PL hits and misses: Robertson's back – but Haaland is looking ominous


Halaand makes City look unstoppable

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Manchester City’s win against Everton in the Premier League

It is a measure of Erling Haaland’s extraordinary productivity that his first goals in almost three months are enough to send him two clear at the top of the Premier League scoring charts.

The striker had gone four games without one either side of his foot injury in December before Saturday’s meeting with Everton. But his match-winning double ended his mini-drought, taking him to 16 for the season and making it 10 wins on the bounce for City.

Can anyone stop them? It seems increasingly unlikely now that the big Norwegian is hitting his stride again. “The finishing was amazing,” said a smiling Pep Guardiola afterwards.

His goals showed his capacity for both power and subtlety as he slammed in the first following a corner, then calmly stroked home the second having shrugged off Everton’s Jarrad Branthwaite.

It helps, of course, to have Kevin De Bruyne providing the ammunition again. The Belgian, another recent returnee, now has four assists in only 215 Premier League minutes since his comeback.

The pass to release Haaland for the second goal was his 12th assist for the 23-year-old since the start of last season. The deadly duo are back. And that means City are in business.
Nick Wright

Branthwaite’s mixed afternoon in front of Southgate

Jarrad Branthwaite spent the majority of Everton’s meeting with Manchester City on Saturday showing the watching Gareth Southgate why he should at the very least be on England’s radar.

For over an hour, the 21-year-old centre-back was outstanding, winning duels, positioning himself exactly where he needed to be to cut out crosses, showing composure on the ball and generally ensuring Erling Haaland had little impact on the game.

The problem is what happened next. In the 71st minute, his attempted clearance fell straight to the City striker to slam the opener past Jordan Pickford. Not long after that, he ended up in a heap on the turf as Haaland ran through him to score his second.

He is not the first defender to come off worse in a battle with Haaland, of course. But it was a reminder, nonetheless, of just how quickly fortunes can change when you are up against the elite.

Branthwaite’s form this season has been such that he is sure to be in Southgate’s thoughts when he ponders his centre-back selections for this summer’s European Championship. But so will his struggles in those last 20 minutes against Haaland.
Nick Wright

Robbo’s return a welcome boost for Liverpool

Andy Robertson
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Andy Robertson was back with a bang for Liverpool

Andy Robertson – remember him?

Liverpool coped remarkably in his absence. It was a run that stretched 18 domestic matches across all competitions due to a shoulder injury yet Liverpool went unbeaten. Joe Gomez came in and looked like he’d been playing left-back all his life.

But Liverpool have missed Robertson.

This all-action and dynamic performance was a reminder of the creative force he offers Jurgen Klopp’s men down that flank. When Trent Alexander-Arnold departed at half-time, he sprung to the fore as Liverpool’s main outlet out wide.

Andrew

He made 327 intensive runs – as defined by Opta – that was more than any other player as his constant willingness to run hard and fast kept Liverpool’s tempo at full throttle during key moments in a match they allowed Burnley snippets of hope. When he burst into those attacking positions, his quality was up to the usual standard. He created five chances from a total of 14 crosses into the box.

Liverpool’s flying Scotsman is back.
Lewis Jones

Burnley still showing signs of life

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from the Premier League match between Liverpool and Burnley

“It’s a pretty strange situation Burnley are in, they cause everybody problems.”

Even Jurgen Klopp could not quite explain why Vincent Kompany’s side has only 13 points from 24 games, seems destined for the drop and yet performs well for large parts of matches.

It is in both boxes where their problems are obvious. They give away easy goals, like James Trafford flapping at air for Diogo Jota’s opener, and don’t take their chances, like David Datro Fofana’s two glaring misses.

Burnley's Dara O'Shea scores their equaliser
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Dara O’Shea headed in a deserved equaliser for Burnley against Liverpool

Perhaps they are also guilty of being too nice. Aaron Ramsey needed to hit the deck on the edge of his own area when Alexis Mac Allister kicked his right shin. To his credit, the Burnley midfielder played on but seconds later Liverpool had scored their second and the VAR wasn’t interested in a potential free-kick.

With one win in their last 10 league games, Burnley’s Premier League status is fading but their performances are not.
David Richardson

Ange’s subs eventually pay off for Spurs

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from the Premier League match between Tottenham and Brighton

For most of the second half, it looked as though the narrative after this game was going to be how Ange Postecoglou’s substitutions backfired.

The Tottenham manager made a triple change in the 63rd minute, bringing on Heung-Min Son, Brennan Johnson and Yves Bissouma moments after Pape Sarr had scored his side’s equaliser.

