Premier League hits and misses: Edinson Cavani shows his value to Man Utd as Aston Villa suffer familiar defeat

Plus: Why Tottenham's top-four setback against Leeds could damage their hopes of keeping Harry Kane, and how Chelsea's comeback win over Manchester City hints at a potential title challenge in 2021/22

Cavani shows his value to Man Utd

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Manchester United's win over Aston Villa

Edinson Cavani was on the move before Fred's pass had even reached Marcus Rashford's feet. The subsequent delivery was perfect but it was only thanks to Cavani's movement, that trademark run across his man, that it ended up in the net.

Cavani's flicked header for Manchester United's third goal against Aston Villa made it eight in his last seven appearances. The striker turned 34 in February but his recent performances show little evidence of decline. Quite the opposite in fact.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has already confirmed his desire to keep Cavani beyond the end of his contract this summer and convincing him to extend his stay at Old Trafford must now be a priority.

Their win rate jumps from 55 per cent to 67 per cent when he starts and his impact at Villa Park was a reminder of his effectiveness from the bench too. Cavani has now scored five Premier League goals as a substitute - the most by a United player in a single season in the history of the competition.

Cavani gives this Manchester United side the penalty-box presence they otherwise lack but it is not just about his goals.

After his double against Roma on Thursday, Solskjaer praised him for doing "what a centre-forward should be doing both on and off the ball" and underlined the importance of his attitude towards preparation and recovery. "He's an absolute top professional and everyone in my team can learn from him," he added.

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If Cavani does stay, he is unlikely to be their only out-and-out centre-forward next season. Manchester United are one of the clubs chasing Borussia Dortmund's Erling Haaland and they have also been linked with Tottenham's Harry Kane.

But either of those players would benefit from playing alongside Cavani and they are not the only ones. The former PSG striker's influence is invaluable and his goal tally proves he has plenty left to offer at the highest level. United must try to capitalise.
Nick Wright

Death, taxes, and…

Villa suffered a 3-1 loss to Manchester United at Villa Park
Image: Villa suffered a 3-1 loss to Manchester United at Villa Park

A Manchester United win at Villa Park.

With a penalty and a defeat from a winning position to boot, there you have your hat-trick of sureties in this fixture, one Villa are sick of the sight of by now.

Villa's last win at home against United in the Premier League came in 1995 - "You can't win anything with kids" - and though they have beaten them once in the League Cup in 1999, they have led an incredible nine times since in this fixture without seeing the game through for a victory.

But Villa's general failure to hold onto a lead has suddenly become a problem, not just against United, having been stable for two-thirds of the campaign.

After 26 matches, Villa had thrown away just three points from winning positions. In the last eight games, they have thrown away 13.

Many connected with Villa would take 11th place and end the campaign now, having survived last season by the skin of their teeth.

If the season had been flipped, the feeling would be sky-high, but Villa's stuttering 2021 has left an apathetic tone around the fan base. But supporters must show perspective going into an important summer, where squad depth should be a priority, and judge the season on 38 games, not the last 12 without their key man in Jack Grealish.
Gerard Brand

Young guns shine bright again

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Arsenal's win against West Brom in the Premier League

It's been a gloomy few days for Arsenal after their disastrous Europa League exit last Thursday.

The pressure has been building on Mikel Arteta, but the win against West Brom is certain to provide some light relief for the Gunners boss, especially with standout performances from young guns Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe yet again.

The two young Englishmen have been described as 'the future of the club' by Arteta and they showed once again in the 3-1 win on Sunday that they will have key roles to play in any rebuild at the Emirates Stadium.

Arsenal's squad is likely to look very different next season, if Arteta is to be believed following his comments ahead of the West Brom game, but Saka, Smith Rowe, and Gabriel Martinelli and Kieran Tierney will be vital players for the club if they are to bounce back next season.

