10 topics of conversation from the campaign of the weekend

1) Palhinha absentee notification in Fulham loss

Fulham were meek against Arsenal: they looked shy and small from the start, the surprise minimal when their visitors so quickly put the result in doubt. Their affinity for Europe is fizzled out, although that shouldn’t take away from the excellent job Marco Silva has done to ensure they don’t get relegated to the championship with the yo-yo again. They missed the suspended João Palhinha dearly: he has now missed four games in all competitions this season and Fulham have lost all four, conceding 12 goals in the process. Fulham played a blinder when they landed him from Sporting and their departure without him is a reminder that it will take them time to accumulate the quality that mitigates such absences. They were absent on Sunday and couldn’t find a foothold in midfield. At least their next four league games are against the relegation contenders: if Palhinha returns with the influence he previously wielded, they can still move back into the top-six talks. Nick Ames

2) Rolls-Royce Rodri shows its worth

It says something about the quality of the Premier League that Crystal Palace are sort of 12th. The same is true to a degree for Manchester City, who look like a transitional player compared to previous iterations but still feel close to the champions-in-waiting. Here was another grade A grade. After the game, Pep Guardiola was asked to compare Rodri to the many top-flight defensive midfielders he has coached. His response was immediate: “The best.” That’s really high praise (Alonso? Lahm? Mascherano?). But Rodri is really very good at it and he was excellent at Selhurst Park, using the ball skillfully, enduring Palace’s physicality and covering the counter-attacks. At the moment he is arguably the most irreplaceable part of this City team and the key to the pursuit of the top two trophies. Barney Ronay

3) Sancho not the perfect 10

When Manchester United signed Jadon Sancho two summers ago, he was hailed as a player of a generation who would make Old Trafford and numerous away venues shine for a decade or more. The opposite has happened so far and it was the case again against Southampton. The 22-year-old was cast in the role of No 10, a compliment from Erik ten Hag that has not been repaid despite Sancho’s huff and puff. Every time the ball got to the player, he felt like it would bounce off a shin or a thigh, or a pass would miss. Sancho was struggling with physical and mental issues ahead of Christmas which led to the manager deciding he should train outside the squad. his challenge remains to turn around Sancho’s form. Jamie Jackson

• Match Report: Man Utd 0-0 Southampton

4) Forest not out of the forest yet

While Steve Cooper was happy with the way his team fought back against Tottenham after being blown away in the first half, the Nottingham Forest manager felt it was “a missed opportunity”, putting some distance between himself and the bring relegation zone. The sight of top scorer Brennan Johnson forced off with a groin injury will be significant as Forest prepare for Friday night’s trip from Newcastle to the City Ground, with the Wales forward scheduled for a scan this week. Chris Wood was also soon to be substituted after coming off the bench himself as Cooper’s injury worries mounted. Dean Henderson, Taiwo Awoniyi and Scott McKenna are among those who could return after the international break and Cooper is hoping they can help his side avoid serious trouble again. Ed Aarons

5) Cherries pick Klopp’s portly Reds

What did Bournemouth do right against Liverpool that Manchester United did so wrong last week? Aside from the obvious – scoring first then defending like demons – the organization of Gary O’Neil’s team was impressive. “No coincidence,” said the manager. Jefferson Lerma and Joe Rothwell’s screening of the back four was vastly superior to Fred and Casemiro at Anfield. Philip Billing, the goalscorer, was far more effective than Wout Weghorst as a commanding No.10; Dango Ouattara, signed in January, is far more prolific than Antony at right flank. Every game is different and Liverpool have usually collapsed without Anfield’s comfort blanket this season, but such a celebrated, well-timed win gives O’Neil’s team a chance to survive. “I had faith and I’m sure the guys did too,” he said. “But if they didn’t do it then, I’m sure they can believe me now.” John Brewin

• Match Report: Bournemouth 1-0 Liverpool

6) New manager, same old Leeds mistakes

Javi Gracia’s plan to keep Leeds in the Premier League was on full display on Saturday, but the old habits that plagued the side before his arrival still linger. A point against European football pursuers Brighton is a good result in isolation, but on a day when Bournemouth and Everton won, Leeds slipped to 19th place after some key defensive errors cost them all three points . Gracia has made Leeds more threatening in attack; The Spaniard has clearly recognized that his new side need to score more goals to have any chance of survival and Saturday was a step forward in that regard. But he also needs to tighten up at the back to avoid further missed chances. Aaron Bower

7) Onana leads to survival

Brentford had more than two-thirds of possession at Everton on Saturday but failed to break Everton’s defence. Under Sean Dyche, the Toffees have become far more disciplined and resilient. A key component of this newfound reinforcement is midfielder Amadou Onana. His most notable intervention in the game was a close-range rebound, but his overall play down the middle of the pitch helped Everton to three crucial points and he shook the crowd with his tackles and punches. His form for the club means he is likely to be targeted by Premier League rivals if they don’t stay up. He has forged an impressive partnership with Abdoulaye Doucouré to create a strong backbone alongside James Tarkowski and Michael Keane that could keep Everton out of the bottom three at the end of the season. Will Unwin

• Match report: Everton 1-0 Brentford

8) Returning Evans must get their feet on the ground

Could Jonny Evans’ return from a four-month injury layoff give Leicester the increased defensive authority to allay relegation worries? Brendan Rodgers believes the veteran centre-back can take the lead, especially with Wout Faes suspended following the red card he was shown in Saturday’s defeat by Chelsea. Evans’ experience and Nous could be crucial as Leicester, after five straight defeats in all competitions, now meet five of their relegation rivals in the next eight games. The Northern Ireland defender played his opening minutes after Faes was sent off in the 87th minute on Saturday since he was omnipresent as Leicester took just four points in their first nine games of the season. “[Jonny] worked hard to come back and the opportunity may well be there for him to come back in,” Rodgers said. “It was great to have him in the squad and this experience will be important for us.” Peter Lansley

• Match Report: Leicester 1-3 Chelsea

9) Hammers don’t know how to use Scamacca

David Moyes didn’t hold back when asked why his £35.5million striker Gianluca Scamacca didn’t come off the bench in West Ham’s tie with Aston Villa. “His connection game is very good,” he said. “His physical stats must be a lot better than they are. Today, Maxi Cornet, the thought was that he might get behind her. We’ve seen Maxi do that more often than Gianluca. Gianluca needs to bounce back.” Fair enough, but did West Ham know what they got when they bought Scamacca last summer? Were they aware the Italian might struggle to get past Premier League defenders? In Italy the pace is slower. And in any case, wasn’t there a scramble to see if Scamacca could hit any crosses in the dying phase against Villa? West Ham need goals if they want to stay at the top. Jacob Steinberg

10) Shy wolves might face a struggle for survival

A team with the worst goal record of all 92 English league clubs met the team that had allowed the fewest goals in all four divisions. And the expected result came. Wolves scored a goal, but Hwang Hee-chan’s equalizer was extremely dingy. Meanwhile, Alexander Isak, one of Europe’s most talented young strikers, played the best game of his Newcastle career to date and scored his first goal. Characteristic caution costs wolves. They were already playing for time when Miguel Almíron scored in the 79th minute, trying to defend a point. Julen Lopetegui’s adaptation to a back five invited an opponent who had previously suffered from confidence. The Spaniard had excelled at dragging Wolves into the midfield glut but now the danger remains. Wolves may celebrate five years of Premier League football this summer, but their current status is enigmatic, barren, almost antimatter. Nothing a decent forward or confident attacking play couldn’t cure, but a lot easier said than done. John Brewin









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