Saturday 17 February 2018

Liverpool's solid defence, Man United shy in front of goal - Five talking points from the Premier League

Samuel Lovett

Liverpool's defence gives Klopp something to smile about, United need to take their chances. Five talking points from the weekend Premier League action.

Reds defence offers Klopp something to smile about - despite disappointing draw

Billed as one of the games of the weekend, Liverpool’s clash with Southampton at St Mary’s ended in a disappointing draw as both sides failed to break the deadlock. For all the possession they enjoyed – around the 65 per cent mark – Jurgen Klopp’s men lacked the fluency that has defined their previous performances.

Jurgen Klopp shows his appreciation of Liverpool’s efforts. Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images

Nonetheless, the game marked a notable success for the side’s defence who earned their second clean sheet of the season. Saints failed to register a single shot on target as the Red backline remained resolute. Not the result Klopp wanted, but one that proves Liverpool’s defence isn’t quite as porous as assumed.

United’s failure to convert chances will be their undoing

In their last three matches at Old Trafford, against Stoke, Burnley and now Arsenal, Jose Mourinho’s side have enjoyed the lion’s share of chances.  But once again, Manchester United failed to convert this dominance into three points. A late Olivier Giroud goal prompted defender Phil Jones to admit after Saturday’s game that: “It feels like we have been slapped 6-0”.

Manchester United's Marcus Rashford (left) and Arsenal's Francis Coquelin battle for the ball. Photo credit: Martin Rickett/PA Wire

Indeed, the reality was that Giroud’s 89th minute header was Arsenal’s sole attempt on target.  In contrast, United registered 12 shots, five of which were on goal, and enjoyed 10 corners to Arsenal’s four. If the club are to stand any chance of competing with this year’s frontrunners, the side desperately needs to overcome this shortcoming. While they may have flashed with potential at times this season, United’s search for rhythm and fluency plods on.

Chelsea continue to thrive under Conte’s tactical tweaks

Despite his best efforts, Antonio Conte isn’t fooling anyone with his insistence that Chelsea aren’t title contenders. The Blues coach talked down his side’s credentials after their 1-0 victory at the Riverside Stadium on Sunday, but it’s clear to see that Chelsea are in unstoppable form. The visitors may have only won by one goal against Middlesbrough, but it is 17-0 over the past six league matches.

Diego Costa turns away in celebration after scoring, leaving the Middlesbrough defence shell-shocked in his wake. Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images

With their 3-4-3 formation coming to fruition, Chelsea have tightened up at the back while unleashing the full potential of Eden Hazard and Diego Costa up front. Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso have thrived in their adopted wing-back roles, while Gary Cahill, David Luiz and Cesar Azpilicueta have looked impregnable as a back three. After unsure beginnings, Chelsea are now stamping their authority on the league.

Wilshere comes to life under Howe’s watchful eye

After completing his third full Premier League match for Bournemouth at the weekend, Jack Wilshere is finally springing back into life after multiple injury-ridden seasons at the Emirates. Under Eddie Howe’s astute eye, the player has started to impress with the sort of quality and intelligence that marked his emergence onto the football scene eight years ago. With his vision and tireless commitment to the chase, Wilshere proved vital to the Cherries’ first away victory in seven months against Stoke.

But his rehabilitation and resurgence has been a steady process, as Howe admitted. “We worked very hard with him when he first came, in training not to overload him with work and on game-time to ease him into 90 minutes,” the manager said. “We didn’t want to demand too much of him too early. Hopefully we’ve got that balance right and we’re at a stage now where he can tolerate that load. I think the proof is in the pudding in terms of what you see out there.”

Foxes stuck in a rut

While Leicester’s Champions League run continues to keep fans appeased, their woeful domestic form took another turn for the worse as the side were beaten 2-1 by Watford on Sunday.  Two early goals, conceded within the opening 30 seconds and then 11 minutes later, highlighted the growing cracks that are beginning to appear in the Leicester defence. Robert Huth looked particularly hesitant and uneasy at times, spending too much time on the ball and inviting unnecessary pressure.

Kasper Schmeichel’s dominant presence between the sticks, and the discipline he adds to Leicester’s backline, also remains sorely missed as the ‘keeper recovers from a fractured hand. With confidence at a low, the side need to tighten up or face the prospect of sliding further down the league.

(© Independent News Service)

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