Plus: Jurgen Klopp's problems at Liverpool deepen as Wolves enjoy big win; Marco Silva's Fulham show the connection Chelsea crave; Enzo Fernandez shines on Chelsea debut; Aston Villa still have work to do despite Unai Emery improvements
Sunday 5 February 2023 18:44, UK
After all the build-up and talk about bleep tests, when Everton's new era finally got underway it was clear to see Dyche-ball is an ideal fit at Goodison Park.
The home support had already shown their passion for their club in their pre-match protests against the board but when the game got underway that energy was channelled into the creation of a ferocious atmosphere inside the four old stands. The Everton players - just as they did at the end of last season - responded.
Physical in the challenge, Everton looked secure in their 4-5-1 and despite some scares on the counter, showed courage in possession to take the game to the Premier League leaders.
Intensity, desire, organisation and an excellent match-winning set-piece routine - it was a win which had all the the ingredients Dyche wants from his side.
We've seen similar uplifts before at Everton. The key will be sustaining it. But Dyche couldn't have wished for a better start, especially against the Premier League leaders. It's a fantastic platform to build on. Next up? Liverpool. That one could be feisty too…
It was the perfect storm for Everton. A new manager, a new intensity and a renewed spirit from the Goodison Park crowd.
It was another huge examination of Arsenal's title credentials but having come through the Spurs and Manchester United tests last month, this was a hurdle they couldn't clear. Everton were in their faces from the very first minute right until the last and in the end, it was an intensity Arsenal could not match.
So, does the narrative now change surrounding Arsenal? Immediately, Sky Bet returned Manchester City to being favourites for the Premier League title and there will be plenty talking about Arsenal's inability to match Everton physically.
Questions will now be asked of Mikel Arteta's side and rightly so. However, this is no time to panic.
Their performances so far this season have allowed them the comfort of a gap at the top of the Premier League table, and that still remains at five points ahead of Man City's clash with Spurs on Super Sunday. The gap could obviously close to two points, but Arsenal will have a game in hand - against Everton.
Arsenal have proved their credentials so far this season, and they will have to do so again. How they respond to this setback will be crucial. That chance will come at home to Brentford next week before Man City head to north London.
All potential champions have blips in what we know is a long season. It's how a side responds to defeat that defines them and two home wins in their next two games will make this Everton nightmare a distant one.
Liverpool must have thought 2023 could not get any worse. Without a win in the Premier League since the turn of the year and eliminated from the FA Cup, their 3-0 defeat to a Wolves team that was in the relegation zone at kick-off marks a new low.
Jurgen Klopp's side were not outplayed as convincing as they were at Brighton last month but that somehow made it worse. Two down early on. Incredibly, no team in the Premier League has conceded more goals inside the first five minutes than Liverpool.
They dominated the second half but that hardly seems relevant when the damage had already been done by their passivity in protecting their own goal. That the wasteful Darwin Nunez missed the chances to get them back in it only exacerbates the concerns.
Liverpool have problems all over the pitch. A defence that stuttered with Virgil van Dijk is in disarray without him. The midfield is a mess and the forward line has stopped firing. All of which might be salvageable if this still looked like a Klopp team. Frankly, it does not.
Goalkeeper Alisson said afterwards that the team has "no consistency at all through the 90 minutes" but the consequence of that inconsistency is repeated failure. Liverpool have won five away games this season but they have lost nine. In this form, they will lose more.
There had been some encouraging signs for Julen Lopetegui given the upturn in Wolves' performances since his arrival and even some crucial victories. But this felt different. Molineux had been waiting for a match like this one for what had seemed like an age.
Since supporters were allowed back inside the stadium following the pandemic, Wolves had not beaten 'big six' opposition in front of their home fans. There were five such wins there in one season under Nuno Espirito Santo. They are the nights that make memories.
Those occasions can galvanise supporters and players, imbuing belief in both. Lopetegui has one of his own now, an emphatic result that underlines the newfound optimism. Their three previous home wins this season had been by one goal. Nervy. This was a celebration.
New signings are having an impact. Craig Dawson scored on debut. Mario Lemina was outstanding. Joao Gomes, paraded on the pitch beforehand, offers hope for the future. Ruben Neves delivered yet another tour de force to show he is very much present.
There is work to do but with the next two games against Southampton and Bournemouth, two teams who do not seem to be in such a good place, the opportunity is there to move clear of danger. And allow supporters to dream of many more nights like this.
