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The Score: Our verdict on all 20 Premier League teams after Gameweek 17

The mighty Dyche, worrying form of one City player, Mohammed Kudus looks like an absolute steal and Roy Hodgson's cheeky grin

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A brilliant weekend for Arsenal and Aston Villa, who saw clubs beneath them drop points with stuttering performances or shambolic late collapses. The Gunners are not title favourites yet, but they have a chance to ramp up the pressure with Manchester City off to the Club World Cup.

The weekend was dominated by the awful news that Tom Lockyer had collapsed at Bournemouth, causing the game to understandably be abandoned and the Luton captain mercifully recovering in hospital.

Elsewhere, this was the weekend that Sean Dyche went back to Burnley and showed why he is one of the best managers in the business in a specific set of circumstances. Everton have won four games without conceding in a row for the first time in over two decades.

Scroll down for my analysis on every team below (listed in table order)…

This weekend’s results

Friday 15 December

  • Nottm Forest 0-2 Tottenham

Saturday 16 December

  • Chelsea 2-0 Sheff Utd
  • Man City 2-2 Crystal Palace
  • Newcastle 3-0 Fulham
  • Burnley 0-2 Everton
  • Bournemouth vs Luton – match abandoned

Sunday 10 December


At half-time, a familiar refrain. Arsenal were guilty of not quite creating the golden chance from open play but were certainly dominant. The chances they did create had all been squandered. Arsenal had 16 shots in the first 45 minutes against Brighton but had no lead.

In the second half, another familiar story. Arsenal did finally break the resistance of their opponents but required a set piece to open the door. For all Arsenal’s free-flowing excellence last season during their title challenge, this season they have frequently been sticky in open play until the first goal goes in and forces their opponents to come out and play.

Everton have scored 10 goals from set-piece situations this season. Them being one of only two teams to have reached double figures is no surprise, given the identity of their manager. The other team is Arsenal. That total is abetted by the number of penalties they have won, but it’s still the case that Mikel Arteta’s team are having to squeeze out goals however they can.


Mustering 34 shots at goal, their most in a single Premier League match since such records started to be collected 20 years ago, suggests Liverpool could, and should, still be celebrating another hammering of their old foes at Anfield.

The fact the best chance in the match actually fell to Manchester United tells you all you need to know about a Liverpool side who were all mouth and no trousers in front of the biggest crowd on the red half of Merseyside in half a century.

Liverpool have very much rediscovered their mojo this season, playing some of the best attacking football seen around these parts since their title-winning season, but their tactics in the final 20 minutes on Sunday compromised giving the ball to a right-back, pushed forward into central midfield, and see what happened.

Other than a first-half Andre Onana stop from a Virgil van Dijk header, and a flying save to deny Mohamed Salah in the second half, Liverpool’s efforts at goal were mainly from distance, with their overall output lacking in the ingenuity that has been their calling card since Jurgen Klopp walked through the door.

The hosts’ inability to pick the final pass – hence Klopp moving Alexander-Arnold further forward – will be the most concerning issue for Klopp to overcome, in a title race where any slight slipup could see Arsenal, Manchester City or even Aston Villa pull clear.

Where in the past Fabinho could drive them from deep, Jordan Henderson kept the intensity levels turned up to the maximum and Thiago Alcantara could instigate an attack with a myriad of aesthetically-pleasing, defence-splitting passes, their midfield engine room is not quite of the required standard yet this term.

Dominik Szoboszlai was taken off early again, having offered very little, Ryan Gravenberch also hooked after an ineffective display. Wataru Endo has impressed since arriving on our shores, but the occasion on Sunday seemed to get the better of him.

Their flying front three can only do so much. Late goals winners have dragged Liverpool over the line in several recent matches. While the improvement this season has been marked, they still have some way to go, as a collective, to reach previous highs. By Pete Hall

Aston Villa

It took a brainfade from Ben Mee, but over their last three away games, Aston Villa have answered a couple of the questions that forced us to caveat our expectations for this magical season.

Before the victory at Tottenham on November 26, Unai Emery had won twice away from home in the league since April 4, at Burnley and Chelsea. They have since won at Spurs and Brentford, two typically hard grounds at which to win. This is important because it ensures that the momentum is not generated by the ridiculous home run only to dissipate when they leave Villa Park.

