Premier League hits and misses: Liverpool back to their old, old selves? Plus: Super Bukayo Saka steps up again

Have Liverpool returned to their pre-2019/20 version? Super Bukayo Saka steps up when it counts again, and Steven Gerrard is rewarded for making big calls. Plus is there trouble brewing at Leeds?

Liverpool return to their old, old selves

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

"I was not happy with the way we conceded chances today, to be honest."

Jurgen Klopp's post-match assessment may seem odd after a 4-0 victory, but the scoreline didn't really tell the story. Southampton could and should have scored at least one, but by that reckoning, they could have also come away from Anfield having conceded double figures.

This Liverpool side are completely relentless in the way they attack; so much so that warning signs barely register with them. It's "you have a shot, we have a shot", safe in the knowledge they possess far more quality than the opposition.

They've scored two or more goals in each of their last 17 games, equalling a 94-year record.

Reflecting on last season, Klopp said on Saturday: "I learned a lot. A lot!" A third of the season in, they are clearly back to their best after those issues. But which version of their 'best', exactly?

Some wondered whether Liverpool could return to their title-winning form after the shock of 2020/21, but if anything, they've returned to their old, old selves. This Liverpool feels much more like the side of 2017/18 and parts of 2018/19, where blitzes and high-scoring games were a trademark.

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It's certainly not boring, and it's a bold way of approaching this division, but can it work over 38 games?

Their xG for this season is over six goals higher than Man City's, but so is their xG against. What Klopp wants and needs more of is stability, so that when sides break against them, as they always will with this high Liverpool line, they don't give up the quality of chance they did on Saturday.

It feels like game management is less of a priority, and that old adage rings true: better sides might punish them. But are there any better sides?
Gerard Brand

Super Saka stepping up when it matters

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Arsenal's win against Newcastle

Big players make big game-changing moments when it matters most. Bukayo Saka is a big-game player.

Arsenal were in control against Newcastle but the score still read 0-0 with 50 minutes on the clock. Eddie Howe was hanging in there with too many Arsenal attacks ending in wayward off-target finishes. The home crowd expected more against a team with no wins to their name and one that concedes goals for fun.

It required a mature head to make the difference. With Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in lacklustre mood, it was Saka, who has only just turned 20, who took the game by the scruff of the neck in the style of one of the main leaders of this progressive Arsenal side. On 51 minutes, Saka twisted and turned past Matt Ritchie before firing an effort at Martin Dubravka.

That lifted the crowd and Saka continued to lead the charge, whipping a sensational cross into the six-yard box moments later that no Arsenal player had read. The momentum towards the Newcastle goal was now at its peak and Saka found the game-changing moment on 55 minutes. He started the move on the left, linking in silky fashion with Emile Smith Rowe before making a third-man run that was spotted by Nuno Tavares. There was a sense of inevitability as Saka drew his left foot back and found the bottom corner. That is what we expect now of this impressive young man. He is Arsenal's most dangerous and important weapon. Mikel Arteta will be hoping the knock that forced him off isn't a long-term problem. Arsenal can't afford to lose him.
Lewis Jones

Howe sees first-hand the scale of his task at Newcastle

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Newcastle head coach Eddie Howe admits his side are lacking confidence, but couldn't fault his players' attitudes in their 2-0 defeat at Arsenal.

Eddie Howe was animated in the Newcastle technical area. Particularly in the first half, the new Magpies boss was relishing working with his team from pitchside, after his expected debut in the dugout was delayed last week by a positive COVID result.

But at the Emirates it was a case of new manager, same story for Newcastle.

They were pegged back and could hardly get on the ball in the first half, averaging 21 per cent possession. Jonjo Shelvey saw a shot tipped onto the bar by Aaron Ramsdale but the visitors were fortunate not to be punished by some wasteful finishing at the other end.

After the break, Bukayo Saka converted a nice team goal to give the Gunners a deserved lead and, although there was a Callum Wilson penalty shout moments before Gabriel Martinelli's goal, as so often in recent times, it wasn't until Newcastle were out of the game that they began to show more ambition in attack.

