By Simon Evans
MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) – The following are talking points from the weekend’s Premier League action.
Manchester United’s 4-0 loss at Everton on Sunday drew stinging criticism from pundits, including former captain Gary Neville, with many questioning the attitude of the players.
While there is no doubt the culture at the club needs deeper changes than Ole Gunnar Solskjaer putting a smile on peoples’ faces and indeed the squad needs injecting with fresh talent, the short-term problem is more basic.
When Solskjaer and his assistant Mick Phelan took over, they asked the players to up their physical work rate and that was immediately noticeable during the initial good run of form.
The problem is that without a high base level of fitness, that sort of sudden increase is almost impossible to maintain.
If there was any doubt that a lack of top-level fitness is at the core of the current slump in form, one statistic from Sunday’s shambles at Goodison Park stands out — Everton ran over eight kilometres more than United.
Marco Silva’s side looked sharper, quicker and more determined than a rather leggy United.
The only way to sort out that problem is a full and intense pre-season, to build the levels of stamina and fitness that are needed to compete at the highest level.
The temptation after the humiliation at Everton must be to bring in some of the club’s talented young players, such as midfielder James Garner, Tahith Chong and Angel Gomes.
The problem again is the short-term — the next game is against Manchester City in Wednesday’s derby match which Solskjaer’s side must win to keep alive hopes of qualifying for the Champions League.
A match against Pep Guardiola’s City is hardly the occasion for blooding young players and the risk is high of damaging their confidence and self-belief.
So United must shuffle the existing pack and a wise move would be to bring in a couple of the more experienced young players with Andreas Pereira and Scott McTominay able to offer energy in midfield.
And it wouldn’t be a surprise to see a young forward, such as highly-rated 17-year-old Mason Greenwood, on the bench.
When Mohamed Salah went down inside the area to earn an 81st-minute penalty, which James Milner converted to give Liverpool a 2-0 win at Cardiff, there was debate over whether a real foul had taken place.
It was a typical of problem of modern game. Did Cardiff’s Sean Morrison have hands on Salah? Yes. Was the Egyptian pushed to the floor? No. Did he throw himself to the floor? Yes. Was it a penalty? Probably, yes.
A very modern penalty.
There was much excitement generated by Phil Foden’s match- winning goal for Manchester City against Spurs on Saturday.
It was only Foden’s second start in the Premier League but his performance indicated that he fully deserved the faith shown in him by Pep Guardiola, entrusting him a key midfield role in a vital game.
But it is worth remembering that while he has been talked about as a talent for the past couple of years, Foden will only turn 19 in May.
He is well on track to become a major part of the City midfield in the coming years but Guardiola has been wise to introduce him gradually and it would be a surprise if he were to change that approach radically.
Foden still has room for development, particularly physically, and it is a refreshing change to see a player and a club willing to commit to patient growth.
EVERTONLOOKLIKEBEST OF THEREST
Everton’s goal is to break into the top six, or at least create a “big seven” and after poor spells of form this season, they are now looking like a team that could achieve that target.
The win over United came after victories over Arsenal and Chelsea in their last two games at Goodison — results which show that Marco Silva’s side are not too far away from realising that ambition.
One of Tottenham’s greatest night’s in European football featured them playing in green. Liverpool’s race to the title has seen them wearing purple and Manchester United lost 4-0 to Everton in pink.
Any chance the kit manufacturers will bring back some sense to away jerseys?
(Reporting by Simon Evans, editing by Ed Osmond)