But it’s the manner of these results that matter too. Again before Spurs, Villa had fallen behind away from home at Forest, Wolves, Liverpool, Newcastle, Wolves again (in May), and Manchester United. The point they got at Molineux in October was the only time in that run that Villa had turned a deficit into even one point.

In their last three away games, Villa have conceded first against Spurs and won with Ollie Watkins scoring the winner, twice fallen behind against Bournemouth and got a point because Watkins scored a late equaliser and won at Brentford with Watkins scoring a late equaliser. These are delightful habits to pick up.

Man City

Saturday’s defeat was not on him, instead a combination of complacency that the game was won but without total control because Manchester City are more chaotic this season and it’s angering Pep Guardiola immensely. But I think we need to talk about Julian Alvarez’s form.

At Luton last weekend, Alvarez lost the ball repeatedly through slack first touches. Here again, no player on the pitch lost the ball after a poor first touch than his three. Alvarez has two assists and one goal in his last 10 City matches and he’s now on an eight-game scoreless streak in the Premier League. His poor form has coincided with City dropping silly points.

Alvarez is still relatively young, but I don’t think this is one of the inevitable dips that occur when a player is developing because he will turn 24 next month and he already has plenty enough experience.

Instead, I think that he and City are being punished for not buying another attacking option in the summer. Last season, Alvarez contributed to City’s success in multiple competitions because he was not expected to carry the can. He started 13 league games and only four in the Champions League, all of which were group stage matches. He was City’s “finisher”, brought on as a substitute a remarkable 30 times in all competitions. That role suited Alvarez.

Even before Erling Haaland’s injury, Alvarez was being asked to take on a different role. From the most-used substitute, Alvarez is now one of only two City players (Kyle Walker being the other) to start every Premier League match this season. Alvarez has only started once in the Champions League – that role has stayed the same.

And look what’s happened. In the Champions League, where Alvarez has retained last season’s role, he has scored four goals in 155 minutes. In the Premier League, where he’s had to start every game and occasionally lead the line, he has scored four goals in 1,417 minutes.


Three weeks ago, the talk was of Richarlison drinking in Tottenham Hotspur’s last-chance saloon. It always felt hasty, given his own struggles for form and fitness and confidence before Ange Postecoglou’s time, but you could see the point: £60m for two league goals is nobody’s idea of value.

Now, with Son Heung-min’s Asian Cup duty around the corner and with three goals in two games, Richarlison will be the de facto leader of a forward line aiming to re-establish a top-four place and that isn’t a reason for widespread fear. Last season, he did kick-ups at the City Ground and rival fans joked that it was the highlight of Richarlison’s season. This one might get better.

Postecoglou has been keen to stress that there were multiple mitigating factors.

“Everything was a bit of a struggle for him when I first got here,” Spurs’ manager said in the build-up to Friday’s game at Forest.

“You could tell he wasn’t able to play or move as freely as he wanted to and he was kind of labouring through things.

“Whereas since he’s come back, you see him at training and even before the game at the weekend, he feels more like himself in terms of what he can do physically.”

It’s a very easy answer in the week after Richarlison has scored twice, but he clearly does look different. It’s not just the demeanour – nothing looks sadder than a confidence forward scratching through his professional life. Richarlison is sprinting more and finding the pockets of space that he didn’t dare dash into last season. Son will clearly be missed, but if it means Richarlison has the honour of carrying the responsibility while he’s gone, it might just work out perfectly.


A welcome return to form after three straight defeats, courtesy of a helping hand/bottom from Raul Jimenez. The home league form is always likely to be the last thing to go. Newcastle United have now won seven straight home matches for the first time since the days of Sir Bobby Robson in 2003.

But, as always now seems to be the case, the result was overshadowed by more bad injury news. Fabian Schar limped from the field during the first 15 minutes. He was quickly followed by Joelinton.

This is what people miss about the cyclical nature of injury crises. If a smallish squad, competing in multiple competitions, gets two or three injuries/absentees to senior players in key positions, it forces others to overwork. In Newcastle’s case, let’s say Sven Botman and Joe Willock, plus the extended ban for Sandro Tonali. It forces the deputies to start almost every game in every competition to cover for the absentees.