Spurs were enjoying their best spell of the game – but with the subs came a loss of momentum. Timo Werner’s pace, Dejan Kulusevski’s creativity and Rodrigo Bentancur’s control had been lost.

Instead, Brighton regained the upper hand, while Spurs mustered just two shots in the following 30 minutes.

But then the changes paid off. With space to run into after a turnover in possession, Son did what Werner couldn’t during his time on the pitch, executing the perfect pass for an unmarked Johnson to fire into the net.

After producing so little for most of the second half, Postecoglou’s two attacking subs combined to score the winner – Spurs’ fifth in a row at home in the Premier League.

As the delirious celebrations at full-time showed, Postecoglou can do no wrong in the eyes of Spurs’ supporters.
Joe Shread

Risky style finally costs Brighton

Pascal Gross gives Brighton 1-0 lead from the penalty spot
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Pascal Gross gave Brighton the lead – but they came away empty-handed at Spurs

Roberto De Zerbi may have been back in Italy due to a combination of dental surgery and a touchline ban but the approach of his side in north London was familiar – risky, aggressive and highly entertaining.

Ultimately, that high-stakes approach cost them, with a loss of possession in a dangerous area as they looked to clinch an impressive away win allowing Brennan Johnson to deliver a sucker punch deep into injury time.

It’s tempting to conclude that Brighton should have been more cautious. But in fact, Johnson’s winner was the first time they have dropped points in the Premier League this season by conceding in the 75th minute or later.

What’s more, the Seagulls have come from behind to claim draws in the final 15 minutes on four separate occasions.

Brighton’s attacking approach works – just look at the progress they’ve made under De Zerbi since his arrival in the autumn of 2022. They were on top in the final 30 minutes at Spurs and just as easily could have been celebrating a late win of their own.

But Seagulls fans know by now that, with De Zerbi in charge, there will be the occasional bitter blow along with the thrilling highs.
Joe Shread

Brilliant Bruno quashes Newcastle exit rumours

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights of the Premier League match between Nottingham Forest and Newcastle

“Let the people speak.”

That was Bruno Guimaraes’ explanation for putting his fingers in his ears as he celebrated scoring the winning goal in front of Newcastle’s jubilant supporters at the City Ground on Saturday evening.

The Brazilian sent a reassuring message to the away fans who had made the journey to Nottingham Forest and the millions more watching worldwide. His future has been the subject of intense speculation in recent transfer windows, but he’s going nowhere.

“Sometimes people speak a lot about me. I just speak a lot about football. I’m very happy here,” Guimaraes told Sky Sports after producing a brilliant individual performance to drag his side to a 3-2 victory.

The 26-year-old was instrumental throughout. As well as scoring from both his shots on target, he won possession more times than anyone else on the pitch (11) and completed an impressive 20 passes in the final third, demonstrating his all-round midfield qualities once again.

Guimaraes has been a revelation since arriving from Lyon for £40m in January 2022. Newcastle have struggled to reach the heights of last season but with him in their ranks, they remain capable of beating anyone.

The fans have been unbelievable for me and my family. I hope this can keep going for a long time,” he added at the final whistle.

Newcastle will take great comfort from their talisman’s latest comments as they look to build some momentum in the second half of the campaign and push for European qualification.
Dan Sansom

Toney’s back – but Brentford’s defence deserve the plaudits

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from the Premier League match between Wolves and Brentford

Ivan Toney immediately grabs the headlines when he scores, and his role in an unusually clinical Brentford win at Wolves is not in question.

But the reason the Bees have dropped 26 points from winning positions this season centres more around their inability to keep clean sheets than score goals.

Even accounting for their talisman’s absence, they have drawn a blank only three times all season, while their victory at Molineux was their fourth clean sheet.

They have won all four shut-outs, and this was perhaps their most impressive, ending Wolves’ run of scoring in 18 straight home games.

Frank acknowledged the significance of his side’s defensive improvement after the game when he hailed their “clean-sheet mentality”, something which will be crucial if they are to move further away from the relegation zone.

The Bees’ reputation since promotion has been built on solidity. They conceded only three goals more than Arsenal or Man Utd last season, and eight teams shipped more even in their first Premier League.

This is a side as strong in the defensive transition as they are dangerous on the counter-attack.

The role of Mark Flekken plays a part and victory at Molineux would have been impossible without another impressive performance from the reinvigorated goalkeeper.

