Premier League hits and misses: Liverpool show injuries won't hold them back

Liverpool show injuries won't hold them back in the Premier League title race, while Nicolas Pepe lets Arsenal down. Plus: Tottenham and Chelsea's title hopes, and Pep Guardiola's plan for Man City.

Liverpool show their strength in depth

Injuries? What injuries? Liverpool have a crowded treatment room at their new training ground but that didn't stop them laying down a stunning statement with their 3-0 demolition of Leicester City at Anfield on Sunday evening.

Diogo Jota's brilliant start to life on Merseyside continued with his fourth goal in four home league games - a new club record - to make up for the absence of Mohamed Salah, and across the pitch Liverpool showed their strength in depth to cover for key missing men.

Makeshift centre-back Fabinho was untroubled alongside Joel Matip in the centre of defence, James Milner and then Neco Williams stepped up at right-back, before Mr Utility Milner moved into midfield when Naby Keita went down to play alongside impressive youngster Curtis Jones.

Critics have been quick to talk down this Liverpool side and talk up their rivals, to point out how injuries will open the door for others. But by setting a new unbeaten record at Anfield, Liverpool are joint-top of the Premier League and still the team to beat in the title race.
Peter Smith

Pepe frustrates for Arsenal again

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Arsenal's draw at Leeds.

Mikel Arteta described Nicolas Pepe's headbutt on Leeds' Ezgjan Alioski, which saw the Arsenal forward sent off with just 51 minutes on the clock, as "unacceptable". Coming after a lacklustre first-half display - one shot, one chance created against the Premier League's leakiest defence - it was another frustrating chapter in the Ivory Coast international's stop-start time in the Premier League.

Pepe was described as "a top-class winger" by Unai Emery when he was signed from Lille for a club-record £72m in the summer of 2019 and he is Arsenal's leading chance creator in the Premier League since his arrival - but only just, ahead of Mesut Ozil who has only played 18 times in the league in that period.

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The more telling statistics are the six goals and six assists from 39 appearances. It's a miserly return from a player who registered 22 goals and 11 assists in this final season in Ligue 1. There have been flashes of his talent and potential, but so far we've only seen fleeting glimpses of how good the 25-year-old could be.

During the international break, Pepe was quoted by a French TV channel complaining about his lack of game-time. Indeed, this was just his second start in the Premier League this season. But his blunt first-half performance on Sunday and red card after the break will do little to boost his standing in Arteta's thoughts.
Peter Smith

Reality check for Rodgers' Leicester

Leicester went into the weekend top of the Premier League but on Sunday they were dealt a reminder of the significant gap they would still have to make up on the Premier League's best if they were to pull off another sensational title shock.

Even with their injury problems, defending champions Liverpool proved far too strong for Brendan Rodgers' side, with the manager experiencing a third defeat in three meetings with his former club.

It was a harsh reality check for the Foxes, who - despite their own, less publicised injury setbacks - have taken another step forward this season and bounced back from their dip at the end of the previous campaign. These are the standards they must aspire to week in, week out.
Peter Smith

Have Everton turned the corner?

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Everton's win at Fulham.

For 45 minutes at Craven Cottage, the Everton side that won their first four games of the season was back.

With Dominic Calvert-Lewin spearheading the attack, the inspired Alex Iwobi on one flank, the returning and rejuvenated Richarlison on the other and the willing support of left-back Lucas Digne, the Toffees looked like scoring each time they came forward.

Fulham - now the Premier League's most porous defence - couldn't cope, conceding the first of three first-half goals within 42 seconds of the referee's first whistle through Calvert-Lewin, who completed his brace with the finishing touch to a stunning 14-pass team move.

Abdoulaye Doucoure's first Everton goal gave the Toffees a deserved two-goal lead at the break, which was just as well, as a second-half display in stark contrast to the first showed exactly why Carlo Ancelotti's side had gone four games without a win before their trip to the capital.

Dominic Calvert-Lewin celebrates after scoring at Fulham
Image: Dominic Calvert-Lewin has scored in seven of his nine Premier League appearances for Everton this season (10 goals) making him the outright top goalscorer in the division.

The composure at the back and confidence in attack that graced the first period dissipated in the face of sustained Fulham pressure and, had Ivan Cavaleiro converted from the spot, that winless run would have gone on.