Going forwards we know Saka is a threat, he gives you something unique. He adapted. We believed we were going to attack against them and he gave us a lot of joy.
Mikel Arteta on Saka's performance

There is no getting away from the disappointment of their European exit nor the disappointing league position, which is not of the standard expected by Arsenal

It's clear to see investment is needed in a squad that has struggled for huge parts of the season, however, if Arsenal fans need something to cling onto after an extremely difficult season, it is Saka and Smith Rowe, who continue to shine bright in what has been dark times for the north London club.
Oliver Yew

Can Everton match Calvert-Lewin's progress?

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Everton's win against West Ham

On the final blow of referee Stuart Attwell's whistle, Dominic Calvert-Lewin slumped onto his back. The striker had run himself into the ground, and in front of the watching England assistant manager Steve Holland, had given a clinic in hold-up play for his side. Such has been his rise this term, there was little surprise his 21st goal of the season decided a contest high on quality but low on clear-cut chances.

Much was made of Ollie Watkins coming out on top in their battle last weekend at Goodison Park, but on the day the Aston Villa striker saw red against Manchester United, this was a reminder of who remains best-placed to be Harry Kane's understudy at Euro 2020.

"It was a tough shift," he told Sky Sports. "We went 1-0 up and we had a few chances but mainly sat behind the ball, dug in, worked hard and came away with the three points. It wasn't pretty today but with the effort we put in, we deserved the three points in the end.

"I think every game is getting more important from now until the end of the season, so we simply have to keep believing and go into every game trying to win. This game is gone now. We have taken three points and we go onto the next one with the same intensity, the same attitude."

Calvert-Lewin has scored 16 league goals this season; the joint-most by an English player for Everton in a single Premier League campaign (along with Tony Cottee in 1993-94).

Indeed, Romelu Lukaku is the only player to have netted more in a Premier League season for the Toffees (18 in 2015-16 and 25 in 2016-17).

With Everton looking to wind down the clock in the closing stages, Joshua King was guilty on more than one occasion of choosing the wrong pass, wasteful too with a glorious chance presented to him by Calvert-Lewin. The striker thrashed at his thighs in frustration. It was another indication of the raised standards in a player going places. The question now is whether Everton can move along with him.
Ben Grounds

West Ham losing nerve at crucial time

West Ham manager David Moyes admits it will be difficult for them to secure a top-four finish following the 1-0 defeat to Everton

It remains only a matter of time before Manchester City are crowned Premier League champions, but West Ham are still sensing their own success story. That said, this was not the right time to register consecutive home defeats for the first time since December 2019.

David Moyes admitted the 1-0 defeat to Everton could have cost them a Champions League place, with the Hammers five points outside the top four with three matches to play.

Moyes watched his side dominate possession after Dominic Calvert-Lewin's 23rd-minute strike but lacked the guile to break down a stubborn Everton defence.

"I was pleased with the players, for long parts we controlled the game but we didn't have the difference up front," said Moyes.

Michail Antonio looks dejected at the final whistle
Image: Michail Antonio looks dejected at the final whistle

"We gave them the goal. It was terrible defending, we were too easy to score against. We have done well but when you are really competing at the top you have got to be switched on all the time.

"I think because we have lost today defeat might be costly, but you never know in football. If we qualify for Europe I think it would be an incredible achievement, no matter which competition it is."

West Ham were last seen on the continent five years ago, and it did not last long - only reaching the Europa League play-off round at the start of the 2016/17 season.

Having run their top-four contenders close throughout the second half of this season, there would be an understandable disappointment if they were to miss out on Europe altogether.
Ben Grounds

Pereira shows Premier League quality

Matheus Pereira fires home to reduce West Brom's deficit at the Emirates
Image: Matheus Pereira scored his 10th Premier League goal of the season

West Brom are going down but Matheus Pereira surely isn't.

The Brazilian was instrumental in the Baggies' promotion from the Championship in 2019/20 but, having now demonstrated his considerable quality in the top flight, there are bound to be clubs trying to keep him there this summer.

