Working out what to do with Ronaldo will gear everything else for Ralf Rangnick 

Benching Cristiano Ronaldo turned out to be the best decision Michael Carrick has made in his short tenure
Working out what to do with Ronaldo will gear everything else for Ralf Rangnick 

Manchester United's Cristiano Ronaldo applauds referee Anthony Taylor after being booked for dissent. Picture: Adam Davy/PA

Chelsea dominated

Benching Cristiano Ronaldo turned out to be the best decision Michael Carrick has made in his short tenure. This was the eighth consecutive game Chelsea had failed to beat Manchester United and taking the oily one out meant the visitors simply worked better as a team. While still disjointed, fast vertical play could have opened Chelsea up on more than one occasion but they couldn’t find the right ball or didn’t look for it.

Sancho picked up a knock to be replaced by the Portuguese but he didn’t add much. United were more defensively compact but Chelsea had 24 goal attempts to United’s three and that tells a lot of stories. Chelsea create loads of chances but don’t take anywhere near enough of them. 

The stats don’t suggest a draw was the fair result, but somehow it was. Ralf Rangnick has a lot of work to do but working out what to do with Ronaldo will gear everything else. A future on the bench as an impact substitute seems the most sensible choice. It would allow him to knock his pan out for 25 minutes, grab some glory and look very self-satisfied, which is all he really wants to do.

No new manager bounce for Newcastle

Thirteen games played and they still have a big fat zero in the win column. But Newcastle seemed happy with their 2-0 loss against Arsenal, conning themselves into thinking they are playing better than under the hated Steve Bruce regime. The truth is that their new manager has not made any discernible improvement yet. There has been no new manager bounce. Some are even saying Eddie Howe has been brought in for next season’s promotion push out of the Championship. I think that gives the owners too much credit for forward thinking. 

By the January transfer window, they could easily be a dozen or more points adrift from safety and will not look like a club many want to join. Post-game, Eddie Howe pretended his side had played much better than they really had, and pretended they should’ve had a penalty, which they shouldn’t. But then Newcastle fans are living on a diet of lies, right now, mostly told by themselves, to themselves about their club.

Hasenhüttl gets it wrong

The Saints manager is a well-respected German coach, one of the many who owe their philosophy and thinking in part to the soon-to-be Manchester United boss Rangnick. However, Southampton, though 14th, have scored only 11 times and only Norwich have fewer goals. They remain a far from unrealistic bet for relegation. Against Liverpool, he got his set-up wrong. For some reason he thought he’d try and take the Reds on, instead of opting for more pragmatic tactics. Surely he knew what would happen. Three down by half-time, it could’ve been seven. While it’s true they did have a few chances and put pressure on Liverpool at times, it came at the expense of being over-exposed defensively.

A heavy defeat was inevitable. Strange thinking from Hasenhüttl.

Gerrard brings new intensity

It was Vieira v Gerrard at Crystal Palace and the former Liverpool man emerged with all three points for Aston Villa, for the second week running. What has changed in those last two games to turn a failing team into winners? I’d be surprised if the stats didn’t reveal that Villa are simply working harder, playing a more intense game, covering more miles and at a faster pace. Gerrard has decided to play Ollie Watkins through the middle where he offers so much in terms of holding the ball up and laying it off. Ashley Young’s in-game experience is also important. With City, Leicester and Liverpool up next for Villa we’ll soon have a better idea if this new intensity is making a truly profound difference, or just a temporary new manager blip.

Arsenal’s strength is their youth

The Gunners’ bid to be the Premier League’s best-of-the-rest is driven on by their young talent. Emile Smith Rowe, Bukayo Saka, Nuno Tavares and substitute Gabriel Martinelli all had a good game against Newcastle, the latter spanking a fine goal. All are 20 or 21 and play with the lack of fear youth brings. Saka is now especially crucial to how the Gunners play. After the team’s poor early form, while not yet anywhere near good enough to take on the top three and win, real progress is clearly being made. As significantly, their exciting youngsters are making Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang look very much like yesterday’s man. His how-did-he-miss-that open goal gaffe from two yards only underlined that the 32-year-old needs moving on and his massive wages spent better elsewhere.

Liverpool thrill machine strikes again

It’s now 98 games since the Reds lost after leading at half-time, stretching back to December 2016. They were 3-0 up after 45 minutes against Southampton in a match which was only going one way from the opening goal being scored in the first couple of minutes. They are now averaging three goals per game in the Premier League and only Chelsea and Manchester City have conceded fewer. While those two clubs are both in fine form and play equally ruthless football, for both it looks more mathematical, more like the scientific working out of a plan. As such they don’t always engage the neutral in the way Liverpool do.

Their great achievement is looking as though they’re just recklessly going hell for leather in an orgy of attacking football, despite it being conducted within a specific pressing style. It does mean they are a bit defensively sloppy and that’s one of the lovable things about them. They are this season’s thrill machine. Since his arrival in 2015, Jurgen Klopp’s team has now scored a mighty 702 goals. Wow.

Norwich are finding form

Wolves were one of the form teams going into this match and many expected them to notch a win which would’ve taken them up to fifth. However, this Norwich side are starting to believe in themselves, are now undefeated in three, and dominated for stretches of the game with four shots on target to Wolves’ two.

With Billy Gilmour installed in midfield under Dean Smith, after falling out of favour with the previous manager, they’re actually playing a decent game. Teemu Pukki could have easily scored a winner with a toe poke and they restricted the visitors to one decent chance all game long. Many, myself included, had assumed they would be relegated, but for the first time that assumption looks vulnerable to contradiction. With an early six-pointer away at Newcastle up next on Tuesday, win that and Canaries fans can start getting excited.

Brighton lack firepower

Brighton are suffering from the curse of the draw, having now shared the points on six occasions. They need to find a good striker looking for a new challenge and instant hero worship in January. They have so much going for them. Well organised defensively and free-flowing until they reach the last third, but then it all just comes to nothing.

A total of 20 shots against Leeds but 15 off-target is shouting “please buy a goalscorer” as loudly as possible. 

If, and it’s a big if, they can find such a player, a European place is theirs for the taking. Without him, mid-table mediocrity awaits.

West Ham fail their audition

West Ham have had a lot of well-deserved praise this season and many have wondered if they could make the top four. City away was an important test of their credentials in that respect. They failed it. Not that they played badly, indeed they caused Manchester City plenty of problems, especially in the first half. So many problems that if they had an absolutely top notch strike force, they could have taken the lead. Aymeric Laporte struggled to deal with Michail Antonio, but his early-season scoring purple patch seems to have passed and the Hammers conceded nearly 70% of possession as they ran out of ideas. A late Lanzini long-range lash flattered the final scoreline.

The second half of their season looks more likely to be played out in the lower European places because they just do not have enough consistent quality in the penalty area.

Everyone enjoys the white stuff

All fans of a certain age will have loved seeing games played in snow. The sight of men with wide brooms pushing the white stuff off the pitch is a throwback to simpler times when variable playing conditions were all taken as just part of the game. Snow always made fans more excited. Always. It was an added spice, it made the game more unpredictable, but of course, today, unpredictability is not wanted and is very much the enemy of corporate football culture which wants guaranteed
returns with no nasty shocks to the share price.

You’d see games played on mud and sand, on smooth green surfaces, and others with a big strip of clag up the middle. You had to work with it and find a way to deal with it. That was a good thing. Pitches and weather could even up the contest. Today’s billiard tables have taken all that away. And no-one used to wear gloves.

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