Premier League: 10 talking points from the weekend’s football action | Football


Salah firing on all cylinders once more

From touchline handbags in London with his manager a week ago to this: an individual performance of verve and efficiency to go with collective success, Mohamed Salah smiling once again. Much has been written and said about the Egyptian forward, of his recent struggles, future and behaviour. But a career as storied as his requires him to put aside the noise and go again, an internal wiring that is present among only the best. Salah was electric against Tottenham, striking the bar with a cross-turned-shot and forcing a strong save from Guglielmo Vicario inside the first 10 minutes. The post was struck not long after, though the offside flag went up too, and then came the goal just 16 minutes in, masterful movement at the far post preceding a clinical header. He was present in the build-up to Liverpool’s other three goals, allowing Jürgen Klopp a gorgeous afternoon of Anfield sunshine and fist pumps as that final goodbye inches closer. Taha Hashim


City penalty adds to O’Neil ire

If there is a purpose to Gary O’Neil’s rants against referees beyond releasing his own anger, it is surely, on the old Sir Alex Ferguson principle, to place a doubt in the referee’s subconscious, to make them think: “Am I really sure about this? I don’t want him raging at me.” It hasn’t worked. Perhaps arguing that a player standing two feet in front of an opposing goalkeeper isn’t interfering – as he did after the West Ham game, costing him a touchline ban and an £8,000 fine – isn’t the best way to make his case, but Saturday brought the total of extremely soft penalties given against Wolves this season to three. Rayan Aït-Nouri’s attempt to reach Bernardo Silva’s cross was fractionally later than Josko Gvardiol’s, with the result that the Croatian followed through into him. There was nothing malicious about it, no attempt to cheat and no advantage was gained. Is that really a foul, rather than simply a collision? Jonathan Wilson

Rayan Aït-Nouri collides with Josko Gvardiol to concede an early penalty at the Etihad. Photograph: Molly Darlington/Reuters


Villa struggling with heavy legs

If Tottenham’s collapse has helped Aston Villa’s chase for the Champions League, Unai Emery’s team are showing the fatigue that every Premier League manager competing in Europe has complained about. Jürgen Klopp took up that hobbyhorse last Friday, TV schedulers in his sights. Roberto De Zerbi offered sympathies for the tiredness wracking Villa at an inopportune time. “I can understand that better than a lot of other people,” he said, harking back to Brighton’s Europa League adventures and the after-effects on his own team. “From Roma until now, we’re not winning so many games, losing too many games, and they are suffering.” Villa have hit a similar wall, and must somehow find a way back into Thursday’s Europa Conference League semi-final second leg at Olympiakos. “ I want to recover our freshness and energy,” said Emery. “It’s more difficult on Thursday but we’ll be there, trying to do something different.” John Brewin


Arteta keeps Gunners cool in title race

For years, Mikel Arteta has resembled a cat on a hot tin roof in and around his technical area. Yet in recent weeks his act has gained a little more zen – a reflection, perhaps, of how his players are dealing with the title race this time around. Arteta said as much after the 3-0 win over Bournemouth, praising his team for “finding joy in this journey, being in the title race at this stage of the season”. It’s a huge contrast to the Arsenal of last season and it has shown in their results, with the home defeat to Aston Villa the only blemish on their record in seven matches since the start of April. In April of last year, Arsenal dropped points in four consecutive matches to cede the title to Manchester City. Pep Guardiola’s side may prove victorious once again this season, but Arteta’s side have at least done themselves justice in the heat of battle and shown they can handle the pressure. Dominic Booth

Declan Rice salutes the crowd after scoring Arsenal’s third goal against Bournemouth. Photograph: Paul Marriott/Shutterstock


Madueke shows Blues are maturing

Chelsea are learning. Last month there was a self-inflicted brouhaha when Nicolas Jackson and Noni Madueke tried to snatch a penalty off Cole Palmer during the 6-0 win over Everton. Mauricio Pochettino was livid, criticising his young players for their immaturity. But the mood was different after Chelsea’s 5-0 win over West Ham. Pochettino was delighted with Madueke when the winger went through on goal and passed to Jackson, who tapped in Chelsea’s fourth. It would have been easy for Madueke to shoot. Instead, he gave a teammate an open goal. “The assist for Noni to Jackson, that showed we learn, that we are smart,” Chelsea’s head coach said. “The situation with the penalty against Everton, we received so much criticism, but a young team always needs to make mistakes. Always you need to feel this situation to improve. Today was a great action from Noni to see how the group has started to believe.” Jacob Steinberg


Mission accomplished for Forest?

