theScore examines the most important Premier League developments from the weekend, dissecting the biggest talking points after a busy slate of action.

Pep finally gets it right against Tuchel

This was the first time Thomas Tuchel had faced Manchester City’s strongest lineup. Pep Guardiola made eight changes to his side for April’s FA Cup semifinal defeat to Chelsea, picked out-of-form players and shaped a peculiar formation for May’s Premier League loss, and infamously overlooked defensive midfielders for the Champions League final disappointment later in the same month.

There were no such mistakes for Saturday’s match.

Kevin De Bruyne, Phil Foden, Rodri, and Aymeric Laporte all started despite their recent fitness issues, but Joao Cancelo and Bernardo Silva were the most crucial inclusions.

Shaun Botterill / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Cancelo touched the ball more than anyone else on the pitch and expertly read the game with four interceptions. Silva, meanwhile, is arguably Guardiola’s most important player right now: His work off the ball was relentless as he won eight duels, and when he had possession, he squirmed through dark blue shirts and tended to pick the right pass. To call it a quality midfield performance would do Silva a disservice – he was omnipresent.

Some elements can inhibit Guardiola’s thinking – appeasing a large squad, navigating a congested fixture list, or perhaps just his tendency to meddle – which means he rarely selects City’s strongest XI. This time, everything was in its right place, and City strengthened their title push at Stamford Bridge with one of the most dominant 1-0 wins you’ll see this season.

Villa prove credentials at Old Trafford

Aston Villa manager Dean Smith urged his players to go “toe-to-toe” with Manchester United, and his side responded with one of the most impressive performances of his three-year tenure. Crucially, they pulled off the upset of the weekend without injured match-winner Leon Bailey, who singlehandedly turned last Sunday’s game against Everton. Villa spat in the face of history, too, beating United for just the second time in 46 Premier League contests.

Villa didn’t dominate at Old Trafford. United controlled 60% possession and lashed 27 shots, creating the lion’s share of chances. But Villa were far more targeted and precise in their approach, making clever runs down the channel to push the game back into United’s end. Smith’s outfit showed a ton of personality in the final minutes when it would’ve been easier – and far more understandable – to risk-manage and secure the point.

Gareth Copley / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer whined that Villa’s Ollie Watkins had interfered with United goalkeeper David De Gea while in an offside position that and the officials should’ve ruled out the goal resulting from Douglas Luiz’s corner kick. It was, at best, an attempt at damage control. Solskjaer’s overseen three defeats in four matches, and his team has relied on individual brilliance to get the job done more often than not. Maybe that’s why Villa didn’t fear United or history or any of that in the closing stages. They saw a vulnerable club, even with Cristiano Ronaldo, Bruno Fernandes, and Edinson Cavani on the pitch, and they made the Red Devils pay.

Martinez knows which buttons to push

Argentinian shot-stopper Emi Martinez appeared to rattle Fernandes in the seconds leading up to his disastrous penalty kick in the 93rd minute. Martinez shouted at United’s players, daring Ronaldo to take the penalty instead while doing just enough to sow the seeds of doubt in their minds, and danced on the goalline as Fernandes maintained ownership of spot-kick duties. The ensuing attempt was the worst of the Portuguese’s career. Fernandes had never skied a penalty kick before, and he had only missed one of his previous 14 penalties in the Premier League.

Martinez must’ve been the difference. The 29-year-old’s trash-talking came in handy during the Copa America, with Colombia falling prey to his mind games in a tense semifinal shootout. Martinez yelled at each of Colombia’s penalty takers just as he did to Fernandes and his teammates, and he celebrated one of his three saves in that shootout with in-your-face hip-thrusting. He did another jig when Fernandes sent the ball sky-high on Saturday.

Nothing in the rules prohibits what is widely known as “shithousery.” Penalties are about keeping your cool and nerve, and by running his mouth, Martinez simply aims to make a nerve-wracking situation that much more difficult.