Everton survived with three points and a place in the top six in hand, but until there's consistency which can span two halves of the same game, it's premature to declare their recent wobble is truly behind them.
Jack Wilkinson

Fulham pay the penalty - again

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Fulham's Ivan Cavaleiro slipped at the inopportune moment as he missed from 12-yards in the 3-2 defeat to Everton in the Premier League, it is the third spot kick that The Cottagers have missed this season.

Just when you thought Fulham's luck with penalties couldn't get any worse, their fortunes from 12 yards reached a new, agonising low.

With Ademola Lookman's failed Panenka very much still in the memory, and Aleksandar Mitrovic still scarred from Serbia's shootout defeat to Scotland, Ivan Cavaleiro stepped forth to take on the set-piece responsibilities as Fulham desperately sought a lifeline against Everton.

Pressure is always on when it comes to penalties but, after what had come before, that pressure was heightened this time around, and it told as Cavaleiro lost his footing and sent a woeful effort sailing high over the target.

Misses from Lookman, Mitrovic and now Cavaleiro means Fulham have missed five of their last eight Premier League penalties. It's a situation Scott Parker has to get a grip of quickly, but the problem is he's running out of players to turn to next.
Jack Wilkinson

Positives for Leeds in a rare goalless draw

Taking just one point against an Arsenal team down to 10 men for the majority of the second half may seem, on the face of it, as an opportunity missed. But for a Leeds United side who had lost three of their last four and appeared to wobble after their exciting start to life back in the Premier League, the positives must be taken.

Indeed, it was only the woodwork - on three occasions - which denied them the win. Beyond that, Bernd Leno made several impressive stops to keep Patrick Bamford and co at bay. Their 25 shots at the Arsenal goal may not have yielded the decisive blow, but, coupled with a clean sheet at the other end - after shipping eight in their last two outings - meant there were signs of progress at both ends.

This was only Leeds' third goalless draw in 101 league games under Marcelo Bielsa but it will perhaps be one which restores confidence and belief that the Elland Road side are on the right path to securing their Premier League status.
Peter Smith

Fast fix needed for Blades' second season syndrome

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from West Ham's win at Sheffield United.

It is a phrase that Chris Wilder will hate to hear - one that he probably doesn't agree with either. But Sheffield United are suffering from the dreaded second season syndrome and they need to find a cure quickly. If they don't, the decline looks terminal.

The 1-0 defeat to West Ham means that after surprising everyone outside of South Yorkshire with their efforts in the first Premier League campaign, the Blades are fulfilling expectations a season too late. Only twice before have teams failed to win any of their first nine Premier League games - both Manchester City in 1995/96 and Sheffield Wednesday in 1990/00 were in the second tier the following season.

The biggest issue for Wilder to fix is the lack of goals. The biggest problem is there is no obvious answer. They only scored 39 last year, after all.

Oli McBurnie shoots on goal during Sheffield United's defeat to West Ham
Image: Oli McBurnie shoots on goal during Sheffield United's defeat to West Ham

Oli McBurnie forced Lukasz Fabianski into a couple of smart saves against West Ham - but could only hit the bar when played through on goal by Rhian Brewster. Like the rest of the Blades' strikers, his goalscoring record in the Premier League is far from impressive. The injured Lys Mousset has nine goals at this level, the most of any Blades forward.

Wilder will hope that the return of Mousset in the coming weeks will help them do just that. He scored six goals in 30 games before picking up an injury last campaign. If he doesn't hit the ground running and give them a clinical edge, the Blades will quickly be cut adrift at the bottom alongside Fulham, West Brom and Burnley.
Matt Storey

A bottle of vintage Jose. Now drink it in

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

Beauty in football can take many guises. To some, Spurs' statement victory over Man City was not attractive. Four shots on goal to 22, just 33 per cent possession and all 11 players spending the majority of the 90 minutes in their own half.

To many others, this writer included, this was an exquisite footballing plan in a season where defence, game management and basic solidity has been neglected to the extreme.

It was vintage Mourinho, a refreshing reminder that game plans still exist and are a vital commodity in the Premier League. It will have hurt Pep Guardiola and worried many others in the Premier League.

It is no surprise that both Spurs and Chelsea have shut up shop in recent weeks, and meet next week as two of the most in-form teams in the Premier League.

