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


1) Palace must start showing they can handle pressure

In the freezing south-east London rain, Crystal Palace players chose to face the music. While Manchester City’s victorious megastars hurried silently to the team bus, a succession of Palace players fronted up. Connor Wickham, the goalscorer in the 2-1 defeat, said the spirit in the camp was still strong. “It’s times like this that will bring out the real man in us. We need to stand up and be counted.” Scott Dann, the captain, was dismayed after Kevin De Bruyne’s rolled corner made it all the way to the six-yard box for Yaya Touré to decide the match: “We work on it week in week out and it shouldn’t be allowed to get there.” The spirit may be willing but the flesh is weak. For all that Palace rallied after conceding the opening goal, attacking with aggression and verve, there was always the suspicion that their determination would only rouse a torpid City, and so it proved. Alan Pardew’s side remain admirably committed to forward play, but woefully short when pressure is applied on their back-line. Next week they travel to Swansea. “We’ve got to show next week that we can go out and get the three points,” Dann said. “And that’s all that matters.” Paul MacInnes

Match report: Crystal Palace 1-2 Manchester City

2) Koeman and Everton face up to size of rebuild

Ronald Koeman’s customary post-match tweet called it correctly on Saturday as he lamented Everton’s failure to react to their 5-0 mauling by Chelsea until the second half of a sterile draw against Swansea City. An additional comment to highlight that Everton remain unbeaten at home in the Premier League this season, however, was out of step with the prevailing mood around Goodison Park and another performance that demonstrated the rebuilding job required is arguably greater than he anticipated when switching from Southampton. Yes, Everton are unbeaten in six league games at Goodison this term, but it is a run of one win in seven league games that provides a more accurate gauge of a team struggling to justify Koeman’s early season ambitions of European qualification. The Everton manager admitted before Swansea’s visit that he harboured more concerns over the forwards at his disposal than the defenders and what unfolded on Saturday will have reinforced that view. But he has additional problems with Phil Jagielka, a cornerstone of the team for almost a decade, appearing to have lost that vital sharpness at the age of 34, and Everton’s central defence is still reliant on the 35-year-old Gareth Barry, who was suspended against Swansea and badly missed as always. Lethargic, passive starts are also a characteristic of this Everton side. “We always seem to need something from outside before we react,” Koeman said. “It’s not coming from ourselves and that is something we need to improve.” Andy Hunter

Match report: Everton 1-1 Swansea

James McCarthy and Wayne Routledge battle for the ball in a match that left both sides with bittersweet emotions. Photograph: Peter Byrne/PA

3) Arsenal’s steely side bodes well for title challenge

Lucky or resilient? Perhaps the verdict on Arsenal’s late equaliser at Manchester United is both: the bloody-mindedness that drove them to fashion Olivier Giroud’s 89th-minute header despite being muted throughout the match deserved the fortune of escaping with a draw. Arsène Wenger was keen to praise his side’s backbone. “The resilience was the main thing and we kept our composure as well, even at the end,” he said. “I believe there’s a great harmony in the squad. The players who come on make a difference every time and that’s not a coincidence. That is down to attitude and overall I took some gambles as well. That’s not the first time but they only work if the players have the right attitude.” Alexis Sánchez symbolises the Gunners’ flinty seam. Despite injury concerns and a long flight back from South America, Wenger fielded him because of his class and the leadership he offers. “Overall, for a guy who has played a decisive game on Tuesday for Chile, or basically Wednesday morning, travelled after and had jet lag, it’s remarkable. I did it because Sánchez is a guy who can take people on and I knew that would be a quality. He’s good in counter-attacks in short spells as well, he’s always a player who is not scared of anybody.” Arsenal also harbour little fear, whoever the opposition. It seems a new quality for the team and one that may allow them to finally break a title duck that has run since 2004. Jamie Jackson

Match report: Manchester United 1-1 Arsenal
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4) Consistency key for Chelsea and Conte

Six wins without conceding a goal now for Chelsea, ever since Antonio Conte decided that being given a chasing by Arsenal was just too undignified to bear, and switched to his favoured 3-4-3 formation. That matches a run at the start of the 2005–06 season that prompted one newspaper to offer a reward to whoever scored against them, but they have still got a way to go before surpassing a 10-game spell without conceding in the previous campaign. Those runs, incidentally, were broken by Luke Moore and Leon McKenzie, but you probably already knew that. As well as a more suitable system, there is plenty to be said for consistency: in all of those six games, 10 of the starting lineup have been the same, the only variant coming against Hull, where Willian played instead of Pedro. Midweeks free of fripperies and clutter like Champions League games have helped take Chelsea back to the top of the league. Nick Miller

Match report: Middlesbrough 0-1 Chelsea

5) Van Dijk serves further notice of his rich potential

Southampton’s conveyer belt of talent has been in operation for some time now and it is tempting to wonder how long it will be before Virgil van Dijk is the next player to be signed by a high-profile club. Aged 25, Van Dijk is an opposing central defender who seems to be getting better and better. Claude Puel recently said that the Dutchman, who signed a six-year contract in May, has the potential to go on and become one of the top five defenders in the world and it was no surprise to hear the Southampton manager again being asked about those qualities in the wake of the goalless draw against Liverpool. It was certainly a brilliant piece of defending that denied Sadio Mané the chance of marking his return to St Mary’s with a goal as Van Dijk showed a turn of pace as well as expert timing to get back and block the Liverpool forward’s goalbound shot. Stuart James

Match report: Southampton 0-0 Liverpool

Virgil van Dijk attends to Sadio Mané in yet another example of the central defender’s lavish talent.

