15 thoughts from the weekend's Premier League action

NewsHunter examines the most important Premier League developments from the weekend, dissecting the big talking points after a busy slate of action.

Fulham likely doomed after conceding late

If Fulham could only keep their focus for 90 minutes.

Last week, the Cottagers lost 3-1 to Aston Villa after allowing three goals in the final 12 minutes of play. They did it again Friday, losing 1-0 to Wolverhampton Wanderers after Adama Traore’s goal in the 91st minute. It’s maddening stuff, and, unfortunately, it’s going to cost them a place in the Premier League.

You have to admire manager Scott Parker for maintaining such a positive attitude in spite of near-certain relegation. He’s fostered a strong culture at the club and the players clearly care. Teammates consoled Mario Lemina after the loss to Wolves, and Parker noticed the camaraderie they showed in defeat.

But the upcoming schedule is unforgiving. Trips to Arsenal, Chelsea, Southampton, and Manchester United sandwich one final home game against Burnley. Fulham have also played one more game than Newcastle United, who are six points ahead after the weekend’s fixtures.

Stones, Fernandinho were City’s best attackers

It isn’t the first time Pep Guardiola has given defense-minded players license to attack. Manchester City did it against Everton last month in the FA Cup quarterfinals, with Aymeric Laporte and Fernandinho’s late gallops upfield proving vital in a 2-0 win over the stubborn Toffees.

For Saturday’s visit from Leeds United, the general ineffectiveness of Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus, and Ferran Torres in attack tempted John Stones and, once again, Fernandinho higher up the park to try to influence the proceedings. Their combined eight shots were pretty tame, but their ability to surge past markers and pick out passes created openings.

Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Sterling, who has been left out of City’s bigger games lately due to his miserable run of form, should’ve scored when Fernandinho slid beside Liam Cooper and teed up the English international in the area. But Sterling’s contact was poor and his shot spun well wide.

Having players cantering forward from deep when City face a low block is a wise Plan B, and it almost worked for the second time in a matter of weeks. City outshot Leeds 29-2, so their shock 2-1 defeat shouldn’t cause too much concern. It was just one of those days.

Bielsa’s trusty Swiss Army knife

Stuart Dallas has played across the defense and midfield during his time with Leeds, but it would do him a disservice to simply brand him a “utility man.” He does fill in for injured players, but he’s played more minutes than anybody else in Marcelo Bielsa’s side this season. He’s a bonafide starter.

It’s because Dallas is one of the most tactically gifted and hard-working players in the Argentine’s ensemble. Bielsa will always find a place for him in his XI because Dallas appreciates and infiltrates space better than most in the squad.

Dallas’ first goal in the 2-1 win at City required patience. He hung back, letting Helder Costa and Patrick Bamford draw the attentions of four City players, just in case the ball would find him on the edge of the area. When Bamford sent a short pass his way, Dallas delivered an unstoppable finish past Ederson.

His 91st-minute winner was more opportunistic. Ten-man Leeds had just survived City’s 29th attempt on goal and were closing in on an impressive point at the Etihad Stadium, but it got even better when Dallas sighted a gap between the center-backs and streaked beyond the backtracking Fernandinho. He nudged his shot between the legs of the City goalkeeper after latching onto Ezgjan Alioski’s through ball.

Dallas now has seven goals this season, meaning he’s only second to the club’s top scorer, Bamford. Bielsa’s human Swiss Army knife is lethal.

Phillips turns the screw

Many other players shone in Leeds’ historic victory, and Kalvin Phillips was unsurprisingly among them.

Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA / Getty Images Sport / Getty

His case for an England starting spot at the summer’s European Championship is getting stronger by the game. He barked out instructions and showcased some miraculous positional play against City, in addition to proving his ease in playing his way out of trouble with a team-high three completed dribbles.

At the moment, Declan Rice and Phillips are England’s best deep-lying midfielders, and that may remain the case even if Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson somehow returns to full fitness ahead of the Euros.

TAA sends Southgate a message

The Trent Alexander-Arnold discourse has probably been blown out of proportion in light of his recent exclusion from the England squad, but nonetheless, the Liverpool right-back picked a perfect time to silence it.

With Gareth Southgate in attendance Saturday, Alexander-Arnold uncorked a wonderful strike in the 91st-minute to give Liverpool a last-gasp win over Aston Villa, the Reds’ first victory at Anfield since December.

