Premier League winners and losers: Klopp, Arsenal ‘difference’ maker praised but Moyes and Forest em

12 Mar 2024

Jurgen Klopp, Jonny Evans, an Arsenal player answering Gary Neville and Zack Nelson are thriving, but Nottingham Forest and David Moyes just sound stupid.

Premier League winners

Antonio Conte
Probably his greatest Premier League achievement
, behind winning the actual thing and being nominated for Manager of the Month when the only match he actually oversaw was a 4-1 defeat to Leicester.  
Jurgen Klopp
An apparently one-sided rivalry with Pep Guardiola
 started, at least in a Premier League sense, with Jurgen Klopp inspiring a line-up featuring Simon Mignolet, Nathaniel Clyne, Ragnar Klavan and a left flank of James Milner and Adam Lallana to victory against a machine assembled at vast expense. It ends in similar circumstances with a positive result delivered by a team of ostensibly lesser parts making up an impressive whole.Klopp revelled in the “intensity” and “passion” his players displayed in that win at Anfield on New Year’s Eve in 2016; he wanted “to be the most ugly-to-play side in the league” then and Pep Guardiola will likely confirm that has been achieved.

It is not particularly normal to probably deserve to beat Manchester City on the balance of play with a side made up of four players in their first Premier League seasons, otherwise shorn of their best goalkeeper, playmaker and attacker. But then Klopp has been doing this for long enough at Liverpool to prove he might be a bit special.
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Jurgen Klopp loses his cool with officials
© Provided by Football365
Jurgen Klopp loses his cool with officials
Benjamin White

It was after an extended and quite painful critique, including the claim that White “will be a target” for opposition teams and talk of how he will not have opportunities “to actually show the quality that we all associate with him” on the ball, when Gary Neville asked the killer question:“Can he make a difference to this Arsenal team?”

White has since provided more than enough proof to answer definitively and positively to convince everyone bar Steve Holland, but the continued exorcism of those particular Brentford demons underlines how far both he and Arsenal have come.
The club’s transformation since Ivan Toney’s nice kickabout with the boys in August 2021 has neatly mirrored that of White, whose metamorphosis into one of the best right-backs in the league has not been short of weirdly Raphael Varane-focused external scepticism. Arsenal have faced Brentford six times since that chastening evening, winning five times – four times by a single goal – and drawing once, with White, Gabriel and Aaron Ramsdale the only players to feature in each game.
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White certainly made that difference Neville struggled to envisage at the Emirates, crossing for both headed goals when Arsenal could find no other way through against obstinate opposition. There has been no better player in the Premier League since he started apparently sharing wives with Oleksandr Zinchenko; that warm-weather mid-season break in Dubai has only made him stronger than anyone could have imagined.
Jonny Evans
It doesn’t bear thinking about where Manchester United would be if a 36-year-old free agent didn’t need to maintain his fitness last summer.For confirmation that Evans never featured in Erik ten Hag’s initial plans for this season, consider that his return came as one of 10 half-time substitutes in a pre-season friendly with Lyon in July as part of a second-string XI made up entirely of youngsters and fringe players, replacing expected first-teamers. Omari Forson is the only other player still at Manchester United of those Evans took to the field alongside for the second half; the rest have left either on loan or permanently for Burton Albion, Port Vale, Hibernian and other obscure backwaters.

Even that first-choice side contained only two other players who started against Everton in Raphael Varane and Kobbie Mainoo. This campaign’s reliance on Evans is laughably far from the sort of Tom Huddlestone role that was first envisioned.
But while that is a harsh reflection on Manchester United’s squad planning, it should not detract from how excellent the centre-half has been in trying circumstances. He only ever played more games than this in two of his seven seasons at Old Trafford a decade or so ago. And that was in Manchester United teams which either won the title at a canter or missed out on the final day due to goal difference.
In a troubled side desperate for his experience and guidance, Evans has gone from filling in and making up the numbers to producing them on a more impressive and consistent scale than any teammate.

It certainly helps a) being able to call on a £20m wide player and one of those many Manchester City cheat coders and b) having a deficit to chase desperately at home to the worst away side in the division. But Bournemouth at least underlined their improved attacking depth through Dango unchained and [insert painfully laboured Enes Unal pun here] to rescue a point against Sheffield United.Last season, only West Ham (four), Crystal Palace, Nottingham Forest (both three) and Everton scored fewer substitute Premier League goals than the Cherries (five). This campaign, only Brighton and Newcastle (both eight) have had more different substitutes score than Bournemouth (seven).
Few managers have made as many mid-game changes as Andoni Iraola this season and it is difficult to think of many more expensively-assembled Bournemouth benches than the one they had against Sheffield United: four players signed for £20m each, another for £15m, one more for £12.8m and a striker on whom they have a £14m option which will surely be activated to make his loan permanent.
Becoming only the fourth side to drop home points to Sheffield United this season means it cannot be perceived as a good result but Dango Ouattara and Enes Unal at least helped highlight how Bournemouth have quietly and efficiently put together a Premier League-level squad.

