Twelve shots were taken in the first half of Manchester United’s game against Burnley at Turf Moor and Ralf Rangnick’s side had all of them. They even had the ball in the net three times against the Premier League’s bottom club. They still did not win the game.
More often than not, this was a performance that would have been rewarded with the three points and a third consecutive Premier League victory to strengthen the club’s hold on the final Champions League place that is now the focus of their season.
But just as in their FA Cup elimination against Middlesbrough on Friday, United found a way not to win. When Burnley took the game to them in the early part of the second half, they could not cope with it. When Burnley sat back late on, they could not find the finish.
It was not a good night for captain Harry Maguire. Made to look foolish by Burnley’s new striker, that one error proved costly. Rangnick will point to the disallowed goals – particularly the second one – but they were culpable too. Nick Pope did not have to make a save in the second half.
Dispassionate analysis might lead one to conclude this was one of those nights. “A little bit of luck,” as the interim boss put it. The problem for United is they have little margin for error right now. Dropping two points against the bottom club leaves them vulnerable.
West Ham have pushed them out of the top four. While United have a game in hand on them, the teams below boast that advantage over United. Tottenham, for example, are three behind with three games in hand. This is a precarious situation. It demands focus.
At Turf Moor, United were unable to maintain it. Such sloppiness needs to stop soon because while the fixture list looks inviting this month, trips to Liverpool and Manchester City await in March. Drop many more points before then and things will become very tricky indeed.
There was plenty riding on Tuesday evening’s game for Everton. With a new manager at the helm, two superstar signings on Deadline Day and a cup win under their belt, there was hope precious points would be on their way back to Goodison Park.
But for all of Saturday’s confidence and swagger in seeing off Brentford in the FA Cup, both were completely flipped on their heads at St James’ Park. Everton were second best for much of the game and if you did not know Frank Lampard had replaced Rafa Benitez, you would not have noticed a difference.
Admittedly, Lampard did see huge holes blown in his game plan early on. Demarai Gray – one of Everton’s best performers this season – was taken off inside 25 minutes and replaced with £40m signing Dele Alli.
Not long after, Yerry Mina also picked up an injury, having already replaced Ben Godfrey in defence. Jarrad Branthwaite came on in his place, and there was even a nervous moment when he too looked to have been injured after taking a fist to the face from his own goalkeeper. However, he was able to carry on.
But there was no spark up front, especially in the second half. The attack looked bereft of confidence with only three touches in the opposition box and no big chances created after the break. It was alarming how quickly Everton’s confidence dwindled after conceding early in the second half.
Everton boss Lampard told BT Sport: “The lack of confidence smacks you in the face because I came into the club when they were on a run of results that has left them in the position that we’re in.
“So it’s my job to change that, but there isn’t a magic wand on that front because this is the Premier League. The only thing to do is work, focus, look back at the game and then look forward to what we can do in the next games coming up.
“If anyone thought this was going to be easy because we beat Brentford in the cup, it was never going to be that. It puts a real sharp focus on it for us, but I’ve got real belief in the squad but we must build that confidence.”
But that work has to begin soon and fast. Everton are now just three points from the bottom three and there is a real chance they could be sucked into the relegation zone. They face Leeds next on Saturday in another huge game and it quite simply is a must-win.
It will not be a debut to remember for either player. Having been cup-tied on Saturday, they started on the bench but an early injury to Gray saw Alli introduced in the 25th minute.
But he never quite looked at the races. Admittedly, this is a player who has played just 10 times in the Premier League this season, but there were a number of errors.
He was at fault for Newcastle’s second goal, losing out to Joe Willock in midfield and not quite having the speed to make up for it. Overall, he lost possession 18 times.
Van de Beek has also not been blessed with game time this season, and after two injury substitutions, was turned to by Lampard to help Everton get back into the game. But he did not have the desired impact as Everton edge closer to the relegation places.
It was always going to take more than a week for both to get up to speed, but they are big players who come with big reputations and in Alli’s case, a big price tag.
No one in the Everton side can profess to have had the game of their lives, so it is admittedly a bit early to be judging too harshly. But both will need to start finding their form if the Toffees are going to pull themselves away from danger and the players avoid going down as more suspect transfer business.
Allan Saint-Maximin showed just why he is Newcastle’s key to unlocking Premier League survival in a simply brilliant performance against Everton.
He was at the heart of everything Newcastle did going forward, using his pace and quick feet to leave an already depleted Everton defence on their knees. It was even more telling once Yerry Mina – who had clashed on a few occasions with Saint-Maximin before his injury – was taken off.
The Frenchman played unselfish passes through for his team-mates, made great crosses and was unlucky to not come away with a goal involvement for his evening’s work.
