Our writers analyse Saturday's action as Kevin De Bruyne's brilliance lifts Man City but Graham Potter's return to Brighton turns into a nightmare. Plus: Liverpool's soft centre is exposed again in their late defeat to Leeds
Sunday 30 October 2022 10:32, UK
It is ominous for the rest of the Premier League that Man City manager Pep Guardiola thinks Kevin De Bruyne is only just starting to regain the sort of form that has seen the Belgian labelled as the best midfielder in the Premier League.
De Bruyne was City's match winner against Leicester City at the King Power, arching in a 25-yard free-kick early in the second half to decide a tightly fought contest and send his side top of the table on Saturday night.
That strike was the 31-year-old's third in the league this season after he netted in last weekend's win over Brighton, while he also has a Premier League-high nine assists to his name.
And his manager says De Bruyne is now back to his best.
"Kevin can do free-kicks, we know it," Guardiola said after the game. "But he is a player who needs his dynamic. He has the quality when he moves, he needs movement and today he was back.
"We need him. It is not about he can't do it. Over the past seven years we have done everything together, except the Champions League.
"I know him quite well. Nothing is going to change my opinion of him or what he has done for this club or for me personally.
"But I have the duty in my job to say I want more. In the game against Brighton he scored a fantastic goal, but we need more. He can do that blind, naturally. We need both and today was the case."
Liverpool's Champions League clash with Ajax had provided some respite, the 3-0 win securing their place in the last 16. But against Leeds at Anfield three days later, all the problems that have dogged their domestic campaign came rushing back.
This was the eighth time in 12 Premier League games they have conceded the first goal and on this occasion it took only four minutes, Joe Gomez's wayward backpass catching Alisson Becker out of position and allowing Leeds forward Rodrigo to score.
Liverpool fought back, peppering the Leeds goal with shots after Mohamed Salah had brought them level, but Crysencio Summerville's late strike eventually won it, that early mix-up between Gomez and Alisson setting the tone for another bewilderingly meek defensive performance.
Gomez was poor, at fault for the opener only a week after his error allowed Nottingham Forest to score their winner at the City Ground, but he was not alone. Virgil van Dijk, alongside him in central defence, again looked like a player who has lost his aura.
The Dutchman failed to close down Summerville for the winner and others were found wanting in that passage of play too. "You cannot defend like we defended around the second goal," said Klopp. "But we did and I'm not sure how to explain that now."
It is similarly difficult to explain what is happening in midfield, where Fabinho, so imperious for so long under Klopp, again struggled badly. So badly, in fact, that he was withdrawn after only an hour.
Sky Sports pundit Graeme Souness spoke of Liverpool being "bullied" while Klopp bemoaned an inability to control games. All of the problems stem from the centre, where the core of a once great side appears to be growing weaker by the game.
It was a true Halloween horror show for Chelsea at the Amex - but they only have themselves to blame.
Brighton may have scored within five minutes, but Thiago Silva had already played a string of poor passes, one of which led to the goal. For a player of such experience, it was a concern to see him struggle under early pressure.
But perhaps the biggest surprise was Chelsea's inability to handle the directness of Solly March and Pervis Estupinan down the wings. Surely, given Potter's knowledge of both players, he could have prepared his Chelsea side better?
One of the full-backs charged with dealing with the threat was Marc Cucurella too, another former Brighton player. You have to wonder how, there was not a plan - before or during the game - to nullify the threat.
That only seemed to come at half-time when Chelsea made a tactical tweak, but the damage had largely been done by that point.
Of course, that also came in the form of two own goals from Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Trevoh Chalobah, the first time Chelsea have put into their own net in a Premier League game. They were the first side to score two own goals in the opening 45 minutes since Everton against Southampton in April 2014.
The second half was far better in terms of possession and chances, but only three of their nine shots after the break were on target, although one was Kai Havertz's goal. There is talent in that squad for goals, but it just did not materialise when they needed it most.
It was arguably the worst-case scenario for Graham Potter, who would have wanted a far better return to the Amex Stadium. Chelsea had never lost to Brighton in the league before - that has now been emphatically ended.
So too has the Blues' unbeaten run under Potter. While there's no doubting his ability as a manager, there were some worrying moments that has given the coach his first conundrums to solve. He will be hoping it's a one-off blip - it just could not have come at a worse time.