Fatigue, scheduling and an absence of fans to keep you honest will mean teams who favour solidity over attractive, free-flowing football should succeed this season. Mourinho has drilled Spurs to fit this type - Heung-Min Son was a right-wing-back for much of the game, Harry Kane showed the additional layers to his armour and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg was monstrous in midfield. Even Tanguy Ndombele is back in the manager's good books.

Mourinho walked into a film studio at Spurs and made it The Jose Show. Just look at his Instagram account.

If he succeeds at Spurs this season, against the odds, it may be his biggest performance yet.
Gerard Brand

Guardiola can't be enjoying this. So what's his plan?

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Manchester City head coach Pep Guardiola says his side are playing well despite struggling to score goals so far this season

"The Man City patterns are the same as before but the punch is different," said Sky Sports' Gary Neville shortly after half-time as Manchester City wilted at Tottenham. "They have to find that punch."

Forty-five or so minutes later, the City players looked punch-drunk and their hopes of regaining the Premier League are on the ropes. Just two days after he put pen to paper on a new contract, Pep Guardiola finds himself grappling with perhaps the most difficult moment in his City career because it is far from clear where they go from here.

Where is their cutting edge? Where is their fear factor? The problem, to prolong Neville's point, is that teams are no longer worried about what City can do to them. Their focus now is on what they can do to City. The heavyweight power of the Premier League over the last half-decade are vulnerable precisely because teams now believe that City's lack of punch means they can soak up their pressure and then hit them hard on the break.

That, of course, is precisely what Tottenham did, just as Leicester did a month ago. By the end, City had been made to look predictable, their creativity almost entirely reliant on the genius of Kevin De Bruyne. It was a difficult and dispiriting watch.

Which begs the question: Has Guardiola picked an odd time to re-commit to City? Perhaps, but also perhaps not. First, there are those Lionel Messi links to keep in mind. Second, Guardiola's new deal may well be the first signal that City are about to reset. He surely cannot be enjoying this season or this moment. The suspicion lingers therefore that, unlike his team on Saturday night, Guardiola is up for the fight. If this City team do not haul themselves off the canvas, it could be a brutal summer.
Pete Gill

Chelsea genuine title contenders?

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights of Chelsea's win against Newcastle.

Frank Lampard insisted Chelsea would "stay humble" for what he was adamant would be "a long, long race" at the top, but his post-match smile unsurprisingly stuck.

Newcastle were familiarly toothless in this comfortable 2-0 win and, before the international break, Sheffield United easily brushed aside themselves, but the Blues dropped points in both respective fixtures last term; this time, there has been an ominous air about their business.

Chelsea went top of the table for the first time in Lampard's reign - for a few hours at least - after a fifth successive victory that was testament to how the rookie manager has, albeit with big bucks, elicited improvements at both ends of the pitch and quickly gelled players old and new.

The scoreline should have been greater, Timo Werner twice wasteful, but the German's partnership with an effective focal point in Tammy Abraham pleased Lampard, as the no-nonsense work of Kurt Zouma and the reintegrated Antonio Rudiger in defence would have done, too. In front of them, N'Golo Kante spread calm, breaking up play and recycling the ball with ease but playing vertically to good effect, too. So leaky last term, the Blues' expected goals against column is more favourable than everyone but Burnley.

N'Golo Kante effectively combined simple and more probing passes against Newcastle in his most familiar deeper-lying role
Image: N'Golo Kante effectively combined simple and more probing passes against Newcastle in his most familiar deeper-lying role

Six of their opening nine fixtures have been against sides currently in the bottom half while the next nine include Tottenham - in front of the Sky Sports cameras next weekend - Manchester City and Leicester. That prompts perspective. But, given Chelsea's own improvements and depth of talent - combined with their rivals' challenges in a compressed season - also plenty of optimism.
Kate Burlaga

United deliver more questions than answers in victory

It's difficult to read too much into the performance of any side whose squad members have largely been heavily involved in travelling halfway across the world during the international break.

And so Manchester United deserve some leeway for the sometimes laborious nature of their narrow victory over winless West Brom on Saturday night.

