Premier League hits and misses: Man Utd impress, Liverpool better, Tottenham's new star
Liverpool's 'fab three' show their elite status as Anthony Martial maintains Man Utd's upward surge and Spurs find a new star...
Last Updated: 26/06/20 9:03am
"A big performance," said Gary Neville on co-commentary of Anthony Martial's best night in a Manchester United shirt as he tore through Sheffield United with a hat-trick - the first of his career.
This was the Martial that all United fans want to see week in, week out. He looked sharp, creative and, most importantly, found his ruthlessness in front of goal to take his tally for the season to 14 in the Premier League - a very healthy return. Now he needs to go to the next level.
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It was a point picked up by Graeme Souness. "Sometimes Martial seems to hide his talent and not look interested, but he was tonight - maybe he needs to score early in every game he plays to stay interested," said the Sky Sports pundit.
Martial has the perfect poacher to learn from. His boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer made a career out of scoring goals like Martial's first two from close range. That is where the United boss wants Martial to do his business.
"I'm happy for him," said Solskjaer. "The first two he's in the box ready. We've worked a lot with him about his movement in there and his patience in there. He's a quality player as he can drop out and get some touches, but in the box is where you score the goals. The third is great combination play and a great finish. Today Anthony was very efficient."
Now the challenge is to prove it was not a one-off.
Liverpool's last two games have underlined Mohamed Salah's enduring importance to Jurgen Klopp's side. The Egyptian was sorely missed in Sunday's goalless draw with Everton at Goodison Park, with Liverpool uncharacteristically blunt in the final third in his absence, but they were transformed by his return for the 4-0 thrashing of Crystal Palace.
The speed and attacking thrust he brings to their right flank cannot be replicated and he looked eager to make up for lost time at Anfield. His goal, from Fabinho's lofted pass, was clinically taken, and came from the kind of darting run in behind that Liverpool simply were not making against Everton.
Salah was relentless right up until the final whistle, racing onto loose balls and charging into the Crystal Palace box at every opportunity, but his slide-rule pass to set up Sadio Mane's goal showed the other, subtler side of his game. It is now 17 Premier League goals and seven assists for him this season.
The numbers are relatively modest by his remarkable standards, but any criticism of his contribution over the course of the season is harsh in the extreme. Only Kevin De Bruyne has a higher combined total of goals and assists.
Liverpool, finally on the brink of the Premier League title they have waited so long far, just are not the same when he is not there.
If Manchester City fail to beat Chelsea on Thursday, then Sky Sports will be on air with a Liverpool title winners special show on Sky Sports Main Event and Sky Sports News from 10pm.
It is not the first time I have written in praise of Giovani Lo Celso in this feature, and it most likely will not be the last.
The Argentinian showed supreme intelligence on the ball throughout Spurs' 2-0 win over West Ham, but also a tireless attitude that will put him in Jose Mourinho's good books.
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He epitomises the Mourinho midfielder; clever, but most importantly, tireless in both halves. He ran 11.4km on Tuesday night, more than any other Spurs player.
Lo Celso's other statistics show why he was man of the match, head and shoulders above his team-mates; he had 116 touches (1st), 65 touches in the opposition half (1st), 84 successful passes (1st), won the ball back 13 times (1st) and made three key passes (1st).
In Spurs' midfield at least, he is slowly becoming the first name on the Spurs teamsheet.
Leicester's blank against Brighton means they have now failed to score in four of their last six Premier League games - as many as they had in their previous 26 games in the competition beforehand.
It has not been a tough run of fixtures either with four of those coming against teams in the battle for relegation. The point against the Seagulls was perhaps a fortunate one, too, with Neal Maupay fluffing his lines from the penalty spot. It was not until James Maddison moved into a more central position behind Jamie Vardy in the final 15 minutes that Leicester started to resemble the team we have seen previously through the majority of this season. That said, they still failed to create a gilt-edged chance.
Brendan Rodgers' team look to have enough points in the bag to see their Champions League qualification through. Seven or more points from their seven remaining games should do it. In this type of form, they are stumbling over the line.
Only two games back from the three-month break, and all-but two teams have already dropped points as they shake off an understandable level of rust. The two to come through unscathed are Manchester City, which should be no surprise to anyone, and Wolves.
Nuno Espirito Santo's side have had to deal with their own fatigue issues, and managed only two shots on target against lowly Bournemouth on Wednesday night, but that was all it needed as they ground out victory to keep on the coat tails of Manchester United in the race for Champions League qualification.
Where other sides find it tough going, Wolves instead find a way through - and with Raul Jimenez now up to 15 for the season, and Adama Traore to nine assists, continue to show they can display a clinical touch to get them over the line, even when it is not pretty.
Ahead of a tough July, with Arsenal, Sheffield United, Everton and Chelsea to face, getting points on the board early gives Nuno's men a real chance of playing top-tier European football for the first time since 1960.
Everton have been thinking big and spending big in recent years, but consistency has been their biggest problem in their bid to challenge at the top end of the table. Several wrinkles need to be ironed out.
Their hard-fought 1-0 win at Norwich means they remain four points off seventh, and Carlo Ancelotti admitted afterwards that he has not given up hope of gate-crashing the race for Europa League football next season.
"We need to have a goal, to have motivation, and this would be a fantastic achievement to reach. It will be difficult, the teams above us aren't too far but we have to run fast," he said.
Everton became only the third Premier League team to take points off Liverpool last weekend, and they have most certainly made progress under Ancelotti.
Since the Italian took charge, they have only lost one of their seven Premier League games against opponents starting the day in the bottom half - but with fixtures against Leicester, Tottenham, Sheffield United and Wolves still to come, their fate remains in their own hands.