In the circumstances, perhaps the best win of a Wolves season which has included victory over Manchester City and league doubles against both Spurs and Chelsea.Gary O’Neil described it as his “favourite in terms of what we’ve had to deal with,” with a debilitating injury list only exacerbated by the first-half loss of Pedro Neto, Jeanricner Bellegarde and with them almost any semblance of actual senior attacking players.
Nathan Fraser played longer than a single half of a Premier League game for the first time in his career. Wolves had eight shots to Fulham’s 24. But the throwback intervention of some adventurous full-backs and the ludicrous resolve O’Neil has instilled in these players in the face of adversity inspired a huge win.
With that, Wolves are only the second team after West Ham to at least match their points total from last season. And such is the game, the perspectives surrounding those two clubs could not be much different, down to the widespread positivity over talk of deserved and improved contract talks for O’Neil.
For the first time since 2018/19, four different Spurs players have reached double figures for combined goals and assists in a Premier League season. The Harry Kane burden was only going to need to be shared and different players scoring each of the goals in a 4-0 win over a team higher in the table only emphasises how well that has gone.Maybe Ange Postecoglou’s half-time team talks need to be studied; Spurs have scored at least three more goals than any other team in the first 15 minutes of second halves this season. They are a truly excellent and varied attacking side, if still considerably far from the finished article overall.
Carlos Baleba
Roberto De Zerbi’s controversial handling of Baleba can be summed up by his initial claim that the midfielder “has the same quality, the same characteristics” as Moises Caicedo, before his recent suggestion that he has the requisite “quality” to replicate Billy Gilmour’s midfield role.Baleba has started nine Premier League games since joining for £23m last summer and that lack of a sustained run in the first team has undoubtedly hampered his development. Those Brighton selection problems have offered him an opportunity he should not squander.
His midfield drive carried the Seagulls through against Nottingham Forest to an uncharacteristically but also entirely necessarily gritty win after their midweek thrashing at Roma. Brighton abandoned their usual chaos for a little more control and that edge was as welcome a sight as that of Baleba fully embracing his chance.
David Datro Fofana
In terms of combined goals and assists per 90 minutes in the Premier League this season, the top three for contracted Chelsea players reads: Cole Palmer, Carney Chukwuemeka, Fofana.The Blues have had no luck farming their players out on loan for top-flight experience of late. Andrey Santos had a disastrous spell at Nottingham Forest cut mercifully short, Lewis Hall remains ostensibly on course to join Newcastle permanently despite his disappointed period there and Armando Broja has barely featured yet for Fulham.
Fofana is waving that flag alone and excelling at a club otherwise doomed to relegation. The imminent termination of Burnley’s time in the Premier League needn’t mean a similar end to that of a striker proving it might be worth Chelsea considering him as a viable option going forward.
Zack Nelson
The first teenager to play for Luton in the Premier League and no-one can ever take either that, his unbeaten professional record or his 100% pass accuracy away from him.Cauley Woodrow did admittedly make a slightly more telling impact from the bench but Luton’s successful hunt for another transformative late goal accommodating the brave introduction of an academy product was heartening.
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Premier League losers