It was not the result - or the performance - Chelsea supporters were hoping for after their January spending spree but the goalless draw with Fulham did at least allow Enzo Fernandez to show why the club were so determined to get their man.
Just three days on from his arrival from Benfica, for a British-record £106.8m fee, he was thrust straight into Graham Potter's midfield. In fact, for large parts of his debut, it seemed he was the midfield, the 23-year-old running it almost single-handedly as Conor Gallagher and Mason Mount bombed forward.
The circumstances were not ideal. Potter's system requires work and that's not all the Chelsea head coach needs to address. But Fernandez did not shirk the responsibility. In fact, he embraced it. "I thought he handled himself magnificently," said Potter afterwards.
His ball-playing ability was clear with his first touches. After three minutes, a raking diagonal pass to Reece James to launch an attack from deep inside Chelsea's half. Not long after that, he found the same player with an even better one.
That range of passing is one of his best qualities but there was plenty more to like about his performance. Off the ball: tackles, ball recoveries and plenty of intensity. On it: composure and quality when others were losing their cool.
"You could see his quality and what he will bring to the team," added Potter. "It wasn't easy for him or for us because he hasn't been with us that long but I think you saw how good he can be."
It's certainly no time to panic, but Eddie Howe is surely becoming increasingly aware of Newcastle's profligacy in front of goal.
The Magpies' numbers pretty much match their league position, with the fourth-placed side ranking fourth for expected goals and sixth for goals scored in the Premier League this season.
As a result, it's unfair to criticise Newcastle's attacking play too much, but it's clear a lack of cutting edge in the final third has been hampering Howe's team over the past six weeks.
Seven points and two goals in their last five league games is form Howe will be keen to improve as the battle for the Champions League places increases, although just the one defeat and 12 goals conceded in 21 games are unmatched in the top flight.
Howe said Newcastle missed the suspended Bruno Guimaraes - who he called a "difference-maker" - and admitted the "onus is on us to break teams down".
Perhaps the addition of Anthony Gordon, who looked lively on his debut against West Ham, and the return of record signing Alexander Isak, who missed the game with concussion, will relight the fire in Newcastle's attack.
With a trip to his former club Bournemouth next weekend, followed by the visit of Liverpool and a cup final against Manchester United - which will see the return of Guimareas - before the end of the month, Howe will hope that proves to be the case.
West Ham have lost only two of their last eight games at home to Chelsea and the visit of their rivals next Saturday looks to be coming at the perfect time.
The Blues are languishing in ninth in the Premier League, with just two wins from their last 11 games in all competitions, and the Hammers finally appear to have turned the corner in what has been an underwhelming season.
Speaking after their draw at Newcastle, Jamie Redknapp told Sky Sports: "I think they can take a lot from the performance.
"[David] Moyes will be looking at that squad now, looking at the players at his disposal, a little bit more quality in there as well and then back-up as well.
"Danny Ings is going to be a really good signing, he'll get plenty of goals and they'll be looking forward to the game against Chelsea next weekend. It's the kind of game they live for.
"They will have been nervous before today's game because it's such a tough place to go. To go and pick up a really valuable point, it just keeps that run going."
That run has seen West Ham lose just once in six matches in 2023 - a sign that Moyes is perhaps instilling the toughness in his side that powered their memorable 2021/22 campaign.
There is no denying the positive impact Unai Emery has had at Aston Villa. Better football, better results, more goals - but Saturday's 4-2 defeat to Leicester exposed a mistake-ridden underbelly that requires attention.
While their attacking play was dazzling at times - Emiliano Buendia and the returning Lucas Digne were particularly good in the first half - it was an error-strewn defensive performance that proved to be their downfall.
Boubacar Kamara was harried off the ball for Leicester's first, and was dispossessed before Tete slotted home their third. There was no one to mark Kelechi Iheanacho for the second equaliser, and Alex Moreno could not control Harvey Barnes' raking pass for Dennis Praet's fourth.
While he was not necessarily at fault himself for any of the goals, Emiliano Martinez's attempts to come off his line and smother for each of the four goals did not work. It can be a risky move, leaving your goal exposed, which Leicester exploited time and again.
Looking at the stats, Aston Villa should have walked away with at least a point, having had more possession and more than double the number of shots than Leicester.
But the Foxes took full advantage of each mistake, and defended their lead heroically in the second half as Aston Villa continued to pepper a busy area with shots.
While Emery spoke of taking the time to analyse the game and staying positive - and there has been lots of them since he came in - he will certainly have been disappointed. It felt like a step back after recent performances and results.