Whether his display against Manchester City on Monday was a turning point remains to be seen, but he is enjoying a hot streak either way – and Brentford look far better for it.

But further forward, the gaps between Brentford’s defence and midfield were noticeably smaller.

The job Mathias Jensen and Vitaly Janelt did on Wolves’ wing-backs was relentless and influential, and the quality of the press from back to front was, at least before half-time, back to the Brentford of old.

Frank has insisted his side’s recent slump has not been a reflection of their performances, but recently they have not been the same Bees that we’ve become accustomed to.

Whether the glimmer they showed in the West Midlands is replicated over the coming weeks will go a long way to deciding whether they might still enjoy another season to remember on their fairytale rise.
Ron Walker

Sheff Utd show steel – but is it too late in survival fight?

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from the Premier League match between Luton and Sheffield United

What a difference seven days make. From being thrashed 5-0 at home to Aston Villa to a near-perfect away performance, especially defensively, at Luton.

Not many gave Sheffield United a chance at Kenilworth Road. The Blades have the worst defensive record in the league and Luton were in form. After all, Rob Edwards’ side went on to have 20 shots.

But while the Blades were sloppy last week, they were “steely” this week, according to manager Chris Wilder. There was a resolution not to concede.

Jayden Bogle, Anel Ahmedhodzic and Mason Holgate had 27 clearances between them, 19 of them with their heads.

But at the heart of the Blades’ win was Vinicius Souza, who Wilder nearly threw into the away end in the full-time celebrations. The midfielder joined his defenders in being imperious at the back, whilst also popping up at the other end with a result-sealing goal.

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Sheffield United are still up against it when it comes to the relegation fight but they have Brighton, Wolves, Fulham and Bournemouth within their next six games. They need to get a move on, but gaining consistency after this result will be key to their survival.
Sam Blitz

Is it time to change the handball rule?

“Neither one were penalties in my opinion,” said Luton manager Rob Edwards.

In a week where VAR was handed a 96 per cent success rate, it was under the spotlight at Kenilworth Road. Two penalties were given to Luton and Sheffield United. Both were correct within the rules, but should they be?

VAR gave Luton a penalty for this handball by Vinicius Souza
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VAR gave Luton a penalty for this handball by Vinicius Souza

Either side of half-time, both Reece Burke and Vinicius Souza simply jumped for a header, like any defenders would, and their punishment was being penalised for a penalty. Neither player was looking at the ball, but their outstretched arm which over-extended their body position meant both decisions of handball are justified within the current rules.

Should we accept this? “I don’t know what a penalty is anymore when it comes to handball. Neither player is looking at the ball and had their hands up,” added Edwards.

Instead of fussing over whether blue cards and sin bins are the way forward, the lawmakers should look back and see whether this handball rule is fit for purpose.
Sam Blitz

Muniz has given Silva a dilemma in attack

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from the Premier League match between Fulham and Bournemouth

It is fair to say Rodrigo Muniz has taken his time to settle at Fulham following his arrival at the club from Flamengo in August 2021, but it looks the striker is now ready to take his chance in west London.

Having helped the Cottagers gain promotion back to the Premier League in his debut campaign with Marco Silva’s side, Muniz was then sent out on loan to Middlesbrough last season.

However, the Brazilian struggled in the north east, scoring just twice, and returned to the capital looking to re-establish himself as Fulham’s main marksman following Aleksandar Mitrovic’s departure to Al Hilal in August.

But with first-choice forward Raul Jimenez injured against Everton, Silva turned to Muniz rather than on-loan Chelsea striker Armando Broj – and the 22-year-old has not let his manager down, scoring his first Premier League goal for the club in last weekend’s 2-2 draw at Burnley, before grabbing two more in Saturday’s 3-1 home win over Bournemouth.

Rodrigo Muniz of Fulham celebrates scoring his team's third goal with team-mate Tim Ream
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Fulham striker Rodrigo Muniz (left) celebrates after scoring his second goal against Bournemouth

And after the game, Silva highlighted Muniz’s display, saying: “This afternoon was probably his best performance in a Fulham shirt and he deserves it because he’s worked really hard.

“He had a good preseason followed by a bad injury, but now he’s coming back and he’s fighting for what he wants and he’s showing the desire to play as the Fulham striker.”

All of which means the Portuguese will have a tricky choice to make in attack when Jimenez returns from injury, with the exciting Broja also on the bench against the Cherries.

But after this eye-catching performance up front, it would be a brave man not to continue with Muniz when Aston Villa visit the Cottage next Saturday.
Richard Morgan

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