Ralph Hasenhuttl showed up mentor Ralf Rangnick. Frank Lampard outwitted elder statesman Marcelo Bielsa. It’s also trouble for Antonio Conte.
Frank Lampard’s Everton
It has been a week of oscillating emotions, from the high of his debut win over Brentford to the low of the loss to Newcastle. But overwhelming Leeds felt like a triumph for Lampard, as well as a much-needed win for an Everton side with a solitary victory in 15 previous league matches.
Lampard wanted Everton to be more attacking and they mustered 21 shots, 10 of them on target. Under Rafa Benitez, they invariably conceded first, but found themselves two up after a quarter of the match against Leeds. Injuries left Lampard short of players but his switch to 4-4-2 worked. So did some unexpected choices: Anthony Gordon has excelled on the right this season, but was moved to the left and flourished. Shorn of a fit left-back, Lampard played Jonjoe Kenny and his immediate opponent, Raphinha, was hauled off at half-time. Lampard picked Alex Iwobi, a contender for the title of Everton’s worst signing in recent seasons, ahead of Andros Townsend, one of the better recruits, but the Nigerian was unusually good.
Lampard has staked some of his reputation, and perhaps Everton’s future, on Dele Alli and Donny van de Beek, players who have lost their way. If Alli’s cameo was inconclusive, Van de Beek was a hugely influential starter. Manchester United rarely trusted the Dutchman to play in a central midfield duo. Everton reaped reward for doing so. And as the captain Seamus Coleman has had some chastening moments this season, few would have begrudged the valiant veteran the opener.
Wolves’ Champions League challengers
They couldn’t, could they? Wolves remain outsiders for a top-four finish but a masterplan of winning away at each of their immediate challengers is going well. After a January victory at Manchester United came a February triumph over Tottenham. They visit Arsenal and West Ham soon. Win those and perhaps Bruno Lage’s side will shed their status as dark horses. They may be the least prolific of the challengers for fourth but they also have by far the best defensive record. A clean sheet against Tottenham followed a shutout at Old Trafford.
A perfect hat-trick was also an imperfect one, given Sterling completed his treble with the rebound from a missed penalty. His trio at Carrow Road may have been typical: one fine finish, albeit aided by a deflection, and two more forgettable yet predatory ones. But it showed that Sterling is the penalty-box poacher in Pep Guardiola’s squad – and also that he is back in favour. Rewind to autumn and Jack Grealish and Gabriel Jesus seemed the first-choice wingers. Now it is the more potent Sterling and Riyad Mahrez. Sterling has 10 goals in 14 starts; at one stage in his career, that would have seemed remarkable. Now it feels like normal service has been resumed.
He may have been dubbed the ‘Alpine Klopp’ but perhaps the Southampton manager was more the ‘Alpine Rangnick’; after all, Ralf Rangnick appointed Ralph Hasenhuttl at RB Leipzig. Their first Premier League meeting suggested that the former, albeit with the luxuries of time and the opportunity to shape a squad, is doing rather better than a former mentor.
Old Trafford was the scene of one of twin historic lows in his distinctly unusual reign: his second 9-0 defeat in charge of Southampton. His first return indicated that while it can go very wrong, when his gameplan works, it enables Saints to compete with almost anyone. In their last three league games, they have drawn with both Manchester clubs and beaten Tottenham. In each case, deservedly. Hasenhuttl’s energetic football is not based on hanging in games and hoping to sneak points. Ambition and attacking intent have brought rewards.
Rewind a few months and James Ward-Prowse looked the only Saints player who might get in any top-six sides, but Hasenhuttl’s coaching prowess has improved many another, from Mohammed Salisu and Romain Perraud at the back to Che Adams and Armando Broja up front, and whereas Rangnick has struggled to play 4-2-2-2 in the Premier League, his old ally is making a better fist of it. Southampton must hope he reconsiders his intention to retire in 2024.
