10 thoughts from the weekend's thrilling Premier League action
theScore examines the most important developments and discusses the biggest talking points from another rip-roaring weekend in England's top flight.
Wolves still lack bite up front
A familiar scene played out at the Molineux Stadium on Sunday: Even with Wolverhampton Wanderers conceding the lion's share of possession to visiting outfit Newcastle United, the result, another 1-0 victory, looked like a safe bet. Ruben Neves' long-range strike minutes before halftime created the separation Wolves needed to defend the rest of the way.
But fans of the West Midlands side could've predicted what happened next. Unable to build on their lead, Wolves gave Newcastle enough scope for an equalizer. Allan Saint-Maximin seized the opportunity in second-half stoppage time with an impeccably timed volley from outside the area.
While Wolves boss Bruno Lage has the right to complain about the refereeing, it's not the reason his team remains winless in the Premier League this season and with just two goals scored through four matches. Even if match official Peter Bankes sent off Newcastle's Fabian Schar for clattering into Pedro Neto, Wolves may not have made the extra man count.
Lage's side has struggled for months now. Last season, it ranked 17th in goals scored from inside the penalty area and 18th in goals scored from inside the six-yard box.
There's no reason that'll change. Apart from signing Hwang Hee-Chan on a permanent basis, Wolves haven't done much to improve their options in the center-forward position. Raul Jimenez has been a great servant to the club, but the Mexican isn't the threat he used to be. Without a reliable target man, Goncalo Guedes and Neto, who are capable wingers in their own right, can't really cross the ball with much confidence.
For now, Wolves remain a team with great playmakers and midfielders. Unless they add some more punch, they'll have trouble achieving their true potential.
Gerrard running out of time
Expectations at Aston Villa are much higher now than at any point last season. Avoiding relegation shouldn't even be in the conversation. But after four matches, Villa look like nothing more than a bottom-feeder.
Manager Steven Gerrard knows he's now on the clock. Fans may have given him a pass in the first few months of his tenure, but they'll have every right to call for changes given the talent at his disposal. Villa's form dating back to March is the stuff of horror.
Aston Villa's recent form
"I have got two ears, and I hear a lot of things," Gerrard admitted after Sunday's 1-0 loss to West Ham United. "I heard the fans' frustration, and last time I checked my ears were still working, so, yeah, I pick up on everything. I've been in the game long enough. If you lose three games out of four, it is not the start the supporters wanted, and certainly not the start that I wanted, so of course, I understand."
This isn't a bad side. Academy graduate Jacob Ramsey is ready to break out. Leon Bailey is finally healthy. Douglas Luiz is still with the club despite interest from several Premier League teams. Emi Buendia and Philippe Coutinho are accomplished players as well. But Gerrard hasn't found a way to put all the pieces together. With matches coming up against leaders Arsenal and reigning champions Manchester City, it could get much worse before it gets better.
Forest a lot of fun to watch
Forest dominated large portions of the match at City Ground, risking it all to go on the attack and push forward. The crowd rose to its feet with every run into the final third. Steve Cooper's side looked like a team with a clear identity and game plan, which is some achievement for a club navigating its first top-flight campaign in 23 years.
Of course, Cooper wants results. His players put in an admirable performance Sunday, but they still lost 2-0.
"We didn't get anything from it," the 42-year-old told the BBC. "That's the overriding feeling: We never want to be happy if we don't win football games. That's always the first objective, and that's the mentality I want from the players."
But this team has personality. Right-back Neco Williams, who joined the newly promoted side from Liverpool, accepts every invitation to join the rush, giving width to Cooper's attack. Brennan Johnson takes on defenders with the confidence of a player who's made far more than four Premier League appearances. Even Dean Henderson has made headlines in goal, stopping three penalties, including one on Harry Kane, who hadn't missed any of his previous 21 attempts from the spot.
Down 2-0 with eight minutes of stoppage time remaining, Forest could've rolled over and accepted the result. They refused to go quietly, firing another four shots toward Hugo Lloris' goal.
Kane the perfect striker for Conte
Kane, who scored twice against Forest, needs 73 more goals to tie Alan Shearer as the most prolific scorer in Premier League history. He'll have no issues getting there if he continues to play under Antonio Conte.
A multifaceted striker with incredible passing range, the 29-year-old is the perfect player for Conte's counterattacking football. He can launch his team on the break with one sweeping pass and finish sequences with similar efficiency. That he also takes penalties makes him a virtual guarantee to knock Shearer off his perch.
All-time scoring list
Conte loves strikers who dominate in all areas of the pitch. Kane does just that. He made 53 touches Sunday, including four in the penalty area, and led a frightening counter alongside Heung-Min Son.
Before Conte arrived, Kane struggled to score goals in August. He has four in his first four games so far, and, frankly, he could've had more by now.
Here are the main talking points from Saturday's matches ...
Maguire-less United continue resurgence
Fresh off stunning Liverpool and quelling the panic that followed two losses to open the season, United grinded their way to a 1-0 win to make it back-to-back Premier League victories for the first time since February. And, thanks to a strong defensive performance, manager Erik ten Hag's squad registered the team's first clean sheet on the road since December in a match that club captain Harry Maguire watched from the bench.
The flourishing partnership of Raphael Varane and Lisandro Martinez helped contain a promising Southampton attack that threatened to score throughout the contest. Meanwhile, United's full-backs flourished in a system that encouraged defenders to push higher up the pitch, allowing Diogo Dalot and Tyrell Malacia to get forward with overlapping runs that put Southampton's back line under pressure.