Newcastle United's Swiss defender #05 Fabian Schar reacts after picking up an injury during the English Premier League football match between Newcastle United and Fulham at St James' Park in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, north east England on December 16, 2023. (Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or 'live' services. Online in-match use limited to 120 images. An additional 40 images may be used in extra time. No video emulation. Social media in-match use limited to 120 images. An additional 40 images may be used in extra time. No use in betting publications, games or single club/league/player publications. / (Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN/AFP via Getty Images)
Newcastle’s Fabian Schar suffered a hamstring injury against Fulham (Photo: Getty)

This season so far, Schar has played more league minutes than every other Newcastle player and he’s also played every minute of their Champions League campaign. Joelinton played every game, got a hamstring injury and then promptly played every game again. He’s also been to South America during two different international breaks this season to play for Brazil.

When players do that, they become more at risk of soft tissue injuries. And what muscle is most likely in sports that require a series of sprints and stops? Hamstring strains or pulls. Both Joelinton and Schar suffered hamstring injuries against Fulham.

And so it continues. Now other players who need a break are unlikely to get one because their teammates are injured. Newcastle face a Carabao Cup quarter-final at Chelsea this midweek and then three games in nine days over Christmas before the FA Cup third round. Drawing Sunderland means that Eddie Howe can hardly afford to pick the stiffs in that one either.

Man Utd

Just as the New York Post proclaimed back in 2010 as the US shocked England by holding the Three Lions to a 1-1 draw, Manchester United’s stalemate at Anfield was their biggest win of the season.

Pre-match, everyone was checking for record defeat stats. No Harry Maguire or skipper Bruno Fernandes for the first time since November last year gave a United side on its knees an even more vulnerable look.

Everything that has been lacking so far this season, however, decided to make a long overdue appearance at Anfield.

United fought for every ball, making a mockery of reports that the dressing room is unwilling to go into battle for the manager. Liverpool were not at their best, but nobody expected them needing to have to be, not against a team looking to avoid a 13th defeat of the season even before Santa has passed down the chimney.

While United had one touch in the Liverpool penalty area in the first half – their lowest tally in 45 minutes of Premier League football on record – they did also show, in glimpses, after the break of what they could do going forward.

Rasmus Hojlund should have scored from the game’s best chance, as should Alejandro Garnacho after appearing to have the beating of Trent Alexander-Arnold.

Defensively, however, is where United earned their spurs. Raphael Varane was superb, as was centre-back partner Jonny Evans. Luke Shaw did not put a foot wrong, despite not being quite fully fit, and neither did Diogo Dalot, before his downright bizarre sending off late on for two bookings, in quick succession, both for dissent against a glaringly poor decision from referee Michael Oliver. Even error-prone Andre Onana was impenetrable.

It is a low bar this season, but as a collective, considering who they were facing, this is as good as it has been for United in their campaign of woe.

Even in the games they have won, United have often been second best, from their opening-day victory against a Wolves team who swarmed all over them at time, to their win over Chelsea two weeks ago, when the visitors missed a hatful of glaring openings.

Now at least, for the first time in a long while, United’s players appear to want to at least try to turn the tide. By Pete Hall

West Ham

West Ham United's Mohammed Kudus (left) celebrates scoring their side's first goal of the game during the Premier League match at the London Stadium, London. Picture date: Sunday December 17, 2023. PA Photo. See PA story SOCCER West Ham. Photo credit should read: Mike Egerton/PA Wire RESTRICTIONS: EDITORIAL USE ONLY No use with unauthorised audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or "live" services. Online in-match use limited to 120 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications.
West Ham United’s Mohammed Kudus celebrates scoring against Wolves (Photo: PA)

This was much more like what West Ham supporters have been asking for, a team that makes the most of its attacking weapons rather than keeping them on a leash. Jarrod Bowen was pushing higher up the pitch and stayed central – he is the third-highest scorer in the Premier League and the highest scoring Englishman.

