Christopher Nkunku can’t answer Chelsea’s billion pound question alone – Premier League hits and misses | Football News


Nkunku can’t answer Chelsea’s billion pound question alone

Chelsea step into Christmas having lost four consecutive away Premier League games for the first time since December 2000 under Claudio Ranieri.

“Of course, we feel very disappointed,” said Mauricio Pochettino reflecting on that unwanted record. “We deserved so much more but this competition punishes you when you are not clinical.”

Chelsea have missed 36 of their 57 big chances in the Premier League this season, more than any other side, while only Man Utd (-9.5) have a bigger negative differential between Expected Goals and goals scored than the Blues (-6.8), who have netted 29 goals from an xG of 35.8.

Did you know?

Nkunku became the 27th player to score on his Premier League debut for Chelsea and first to do so as a substitute since Alvaro Morata versus Burnley in August 2017.

They created enough chances at Molineux to be comfortably in front by half-time but decided not to show up after the break.

The 3,000 travelling supporters were all treated to free Santa hats – suitably in blue – but there was very little festive cheer, save for Christopher Nkunku’s late consolation – a debut Premier League goal.

Chelsea have lost four consecutive away Premier League games for the first time since December 2000 under Claudio Ranieri (a run of five)

It was again so hard to decipher what Pochettino was trying to plot. His methods even confused Wolves some might say early on with the use of an unfamiliar 4-4-2. But it was Chelsea who tangled themselves in knots once Wolves realised the mediocrity of what stood in front of them.

To compound Pochettino’s problems, Raheem Sterling and Cole Palmer will now serve a one-match ban against Crystal Palace after receiving their fifth bookings of the season.

Since Todd Boehly’s consortium bought Chelsea in May 2022 they have spent over £1bn in last three transfer windows. Nkunku is the latest to try his luck at solving the side’s shooting problems, but he cannot do it alone.
Ben Grounds

Mauricio Pochettino says his team got punished for not being clinical in the defeat at Wolves

O’Neil’s tactics help Wolves to win

Mario Lemina was the standout player on the pitch in Wolves’ 2-1 win over Chelsea but the midfielder himself chose to mention the role of his coach in engineering the victory. Gary O’Neil’s in-game management helped Wolves to wrestle control at Molineux.

“It worked really well,” said Lemina. Interestingly, the first tactical change during the game happened not at half-time but just 15 minutes in when Rayan Ait-Nouri went down with a knock. “It was an opportunity to tweak a few things,” O’Neil explained.

Gary O’Neil believes his team’s 2-1 win against Chelsea was deserved

Chelsea had surprised Wolves with their system. “I could see in the first 12 to 15 minutes it was going to cause us one or two problems tactically.” O’Neil adjusted his team and took the game away from Chelsea in the second half, finishing up with a 5-4-1 shape.

“We used three or four different structures today which is good. The lads really struggled with that when I first came. I had to make it more predictable and simple but today was not that predictable and not that simple but they dealt with it really well.”

Making significant tactical adjustments for each game is demanding – on the coach too. O’Neil revealed that he will spend his night preparing a plan for Brentford. But as his team become used to being adaptable, it offers encouragement that Wolves can improve in 2024.

Where are Man Utd’s goals coming from?

Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher discuss Manchester United’s worrying inconsistency under Erik ten Hag after they lost 2-0 to West Ham and have now gone four games without scoring a goal

More than 380 minutes have passed without Manchester United scoring a goal. Of the myriad of problems facing Erik ten Hag this is the most worrying.

Fans can accept defeat in a difficult moment; United fans have had to do it in every other game this season. A lack of excitement and goals will sour the mood though.

United were far from clinical last season, relying heavily on the individual brilliance of Marcus Rashford and his 30 goals, but they were functional. His alarming drop-off has exposed the dearth of attacking quality in Ten Hag’s side.

Erik ten Hag admitted his side are underperforming after Man Utd suffered a 2-0 defeat at West Ham

Rasmus Hojlund, a £72m transfer, was brought in as the solution yet has failed to score in 14 Premier League games. Antony, an £86m transfer, has not got a goal all season. Alejandro Garnacho, 19, is promising but often looks lightweight.

Looking around it is tough to see where the goals are coming from.

Ten Hag was clear after defeat to West Ham. ‘Football is about scoring goals and winning games.’ United can’t seem to do either at present.
Zinny Boswell

West Ham’s rise continues under Moyes

Jarrod Bowen celebrates after giving West Ham the lead against Manchester United

There would have been huge disappointment at West Ham at the manner of their Carabao Cup defeat to Liverpool in midweek.

David Moyes has placed an emphasis on trying to bring silverware to the club and he succeeded last season with the Hammers’ Europa Conference League success. However, they barely laid a glove on Liverpool at Anfield as they crashed out of the competition and the debate around Moyes as West Ham boss reared its head again.