Stand-in captain, flagship signing, free-kick taker, goalscorer, matchwinner, talisman: Trippier seems to be the busiest man on Tyneside. Especially as his day job is as a defender and he helped keep Aston Villa’s January signings Philippe Coutinho and Lucas Digne quiet before he limped off, while an albeit disallowed goal stemmed from Emil Krafth’s inability to do likewise on Newcastle’s right flank after he departed.
As it was, Trippier’s second goal from a free-kick in a few days earned Newcastle a third successive win. The theory that full-backs are not transformative has long looked outdated in the era of Joao Cancelo and Trent Alexander-Arnold, but Trippier has proved they can exert a similar influence in a relegation battle. If the idea was that January signings would keep Newcastle up – and Dan Burn had an excellent debut – perhaps the first buy will do it all on his own.
Fabinho, unlikely goal machine
After four goals in three-and-a-half seasons have come five in little over a month. That transformation was explained in part by Jurgen Klopp, who blamed himself for not allowing Fabinho to get into the 18-yard box for set-pieces until recently, while the Brazilian’s brief stint on penalties when Mohamed Salah was in Africa certainly helped. The holding midfielder has nevertheless displayed an ability to sniff out an opening and the capacity to score important goals; three of his five have put Liverpool ahead. And visiting a fired-up Burnley in dreadful conditions called for Liverpool to show their resolve. Fabinho did that in his more familiar duties in defensive midfield.
Error-prone at Tottenham in the FA Cup last week but excellent in the Premier League. Graham Potter’s team have only conceded nine goals in 11 league games (and the only time they were breached more than once in that spell, at Everton, they won). Over the season, they have conceded nine fewer than Manchester United. If Wolves had not been even more frugal, they might have attracted more attention but perhaps Potter’s policy of playing out from the back shows that passing can be the best form of defence. And with right-back Tariq Lamptey crossing for Neal Maupay’s fine opener and centre-back Adam Webster scoring the second, defenders are contributing in attack, too.
Tariq Lamptey versus Watford – ranked against Brighton players:
11 progressive carries + dribbles
6 fouls won
5 tackles + interceptions
5 progressive passes received
21 pressures (11 successful)
— Albion Analytics (@AlbionAnalytics) February 13, 2022
Chelsea’s world champions
The concept of global domination may suggest the Club World Cup is a bigger and better tournament than it actually is and winning the Champions League was actually the greater achievement, but Chelsea’s triumph over Palmeiras capped a rise under Thomas Tuchel: in little over a year, they have gone from 10th in the Premier League to (in theory anyway) the best in the world. But there was something fitting that Antonio Rudiger, perhaps Chelsea’s outstanding player of Tuchel’s time, was man of the match in the final. It completed the set for Cesar Azpilicueta, Chelsea’s greatest bargain of the Roman Abramovich era, that he got to lift the one trophy he hadn’t won. For Edouard Mendy, who was still a Ligue 2 player at 26, becoming a champion of Africa and the world within seven days is a wonderful story. The Chelsea careers of Romelu Lukaku and Kai Havertz are not such unqualified successes yet, but perhaps scoring in a showpiece will spur each on.
(Two of) West Ham’s centre-backs
It has been an eventful week for David Moyes’ central defenders. Issa Diop got an assist and Craig Dawson got a goal.
The Italian has had his worst week in England since his Chelsea side lost 3-0 to Bournemouth and 4-1 to Watford in successive days in 2018. A classic Conte team would probably have had the efficiency to beat Southampton and Wolves; even an embryonic one, like this team, must have expected to take at least four points. Tottenham got none, conceding five times. They have now let in nine goals in their last four league games which, again, feels untypical of a Conte outfit. And if this looked to be the chance to provide a springboard for his new side, with four of those he evidently no longer wanted exiled and two new signings secured, Conte instead ended up criticising his players again.
“You cannot buy the winning mentality,” he said. It sometimes seems as though Conte can inject it, as though he will propel them into the Champions League with tactical nous and a winning habit. That feels less likely now and, as Spurs were booed off, it wasn’t just Conte who was unhappy.