That left Lucas Paqueta and Mohammed Kudus free to roam behind them in search of mischief – both were sensational. Paqueta provided a hattrick of assists and Kudus scored twice, but just as impressive is their work off the ball and their strength when protecting it in possession. Both have supreme skill, but neither are luxury players.

Kudus is increasingly looking like a steal at £38m, a player capable of lifting a game on his own and one who bigger clubs should be cursing themselves for not taking a chance on. One of those was the subject of some criticism by Marco van Basten.

“I find Mohammed Kudus a much better football player than Antony,” Van Basten said in February. “Antony has his skills, but he is confused with the things he is trying to do. Kudus has much better technique and he knows what he is doing.

“Antony may be faster, but Kudus is smarter and more technical. He is much more of a footballer, you can place him anywhere on the pitch, an all-rounder for the team. In fact, I like him much better than Antony. He’s more fun to watch play.”

That assessment has not aged badly in the 10 months since.


The Brighton post-European hangover continues. Their results immediately after their last four Europa League results: 1-1 vs Fulham (h), 1-1 vs Sheffield United (h), 2-3 vs Chelsea (a), 0-2 vs Arsenal (a).

This weekend’s defeat is clearly the one that comes with the most forgiveness, but some of that evaporates when you watch the game back. This was the first time that Brighton have failed to score in 33 Premier League games, but they didn’t even have their first shot until the 64th minute. That makes it the first time in 49 league games that they have failed to have a single shot in the first half.

Brighton can pick up results if they play their chaos football, where both teams have chances because they play so man-to-man off the ball that any loss of individual battle leaves them vulnerable. But if they are unable to make anything happen on the ball and simultaneously allow 26 shots at their own goal, they aren’t going to get many points. At least the Europa League is on hiatus until the spring.


LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 16: Cole Palmer of Chelsea during the Premier League match between Chelsea FC and Sheffield United at Stamford Bridge on December 16, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Crystal Pix/MB Media/Getty Images)
Chelsea’s Cole Palmer looks fit for purpose (Photo: Getty)

This has been an abysmal half-season by any reasonable standard, and nobody is about to start lavishing praise upon Chelsea for beating Sheffield United at home when that’s what just about every other team has done.

But in Cole Palmer, Chelsea do actually have a young player who looks fit for purpose now rather than in two years’ time. At 21, he is Chelsea’s second highest league goalscorer this season, their second highest assist provider, their second highest shot taker and their second highest chance creator. Want to know why that’s quite amusing? Palmer has played 964 minutes, which ranks 10th at Chelsea.

The Chelsea cynic – to which we can include everybody who isn’t a Chelsea fan and roughly 70 per cent of the people who are – would say that this is what happens when you sign a player from an elite academy where everything works and a pathway is established. Come back in 18 months and the danger might be that Palmer has got more Chelsea rather than Chelsea getting more of Palmer – that would be a huge shame.

But for now, let’s at least try and be positive. If you can flourish in this mad maelstrom, you can cope anywhere. Palmer seems able, even at such a young age, not just to ignore the circus around him but to make the Big Top show run smoothly.


I think that it might be the weirdest sending-off that I can remember in the Premier League, and certainly was the type of foul I’ve never seen before, so let’s break it down. Raul Jimenez started scoring goals, so we knew something had got weird. Then he performed what can only be described as a kung-fu-turned-anus-charge on Sean Longstaff.

The initial movement is absolutely brainless. With the ball at waist height, but with both he and Longstaff off the ground, Jimenez had his foot outstretched and aimed at Longstaff’s chest. At that point, he is probably two feet away from the ball and the same distance away from connecting with his opponent.

That is what gets him sent off. What we presume happens at this point is that Jimenez realises that he has lost his head and is about to do something incredibly stupid. He lowers his foot to avoid the worst of the contact, but at that point his momentum is so powerful that he has little option but to turn and barge into Longstaff’s face with what we will euphemistically call his lower-lower back.

To those who tried to claim that it shouldn’t be a red card because he lowered his leg and so avoided the potential for serious injury: no. If you barge someone in the face with your body because you were in midair and so couldn’t stop yourself, when the ball was never in a position to be won with such an action, you’ve basically hit the sweet spot of “reckless”.