Moyes and his side did not dwell on it long, though. A 2-0 victory over Man Utd has seen Moyes’ side rise to sixth in the league. Add that to their impressive form in the Europa League and this is once again turning into an exciting season in east London.

With that comes expectation and it continues to rise, which also brings pressure. But with Jarrod Bowen, Mohammed Kudus and Lucas Paqueta at Moyes disposal, you would not back against the Hammers’ rise under Moyes continuing.
Oliver Yew

Zinchenko struggles provokes full-back question for Arsenal

Oleksandr Zinchenko had a difficult afternoon at Anfield

Oleksandr Zinchenko was warned, twice. Once in April and then again on Saturday evening.

Arsenal’s left-back was beaten too easily for Roberto Firmino’s late leveller in the 2-2 draw between the Gunners and Liverpool as Mikel Arteta’s side ultimately fell short in the title race. Then in the early stages of the same game this season, Zinchenko’s lapse in concentration allowed Mohamed Salah a shot, but the Liverpool forward hit the side netting.

Good players do not let you off twice. Salah beat Zinchenko too easily down the right for his equaliser – the only blot from Arsenal’s excellent defence that saw Gabriel impress in both boxes and William Saliba pick up man of the match.

Zinchenko was branded a “liability” by Gary Neville, who said he should have been “hooked off” as the defender’s mistakes continued into the second half. One nearly led to a Liverpool winner, but Trent Alexander-Arnold spared him by hitting the bar.

Arsenal tried to bring in an improvement in the left-back area in the summer, but injuries to Jurrien Timber and Takehiro Tomiyasu mean Zinchenko has to play these big games when he is defensively suspect.

With doubts remaining over Jakub Kiwior, left on the bench at Anfield despite Zinchenko’s shortcomings, Arteta needs to decide whether a full-back is at the top of their January transfer window list over any other position.
Sam Blitz

A case for the defence: Saliba, Van Dijk impress

William Saliba was named player of the match

If William Saliba had stayed fit last season, would Arsenal have been champions?

It’s a statement that looks to have more substance by each big-game performance the Frenchman puts in. It is no coincidence Arsenal’s form fell off a cliff during Saliba’s absence towards the end of the last campaign. At Anfield, Saliba stood head and shoulders above the rest. He was faultless, stepping in to halt many Liverpool attacks at critical moments. He is a Rolls Royce defender – maybe the best in the world on current form.

It was a game where defensive brilliance came to the fore.

Virgil van Dijk looked to have lost his aura at times last season but is dominating opponents again and breezing through games in ways only he can. It is only now, three years on from his anterior cruciate ligament injury, that the 32-year-old is looking more like his old self. He was flanked admirably by Ibrahima Konate, who gobbled up Gabriel Martinelli, usually so deadly against Arsenal, in a couple of important one-on-one duels where the Brazilian looked dangerous.
Lewis Jones

Lockyer inspires Luton

Luton did it for Tom Lockyer. But in doing so, proved something very important to themselves: they can compete in this league.

Kenilworth Road was undeniably emotionally-charged on the first game since Luton lost their captain. The scenes of Lockyer collapsing on the pitch at Bournemouth last weekend brought back distressing memories from May’s play-off final.

But a week on, safe in the knowledge that Lockyer was recovering well at home, the Hatters delivered their most composed, most complete performance of the season. Amazing, really, given the context.

Manager Rob Edwards described the panic and fear in his pre-match notes. He wrote how football was secondary to health and family. He explained how tough it was to concentrate because emotions were running so high all week.

Rob Edwards said the Luton players ’embodied everything Tom Lockyer is as a person and a player’ in their victory against Newcastle

Thus, against the backdrop of such affliction, Luton rose stronger. They were unified. Together with fans in a common cause – even the away end showed touching sentiment, unfurling a banner that read ‘get well soon, Tom’.

Some things are, of course, bigger than football, but what was also apparent on this difficult afternoon was that Luton belong. In the world’s toughest, most competitive, most expensive domestic league, they are beginning to show they belong.
Laura Hunter

Gomes shows he still has Everton future

Andre Gomes scored his first Premier League goal since February 2019

Everton had done the simple things better than any other team in the Premier League. That was the view of Paul Merson following Sean Dyche’s side’s remarkable upturn in form since their points deduction.

They arrived in north London looking for a fourth away win in the capital this season, but they somehow found themselves trailing 2-0 when Idrissa Gueye hobbled off all in the space of the opening quarter.

That enabled Andre Gomes to play his first minutes of the campaign. Gomes, who suffered a horrific ankle injury in a challenge with Heung-Min Son earlier in his career, kept it simple and Everton very nearly escaped with a point their efforts deserved.