Saturday's first win under Roberto De Zerbi felt like a long time coming. The Italian has repeatedly said that a win was coming if Brighton kept playing the way they had been and he was proved correct.
A Hollywood script writer could hardly have written it better either. Their former manager, who left less than two months ago, arrives back at the Amex with his star-filled, unbeaten squad. But Brighton, the underdogs in this tale, produced a sensational performance and beat their opposition by a rather mighty scoreline.
Imagine the swelling music, the redemptive moment that brings a tear to your eye. Although Brighton hardly had anything to be particularly sorry for, it would have put to bed some of the frustration at a lack of points under the new coach so far.
De Zerbi paid tribute to the fans - "the best player on the pitch", he called them - and you could tell they were ready for a big match against their former manager. The feeling was bubbling throughout the game, giving Brighton an extra intensity.
On the pitch, their tactics were near perfect. March and Estupinan proved inspired down either wing, with Chelsea's full-backs unable to keep up with them. Leandro Trossard scored once again, Kaoru Mitoma looked like he had been playing in the Premier League all his life, even though it was his first start in the league.
The same can be applied to 18-year-old Julio Enciso, who came on as a second-half substitute. He offered Chelsea a whole host of new problems and you could pick out the standout moments for most of the Brighton squad.
Some may point to a host of Chelsea errors - explored in more detail above - as having a huge hand in Brighton's win and yes, the Blues did not help themselves.
But the Seagulls' play, especially in the first half, forced some of those errors and Chelsea were found wanting under the pressure. You do not score four goals by sheer luck and good fortune alone, although there was some help along the way.
De Zerbi says he now sees Brighton playing the way he wants, and although it perhaps should have come sooner, was much-deserved for their work so far under the new manager.
But they must build on it now. This season so far has proven that anyone can beat anyone and consistency will always be key. They must also look to other goalscorers - two Chelsea players have now scored more goals for Brighton under De Zerbi than nine of the Seagulls' starting XI on Saturday.
While the manager said he would not be celebrating, he can have a little Italian red and a smile at a job well done this evening.
Just when it looked like being another disappointing result for Spurs that would have made it four games without a win, Rodrigo Bentancur's 92nd-minute winner at Bournemouth has given them much-needed momentum heading into a pivotal week.
Spurs go to Marseille on Tuesday in a crunch Champions League match that they must not lose to qualify for the last 16.
It is a game Spurs boss Antonio Conte has called a "final", before they then host top-four rivals Liverpool on Sunday, live on Sky Sports.
Tottenham have to use the relentlessness and aggression of their second-half performance at Bournemouth if they are to succeed in those two games.
Conte's side also need to start becoming proactive rather than reactive, having conceded first in five of their last six games in all competitions.
Only when they were 2-0 down at the Vitality Stadium did Spurs get on the front foot to take the game to their opponents and show bravery with the ball. This is what Spurs fans want to see from the off.
A 3-2 comeback win at a newly-promoted side who are one of the favourites to be relegated is not usually something to shout about, but it feels important - just ask Conte.
"This win was vital for us, especially after two losses in the Premier League," he said. "This win has to give us enthusiasm, passion to go to Marseille."
It will also regain confidence in his side who go to France in midweek with renewed hope and belief.
And while Tottenham made a comeback of their own on Saturday, Marseille were on the end of a comeback themselves in Ligue 1 as Strasbourg snatched a last-minute equaliser.
Tottenham have the momentum and now they must use it.
Unai Emery might be checking if his Aston Villa contract has a cooling off period. When he agreed to join the Villans, they had just shown what they were capable of with a free-flowing win over Brentford, but now they're straight back to square one.
If anything could be worse than a 4-0 defeat, it's the manner of it. They went in at half-time against Newcastle trailing by a goal, but there was barely anything to choose between the two sides.
It was when Callum Wilson made it 2-0 not long after the restart that they collapsed. Three minutes later it was 3-0. Another 11 later it was four. And it could've been five or six by full-time.
Tyrone Mings and Ezri Konsa, who had looked a solid partnership before the break, were run ragged after it.
Outgoing caretaker boss Aaron Danks said his side knew they would need to "hang in there" when Newcastle got into their stride, but they reverted to type with the same fragile mentality that cost Steven Gerrard his job last week.
Emery has a job on his hands. This team has undoubted quality - as that Brentford thrashing shows - but needs to build resilience as a matter of urgency.
