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

Mohamed Salah of Liverpool; Unai Emery of Aston Villa; Anthony Martial of Manchester United. Photograph: The Guardian
Liverpool go top, Chelsea seem to need even more financial backing, and no one wants to bet against Villa

1. Luton looking up despite defeats

The bad news for Luton is that they’ve already played the (notional) best three teams in the league at home. In the past five weeks, they’ve drawn with Liverpool, lost 4-3 to Arsenal to a 97th-minute winner, and gone down to a narrow 2-1 defeat to Manchester City. In all three games they’ve gone ahead. Playing the elite clearly suits Rob Edwards’ side. The issue is whether they can produce that quality of performance against lesser sides. They beat Crystal Palace 2-1 at home during that run, and that has to be the model. Playing a 3-4-3 gives them plenty of crossing options – and Andros Townsend remains a very fine deliverer of a ball, as he proved in laying on Elijah Adebayo’s goal against City – and they have the physicality to take advantage. The worry is that they are now four points adrift, even with Everton’s points deduction; they could do with finding some of the luck they’ve lacked against the big three against more beatable sides. Jonathan Wilson

2. Can Liverpool last the pace?

For the first time in more than two years, Liverpool end the weekend at the top of the Premier League table. This in itself is a testament to the reinvention of a squad widely believed to be at the end of its cycle under Jürgen Klopp. But how long they can stay there? Common consensus holds that Liverpool are more suited to leading than chasing, and if they can hold off Arsenal at Anfield on 23 December they will probably be top at Christmas for the fourth time in sixth seasons. A cynic might point out that a team with this many question marks in defence and midfield that is still over reliant on the output of Mohamed Salah up front, is ill-equipped to challenge in the long run. An optimist might counter that if a Liverpool this flawed can still top the table, imagine what they can do when they hit their stride. Jonathan Liew

3. United crumble in front of goal

Rasmus Højlund: Manchester United’s £72m centre-forward who has precisely zero Premier League strikes in 12 appearances. For Saturday’s 3-0 humiliation by Bournemouth at Old Trafford, the young Dane was dropped for Anthony Martial, who has been on loan during his underwhelming seven-year United career and only has one more goal in the competition this season. Martial was hooked for Højlund who again found himself in an Erik ten Hag team that is the polar opposite of a unit bursting with creativity. After 18 months in charge this cannot be right at the club of “attack, attack, attack” and with United’s goal difference of -3 being poorer than Everton’s (level) the manager has some serious fixing to do before Bayern Munich’s Champions League visit on Tuesday and Sunday’s trip to Liverpool. Jamie Jackson

Anthony Martial looks dejected during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Bournemouth at Old Trafford
It was yet another game to forget for Anthony Martial and Manchester United. Photograph: Paul Currie/Shutterstock

4. Can more cash be Chelsea’s cure?

Is the solution to Chelsea’s decline – with another year without Champions League revenue or even European football beckoning next season on current form – really to spend more money in January as Mauricio Pochettino claimed at Goodison Park? The manager of a club that spent a record £434m in the last transfer window and has invested more than £1bn in new talent since being taken over in May 2022 appears more in need of the defiant mentality that Everton possess than money. He could also do with improving the individual talent at his disposal, as Sean Dyche has done with Abdoulaye Doucouré, Vitalii Mykolenko, Jarrad Branthwaite and others. “If we’re not aggressive enough maybe we need to do something, some movement,” claimed Pochettino after Chelsea’s seventh league defeat of the season. “That’s a thing to analyse with the sporting director and the owner, and see what we can do to change the dynamic and improve for the second half of the season because we need to be more aggressive and need, not only to dominate and play well, but to compete.” Andy Hunter

5. Newcastle in danger of fading away

There is some irony to the fact that, after a week when the Premier League offered its platform to the Rainbow Laces campaign, the colour from Newcastle’s campaign is rapidly fading away. A ragged display at Everton in midweek was followed swiftly by Spurs swatting the Magpies aside, with many pundits pointing to their current injury list as mitigation. Most Tottenham fans would, of course, offer up some sharp suggestions to that theory with numerous key players still months from returning for Ange Postecoglou. The sight of the exhilarating Son Heung-min terrorising Kieran Trippier – just days after his Goodison gaffes – will have done little to raise hopes at St James’ Park that they can save their Champions League campaign on Wednesday when Milan come to town. “The last two have been tough games, not us at our best,” a beleaguered Eddie Howe said. “Physically we looked fatigued today and there was not much we could do about it.” You would have to dig quite deep to find sympathy for Howe since the Premier League waved through the club’s Saudi Arabia-backed takeover. Their season could yet be rescued by a bucket-load of cash in January but currently Spurs look the likelier candidates for a top-four finish. Mark Dobson

