Premier League talking points: Virgil van Dijk helps Liverpool as Riyad Mahrez shines for Man City
Virgil van Dijk underlined his importance to Liverpool, Spurs showed some much-needed spirit, and Crystal Palace continued their over-achievement under Roy Hodgson
Last Updated: 30/09/19 11:21am
Van Dijk helps Liverpool overcome tough test
Just when it seemed Liverpool might finally falter, Sheffield United goalkeeper Dean Henderson allowed Gini Wijnaldum's shot to squirm out of his grasp and into the net. And so Jurgen Klopp's men march on. It's seven wins out of seven, but this one was far from straightforward - and Liverpool were far from convincing.
Klopp admitted as much afterwards, saying they had "lost their rhythm" and conceding that Sheffield United deserved at least a point. But is it not a sign of champions to grind out a victory in this manner? The front three failed to fire, but this game was a reminder that in Virgil van Dijk, they have a match-winner at the other end too.
The Dutchman was a colossus, making more clearances than anyone else and winning 12 out of 14 aerial duels. At other times, he was simply in the right place at the right time, ending Sheffield United attacks through nothing more than smart positioning. Liverpool will need to rediscover their attacking fluency in the weeks ahead. But with Van Dijk in this kind of form, they can at least be confident of keeping their opponents out.
Magical Mahrez can be more than just an option
He's forever been seen as an 'option' for Pep Guardiola, but if Riyad Mahrez continues this form, he'll be a regular. From the off in City's 3-1 win at Everton, he was superb. Magnificent to watch, agile, aware, and clever, the Algerian already has three goals and six assists this season.
He had more shots and made more key passes than any other player, while his passing accuracy was 91 per cent. In fact, this season the 28-year-old is among the Premier League's best in terms of chances created.
Mahrez himself has noted how winning the Africa Cup of Nations with Algeria has given him a morale boost, and it is showing on the pitch. He flicks side to side, back and forth, with guile and a killer final ball. In this City side full of stars, he's perhaps the most underrated.
Spurs show fight against Saints
If there is unrest within the dressing room at Tottenham, they did a good job of hiding it on Saturday.
According to one report ahead of their clash with Southampton, some players were left fuming by Mauricio Pochettino's comments that certain squad members had "different agendas" after the defeat at Colchester.
Well, when Tottenham went down to 10-men after Serge Aurier's red card before quickly conceding an equaliser thanks to a Hugo Lloris clanger, they had a chance to down tools. Instead, their spirit came to the fore. The type of spirit that guided this team to within 90 minutes of becoming Champions League winners - a point Pochettino stressed in his post-match press conference.
Moussa Sissoko had to play as a makeshift right-back and was exceptional at quelling the constant probing from Saints down his side, while Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen defended their box like their lives depended on it. And, up top, Harry Kane defended from the front manfully and scored a brilliantly worked goal to give Spurs the momentum they needed at a potentially dangerous time.
This should be the 'springboard' performance everyone at the club is craving. However, we said that after Crystal Palace were swatted aside a few weeks ago. Back-to-back wins are required. It's Bayern Munich up next.
Jorginho is Chelsea's renaissance man
It took almost two months for Chelsea to win their first home game under Frank Lampard, but it's a long time since Stamford Bridge has felt happier than this. And while it's their academy graduates who have lifted the mood, some of the more experienced heads are contributing positively too.
None more so than Jorginho. The midfielder split opinions last season. For many, he embodied Chelsea's issues under Maurizio Sarri. But he has kept his place under Lampard, and his man-of-the-match display against Brighton showed his growing importance to this young Chelsea side.
The midfielder converted calmly from the spot for the opening goal and orchestrated Chelsea's attacks intelligently from the base of midfield. As well as leading the way for chances created, he ranked top for interceptions and recoveries. It was a fine all-round performance from a player who is fast become a leader and role model for Chelsea's young players.
"Whatever happened last year, I wasn't here," said Lampard afterwards. "All I can judge is what I see in front of me, and from pre-season he has been one of the leaders, clearly, in the dressing room and on the pitch… The young players need to look up to that attitude he has daily."