Aston Villa showed plenty of fighting spirit as Ahmed Elmohamady's late goal rescued what could prove to be a crucial point at Newcastle in their fight for Premier League survival.
However, they are going to need a bit more than fight if they are to beat the drop with games against Wolves, Liverpool, Manchester United, Everton and Arsenal ahead.
Dean Smith's side have now picked up just two points from the last 21 available in the Premier League (P7 W0 D2 L5), though they have avoided defeat on the road for the first time in four games with the 1-1 draw at St James' Park.
Led by Jack Grealish, Villa played well against Newcastle and for a lot of the match were the better side. And while Smith revealed he "had a bit of a pop" at Erzi Konsa for the defensive error that led to Dwight Gayle's goal, he should also take a look at their finishing in front of goal.
"You can't account for a mistake. Ezri's gone to sleep and I've had a bit of a pop at him in the dressing room after because he needs to learn from it."
Trezeguet and Mbwana Samatta both missed gilt-edged chances in the opening 20 minutes, and, in the end, it cost Villa dear.
With time starting to run out on their top-flight status, they need to find their clinical edge in front of goal, and fast.
Sheffield United had outplayed Manchester United for the bulk of the reverse fixture but that night, Bramall Lane buzzing until the final whistle, felt like a distant memory on Wednesday. "One-sided," Chris Wilder reflected with no hesitation at a baking Old Trafford.
Wilder refused to blame the 72 hours to prepare, nor the injury and suspension issues that have rocked his high-flying side since restart. There were mitigating factors: Dean Henderson ineligible, John Egan absent after his red card and Jack O'Connell, so crucial to the Blades' attacking threat down the left, missing for the third game in a row.
The gulf in quality between two teams locked in an unlikely battle for European football is plain.
And yet something is off in Sheffield United's own game.
After sluggish performances against Aston Villa and Newcastle, there were glimpses here of old verve and familiar patterns of play. But Anthony Martial was twice afforded too much space. Tempo, aggression and intensity remain elusive for a side who have so far prided themselves on those bread-and-butter qualities. Just a single shot on target in each of their three games since the break is worrying, too.
"Physically, we're second best all over the pitch," a typically straight-talking Wilder said. "We're not stepping into people, getting close to people and when we've got the ball, we're giving it away quite cheaply. There's no rhythm and flow at the moment and we've got to find it pretty quickly. If we don't the season's going to fizzle out and I don't want that to happen."
Perhaps an FA Cup quarter-final against another beleaguered side in Arsenal will provide a springboard. Eighth in the table, and with Tottenham - just one point above them - up next, Sheffield United are still in the mix for a fairytale ending. But the challenge for now, as Wilder would put it, is to "get back to being us".
Newcastle's 1-1 draw with Aston Villa on Wednesday evening means they are now unbeaten in five Premier League games at St James' Park (W2 D3).
Villa's goal was the first they have conceded on home soil since New Years' Day against Leicester (0-3) as they continue to put points on the board following the Premier League's restart. However, the game against Villa was a missed opportunity to move further up the table.
Steve Bruce's side are in with a shout of a top-10 finish, something many probably believed unthinkable when Bruce arrived at Newcastle last summer. Do not forget there is also the small matter of an FA Cup quarter-final against Manchester City on Sunday to look forward to.
With top-flight football now all but confirmed for next season and takeover talk still in the air, Bruce and his side must take the opportunity to finish the season strongly, using the final games of the season to build some momentum towards next season.
And with constant speculation surrounding Bruce's future, a strong finish might just keep him in his job.
Lamp lights up King Power
When asked 'who did the best bit of business in the January transfer window', if you said Brighton's capture of Chelsea youngster Tariq Lamptey then I doff my cap to you. It was one that slipped under everyone's radar.
Yes, it has taken over four months for the 19-year-old to feature for his new side but judging on his debut against Leicester, Brighton may have snapped themselves up a bit of a jewel at full-back.
No wonder Frank Lampard was disappointed to lose him. Lampard described the 19-year-old as "fearless" when making his debut at Arsenal off the bench and that was the word to sum up his first Premier League start for his new club. His eagerness to impress was on show early on as he thundered bravely into a challenge with Maddison and came off with a nasty gash to his mouth.
It was a wound that many players would not have been able to shake off but Lamptey was not going to waste his opportunity. He rewarded his faith from his manager with a man-of-the-match display. The diminutive defender was at the forefront for Brighton from full-back, having more touches than any of his team-mates and looked to be positive with every opportunity to roam forward. Defensively, he was near faultless too, quelling the threat of Ben Chilwell with ease.
It has been a long and arduous season for Daniel Farke's Norwich, a side who have been described as the best-worst outfit in Premier League history and now almost certain to be playing Championship football next season.
Farke called on his players to win five of their remaining nine games ahead of back-to-back home fixtures with Southampton and Everton, but their failure to collect a single point has pushed them closer to the precipice.
Norwich only produced one shot on target for the second straight game, and the German appeared resigned to his fate after his side's 20th defeat of the season, decided in a familiar manner.
Everton have scored more goals from corners than any other team in the Premier League this term (10), while Norwich have conceded the most in this fashion (10).
"It's not realistic to stay in this league, like it's not realistic to win the FA Cup but we're going to try," Farke said.
"We were not an offensive threat today and there were no fireworks but it won't mean the next game we have to then be more offensive. The first step has to be to create a solid defence, but we know at this level we need to be outstanding to get points."
Sadly for Norwich, the required quality was once again missing.