MANCHESTER, England: The following are talking points from the weekend’s Premier League and FA Cup action:
UNITED’S RUN DISGUISES NEED FOR CHANGES
Manchester United’s late extra-time 2-1 win at Norwich City earned them an FA Cup semi-final clash with Chelsea but may well have marked the end of the road for some players.
While the club’s unbeaten run in all competitions was extended to 14 games, the performance of manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s ‘squad players’ was a reminder that several positions still need upgrading.
The first-choice United side is pushing for a top four place in the Premier League and starting to look like a team that can compete again in the big six.
But there is a big drop off to the second string. The likes of Diogo Dalot, Jesse Lingard, Juan Mata and Eric Bailly hardly delivered performances that will reassure Solskjaer of his options and showed he needs to freshen up his squad to provide the necessary depth and competition for places.
DISGRUNTLED DYCHE HAS NO NEED TO RUSH
Burnley manager Sean Dyche’s future has been the subject of much speculation in the British media after his recent comments criticising his chairman and board for allowing player contracts to run out and failing to back him with resources in the transfer market.
Dyche’s relationship with chairman Mike Garlick certainly appears strained but the assumption that this means the manager will seek pastures new may be a little premature.
There is no obvious destination for Dyche at the moment and Garlick is unlikely to force the issue and sack his manager who has achieved another solid mid-table season.
Unless Dyche was to decide to take a break and wait for the right job to come along next season, it would not be a surprise if he stays in an unhappy relationship for a while longer.
COURT VERDICT REMAINS BIGGEST ISSUE FOR CITY
After easing into the FA Cup semi-finals with a win at Newcastle United on Sunday, Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola was quick to offer a reminder that, despite Liverpool’s success in the Premier League, his side remain on course for a treble of League Cup, FA Cup and Champions League.
But the club still have a two-year UEFA ban from Europe hanging over them and are nervously awaiting the outcome of an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport which is due in the next two weeks.
INGS IN ENGLAND CONTENTION
Danny Ings scored twice in Southampton’s 3-1 win at Watford on Sunday, taking him to 18 Premier League goals for the season, one behind Jamie Vardy.
Before lockdown there were plenty of people banging the drum for Ings to get an international recall but the cancellation of England’s friendlies against Italy and Denmark meant no squad was selected.
The postponement of Euro 2020 soon followed and Ings must have felt his time had gone, with young thrusters such as Tammy Abraham and Dominic Calvert-Lewin seemingly well placed and injured regulars Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford benefiting from a long layoff.
Since the restart, however, Ings has continued to look the sharpest English forward in the league and the variety and quality of his finishing will surely have caught England manager Gareth Southgate’s eye.
• Match report: Liverpool 4-1 Cardiff City
2) Barkley looks an absolute bargain at £15m
When Roberto Martínez managed Ross Barkley at Everton, the Spaniard dubbed his force of midfield nature “an amalgam of Paul Gascoigne and Michael Ballack”. A combination of injury and loss of form led to this special talent losing his place with both Everton and England. He had not exactly fallen off the edge of the world but when Barkley joined Chelsea for £15m last January it seemed a gamble. Now it looks a bargain. Those who, in August, wondered where Barkley would fit into an apparently overstocked Chelsea midfield cannot argue he is not worthy of a starting place. At Burnley he scored a beautiful goal, created another for Willian and denied Sean Dyche’s side a goal. Like Wayne Rooney and Jonjo Shelvey, Barkley still has something of the street footballer about him. How wonderful to see his improvisational talent thriving once more. Louise Taylor
• Match report: Burnley 0-4 Chelsea
Crystal Palace have looked more like their former selves in the past week. Admittedly, their efforts at Everton and at home against Arsenal have yielded a solitary point, and the forthcoming matches against Chelsea, Tottenham and Manchester United are still distinctly daunting. But this team appear to have rediscovered some of their more abrasive qualities after a low-key, rather slack start to the campaign. Wilfried Zaha looked fit and far more of a livewire against Arsenal. There is energy to their midfield and from full-back, and aggression at centre‑half. Luka Milivojevic, off colour up to now, has his first goals of the campaign. Roy Hodgson’s substitutions were decisive, with Max Meyer influential in his cameo and even Alexander Sørloth looking more the part. Most importantly, a run of defeats has been checked. Those games to come against the elite still feel treacherous, but the qualities which thrust Palace into mid-table in the run-in last season clearly remain. Dominic Fifield
• Match report: Crystal Palace 2-2 Arsenal
