Man City purring as finish line comes into view

City purring as the finish line comes into view

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Watch highlights from the Premier League match between Brighton and Manchester City

Pep Guardiola has done it again. His Manchester City side have clicked into gear at the business end of another season.

It’s 30 games unbeaten across all competitions for them now. That penalty shootout defeat to Real Madrid in the Champions League is the asterisk but from City’s dominant display against the European giants to their complete control at Brighton on Thursday night, all the signs are showing that the title holders are back at the top of their game.

Kevin De Bruyne was at his driving best in the first half on the south coast. His header was spectacular but his charges through the middle of the pitch had to be admired too. Phil Foden’s free-kick had fortune in how it was won and how it went in but, coupled with his second, which was converted when Bernardo Silva intercepted the ball into his path only serves to show things are falling City’s way in the Premier League now.

Julian Alvarez’s drought-ending fourth was an important one for him, too, with Erling Haaland out injured. There was another clean sheet after the blank against Chelsea in the FA Cup semi-finals too.

The Premier League crown and FA Cup trophy are within their grasp. And they looked primed to seize them.
Peter Smith

A brutal night for Brighton

Brighton started impressively. They pressed Man City high, were well organised when they dropped deeper and didn’t give the visitors a look in. Until the 17th minute. Then it all fell apart.

The drop off in confidence was evident as City stepped up a gear and played on a different level to their hosts. Credit to the Brighton players, they tried to stick to their principles when they did get a rare touch of the ball – although that only led to another City goal, with Phil Foden capitalising when some risky passing out from the back went wrong.

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Brighton manager Roberto De Zerbi claims that his team should be analysed over a full season rather than single a single game after some individual mistakes cost his side in the 4-0 defeat to Manchester City.

In the second half, the frustration for the Brighton supporters on this wet, cold, miserable night was aimed at referee Jarred Gillett and the VAR operators. Three times they felt they should have had a penalty. Three times they were denied. It almost certainly wouldn’t have changed the outcome of the game had one of those been given but it added to the irritation.

And that’s the way it has been at times this term for Brighton. They came into the campaign with high hopes of building on De Zerbi’s positive early work but injuries – along with some high-profile individual errors – have left them fighting with one hand behind their back.

A return to European football looks out of reach now. But they need to pick themselves up for the final few games. They can at least comfort themselves that no remaining opponent is likely to reach the heights City did on Thursday night.
Peter Smith

Nunez is a problem for Liverpool

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Highlights from Everton’s match against Liverpool in the Premier League

Darwin Nunez had the entire goal to aim at but powered his shot straight into the torso of Jordan Pickford. It was a glorious chance, only eight minutes after Everton’s opener. How this game, how Liverpool’s season, might have been different had he converted.

The Uruguayan is not solely responsible for the finishing issues which have undermined their title charge, of course, but he typifies them. And in his case, it is a consistent problem.

Misfiring forwards have cost Liverpool big this season
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Misfiring forwards have cost Liverpool big this season

According to Opta, Nunez has scored roughly eight goals fewer than he should have since arriving in the Premier League, based on the quality of chances he has had. It is a record which makes him the competition’s second-biggest underperformer related to his expected goals in that timeframe.

His latest miss was described as “unforgiveable” by Sky Sports‘ Jamie Carragher. Nunez has scored 11 Premier League goals this season but it is the wasted chances which have come to define him.

The hope for Liverpool has always been that, in time, Nunez would find the killer touch to match the quality of his movement and his knack for finding space in the box. But that hope is now receding.

As Carragher put it: “This is what he is. He can cause trouble but he is erratic with his finishing. It is not enough to win you trophies, so there is a big decision to be made on him.”
Nick Wright

Tarkowski, Branthwaite pummel Liverpool into submission

We’ve become accustomed to defenders acting as the playmakers for a team in the modern era. Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold importance to Liverpool’s has been well documented and showcased over the years. But Everton have two defenders who are just as key to their team’s attacking output, albeit in a very different way.

James Tarkowski and Jarrod Branthwaite set the tone for Everton’s powerful performance over Liverpool with two outstanding performances when tasked with causing chaos in the Liverpool penalty area. It was like the ball was a magnet to them when pumped into the penalty area.

First contact, won. Second contact, won. Even third contact, won.

