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

United’s transfer policy comes back to bite them

Saturday’s disappointing draw at Old Trafford was a perfect example of Manchester United’s lack of a competent defensive midfielder, as Everton exposed the club’s failure to address its most urgent need in last summer’s transfer window.

As the Toffees searched for an equalizer, Cristiano Ronaldo was introduced despite Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s efforts to give the Portuguese star a breather just days after his Champions League heroics. But Ronaldo – the club’s headline-grabbing signing of the summer – wasn’t the answer for a Manchester United side that was once again let down by its midfield.

Andros Townsend was the hero for the visitors with a goal that likely wouldn’t have materialized if United had a world-class defensive midfielder in the fold. Instead, Solskjaer’s decision to stick with Fred backfired again, as the Brazilian struggled mightily and was largely to blame for Townsend’s second-half equalizer with two crucial missed tackles in the build-up.

Though it’s premature to say United are in full-blown crisis mode, things could change quickly over the coming weeks. With a gauntlet of upcoming tough matches against Leicester City, Liverpool, Tottenham, and Manchester City, the pressure on Solskjaer will undoubtedly intensify if he continues to stubbornly rely on a player who proves he’s not cut out for the job.

Rejuvenated Townsend pays tribute to idol Ronaldo

Townsend just couldn’t help himself.

After scoring the aforementioned equalizer, Townsend had only one thing on his mind as he jetted over to the corner flag to perform his rendition of Ronaldo’s famous goal celebration.

Clive Mason / Getty Images Sport / Getty

While the stunt likely didn’t sit well with United supporters or Ronaldo himself, the 30-year-old said he meant no disrespect toward his superstar idol.

“I probably didn’t do the celebration justice and didn’t execute it properly,” Townsend said, according to Jamie Jackson of The Guardian. “It’s just a mark of respect to a guy who influenced my career.”

Townsend’s goal was the continuation of the English winger’s bright start to the season. He now has five goals and three assists in all competitions since his arrival at Everton last summer.

Mixed fortunes for Chilwell as he tries to regain place

Ben Chilwell was handed his first Premier League start of the season in Saturday’s 3-1 win over Southampton, but a late goal and another decent effort following a slick one-two with Mateo Kovacic may not be enough to convince Thomas Tuchel that Chilwell should be preferred to Marcos Alonso.

Chilwell didn’t touch the ball in the final third until the 26th minute, as he initially appeared reluctant to join Chelsea’s attacks. Tuchel was visibly angered in one instance when the left-wing-back halted a run and missed Callum Hudson-Odoi’s excellent pass behind the Southampton defense.

Chelsea academy graduate Tino Livramento also outfoxed Chilwell and drew a rash challenge from the 24-year-old, earning Southampton their second-half penalty.

But Chilwell has never been the strongest defender, so, most of all, Tuchel will insist on more attacking input from the Englishman in his next start.

Hwang proving invaluable for Wolves

The frustratingly long wait for Wolverhampton Wanderers fans to celebrate a Premier League goal at Molineux is finally over. And it was all thanks to the club’s new in-form striker, Hee-Chan Hwang.

The South Korean helped secure three points against Newcastle United on Saturday with an attacking display that will surely endear him to Wolves fans. Three weeks after opening his scoring account in England, Hwang gave Wolves the lead with a calm finish to end the club’s three-match goal drought at home.

Matthew Ashton – AMA / Getty Images Sport / Getty

He added another just before the hour mark to cancel out Jeff Hendrick’s controversial equalizer and, ultimately, give Wolves the victory. It was a performance that Wolves so desperately needed during a season in which Bruno Lage’s men have struggled in attack and squandered countless scoring opportunities.

Though he wasn’t cut out for life in Germany, Hwang has transitioned wonderfully to the Premier League and appears poised to be the main focal point of Wolves’ attacking scheme as the season unfolds.

Team effort earns Leeds a maiden win

“There were a lot of positive things – we didn’t make errors, we didn’t allow counter-attacks, we didn’t let their forwards stand out,” Leeds United boss Marcelo Bielsa said after Saturday’s 1-0 win over Watford, according to the Yorkshire Evening Post’s Graham Smyth.

And one of the main positives for Leeds were the performances of some of Bielsa’s supporting cast. Of course, Raphinha was the Whites’ most dangerous player and Kalvin Phillips kept the team ticking from midfield, but those usually on the periphery of the first team ensured its injured stars weren’t missed.

Jamie Shackleton – deputizing for Luke Ayling – followed last weekend’s fine outing at West Ham United with an efficient showing at right-back, keeping Emmanuel Dennis and Ken Sema quiet throughout. Rodrigo has played better since being deployed further upfield in Patrick Bamford’s usual slot, where he can hassle defenders while still dropping to collaborate with Leeds’ midfielders.

And Bielsa noted that Dan James, who’s quickly been handed a starting berth due to Jack Harrison’s COVID-19 issues, is improving with each game. The former Manchester United winger will be difficult to displace in the lineup after he drew four fouls and unsettled the Watford backline with his rapid pressing.

