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Dublin: 4 °C Wednesday 21 November, 2018

David Luiz's Chelsea future uncertain and more Premier League talking points

Plus, has David Unsworth gone out with a bang as Everton manager?

David Luiz was left out of Chelsea's matchday squad today.
David Luiz was left out of Chelsea's matchday squad today.
Image: John Walton

1. Victory papers over the cracks at Chelsea

CHELSEA EMERGED VICTORIOUS after a morale-boosting 1-0 win against a tepid Man United in the Premier League today.

The result continues Jose Mourinho’s woeful record in away games against fellow big-six teams.

Under Jose Mourinho, in 10 matches against other top-four hopefuls on the road, they have only scored one goal and registered 0 wins.

They didn’t fare much better at Stamford Bridge this afternoon — in 90 minutes, just two of their 10 attempts were on target, as the Red Devils’ limp attack struggled to impose itself on another big game.

And while it was a big win for beleaguered Chelsea, it remains obvious that there are problems behind the scenes there.

Leaving out David Luiz was a big call by Antonio Conte after the midweek shambles in Rome, particularly when you consider that the Italian coach chose 17-year-old Ethan Ampadu on the bench ahead of him.

Asked afterwards about the ostracised centre-back, Conte gave a pretty terse response to the BBC.

“Luiz’s future? I don’t know. He has to work really hard, otherwise he will be on the bench or in the stand,” he said.

This is by no means the first time a manager at Chelsea has fallen out with a high-profile player at the club, as Jose Mourinho and Andre Villa-Boas will attest.

There is usually ultimately only one winner as those managers’ swift subsequent dismissals indicate, though Conte has at least been vindicated in the short-term following today’s big win.

- Paul Fennessy

2. Tottenham’s squad depth tested further

Tottenham’s supposed lack of squad depth has invariably been cited by critics as a reason why they are unlikely to win the Premier League.

However, some of their more peripheral players have acquitted themselves pretty well when given a chance this season.

Harry Winks in particular has come of age in recent weeks, starring on two occasions against Real Madrid, having previously been seen as ‘one for the future’ rather than someone who was capable of thriving in the first team on a regular basis.

Against Crystal Palace today, with Dele Alli injured and Harry Kane below his best, another player who is not always first-choice, Son Heung-min, stepped up to score the crucial winner and help Tottenham secure the kind of gritty win that is often seen as the hallmark of Premier League champions.

But perhaps the most impressive Spurs player of all this afternoon was also their most inexperienced individual.

With Hugo Lloris injured, Mauricio Pochettino hailed the performance of stand-in goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga on his Spurs debut.

Were it not for the 25-year-old Argentina-born stopper’s accomplished display, bottom-of-the-table Crystal Palace might well have pulled off a shock result.

- Paul Fennessy

3. Has Unsworth gone out with a bang?

Everton v Watford - Premier League - Goodison Park Everton caretaker manager David Unsworth (right) celebrates victory with Dominic Calvert-Lewin. Source: Peter Byrne

If today proves to be David Unsworth’s last game as Everton’s caretaker manager, he has certainly bowed out in memorable fashion.

After Christian Kabasele put Watford 2-0 up at Goodison Park on 64 minutes, the game appeared to be all over.

Yet the Toffees rallied, thanks in part to some wise substitutions by the stand-in manager.

Three second-half changes saw Ademola Lookman, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Aaron Lennon replace Beni Baningime, Wayne Rooney and Gylfi Sigurðsson respectively.

The result was an improbable comeback, with Calvert-Lewin scoring and Lennon winning the stoppage time penalty from which they scored.

Everton, whose win earlier took them out of the relegation zone, have not enjoyed much luck this season, but they certainly benefited from the rub of the green late on, as Tom Cleverley missed a 101st-minute penalty to send the majority of the crowd home happy.

Reports indicate this afternoon’s match is likely to Unsworth’s last game in charge. While his caretaker reign had previously been short on thrills, Toffees supporters certainly won’t forget this aftenoon’s exhilarating finale in a hurry.

- Paul Fennessy

4. Stunning Mohamed Salah knows no limits

There are two qualities that make Mohamed Salah a wonderful footballer to watch week on week. There is his proficiency in front of goal, which has seen him score 12 goals in all competitions this season, and there is the brilliant style of quick, direct, electric play that only makes his talent shine further.

There have been and will continue to be many brilliant goalscoring forwards in the Premier League, however the unique combination of lightning pace, killer precision and ruthless efficiency in one-v-one situations, which Salah has played with for Liverpool this season, has been a striking sight to behold.

Not only is he the club’s top goalscorer playing from the wing, but in terms of Liverpool’s top goal scorers season on season — Owen, Torres, Sturridge — Salah is approaching Luis Suarez-levels of proficiency in front of goal.

Yesterday’s brace against West Ham could have easily been a hat-trick. In fact, Slaven Bilic’s side were so bad that Salah could have grabbed four, owing to the shambolic defensive lapses, which contributed to the 4-1 outcome at the London Stadium.

The Egyptian’s double put a shine on a Liverpool performance that had manager Jurgen Klopp unashamedly grinning from ear to ear at the final whistle, with Salah now needing just three more goals to become the Reds’ highest goal-scoring individual in a season since Suarez in 2014 — and it’s only November.

His £37 million price tag raised some eyebrows during the transfer window following his last stint in the Premier League with Chelsea, which proved disappointing. Now, however, he appears to be the signing of the summer.

- Aaron Gallagher

5. No end in sight for Man City’s unbeaten streak

It is a testament to just how impressive Manchester City have been this season to say that their 3-1 win against Arsenal on Sunday afternoon could have been even more emphatic.

To score three goals against what would normally have been deemed a ‘top-four opponent’ is impressive in itself.

But the regularity with which Pep Guardiola’s side are casting teams aside regardless of their position on the Premier League spectrum — battling relegation, mid-table, even clubs with Champions League football in mind — shows how much of a force the Blues are this season.

Sunday’s win was their 23rd consecutive victory in all competitions. It means they have taken 31 points from a possible 33 in the Premier League and have also already booked their place in the last 16 of the Champions League, following Wednesday’s impressive 4-2 away win against Napoli.

Skeptics said it was too early to call City title contenders in September and subsequent doubters said titles weren’t won in October.

But now — with significant wins such as a 5-0 hammering of Liverpool, a 1-0 victory at Stamford Bridge against champions Chelsea, a 4-2 defeat of Serie A title hopefuls Napoli and today’s triumph — their title credentials are looking stronger than ever.

Manchester United’s 1-0 loss to Chelsea on Sunday evening means City are now eight points clear at the top of the table.

The real test as a European superpower will come in the latter stages of the Champions League and also against their nearest title rivals United and Tottenham, who they are yet to play.

But City remain undefeated in all competitions in the 2017-18 campaign and following the ease with which they disposed of the Gunners, it is very difficult to see where Guardiola’s first defeat of the campaign will come.

- Aaron Gallagher

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