By Christian Radnedge
LONDON (Reuters) – Five talking-points from the Premier League weekend after Manchester City suffered a shock home loss to Crystal Palace, meaning that Liverpool stayed four points clear at the top following their win over Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Having been brought in to replace the sacked Jose Mourinho, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said he was looking to bring the good times back for Manchester United.
He started by restoring outcasts Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial to the team and they repaid his faith with a scintillating display of attacking prowess against Cardiff City, winning 5-1.
Pogba was influential throughout and Martial scored after a brilliant quick, flowing move with United playing a type of attacking football rarely seen since the days of Alex Ferguson.
Indeed, it was the first time United have scored five in a league match since the Scot’s last game in charge in May 2013, a 5-5 draw with West Bromwich Albion.
“He said we need to play more forward, to be more dangerous in attack, to run more, to compete with everything and that’s exactly what we did today,” said Nemanja Matic.
“The lads played with a lot of energy, enjoyment and excitement,” said Jesse Lingard. “He wants us to be positive on the ball,” said Marcus Rashford.
He does not score many goals, but when Andros Townsend does find the back of the net it tends to be a goal to remember.
His rocket volley against Manchester City in Crystal Palace’s 3-2 win at the Etihad will certainly be played many times in the future.
Even though it was only his fifth goal of the season in all competitions, this campaign is already the second most prolific of the 27-year-old’s career. The only time Townsend has scored more in a season was when he netted six for Tottenham Hotspur in 2014-15.
Of his 17 goals in the Premier League, 10 have been scored from outside the box.
However, some Palace fans complain that the Englishman tries his luck too much, with Townsend having a shooting accuracy of only 35 percent this season.
Burnley manager Sean Dyche once again focussed on the scourge of diving after his side lost 3-1 to Arsenal, accusing Unai Emery’s side of “absolute cheating”.
Dyche claimed Mesut Ozil, Granit Xhaka and Matteo Guendouzi were the main culprits.
He may have a point, as the latter duo were among three Arsenal players booked for simulation in their match against Huddersfield Town earlier this month.
Then again, Dyche’s rant may be an attempt to deflect attention away from the fact that his side, who finished seventh in the league last season, remain in the bottom three and two points away from safety.
VANDIJKBEST IN THEWORLD?
Debate raged on social media over the weekend whether Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk is now one of the best defenders in the world after another imperious performance in the league leaders’ 2-0 win at Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Former Liverpool great Michael Owen was certainly impressed, saying on BT Sport: “Van Dijk is just… I just can’t see anything he can’t do. He’s like a Rolls Royce.”
Another Anfield favourite Kenny Dalglish half-jokingly told Sky Sports the Dutchman now ranked just behind Jamie Carragher, standing beside him as a pundit, in the history of the club’s best defenders.
In the last 10 years, only Liverpool have failed to go on and win the title having topped the table at Christmas – in 2008 and 2013. With Van Dijk in the side, it could very much be third time lucky.
Southampton have often taken a managerial gamble and their latest looks to be paying off as they picked up a second successive win under Ralph Hasenhuettl.
The Austrian took over from Mark Hughes earlier this month and followed up last week’s impressive win over Arsenal with a 3-1 win at Huddersfield Town.
The former RB Leipzig coach is a notorious stickler for detail and the lack of direction under Hughes already seems like a distant memory as Southampton are now 16th in the table and three points clear of the relegation zone.
“We just feel more organised, more together as a team – we’re all working in the same direction. We all know what each other’s doing, and where we’re running and why we’re running. It’s certainly working,” midfielder Stuart Armstrong said.
(Reporting by Christian Radnedge, editing by Pritha Sarkar)