Unlike their mouthwatering attacking display against Liverpool, there was a distinct lack of creativity in the final third against Southampton. Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho struggled to create chances, while Cristiano Ronaldo started the game on the bench. It took a sensational side-footed volley from Bruno Fernandes to separate the two teams at Saint Mary's Stadium, while David De Gea came up with a big save afterward to preserve the lead.
Ten Hag's quest to transform United and implement his own philosophies is still a work in progress, but stringing another win together will presumably offer a confidence boost heading into tricky upcoming tests against Leicester City and Arsenal.
Sterling announces arrival
There was no shortage of story lines heading into Saturday’s match against Leicester City, given Chelsea's reported pursuit of Foxes defender Wesley Fofana. But it was Sterling who grabbed the headlines with his best display since joining the Blues earlier this summer.
With Chelsea down a man after Conor Gallagher's red card in the first half, the former Manchester City winger scored his first goal just after halftime to ease the pressure on the home side. Sterling doubled the lead for 10-man Chelsea with a close-range finish before Leicester's Harvey Barnes cut the deficit in half three minutes later. But a strong defensive showing helped Chelsea hang on to their advantage and seal their second win of the season.
Sterling’s presence in attack is undoubtedly cause for optimism, but the composure of Chelsea’s defense was equally as significant in helping the club rebound from last weekend’s lopsided loss to Leeds United.
Clock ticking for struggling Leicester
One point from four games and the increasing possibility of losing their best defender has put Leicester in a seriously difficult spot.
Leicester slumped to their third loss of the season after falling to a Chelsea team that relentlessly challenged their resolve to keep Wesley Fofana. With the French defender reportedly nearing his desired move to Chelsea, the 19th-placed Foxes need to come up with solutions to help revive their season.
In order to avoid spiralling out of control, Leicester’s best course of action may be to part with Fofana and use the reported lucrative transfer fee to address their defensive needs before the transfer deadline on Sept. 1.
Otherwise, their refusal to let Fofana pursue his desired move away may have catastrophic consequences that could end up costing Brendan Rodgers his job and leave Leicester in a relegation battle.
City can't continue to fall behind
Make no mistake: Erling Haaland deserves all the headlines for his second-half heroics Saturday at Etihad Stadium. His hat-trick saved Manchester City from a damaging defeat to Crystal Palace, keeping his side from dropping points for a second straight week and from further scrutiny of his team's title credentials. It would've been tough to take a loss at home to Palace on the same day Liverpool cantered to a 9-0 win over Bournemouth.
But there's work to be done. While City are indeed scoring plenty - they're on pace to hit a record-breaking 110 goals this season - they can't keep them out. In fact, they've conceded first in four of their last six Premier League matches.
City found themselves down 2-0 in just 21 minutes against Palace. The last time they conceded twice that quickly in a home Premier League match was in December 2010. Last weekend, Pep Guardiola's side allowed three goals in a 26-minute spell at Newcastle United; at the end of last season, the champions coughed up 2-0 leads to both Aston Villa and West Ham. They came back every time but left the impression they could be beaten.
While Guardiola clearly appreciates his team's fighting spirit, he understands the current trend can't continue. With Liverpool starting to find their feet, Arsenal looking like a true contender, and Tottenham Hotspur showing signs of improvement under Antonio Conte, the margin for error is much smaller than it was last campaign. City can't afford to risk dropping points against teams they should beat every day of the week.
Liverpool can't stop now
Liverpool could've won by a bigger score line. But beating Bournemouth by nine goals sends just as strong of a message.
The Reds eviscerated Scott Parker's newly promoted side in a venomous display Saturday that came in direct response to last Monday's insipid loss to Manchester United. Jurgen Klopp and Co. certainly had an axe to grind, and Bournemouth just happened to be there to take the blow. The Cherries were perfect cannon fodder for a Liverpool side dying to let the world know its cycle hasn't ended.
A number of players impressed - even youngster Fabio Carvalho netted a goal - but Luis Diaz, Harvey Elliott, and Roberto Firmino were the best of the bunch. Diaz relentlessly pursued the ball, and Elliott cemented his place in midfield with another display of all-around efficiency. Firmino had a hand in five of Liverpool's nine goals. Enough said.
It's now up to the Reds to build on this victory. It must be a starting point. Just as United consolidated their win over Liverpool with a 1-0 result at Southampton, Liverpool must avoid another setback against Newcastle on Wednesday. The Magpies will give Liverpool a competitive game, just as they did against City. Liverpool will then face Everton at Goodison Park before opening their Champions League campaign in Naples. This crucial run of games could determine their outlook for the season.
Arsenal survive tricky Fulham test
That uneasy feeling that was all too familiar for Arsenal fans last season creeped back into the Emirates Stadium on Saturday during a surprisingly tough tilt with Fulham.
After opening the season with three wins, Arsenal’s unblemished record was in danger of falling, as Mikel Arteta’s men struggled to break down the newly promoted club. Arsenal controlled the game but struggled to give supporters something to cheer about against a Fulham side that rarely ventured out of its own half in the first half. Then disaster struck in the second half for the hosts.
Arsenal defender Gabriel Magalhaes produced an absolute gift for the visitors after a brutal giveaway in his own penalty area led to Aleksandar Mitrovic silencing the Emirates with the game’s opening goal. Eight minutes passed before Martin Odegaard lifted the worrying feeling in the stadium with an equalizer to breathe life back into Arteta’s side.
Then Gabriel went from villain to hero, as the Brazilian redeemed himself with the go-ahead goal in the 85th minute, helping first-place Arsenal maintain their perfect record.
While the performance was far less convincing than the trio of Premier League games that preceded it, finding a way to overcome adversity and collect all three points represents a significant feat for an Arsenal side who rarely had an answer in similar scenarios last season.
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