Even West Brom boss Sam Allardyce admitted it is unlikely he will be at the club next season.

When asked if West Brom can keep Pereira for another year, he said: "Probably not. I hope I am not speaking out of turn.

"It is not my responsibility or my decision. I'd have a say in it perhaps. But I think in the position the club is in, they will find it very difficult if the right offer comes in to keep a player of his quality."

West Brom will not let him go easily and they are entitled to hold out for a big fee. The 25-year-old has been outstanding in difficult circumstances. His scintillating solo goal at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday took him to 10 in the Premier League this season.

It is more than Sadio Mane and Riyad Mahrez have managed and it makes him the first West Brom player to reach double figures in the competition since Saido Berahino back in 2014/15. On top of the goals, there have been five assists. Without him, West Brom's relegation would have been confirmed weeks ago.

Arsenal struggled to get a handle on him on Sunday. In fact, Pereira was inches away from giving West Brom the lead when his stunning long-range effort flew inches wide of Bernd Leno's right-hand post in the first half.

Perhaps it would have been a different game had that shot crept in. But while West Brom's fate is sealed, Pereira has surely done enough to save himself from the drop.
Nick Wright

A huge setback for Spurs

It's the hope that kills you and after what has been an extremely difficult season for Tottenham, they were given a glimmer of hope on Friday evening with Newcastle's victory at Leicester.

It pushed open the door to Champions League football for interim boss Ryan Mason and his side, who could have gone two points behind fourth-placed Chelsea and four behind third-placed Leicester with victory at Leeds.

However, Mason's side spurned a golden opportunity to put pressure on the sides above them, turning in a rather lacklustre display at Elland Road.

They failed to match Leeds' intensity and it proved crucial as Spurs lost a fifth away defeat in 2021, more than they suffered throughout the whole of 2020 (W6 D7 L4).

Now, Spurs' Champions League hopes are hanging by a thread and they will almost certainly be looking over their shoulders with games against Wolves, Aston Villa and Leicester to come.

European football could go down as far as seventh, but with Everton, Arsenal, and now Leeds, fighting to finish as high as they can, Mason has a huge job to make sure Spurs' season does not end with a whimper.

What has already been a poor season by Spurs' standards, could end disastrously if they fail to secure any European football whatsoever and it could be the difference between keeping a certain Harry Kane.
Oli Yew

Chelsea: Premier League title contenders 2021/22?

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Chelsea's win against Manchester City

First they ended the Quadruple dream. Then they delayed the title party. Will they shatter Manchester City's Champions League hopes on May 29, too?

Chelsea will be going for a hat-trick of wins over City in Istanbul later this month but, as Thomas Tuchel rightly pointed out, we should not link Chelsea's comeback win at the Etihad too strongly with the Champions League final.

After all, City made nine changes for Saturday's match. Kevin De Bruyne was not even in the squad. On Chelsea's side, Mason Mount, Thiago Silva, and Ben Chilwell are all likely to start the final.

But these back-to-back wins over City and, more importantly, Chelsea's improvement since Tuchel took charge is certainly enough evidence for us to start to consider whether the west London side could well be City's strongest challengers in the Premier League next season.

Liverpool, with Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez fit, will be back in contention. Manchester United - especially if they invest again this summer - should step up a level, too. But it seems certain Chelsea will be in the title race picture as well.

Defences are the foundation to any Premier League challenge and Tuchel has remedied Chelsea's vulnerability, with the Blues keeping 18 clean sheets in his 25 games. In midfield, there are a variety of options to use around N'Golo Kante, who is back to his best. A clinical striker will be on the shopping list this summer but Chelsea have an abundance of wide forwards to pick from.

In Tuchel, they have a world-class manager who knows how to win big titles and big matches.

The pieces are all coming together for Chelsea to be Premier League title contenders again for the first time since 2017.

