Plus: Fulham, inspired by Aleksandar Mitrovic, show they have the stomach for Premier League survival; Southampton's transfer strategy starts to pay off; Anthony Gordon proves his worth to Everton amid interest from Chelsea
Wednesday 31 August 2022 14:33, UK
Thomas Frank described it as "unbelievable magic" and it certainly felt like Wilfried Zaha was the only player on the pitch at Selhurst Park on Tuesday night capable of scoring his opening goal.
Aaron Hickey had been excellent in the first half, restricting Palace's fit-again talisman and twice blocking his shots at goal. But the right-back only had to give Zaha an inch of space on the edge of the box to be punished on the hour mark.
It was Zaha's 13th Premier League goal of 2022 and fourth goal in four appearances this season. It's no wonder Chelsea and Arsenal have been linked with a late move for him, especially as his Palace contract expires at the end of the season.
Afterwards, Zaha couldn't hide his frustration at Brentford's late equaliser but insisted he was fully focused on Palace, describing the club as a family.
Those bonds could be tested in the coming days if a sizeable offer comes in - and on current form, Palace's London rivals may struggle to recruit a more dangerous forward.
In three out of their five Premier League games this season, Brentford have rescued a point thanks to goals in the final 10 minutes. It's becoming somewhat of a habit for Thomas Frank's side.
Josh Dasilva at Leicester on the opening weekend (86), Vitaly Janelt against Everton on Saturday (84) and now Yoane Wissa at Crystal Palace (88). Without those three points, they would be down in 15th rather than ninth.
But it's not something Frank necessarily wants to keep relying on. "I think from a health perspective, the Man Utd game [winning 4-0] is a little bit more healthy," Frank said after the 1-1 draw at Crystal Palace.
At Selhurst Park on Tuesday, Brentford created the three best chances of the match in the final seven minutes. They were unfortunate not to leave with three points, even if they were second best for most of the game.
"I would have loved the drama if we scored for 2-1," said Frank. "But it is very difficult in the Premier League. We know we need to work so unbelievably hard to get every point we can."
There is a work ethic which courses through Frank's side which means you can never count them out. The worker Bees are always in with a chance, right until the last moment.
The noise inside Craven Cottage told you all you needed to know. Fulham deserved this victory, but in the Premier League you've got to earn them - and that's exactly what Marco Silva's side did.
The relief at full-time was proof that after their recent struggles in the top flight, this fanbase, this group of players will never take a Premier League victory for granted, even when they are worthy winners like this occasion.
Fulham managed the game superbly. Their energetic, fluid attacking start stifled Brighton, while their combative approach to the frantic final few minutes got them over the line to this crucial second victory of the campaign.
Silva has got this part of west London dreaming big, and those aspirations are epitomised by striker Aleksandar Mitrovic firing on all cylinders wherever he's needed on the pitch, be that in the opposition box or defending his own.
Mitrovic's performance received glowing praise from his manager, but Silva deserves credit too. He's got Fulham fighting and, make no mistake about it, they are going to make a right fist of staying in the Premier League time around.
When Brighton released their starting line-up to face Fulham at Craven Cottage, it was tricky to figure out who would be leading the line in place of the rested Danny Welbeck. Leandro Trossard as a false nine? Pascal Gross as a midfielder-cum-striker?
In fact, the answer was nobody. Trossard spent most of the game on the left flank, while Gross was needed in central midfield. Remarkably, Opta's average positions showed Solly March as Brighton's most advanced player.
Little wonder they offered so little threat in Fulham's box.
Welbeck was able to provide more of a focal point after coming on in the second half. He has impressed so far this season. But Brighton cannot rely on someone with his injury history. They needed more firepower even before Neal Maupay was sold to Everton.
This game only served to highlight that need. Beyond Welbeck, Brighton's only striking options are Deniz Undav, a 26-year-old with only one season of top-flight football behind him, for Union Saint-Gilloise in Belgium, and untested teenagers Julio Enciso and Evan Ferguson.
Brighton's outstanding start to the season has taken the focus away from that lack of depth but the trip to Craven Cottage exposed it. The club must act to change it before Thursday's deadline.