Combined, Tarkowski and Branthwaite had seven touches in the Liverpool penalty area. That pressure put on the Liverpool backline told and caused alarming levels of panic – as shown by both goals. The pair also managed the day job immaculately, too. Walking away with a deserving clean sheet. Tarkowski made nine clearances and Branthwaite made eight. Heroes in blue.
Lewis Jones

Leaky Man Utd rescued by Bruno once again

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Highlights from Manchester United’s match against Sheffield United in the Premier League

Bruno Fernandes produced a captain’s performance to bail out Manchester United once again.

The influential midfielder single-handedly saved his side from an embarrassing result against rock-bottom Sheffield United as he scored twice – including a stunning long-range strike to make it 3-2 – and provided an assist for their fourth in the 4-2 victory.

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Fernandes is questioned over his emotional behaviour but there is no doubting his huge importance in dragging United through tricky moments. He has now scored seven goals in his last six Premier League appearances.

When they need him most he always steps up and proves his captaincy credentials in a side that continues to leak goals.

United let in two “unacceptable” goals, according to boss Erik ten Hag, which takes their tally conceded to 50 in the league this season. The Red Devils have now conceded 50+ in two of their last three campaigns, having done so in just one of the first 29.

If Ten Hag is to prove he is the manager to take United forward, amid swirling speculation around his future, then he must fix their porous defence to prevent such chaotic games from happening.

But while the defence continues to disappoint for Ten Hag, his captain fantastic Fernandes does not and he will always be able to rely upon the Portuguese international.

Odegaard’s masterclass inspires Arsenal

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Arsenal’s 5-0 win over Chelsea

As Arsenal ripped Chelsea apart at the Emirates Stadium, it was striking just how many of their attacks went through Martin Odegaard. His total of eight chances created was his highest in a Premier League game. His fingerprints were all over the 5-0 win.

Indeed, his influence went deeper than those final passes. He was involved in the build-up to the opener, feeding Bukayo Saka on the right before Arsenal worked the ball infield. Not long after that, there was a sensational turn and through-ball to release Takehiro Tomiyasu for a cross that should have been converted.

He spent the bulk of the game in his usual territory on the right side of midfield, where those combinations with Saka and Ben White have become so familiar. Chelsea couldn’t get close to Arsenal there. But Odegaard was influential elsewhere too.

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In fact, some of his best work, that turn and pass to release Tomiyasu in the first half and the sensational ball in behind to set up Kai Havertz’s first goal in the second, came from the left-hand side. Odegaard drifted, always on the move, always probing for openings.

He finished the game with two assists and a player-of-the-match award, this latest creative masterclass putting him on 78 open-play chances created this season – a total 15 higher than any other Premier League player’s. But creativity is not all Odegaard offers.

As always, he was relentless in his out-of-possession work too, running just shy of 12km, a total second only to Declan Rice on the night. He pressed and harried tirelessly, winning more duels (eight) than any other player on the pitch. Chelsea had no answers.
Nick Wright

Poch’s fears realised – Chelsea are ‘Cole Palmer FC’

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Sky Sports’ Peter Smith and David Reed discuss the problems at Chelsea after their loss to Arsenal

Ahead of their short trip to north London, Mauricio Pochettino urged Chelsea to show they are not “Cole Palmer FC”. Unfortunately for the manager, his team’s dismal performance at the Emirates showed that’s exactly what they are.

Without Palmer for just the second time in the Premier League since he arrived last summer, Chelsea were embarrassed by Arsenal.

The 21-year-old has provided the most goals and the most assists for the Blues this season, meaning it was hardly surprising they managed just one shot on target compared to Arsenal’s 10.

Removing Palmer from the team was like removing the knot that had been tying Chelsea’s players into something resembling a functional outfit. Without him, everything unravelled.

Djordje Petrovic was caught out once more. Nicolas Jackson again missed from just yards out. Mykahilo Mudryk failed to touch the ball in Arsenal’s box, let alone aim a shot at David Raya’s goal.

Meanwhile, Moises Caicedo and Enzo Fernandez – signed for more than £200m, remember – were run ragged by Arsenal’s midfield, while Kai Havertz – who toiled as Chelsea’s No 9 last season – toyed with Axel Disasi and Benoit Badiashile.

But perhaps the most worrying thing for Chelsea is that, despite Pochettino’s attempt to motivate his side, this was all grimly predictable.
Joe Shread

Mateta flourishing under Glasner

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Highlights from Crystal Palace’s match against Newcastle in the Premier League

It’s hard to believe that Jean-Philippe Mateta has been at Crystal Palace since January 2021. Most of his appearances over the last three and a bit years have come off the bench, usually utilised when the Eagles were in need of a goal. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t.