He topped the charts for dribbles (13), 10 of which were successful and won 14 of his 22 duels. He helped create three chances, had two shots on target and ten touches in the opposition box.
As both managers described him – he was simply unplayable.
Newcastle manager Howe told BT Sport: “He’s such a special player. We’ve seen in the last few weeks that he’s got better and better since I’ve been here. I’m delighted with his performance today, he’s a real threat and he’s someone I’d hate to play against personally because you just can’t predict what he’s going to do.
“But he’s a match winner and we’re going to need him at this level for the rest of the season.”
There was a nice moment at the end of the game too where, with a big smile on his face, Saint-Maximin led the jubilant Newcastle fans in a chorus of ‘Hey Jude’.
The playmaker has already cemented himself in Magpies folklore, but should help the club survive relegation, he will truly become a Newcastle legend.
Wout Weghorst has been described as an ideal fit for Burnley. The 6’6″ striker is certainly robust, already boasting a black eye and proved too much for Harry Maguire to handle in earning the Clarets their 1-1 draw against Manchester United. But he is more than a bully.
The 29-year-old striker showed there was subtlety to his game in giving Maguire the slip early in the second half before having the awareness to slide Jay Rodriguez in behind the back line for Burnley’s equaliser. It was the work of a top-class centre-forward.
Weghorst might have won it for his team had his crashing long-range drive not been kept out by a brilliant David de Gea save, but even without the winning goal it was a man-of-the-match performance by the Netherlands international that will give Burnley hope.
They will have been optimistic that they had a player who could make an instant impact and adapt to their style of play. What they might not have dared to believe is that he could give them something extra too. Keep this up and Chris Wood’s departure will not be a problem.
With West Ham being held to a scoreless draw by a Watford side already demonstrating the organisation that Roy Hodgson was brought in for, and with the game entering its final quarter, the Hammers needed – in the words of David Moyes – somebody to “stand up and be counted”.
Fortunately for West Ham, Jarrod Bowen was that person. In a game where space for him and his team-mates was at a premium, the 25-year-old was finally able to find some, and he made sure Watford paid for their generosity.
Bowen picked the ball up just in front of the centre circle and surely could not believe his luck as he saw the Hornets’ defenders retreat to the edge of their penalty area, which they had protected so well for so long.
But unfortunately for those defenders, the midfield that had shielded them all game was nowhere to be seen, and Bowen gleefully ran into the available space before striking at Ben Foster’s goal from the edge of the area.
The goalkeeper dived to his left as the ball, via the leg of Samir, rolled to his right and agonisingly into the back of his net.
It was a lucky goal, as Bowen later admitted, but if any player deserved a stroke of good fortune during this cagey game, it was him.
No West Ham player recorded more successful dribbles, had more shots on target or created more chances than the former Hull forward as he did his utmost to breakdown Watford’s stubborn defence.
“I think at different times in the season we’ve had players stand up and be counted,” Moyes told BT Sport after the game.
“When we need somebody, Jarrod’s been really good. Everybody needs a player to step up and Jarrod’s been the one who’s doing that recently.”
Moyes is not wrong – after scoring five goals between the start of the season and the end of 2021, Bowen has already scored six this year, including the winning goals in all three of West Ham’s most recent victories.
That form has seen him reach 14 goal involvements (seven goals and seven assists) during the Premier League campaign, which is level with team-mate Michail Antonio and second only to Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah.
With West Ham now in the top four – and with an England squad to be named next month – Bowen’s outstanding form has come at the perfect time for him and West Ham.
Let’s be clear, Watford did not do enough to beat West Ham. But such was their defensive solidarity at the London Stadium, they did not deserve to lose either. “The game was evenly poised before the goal,” Roy Hodgson said. He was right. Watford looked a different animal in their shape to most of their fixtures this season. The work Hodgson is doing on the training pitch is making a difference. Like at Burnley, Watford defended as a unit, worked hard and did not make mistakes. West Ham only created an expected goals figure of 1.06 and posted just three shots on target.
There might not be much of him, he stands at just 5′6″ in height, but what Hassane Kamara lacks in size he more than makes up for in enthusiasm and a willingness to defend properly – something that Watford have not done all season. His signing from Nice looks a shrewd bit of business on this display. Not many full-backs have managed to cope with the pace and trickery of Jarrod Bowen this season in the style that Kamara managed. He did not deserve to be on the losing side.
Hodgson needs some confidence to return with his front players to start turning promise into results. Maybe the return of Ismaila Sarr will help in that regard. He is likely to play against Brighton on Saturday. But time is running out, especially with Newcastle posting back-to-back victories.