Son Heung-min takes Kieran Trippier to the cleaners as Spurs ripped through Newcastle.
Son Heung-min takes Kieran Trippier to the cleaners as Spurs ripped through Newcastle. Photograph: John Patrick Fletcher/Action Plus/Shutterstock

6. Villans’ victory may signify a new era

“Do you want to bet against us?” The immortal words of Ron Saunders, Aston Villa’s title-winning manager, loom large in the Holte End. A banner adorned with Saunders’ stirring message en route to clinching the crown in 1980-81 hangs in the top tier. After racking up a club-record 15th straight home league win, a run that dates back to February, Villa have 35 points after 16 games, exactly the same tally Leicester City had amassed at this stage of the season during their unforgettable 5,000-1 title win in 2015-16. With Villa toppling Manchester City and Arsenal in the space of four memorable days, it would be foolish to discount anything. Unai Emery is, understandably, trying his best to curb excitement but Villa’s World Cup winner, Emiliano Martínez, insists they can go the distance. “We’re not just here to take part,” he said. Ben Fisher

John McGinn celebrates scoring in the Premier League match between Aston Villa and Arsenal
John McGinn and Aston Villa may be eyeing a surprise title challenge. Photograph: John Sibley/Action Images/Reuters

7. Silva wants to move on from Mitrovic

After five different players found the net in Fulham’s rout of West Ham, the manager Marco Silva had a plea: “It’s the moment to stop talking about him.” The person in question was, of course, Aleksandar Mitrovic, Fulham’s goalscoring talisman who departed so abruptly for Saudi Arabia at the start of the season. Goals from Raúl Jiménez, Willian, Tosin Adarabioyo, Harry Wilson and Carlos Vinícius took Fulham’s tally to 12 different scorers this season. When asked if it proved Fulham could move on from the Serb, Silva snapped: “Even when we win 5-0 comes the name of Mitrovic – it’s unbelievable. I love him and will keep a relationship for my life with him. But he’s not here. The fans have to support the players that are here.” Ben Bloom

8. Attacking options could cost Forest

Nottingham Forest started without a recognised striker at Molineux, a bold move considering the desperate situation Steve Cooper found himself in. Without the injured Taiwo Awoniyi Forest have struggled in the final third, rarely looking like scoring in the past three matches. Chris Wood and Divock Origi were overlooked against Wolves, with Anthony Elanga and Morgan Gibbs-White being given the opportunity to lead the line. It is indication of Forest’s strange recruitment in recent windows. They have signed Wood who is completely different from Awoniyi and forces a change in style when he plays, while Origi has never been a consistent starter wherever he has played and has done little to look like he could be the main man down the middle at the City Ground. It was of little surprise that Forest created few chances, often needing to be helped by Wolves’ defensive errors, with one leading to Harry Toffolo scoring his first goal for the club. If Forest are to progress they will need to be smarter in the window when it comes to backup strikers. Will Unwin

9. Loanees continue to benefit Blades

Chris Wilder believes Sheffield United can benefit from the loan market again after James McAtee, who scored nine times in the Championship in his first season’s loan from Manchester City last season, struck the winner in Saturday’s win over Brentford. Wilder had Dean Henderson, borrowed from Manchester United, in goal in his first spell in charge at Bramall Lane as promotion and a ninth-placed finish in the Premier League was achieved; Paul Heckingbottom used the loan market superbly (with Morgan Gibbs-White, Tommy Doyle and McAtee) during the past two seasons. “It’s crucial,” Wilder said. “It’s something we’ve looked at. It’s a great place for young players to come and learn their trade. For them big boys to trust us as a football club, know we’ll treat them right … [so they return as] better players, it’s something we have to keep on doing right and looking at that market. Pep [Guardiola, Manchester City manager] will be watching what’s happening today.” Pete Lansley

James McAtee celebrates scoring the winning goal during the Premier League match between Sheffield United and Brentford
All eyes were on James McAtee on Saturday, including a certain Pep Guardiola, according to Chris Wilder. Photograph: SportImage/Sheffield United FC/Getty Images

10. Burnley show greater resolve

There’s been a certain dismissive condescension to the assumptions of many pundits that 2022-23’s promoted sides would fill the bottom three slots in this season’s Premier League, an assumption blown off course by Everton’s 10-point penalty. And since that deduction, the performances of all the sides in the bottom four have begun to stir, and we could yet have a proper relegation battle on our hands. Burnley came under immense pressure at Brighton but managed to cling on for a point that rewarded their defensive endeavours. Vincent Kompany may not be accustomed to backs-to-the-wall football as either a player or manager but signs are that his side are beginning to get to grips with it. Much was rightly made of James Trafford’s heroics in goal on Saturday but the way those in front of him harried and closed down opponents was a major contributor to Brighton’s profligacy. Burnley now have to use this industriousness to make home advantage count at Turf Moor like it once did. Tom Davies