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Dublin: 11°C Wednesday 21 April 2021

Are Southampton better with Shane Long and more Premier League talking points

Plus, Liverpool’s struggles against the weaker teams continue.

Shane Long made his first Southampton start of the season today.
Shane Long made his first Southampton start of the season today.
Image: Daniel Hambury

1. Are Southampton better with Shane Long in the team?

SHANE LONG MADE his first start of the season today, as Southampton secured a hard-earned 1-0 victory over Crystal Palace in the early kick-off.

Up until now, the Tipperary native has been used purely as an impact sub since the start of the campaign by Saints boss Mauricio Pellegrino, with Manolo Gabbiadini invariably preferred in attack.

However, the roles were reversed this afternoon, as it was Gabbiadini who came on as a late replacement for Long.

The two strikers make for an interesting contrast — Long is not a natural goalscorer and is certainly technically inferior to the Italy international.

On the other hand, what the Ireland star has going for him is his energy and work rate — qualities not normally associated with his rival for a spot in attack.

Gabbiadini scored 12 goals in all competitions last season — six more than Long. However, most defenders surely dread coming up against the Irish forward more, given what a nuisance he can be on account of his pace and relentless desire to run into the channels.

So while his talented colleague may register more goals, on the evidence of today, Pellegrino may be starting to feel Long’s all-round game is more beneficial for the team.

2. Tottenham shouldn’t use the referee’s mistakes as an excuse for poor showing

Mauricio Pochettino was not a happy man after seeing his side draw 0-0 with Swansea at Wembley.

The result means Spurs have still yet to pick up a Premier League victory in their temporary home — a stark contrast to last season, when they prevailed in 17 out of 19 games at White Hart Lane.

The Argentine coach afterwards appeared to blame referee Mike Dean for his side’s misfortune, as they were denied at least one strong claim for a penalty.

The Spurs boss told the BBC: “It is so clear. What is not clear [is] why Mike Dean [chose to] justify in front of our players that it was handball, but it was not handball.

“If you are not sure about the situation then why say it was handball? It was unlucky but we need to look at ourselves and try to be better next time and score before this situation.

“It was unlucky for us. We did not get the one penalty we deserved. In that situation the referee had a no good afternoon.”

Yet while Pochettino’s dissatisfaction with one or two of the decisions may be justified, he should not use it as an excuse for Spurs’ latest setback on home turf.

His side should not have had to rely on an official’s decision for a victory against a Swansea team with vastly inferior resources and patently less talented players.

While the hosts missed some decent chances, too often, Spurs looked short of ideas going forward.

Unused sub Mousa Dembélé’s creativity was sorely missed, as the midfield of Eric Dier and Moussa Sissoko struggled to have any real impact on the game from an attacking viewpoint, with key players such as Harry Kane and Dele Alli also largely ineffectual.

3. Liverpool’s deficiencies against the weaker teams still obvious

Liverpool v Burnley - Premier League - Anfield Liverpool's Dominic Solanke (right) hits the crossbar with an effort on goal during the Premier League match at Anfield earlier today. Source: Peter Byrne

There was a feeling of deja vu for Liverpool at Anfield today.

Last season, the Reds consistently performed impressively against the top sides, earning convincing wins over Chelsea, Tottenham and Man City along the way.

However, what proved Jurgen Klopp’s side’s undoing in the 2016-17 campaign was a failure to beat weaker Premier League teams such as Bournemouth, Swansea and West Ham.

This season is threatening to be a similar story. The Reds were highly impressive as they secured an emphatic 4-0 victory over Arsenal last month.

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However, they have also dropped points against Watford and now, Burnley — sides they should really be expecting to beat.

The Anfield outfit tend to be at their best when counter-attacking at pace. Their midfield contains plenty of aggressive ball-winners, such as Jordan Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum, or in the case of this afternoon, James Milner and Emre Can.

However, against sides who venture forward only sporadically and continually sit deep, Liverpool often play with a lack of incision and conviction.

Even with Philippe Coutinho back in their side today, the hosts struggled to find a way past the Clarets’ well-organised backline, as they were left to rue more dropped points in what was an eminently winnable fixture.

4. Man City make a statement

It must, as usual, be emphasised that it is still early days, and results at the beginning of the Premier League season have turned out to be deceptive in the past.

However, if forced to predict a title winner out of all the sides in the top flight right now, most critics would find it difficult to look past Manchester City.

In particular, the strikeforce of Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus are looking formidable.

It speaks volumes as to the level of talent at City’s disposal that they beat Watford, a side who were fourth and unbeaten going into today’s match, by a margin of 6-0.

Pep Guardiola called Sergio Aguero a “legend” after the game, as the Argentine striker edges closer to the club’s all-time goalscoring record, while Jesus has also been a revelation of late.

As per Opta, his strike today means the 20-year-old Brazilian has been involved in 15 goals after just 15 Premier League appearances, with City yet to lose a match in which he has featured.

Arguably not since Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge prospered for Liverpool in the 2013-14 season has the Premier League seen such an exciting attacking combo as City’s current free-scoring pair.

5. Richie-inspired Newcastle looking much better off all of a sudden

It is amazing the difference a few weeks can make in the Premier League.

Newcastle lost their opening two games this season, and it was all doom and gloom at St James’ Park by that point.

The Magpies’ underwhelming start, coupled with Rafa Benitez’s thinly veiled dissatisfaction with the powers that be at the club, prompted some critics to tip the beleaguered side as strong relegation contenders.

All of a sudden, however, Newcastle find themselves in fourth spot, having won three games on the bounce, including this afternoon’s 2-1 triumph at home to Stoke.

“The fans, when you win so many games in a row, they are excited and thinking about Europe – for me it is one game at a time,” a much happier-sounding Benitez told the BBC, after the club won three consecutive top-flight matches for the first time since November 2014.

“It is a very competitive league and we are learning from that.”

Moreover, one player who has evidently been integral to this upturn in fortune is Matt Richie.

The influential Scotland international has now registered four assists in his last three Premier League games, with both the 28-year-old winger and his rejuvenated team-mates decidedly punching above their weight currently.

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There were a number of Irish players on target in the Championship today>

More Wembley woe for Tottenham as Swansea hold firm>

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Paul Fennessy

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