Premier League: 10 talking points from the weekend’s action

Diego Costa offers Wolves more bite, Antonio Conte faces a selection headache and VAR continues to confound coaches

1) VAR inconsistency spoils Anfield spectacle

In real time it looked as though the VAR check for Phil Foden’s disallowed goal related to the challenge on Alisson by Erling Haaland. The fact it was for something earlier, Haaland’s foul on Fabinho, a kind of disdainful toss to the floor which seemed entirely unconnected by the time the ball was put in the net by Foden, emphasised again the oddity and inconsistency of VAR. That challenge had been within the referee’s eyeline at the time. Was this video tool really intended to allow the officials to re-referee such 50-50 moments? Was there an obvious injustice here that simply had to be corrected? The answer probably depends on which team you support, or how slowly you replay the collision. But again, it was hard to feel the spectacle was improved by this intervention. This has been an unintended consequence of VAR: over-refereeing, and bizarrely excessive prominence for the enforcer of some necessarily subjective laws. Football is entertainment. Bald men looking at screens is not. Barney Ronay

2) Ten Hag’s United still recall Solskjær-ball

“The performance was good, a clean sheet – we pressed well, we controlled the game and in stages we were good on the ball – especially in the second half.” Erik ten Hag made no mention of how his Manchester United team are yet to be a consistent pass-and-move outfit who play for long swathes in the opponent’s half. Instead, the Dutchman’s team are a variant on Solskjær-ball. As with his predecessor’s United side, Ten Hag’s early matches have been harum-scarum, his team relying on counterattacks and pace, running out of ideas against a low-banked, stacked defence. Against Newcastle, there were glimpses of the five-a-side moves that make Manchester City so dominant. The hope for Ten Hag is that his players can gradually morph into a cadre who can do this relentlessly. If not, further surgery is required in the market. Jamie Jackson

Dan Burn, Raphaël Varane and Fabian Schär compete for a high ball at Old Trafford
Dan Burn, Raphaël Varane and Fabian Schär compete for a high ball at Old Trafford. Photograph: Stu Forster/Getty Images

3) Conte set for delicate balancing act

Tottenham look stretched. Dejan Kulusevski is still out and Brazil could be without Richarlison at the World Cup after the forward limped off against Everton. It is a headache for Antonio Conte. The Italian adjusted well to the absence of two key attackers, his decision to bolster the midfield by replacing Richarlison with Yves Bissouma pushing Spurs to victory, but his side’s workload before the season halts for Qatar is a worry. Conte, who could stick with 3-5-2 against Manchester United on Wednesday, has a small trusted core and rarely tinkers. But given that Spurs must squeeze eight games in before the World Cup, including vital Champions League games against Sporting Lisbon and Marseille, what will that mean for Eric Dier, Cristian Romero, Rodrigo Bentancur, Pierre-Emile Højbjerg, Son Heung-min and Harry Kane? Conte is reluctant to rest them but he must be wary of weariness inviting further injuries. Jacob Steinberg

4) Marsch simmers as Leeds miss their shot

Another week, more anger at officialdom in a match involving Leeds. Had Patrick Bamford not clanked a late penalty wide, the fervour that Jesse Marsch has his players operating at would have clipped Arsenal’s wings. The striker, a half-time substitute, also had an equaliser ruled out. Marsch’s face was a picture as Chris Kavanagh, the referee, went to the VAR screen. Then, after the missed spot-kick came the injury-time penalty and red card awarded, and then overruled, following a skirmish between Bamford and Gabriel Magalhães. Again, Marsch simmered as the decision went against his team. All that came after a power cut and loss of VAR communication had delayed the match. The American has only just returned from a touchline ban and kept his counsel in post-match interviews. He could at least take heart from a second-half performance in which Leeds’ chaotic element gave the leaders an awful scare. John Brewin

5) Villa improved but fans still unconvinced

Villa Park is an edgy place at the moment but it was surprising to hear audible annoyance from the stands during the first half against Chelsea when the home side recycled possession backwards. The locals have seen a few too many listless offerings in recent weeks but on this occasion their grumblings were misplaced, because Villa were excellent for long periods. Their parlous position in the table offers a telling explanation, though, and this performance will not be enough to change minds about Steven Gerrard’s potential to turn things around. It needs backing up quickly and Gerrard, who found an attacking combination that mixed speed with muscularity, should stick with the same approach against Fulham on Thursday. Villa looked more positive, vertical and direct than they have for some time despite the occasional slowdown. To keep his job, Gerrard needs plenty more of the same. Nick Ames

• Match report: Aston Villa 0-2 Chelsea

Steven Gerrard crouches on the touchline.
Steven Gerrard is under pressure at Aston Villa, who have two wins from their first 10 games. Photograph: Marc Atkins/Getty Images