The Portuguese was named on the bench for the first time since the opening day due to minor injuries, but with Abdoulaye Doucoure currently out with a hamstring strain, the opportunity has opened up for Gomes.

The 30-year-old took his goal exceptionally well and on another day might have registered two assists. His overall composed use of the ball demonstrated what an asset he can still be this term, with Gueye also set to be absent with Senegal at AFCON in Dyche’s midfield.

A January shop window flex or a very positive reboot of his Everton career, his first league goal since February 2019 and overall display will certainly provide Dyche with a crumb of comfort as he saw his side’s recent winning run ended.
Ben Grounds

Spurs will know they got lucky

Ange Postecoglou’s diplomatic response to seeing his side cling onto a win over Everton was that Tottenham had produced a “different kind of performance”. A more blunt reflection would be that they were lucky.

Everton were the more threatening side in the first half yet found themselves 2-0 down, while the decision by Michael Oliver, the VAR, to advise referee Stuart Attwell to disallow Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s goal was extremely harsh.

Postecoglou’s refusal to instruct his side to shut up shop and hold onto what they have is well established but seemed incredibly reckless – and it should have led to further Everton goals after Andre Gomes’ late strike.

Arnaut Danjuma perhaps showed why Tottenham decided not to make his loan move permanent last season – and why he has struggled for games under Sean Dyche this term – by wasting three glorious chances to snatch the points.

Everton ended the game with more shots, more final-third entries and more expected goals. Frankly, they should have won – and Postecoglou will know that.
Joe Shread

Welch shines as history made

Referee Rebecca Welch books Calvin Bassey (not pictured)

Rebecca Welch looked confident and relaxed in the tunnel at Craven Cottage, high-fiving the Fulham mascots as the teams lined up.

The 40-year-old shared a joke with Lyle Foster before blowing her whistle to start the match and create history.

Welch waited patiently until the 22nd minute to award her first free-kick before then booking Calvin Bassey three minutes later albeit harshly when the Fulham defender’s left arm accidentally caught the face of Josh Brownhill as the pair turned to chase after a loose ball.

But Welch took the game in her stride without getting needlessly involved, stepping in twice in the space of three second-half minutes to book Joao Palhinha and then Jordan Beyer for cynical fouls.

Burnley boss Vincent Kompany congratulated her at full-time and said: ‘Aside from the performance it’s a big moment. When you’re in the game it’s not about the referee or the coach, it’s about the players but after the game it’s fair to say it’s a milestone moment and may there be more.

“The best thing will always be when people are judged on merit and that’s it. But you have to have a first and this is it so well done. I’m happy to be part of this moment, it’s big.”
David Richardson

De Zerbi playing the long game with Brighton changes

Roberto De Zerbi can justify his squad rotation by Brighton winning their Europa League group and being comfortably inside the Premier League top half – but it is still coming at a cost.

Brighton are 22 Premier League games without a clean sheet and have now won just two of their last 12 domestic matches.

Injuries have taken their toll while youngsters have delivered inconsistent performances when trusted with precious minutes. Once tweaks were made at Selhurst Park for the second half, Brighton looked much more like themselves.

Ironically, one change De Zerbi did not make at Crystal Palace was goalkeeper Bart Verbruggen, who had rotated 11 times with Jason Steele, and was at fault for Jordan Ayew’s goal.

The hope will be that by the time the final months of the season arrive, Brighton’s squad will be fresh enough to finish strongly in the league and perhaps claim some European silverware.
David Richardson

New test for high-flying Villa

“We were expecting Sheffield [United] to be defensively strong,” said Unai Emery afterwards. That was an understatement. Chris Wilder’s defensive setup saw Aston Villa dominate possession but fail to win at Villa Park for the first time since February.

Emery called it a “very good point” in the end as Villa’s equaliser came after 97 minutes. They will not always have 77.6 per cent of the ball – a Premier League record for Villa in the 20 years they have counted such things – but maybe this was a sign of what is to come.

Fifteen consecutive home wins are bound to impact the approach of the opposition. Villa are among those elite teams in the Premier League now. Finding a way to combat this is going to be important if they are to maintain momentum in the second half of the season.

“I am not daft,” said Wilder. “I watch TV. I have watched Villa. They are on a fabulous run.” He knew his Sheffield United side had to stifle before they could think about causing problems of their own. “We had to work meticulously because of the pockets they find.”

There were caveats for Villa. The absence of Pau Torres robbed them of their best passer in defence, the man finds those pockets. The suspended Boubacar Kamara would surely not have been so comprehensively beaten as John McGinn was for the opener.

Supporters will point to some decisions too but the biggest takeaway from the night is that this Premier League throws up so many different tests for teams. Villa outplayed the now world champions Manchester City. Breaking down the Blades was another matter.
Adam Bate


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