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

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1) Conte and Spurs have plenty to do in little time

Antonio Conte forcing his available players into a rigid 4-4-2 formation was his way of making a point to the the Tottenham hierarchy. The Italian has not been particularly enamoured with what he found at the club when he arrived, spending plenty of time tinkering with his selections in the hope of finding the right mix. Tanguy Ndombele and Dele Alli have been given chances but failed to provide evidence they can be relied upon in the long term. There were issues all over the pitch at Stamford Bridge, implying that Spurs face a difficult final week of the window. A new right-back, central midfielder and a striker are necessities for a side devoid of ideas against the top sides in the division. Whether the club can move quickly enough to do everything Conte wants is another problem for the Italian and as Internazionale found out, if he is unhappy he is willing to go. Will Unwin

2) Shelvey shines next to tireless Longstaff

Eddie Howe swiftly identified Jonjo Shelvey as the playmaker he wants at the heart of his Newcastle rebuild. In scoring the winner with a clever free-kick and producing a fine second-half performance, Shelvey played a pivotal role in the team’s second victory this season. He improved dramatically after Sean Longstaff replaced the injured Joelinton shortly before the break. Longstaff’s form has disappointed lately but he looked reborn against Leeds. If Saturday’s result is not to prove a one-off, hemust keep this standard up – or Howe must sign a midfield anchor capable of offering a protective framework within which Shelvey can utilise his passing range. As Newcastle headed to a Red Sea training camp near Jeddah, a dominant but blunt Leeds reflected on yet another reminder of how much they miss the injured Patrick Bamford. Louise Taylor

3) Rangnick preaches caution in race for top four

After Marcus Rashford’s late showstopper of a winner lifted Manchester United above West Ham into fourth, Ralf Rangnick made sure to keep his feet in the ground regarding the race for a top-four finish. “We have to see the table realistically,” said the interim manager. “Spurs have played three games less than us. And there are other teams involved in that race, it’s not only Spurs or Arsenal. Even Wolves are pushing from behind so it will probably be a race until the last couple of fixtures. But for us now it’s important to know that we can win games – even if it’s in the last second of the game, that we can control a team like West Ham. We had 16 shots on goal, they had six or seven. So that was a big difference and this is important – that we are able to compete with those teams.” United’s next league game is a trip to Burnley on 8 February. Jamie Jackson

4) Gerrard adds more pain to Everton’s downward spiral

Steven Gerrard said it was important Aston Villa “showed the crowd and Everton that, if they wanted a war, we were prepared to do the same”. Everton are at war but, ominously for a team that has taken six points from 42 and whose next league game is away at Newcastle, it is of the civil kind. The second caretaker coming of Duncan Ferguson ended in defeat and with a possible FA investigation into the disgraceful scenes when Villa players were pelted with objects thrown from the crowd. There was a sit-in protest after the final whistle that lasted over an hour and called for the departures of Bill Kenwright and Farhad Moshiri’s board. Kenwright, flanked by police officers, spoke to angry fans on Goodison Road afterwards and rejected claims that Everton’s decline predates Moshiri. There have been good times too, the chairman said. Everton are currently enduring the longest trophy drought in the club’s 144-year history. Andy Hunter

Steven Gerrard gestures to the Everton fans.
Steven Gerrard gestures to the Everton fans. Photograph: Chris Brunskill/Fantasista/Getty Images

5) Rashica and Sargent give Canaries glimmer of hope

“Maybe we can drag some other teams into the relegation scrap, that’s all we can do,” said Dean Smith. Norwich’s win at Watford on Friday probably hastened Claudio Ranieri’s departure but do Norwich have enough quality to survive? They need to keep scoring goals; they have still scored just 13 all season. In Smith, they have a manager with recent experience of escaping relegation – with Aston Villa two seasons ago. Teemu Pukki’s better days seem behind him but he ably assisted Josh Sargent’s “scorpion kick”. Adam Idah is even less adept in goalscoring than his Finnish partner but significantly quicker. From midfield, Milot Rashica buzzed around dangerously at Vicarage Road and it is hoped that Josh Sargent’s goals can inspire him to live up to advance notices from Germany and America. Such players give Smith something to work with but the relegation situation still looks dependent on how successful Newcastle can be in the January window. John Brewin