Obviously, Marco Silva suggested that the referee shouldn’t have been given the fixture because he is inexperienced after the game. Because that’s what happens now when your striker does something utterly stupid to get himself sent off and you lose 3-0.


Thomas Frank has been here before. Brentford lost seven out of eight league games during a run in January and February of their first Premier League season and they still finished 13th. But they have now lost five in six and they are suffering from the long list of absentees we mentioned last week. Ben Mee being suspended for a straight red card won’t help.

Frank will be mighty relieved that his team enjoyed that bump of form in late October when he at least had a fit forward line with options on the bench. Around those three straight wins over Burnley, Chelsea and West Ham, Brentford have taken four points from a possible 30.

But the main talking point from the game was Ollie Watkins’ angry celebration that led to many Brentford supporters criticising their former striker online, about which I wanted to make a point. Loyalty is a two-way street. If you have a former player who you are very fond of and them fond of you, that only lasts for as long as the player is treated with human decency by supporters.

If Watkins says that his family was being abused by a supporter behind the goal, not only are we inclined to believe him but we should congratulate him on celebrating the way he did. If supporters don’t like it, regulate those who created the situation with their abuse.


A second infuriating performance on the spin, and a significant step backwards since the home win over Tottenham. Victory over Burnley a fortnight ago was grubby, earned despite Wolves having seven shots in 101 minutes. Since then Wolves were fortunate not to lose to Nottingham Forest, the team in the worst form in the Premier League, and were then swatted aside by West Ham.

There appear to be two problems, one short-term and simple and the other longer-term and more worrying:

1) Daniel Bentley seems to concede quite a high number of goals from shots that aren’t hit with huge power or aren’t directed right into the corners of his goal. He also seems to get wrong-footed quite easily, with Kudus’ first goal being the perfect example.

2) Wolves have picked up a very annoying habit of conceding the first goals in games and thus giving themselves a lot to do to pick up points. The one exception over their last nine league matches was the 1-0 home win against Burnley.

Gary O’Neil’s side have won at Bournemouth, at home to Tottenham and taken points against Tottenham and Forest despite conceding first – the manager would presumably prefer to focus on their resilience. But you can’t afford to keep chasing games every week because eventually you’ll come up against proficient deep blocks.


Go to Luton’s section to read why Bournemouth’s performance doesn’t matter this weekend. 

Crystal Palace

Crystal Palace's manager Roy Hodgson couldn't wipe the grin off his face (Photo: Getty)
Crystal Palace’s manager Roy Hodgson couldn’t wipe the grin off his face (Photo: Getty)

It will be one of the images of the season, Roy Hodgson smirking in the direction of Pep Guardiola, who reacts furiously as his Manchester City team inexplicably snatches a draw from the hands of victory. There is an innocence to Hodgson’s expression, as if to say “No, obviously I have no idea quite how this happened either”.

It is a crucial point, not just because it will buy Hodgson a little time but because it proves that his players are still fighting. They saw a window open unexpectedly and smashed it open to climb through. That rails against the supposition that this is a club acquiescing to its own slide down the table.

But it has also become the bizarre par for the course in this fixture. Crystal Palace’s hold over Manchester City is one of the weirdest patterns over the last half decade in the Premier League. It began on 22 December, 2018, during Guardiola’s second season when Palace won 3-2 at the Etihad despite going 1-0 down. Since then, Palace have drawn 2-2 at the same ground thanks to an injury-time Fernandinho own goal, won 2-0 there in October 2021 and drawn 0-0 at home to City in March.

“I thought it was coming at the end of last season but it was prolonged by the club asking me to stay on for this season,” said Hodgson on his Palace future this week. “That is what I am doing. I don’t have any plans or any thoughts beyond that. I want to do well this season, I want to help the club have a good season and that will be me finished with Crystal Palace Football Club.”

It hardly jumped out as a motivational pre-match speech, but then that’s just the all-conquering anti-logic of this fixture. Palace have City’s number at the Etihad and nothing makes sense anymore.


Sean Dyche is cooking something up at Everton (Photo: Getty)

A few Everton statistics for you:

– They have just recorded four straight Premier League wins for the first time since 2020.

– They have just recorded four straight Premier League wins without conceding a goal for the first time since 2002.

