Hits & Misses: Man Utd return to form
Man Utd return to form in style
If one point from two games had caused belief in Manchester United’s title hopes to wane, this was an emphatic way to restore it. A record-equalling Premier League victory as Southampton were beaten 9-0 at Old Trafford, this win moves Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side back level on points with Manchester City at the top of the table. Game on.
United’s attack has not been firing so well of late with even Bruno Fernandes looking a little off it. The failure to score at Arsenal even had Luke Shaw criticising the performance. “We didn’t look like we wanted to play,” he said. “We created the chances and failed to score again and it cost us two points. At times we were too slow. We were sloppy.”
The speed was back in their play here with Shaw creating more chances against his old club than he had done in any of his previous 173 appearances in the competition, despite being substituted at half-time. He had two assists by then and had helped lay on another as both he and Aaron Wan-Bissaka raided forward to great effect from the full-back positions.
The 9-0 scoreline will bring back memories of the win over Ipswich in 1995 but five of those goals came from one player, Andy Cole. The satisfaction for Solskjaer is that seven different United players were on target here with both Edinson Cavani and Anthony Martial scoring.
The whole forward line might just have played themselves into form on a night when United scored as many goals as they had managed in the previous eight Premier League games combined. The seventh of the nine goals made them the outright top scorers this season.
Manchester City still have two games in hand, of course, and rightly remain title favourites. But just as United were showing signs of fading, they have sparked back to life with a standout result to remember. Winnable games against Everton, West Brom and Newcastle offer hope they can prolong the challenge into March. Anything can happen then…
History repeats for Hasenhuttl
Ralph Hasenhuttl has certainly experienced the highs and lows during his two-and-a-bit years in charge at Southampton. Now he has done so in the space of little over a month. The tears of joy came when he defeated Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool at St Mary’s at the start of 2021. Four weeks on and, remarkably, he has had to endure another 9-0 defeat.
That game against Leicester has been discussed so often it has become something of a running joke, an inescapable reference point for Hasenhuttl’s reign. Nobody thought for one moment that history would repeat. It is unusual for a coach to survive one such result. Now the Austrian must hope to recover from the ignominy of it happening twice.
He has earned plenty of trust in the interim period and the manner of this defeat was not so damning against a free-flowing Manchester United side at Old Trafford. The players worked hard after losing Alexandre Jankewitz in the second minute and three of the United goals hit the back of the net after his Southampton side had been reduced to nine men.
But a fourth consecutive Premier League defeat means Southampton are on the worst run of form of any team in the competition. They were unfortunate against Aston Villa and are without some key players because of injury. They, of all teams, know not to panic. But it is a reminder once more of just how quickly fortunes can change in football.
No cause for alarm at Arsenal
After another David Luiz dismissal – his third in Arsenal colours, to be precise – was followed by a second-half collapse which saw a promising seven-game unbeaten revival unravel at Molineux, you would have been forgiven for thinking Arsenal were up to their old tricks again.
The controversial decision which led to Luiz’s dismissal undoubtedly dominated the fall-out from the first bump in the road Arsenal have experienced this year, but it should not overshadow a performance which, at times, served as an illustration of the strides the Gunners continue to take under Mikel Arteta.
For 47 first-half minutes, right up until Luiz’s sending off and Ruben Neves’ equaliser from the spot, Arsenal were superior in every department against Wolves, the only criticism being that they failed to secure a more handsome lead.
Even after being reduced to 10 men and falling behind to a moment of sheer brilliance from Joao Moutinho, there was belief, however unlikely, that something could be salvaged from the game.
In the end, a defeat is ultimately a defeat, but with Arsenal sides in the not so distant past likely to have slumped to a more damaging or demoralising setback, the fact this team coped in the face of such adversity would have not only pleased Arteta, but shown him he has a group willing to tackle to challenges that lie ahead.
Could this be Wolves’ springboard?
What a strange evening this was for Wolves. They were hapless for much of the first half, looking devoid of confidence as Arsenal got in behind their defence with alarming ease. The switch to a back four was unconvincing, the pressure on the ball non-existent. Getting into the dressing room at half-time just one goal behind looked like being the only bonus.
As it was, one neat passage of play was enough for Willian Jose to win the penalty that resulted in David Luiz’s red card before being expertly converted by Ruben Neves. The winning goal from Joao Moutinho was spectacular. The Bernd Leno sending off ended any prospect of an Arsenal comeback. Three points and a first Premier League win of the year.
Nuno Espirito Santo will hope it is a turning point because for the first time in his Wolves reign he is being questioned. Seven games without a win will do that but what has been more worrying has been the loss of identity, the little patterns his players knew so well.
Going once again to four at the back is an indication Nuno is not yet ready to return to the system that brought relative success in his first three seasons in charge. He wants to continue the search for a new way. While the team’s performance against 11 Arsenal players did not offer much evidence that he has found it, the victory over nine of them might just inspire some much-needed confidence that they will get there in the end.
Blades key men return to form
The old band are firmly back together and hitting the right notes at Sheffield United. For large parts of this season, the intricate passing the Blades were renowned for last season has been replaced by unimaginative patterns of play.
However, the return to form of Chris Basham and John Fleck has got Chris Wilder’s team back to their best – both were outstanding in the second half of their comeback victory over West Brom as their miraculous survival bid gathered more momentum.
The marauding Basham lived up to his “Bashambauer” title with a performance of a sheer class down the right. His ability to join the attack and play dangerous passes was the catalyst for the brilliant second-half performance by his team.
It was no coincidence both of the Blades goals came down the right flank. He was ably supported by Fleck, who dictated the game from his central position. When those two play well, the Blades are a completely different animal to the one we have come associated with this season. The great escape could be on.
Palace victory comes at what cost?
Gary Cahill marked his return with the decisive goal as Palace came from behind to win 2-1 at Newcastle, but Roy Hodgson will return south perhaps considering the cost of claiming back-to-back Premier League victories for the first time since September.
With his side protecting a slender second-half lead, Wilfried Zaha was forced to depart through injury, denting his side’s ability to get up the pitch. The 28-year-old was seen clutching the back of his right leg, suggesting a potential hamstring injury.
Palace sit 15 points clear of the relegation zone, but it is the growing list of those on the treatment table that could derail any hopes of breaking into European contention.
Hodgson said afterwards: “Suddenly we are looking around wondering where all our players are. It’s going to be a problem trying to get these players fit again. These injuries have to be assessed.
“[Wilfried Zaha] doesn’t normally get injured so it’s concerning he has come off. Hopefully it’s nothing serious because Wilf’ got tremendous powers of recovery but to add him to the players we lost at the weekend, the squad gets smaller and smaller.”
Palace’s record without their talisman is well documented. Since the start of the 2016/17 season, they have collected 1.3 points/game with him in the side compared to just 0.5 points/game when he has been absent.
More recently since the start of last term, Palace have lost all three games without the winger so Hodgson will be sweating over the medical assessment in the coming days. Eberechi Eze and Michy Batshuayi may have to shoulder greater the attacking responsibility should the diagnosis be worse than first feared, starting with the trip to Leeds on Monday Night Football.
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