But as Jose Mourinho's Tottenham showed earlier in the day, you can still put in a performance and get a result. Sure, finally getting United off the mark at Old Trafford, for their first home league win since July, ticks enough boxes to make it job done for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

"We've not worked together, we've waited until this morning to get the prep for this game done, and that's never easy when everyone's been away for 10 days," Solskjaer told BT Sport after the game. And had Sam Johnstone not been in such fine form, they would have run out more comfortable winners.

But before taking the lead through a touch of luck courtesy of a harsh handball rule, and more of a generous helping of it in seeing Conor Gallagher's penalty against them overturned, they looked equally as laborious and predictable as in their recent run of struggles at Old Trafford - which has had little to do with international commitments.

Things looked a lot better for Solskjaer and United in their previous game at Everton. Perhaps they will when they travel to Southampton on Super Sunday next weekend.

For now, three points is enough. But a repeat performance won't be against Ralph Hasenhuttl's side in eight days' time.
Ron Walker

An all too familiar tale for Newcastle

Nine games into the new campaign and there is a sense of deja vu surrounding St James' Park.

After an unprecedented summer of spending and an undoubtedly promising start, Magpies fans were well within their rights to believe things could be different this season.

They could still be different, but the manner of Saturday's defeat to Chelsea - a team who have won just once on their previous six trips to Tyneside - left an all too familiar feeling they won't.

Newcastle simply failed to turn up. From the first whistle Chelsea were superior in every department and grew in confidence unchallenged, creating menacing after menacing attack which, on another day, would have yielded a far more convincing victory than the one gained.

Steve Bruce may point to injuries to key personnel, or late-returning players from international duty, but those excuses simply cannot wash for any club looking to reach that next level, and neither can a record of five defeats from their last seven home games.

There is work very much still to be done for Newcastle - how many times have we said that?
Jack Wilkinson

Aston Villa miss Barkley and home comforts

Ross Barkley goes off injured during Aston Villa's match against Brighton
Image: Ross Barkley was taken off injured inside five minutes at Villa Park

Aston Villa were the victims of a bad omen when Ross Barkley was taken off inside five minutes. He twinged his hamstring and was soon replaced by Bertrand Traore, but Villa never really recovered from his absence.

Firstly, there is the change in personnel so early on that can throw you off, but Barkley has flourished in Villa's midfield. He brings that creativity and link-up play that has been of huge benefit since his arrival, and takes the pressure of Jack Grealish. So often in the past Villa have relied on him too much and Barkley has helped share that load.

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Brighton's win against Aston Villa in the Premier League

But on Saturday, once again, Grealish was the man they turned to. He had a busy international break and needed that extra hand to help him out, sometimes looking frustrated and tired towards the end. Traore delivered some good set-pieces but did not bring much else, while Ollie Watkins look stranded up front at times, especially in the second half. They needed Barkley's presence.

Aston Villa may be starting to feel the effects of the empty stadium too. Their defeat to Brighton was their third successive home loss and against a side who had never won before at Villa Park. One of English football's historic grounds has always been known for its atmosphere, but Villa look to be struggling without their 12th man at the moment.

Overall, it was a bad day at the office for Aston Villa. However, if their recent form has taught us anything, it is a bad idea to bet against them and, hopefully, this is a minor blip after a strong start to the season.
Charlotte Marsh

A day of firsts for Brighton

Danny Welbeck celebrates scoring for Brighton against Aston Villa
Image: Danny Welbeck scored his first Brighton goal on Saturday

Despite playing some good football this season, Brighton have only won once but picked up a vital three points at Villa Park - a ground where they had never won before Saturday afternoon.

In their 12 visits, they had drawn three and lost nine games, with Aston Villa unbeaten in their last eight league meetings. But it all came to a halt when Solly March curled home a sweet strike in the second half, despite the midfielder surviving a late VAR scare when he was penalised - and then not - for a foul on Trezeguet inside the area.

There was also a first Brighton goal for Danny Welbeck, and a good performance to boot. It was like a throwback to a simpler time as the striker burst forward before lofting a wonderful chip over the goalkeeper. Throughout, Welbeck kept up the pressure in attack and made some vital clearances when Aston Villa were bearing down on Brighton's box.

For a striker who has never hit double figures in the Premier League - his best tallies were nine goals in the 2011/12 and 2013/14 seasons at Manchester United - it could also be Welbeck on his way to surpassing that total. Brighton fans will certainly be hoping so.
Charlotte Marsh

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