Premier League Preview - Matchday 7Sep 29
The 2020/21 Premier League season is well and truly at the business end of the campaign and there was plenty for fans to get their teeth into from a thrilling Matchday 31.
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Sometimes you’ve just got to shrug. Manchester City lost this match despite only facing two shots in the entire match, which had a combined xG of 0.18.
Pep Guardiola’s side had 2.01 by comparison, and after heaping much praise on his mentor, Marcelo Bielsa, in the build-up his team faced the ultimate smash-and-grab.
This was not a conventional Leeds performance; after Liam Cooper was sent off the second half was the kind of battling defensive display we’ve rarely seen, something that Bielsa admitted to afterwards.
But in a similar vein to Chelsea’s aberration to West Bromich Albion last week, there’s little for Guardiola to analyse here. His team hit 29 shots in total and yes, maybe their shooting positions left a little to be desired - 15 of them were from outside the area - they made a gigantic 297 passes into the final third, showing just how the second half played out.
At the end of the day, it was a match they were extremely unfortunate to lose; the title will still be heading to the Etihad regardless.
A game overshadowed by another controversial - and stupid - VAR moment, the real story from this match was Manchester United producing one of the best halves of the Ole Gunnar Solskjaer era to turn this match around.
United were aided by another masochistic performance from Spurs, desperate to sit in and await the inevitable, and then moan about it later.
Jose Mourinho got exactly as he wished but the encouraging thing from United’s perspective was the comeback was driven by three players who aren’t Bruno Fernandes or Marcus Rashford.
Those two have 26 league goals between them but the contributions from the rest haven’t been good enough - until now. Fred, FC Man of the Match for his performance, dragged his side back into the match by getting into the box to convert Edinson Cavani’s saved shot, his first goal in three years. Cavani himself then scored a diving header assisted by Mason Greenwood, with the latter scoring the clinching third.
It didn’t rely on luck, or an outstanding player action, or a counter attack reaction to the opposition. It was a slick attacking display driven by creating good chances, and that’s something that United just haven’t done often enough.
As for Jose, it’s the first time in his career that a team he managed has lost 10 league matches.
Probably the most impactful result of the weekend came at Turf Moor. After the despondent recent performance against Brighton, Steve Bruce has at least had a response from his players, both in earning a point against Tottenham last week and then in taking the three points from Burnley.
But it was a case of individual brilliance rather than Bruce that settled this one. Burnley outshot Newcastle 24 to 10, and comfortably beat them 1.85 - 1.35 on expected goals. But Allan Saint-Maximin was playing for Newcastle, and that was the deciding factor.
He came off the bench to assist Jacob Murphy (0.03 xG) then the winner was all about him, carrying the ball 60 yards before firing into the bottom corner (0.11 xG).
It was the first time in 44 matches that a Steve Bruce team trailed at half-time and then went onto win. It’s a result that could secure Newcastle’s Premier League status for another season. And it’s pretty much all to do with Saint-Maximin’s genius.
Jesse Lingard making a late run for the Player of the Year accolades is not something we’d have expected to say just three months ago, but it’s here and it’s real.
Lingard’s form is among the best anywhere in Europe and on Sunday both he and West Ham got over the line - just - against Leicester to make Champions League qualification a real possibility.
West Ham have been all about efficiency in front of goal, and this was the case here. Four shots, four on target, three goals on an xG of just 1.01. Indeed they’ve scored nine goals in their last three outings against an xG of 5.
And the overperformance applies to Lingard, too, who has eight goals and three assists in nine matches and is providing a goal contribution every 72 minutes, against an expected contribution of 5.6. Is it sustainable? Probably not? Likewise, is it refreshing to see an unfashionable, largely derided player prove more than a few people wrong? Absolutely.