Twenty minutes to go in Southampton's first home game of the season and they were two goals down to Leeds United having also lost 4-1 at Tottenham on the opening weekend. Many felt that Ralph Hasenhuttl was a man on the brink at that point.
But not only did Saints salvage a point that day but they have gone on to take six points from nine in three games against last season's top eight. Their come-from-behind 2-1 win against Chelsea at St Mary's was the most impressive performance yet.
What will satisfy supporters most is that some of the new signings have settled so quickly and look like fantastic acquisitions already. Romeo Lavia went off injured on Tuesday but only after scoring a stunning equaliser to underline his fine start at the club.
If there is anyone who has outshone the 18-year-old Lavia, it is Armel Bella-Kotchap. He is a 20-year-old centre-back signed from Bochum and looks to have serious potential. The pair cost less than £20m in the summer and it is easy to see that value rising and rising.
Southampton's strategy is focused on developing younger talent but the fear was that they might be courting relegation in doing so. After that alarming start, any concerns are receding. Hasenhuttl has a team packed with talent. It is fun again at St Mary's.
Chelsea's season is going in the other direction right now. They were seconds away from following up an opening weekend win over Everton with a deserved victory against Tottenham but Harry Kane's late goal has proved the prelude to a dramatic shift in mood.
After being well beaten at Leeds, Thomas Tuchel's side have now lost their next away game too with the players facing accusations of being weak by their own manager. "Just toughen up as a team and show a different mentality," he said of the defeat at St Mary's.
Easier said than done, it seems. For much of Tuchel's time at Chelsea, his team looked solid but no more. No clean sheets in four tells only part of the tale. They look so open right now. The switch to a back four does not seem to suit them and the injuries are mounting.
That is a short-term issue and the impending arrival of Wesley Fofana should help too. But with the attack little better - only Raheem Sterling has found the net in the last three games - and a gap to their rivals already opening up, Tuchel is under some pressure now.
Anthony Gordon once again proved why Everton must resist Chelsea's advances and keep hold of the winger.
The 21-year-old scored in successive games for the first time in his career after producing a clinical finish in the draw at Leeds.
He was by far Everton's biggest threat at Elland Road as he had the most touches in the opposition box (5) and the most dribbles (6) of any Toffees player.
The England U21 international showed his versatility too as he played on the left of a front three, having played centrally in their previous match at Brentford.
His performances have been made even more impressive considering the speculation surrounding his future and the team's current reliance on his attacking talent due to the club's threadbare striker situation.
It is little wonder Sky Sports News understands he will not be leaving Everton this summer, while there has not been a point where the club have considered the possibility of him being sold, with Tottenham and Newcastle also interested in him this summer.
Everton's stance will not only please the Goodison Park faithful as the transfer window enters its final 48 hours, but it will also delight boss Frank Lampard who needs Gordon this season more than ever if his side are to avoid another relegation-threatened campaign.
Leeds' striker options are back under the spotlight after Rodrigo suffered a shoulder injury in the first half of his side's 1-1 draw with Everton.
Rodrigo has thrived in a central role for Jesse Marsch's side in the early weeks of the season but now the club's top goal scorer could be set for a spell on the sidelines.
"It's a dislocated shoulder, obviously you can see it's very painful," said Marsch. "They popped it back in, he seems to be feeling okay. He'll get a scan and we'll see how he is."
Marsch could call upon Patrick Bamford, who was back in the squad to face Everton, but it was Joe Gelhardt, who replaced Rodrigo, suggesting Bamford is not fully back to full fitness yet.
It has been no secret that Leeds have been looking to add a striker this summer but, in his programme notes ahead of the Everton game, CEO Angus Kinnear said that the club would only move for a player who could add genuine quality.
Marsch reiterated Leeds' desire to sign a striker after the draw with Everton. "Everybody's trying as best as they can," he said. "We're trying to find ways to continue to improve our squad. We have a good team, I'm really happy with the progress we're making. I really like our team. Obviously [a striker] has been a goal of ours from the start of the summer," he said. "Again, we've been active and we're trying everything we can."
Those efforts are sure to be intensified after the blow of Rodrigo's injury.