BetaSoccer examines the most important Premier League developments by answering 10 key questions that arose from this weekend’s slate of action.
Is Ferguson the answer to Everton’s problems?
Duncan Ferguson doesn’t think so. He doesn’t see himself in the job long term, but the early returns are positive.
Everton played with renewed passion and vigor in Saturday’s win over Chelsea, matching Ferguson’s energy on the touchline. He celebrated all three goals with unbridled enthusiasm, like a fan lucky enough to lead their favorite club.
The players were, in Ferguson’s words, a “colossus” during Everton’s superb performance. They made a combined 37 tackles against Chelsea while putting the opponents under heaps of pressure. No team has tallied more single-game tackles this season.
Whether the 47-year-old can keep the team motivated and inspired over a relatively daunting run of fixtures is another question. Former players have tried to rally the troops with familiar approaches, and few have experienced long-standing success.
Can Chelsea keep a clean sheet?
Chelsea are too meek at the back to keep the ball out of the net for a full 90 minutes. Andreas Christensen was easily pushed off the ball in the lead-up to Everton’s second goal, and Kepa Arrizabalaga practically assisted on the opposition’s third with a lazy pass from the back. It was all so avoidable.
Manage Frank Lampard has tried several center-back combinations in the Premier League this season, and none have cracked the code. Antonio Rudiger, the best of Lampard’s lot, is still out injured, and Nathan Ake, one of Chelsea’s reported targets, suffered a potentially calamitous hamstring injury in Bournemouth’s loss to Liverpool.
Even if Chelsea score two or three goals a game, it can only paper over cracks for so long.
Does Henderson deserve more credit?
Jurgen Klopp wouldn’t play Jordan Henderson as much if he didn’t see something in him. Whether it’s in an advanced role or at the base of midfield, Henderson has shown the capacity to influence Liverpool’s play.
On Saturday, Henderson filled in for the injured Fabinho, and Liverpool went on to play 90 hassle-free minutes at Vitality Stadium, which wasn’t a coincidence. Henderson’s wonderful arching pass to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain set the Reds on their way to an important 3-0 victory, further demonstrating his worth.
He’s much more than a workhorse in midfield. Henderson is quick to regain possession and ready to do the grunt work, but he can also ping accurate balls to teammates in space. Henderson possesses fantastic vision, and his passing range is underrated.
Is Son really Spurs’ best player?
Few players in the Premier League could do what Heung-Min Son did to Burnley on Saturday. His ridiculous run over a winding 90 yards proved one essential truth: He’s Tottenham’s best player, and it’s not close.
Son is a two-footed threat anywhere on the pitch, as Burnley quickly realized on Saturday.
Spurs are objectively better when Son is at his best. Apart from his clear skill on the ball, the 27-year-old is one of the club’s hardest workers. Mauricio Pochettino once compared the South Korean to the Energizer Bunny.
“He tries, he tries again and again,” Pochettino said.
But moments like that one elevate Son to another level. It’s hard to imagine anyone else on his team, including Kane, who would dare to weave through seven players as Son did with relative ease.
What’s wrong with City?
Manchester City just don’t look the same. They don’t defend particularly well or move forward like they once did. Pep Guardiola has never cut a more frustrated figure on the touchline in his three-and-a-half years as City manager.
All of those problems existed before Saturday’s defeat to Manchester United, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side only laid them bare. City were reckless at the back, allowing a penalty early in the game and yards of space in behind the defense.
Things were just as hopeless up front, with City’s usual slick standards dropping as they chased a point. A more speculative approach replaced the crisp passing that supporters have come to expect.
City produced 47 crosses against United, a ridiculous sum that highlights their difficulties over the final third. As the bigger team at the back, United largely handled the barrage, making 40 clearances. Poor Gabriel Jesus, standing 5-foot-9, didn’t stand a chance.
Now 14 points behind Liverpool, City almost certainly won’t be defending their title. They’re losing in more ways than one.
Is Solskjaer turning United around?
Maybe Solskjaer is worthy of the job after all. The win over City extends United’s unbeaten run against the Premier League’s “big six” teams, which includes results against Tottenham, Chelsea, Liverpool, and Arsenal. United also managed to beat second-place Leicester City at home in September.
Solskjaer himself has experienced success against some of the best managers in the game:
Paradoxically, United have struggled against teams they should beat. For whatever reason, Sheffield United and Bournemouth have had their number.
It’s clear the Red Devils perform better when they sit in a block and counter. The likes of Daniel James and Marcus Rashford are dynamite in full flight. United have also made great passes while playing at a breakneck pace. Anthony Martial capitalized on one of United’s trademark counterattacks on Saturday, and his goal held up as the winner.
Are Leicester for real?
In a word, yes. With 39 goals scored and just 10 conceded, Leicester boast the best goal difference in the Premier League. They play relentless attacking football and score in a variety of ways, and they won their eighth successive match in the Premier League on Sunday, giving Aston Villa little hope of a result.
Leicester beat Villa on the counter, through midfield, and on set-pieces. Brendan Rodgers’ side continued to gun for a goal even after going up 4-1, showing no mercy to the already defeated hosts.
Since replacing the cautious and risk-free Claude Puel in February, Rodgers has witnessed significant growth on the pitch.
Can Vardy break his record?
Rodgers’ biggest success story is Jamie Vardy, who’s finding himself in fantastic scoring positions thanks to Leicester’s ambitious style of play.
The 32-year-old has scored in eight consecutive Premier League games – three short of the record he set in Leicester’s title-winning 2015-16 season – and Vardy is showing no signs of stopping. Rodgers has used Vardy’s speed to the team’s advantage, keeping him high up the pitch so he can burst into space.
Vardy is also pressing opponents and showing a capacity to work off the ball. He’s far more active than he was under Puel.
At this rate, Vardy could even set the all-time single-season scoring record in a 38-game season. Mohamed Salah established the benchmark at 32 in 2017-18, and Vardy is currently on pace to score 38 times.
Will Newcastle’s resurgence last?
Up to 10th in the table and with just one loss in seven matches, Newcastle United have put the relegation zone out of sight.
Sunday’s comeback win over Southampton may not have been convincing, but it confirmed there’s fight left in the club. Steve Bruce could struggle to get creativity out of his side – Paraguayan metronome Miguel Almiron is seriously slumping – but the team comes together when it needs a result.
Bruce can also effect change. The Magpies looked jaded and disengaged on Sunday before Andy Carroll and Sean Longstaff came on and altered their course.
Carroll set up the equalizer with a stupendous cross from the wing, and Longstaff made a crucial block in stoppage time to preserve the points. Despite the sparse crowd on hand at St. James’ Park – owing to Mike Ashley and his continuing mismanagement – there’s a lot to be positive about in the northeast.
Can Wolves make the Champions League?
Wolves are unbeaten in 11 matches after their comeback draw at Brighton. Compare their recent record to fourth-place Chelsea – who have recorded one win over their last four contests – and Wolves suddenly seem like a challenger for the last Champions League spot.
United have also thrown themselves into the mix, but Wolves’ consistency puts them over the top.
Diogo Jota and Raul Jimenez form one of the best attacking partnerships in the Premier League, while Adama Traore plays an impressive supporting role as an agent of chaos on the wing. Jota scored twice against Brighton, and Traore continued to draw fouls in compromising positions.
If Chelsea continue to falter, Wolves, who are just five points behind the Blues, will get every chance to claim fourth. However, Chelsea are now clear to make signings during the January transfer window, and they could push back in the second half of the season if they get the necessary recruitments.