match against Norwich next Saturday before the international break, Frank will expect to stop that run and cool fears of a slide down the table, but it will require a marked improvement from their showing at Burnley – particularly defensively.
“Our normal standard of defending is normally much better than how we executed today,” said Frank. “It’s football. Burnley tried to do what they do very well, and we tried to defend it. Even when you know what they do, sometimes you concede a goal.”
Meanwhile, Alvaro Fernandez endured a difficult afternoon deputising for David Raya in goal.
With Raya out until around February or March, Fernandez will have to forget about this Premier League debut and focus on helping Brentford return to winning ways.