The 22-year-old may not have anything to prove, according to Jurgen Klopp, but a well-timed reminder of his superlative attacking talent certainly didn’t hurt his chances of regaining his national team status. Some have questioned his defensive abilities, and that’s not entirely unfair, but not calling Alexander-Arnold up for this summer’s Euros would be a huge mistake, even if the competition for England’s right-back slot is fierce.

Pulisic consolidates place in Tuchel’s XI

Thomas Tuchel never lost faith in Christian Pulisic. After keeping him out of the side for the first few matches of his tenure, the German manager slowly reintegrated Pulisic, affording him the same chance he gave to every other player in the squad.

Pulisic has since run away with the opportunity, scoring in back-to-back Premier League games for just the second time since joining Chelsea in 2019. He showed a particularly strong understanding with Kai Havertz in Saturday’s 4-1 drubbing of Crystal Palace, often running down the left of the German playmaker.

Sebastian Frej/MB Media / Getty Images Sport / Getty

That partnership could solve Chelsea’s scoring issues. Before the trip to Selhurst Park, the west London side hadn’t scored more than two goals in a single match, often struggling to turn possession into something meaningful. Yes, it was only against Palace, but it’s a start.

It also shows the value of patience – even at a club like Chelsea. Pulisic’s future seemed unclear a couple of months ago, when the 22-year-old largely functioned as a second-half substitute. But Tuchel always maintained that he was part of his plans. Maybe he just needed time to work with the player. Pulisic is now operating as more of a false nine, and his movement off the ball has clearly improved. That’s got to be the result of Tuchel’s fine-tuning.

Newcastle have glimmer of hope

Newcastle pulled off an unlikely turnaround Sunday to boost their hopes for survival. But the Magpies aren’t out of danger just yet.

After a dreadful opening half against Burnley, Steve Bruce’s men responded with a gritty performance to come out on top with a 2-1 away win. In securing their first Premier League victory in over two months, Newcastle now enjoy a six-point advantage and a game in hand over 18th-place Fulham.

But, with just seven matches remaining, Newcastle are far from safe. Despite the relief after Sunday’s win, there’s a chance Newcastle’s bid for survival could collapse in the coming weeks as they get set for a gauntlet of difficult matchups against West Ham United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Leicester City, and Premier League leaders Manchester City.

Saint-Maximin to the rescue

There’s no doubting Allan Saint-Maximin will deserve a ton of credit if Newcastle are successful in their quest to remain in the Premier League.

It took less than 10 minutes for Saint-Maximin to make manager Steve Bruce look like a genius Sunday, as the 24-year-old made an immediate impact off the bench to inspire Newcastle United to a crucial win over Burnley.

With Bruce’s lifeless Newcastle side trailing at the break, the Magpies boss turned to Saint-Maximin, who made his presence known almost instantly by setting up Jacob Murphy’s equalizer. Then, just minutes later, the Frenchman steamrolled his way into the Burnley box before putting Newcastle ahead for good with a powerful low strike.

It was a superb end to a week in which Saint-Maximin made headlines for all the right reasons for donating care packages to the NHS.

Lingard’s getting on the plane

Competition for places in the England squad for the impending European Championship is intense, particularly in attacking midfield positions, where Gareth Southgate has an abundance of excellent options – seriously, the Three Lions are loaded. While he’s not the most celebrated of that crop, Jesse Lingard has played himself into the squad thanks to a red-hot run at West Ham United that has seen him resuscitate his career.

Lingard was a serviceable squad player for much of his time at Manchester United, but after a much-publicized goal drought, he eventually fell out of favor and found minutes almost impossible to come by this season. Since joining the Hammers in January, though, he’s been reborn.

Not bad for a player who once went a full calendar year without finding the net.

With eight goals and three assists in nine Premier League appearances – including two in Sunday’s win over Leicester City – the 28-year-old is powering West Ham’s unlikely push for a Champions League place. Barring an injury, he’s going to the Euros this summer, and it’ll be completely on merit.

West Ham must lose late-game sloppiness

Since the start of December, over 55% of the goals conceded by West Ham have been in the final 30 minutes of matches, including five of the last six goals they’ve let in.

