Brilliant Bruno lifts Newcastle
With three goals in his first 11 appearances for Newcastle, Bruno Guimaraes has already scored as many as he managed in 71 games for his previous club Lyon.
The Magpies knew they were getting a player when they signed him from the French side in January, but not one who would fire the goals that might just clinch their Premier League survival.
The midfielder followed up his crucial strike against Southampton last month with a match-winning double against Leicester on Sunday, poking through the legs of Kasper Schmeichel following a corner in the first half, then heading into an empty net from Joe Willock’s deflected cross deep in stoppage time.
Guimaraes was already a fan favourite at St James’ Park – he has been ever since his £40m arrival in the north-east – but having put Newcastle 12 points clear of the relegation zone with only six games of the season left to play, he is now a full-on hero.
Sunday’s game did not afford him many opportunities to do the things he does best. In fact, he completed only 16 passes across the 95 minutes as Leicester dominated possession and territory.
But what he showed instead was a willingness to muck in and do the dirty work, winning duels, disrupting Leicester attacks and covering more ground – 11.6km – than any other player on the pitch.
His winning goal typified his energy and determination as he sprinted into the Leicester box to ensure he was in the right place at the right time to convert Willock’s cross and lift the roof off St James’ Park.
“He’s got amazing technical ability which will only improve as the team gets stronger, but also today, without the ball for long periods of the game, you saw his defensive positioning and his ability to win possession for the team,” Eddie Howe told Sky Sports.
“He’s certainly popular with the supporters and rightly so after today’s performance,” added the Newcastle manager. “I thought he was magnificent in every discipline of the game.”
Newcastle supporters would agree.
Sluggish Chelsea have to improve for FA Cup final
Thomas Tuchel defended Chelsea’s laborious, turgid opening 45 minutes against Crystal Palace in their FA Cup semi-final win by insisting it was the only way to play against Patrick Vieira’s counter-attacking team.
This was a Palace side who sit 13th in the Premier League, with eight league wins all season and appearing in their fifth ever FA Cup semi-final, up against the reigning Champions League, Club World Cup and European Super Cup holders.
Vieira’s men were also starting without their player of the season Conor Gallagher or brightest playmaker Michael Olise, playing a shape they have not deployed all season.
Tuchel has little need to make excuses for himself or his side given his achievements at Stamford Bridge since he joined 14 months ago, and the Blues would have been forgiven for showing signs of a Champions League hangover after their extra-time exit at Real Madrid in midweek.
But his reasoning doesn’t wash. Chelsea’s tempo and intensity was lacking throughout the first period at Wembley, and it was no coincidence that their two goals came from quick, incisive play later on – the kind Tuchel had suggested wasn’t possible because of Palace’s threat on the break.
The proof will be in the FA Cup final-shaped pudding on May 14, when Chelsea return to face Liverpool, hoping to avoid finishing as runners-up for the third season in a row.
Against a disciplined but limited Palace side, they could afford to take their time to get their rhythm, and were given a let-off in either half when Cheikhou Kouyate came close to scoring for the Eagles.
A Liverpool side still on course for the quadruple, who cut Man City apart so easily in Saturday’s other semi-final, will not be so generous. Anything approaching a repeat performance in four weeks’ time would be sure to continue Chelsea’s recent FA Cup run of being always the bridesmaid, and never the bride.
Leicester must address leak
Whatever happened at St James’ Park on Sunday, it would have been difficult to take the gloss of an historic week for Leicester City.
After Thursday’s dramatic exploits in Eindhoven, there will undoubtedly been a few fatigued legs in the Leicester camp as they arrived on Tyneside, but with a maiden European semi-final secured, the Foxes produced a display that was commendable in almost every department.
Ademola Lookman’s opener from an expertly executed corner routine was just reward for an encouraging start from Brendan Rodgers’ side before Leicester’s all-too familiar Achilles heel came back to haunt them again.