It was only 1-0, but Leeds should’ve won by a more comprehensive scoreline.

Arsenal still too inconsistent to make inroads

It says a lot about Arsenal’s expectations that a goalless draw at Brighton & Hove Albion can be considered a minor feat. After all, the Seagulls entered the weekend ahead of the Gunners, and the average age of Mikel Arteta’s starting lineup was just 23.5 years.

Steve Bardens / Getty Images Sport / Getty

The problem is Arsenal’s inability to consolidate serve when they have the upper hand. Arteta’s players didn’t show any of the ambition from last week’s 3-0 drubbing of Spurs and escaped a worse fate at The Amex only because of Brighton’s poor finishing. Just two of the hosts’ 21 shots hit the target.

Arsenal struggled once again to carry a good performance into the next game. Last season, they followed up an impressive 1-0 victory over Manchester United – their first win at Old Trafford in 14 years – with a disaster-class of an outing against Aston Villa. Arsenal went the next seven Premier League matches without a win before going unbeaten the following six and again falling out of form.

To a certain extent, Arteta has to expect ups and downs from a younger team. But it’s a reflection of his capabilities, as well. He’s got to find a way to keep Arsenal from making mountains out of peaks and bottomless pits out of valleys.

Saturday’s result doesn’t exactly achieve that. Brighton thoroughly outplayed their richer rivals, dominating possession and the left flank in particular. The lashing rain certainly played a factor, but overall, Arsenal never looked to gain control of a match they should have designs on winning if they want to make the great leap forward.

Munoz’s sacking was cruel but predictable

The search for a new manager is underway at Watford after the head-scratching sacking of Xisco Munoz.

On the surface, it’s a harsh decision considering the newly promoted club’s promising start in the Premier League campaign under the coach that guided them back to the top flight last season. The issues behind the scenes, however, run much deeper at a club that’s developed a reputation for its dysfunctional relationships with managers.

After Saturday’s narrow loss to Leeds United, the Hornets sat 14th in the table with a four-point cushion above the relegation zone. Board officials at the club had seen enough to pull the plug, saying “recent performances strongly indicate a negative trend at a time when team cohesion should be visibly improving.”

With Munoz gone less than two months into the season, chances are thin that the Hornets can find a better manager. But that’s never put Watford off in the past, as the club begins its quest to appoint a manager for the 17th time in 10 years.

Road warriors Brentford can’t be stopped

Away days have never been so sweet for Bees supporters. Sunday’s trip was short but memorable, as fans flocked to east London to watch Brentford put on another impressive display to secure a dramatic win over West Ham United.

With the last kick of the game, Yoane Wissa’s winner helped preserve Brentford’s undefeated away record in the club’s first season of top-flight football since 1947.

The result was especially impressive considering Brentford was without key contributors in Kristoffer Ajer and Vitaly Janelt. Yet, Thomas Franck’s seventh-placed side defied the odds once again to sustain its high-flying start and trigger wild celebrations in the away end at London Stadium.

Milner not immune to time

There are few players harder to replace than Trent Alexander-Arnold given the quality of his distribution and his energy down the flank, so Liverpool’s right-hand side was going to be targeted regardless of who was selected in that full-back position.

The fact that Alexander-Arnold’s replacement was James Milner, who turns 36 in January, simply made it a more inviting inroad for Manchester City.

The veteran had a difficult first half. Phil Foden, Jack Grealish, and Joao Cancelo continually scribbled patterns around Milner, with Foden giving the ex-City player the biggest headache. Foden and Milner were involved in one of the opening period’s main talking points when the latter bundled over the former in an action that began outside the box and finished inside it, but the referee made no call on the incident.

Simon Stacpoole/Offside / Offside / Getty

It was a surprise when Milner returned for the second half with Neco Williams and Joe Gomez available on the bench, and with midfielder Fabinho – a former regular at right-back for AS Monaco – already on the pitch. Jurgen Klopp’s faith almost backfired when Milner somehow escaped a second yellow card for a blatant trip on Bernardo Silva.

But Milner and Liverpool got away with it, and Mohamed Salah scored his sensational goal shortly thereafter. Pep Guardiola was incensed.

Beautiful bedlam at Anfield

Thankfully, Milner’s struggles and the loose touches and passes that littered the first half didn’t define the encounter on Merseyside. The match exploded in the second half and produced the pulsating action we’ve come to expect from Liverpool and City’s meetings.

All four goals were crammed into a 22-minute spell as the two teams buzzed around the park, vacuuming up loose balls, harrying opponents, and seemingly taking turns to attack.

Each goal was quality. Fabinho and Salah combined beautifully before the Egyptian teed up Sadio Mane for the game’s opener, Foden’s finish was precise but Gabriel Jesus’ weaving run and pass before it were even better, Salah’s goal will be a front-runner for goal of the season, and Kevin De Bruyne started and finished the move for his deflected equalizer.

The game was end-to-end right until the final whistle, with the much-improved Rodri appearing from nowhere to deny Fabinho a goal with an immaculate tackle in the 87th minute.

Mark the next league scuffle between these sides in your diary: April 9, 2022.


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