Sean Longstaff grasping at unexpected chance

Sean Longstaff’s younger brother Matty had a more emphatic introduction to top-flight football when he marked his October 2019 league debut with the only goal in a defeat of Manchester United. But Longstaff was alongside his sibling in Newcastle United’s midfield on that day, plugging away as rumors of him completing a lucrative transfer to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side continued to swirl.

If Newcastle could keep the predatory clubs at bay, the Longstaffs could have become the fulcrum of their XI for many years. But it hasn’t worked out that way. Matty is on loan at Aberdeen after struggling for game time under Steve Bruce, while the Magpies planned to move on from Sean after his development sputtered on Tyneside.

Ian MacNicol / Getty Images Sport / Getty

However, nothing materialized when Newcastle pursued another midfielder late in the summer window, handing Sean a lifeline at St. James’ Park.

The elder Longstaff expertly picked out the top corner from around 25 yards for Newcastle’s goal at Watford on Saturday, but he should’ve scored another shortly before the break when he lifted a clear chance over Ben Foster’s bar. Longstaff’s all-around performance should hearten Newcastle fans, though, as he completed five tackles and five clearances while firing four attempts at the Watford mesh.

Leicester needed to pick up points now

Leicester City supporters are starting to express their frustration at the Foxes’ disappointing start to the campaign. Brendan Rodgers’ side is already six points adrift of the Champions League places after seven matches, and the Northern Irish manager is guilty of being overly loyal to regular starters who aren’t performing.

Rodgers’ decision to substitute Ademola Lookman, who was a threat in Saturday’s 2-2 draw with Burnley, for James Maddison in the 78th minute was met with loud jeers from the Leicester faithful.

“I’ve been here nearly two-and-three-quarter-years, that’s probably the first time the fans have booed, so I’ll take that after that period of time,” Rodgers told the Leicester Mercury’s Jordan Blackwell.

Things could get worse for Rodgers. Taking a single point from matches against Brighton & Hove Albion and Burnley is concerning ahead of a tricky run for the Foxes.

Date Match
Oct. 3 Crystal Palace (a)
Oct. 16 Manchester United (h)
Oct. 24 Brentford (a)
Oct. 30 Arsenal (h)
Nov. 7 Leeds United (a)
Nov. 20 Chelsea (h)

Bielsa facing toughest test since promotion

You could forgive Leeds United for being a bit porous at the back. Injuries and suspension robbed manager Marcelo Bielsa of three senior center-backs this weekend, and without star center-forward Patrick Bamford, Leeds couldn’t even look to its talisman to hold up play.

But they only have one speed: Relentless. Despite the obvious threat of the counterattack Saturday – a warning to take even more seriously against a side as astute on the break as West Ham United – Bielsa’s side continued to play the same high-pressing aggressive football that earned him acclaim last season. Raphinha’s pinpoint finish into the bottom corner seemed to validate Leeds’ open approach in the first half. The Brazilian proved a constant menace in the opening stanza, giving the hosts hope that they’d finally get their first win of the campaign.

Zac Goodwin – PA Images / PA Images / Getty

The second half was a different story altogether. West Ham took advantage of the space Leeds left behind, with Bielsa showing no wish to compromise. The football was scintillating and made for a great watch for the neutral, but Leeds ceded the victory specifically because they ignored circumstance. With eight players all chasing a speculative cross in West Ham’s penalty area, Leeds came undone in the 90th minute, allowing the visitors to take possession in midfield before feeding Michail Antonio for the winning goal.

Bielsa is by no means at risk of losing his job, but with a measly six goals in six Premier League games and without a win in any of them, his usual carefree football isn’t even offering upside. The Argentine coach’s philosophy is facing the ultimate stress test.

Liverpool’s defensive shortcomings exposed

Brentford unnerved Liverpool’s usually impenetrable backline Saturday with a direct approach that forced game-saving interventions from Virgil van Dijk and Joel Matip.