Brighton need substance as well as style
Brighton have earned plenty of goodwill this season, with Lampard the latest Premier League manager to praise the way in which Graham Potter has transformed their approach, but they are now winless since the opening day and the defeat to Chelsea was another reminder that they need to find some substance to complement the style.
They had good moments against Chelsea, counter-attacking speedily and putting together some flowing passing moves, but they only mustered one shot on target all afternoon, and Adam Webster's error for the opening goal was a reminder of the dangers of playing out from the back.
Potter won't change his way of playing, and nor should he - he was brought in to modernise Brighton's football, after all - but his side rank third-bottom for goals and shots on target this season. They must improve those numbers if they are to start getting results they ultimately depend on.
'Special' Yarmolenko boosts West Ham
Andriy Yarmolenko was hailed a "special player" by Manuel Pellegrini following another vibrant display, this time against Bournemouth, and in having the Ukrainian back fit and playing at the peak of his powers, this is a far more potent, balanced and resilient West Ham side.
The Hammers extended their unbeaten league run to six matches at the Vitality Stadium, overcoming the loss of Lukasz Fabianski to claim a deserved point.
These two sides have taken similar paths this term, recovering from sound defeats against Manchester City only to exit the EFL Cup in humiliating fashion against League One opposition, but it is West Ham who quietly sit third in the table and look more likely to mount a genuine top-six challenge.
Yarmolenko enhances those credentials, possessing an x-factor not seen at West Ham since Dimitri Payet's departure. Opponents know what he's going to do, cutting inside onto his left foot, but still can't stop him.
With Crystal Palace next at London Stadium, live on Sky Sports, before games against Everton, Sheffield United, Newcastle, and Burnley, Pellegrini faces a defining period in which West Ham's European aspirations must not fade and die. Yarmolenko will be key to keeping them alive.
Hodgson deserves more praise at Palace
Brendan Rodgers has won plaudits at Leicester this season. So too has Pellegrini at West Ham. But there is another manager from the Premier League's middle-order who deserves greater recognition than both of them. Roy Hodgson and Crystal Palace tend to fly under the radar, but their 2-0 win over Norwich on Saturday lifted them into the top half. It would be top four if not for Wolves' last-gasp equaliser last weekend.
Hodgson has overseen this bright start despite a quiet summer of incomings and months of instability surrounding Wilfried Zaha, but these Palace performances are nothing new. Remarkably, only Manchester City and Liverpool have won more points since the start of February. Of their 21 games since then, Palace have won 11 and only lost six.
Premier League top four since February 2
The football is not always pretty - Palace have only scored six goals in seven games this season - but there can be no denying that it is effective, or that Hodgson is making the absolute best of what he has got. It is thanks to him that Palace are looking up instead of peering anxiously over their shoulders.
No Maddison, no problem for Leicester
James Maddison has been integral to Leicester's encouraging start to the season and had started their previous 21 Premier League games before missing the impressive 5-0 win over Newcastle due to injury.
His absence will surely be felt if it's long-term, but against lacklustre opponents, who played the second half with 10 men, the Foxes showed they have the squad depth and talent to cope.
Summer signing Dennis Praet replaced Maddison and played a large part in the third goal, Harvey Barnes was bright, Youri Tielemans was named man of the match and right-back Ricardo Pereira seemed to spend more time in the attacking third than in his own half.
Jamie Vardy also grabbed a couple of goals to ensure Leicester should head to Liverpool next Saturday in confident mood.
Newcastle in trouble under Bruce
These are unhappy times for Newcastle. Rafa Benitez's departure was a hammer blow to the fans and the club's future under Mike Ashley has never looked bleaker.
Steve Bruce was not helped by the wild, first-half lunge from Isaac Hayden that left his side a man down at the King Power Stadium, but even before that there was precious little to get excited about.
Over the course of the 90 minutes, Newcastle did not manage a single shot on target and only had three touches inside Leicester's box. The listless, directionless performance underlines that they are facing a long, hard relegation battle this season. Their prospects of turning things around do not look bright as it stands.