6) O’Neil proving the man for Cherries

In September 1989, promoted Crystal Palace were walloped 9-0 at Anfield; they then won three and drew one of their next six games, a run that helped them remain in the top division. In August 2022, promoted Bournemouth were walloped 9-0 at Anfield; since that result and Scott Parker’s subsequent sacking, they are unbeaten (winning two and drawing four). The key to staying up will not be a brutal beating by Liverpool but instead Gary O’Neil inspiring the Cherries to a seriously impressive recovery as caretaker manager. Following another commendable performance in Saturday’s 2-2 draw at Fulham, it’s getting hard to understand why he has yet to be appointed on a permanent basis. Were there a multitude of other outstanding candidates for the post, the board’s circumspection would be understandable – but even then, only O’Neil can say he’s proved his suitability for the job. Daniel Harris

7) Costa brings the noise for Wolves

At 34, Diego Costa may not be the world-class striker of his Chelsea days but his ability to get in people’s faces, lead the line, tell others where to go and rouse the Molineux crowd has already made Wolves more dangerous. After nine months out of action, the striker’s match fitness is understandably well below Premier League level but his nous cannot be underestimated in a Wolves team that was lacking a focal point with Raúl Jiménez, Sasa Kalajdzic (both injured) and Fábio Silva (on loan at Anderlecht) unavailable. A game of two penalties was lit up by Adama Traoré’s trademark hit-and-miss efforts but Costa helped pin Forest back and invited Wolves’ other attacking threats to become more involved. Steve Davis, Wolves’ interim head coach, admitted he cannot rely on Costa for Tuesday’s trip to Crystal Palace. “Knowing Diego, he’ll want to play every game,” Davis said. “But we’ll have to assess him.” Peter Lansley

• Match report: Wolves 1-0 Nottingham Forest

8) Seagulls need to turn possession into goals

What would Roberto De Zerbi give to have a finisher like Ivan Toney in his team? The Brighton manager cut a frustrated figure on Friday after watching his side lose at Brentford despite dominating the stats. Yet while 21 shots from the visitors sounds like a lot, Brighton only really tested David Raya on a handful of occasions. With struggling Nottingham Forest up next, De Zerbi has a fourth attempt to record his first victory since taking over from Graham Potter but admitted his team need to be more clinical in front of goal. “I can’t say that [Danny] Welbeck played bad – he worked very hard for his team and other players had chances in the second half but we didn’t find the goals,” the Italian said. “Football is like this. Maybe on Tuesday we will shoot 10 times and score two or three goals.” Ed Aarons

• Match report: Brentford 2-0 Brighton

David Raya makes a save as Brentford shut out Brighton on Friday night.
David Raya makes a save as Brentford shut out Brighton on Friday night. Photograph: Dylan Martinez/Reuters

9) Hammers attack can be a major threat

A big part of West Ham’s resurgence in recent weeks has been their growing chemistry in attack. Having scored three goals in their first seven league games, they now have six in their last three. While they were enormously wasteful against Southampton – racking up 25 shots with only four on target – they nonetheless showed enough to suggest that their summer signings are starting to click. Lucas Paquetá was a fizzing ball of energy out wide, while Gianluca Scamacca was inches away from a goal on several occasions and excelled at dropping deep to orchestrate play. If they can just brush up on their finishing, David Moyes’ new attacking unit have the potential to be really dangerous. Will Magee

10) Foxes’ toil masks Eagles’ struggle

The gloom enveloping Leicester City and Brendan Rodgers perhaps did Patrick Vieira and Crystal Palace a favour on Saturday. Rodgers’s position is precarious after one win in 10 games but despite the feelgood factor around a vibrant Palace team, Vieira has only won two in nine. The Frenchman has plenty of credit in the bank for shifting the style and profile of the Palace squad but it felt alarming that a side teeming with exuberance rarely troubled the worst defence in the division in a poor game. Odsonne Édouard and Eberechi Eze had their moments but Wilfried Zaha, Jordan Ayew and the substitute Michael Olise were quiet. “All those forward players with talent, I would like them to do a bit more and Ebs is one of them,” Vieira said. “We want to keep working with him to add those finishes and goals we believe he can score.” Ben Fisher

Pos Team P GD Pts
1 Arsenal 10 14 27
2 Man City 10 23 23
3 Tottenham Hotspur 10 12 23
4 Chelsea 9 5 19
5 Man Utd 9 -2 16
6 Newcastle 10 8 15
7 Brighton 9 3 14
8 Liverpool 9 9 13
9 Brentford 10 1 13
10 AFC Bournemouth 10 -12 13
11 Fulham 10 -4 12
12 West Ham 10 -2 11
13 Crystal Palace 9 -2 10
14 Everton 10 -3 10
15 Leeds 9 -2 9
16 Aston Villa 10 -6 9
17 Wolverhampton 10 -8 9
18 Southampton 10 -9 8
19 Leicester 10 -9 5
20 Nottm Forest 10 -16 5


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