Saturday’s victory against Sheffield United puts Nottingham Forest in a strong position to secure Premier League survival but, perhaps fittingly for a club which has provided just as much drama off the field as on it this season, the next few days could prove to be just as important. With Forest now three points clear of Luton and five ahead of Burnley – and holding a superior goal difference – one more win would all but secure safety. Should their appeal against this season’s four-point deduction be resolved in their favour before Saturday’s game against Chelsea, things would look even better. Forest getting one point back on appeal would essentially relegate Burnley; if they were to somehow retrieve all four points docked, the relegation race would be over without anyone kicking a ball. Nuno admitted post-match on Saturday that wouldn’t be fair on anyone but whatever happens next, he and his players have, for once, at least allowed their football to do some of the talking. Aaron Bower

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Ryan Yates (centre left) celebrates with Morgan Gibbs-White after scoring Nottingham Forest’s second goal of the game. Photograph: Paul Bonser/Action Plus/Shutterstock


Murphy shines again for Magpies

Jacob Murphy had a hand in three Newcastle goals on Saturday in the victory over Burnley. He’s never been the most heralded winger and has spent most of his Newcastle career as a squad player, making more substitute appearances than starts in the league, but has rarely let down Eddie Howe, who calls Murphy “the ultimate professional”. This season, he’s been afforded more time on the pitch thanks to injuries and his own impressive form when handed the opportunity to start. At Turf Moor, Murphy played a pivotal role on the right in a tweaked formation and under a very specific set of instructions, with the winger given plenty of attacking and defensive responsibilities. He held his nerve when in dangerous positions and Newcastle reaped the rewards. Every squad needs a Murphy, it’s the law. Will Unwin


Postecoglou and Spurs in a rut

For the second weekend in a row Tottenham’s resistance arrived after the result had been decided. Against Arsenal a 3-0 half-time scoreline was turned into a tight 3-2 defeat; at Anfield a potential rout was halted, with Richarlison and Son Heung-min’s strikes making life a little less comfortable for Liverpool in the final quarter. Ange Postecoglou doesn’t seem one for shutting up shop and saving face, and he brought on Richarlison and James Maddison after his side conceded their fourth, still believing in the improbable. But a promising opening campaign for Postecoglou has been hurt by two difficult passages in the league: the one point from five games in November and December, and now four consecutive defeats for the first time in nearly 20 years. With Manchester City still to come and Newcastle resurgent, even a fifth-place finish isn’t completely secure. TH

Ange Postecoglou gets his think on. Photograph: Javier García/Tottenham Hotspur FC/Shutterstock


Adebayo may stay up if Hatters drop

Losing Elijah Adebayo to injury for two months gave Luton Town a major headache. Defenders do not like marking the 26-year-old. This is Adebayo’s first taste of the Premier League and it has gone well. When he got injured in February, though, Luton struggled without him leading the line. The treatment room was packed but Adebayo’s absence was most keenly felt by Rob Edwards’s side. Their threat was diminished and chances to move out of the bottom three slipped away. Drawing with Everton on Friday night appears to have all but sealed Luton’s fate. Edwards knew a win was required, although he could be pleased with Adebayo’s impact on his return to the starting XI. He scored a powerful equaliser – his 10th goal of the season – and was a handful throughout. Perhaps there will be teams looking at Adebayo if Luton go down. He could be a smart signing for anyone seeking a striker this summer. Jacob Steinberg


Frank backs Toney for Euros place

Prevailing wisdom suggests there will only be room for one of Ivan Toney or Ollie Watkins in England’s squad for the upcoming European Championships. The Brentford forward hit the ground running with four goals in five games following his eight-month betting suspension and scored on his first England start against Belgium in March. But he has now gone 10 league matches without a goal. With his club future uncertain – amid expectation that he will leave Brentford this summer – this goal drought comes at the worst possible time as he looks to impress Gareth Southgate. But his club manager, Thomas Frank, believes it will not have an impact. “I’m pretty sure Gareth knows who he wants to pick and if there’s a little dip in form, I don’t think that means anything,” said Frank. “It’s something different when you go into a Euros. If you’re fit, that’s the most important thing. It’s a different tournament, different environment, different energy.” Ben Bloom

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