Premier League review: Xhaka a symbol of a club falling back onto its knees

Daniel Storey looks at what we learned in the Premier League this weekend.

Premier League review: Xhaka a symbol of a club falling back onto its knees

Daniel Storey looks at what we learned in the Premier League this weekend.

No Tottenham disaster, just defeat to superior team

Mauricio Pochettino’s team selection drew some outrage from Tottenham supporters, with wantaway stars being frozen out of the squad suddenly drafted back in for the toughest league game of the season.

Lose heavily, and he risked losing some of the goodwill he still retains during this grim run.

But this defeat need not precipitate huge fallout and further scrutiny to determine things we already know.

Goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga impressed for Tottenham (Peter Byrne/PA)
Goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga impressed for Tottenham (Peter Byrne/PA)

Liverpool dominated territory, possession, and chances — but then, they are a better team in almost every area.

Tottenham were thankful to Paulo Gazzaniga’s brilliance, but could easily have scored three times themselves after their early opener.

The continued absence of Tangut Ndombele is a frustration for supporters, as is the loyalty towards Danny Rose — although he played reasonably well at Anfield — but this defeat was neither damning nor encouraging.

It merely reinforced the different directions these clubs have moved in since the Champions League final.

Xhaka reaches the point of no return

You have to have some sympathy with Granit Xhaka. It cannot be easy to have your own team’s supporters screaming abuse and cheering your withdrawal from the pitch.

Footballers are expected to play at high intensity, and that can lead to emotions boiling over. He will presumably regret his outburst.

But then Xhaka is an Arsenal captain, and a true representative of a club which is falling back onto its knees.

He is a dismal midfielder, the Xhaka all trades whose passing isn’t probing enough, positioning not consistent enough, and tackling not controlled enough.

It would be nice if supporters could see the best in every player, but Xhaka has pushed the patience of Arsenal fans to breaking point.

The best thing for everyone would be him to leave in January or next summer.

Leicester make emphatic statement of intent

Until this weekend, the headline for Leicester City was significant progress based almost entirely on efficiency.

Brendan Rodgers had improved their defensive organisation despite the loss of Harry Maguire, but in attack, Leicester were creating fewer chances but scoring more goals.

Their impressive chance conversion had hauled them up into the top four, but could it last?

James Maddison
James Maddison

Friday night brought its extraordinarily emphatic answer.

Leicester didn’t just record the biggest away win in the Premier League era and equal Manchester United’s 9-0 victory over Ipswich in 1995.

They also now have the record for the biggest away win in English top-flight history and a bigger similar away win than Barcelona, Real Madrid, Milan, Juventus, and Bayern Munich have ever managed.

Rodgers could not have expected such dominance, but this is everything that he planned for.

Leicester have young, hungry players and the competition for places in the squad that squeezes the most out of them.

They have one of the most exciting creators in the country in James Maddison and one of the most dependable strikers.

They have a pair of full-backs second only to Liverpool for their attacking impetus, and a pair of centre-backs who look like they have been playing together for years.

Southampton plunged into relegation panic

The focus was understandably on Leicester’s remarkable attacking display, but it takes two teams to create such a ludicrous scoreline.

Southampton had stuttered and stumbled their way through autumn. On Friday night, they tripped over their own feet and knocked out all their teeth on the pavement.

A defeat like this lays bare a football club’s systematic problems.

Ralph Hasenhuttl looked haunted after the match, his emotional and brutal honesty was the only acceptable response.

But this is the result of a club that lost its way in the transfer market and is still paying the price.

Sacking Hasenhuttl will not change those facts, even if the buck usually stops with the manager.

Still, it’s not as if it can get any worse is … oh ... Southampton’s next two matches are both away at Manchester City.

Good luck, fellas.

Pulisic produces hisbreakout performance

It has not been an easy few months for Christian Pulisic.

He arrived as a young player at a new club in a new league, but to play for a different manager than the one who signed him (although Maurizio Sarri distanced himself from the decision-making process).

Frank Lampard had a mandate to welcome in a new crop of young players, but his loyalty lay with academy graduates.

That left Pulisic in an awkward position, an expensive signing, but younger than Fikayo Tomori and Tammy Abraham.

He was also signed in a position where Chelsea had plenty of options: Pedro, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Willian, and Mason Mount.

In such circumstances, all a young player can do is to impress when they are given rare league starts. Pulisic was given his first start since August at Turf Moor, with Hudson-Odoi rested.

He scored more than once in a match at club level for the first time, and ended with a perfect hat-trick thanks to a glorious glanced header.

Welcome to the Premier League, young man.

Sterling now the leader of Manchester City’s attack

Pep Guardiola has spoken recently about Manchester City needing to be more efficient with their shooting, and Raheem Sterling is one candidate for criticism.

Against Crystal Palace last weekend, Sterling assisted the second goal with an audacious chipped pass, but he also missed two presentable opportunities to extend their lead.

The flipside is that Sterling’s movement and anticipation has improved so much over the last two years that he has become capable of leading this prodigious attack.

With Sergio Aguero lacking full fitness and Gabriel Jesus deputising, Sterling has taken on added responsibility.

For club and country this season, Sterling has 25 goals and assists in 18 matches.

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