Skip to content

Premier League hits and misses: Man Utd finally grasp challenge; Newcastle back in business

Plus: Kai Havertz needs to step up to plate at Chelsea; Liverpool running of ideas; Mosies Caicedo is the driving force taking Brighton into a top four challenge; Javi Gracia masterminding Leeds up the table; is this the end for Steve Cooper?

Man Utd finally grasp challenge in front of them

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Manchester United’s win against Brentford in the Premier League

After Sunday's abject defeat at Newcastle, the 1-0 win over Brentford was exactly what the doctor ordered as Manchester United got their stuttering top-four challenge back on track.

United's decline since lifting the Carabao Cup has been so severe that their once nailed-on status to secure a top-four finish had been cast into doubt and even meant Brentford arrived at Old Trafford - a ground they hadn't won at since 1939 - quietly confident of causing an upset.

The gauntlet laid down in front of Erik ten Hag and his players was multi-layered. Could United atone for their shambolic Newcastle display while exacting revenge on Brentford after that infamous 4-0 back in August?

United's response was emphatic and conclusive. While the scoreline may suggest a tighter contest, United were superior throughout and enough to force a rare, off-colour performance from a Brentford side beaten just once in their previous 16 Premier League outings.

The key for United now is consistency. With 10 games to play, they are level on points with Newcastle, with both sides having played a game fewer than fifth-placed Tottenham.

At the business end of the season, there is no room for error. This victory over Brentford showed Ten Hag and his players have finally grasped that reality, something which could not be said when the full-time whistle sounded at St. James' Park.
Jack Wilkinson

Also See:

Newcastle are back in business

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Newcastle’s win against West Ham in the Premier League

Go back a month and questions were being asked of Newcastle’s top-four credentials, with a cup final defeat and a five-game winless run pushing Eddie Howe’s side onto the rocks.

But the Magpies have answered those questions emphatically, with 11 goals scored in their last four games - all of which have been wins - and third place in the Premier League is now in their hands.

Newcastle are flying, so much so that their 5-1 win at West Ham was their joint-biggest away win in Premier League history, equalling the 5-1 thrashing they handed to Coventry 25 years ago.

The scoring issues that saw Howe’s side go three matches without a goal earlier this year have also been resolved, with Callum Wilson and Joelinton each scoring twice at the London Stadium - the first time since 2010 that two Newcastle players netted twice or more in a league game.

The Magpies’ return to form is ominous for their top-four rivals, particularly given Manchester United’s patchy recent performances and the uncertainty surrounding Tottenham.

Champions League football feels within reach for the long-suffering Newcastle fans.
Joe Shread

Time for a different voice at West Ham?

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

David Moyes gave his thoughts after West Ham were thrashed 5-1 at home to Newcastle and despite the score, he is still confident that the board are behind him

David Moyes is not used to getting thrashed. His teams are built upon defensive structure and being hard to beat. It's therefore a worrying trait that his West Ham team can throw the towel in when things become tough. It happened in the 4-0 defeat at Brighton and it certainly happened in this one. Hardly an ideal mentality for a team amid a relegation fight.

Yes, Newcastle were at times ruthless on the counter-attack in the second half, but such lack of intensity and belief in the Hammers ranks does not paint the picture of a happy camp that are all pulling in the same direction. Despite the game being there for them to chase, West Ham had just one shot in the second half. Newcastle had 10.

Moyes' decision to go like-for-like with his changes instead of seeing if Michail Antonio and Danny Ings have the chemistry to play together was a baffling move for a manager with so much experience. Could it be time for a different direction to spark this talented yet underperforming squad into life?
Lewis Jones

Havertz needs to step up to the plate

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from the draw between Chelsea and Liverpool

Kai Havertz has an awful lot of credit in the bank among Chelsea fans, almost all of which was accrued when he scored the winning goal in the 2021 Champions League final, but even the home supporters began to get on the forward's back during another underwhelming display at Stamford Bridge.

It feels almost obligatory to state Havertz is not a No 9 and that asking him to perform that role is placing an unfair burden on him, but there comes a point when he has to accept some responsibility for his misses in front of goal.

There were several against Liverpool, the first of which saw him shoot straight at Alisson from close range, but the most glaring came just after half-time after he was played in one-on-one with the goalkeeper.

Havertz had plenty of time to decide what to do but, as Gary Neville said on commentary for Sky Sports: "He didn't do anything right - he just ran straight at Alisson."

As if to sum up the German's fortunes in front of goal, the ball then rebounded onto him and into the net - only for VAR to show he had clearly diverted it there with his arm.

It's true that Havertz is not a natural No 9, but then what is he? He has failed to perform consistently when deployed out wide or deeper for Chelsea, and the fact is that the job he currently needs to perform for the team is to be their main goalscorer - expectations he is currently failing to live up to.
Joe Shread

Liverpool still nowhere near their best

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

Jamie Carragher and Daniel Sturridge discuss the difficult position Liverpool find themselves in and how the club goes forward under Jurgen Klopp

Jurgen Klopp made six changes to the Liverpool team well beaten by Manchester City on Saturday, benching some of his favourites in doing so, and there was a response of sorts as they battled to a goalless draw at Chelsea. But this is a pastiche of his Liverpool.

"We just wanted to come here and show a reaction to the last game, which I think we did," Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson told Sky Sports afterwards. "We made a fight of it. You could see the willingness to keep working." That is all they can offer right now.

