Premier League: 10 talking points from the weekend’s action

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Klopp’s underperformers pull their socks up, fearsome Fornals proves his worth and Foxes could mount a title challenge

Key men: West Ham’s Pablo Fornals; Trent Alexander-Arnold with Jürgen Klopp at Liverpool, and Leicester’s Youri Tielemans. Composite: Getty/Rex

The  Guardian-Guardian sport

1) Liverpool put the doom-mongering in perspective

A season that looked at once stage like a bona fide catastrophe for Liverpool has not only ended on a high but with a handful of their more maligned performers getting them over the line. Alisson put an error-riddled season behind him with last week’s glorious header. Trent Alexander-Arnold returned to the form that marks him out as a captain-in-waiting. Thiago Alcântara, whose integration to the side coincided with its calamitous downturn in form, swaggered majestically through the run-in. And Sadio Mané finished a campaign to forget with the goals that set the stage for next season. Which is not to say all is suddenly rosy at Anfield – the squad is getting no younger and one of Europe’s best midfielders has bid the club goodbye – but any talk of crumbling dynasties has been proved wildly premature. It says much about Jürgen Klopp that the most miserable year of his Liverpool tenure concluded with him grinning manically as he soaked up the acclaim of rapturous fans. Alex Hess

2) Guardiola’s winning machine looks set to rumble on

When Jürgen Klopp said after Crystal Palace were beaten that this season was not Liverpool’s to claim the title he implied next may well be. And it could, of course. But following Manchester City’s 5-0 rout of Everton the sense was of a manager in Pep Guardiola who was supremely intent on retaining the championship. When August comes around the Catalan may well have the 30-goal striker he desires – perhaps Harry Kane – and at this juncture the prospects of Liverpool, Manchester United or anyone else challenging City feel remote. But then, so did City becoming champions again when they fell far behind Tottenham in the early part of this campaign. Then again, if City were to sign no one thissummer they would still start as favourites next term whatever Klopp and company do in the market. Over to you, then, Jürgen … Jamie Jackson

3) The right signings could make Foxes title challengers

A run of five defeats in nine games at a cost of Champions League FootballTM sounds like a miserable, ignoble way to end a season. But few fans get nostalgic for that time they qualified for a competition while, on the other hand, those who follow Leicester will be glorying in their FA Cup win until the end of times, and nothing that happened since diminishes that. Nevertheless, they do need to stop this from happening. Like their rivals at the top of the table they have a lot of good players, but unlike them they lack the elite-level talents who redeem injuries and poor form. Boubakary Soumaré, reportedly en route from Lille, has potential, but the onus is on those players already at the club to step up, with Youri Tielemans, Harvey Barnes and Wesley Fofana looking most likely. If they can, Leicester will not just challenge for the top four but for the title. Daniel Harris

 

4) Kids give United momentum as European final looms

Ole Gunnar Solskjær applauded the efforts of his changed team as they extended their unbeaten away record to 26 league games with a 2-1 win at Wolves. “I was very proud of the players today, I thought they were excellent,” he said. “It was a real Man United performance, with loads of kids. Hannibal [Mejbri] made his debut, Anthony [Elanga] scored his first goal, so I’m really proud of the team.” The United manager also praised La Liga’s decision to bring Villarreal’s game forward to Saturday, ahead of Wednesday’s Uefa Cup final, but was pleased the Premier League hadn’t done the same. “If we’d played the game yesterday, I’d have played a different team. But I’m glad I didn’t because we got this win.” Peter Lansley

5) Arsenal do not need a revolution despite season of woe

On seeing Bernd Leno, Granit Xhaka and Alexandre Lacazette head down the Emirates Stadium tunnel it was hard not to wonder whether a number of Arsenal’s senior players have worn the shirt for the last time. Some are known to be considering a move – a state of mind that is easier to understand now European football cannot be achieved – and the scale of rebuild Mikel Arteta must undertake this summer remains to be seen. Whoever stays or goes, Arteta has a tough balance to strike: no one will look back on this season fondly but Arsenal have still finished only six points shy of the Champions League places and, for whatever it is worth, are second in the form table since Boxing Day. Arteta stressed after the win over Brighton that the level required to reach the top four gets ever higher. He needs to add several quality players to have a chance of achieving that but perhaps there is an argument that, given the recent uptick in fortunes, he should be wary of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Nick Ames

