Historic win for Brentford shows what makes them special
The greatest day in Brentford’s history? Possibly. The best performance of the season? It can’t be far off.
But however you categorise Brentford’s shocking, stunning 4-1 win at Chelsea there’s no denying Thomas Frank and his players deserve huge credit for pulling off a result few would have thought possible.
Before kick-off, it seemed Brentford’s Premier League survival was more likely to rest on a clash with Watford in a couple of weeks’ time. Instead their first league win at west London rivals Chelsea in 83 years may just have secured their status in the top flight.
If so, it’s an achievement which owes everything to the key ingredients which set this Brentford team apart.
First there is the manager, whose surprise switch to a back three caught out the world and European champions. His high-quality coaching has created a team able to mix a high press and a low block and frustrate their opponents with both.
Credit to these players, too: from the bravery to take the game to Chelsea early on, to the character to respond to Antonio Rudiger’s stunner and push for more. As Frank says, this is a unique group.
And then there is Christian Eriksen, who has written another chapter in his wonderful comeback from the cardiac arrest he survived last summer. A first Premier League goal since 2019 was reward for another classy display in the middle of the park. He has inspired the players around him.
Capturing the enormity of Saturday’s win isn’t easy to do – but Brentford supporters will treasure an unforgettable day.
Chelsea must shake off sluggishness with crucial weeks ahead
Thomas Tuchel was at a loss to explain Chelsea’s 4-1 home defeat to Brentford.
Fatigue from the international break? A lack of preparation time? Goalkeeper Edouard Mendy jaded from the huge effort to help Senegal to the World Cup? Even a change in the weather was suggested.
In the end, he put it down to a “strange 10 minutes” and said he wouldn’t dwell too long on it.
It seems a sensible approach because whatever went wrong, Chelsea must shake it off and regain their focus. Their players have admirably continued to deliver despite all the distractions off the pitch in the past month. But April is crucial to their season.
On Wednesday Real Madrid are in town for the first leg of the Champions League quarter-final. There is also an FA Cup semi-final to come against Crystal Palace and, later in the month, a potentially pivotal midweek match with Arsenal, the side now breathing down their neck in the Premier League table.
A similar defeat to West Brom almost a year ago to the day proved to be just a blip. Tuchel and Chelsea supporters hope that this loss to Brentford will ultimately act as a jolt to sharpen the side up for the big challenges ahead.
Watford win tees up pivotal month for Liverpool
Two hours and 30 minutes. That’s how long Liverpool’s lead at the top of the Premier League table lasted, but three months ago the Reds would never have dreamed of having a second at the summit.
They were 14 points behind Manchester City on January 15. At 2.22pm on Saturday they had moved two points ahead of the champions. At 4.52pm City swiftly re-took top spot with a comfortable win at Burnley, but for Liverpool it was all about starting a massive month with the right result that perfectly tees up next Sunday’s potential title-decider at City, live on Sky Sports.
Liverpool’s win over Watford was a case of job done and move on, as Jurgen Klopp’s side laboured to a 2-0 victory over the relegation strugglers. It was not a display worthy of Klopp’s 250th Premier League game in charge, and the German admitted afterwards he was “not interested” in the performance.
“We didn’t play the best football possible today but it was enough,” he said. “I didn’t expect we would be flying – it is unlikely after the international break it will be the best game of the season.”
But he knows his side will have to turn it on in the coming weeks and produce their very best.
On Tuesday they go to Lisbon to take on Benfica in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final followed by Sunday’s trip to the Etihad.
The second leg against Benfica at Anfield is on April 13, before another match against City as they play Pep Guardiola’s side in the FA Cup semi-finals at Wembley on April 16. That is followed by home league matches against Manchester United on April 19 and Everton on April 24 – both live on Sky Sports.
Throw in a potential Champions League semi-final first leg against either Bayern Munich or Villarreal on April 26 or 27, and it really is a blockbuster month for the Reds.
The win over Watford will be a minor footnote, but it is a victory that sets up Klopp’s side for a pivotal few weeks ahead.
Maddison is back smiling and affecting games
James Maddison watched on as Gareth Southgate opted to selected the likes of Emile Smith Rowe and Conor Gallagher for England’s international friendlies last month, but the Liecester midfielder provided the perfect response at Old Trafford.
The 25-year-old has just one cap for his country to his name, coming as a substitute in a 7-0 win over Montenegro in November 2019, but he created twice as many chances as any other player during Saturday evening’s 1-1 draw.
On his World Cup ambitions, Maddison said: “As an English player, the World Cup is the pinnacle. I always think what I can do better to get into the squad. All I can do is keep playing the way I’m playing.
“It’s just about showing more consistency and affecting games more. My numbers have always been good, it’s just about finding the consistency. I’m feeling really good, really confident, and I’m going into games with that confidence.”
Maddison admitted to struggling with self-confidence following a hip injury, and he could not rediscover top form immediately on his return. But the zip is back now.
His cross with his weaker foot for Kelechi Iheanacho to score was sublime, and his confident finish chalked off by VAR would have capped a personal triumph.
With Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford still toiling in their search for a spark when sharing the same pitch, Southgate may not be able to ignore the undoubted qualities, and that little bit of something different, that Maddison certainly possesses.
Isolated Weghorst leaves Burnley looking toothless
Burnley moved away from their trademark 4-4-2 formation for just the third time in the Premier League this season, with Dyche’s plan to “control” Man City seeing Jack Cork starting in place of Maxwel Cornet in a bid to beef up the midfield, but the manager admitted his game plan was undone within five minutes thanks to De Bruyne’s early goal.