Even with just 33% possession, Brentford could’ve – and perhaps should’ve – scored more. Matip cleared Bryan Mbeumo’s effort off the goal line, and robust center-forward Ivan Toney, who won a game-high nine aerial duels, was a constant thorn in the Reds’ side. Brentford manager Frank Thomas admitted the game was more open than he would’ve liked – the hosts required key saves from goalkeeper David Raya just to stay in the contest – but it was a risk they had to take.

The Bees enjoyed a lot of success with the long ball, and Toney proved a magnificent target man, giving his teammates not just an outlet to release pressure but a viable attacking option up front. The 25-year-old relayed the ball to nearby teammates on several occasions, and Van Dijk struggled to contain his movement.

Brentford did an even better job overloading the far post, giving them the upper hand over Trent Alexander-Arnold whenever crosses came in. All three of the Bees’ goals came off of deliveries to the far post.

Jimenez roars back with 1st goal in a year

When Wolverhampton star Raul Jimenez returned to action wearing protective headgear – the result of a nasty collision that left him with a life-threatening skull fracture – no one knew if he’d play with the same confidence up front. Doctors told him to limit the number of headers he takes in training, neutering one of his best assets.

But Jimenez showed Sunday he can outwit the opposition in more ways than one. After taking down one of many long balls against Southampton, the Mexican striker eluded three defenders before wrongfooting the ‘keeper and depositing the ball into the open side of the net. It was a remarkable display of composure from a player who’s run the gamut of emotions since that scary incident in November 2020.

Before Sunday’s contest, Wolves boss Bruno Lage encouraged Jimenez to adapt to his new normal, urging him to keep his head guard on at all times. The 30-year-old removed it after missing a header against Brentford last weekend – a hint at the frustration of wearing something so constricting.

Jimenez’s goal Sunday should provide a boost in confidence. And with just three tallies in six Premier League matches, the club needs him more than ever.

Tottenham lack vision, planning

It’s time for some soul searching at Tottenham Hotspur.

On the pitch, the harrowing 3-1 defeat to bitter rivals Arsenal in Sunday’s north London derby was the third consecutive league match in which Spurs conceded three goals. Nuno Espirito Santo said the game plan was “not good” after the loss. He’s not wrong. Worse yet, though, it was difficult to decipher what, exactly, the plan was.

Nuno prefers substance over style, which is fine. There are many different ways to win. But a less attractive, more conservative approach will be tolerated by fans – and players – only if results follow. It’s hard to justify having the Portuguese bench boss around with the team looking devoid of proper preparation and structure.

Spurs’ slide has also put this summer’s decision not to cash in on wantaway star Harry Kane under the microscope. Sure, Daniel Levy enhanced his reputation as a tough negotiator, but at what cost? Instead of collecting a boatload of money and using it to rebuild the squad with a long-term view in mind, Levy and Co. decided that keeping Kane and hiring an established manager in the form of Nuno was the path to contention this season.

With Kane struggling and his value diminishing, and the club dropping like a stone in the table, it’s becoming hard to justify the choices made by the brass.

Trust the process at Arsenal

Mikel Arteta has preached patience since his arrival at Arsenal, and after plenty of setbacks (some downright humiliating), we may finally be seeing some light at the end of the tunnel.

With Emile Smith Rowe and Martin Odegaard pulling the strings, Bukayo Saka continuing to blossom into a star, and some new faces helping to build much-needed defensive solidity, there’s reason to be optimistic about the Gunners going forward. Yes, playing a Tottenham side that is pretty hapless right now certainly helps, but Arsenal showed a level of verve and ruthlessness that has often been missing under Arteta with three goals in just over 30 minutes on Sunday.

Julian Finney / Getty Images Sport / Getty

“It’s a special day. Today is one example of what we want to do, but we have to be consistent,” Arteta said after the feel-good triumph.

That’s the next step as Arsenal look to continue their quest to reestablish themselves as one of the elite clubs in the country.


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