Aston Villa now have the week to regroup and try to snuff out some of the errors so they do not find themselves on the end of such a defeat on a regular basis.
Kelechi Iheanacho has never really been a regular starter for Leicester. In previous seasons, Jamie Vardy has been the main striker and Patson Daka has also played up front.
But Iheanacho's FA Cup winner against Walsall last weekend - a competition in which he usually excels - was rewarded with a start against Aston Villa, in which he reminded us of his talent.
He had a hand in all three of the Foxes' first-half goals. He unselfishly set up James Maddison for the first equaliser, while a sumptuous through ball allowed Tete to net on his debut.
His own goal - the second of Leicester's equalisers - was brilliantly taken, diving for Harvey Barnes' cross to nod home. He also scored in his previous Premier League start against Brighton.
Iheanacho worked hard for his team and had a huge influence, even if a lot of the goals were the result of Aston Villa's errors.
We arguably do not get to see enough of Iheanacho, but it was a timely reminder for Brendan Rodgers as he looks to pull Leicester further away from the relegation zone.
It's pinch-yourself territory for Brighton fans when it comes to the Premier League table. This is a club that is no longer transitioning towards the top, they are dining there with a team at the top of their game and a structure behind the scenes that is streets ahead of most of their Premier League rivals. It's no fluke they have hit the lofty heights of sixth place. It's an unwavering approach, with an unbelievable ability to adapt and pivot - clearing hurdles at a canter. A push for Europe is most certainly on the cards.
Change of manager? No problem. Loss of top scorer in January? Players in reserve. First-choice midfielder wants to leave? Options elsewhere. Everything thrown at them they seem to have an answer for. Even the Moises Caicedo situation, amid interest from Arsenal, was swiftly dealt with. No fuss. No problems. Roberto De Zerbi didn't even need a man that could have yielded the club £60m in January from the start such is the strength and confidence he has instilled within his players.
The Seagulls are flying.
It was just 22 days ago when, after leading Fulham to a first win over Chelsea in almost 17 years, Marco Silva said "I still see a big room to improve". At Stamford Bridge his side took another step forward.
"I told the players we had to be even better than the last game at the Cottage and they did it," was his assessment after Fulham once again frustrated their wealthier neighbours.
Graham Potter praised their defensive organisation, while Jamie Carragher likened their defending to the days when he was meticulously drilled by Rafa Benitez. Fulham are up to sixth and their remarkable return to the Premier League is reflecting well on their head coach.
It's fair to say Silva has had his ups and downs during his time coaching in England but at Fulham he seems to have developed a group of players which can - and do - perfectly execute the plans he sets them. In and out of possession they caused Chelsea problems. Yes, they rode their luck in moments but that is only to be expected given the vast gap between the teams in terms of transfer spend in recent times.
But that gap isn't reflected in the league table. Fulham are above Chelsea. They have their second-best top-flight points total at this stage of a season and are showing the connection, clear plan and effectiveness their west London derby rivals are desperate for. Silva is in the manager of the season frame.
It was perhaps symbolic that the treatment of Nathan Jones by his own supporters on Saturday occurred in the same place where the demise of his predecessor began.
Back in May, Southampton's away support sang "you don't know what you're doing" at Ralph Hasenhuttl as they went down to a 3-0 defeat at Brentford.
On that day, Southampton conceded twice in quick succession in the first half, let in another after half-time, with the chants coming at the time of his substitutions.
The only difference between these two games is Southampton were safe back in May. They are nowhere near that now.
It feels a little premature to say that Jones is totally doomed at Southampton. One positive is there was enough from new signings Kamaldeen Sulemana and Paul Onuachu to show they can get the goals required to stay in this division - and Jones needs time to try get the best out of them.
But you feel that Jones has one last chance - at most. Next up is a home game against Wolves. It feels like last chance saloon.
Compare Southampton's plight to Brentford's flight. The Bees are not just looking and heading upwards but they are doing it at their own pace.
Since Thomas Frank took over the club in 2018, his club have gone from mid-table in the Championship to play-off contenders, play-off finalists to promotion getters, Premier League relegation candidates to mid-table. And now?
The next jump up is Europe and, despite its challenges, you cannot put it past them when you look at how they are playing. After all, they are nine unbeaten in the league and now occupying seventh place.
Brentford's tale of the tape over the past two years is they excel as underdogs but struggle when the expectation is there. Victory over Southampton has shown they are evolving as a side to take seriously.
But even if they don't get European football, they know they have this positive progression pathway which means continental football is not far away.