In truth, the chances of a home win over the champions were slim regardless of Dyche’s tactics, given Pep Guardiola’s team’s regular dominance of the Clarets, but starting with Wout Weghorst as a lone striker seemed particularly negative.
The giant Dutchman is undoubtedly a threat to opposition defences, but launching long balls towards him without anyone there to attack the second balls was a curious tactic that saw Burnley record just three touches in the opposition box in the first half.
Dyche appeared to acknowledge the issue in the second half, bringing on both Cornet and Jay Rodriguez and moving Josh Brownhill into a more advanced position, but it was too little too late, particularly against a Man City side that have not dropped a point from winning positions in the Premier League this season.
Weghorst ended the game with zero shots, zero touches in the opposition box and fewer than 50 per cent of his aerial duels won, which outlined the toothless nature of a Burnley attack that relied on his prowess in the air.
With just 10 games remaining for Burnley to make up a four-point gap on Everton – who have a game in hand – the onus is on Dyche to get more from January signing Weghorst, who was brought in to help stave off relegation but now has just one goal in 10 league games.
Turf Moor trip presented perfect tune up for Man City
Pep Guardiola said before Manchester City’s game at Burnley that he and his players were aware they had been knocked off top spot by Liverpool’s win over Watford in the early game.
But the manager and his players could not have asked for a kinder fixture to allow them to return to the top of the standings, with Man City having won the previous nine games against Burnley by an aggregate score of 32-1.
The Clarets lined up in a 4-5-1 formation in a bid to frustrate their visitors, but Man City quickly undermined that strategy thanks to Raheem Sterling’s raids down the right wing, and smart finishes from Kevin De Bruyne and Ilkay Gundogan.
While Guardiola highlighted his side’s inability to kill off the game, he would probably admit in private that his players lowered their intensity in the second half, with the three points all but secure and a formidable fixture list looming.
The impressive De Bruyne and Phil Foden were withdrawn in the second period in what seemed to be an attempt to keep them fresh for Tuesday’s visit of Atletico Madrid in the Champions League quarter-final first leg.
Man City then face the biggest game of their season to date on April 10 when Liverpool travel to the Etihad – live on Sky Sports – before flying to Madrid for their second leg against Atletico. They then take on Liverpool again, this time at Wembley for a place in the FA Cup final.
With so many season-defining games taking place in the coming weeks, a trip to Turf Moor seemed to present the perfect tune-up opportunity for Man City – an opportunity the champions emphatically took.
Wolves dreaming of Europe again
Wolves had lost four of their previous six Premier League games before their deserved 2-1 derby victory over Aston Villa at Molineux.
Having thrown away a 2-0 lead against Leeds to lose 3-2 in their last match before the international break, it looked as if an impressive debut season under head coach Bruno Lage was in danger of petering out.
But despite missing the banned Raul Jimenez and injured Ruben Neves, Saturday’s win over their west Midlands rivals – as well as inconsistent results from the teams around them – mean they are still firmly in the hunt for European football.
Now above West Ham ahead of their clash with Everton on Sunday, live on Sky Sports, Wolves will qualify for next season’s Europa Conference League if they can stay in seventh spot – that’s if Crystal Palace fail to win the FA Cup.
With tough games against Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool remaining, fixtures against Newcastle, Burnley, Brighton and Norwich will give Lage encouragement his side can finish the campaign strongly.
After reaching the Europa League quarter-finals in 2019/20 under former boss Nuno Espirito Santo, Wolves can dream of playing in Europe once more and if they can find some consistency during the run-in, they will be well on course to achieve it.
Are Brighton stagnating?
That is a question you’d have answered with a resounding no a few months ago as Graham Potter’s side looked certain for a top-10 finish. However, no wins in their last seven games and just three victories in their last 24 league matches have very much derailed their season.
It is perhaps a bit of a reality check for a club that don’t spend the same type of money in the transfer market as teams around them in the Premier League. In fact, fending off relegation with their small budget is an achievement that should not be underestimated.
One thing is for certain, and this has been said before, they need to find a striker that can be relied upon throughout the season. Neal Maupay has shown in spurts what he can do but this performance was another reminder of where Brighton need to invest in the summer. Along with his penalty miss, there were two other very appealing chances that Maupay snatched at.
Brighton are now only one point better off than at the same stage of last season when they were 16th with 33 points. Chances and attractive football are being created and served up but this was another day where it was same old story. And they may have even taken it to another level by registering 31 shots without scoring. Only Manchester City have managed to produce that many in one game this season and they won that match 7-0 against Leeds. The problem is so obvious.
Ward-Prowse closing in on Beckham as PL’s free-kick master
Is there a better free-kick taker in world football at present than Southampton skipper James Ward-Prowse? If there is, he must be hiding somewhere.
The England international added to his already bulging repertoire of stunning free-kick goals to earn his side a point at Elland Road on Saturday.
When referee Anthony Taylor awarded the visitors a free-kick on the left edge of the area, everyone in the ground knew what was about to come, including Leeds goalkeeper Illan Meslier.
However, it is one thing knowing what is coming, and an altogether different proposition stopping it. The Frenchman found that out seconds later, picking the ball out of the net after Ward-Prowse’s curling free kick sailed up and over the wall and into the top left-hand corner of the net.
Incredibly, that is now the midfielder’s 13th direct free-kick in the Premier League, leaving him just five behind David Beckham at the top of the list and with time on his side to catch the former England skipper.