Nottingham Forest
No longer a serious, former European Cup-winning institution following a successful rebrand into the embodiment of the Premier League’s existential and perennial VAR crisis.
Nuno Espirito Santo hit all the right beats: citing a list of perceived injustices that Nottingham Forest believe is unique to them rather than indicative of fairly consistent laments across the board; ranting about a refereeing decision before admitting that “we do not know how the game would end”; using inflammatory, conspiratorial “Why always us? What is going on?” speak to appeal to the lowest possible common denominator; making snarky comments about PGMOL apologies; pretending that “six or seven years ago, the referees were amazing” when the ceaseless and sustained abuse and scapegoating of their performances is the precise reason VAR was brought in, you guessed it, about seven years ago.
He and Forest can lean on these flashpoints and shout profanities from behind Mark Clattenburg all they want but the truth is they have been one of the three worst Premier League sides this year and that is the sort of inexorable slide which is difficult to recover from, particularly when the focus after each game is on outrage rather than introspection.
Forest are not dreadful from set-pieces, poor away from home or at risk of a points deduction because of referees but they are welcome and very possibly destined to assess the standards of officiating in the Championship very soon. On the basis of this tiresome rhetoric being repeated every week, they will not be missed.
Forest manager Nuno Espirito Santo
© Provided by Football365
Forest manager Nuno Espirito Santo
Ben Godfrey
Sean Dyche can insist “it’s not about one player or the other,” but when that one player in question is a centre-half being persistently deployed at right-back while three specialists in the position watch from the bench, it only adds to the malaise.Godfrey has started 15 Premier League games as a right-back since joining Everton almost four years ago; their only two wins in that time were a stake-less penultimate game victory over Nuno Espirito Santo’s Wolves and a stumble past doomed Norwich, both in 2021. History proves it is not an experiment worth carrying out and present results have done nothing to contradict that.
Everton’s poor form started before Godfrey’s invitation back in from the cold, but his presence has only helped prolong what is now the longest winless streak of any side in the division so far this season. His captain did set the tone for mindless tackles on Alejandro Garnacho but that makes Godfrey’s subsequent input worse if anything.
Seamus Coleman, Nathan Patterson and Ashley Young will join Everton fans in hoping these three weeks prompt a more orthodox approach at right-back in time for their next game. It need not even mean Godfrey has to be dropped if Dyche is reticent to jettison him entirely; James Tarkowski could probably do with a break on this evidence.
West Ham
Sorry but it is absolutely wild for David Moyes to blame the fact that “the small margins didn’t go for us today” when analysing the dropping of points at home to possibly the worst side in the entire division. It is telling that, much like with Erik ten Hag and Manchester United, he doesn’t realise how damning that apparent excuse is.West Ham shouldn’t need “small margins” to “go for them” at home to Burnley. They shouldn’t have to rely on such uncontrollable, volatile factors after vast investment in an already very good squad. Any plan or tactic that depends on those things to beat a really poor Burnley side is as embarrassing as admitting it in public.
The manager did engender an improvement through his substitutions and that should be acknowledged. But the sheer disparity between those first and second-half displays only further accentuate the chasm between the Moyes In and Moyes Out crowds. It feels deliberate at this point.
Crystal Palace
Oliver Glasner might be grateful to have such obvious room for improvement so soon after moving in. Crystal Palace have conceded at least four more goals than any other Premier League club from the 80th minute onwards this season (18), including comfortably the most in stoppage-time across Europe’s top five divisions (10).The manager lamented how “passive” Palace were in watching Andros Townsend cut inside to cross for Cauley Woodrow to score and the sheer lack of pressure applied by the hosts in that moment was stark. Luton trailing only Arsenal for headed goals this season made their course of action in trying to snatch an equaliser obvious to all but those who had dominated the game with only Jean-Philippe Mateta’s goal to show for it.
Palace should still be safe, even if that draw keeps them frustratingly within touch. But Glasner will know their concentration and organisation in the final stages of games needs some fundamental work. In their last five games alone the Eagles have converted late leads against Chelsea, Everton, Spurs and now Luton into two points.
Unai Emery
Right to call out an inability to “control our emotions”, but the explanation for switching to a back five was curious. Did Aston Villa, one of the best home teams in the country, really have to examine their opponent and decide to try and “stop them play” instead of focusing on themselves?The onus when facing Arsenal and Manchester City in the space of four December days was to accentuate their own strengths rather than trying to counter the considerable ones posed by the visiting teams. It worked perfectly then and changing tack for Spurs, a very good but clearly lesser side than those two title contenders, was bizarre.
That showed in the uncertain performances of all three centre-halves and the substitutions of two of them. Aston Villa are more than good enough to play their own game while accommodating elements of thwarting the opponent’s hopes of doing the same into their game plan; trying to do it the other way around felt like a rare tactical misstep for Emery.
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Ben Brereton Diaz
Blame should and presumably internally will be apportioned elsewhere for the curious decision to leave two opposition players wholly unmarked in the six-yard box in separate incidents, as well as the laughable ineffectiveness of the four substitutes Chris Wilder called upon after establishing a two-goal lead. If Sheffield United did not shoot themselves in the foot, they at least loaded the gun and carefully aimed it for Bournemouth.But that completed a tough couple of days for Brereton Diaz, who was dropped from the Chile squad for struggling to adequately learn Spanish before forcing Ricardo Gareca to eat words he probably didn’t understand by missing one huge chance, wasting a couple of others and being booked a minute after coming off for delaying the taking of a corner. Considering how well his side decided to defend them thereafter, perhaps he was on to something.
Fulham (a)
Just the silliest association football club, who sit 17th in a Premier League away table yet have taken points from trips to the Emirates, Old Trafford, the Amex and Difficult Place To Go Which Isn’t Actually That Difficult staples in Goodison and Selhurst Park.Only Crystal Palace, Burnley and Sheffield United have embarked on shorter runs of consecutive league victories this season than Fulham’s best of two. And there they remain, closer in points to Manchester United and a European qualification place than they are the relegation zone. Silly.
The incompetence of those below them failing to punish a run of 11 defeats in 14 games will do little to appease Thomas Frank and his still really quite injured players. But it is weird to see only Burnley accrue fewer points from matches against the current top six than those previously thorny Bees.  
Julian Alvarez
Could someone with the adequate means to do so just check if a 55.6% pass accuracy is the lowest ever recorded in a single game by a starter for a Pep Guardiola side? Might be worth playing him either in the right position or not at all because this in-between thing isn’t really working.MEDIAWATCHJurgen Klopp handed ‘moral victory’ in ‘best 1-1 draw you will ever witness’

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