Predicting whether they will come out on top in a one-off game with City later this month is not easy. But over the course of 38 games in 2021/22 there will be a growing confidence in the camp they could get the better of Pep Guardiola's side again.
Peter Smith

Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola felt his side should have been awarded a penalty for a foul on Raheem Sterling by Kurt Zouma in the defeat to Chelsea

Taming Tuchel: City's greatest challenge?

Manchester City and Pep Guardiola must be sick of the sight of Thomas Tuchel.

Having seen him trampled all over their Quadruple hopes in the FA Cup semi-finals, the German's transformed Chelsea gate-crashed what was supposed to be an afternoon of celebration at the Etihad.

Victory over the side they face in the Champions League final in Istanbul in three weeks' time would have confirmed City as champions for the third time in four years but, instead, the champions-elect were left to conduct an inquest into how they managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Sergio Aguero's criminal failed Panenka penalty and a rather suspect decision not to award City a late spot-kick after Raheem Sterling was fouled by Kurt Zouma were undoubtedly decisive, but to attribute the defeat to those alone and not take into consideration Tuchel's involvement would be foolish.

It's only a matter of time before City do get their hands on the title and Guardiola has guided the team to a maiden Champions League final appearance in emphatic style. However, a manager (Tuchel) and team (Chelsea) who account for a third of all of City's defeats this season stand between them and that most-coveted of prizes.

If Guardiola can mastermind victory in the Champions League, Saturday's setback and the one at Wembley would be mere footnotes on an historic season for City. However, at this stage, it would appear taming Tuchel is the greatest challenge of all.
Jack Wilkinson

Liverpool squeeze points, but still need a refresh

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Liverpool's win against Southampton

With a third of the game remaining, 1-0 up against a brave Southampton side constantly looking to attack, Liverpool were caught in two minds.

Sit deep and protect the lead? Or go for a second? They really did neither, perhaps forgivable given this was a basketball game played out at Anfield. Neither side really deserved to lose, and this could easily be an entry about Liverpool throwing away another late lead, but on paper at least, Jurgen Klopp's side made progress.

Goals for Sadio Mane, just his third Premier League goal in 2021, and Thiago, his first for the club in a first campaign, were massive in a year where confidence is hard to yield from fans.

"Very important," said Klopp about the pair scoring. "If you'd asked me I'd love everyone to score, but probably the two who needed it most."

And you get the feeling, with fans coming back to Anfield in their final home game of the season against Crystal Palace, that Klopp will press the reset button if supporters return from the start of next season.

Always keen to magnify the important of Liverpool fans, Klopp said on Saturday when asked what it would mean for them to return: "My English is not good enough, I cannot express it, it's so tricky and difficult in these moments that you are without them. We do it for the people, it's always like that, I always understood football like this. It's all about that, that we do it together. I really hope that next season we have people back in the stadium."
Gerard Brand

Wolves looking for a refresh

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Wolves' win over Brighton

Wolves are heading for a mid-table finish regardless of their results in the final weeks of the season. With that in mind, Nuno used their match against Brighton on Sunday to freshen things up. He made five changes and fielded the youngest Wolves starting XI for a Premier League match in almost 12 years.

There were three teenagers in the line-up and three more on the bench, while 21-year-old Morgan Gibbs-White was handed a rare opportunity to impress - and he seized it. Playing as part of a three-man unit supporting striker Fabio Silva, he was a livewire from start to finish, contributing at both ends of the pitch.

Sadly it appeared his outing was going to be remembered for a glaring miss but he, like his Wolves team-mates kept battling until the final moments and his first Premier League goal clinched an injury-time win.

Wherever Wolves end up this season, it will be seen as something of a disappointment given their consecutive seventh-placed finishes and there is a feeling they could do with a refresh to kick on again. That could come from their young players, with Ki-Jana Hoever (19) and Silva (18), also performing well on Sunday, along with Rayan Ait-Nouri who would appear to be a sensible addition if they were to make his loan from Angers permanent. Pedro Neto (21) also has a bright future ahead of him.

