theScore examines the most important developments and biggest talking points from Saturday’s slate of action in England’s top flight.
Newcastle need another striker
Newcastle United accomplished several things Saturday. They set a new top-flight club record with their 15th consecutive match without a defeat and collected a sixth straight clean sheet in the Premier League. On an individual level, goalkeeper Nick Pope extended his shutout streak to 812 minutes. Newcastle also gained a place, moving to third in the Premier League standings. But they couldn’t beat 12th-placed Crystal Palace. When Newcastle’s staff and players went to applaud their boisterous fans, they knew they hadn’t accomplished the one thing they’d expected to do.
Their visible disappointment speaks to their rapid growth over the last 12 months. They conceded more goals in December 2021 alone than they have in the entire 2022-23 Premier League campaign, and they’re on course to reach the Champions League for the first time in nearly 20 years. Eddie Howe’s done a magnificent job changing the mentality of a team that stared at the genuine threat of relegation at this point last season. The turnaround has been amazing.
But it must keep going. Newcastle have created an incredible opportunity for themselves. They know that, and that’s why they were so disappointed with the goalless draw at Selhurst Park. They’ve scored just once in their last four Premier League matches. If the Magpies can’t find any regularity in front of goal, they could just as easily slip out of the top four in the next few weeks. A strong defense will only take them so far.
As of now, Howe’s attacking options are slim. While Alexander Isak is talented, he’s still raw. Callum Wilson is experienced but not nearly prolific enough for a team with Champions League aspirations. Midfielder Miguel Almiron couldn’t possibly continue to score every week. Chris Wood’s departure also leaves Newcastle without depth.
It’s clear they need someone to take the pressure off Isak and allow Wilson to provide that depth. Maybe that player is Marcus Thuram, who already has a friendship with Newcastle winger Allan Saint-Maximin, or Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who’d offer cross-happy Kieran Trippier a reliable target in the penalty area. Whatever the club decides, it needs someone who can do a job now. It doesn’t need a Championship prospect or South American prodigy who may or may not amount to anything in the future.
Leicester are at least competitive again
Though defending remains a glaring issue and individual errors continue to prove costly, Leicester City are showing signs they’re up for the fight against relegation.
Their performance in Saturday’s 2-2 draw with high-flying Brighton & Hove Albion was positive overall. After conceding the opening goal, Brendan Rodgers’ side played with spirit and confidence on the counterattack, which had up until recently lost both its pace and potency. Jamie Vardy ran tirelessly after the ball, and Harvey Barnes, once considered worth as much as £50 million, scored for what seemed like the first time in ages. Even Marc Albrighton offered relief off the bench, prodding home a scrappy equalizer in the first half.
The Foxes just looked up for the occasion. That’s a win in and of itself. Rodgers openly questioned his players’ commitment after Leicester’s Boxing Day defeat to Newcastle United. If he intended to stir a reaction, it failed. Leicester racked up further losses against Liverpool, Fulham, and Nottingham Forest to drop back into the relegation conversation.
Few believed they could contain a Brighton side that sliced Liverpool apart a week ago. So, it was quite clearly a blessing to see this team play with fire and intensity Saturday. Even if Leicester couldn’t pull off the win – Evan Ferguson, Brighton’s 18-year-old scoring revelation, leveled late on – the club still managed to earn a point from a losing position for the first time this season.
“What we had today was a real spirit and a mentality,” Rodgers told the BBC. “I think the supporters would have seen that, so in terms of that side and that aspect, we put a marker down for the rest of the season in terms of what we have to do in terms of our fight and mentality.”
Leicester will have to double down on the commitment they showed Saturday if they want to take anything from their next three home matches. Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal, and Chelsea are all on deck. At least they’ll enter those games feeling slightly better about themselves. At this stage, little victories count.
Differing approaches to a rebuild
There’s not much to say about Saturday’s 0-0 draw at Anfield. Two teams earning a point apiece for such a monotonous match sometimes feels too generous.
The most interesting takeaway from Liverpool and Chelsea’s meeting was to compare their work off the pitch. It’s abundantly clear that both clubs need a refresh or an entire rebuild, and they’re entering their respective new eras very differently.