Newcastle were brilliant again on home soil as they stretched their good form to a run of one defeat in their last 15 league games. Winning matches, and comprehensively, is not out of the ordinary for Eddie Howe's side now.
More noteworthy as they thrashed Aston Villa 4-0 was the performance of Callum Wilson, especially with England manager Gareth Southgate watching on. The one thing denying him a perfect late claim for a place on the plane to Qatar next month was a hat-trick goal, and even then only the width of the goalframe stopped him taking home the match ball.
Wilson scored from the spot, added another with his head and assisted two other goals, both on the break. He showcased his all-round game beyond being a pacy finisher and will have given the England boss a headache as he weighs up his options.
The 30-year-old is a unique option compared to the Three Lions' current set-up, possessing that raw speed which they have lacked since Jamie Vardy's international retirement, and no-one could deny he also has the quality to go with it.
With Tammy Abraham out of form in Serie A and Dominic Calvert-Lewin only just back from injury, could a Kane-Toney-Wilson strikeforce be jetting off from Heathrow next month?
If Southgate is going on form, which is a big if, then there's no reason why not.
The bad news for Crystal Palace is that they won't play at Selhurst Park until Boxing Day.
All four of their Premier League wins this season have come on home soil with their latest against Southampton showing their best and worst in what is turning out to be a season of consistencies.
They dominated in the first half only to be dominated in the second. It was a familiar story with the only surprise that they started fast and didn't have to launch a comeback.
The good news for Palace is that was their third win in five, having claimed just one victory in their first seven, and are into the top half.
With trips to West Ham and Nottingham Forest before the World Cup, if Patrick Vieira's side can start earning maximum points on the road then they can aim to solidify a top-half challenge.
It was just one of those nights for Aleksandar Mitrovic and Fulham against Everton.
Ten shots without a goal is up there with one of the more frustrating evenings for a Premier League striker. The last time it happened was in 2017 when Harry Kane came up against Brighton.
Much like Kane is to Tottenham, Mitrovic has become a talismanic figure for Fulham.
His lack of composure seemed to spread through the Fulham team with Marco Silva's side rushing their chances in the final third. Just six of their 24 shots being on target certainly backs that up.
Perhaps they were unnerved by their ever-present goalscorer having an off night? This was just the fourth time in 12 matches that he's not scored when featuring for Fulham this season. In all of those games Fulham have dropped points (D2, L2).
Regardless of Saturday's off night in front of goal, Fulham impressed with their all-round performance. The newly-promoted side were in control throughout and had the lion's-share of possession, giving Everton almost no hope of troubling their goal.
Fulham have been free-flowing all season - only five teams have scored more than their 22 in the Premier League - and the goals will undoubtedly return.
When they do, Mitrovic is sure to be at the heart of things.
Jordan Pickford gave a wink and a thumbs up to the Fulham fans behind the Hammersmith End at the final whistle. He had been poked and baited throughout the second half but this is a far more mature Jordan Pickford.
"I know how important goalkeepers are," Everton boss Frank Lampard said. "They can make or break you as a team. When he plays like that, he wins you points. Last week, he had his feet up [against Palace] but today we needed him and he showed his quality."
Pickford will take the credit for his six saves, but this was in truth a collective defensive performance from Everton, whose stubborn refusal to be breached will encourage Lampard as he heads north.
"Last season that would've coincided with a defeat," Lampard pointedly said afterwards.
He was right, his supporters would argue, if they can bear to think back to that torrid campaign. Conor Coady and James Tarkowski have been integral to the side's improved robustness.
"Last season when we conceded a goal the heads dropped," continued Lampard. "Conor's (Coady) been in England conversation as a regular but now people are talking about Tarky (James Tarkowski) and rightly so, but it's Gareth's choice. They've been instrumental in positive changes."
Gareth Southgate will be pleased too with his No 1's form heading to Qatar, and the understanding of Coady and Tarkowski in front of the Everton goalkeeper is certainly a wider point of discussion given the problems at centre-back for England.
The save to deny Willian in the first half was stupendous. There is a growing maturity to Pickford's game, and he is approaching the World Cup at the peak of his powers.
Silva said afterwards: "Jordan and their defenders deserve credit, they block everything but we did everything to win. In football we have days like this. It's the first game at home we have not scored, our philosophy and desire is right."