Expect more experimentation and more youthful faces in the Wolves line-ups over the final weeks of the season. Who knows, they may become regulars in a refreshed Wolves side next season...
Peter Smith

Can Leeds sneak into Europe?

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Leeds United's win against Tottenham Hotspur

Another day, another 'Big Six' side frustrated at Leeds.

Marcelo Bielsa's side put in another exceptional display against one of the Premier League's traditional top-six sides, and they are the first team to remain unbeaten at home in a Premier League season against Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Spurs since West Ham in 2015-16.

While the result is a huge blow to Spurs' top-four hopes, it keeps Leeds' slim chances of European football next season alive.

Victory saw Bielsa's side move into the top half and up to ninth in the table. While it is still a big ask for them to qualify for Europe, it is not out of the question, especially with winnable games against Burnley, Southampton and West Brom left.

With a seventh-place finish in the Premier League looking likely to secure a place in next season's Europa Conference League, Leeds still have plenty of work to do as they look to make up a four-point gap to Liverpool in seventh, having also played two more games than Jurgen Klopp's side.

They will certainly need three wins and of course, other results to go their way, but stranger things have happened in what has been arguably the most unpredictable Premier League season in history.

While Leeds fans will be beyond delighted with their performances this season, securing a European tour against all the odds in the final few games would just cap a sensational season for the Premier League newcomers.
Oli Yew

Eze for Palace at Bramall Lane

Eberechi Eze starred at Bramall Lane
Image: Eberechi Eze starred at Bramall Lane

What a joy it is to watch Eberechi Eze in this sort of mood.

The rain was relentless at Bramall Lane and so was the man whose services cost Crystal Palace the initial fee of only £16m last summer.

A goal, an assist, three key passes, five successful dribbles to make Sheffield United heads spin and five fouls drawn to gain his side set-piece advantage; this was a man-of-the-match display bursting with artistic impression as well as technical prowess.

He had starred back in January against the Blades when the 2-0 scoreline was equally misleading, riding half-challenges and leaving helplessly outstretched legs in his wake before finding the finish.

Here he did the same, treating John Lundstram's paltry efforts at the touchline with contempt before gliding through more home mannequins to beat Aaron Ramsdale via John Fleck.

Between his elegant runs, there were tidy touches and forward-thinking passes but always the smell of menace. Only Wilfried Zaha has been directly involved in more Palace goals than his nine this term.

"It is his first season coming up from the Championship and you expect people to need time to adjust and play at this level," said Roy Hodgson and yet Eze, in a side that usually prizes structure over creative freedom, looks right at home.

"We know that's the quality he possesses and we encourage it. He was bold with the ball today and drove forward at every opportunity.

"If you ask me if I'm happy with Eberechi Eze, I say absolutely."

No wonder. How well that money seems spent; Eze is a real talent and much more looks likely to come.
Kate Burlaga

Willock thriving away from troubles at Arsenal

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Newcastle’s win at Leicester

Friday Night Football brought a result of huge significance at both ends of the Premier League table. Newcastle moved to within a point of guaranteed safety with three games remaining against an out-of-sorts Leicester.

Barely a month ago, the prospect of that being so seemed very remote. But Steve Bruce's side have won as many points in their last five matches as they managed in their 15 games prior to a run that has coincided with the blossoming of Joe Willock on Tyneside.

How Arsenal could have done with the in-form youngster on Thursday night as their season was left in ruins by their Europa League exit. Since Willock moved to St James' Park on loan in February, he has scored five Premier League goals for the Magpies - in that time, no player from his parent club has managed to score more goals than him in the competition.

The Gunners' loss is certainly Newcastle's gain, with Willock making it four goals in as many games to spark this impressive 4-2 victory at the King Power Stadium.