Leicester’s susceptibility to set-pieces has hampered their campaign and when Bruno Guimaraes bundled Newcastle’s equaliser home, after suspect goalkeeping from Kasper Schmeichel, the worst kind of déjà vu had gripped the Foxes.
It means Leicester have conceded more goals from set-pieces (23), set-pieces excluding penalties (17) and from corners (13) than any other team in the Premier League this season. Rodgers needs to get a grip on the issue – ending this challenging campaign with a trophy could well depend on it.
Vieira’s Palace dream can still come true
“I’m in a really good place, at a wonderful football club with good people and I want to take the club to another level.”
That was Patrick Vieira’s prevailing emotion after leading the club to a rare Wembley cup appearance and pushing Champions League holders Chelsea all the way in just the fifth FA Cup semi-final in the club’s 117-year history.
With seven games to go in the Premier League, Palace have exactly the same number of points as they did at the same point of Roy Hodgson’s final season at Selhurst Park. But the feeling around the club is very different.
Where Palace ended 2020/21 fielding the oldest average line-up of any Premier League club, now the likes of Michael Olise, Ebere Eze, Marc Guehi and Joachim Andersen have rejuvenated the club and brought a new air of youth to south London.
Not only that, but Hodgson’s robust, effective style which helped to establish Palace as a Premier League side has now evolved into an expansive, attractive brand of football which even during rough patches this season has kept fans onside with the Vieira project.
Sunday’s defeat at Wembley was just not Vieira or Palace’s day. The manager conceded his side would have had to been at their best and take the three half-chances that fell their way to stand any chance of reaching the final, and it just didn’t happen.
But his belief in the Eagles remains justified. Taking over such an ageing side was never going to result in a one-season rebuild, but the philosophy which has penetrated the club in such a short space of time, while reaching a cup semi-final and securing another season of mid-table security promises more success on the horizon.
On another day, their determination and discipline might have snuck a result against Chelsea and got Palace into the final. On this season’s evidence, their next opportunity might not be so far away.
Downbeat Moyes knows top-four chances are fading
West Ham boss David Moyes cut a very downbeat figure in his post-match media duties following the 1-1 home draw against Burnley.
In a press conference that lasted under five minutes, one of his shortest answers reflected just why he was so dispirited.
Asked whether the point would be a good one come the end of the season, the Scot simply responded: “I don’t think so, no.”
Having secured their first European semi-final in 46 years with a stunning quarter-final win in Lyon on Thursday, the match against Burnley always threatened to be a bit after the Lord’s Mayor show.
Following Saturday’s results, though, which saw both Tottenham and Arsenal lose, the match against relegation-threatened Burnley gave the Hammers a chance to get back into the top-four equation, as well as boost their top-six hopes.
But the draw now leaves them five points adrift of fourth-placed Tottenham, who have a game in hand, while they are also two points behind sixth-placed Arsenal, who have two games in hand.
Asked about the top-six race, Moyes gave another brief answer: “I saw a great opportunity for us today and we didn’t take it.”
His disappointment should come as no surprise, having read his pre-match programme notes, in which he admitted he was only focused on results and not performances at this stage of the season.
Just one league win in four games is reason for Moyes’ dejection.
The 58-year-old said: “The only thing that mattered today was the result and we didn’t get it.”
Pope’s heroics keep Burnley believing
Should Burnley be relegated from the Premier League then Nick Pope will be one of the few players deserving to stay in England’s top division.
The Clarets goalkeeper put in an outstanding display at the London Stadium that ensured they left with a point.
The 29-year-old made five saves in the match, with one particularly outstanding stop late on from Issa Diop’s downward header that is a contender for save of the season.
Burnley stand-in boss Mike Jackson was grateful to Pope for his performance in east London.
“[He made] some terrific saves,” he said in his post-match press conference.
“That’s why he’s an England goalkeeper. He demands them standards of himself to make them sort of saves, and that’s credit to him.”