There was a stage part-way through his sixth successive game without a goal when it seemed Cristiano Ronaldo had either forgotten the offside law or that it only applied to mere mortals. After last season’s debates about armpit calls and the most marginal of decisions came obvious offsides, the sight of masses of open space separating a red shirt from the yellows. When Ronaldo set up Paul Pogba for a disallowed goal, he seemed nearer the East Stand than the Southampton defence. When he headed in what he hoped was a winner, he was offside, as was Jadon Sancho, who had flicked the ball on, as both had been from Bruno Fernandes’ free-kick. Ronaldo had the gall to complain when it was chalked off.
Not sure it’s even possible for a team to be more offside than this pic.twitter.com/Zcr18NJM88
— Tom Williams (@tomwfootball) February 12, 2022
The most damning moment, however, came when he timed his run rather better: the sixth-minute chance when he rounded Fraser Forster, applied insufficient power to his shot and Romain Perraud cleared off the line. It felt so uncharacteristic of Ronaldo, yet symbolic of his current fortunes. Perhaps he has lost some of his powers; perhaps he strayed offside because he no longer trusts his pace. And if that is unsurprising, at 37, it is nonetheless the case that he is in his longest goal drought since 2009. He is a scorer of over 800 but only one of them has come in open play in 843 minutes under Ralf Rangnick – and none in 2022. Manager and star player always seemed an odd couple. So far, Manchester United are scarcely benefiting from this strangest of marriages.
Hodgson may have done half the job Watford required in his first three games, but it has come at a cost. Watford’s defence has been tightened up. They have kept a first Premier League clean sheet in two years. They have only conceded three goals. But they have scored none. They have only had two shots on target in the last two. In a bid for solidity, Hodgson may have over compensated. Watford look too rigid, too predictable and too dull whereas, in Ismaila Sarr, Emmanuel Dennis, Josh King and Joao Pedro, they had seemed the team with the most firepower at the bottom. They could do with finding a way of showing that attacking incision again.
Rewind to Spygate and Bielsa provided an expert dissection of Frank Lampard’s tactics, forged by hours of research, not all of it from looking over training-ground fences. Since then, the Englishman has shown he can confound Bielsa, whether by fielding a midfield diamond in Derby’s play-off win in 2019 or by changing system again on Saturday. Admittedly, Bielsa only had two games of Lampard’s Everton to study, but they played 3-4-3 in both. The Englishman opted for 4-4-2 on Saturday. Bielsa is no stranger to early substitutions, but his half-time double change (which, when injury had already resulted in Stuart Dallas’ withdrawal, meant he had no more alterations to make) was a sign his initial gameplan had gone wrong. And taking off Raphinha, his greatest talent, was a quixotic decision that was not justified by Leeds’ second-half display.
Leicester, set-piece failures
It looked like Brendan Rodgers had got his response after questioning his players’ hunger. Leicester were close to being deserved winners against West Ham. Harvey Barnes and Youri Tielemans, two of those dropped earlier in the week, were excelling. But then familiar failings recurred: Leicester can’t cope with corners. And if there was a hint of misfortune as Craig Dawson shouldered in West Ham’s equaliser, the sight of Rodgers’ summer signing, the 6ft 6ins centre-back Jannik Vestergaard, who was brought on minutes before precisely to add height at set-pieces, leaping into thin air while the smaller Dawson outjumped Daniel Amartey, summed it up. Vestergaard has been an awful signing and Leicester are hopeless at defending dead-ball situations.
They have actually played well against Manchester United and Liverpool in the last week but the reality is that they have only won 4.7 percent of their league games this season. That’s not a recipe for survival.
West Ham’s full-backs
The normally excellent Aaron Cresswell conceded a penalty, was beaten in the air by Ricardo Pereira when he scored and got booked. The often excellent Vladimir Coufal was given such a torrid time by Harvey Barnes that he was substituted. Perhaps, however, neither was the most reputation-damaging day for a West Ham defender this week.
Chelsea’s world champions
Now 16 points behind Manchester City’s English champions.
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