6) Hard work pays of for wily Fornals

Pablo Fornals looked like yet another expensive mistake when he joined West Ham two years ago. The Spaniard took a while to adjust to the pace of the Premier League and was ineffective at the start of last season. Yet Fornals does not know when to quit. He knuckled down in an attempt to prove himself and has become a key figure in David Moyes’s rejuvenated side. Fornals sets the tone with his work rate off the ball and he has become more effective in the final third season. His movement is clever and, although his finishing needs to improve, he was in the right place when West Ham needed someone to settle their nerves against Southampton. It was Fornals who put them on course to finishing sixth with two clinical goals before half-time. He is improving all the time and will surely not look out of place in the Europa League next season. Jacob Steinberg

7) Loan rangers leave Fulham and Newcastle short-staffed

Fulham and Newcastle have endured frighteningly underwhelming seasons but both had enjoyed some positives. Sadly, the majority have come courtesy of players on loan who are unlikely to stay. Fulham’s star men have been Alphonse Areola and Joachim Andersen, with a special nod to Ademola Lookman and, to a lesser extent, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Josh Maja. Due to the club’s relegation, they will all return to their parent clubs, to be sold off to the highest bidder, leaving Scott Parker to find five new signings to help bring Fulham back up, which is not a great business model. Joe Willock has spearheaded Newcastle’s survival with his penchant for consistently scoring goals. Unfortunately for Newcastle, his fine performances have proven he could have a role at Arsenal, nor is it likely Mike Ashley would stump up fee it would take to lure Willock back next season, leaving Steve Bruce scratching his head in the search for someone as dynamic as his latest loanee. Will Unwin

8) Chelsea strike it lucky but poor form is a concern

If league form is anything to go by, the prospect of a Champions League final tends to put the frights up Chelsea. In 2008 they drew at home to Bolton in a title race that went to the final day and four years later Roberto Di Matteo’s side slumped to sixth ahead of their big trip to Munich. The fact that the two finals in question bore one win and one defeat – each by the narrowest of margins – suggests that this history means little for the prospects of Thomas Tuchel’s side, but the recent wobble will have unnerved a manager staring down the barrel of successive defeats on the biggest stage of all. To overcome Manchester City, Chelsea will need plenty of self-assurance and a healthy source of goals, neither of which has been evident of late. The manager’s rekindling job has been hugely impressive but at the end of it all his side are set to line up in Porto with Kepa Arrizabalaga at one end and Timo Werner at the other. Tuchel is in for a sleepless week. Alex Hess

9) Bielsa can deliver even more next term

Marcelo Bielsa will be at Leeds for a fourth consecutive season, and it is increasingly difficult to put a ceiling on what his side can achieve in their second season as a Premier League side. Sunday’s victory against West Bromwich Albion ensured a ninth-placed finish, Leeds’ best since the 2001-02 season. Whether the Whites can push for Europe next season is far from certain given the competition above them, but this feels like a squad yet to fulfil its potential. Rodrigo’s impressive form at the end of the season suggests his second season in England will be a strong one. And with plenty of young players coming through at Elland Road, coupled with Bielsa’s irrepressible style of play, there is little doubting that Leeds will be well worth watching again next season. Who knows how far this squad could go under his leadership. Aaron Bower

10) Blades must rediscover their sense of adventure

The many Sheffield United fans doing their utmost to forget the bleakest of top-flight campaigns will be disappointed to see it go down in history as the most severe case of second-season syndrome the Premier League has ever seen. Even Ipswich’s class of 2002 – relegated a year after qualifying for the Uefa Cup – put up something of fight against the drop, while United’s 31-point downturn from last term represents the biggest ever such decline from a relegated club. Quite what caused the capitulation of a side who spent last season cheerfully upsetting the odds and installing themselves as the neutrals’ favourites remains something of a mystery, but restoring that fearlessness should be top of the incoming coach’s priorities. Chris Wilder meanwhile stands as evidence of how quickly things can turn sour for a local hero whose visionary tactics and unorthodox methods had a squad of unremarkable players taking the top flight by storm. A lesson there for his beloved West Yorkshire neighbours? Alex Hess

 

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