They finished the game with stats below their season's average for possession, shots and shots on target. They're averaging two goals conceded per game, as well.

Howe tried to strike a positive note afterwards, putting weight on the Shelvey shot and penalty call and how they could have changed the game. But there's no escaping he has a huge task on his hands to keep Newcastle in the Premier League.

They're now without a win in their first 13 Premier League games. Four of the previous five sides to do that were playing in the Championship the following season. That's unthinkable for this club, given the wealth and ambition of their new owners.

January is clearly going to be key but there are seven games before that transfer window opens, including the next two against fellow strugglers Norwich and Burnley. They're crucial games if Newcastle are to ensure they're not cut adrift before they can address their issues.
Peter Smith

Gerrard rewarded for making big calls

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Aston Villa's win against Crystal Palace

Steven Gerrard became only the second Aston Villa manager to win his first two Premier League games in charge after John Gregory back in March 1998 and while the scoreline looked close at Selhurst Park, the visitors were fully deserving of their win over Crystal Palace.

"We can't get carried away, it has been a positive couple of weeks. The players have been fantastic in their application. We had to dig in at times today but we managed to get over the line which is nice," Gerrard said.

Villa came with a game plan to frustrate Palace and in particular Wilfried Zaha, executing it to perfection. John McGinn was instructed to double up with Matty Cash on talisman Zaha and the Scotland international was an influential presence throughout.

For Patrick Vieira, he will once again lament his side's paucity at defending set-pieces with Matt Targett the eighth beneficiary this term already from dead ball situations but Villa were the slicker outfit in every department.

Steven Gerrard salutes the away end
Image: Steven Gerrard salutes the away end

It wasn't until the final 10 minutes that Villa goalkeeper Emi Martinez was forced into action and there was a real class to Villa second to seal the victory as Emi Buendia and Anwar El Ghazi combined to feed man-of-the-match McGinn for a show-stopping finish into the top corner.

This was a bump on the nose for Vieira, Palace's first defeat in eight Premier League games, but Gerrard will be delighted with his team who looked back to their best under his watch, epitomised by England international Tyrone Mings.

Gerrard showed courage in making big calls, dropping Danny Ings and Buendia to the bench and giving Leon Bailey a start but Ollie Watkins looks rejuvenated under the former Rangers boss. It is too early to draw conclusions but the early indications are that he prefers to start with just the one striker as part of a more balanced side.

"Away from home especially, Watkins is a manager's dream as he will chase every lost cause, turning bad balls into good ones," Clinton Morrison told Soccer Saturday.

Gerrard was a big-game player and making such big calls is what the best Premier League managers have always done.
Ben Grounds

Trouble brewing for Leeds?

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Brighton's draw with Leeds

It was another worrying performance from Leeds at the Amex. They have looked a shadow of their former selves in their 13 Premier League games this season - the team that returned to England's top flight with a bang and took on all comers without fear.

The trip to Brighton would have been a game earmarked for points - and in fairness, they did pick up a draw, as well as their first away clean sheet of the season.

It will be a welcome confidence booster ahead of a truly daunting December. They have successive home games against Crystal Palace and Brentford before a run of Chelsea, Man City, Arsenal and Liverpool, with three of those four away from home.

Leeds' upcoming fixtures
Image: Leeds' upcoming fixtures

Former Leeds striker Jermaine Beckford told Sky Sports: "Every game from here until at least the end of January is huge. I would say the first two are even harder because you're looking at the four afterwards and thinking it's going to be hard to pick up any points there.

"There are six points at stake for the next two games and with performances like that, I don't think we'll pick up any."

There could also be some friction emerging between Marcelo Bielsa and Kalvin Phillips. The midfielder was substituted at half-time, replaced by Pascal Struijk, who the Leeds head coach said better suited the game.

It came after Phillips had again started at centre-back, before moving further forward into midfield. But Jamie Redknapp believes the England international will not be happy with either situation.

The Sky Sports pundit said: "He'll know right now, after the Euros, people are talking about him, big clubs are courting him, people want him, he doesn't want to be playing centre-back for Leeds.