Burnley are likely to need more Pope heroics if they are to avoid the drop with the club now three points adrift of safety with seven games to go.
They are also managerless after the surprise sacking of Sean Dyche on Friday and were dealt another blow on Sunday following the serious injury sustained by midfielder Ashley Westwood.
But if there is a team that can rally from such setbacks then this Burnley squad has the ingredients to do so, at least according to U23s boss Jackson, who for now has breathed some life into their survival bid.
“I’ve seen a lot from this group,” he said. “Even when I’ve been with the 23’s, I’ve been around them and we’re in the same building as them and I see them every day. I know what they’re like as people.
“Sometimes you need a little bit of a foundation to build on, and hopefully that one comes from today because we’ve got a point from the game and we could have had more.”
Man Utd return to top-four hunt in name only
What a weekend of results for Manchester United. Their two major top-four rivals lose and they move three points behind Tottenham in fourth.
The numbers don’t tell the whole story. Ralf Rangnick’s side laboured again to a 3-2 win over basement club Norwich, who had scored only 20 goals all season but could have had a hatful at Old Trafford.
Come the full-time whistle, the celebrations were muted at best and the most passionate reception was arguably reserved for Paul Pogba, who was booed loudly on his way down the tunnel.
All had not been well at United all afternoon, with protests against the Glazer ownership overshadowing the build-up to the game and a large collection of fans waiting until the 17th minute to take their seats to signify the 17 years since the Americans took control of the club.
The performance seemed the perfect reflection of their complaints – laborious and underwhelming, and all the more frustrating given the players were already aware Tottenham had handed them an opportunity by losing to Brighton in the early kick-off.
United are back in the hunt but in name only. Scraping wins over a team almost certain to be relegated will get them nowhere, and repeat performances against Liverpool and Arsenal over the next week will end their top-four charge as quickly as it has been rejuvenated.
Mane takes centre stage from Salah
As the Mohamed Salah contract saga rumbles on, it is easy to forget there is another member of Liverpool’s attack with only a year remaining on his deal. Sadio Mane surely merits just as much fuss.
Saturday’s thrilling FA Cup semi-final against Manchester City was the fifth game in a row in which Salah has failed to find the net but his dip in form matters little when Mane continues to deliver performances as devastating as this.
The Senegalese international, who triumphed over his team-mate at AFCON in February before then helping his country beat Egypt again for a place at the World Cup, followed up his crucial goals against Benfica and in the Premier League against City last weekend with a match-winning double at Wembley.
His first goal rewarded his relentless work-rate as he closed down Zack Steffen and bundled the ball into the net, and he then displayed sensational technique when he guided a volley into the bottom corner from Thiago Alcantara’s lofted pass for his second.
City could not live with him, instead resorting to fouling him five times across the 90 minutes – no player won more free kicks – and he left the field to rapturous applause from the delirious Liverpool fans inside Wembley when he was withdrawn in the closing stages.
In the end, his goals kept Liverpool’s hopes of a quadruple alive. They were also a reminder that, while he may not attract as much acclaim as his fellow attacker, he is no less influential. Resolving his future must be a priority too.
Man City must heed Liverpool’s Wembley warning
Manchester City’s treble hopes ran aground at Wembley Stadium on an afternoon where the Premier League leaders were comprehensively beaten on the pitch and in the stands.
Liverpool’s victory was three dimensional. A flawless performance on the pitch was inspired by the staggeringly passionate and vociferous support from their travelling fans.
Manchester City didn’t stand a chance – and did themselves no favours.
Pep Guardiola’s team selection undoubtedly contributed to Liverpool’s devastating first-half performance, with returnees Nathan Ake at fault for Ibrahima Konate’s opener, and stand-in goalkeeper gifting Sadio Mane his first and Liverpool’s second.