"Going away from London, from my boyhood club wasn't easy for me, it was a big move for me to come here," he told Sky Sports after another fearless display, typified by the way he took his goal. "To come and be welcomed by the lads so easily, and learn so much from the staff and manager, it's a blessing. I'm glad I can contribute with my goals."

At 21 years and 260 days, Willock became the youngest player to score in four consecutive Premier League appearances for the club, and he is also the youngest player to score in four consecutive Premier League appearances since Marcus Rashford back in January 2019.

Steve Bruce was pleasantly surprised by his Newcastle side scoring four during their win at Leicester and feels his big players getting fit has made a difference

Steve Bruce was delighted with the midfielder, saying: "We've said before the game, he's forced his way onto the pitch by what he's done as a substitute. For an hour until he tired he was excellent. He's a smashing young player, I think that's his fifth goal for us, that's a wonderful return since he joined in January."

Ahead of a daunting climax to their season, Leicester must embrace the challenge in the same way Willock has welcomed his time away from the troubles at Arsenal.
Ben Grounds

More Leicester heartbreak feels within sight

Leicester were dealt a blow to the Champions League hopes
Image: Leicester were dealt a blow to the Champions League hopes

Will it happen again? Is Leicester's top-four hoodoo beckoning for a second season? A couple of weeks ago, you would have said no chance. Now, it's not so certain.

The Foxes missed Jonny Evans like a lost limb but even without their defensive 'brain', as Brendan Rodgers put it, they were an absolute shambles in a humiliating defeat to Newcastle on Friday.

Caglar Soyuncu looked like he had put his boots on the wrong way round. Timothy Castagne played the role of a man being played out of position perfectly. Leicester's back three was always going to be damaged without Evans, but they were worryingly rudderless as no one took over that leadership void.

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Leicester's Brendan Rodgers says his side made too many mistakes in their defeat to Newcastle but have to stay together ahead of the end of the season

"It's still in our hands," said Rodgers after the game. Leicester still have to travel to Manchester United and Chelsea either side of an FA Cup final next Saturday.

Fifth-placed West Ham could be two points off the Foxes by the end of this gameweek, and have a relatively straightforward run-in on paper against sides without the same rewards to play for.

Even being in the mix this late on in the season for a Champions League spot is impressive for Leicester over the course of a season.

But if they fall at the final hurdle for the second year in a row, this one will hurt a lot more than the first time around.
Ron Walker

Blades need clarity and big character

Chris Basham reacts to another Sheffield United defeat
Image: Chris Basham reacts to another Sheffield United defeat

Paul Heckingbottom declared himself "angry" at Sheffield United's first-half display in a miserable rout by Tottenham last week but his words drew little response against a Crystal Palace side who will have fewer more comfortable afternoons despite a scoreline that long belied their dominance.

It hardly helped that the long-beaten hosts were familiarly behind after just 66 seconds, Eberechi Eze - as he had at Selhurst Park in January - allowed to swagger through gaps and over casually draped legs.

But on a day when the gloom stretched across the city, Wednesday's relegation on a dramatic final day in the Championship meaning a first double drop in a season - this was another limp, leaden display; a painful reminder of a striking slump and a warning about the road ahead.

Heckingbottom, recruited by Chris Wilder, is respected at the club. He has been viewed as a credible permanent successor behind the scenes, a figure, crucially, more likely amenable when it comes to budgets and remits.

But the Blades have lost six of his seven league games in charge, conceding 18 goals, scoring just two and seeming ever more sapped of spirit and identity as a dangerous state of limbo has rumbled on. Here, they failed to manage a shot on target.

"I have no concerns, regardless of what anyone says," said Heckingbottom when asked about worries that the misery of this term could roll into the next. "Totally different league, totally different season."

Only time will tell how quickly psychological wounds left open for so long will heal.

But plotting the path after Wilder requires a big character sure of his convictions, able to re-organise and re-energise. The club's next appointment will likely set the tone for more than just next season.
Kate Burlaga

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