A three-goal advantage was almost surrendered in Sunday’s visit from Leicester City after Kelechi Iheanacho’s late brace, leaving Irons manager David Moyes frustrated at how his side can’t seem to maintain its high standards until the final whistle.

“This one is a stick-on smile today. This is a smile of anger because we nearly threw away another big three points for us and we don’t want to do that,” Moyes said after the 3-2 win, adding, “We played well for the opening 60 minutes.”

JOHN WALTON / AFP / Getty

Moyes needs to find out whether this is a physical or mental issue within his squad and address it quickly. The top-four battle is tightening up as we approach the final seven matches of the campaign, meaning a single, last-minute goal in the run-in will likely prove the difference between Champions League football and Europa League football in the 2021-22 term.

Indiscipline spoils Leicester’s weekend

James Maddison, Ayoze Perez, and Hamza Choudhury were left out of Brendan Rodgers’ matchday squad after breaching coronavirus protocols the previous weekend. Perez and Choudhury’s telling contributions for Leicester are more sporadic, but there’s a good chance Maddison could’ve been a positive influence on what was a huge game in the Foxes’ season.

The trio let everyone down at Leicester City and will be scapegoated for the side’s damaging 3-2 loss to West Ham.

“We have a set of values for the team, for this football club,” Rodgers said when he revealed the players could rejoin training next week.

Maddison, Perez, and Choudhury took their eyes off the prize. That fault lies with them, but it also lies with a manager who has proven he can foster a fine dressing-room atmosphere in English football but might lack the level of discipline needed to push his teams over the finish line.

The rules remain a total mystery

One of these incidents was deemed a foul – ultimately wiping out a goal, too – while the other wasn’t. Consistency in the application of the sport’s rules, and, by extension, the use of VAR, continues to be infuriating.

Practically kicking someone in the head is fair game, apparently.

United produce best half of the season

Tottenham Hotspur were overwhelmed by Manchester United’s response to adversity, as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s squad strengthened its grip on second place with a near-flawless performance in the final 45 minutes of Sunday’s contest.

United showed flashes of brilliance in the opening half but went into the break trailing 1-0 after a goal from Heung-Min Son, who scored after a controversial decision to rule out Edinson Cavani’s goal just two minutes earlier.

However, what transpired after the break could go down as Manchester United’s best half of the season. Heck, it might’ve even been their best performance since Solskjaer took charge in 2018.

For 45 minutes, the Red Devils were on a different level compared to their shell-shocked counterparts.

Paul Pogba was phenomenal, as the Frenchman pulled the strings with defense-splitting passes and led the charge with a commanding performance. Cavani, whose deal expires this summer, was eventually rewarded for another solid performance by scoring the winning goal, while Dean Henderson played well enough between the sticks to be considered ahead of David De Gea for at least one more game.

Misery for Mourinho

If there’s one thing Jose Mourinho hasn’t mastered at Tottenham, it’s holding onto a lead.

Marc Atkins / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Mourinho’s conservative approach backfired yet again Sunday, as Tottenham coughed up the lead against Manchester United en route to falling to the Portuguese manager’s former club.

After taking the lead, Tottenham essentially invited the pressure from United – going from allowing zero shots on target to ending the game with seven – until Solskjaer’s side broke through to put three past Hugo Lloris.

The north London side – which sits seventh and six points back of a Champions League spot – has now dropped 18 points from winning positions in the Premier League this season. But that’s less likely to annoy Mourinho as much as the fact that he now has 10 losses in a league campaign for the first time in his career.

How far will Sheffield United fall?

Getting rid of Chris Wilder hasn’t made a difference. The Sheffield United players don’t have the confidence to take on an opponent and routine passes are either dribbled out of play or, in the case of the second goal in the Blades’ 3-0 defeat to Arsenal on Sunday, sent straight to the other team.

They’re a mess.

The Championship isn’t a forgiving league. Sunderland took an infamous tumble through the trapdoors of both the Premier League and the second tier in 2017 and 2018, respectively, while Stoke City finished 16th and Huddersfield Town ended up in 18th following their recent falls from the top division.

In their current state, bottom-placed Sheffield United should be more concerned about preserving their Championship status next season rather than pushing for an instant return to the Premier League. This appears to be a delicate surgical procedure rather than a band-aid fix for whoever’s in charge for the 2021-22 campaign.