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Here, theScore examines the most important developments and biggest talking points from Saturday’s slate of action in England’s top flight.
By the numbers: More humiliation for Man United
Things were supposed to be looking up.
Manchester United found relief away from their Champions League struggles. Erik ten Hag was named Premier League Manager of the Month, Harry Maguire was selected as the best player from a productive November, and United’s midweek win over Chelsea gave them an opportunity to move level on points with Manchester City on Saturday.
But then came Bournemouth, who embarrassed United. No one in Ten Hag’s ranks was blameless in a 3-0 defeat that leaves the under-pressure manager with plenty of issues to fix ahead of matches against Bayern Munich and Liverpool.
Here are some standout statistics following a miserable performance at Old Trafford:
0 – Rasmus Hojlund, who was called off the bench in the 56th minute against Bournemouth, remains goalless after 12 Premier League appearances. Manchester City’s Erling Haaland, who cost less than Hojlund, crammed 18 goals into his first 12 outings in England’s top flight.
1 – The defeat was Manchester United’s first by three or more goals in a Premier League home match against a team starting the day in the bottom half of the table.
3 – The other five teams in the Premier League’s top six have lost three home matches combined. Manchester United have tasted defeat four games at Old Trafford (against Brighton & Hove Albion, Crystal Palace, Manchester City, and Bournemouth). Aston Villa are the next Premier League visitors on Boxing Day.
5/11 – Manchester United have conceded three or more goals in five of their last 11 home matches across all competitions. Before that leaky streak, the Red Devils had conceded three or more in five of 90 home encounters.
9 – It’s taken just nine matches for Manchester United to lose four games in Stretford. Over Sir Alex Ferguson’s 21 Premier League campaigns, the Red Devils lost four or more home fixtures just once.
35 – Manchester United have lost more Premier League home matches (35) since Ferguson retired than they did during the legendary Scottish manager’s lengthy reign.
Emery’s day of redemption
It was a very good evening for Unai Emery.
Over 180 minutes this week, his Aston Villa side has gone from top-four hopeful to deservedly entering the Premier League title race after slaying two teams that finished at the summit of the table last season.
A benchmark midweek win over reigning champions Manchester City was obviously one to savor for the Spanish tactician. But the taste of victory won’t get much sweeter than Saturday’s win against his former employers, Arsenal. More than four years after he was dismissed by the Gunners – deemed a failure just 18 months into succeeding icon Arsene Wenger – Emery shook his fists wildly in celebration, with Villa moving within one point of the north London team and five clear of City.
It wasn’t as strong of a performance as Aston Villa’s complete domination of Manchester City, but it didn’t have to be. Villa’s approach against Arsenal after John McGinn’s early goal was just as effective, as the Scotland international’s eighth-minute strike allowed the hosts to focus on preserving their one-goal lead.
The cautious approach was perhaps to be expected against an Arsenal side that’s developed a reputation this season for coming from behind to steal points. Arsenal knocked on the door but struggled with their fluidity in attack against Villa’s high line.
Villa did threaten for more goals whenever the opportunity arose. And just when it seemed the momentum was shifting in Arsenal’s favor in the second half, Emery’s substitutions were instrumental in disrupting any rhythm the visitors tried to generate.
While Arsenal struggled with uncharacteristically bad decision-making – and were perhaps unlucky after VAR overturned a late equalizer – there’s no denying that the best team won in Birmingham. The victory was another example of how far Aston Villa have come since Emery replaced Steven Gerrard 14 months ago.
Liverpool winning – but unconvincing?
Liverpool aren’t playing particularly well. That could be a good or a bad thing.
Gleaning victories or valuable draws from subpar performances could be viewed as the hallmark of eventual champions; they’re one point clear in first place before they’ve hit their stride – an ominous prospect for their title rivals. Liverpool have gained a league-high 18 points from losing positions this season.
Or their form could be viewed as unsustainable: At some point, the individual flourishes won’t save them or – to use Saturday’s 2-1 comeback win at Crystal Palace as an example – a needless red card or heavy deflection won’t assist them.
A lot of Liverpool’s success is built, somewhat predictably, on their varied and well-stocked attack. They attempt more shots per game than any other Premier League team. Mohamed Salah, with 11 goals and seven assists over 16 appearances, is regularly decisive in tight matches. Cody Gakpo emphasized Liverpool’s forward depth with a lively cameo at Selhurst Park, which included his lofted cross that led to Salah’s equalizer.
But at the other end of the scale, the protection from their new-look midfield and overall defending appears wholly unreliable while Liverpool’s players miss the most tackles (11.5 per game) in the Premier League. Perhaps the most important aspect of the Reds’ title bid is that Virgil van Dijk is defending better than he has in years.
Despite the concerns surrounding Jurgen Klopp’s current squad, it undoubtedly shares similarities to the character Liverpool possessed while capturing the Premier League crown in 2020. That belief and grittiness will be key to keeping Liverpool firmly in the title hunt while Salah represents Egypt at the Africa Cup of Nations later this winter.
“I see the mentality: You just keep fighting until the end. We did that this game, and last game, and the game before,” Salah told TNT Sports after his goal ignited Liverpool’s come-from-behind victory.
“We can do something special this year,” he added.
Wilder things have happened
Few managers in recent decades can rival Chris Wilder’s impact in the tiers below the Premier League. He won five separate promotions through his stints with Alfreton Town, Oxford United, Northampton Town, and Sheffield United, and briefly bewitched Premier League viewers with the creative tactics he employed during the latter tenure. So why can’t Wilder’s second coming at Sheffield United inspire top-flight survival? James McAtee’s excellent curling finish was enough to give the Blades a 1-0 victory over Brentford at Bramall Lane, and they limited the visiting Bees to few chances for their first clean sheet of the season. Sheffield United are now just two points adrift of safety. “If we do the basics, then hopefully we can carry on the same form,” Wilder said after the win.
Burnley showing signs of life
Burnley’s boardroom deserves at least some of the credit for the uptick in results of late. After all, recent success may not have materialized if the relegation-threatened club opted to cut ties with Vincent Kompany after a brutal start to the Premier League season. Days after thrashing Sheffield United – a 5-0 result that led to Paul Heckingbottom becoming the first Premier League manager sacked this season – Burnley earned a valuable point on the road against a tough Brighton & Hove Albion side to move within two points of safety. Goalkeeper James Trafford continued to impress after a poor start to the season, producing 10 saves against the Seagulls, while Jordan Beyer – arguably their best defender from last season’s promotion – kept Brighton striker Evan Ferguson quiet for the most part. Whether the club can sustain this momentum and string together more positive results remains to be seen, but resisting the urge to replace Kompany has seemingly paid off so far.
Stat of the day
Clearly, there are only two outcomes for Aston Villa’s season.
Tweet of the day
Some things never change.