Guardiola pointed to fixture congestion and fatigue as reason for his pre-match alterations, but the defeat owed as much to City’s insipidness in attack in the first period as it did the errors. The Spaniard’s reluctance to turn to his bench until the 83rd minute for his one – and only – change only exacerbated City’s plight.
With the Premier League title run-in yet to unfold, and with a potential third and final instalment of City and Liverpool’s rivalry to come if both sides reach the Champions League final, this was a startling and sobering reminder of the threat Liverpool pose in one-off games, and even spells of matches.
Supported to the hilt, and capable of blowing any team in world football away, this Liverpool performance should serve as a warning to City that while they may well overcome their adversaries over the stretch of a Premier League season, discovering the sprint finish or knockout blow may be required to prevent Liverpool from getting their hands on the prizes they crave.
Tottenham’s long-term lesson from Brighton defeat
Perhaps come the end of the season, we’ll look back on this weekend as the moment Tottenham let Manchester United back into the top four race. The focus immediately after their defeat at home to Brighton was the prospect of Arsenal drawing level if they could win at Southampton. Some poor finishing from Mikel Arteta’s side spared Spurs from that but United are now back in the contest.
Whether this round proves to be a let-off or a costly slip-up, Antonio Conte was keen for his Tottenham players to learn their lesson.
“Once you reach a good position in the table you have to try to keep this position,” he said. “It’s a good opportunity for us to cope with pressure. When you’re [in a team that’s] winning the league you have to cope with pressure from other results and this is a good opportunity for these players, who needed these kinds of exams for improvement.”
For Conte, it’s about building the blocks of experience for this Tottenham team to achieve greater things in the future. After all, this is a manager who is more accustomed to fighting for titles than fighting for fourth.
The mistake they made on Saturday, he said, was being too anxious to push for victory in the final stages – and leaving the space for Leandro Trossard to grab a late winner at the other end. Playing in the lunchtime kick-off, Spurs’ players felt the pressure to put down a marker before their rivals kicked off.
“A lesson we can learn today is that there are games that if you’re not able to win, you’re not to lose,” said Conte. “It was very clear that today wasn’t our day. I understand we want to try to get three points before our other rivals for the race in the Champions League but sometimes we need to feel.”
There are plenty more twists in this top-four race to come and every point will count.
Brighton back to their best
“Forty points with six games to go. Not so bad considering it was Armageddon three games ago!” Graham Potter took enjoyment in Brighton’s return to form in his press conference following the win over Tottenham. There was a dig at the critics who point to their struggles to score goals, too.
After a long, bizarre and perhaps tricky to understand run of one win in 13 matches (inside 90 minutes), Brighton have two in two from doing a north London double over Arsenal and Spurs. Watching them up close in both matches, it’s hard to believe how a team so well organised could have had such an awful streak.
At the back, they prevented a Spurs side, which had scored at least twice in each of their last seven, from having a single shot on target. Lewis Dunk did an excellent job in limiting Harry Kane’s involvement. Ahead of him in midfield, Yves Bissouma was superb, with and without the ball.
It’s in the final third where Brighton have had their biggest struggles this season – as referenced by Potter – but with a slick drop of the shoulder and prod into the bottom corner, Leandro Trossard came up with the moment of quality to deliver a first win at Spurs since 1981.
A historic goal and perhaps a historic performance. There was talk in the press room afterwards from long-time Brighton watchers that it may have been their best display since they came up to the Premier League. Potter’s view was it was certainly a step up from their display at Arsenal.
However you want to rank it, Brighton have ridden through the tough moments this season and have come out the other side with two significant wins. They’re back to their best and a strong finish to the season beckons.
Faltering Arsenal fail to capitalise on opportunity for fourth
When questions were being asked of Antonio Conte’s position at Tottenham following a 1-0 loss to relegation-threatened Burnley in February, very few people would have predicted the standings would now favour Spurs in the race for fourth place.