That is to say, he was seen as more of a squad player. But this season, he has found himself with 21 Premier League starts from 33 games, and the arrival of Oliver Glasner has seen Mateta stride into form.

In just nine appearances, he has scored more Premier League goals under Oliver Glasner (8) than he did under either Roy Hodgson (5 in 35 games) or Patrick Vieira (6 in 44). That includes back-to-back league doubles.

But he also helped out defensively too. In the second half, he drove back to win a tackle against Bruno Guimaraes as Newcastle looked to break in a standout moment, showing his willingness and confidence to help the team across the pitch.

Crystal Palace have never been known as an especially free-scoring team, despite having bundles of attacking quality. But if Mateta can continue scoring goals and linking up well with those around him, it gives Glasner a good base to work from in what will be an important summer.
Charlotte Marsh

More away-day woe for Newcastle

Newcastle’s 11-day break came at the wrong time and so too did a fixture at in-form Crystal Palace – now their European hopes hang in the balance.

Eddie Howe’s side lost momentum after their 4-0 victory over Tottenham – their third win in four – as Palace outclassed them. Newcastle must draw a line under this result and performance, and move on quickly.

“We can’t make excuses, we’re going to blame ourselves and try to come back better,” admitted Howe. “We’re still in the mix but we can’t play like we did today if we’re going to maintain our push to be in the European places.”

It was another torrid day on the road for Newcastle having lost eight of their last 11 away games.

Newcastle need to make up three points on sixth-placed Manchester United although three of their final five fixtures are away from St James’ Park, but a home fixture against Sheffield United on Saturday presents the ideal chance to get back on track.
David Richardson

From nightmare start to record points tally?

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Highlights from Wolves’ match against Bournemouth in the Premier League

Take a bow, Andoni Iraola. Something remarkable has almost been achieved.

Bournemouth are a point off their all-time record Premier League tally, with four games to spare. The Cherries are hitting new levels under their talented young manager in his debut season.

How long ago had you forgotten their nine-game streak which kicked off his reign?

The job he’s done since has made it so forgettable.

If the season started the day he broke his duck in late October, Bournemouth would be fifth in the table, ahead of Man Utd, Chelsea, Tottenham and Newcastle.

They would only be five points off Aston Villa, who look certain to be playing Champions League football next season.

Because, sadly for the Cherries, league tables don’t work like that, a record points tally is the best they can settle for this term.

So putting aside the gut-wrenching lows and dizzying highs before ending ultimately in unremarkable mid-table, to any neutral glancing a cursory eye, Iraola’s performance evened out has been sensational.

Bournemouth were happy they had Gary O’Neil in post last season. But they are cock-o-hoop they now have his successor.

We could be harsh and say Bournemouth would have even more points but for wasteful finishing; in itself, another compliment that there is more to come from the Cherries.

They should not have been hanging on to their 1-0 lead at Wolves, should not have had to batten down the hatches with 10 men for the final few minutes.

Bournemouth have the fourth-worst difference between their goals scored and expected goals tallies in the whole Premier League, falling 2.15 goals below where they ‘should’ be.

Bearing in mind 13 teams have exceeded their own xG tally, they are falling behind the rest of the Premier League significantly in many cases.

The fact players not called Dominic Solanke have scored only 31 goals for them this season plays a major part in that.

But, that’s an issue for another day, another season. For now, Bournemouth have some record books to enter.
Ron Walker

Wolves’ season ending in a whimper

Gary O’Neil called this Wolves’ worst performance of the season, eschewing the opportunity to point to a controversial VAR decision and instead putting the spotlight firmly on his players following their 1-0 defeat to Bournemouth at Molineux.

The supporters stuck with their team, having seen two goals disallowed and a much improved second-half showing. But Wolves were miserable for the best part of an hour, a lethargic display in which even some of their stars of the season were flat.

O’Neil did not want to use fatigue as an excuse but given that the energy shown by Boubacar Traore and Tawanda Chirewa after coming on helped shift the momentum, it is easy to think that a tough season has begun to catch up with some of these players.

Joao Gomes was uncharacteristically sluggish, Mario Lemina making tired decisions. Nelson Semedo, another of their players of their season, slipped in the first half and went down with cramp in the second. O’Neil described his team’s display as strange.

After seven without a win, a season that looked full of hope in March, with two routes to Europe, risks ending in a whimper. O’Neil spoke wistfully of October when Matheus Cunha, Pedro Neto and Hee-Chan Hwang were fit and firing. It feels an age away right now.
Adam Bate

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