Crystal Palace’s Max Meyer, seen here being challenged by Stephan Lichtsteiner of Arsenal, did well after coming off the bench. Photograph: Andrew Couldridge/Action Images via Reuters 4) Özil disappeared again to the periphery
Mesut Özil’s most dynamic involvement at Selhurst Park was when he dragged himself off the pitch after the assistant referee showed his number in red lights in the 68th minute. When he got a yard beyond Unai Emery, he took off his gloves and threw them to the floor, showing his frustration for an absent performance. The German midfielder was the Arsenal captain once again but influenced neither the play nor the spirit of his team with a meek outing. In tight games, when the opposition are offering little space to operate in, it is Özil’s role to find the gaps and change the dynamic but instead he operated on the periphery waiting for the game to come to him rather than the other way round, as Arsenal relied on two set-pieces to earn a barely deserved point. Will Unwin
• The Dozen: the weekend’s best Premier League photos
5) ‘Slav Bingo’ is causing chaos at Fulham
This was not the plan when Fulham spent north of £100m in the summer. One victory, two draws and seven defeats have left them in the bottom three, with whispers (publicly scotched by the owner, Shahid Khan) that Slavisa Jokanovic’s job is under threat. Perhaps the most worrying thing is the sense of chaos around team selection. Jokanovic has used 22 players including three goalkeepers, made 25 starting XI changes and used at least four formations. “Slav Bingo” has become a popular pre‑lineup announcement game, and the inconsistency in selection is probably the main reason why they have failed to recreate the attacking football that got them promoted. It is not all his fault, but Jokanovic is at least realistic about his prospects. “The owner didn’t bring me here because I am a good lad,” he said on Saturday. “He brought me here to win games. This is my challenge, and I’m up for that.” Nick Miller
• Match report: Fulham 0-3 Bournemouth
The problems are mounting for Slavisa Jokanovic. Photograph: AFC Bournemouth via Getty Images 6) Brighton are relying on their defence – and it’s working
The difference between Brighton and most of the teams below them is they can win without playing to their best thanks to their defensive fortitude. Shane Duffy and Lewis Dunk can be spectacular in the way they repel opponents, and the goalkeeper Mat Ryan is excellent. Those were the three outstanding performers on Saturday, keeping out a mostly dominant Wolves team so that Glenn Murray’s goal was enough to secure a victory. It was a third consecutive clean sheet and win for Chris Hughton’s men but the manager does not want to keep relying excessively on his defenders. “To see the performance against Wolves and last week, they are not bad performances but you can only have so many of them,” he said. “The law of averages says that if a team have more shots, more crosses, then the balance will go in their favour. So we need to up our game.” Paul Doyle
• Match report: Brighton 1-0 Wolves
7) Walcott remains infuriating and was at fault for Everton
Theo Walcott always seems a very likeable man, but he is an infuriating footballer. Twice at Old Trafford, he broke into the right-hand side of the box with Richarlison inside him. On both occasions, to the Brazilian’s fury, he chose to take on a shot rather than square the ball. His first shot was weak; his second beaten away comfortably by David de Gea. And that wasn’t even his most negative contribution. Both United goals came from him losing possession and, for the second, he barely raised a run to track back, which left Anthony Martial in space to receive Paul Pogba’s pass and score. For a player so experienced – he may seem locked in a bubble of eternal potential, but Walcott is 29 now – to be guilty of such a dereliction was staggering. At some point, the Peter Pan of English football needs to grow up and start taking responsibility. Jonathan Wilson
• Match report: Manchester United 2-1 Everton• Silva accuses Martial of diving for penalty
Theo Walcott finds himself outnumbered. Photograph: Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images 8) Southampton and Newcastle don’t have to panic … yet
Perhaps it was because little happened in this match, but neither manager seemed fussed by the result. Mark Hughes shrugged off a smattering of missed chances, reflecting that his team had done enough to win. Rafael Benítez was pleased enough with the visitors’ defending, and hoped a point might prove a stepping stone. There may, however, have been another explanation for the prevailing calm. After 10 matches, Southampton and Newcastle may have 10 points between them, but they’re hardly the only ones struggling. In total, the bottom six have conjured up 30 points, easily the lowest total of recent seasons. This time last year, the cumulative figure was 46. In 2016 it was 43, in 2015 44, and in 2014 it was 50. The implication being: a lower points total might be enough to stay up. So not quite time to panic just yet then. Paul MacInnes
• Match report: Southampton 0-0 Newcastle
9) Success not ready to fail again with Watford
It is more than two years since Watford signed Isaac Success from Granada for a then club-record fee of around £12.5m. He remains the second most expensive player in thesquad but in his subsequent obscurity his