With six games to play – seven for Arsenal – Spurs hold the fourth and final Champions League spot, but only because teams around them have proceeded to crumble just as they have found some renewed form.
Arsenal have wasted chances against Crystal Palace, Brighton and now Southampton to wrestle ascendency in the battle for a top-four finish – it’s as if they no longer want it.
Mikel Arteta conceded that his side’s form is a ‘worry’ entering the backend of a defining campaign for the Gunners – with this being their third run of three straight defeats under the Spaniard.
What’s worse is they have now opened the door to Manchester United. What was a two-horse race is now three.
A season that promised so much is unravelling quickly for Arsenal, who now need a result from Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night to restore some conviction in their Champions League bid.
Arteta’s praise of Southampton goalkeeper Fraser Forster was merited – he kept Saints in the game – but Arsenal did not do enough to dissolve the stopper’s purpose.
Undoubtedly, there will be further surprises in the race for fourth, but what’s certain is that if Arsenal don’t improve swiftly, it will not be them playing Champions League football in 2022/23.
Slow first half costs Watford
A smattering of boos at half time told you everything you needed to know about Watford’s first-half performance against Brentford.
The Hornets were 1-0 down, had mustered one shot on target and were second best in all areas. It was a display that befitted a team winless at home since November.
To their credit, Watford were much better in the second half and had Imran Louza not wasted a great chance in the 92nd minute, the Hornets could well have completed a superb comeback win.
But such is the way it is going for Watford at home this season, they conceded a last-minute Pontus Jansson winner that saw them crash to a record 10th consecutive home loss – the worst record in the club’s history.
For Hodgson, the defeat was all down to that sluggish first-half.
He said: “We really needed each and every player right from the very first minute to be at the top of his game. Now that was by no means the case.
“We did remedy, to some extent in the second half, some of the worst aspects of our first half performance, and we gave ourselves a chance; we equalised and we could even have got that winner.
“But it would have been nice if we could have done it from the very first minute because then maybe we wouldn’t even been behind at half time.”
The defeat, which leaves Watford second bottom and six points adrift of safety, edges them closer to an immediate return to the Championship.
Hodgson’s message for their final six games, starting next Saturday at leaders Manchester City?
“One has to believe, one has to keep faith, one has to take some sort of heart from their desire and commitment and effort during the second half,” the 74-year-old said.
“You just have to hope that six times 95 minutes more, they’ll be able to do that and maybe, who knows, we will pick up points we aren’t expected to and we will get ourselves back in the race.”
Brentford to have big say on top-four race?
Brentford are one of the form teams in the Premier League right now. Their last-gasp win at Watford was their fifth victory in six games – only Liverpool have taken more points than the Bees in that period.
It means their next two fixtures against Tottenham and Manchester United now look far more complicated for those two top-four chasing clubs than it did at the end of February, when defeat at home to Newcastle had left Brentford winless in eight games.
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But any concerns that the resurgent Bees are likely to take their foot off the gas now that they are all-but safe from relegation, were immediately dismissed by head coach Thomas Frank after the win at Vicarage Road.
“I’m happy that we are on a decent amount of points, but I want more,” he declared.
“We’re now on 39 points, we’re trying to keep focused on winning the next game and finish as high as possible.
“It’s been a crazy season for us, a remarkable season.”
Things could get even crazier for Brentford though if they were to beat either Tottenham at home next Saturday, live on Sky Sports, or Manchester United at Old Trafford on May 2, also live on Sky Sports.
Sunday 24th April 11:15am
But Frank knows they will have to perform at a better level than their win at Watford if they are to have a say on the top-four race.
“I think in the first-half we were a tiny bit better than Watford, without being fantastic,” he said. “In the second-half, Watford had the momentum and were a little bit more on top of the game.
“In football it’s very rare that you have these top performances and you win week-after-week. There’s also days where you are six or seven out of 10 in terms of performance, and I think that was today.”