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Leeds manager Marcelo Bielsa discusses their goalless draw at Brighton and why he took Kalvin Phillips off at half-time

"That's an interesting one. It feels like there's definitely a clash with him and Bielsa right now. If I was Bielsa, falling out with players isn't the right thing to do when results are bad. This might be the start of something that isn't quite right at Leeds.

"No big player wants to come off at half-time - if you're coming off at half-time, you're fuming. It's a hit to your ego. He will not be happy with that at all."

There are certainly issues to be resolved at Leeds, with injury returnees hopefully turning things around on the pitch. But if some run deeper, that is a quandary for Bielsa to solve.
Charlotte Marsh

Same old story for Brighton

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Brighton's Graham Potter says he completely disagrees with fans booing at the end of their draw with Leeds and is focused on the positives from their performance

Anyone feel like we've discussed this before? There was a stinging sense of déjà vu for Brighton on Saturday - they had chance after chance against Leeds, alongside some wonderful football, but could not find that finishing touch.

Overall, Brighton had 20 shots, but 14 of those were off target - the joint-highest tally alongside Arsenal against Brentford from the opening weekend of the season. Just four of those were on target.

Neal Maupay really should have hammered home his inclusion in the Brighton starting XI for the first time in three Premier League outings. Leandro Trossard and Jakub Moder both hit the post in the first half and Solly March had two glorious chances after coming on midway through the second period.

Credit must also go to Tariq Lamptey, who was named as Sky Sports' man of the match, creating five chances for Brighton in the game - the highest he has ever registered in the Premier League. He easily beat any defender in front of him on that right wing.

But despite his creativity, Brighton could not find a way past a below-par Leeds, registering their sixth draw in eight winless games. The Seagulls were criticised last year for playing some superb football, but lacking goals. It was the blueprint of that on Saturday, eliciting a smattering of boos from some home fans, which Graham Potter disagreed with 'completely'.

Reflecting on another frustrating game for Brighton, Sky Sports' Jamie Redknapp said: "There was talk at the start of the season that Brighton needed a striker, a killer in the box. They are crying out for it. That will be their next step - they have got a really successful way of recruiting and they need to get a striker who will convert those chances they created today. If you're a striker and you've got a bit about you, you will score bundles of goals in this Brighton team."

With the January window just a few weeks away, this must be Brighton's main target. But for now, they must find a way for their forwards to fire them back to winning ways.
Charlotte Marsh

Norwich improvements continue...

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from the 0-0 draw between Norwich and Wolves

"I always believe if you're not creating chances that's the worry," said Dean Smith after Norwich's 0-0 draw with Wolves.

There will be a hint of disappointment when Smith reflects on Norwich's goalless draw because of the chances his side missed to win the game, but the former Aston Villa boss certainly has a platform to build from after following the win over Southampton in his first game with what could be a significant point against Wolves, who are currently in the top-six.

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Norwich boss Dean Smith felt his side created enough chances to win the game, but wasn't too disappointed with the goalless draw against Wolves.

"I thought the performance was better than last week against Southampton," Smith added. "We were probably fortunate to get an extra two points last week and we were probably unfortunate that we probably lost a couple of points this week. I thought our overall performance was really good.

"When I first came in, I said I wanted us to stop giving away big chances, which we did today. We restricted them to very few and I'm not sure (goalkeeper) Tim (Krul) has had much to do today, and we created four big chances. On another day we win the game."

It may be small steps for Norwich, who are still in the very early stages of the Smith era following Daniel Farke's sacking earlier this month, but the improvements are there for all to see.

Norwich have now taken seven points from their last three Premier League games (winning two and drawing one), more than they had in their previous 25 in the competition (winning one, drawing three and losing 21)

The Canaries have now have kept two clean sheets in their last four Premier League home games, as many as they had in their previous 26 at Carrow Road in the competition and they also had 14 shots against Wolves, only managing more against Brighton (15) in a single Premier League game this season.

There's still a long way to go for Norwich, who are still in the bottom three and two points adrift of safety, but Smith certainly has something to build on.

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