Virgil van Dijk attends to Sadio Mané in yet another example of the central defender’s lavish talent. Photograph: Dylan Martinez/Reuters

6) Bournemouth think big after breaking away duck

Things finally clicked on the road for Bournemouth, for the first time this season. Nathan Aké was the unlikely hero, scoring the only goal of the game to hand Eddie Howe’s side their first away win of the season. Aké, loaned to the club from Chelsea to gain experience in midfield, excelled on his league debut in the centre of defence and the Dutchman’s touch of class at the back is just what they have been missing. But where now and what’s next? Bournemouth sit ninth in the table, beyond all expectations, above their south coast neighbours Southampton and three points behind Walter Mazzarri’s impressive Watford. With Jack Wilshere slowly establishing himself as a focal point, Jordon Ibe still seeking to find his feet and Callum Wilson yet to hit his best form, there is plenty more to come from Howe’s team, especially going forward. If they can back that up by staying tight in defence, then they may end the season in the top half. “We are not tiny Bournemouth now. We want to shake that tag off and European football is the next aim,” Steve Cook, the Bournemouth centre-back, said last week. “We want to stay in and around the top half of the table and see where that takes us.” Ben Fisher

Match report: Stoke City 0-1 Bournemouth
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7) Defoe’s milestone highlights his transformative impact

Hats off to Jermain Defoe. Sunderland fans dare not contemplate where their team might be without the 34-year-old former England striker who scored his 150th Premier League goal in the 3-0 home win against Hull City. That is some record, taking Defoe past Les Ferdinand in the all-time scoring stakes and draws him level with Michael Owen. After seven goals in 12 appearances for struggling Sunderland this season and 28 in 64 games since joining from Toronto, no one on Wearside doubts the transformative impact of a sometimes underrated, often lone, striker but against Hull Defoe, for once, had a little help. Victor Anichebe scored twice while the Manchester City loanee defender Jason Denayer shone in an unfamiliar holding role and Jordan Pickford once again highlighted his goalkeeping ability. Stellar saves from Robert Snodgrass, Sam Clucas and Dieumerci Mbokani emphasised Pickford’s potential as an England No1. Louise Taylor

Match report: Sunderland 3-0 Hull City

Jermain Defoe drills home his 150th Premier League goal to help Sunderland secure another important win.

Jermain Defoe drills home his 150th Premier League goal to help Sunderland secure another important win. Photograph: Craig Brough/Reuters

8) Sakho return fails to mask West Ham’s striking issue

It is always heartening to see a footballer return successfully from long-term injury so the sight of Diafra Sakho leading West Ham’s line at Tottenham, making his first appearance of the season after the latest flare-up of his back problems, was a welcome one. But once the sentimental stuff was out of the way you wondered whether Sakho’s inclusion in the starting lineup without even a substitute outing to his name highlighted an issue that West Ham have not resolved to anyone’s satisfaction during Slaven Bilic’s tenure. They are painfully short of a reliable, quality striker and although Sakho – who would have been a West Bromwich Albion player in the summer, remember, had he been fit in August – is by no means a low-quality operator it said little for the squad’s resources that he was a first-choice pick in this case. It said even less that Simone Zaza, an inadequate figure even if his Euro 2016 penalty embarrassment skewed perceptions from the moment of his arrival in London, was the man chosen to replace him after an hour’s hard work. West Ham’s squad is filled with creative players – to the extent that Sofiane Feghouli was not even called from the bench on Saturday – but without a sharper presence inside the box their toils may well continue. Nick Ames

Match report: Tottenham 3-2 West Ham

9) Mahrez’s toil sums up difficulty of Leicester title defence

Last season’s title win by Leicester City was a marvellous collective triumph, and their weak defence of that title is a collective problem. None of Leicester’s players have yet recaptured the magic of last season, apart from a couple of sparkling performances in the Champions League. Even last season’s player of the year, Riyad Mahrez, has struggled to make an impact and he was ineffective again at Watford on Saturday. “The opponent is very, very careful when he receives the ball, always three opponents were close to him,” Claudio Ranieri said, explaining that both Mahrez and the team must learn to cope with the extra attention. “This is the next step now, to understand this and try to find the solution. I try to say to him play simple, but sometimes he takes the responsibility to do something for the team because he is our quality player. Of course we have to do something, have to study something because the opponent now knows us very very well and we can’t continue only with Riyad and give to him all the responsibility.” Paul Doyle

Match report: Watford 2-1 Leicester City

10) Son gives further evidence of his value to Spurs

Son Heung-min’s status at Tottenham these days is such that it came as a disappointment to see him start on the bench against West Ham, Mauricio Pochettino explaining he was tired after returning from international duty with South Korea. In the end, though, it was the relative freshness Son brought to a generally guile-free team performance after his 72nd-minute introduction that swung the game in Tottenham’s favour and his two major contributions were a reminder that, for all the goals of Harry Kane and enterprising work of their full-backs, he offers something different. The darting run and change of direction that led to the cross for Kane’s equaliser showed a level of invention Tottenham had been missing; the check-back that fooled Havard Nordtveit into conceding a decisive penalty was cute enough for Slaven Bilic, publicly at least, to absolve his player from blame. Son’s contribution was timely given that the man he replaced, Mousa Dembélé, was well short of the dominant form he showed against Arsenal a fortnight previously; he is a wonderfully multifaceted footballer and deserves the extra recognition he is now receiving. Nick Ames

Match report: Tottenham 3-2 West Ham

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