Match report: Watford 0-3 Norwich

6) Grealish fades away amid City’s galaxy of stars

Six months on from Jack Grealish’s £100m move to Manchester City, it feels as though we are still waiting for him to assume centre stage and take a game by the scruff of the neck. Grealish was largely ineffective as a false nine at Southampton, where he was flanked by Phil Foden and Raheem Sterling – both of whom were also in muted form – but Pep Guardiola staunchly defended the forward’s performance. “The best game he [Grealish] has played since he has been with us, by far,” the City manager said. “An exceptional performance. He played really, really well. I think he’s the perfect player to play between the lines. He’s so aggressive, he makes incredible runs, he dropped the Southampton team to the byline, his decision-making is excellent.” Perhaps Guardiola knows better but it was hard to concur with his glittering verdict. Ben Fisher

7) Olise the new jewel in Palace’s crown

Patrick Vieira’s renovation job at Crystal Palace has been swift and effective, his side totting up more possession, more chances and more goals than last season. And all while staying on course to finish higher, too. But with half an hour gone at Selhurst Park, the new-look team’s weaknesses had been badly exposed. Virgil van Dijk had scored the easiest goal of his career and Palace’s insistence on playing it out from the back had kept them pinned in their own half. Yet by the final whistle Palace’s best qualities had come to the fore, with only the idiocy of VAR and the excellence of Alisson denying them a well-earned point. On the sharp end of all their best moves was the electric Michael Olise, while Eberechi Eze was sent on to continue his comeback from serious injury. It wasn’t long ago that Wilfried Zaha was by a mile the best attacker in the Palace team. These days, he might not be an automatic choice. Alex Hess

Michael Olise is a promising talent in the Crystal Palace ranks.
Michael Olise is a promising talent in the Crystal Palace ranks. Photograph: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

8) Swaggering Maddison recovers his finest form

How good is James Maddison? It is not so long ago that he and Jack Grealish were in hot competition for an England place. Maddison has been returning to something approaching his best form over Leicester’s difficult winter however and on his 200th league appearance he pulled the strings when his team were on top. He looks better than Grealish right now. Thirteen of his 15 goal involvements – scoring or directly assisting – have come in his last 12 games and that is not including his role in the 1-1 draw with Brighton where he ran at the defence, played a one-two off Ademola Lookman andtook the shot off that led to Patson Daka scoring. The 25-year-old is playing with a swaggerand, with Gareth Southgate a frequent visitor to the King Power Stadium, it would be no surprise to see him return to the England squad in March. Peter Lansley

Match report: Leicester 1-1 Brighton

9) Gunners need to start firing

‘So, are Arsenal good now?’ The answer is laced with nuance. In Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe they have a homegrown pair on which to build an empire. Martin Ødegaard is flourishing, while Gabriel Martinelli might just prove the best of the bunch. Mikel Arteta’s side have limped out of one cup at the first, fallen at the penultimate hurdle of the other and, in drawing a blank against Burnley, squandered a chance to occupy the top four. Against Liverpool , they resembled schoolboys throwing punches while being held at arm’s length by the playground bully. Understandable given recent history. But Sunday was a chance to prove their worth. After a slow start, came a period of pressure. But following Alexandre Lacazette’s glaring miss, they fell away. And so, for the second time this season, Arsenal find themselves. Surely, they have come too far to start limping? Sam Dalling

10) Was this Traoré’s Wolves farewell?

With Tottenham expected to return with an improved offer for Adama Traoré this week after having their opening bid of £15m turned down, the Spaniard’s cameo off the bench against Brentford could end up being his last Wolves appearance. Traoré scored his first Premier League goal of the season against Southampton in midweek but was denied a second late on by VAR as Wolves made it four wins from their last five matches, and Bruno Lage refused to comment on the 25-year-old’s future. “The most important thing is the way he plays for us,” said Lage. “He played again with energy and scored the third goal again. He scored last week and scored again, and the way he celebrated with his teammates and also with me. He’s a team player, a big professional and a lovely guy. I’m very happy with him.” Ed Aarons

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