They tried to press, tried to get close to an opposition short on confidence themselves, but time and again players such as Joel Matip and Fabinho were just a yard off it. Had Chelsea been clinical in front of goal, this could easily have been another convincing defeat.

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

The Mirror's John Cross and Shebahn Aherne discuss how Liverpool and Chelsea's form has dropped off this season and what they could do to recover

Increasingly, the need for a rebuild is obvious. The two full-backs, so crucial to Liverpool's success under Klopp, were omitted from the line-up at Stamford Bridge but will surely come again. For a tired-looking midfield, shorn of peak-age players, the future is less clear.

This is a manager so often reluctant to talk up the importance of the transfer market. Yet, most of his great Liverpool squad have been his signings. He must go again. But that is 10 games away and his team are eighth. On this evidence, there is work to do first.
Adam Bate

Crucial Caicedo sets the tone for Brighton

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

FREE TO WATCH: Highlights of Bournemouth against Brighton

"It's not a big problem," said Roberto De Zerbi on the injury that forced Moises Caicedo from the pitch late in the second half.

The stretcher had been called on for the Brighton midfielder, who had landed awkwardly, seemingly twisting his lower leg. He eventually didn't need help leaving the pitch but did head straight down the tunnel - usually a sign that an injury is potentially a bad one.

A collective sigh of relief will have been heard around Brighton then when De Zerbi revealed the news that Caicedo and Alexis Mac Allister, who was also replaced having had an issue with his knee throughout the game, will be available for Brighton's clash with Tottenham on Saturday.

Caicedo was everywhere at the Vitality Stadium. If it needed tackling, Caicedo was your man. If a duel needed to be won, Caicedo was your man. Unsurprisingly, no player won more tackles (7) or duels (11) on the pitch than the Ecuador midfielder, who has reminded onlookers just why he was so in-demand during the January transfer window.

His destructive attributes in midfield, almost playing like two midfielders in one, allow his team-mates to play with freedom and attacking licence. They know he will be there to sort out any danger. He will be there at Spurs on Saturday - a game Brighton know could just be season-defining.
Lewis Jones

Aston Villa show Leicester how beat the drop

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

FREE TO WATCH: Highlights of Leicester against Aston Villa

Cast your minds back to November 2022. Aston Villa were facing up to a relegation fight after losing six of their opening 11 Premier League games under Steven Gerrard. A new face and winning presence was needed.

Enter Unai Emery - a man with a point to prove in England's top flight after a less-than-stellar spell with Arsenal.

In his five months at Aston Villa, he has transformed a side bereft of confidence, facing a potentially energy-sapping battle against the drop, into European contenders.

Lots of things about their performance at Leicester - managerless and two points adrift of safety - showed the Foxes how to beat the drop.

Aston Villa scored with their first shot on target and took advantage of a poor Wilfried Ndidi pass to score their winner. Emiliano Buendia and Douglas Luiz looked confident again in midfield.

Not everything was perfect - Ashley Young was beaten by Wout Faes' balls over the top for Harvey Barnes' runs in behind one too many times and the defending for a Harry Souttar free header left a lot to be desired.

But Emery has shaped Aston Villa into a team that is a delight to watch and know how to win when they need to. That breeds confidence and, as has been proved, can catapult a team into the European picture.

Ultimately, over the last two games in particular, Leicester have lacked concentration in those vital closing moments. It has cost them two points that could make all the difference come May 28, with the relegation battle tighter than ever.
Charlotte Marsh

Leeds marching on… to safety?

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Leeds’ win against Nottingham Forest

Leeds United's resurgence under Javi Gracia could not have been better timed.

Seldom before has a point, let alone three, had such transformative powers not only on a heavily-congested Premier League table but also the mood among the gaggle of sides vying for safety.

Since replacing Jesse Marsch in February, Gracia has masterminded three victories from six Premier League games, as many as had occurred in their previous 22 matches, with Tuesday's impressive comeback win over Nottingham Forest propelling Leeds out of the relegation zone up to 13th in the table.

Gracia has managed to energise an already energised set of supporters behind his squad and is reaping the rewards with a priceless 50 per cent win ratio at a crucial stage of the season.

With the fears of relegation set to loom large as the games tick away, Leeds' decision to turn to Gracia when they did could prove to be their saving grace.
Jack Wilkinson

Forest floundering under Cooper

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

Steve Cooper felt his Nottingham Forest side fell short after they went 1-0 up against Leeds and didn’t show enough bravery, technique or courage, which ultimately led to their 2-1 defeat

Bravery and courage. Two fundamental traits synonymous with any successful Premier League survival bid. Two traits Steve Cooper accused his Nottingham Forest players of lacking during their defeat at fellow Premier League relegation contenders Leeds United.

Cooper's comments came against a backdrop of increasing relegation fears at Forest. This latest setback at Elland Road extended their winless run - currently the longest in the division - to eight games, while their tally of points away from home this season remains at a paltry six.

At the business end of the season with nine games to play, it's a recipe for disaster which not only threatens Forest's top-flight existence but also Cooper's position.

The credit Cooper acquired by ending Forest's 23-year Premier League absence is running perilously low, and a worrying inability to produce on the road is only fuelling calls for change.

One thing for certain is that whatever course of action is taken by the board, bravery and courage will be needed. The ending to this season, survival or relegation with or without Cooper, will show just how much there is at the club.
Jack Wilkinson

Win £250,000 with Super 6!
Win £250,000 with Super 6!

Could you win £250,000 for free on Tuesday with Super 6? Entries by 7:45pm, good luck!

Around Sky