Chelsea are barging their way into the next chapter, knocking over lamps and shattering vases. Since Todd Boehly’s consortium took over the west Londoners last May, the club has spent well over £430 million on new players, including various clauses tied into the deals. Long-term contracts have been handed out to new arrivals, while other players are unceremoniously shunted down the pecking order. It’s hard to envision significant roles for some players out on loan like Romelu Lukaku, Callum Hudson-Odoi, and Ian Maatsen, or even the likes of Christian Pulisic, Hakim Ziyech, and Trevoh Chalobah once next season kicks off.
Boehly is going all-in, putting Graham Potter’s man-management skills to the test as the tactician tries to keep his bloated squad happy.
Liverpool are more careful. Or, if you listen to their skeptical supporters, they are ruinously tentative. The acquisition of Cody Gakpo for an initial £37-million fee is good business, but it doesn’t address the area in most desperate need of recruitment.
The midfield is a problem and was notably outnumbered during the first half against Chelsea. Liverpool’s links with Jude Bellingham persist, and his presence would lift the whole squad. However, leaving that deal to the summer gives rivals more time to woo the midfielder and construct an appealing offer for Borussia Dortmund. The reported interest in Mason Mount has led to fears that the Reds are identifying alternatives should the Bellingham pursuit fail.
But the biggest questions are in the boardroom and dugout. Liverpool’s future is up in the air while Fenway Sports Group is open to selling shares – and perhaps a controlling stake – in the club. Jurgen Klopp appears drained 1,000 games into his managerial career. Those issues may need to be solved before Liverpool can truly move forward.
Things could get bleaker for Everton
Everton are a mess. While the team trundled toward its sixth defeat in seven games at West Ham United, the civil war continued as away supporters used chants and banners to express their discontent with the board. Even if someone is brought in to replace Frank Lampard in the coming days, it appears things will have to get worse before they get better as Arsenal and Liverpool await the Toffees over the next two Premier League matchdays. The boardroom seems reluctant to use the January transfer window to bring in players who could make a difference, and the fans’ anger seems to hack away at the team’s confidence. Arnaut Danjuma, who’ll arrive on loan after losing his place in the Villarreal lineup, is wildly inconsistent, and Ellis Simms has only played around 20 minutes since he was recalled from his temporary stay with Sunderland. The Championship is beckoning.
Brighton finally have a No. 9?
Praising Brighton’s style of play but ruing their lack of a cutting edge up front was a near-weekly occurrence. It felt cliched. But now, the answer may have come from an unlikely source. Eighteen-year-old Ferguson was being lined up for a loan move in the January transfer window, but he’s since erupted with three goals in four Premier League outings. The Seagulls have tried and failed to find a reliable finisher in the past. Jurgen Locadia, Alireza Jahanbakhsh, Florin Andone, and Neal Maupay have come and gone, while Aaron Connolly may never realize his potential. Ferguson, who was signed from Irish club Bohemians two years ago, has made a strong case to be their immovable No. 9 with his well-rounded game, which belies his tender years. His header to equalize at Leicester City was emphatic.
Forest quietly moving away from bottom 3
Nottingham Forest were below their best at Bournemouth – a team the East Midlands outfit has beaten just twice over their last 12 league meetings – and were missing goalkeeper Dean Henderson after he suffered a thigh injury during their previous outing against Leicester. Still, Steve Cooper was unsatisfied after Sam Surridge’s late equalizer in the 1-1 draw. “A point was the least we deserved,” Cooper told the Nottingham Post’s Sarah Clapson. Perhaps the Tricky Trees are recalibrating their expectations. Following Saturday’s results, Forest have collected the second-most points (eight) in the Premier League in 2023. Many people mocked the promoted club’s frenzied activity during the summer transfer window. But, with record signing Morgan Gibbs-White as its talisman, things may be starting to gel under Cooper. There are now four teams and four points between Forest and the drop zone.
Stat of the day
It’s been a strange season for Liverpool, with narrow wins and disappointing draws or losses punctuated by a 9-0 rout of Bournemouth in the Premier League and a 7-1 stroll at Rangers in the Champions League.
Tweet of the day
The wait for James Milner continues.