– No team in the Premier League has won more away games this season than Everton this season.

All hail Sean Dyche, who has used the siege mentality and underdog spirit garnered since the points deduction to embark upon the best run of his career since Burnley won five straight in 2018. He has won more Premier League matches this season than Roberto De Zerbi, which is something he might well be telling anyone who will listen over the Christmas period.

Nottm Forest

If this is to be the end of Steve Cooper at Nottingham Forest, a wild, magical journey that has fizzled out to make everyone feel glum, he at least went out on his own terms. Just as at Wolves last weekend, there was fight from a team largely selected from last season’s roster. Cooper was serenaded with his song before and after kick-off. They love him here and they always will.

Over the last two games, Cooper has returned to his typical pragmatism. If you’re going to get sacked soon, so the logic goes, you might as well do it on your own terms. Forest sacrificed possession and did concede two early chances, but battled to grow into the contest and began to make Tottenham panic with their midfield tenacity.

This was Angeball vs angerball. Forest appointed a set-piece coach this week, and he will quickly learn that central defender Moussa Niakhate has a standing throw-in technique like a catapult. As is the theme of Forest’s misfortune, the chances created fell to those who would put finishing a long way down their resumé and, when they did score, VAR intervened due to an offside. Ain’t that just the way that things go down.

Ryan Yates has been the personification of the attempted fightback. He is something precious around here, at a club that has signed 44 players since the start of last summer: an academy graduate. That can mean nothing at all or it can mean everything. When you watch Yates haring around the pitch, celebrating tackles in front of supporters and broken when his team concede a goal, you know how much it means to him.

These are not the games that will decide Cooper’s fate, whoever is waiting to go next. They only ever asked to compete against better teams, and have. It was the dispiriting collapses against Luton, Everton and Fulham that may cause the departure of the most popular manager Trentside since Cloughie through this extended goodbye. That will be a source of great lament during the winter and beyond.


The only thing that matters is that Tom Lockyer is now responsive and therefore in the first stages of recovery. For a while, that was all we could hope for. Because of Christian Eriksen’s on-pitch collapse – the uniqueness of it as a universally televised incident, his the high profile of the player and the grim reality of what we all knew it might mean – when a player collapses you cannot help but make the same mental leap and land at a terrible destination. Others have not been so lucky – Lockyer was.

It will provoke questions and some of those questions will be deeply uneasy. Lockyer was cleared to play but it seems unlikely that this was coincidental. The guidelines around those all-clear verdicts for elite sportspeople may have to be examined because, again, health is all that matters.

Then will come the sorrow. It is likely that Lockyer’s professional career is over and, if true, that is a bitter blow to the Premier League’s extended community. Lockyer was playing non-league football in 2015, League Two in 2016, League One as recently as 2019 and then moved to Luton. At Kenilworth Road and in the Championship, he was forced to fight for his place but eventually earned the captaincy and promotion.

At 29, this was a rejuvenated career with chapters still to write: Luton’s survival bid in their maiden Premier League season, Wales’ push for Euro 2024, a first appearance at a major tournament having failed to get a single minute in Qatar. Lockyer had earned all three through his commitment to his improvement as a footballer and captain and it has likely been taken away.

But we end where we started. That all means nothing now. Health is the only thing that matters. This was an afternoon of disparate emotions: horror and relief, gratitude and lament. It ends with a needed reminder that football is not worth everything and a message of love and best wishes to Lockyer and his family.


The focus from supporters will understandably be on another dispiriting home performance and result, giving more evidence to the theory that the emphatic victory over Sheffield United was simply Burnley – and Vincent Kompany – offering proof that this is a very good Championship team rather than a side with a strategy that is capable of Premier League consolidation.

The opponent was clearly pertinent too. The Royal Dyche still serves before and after the game, a short walk down Harry Potts Way from Turf Moor. They remember Dyche incredibly fondly here for his work. If there is widespread agreement that Kompany was the right man to take Burnley back up, and that Dyche’s methods had stopped working before his departure in April 2022, it’s pretty obvious that he would be a better manager than Kompany for organising a team to be difficult to beat right now.

However, I wanted to make a different point. In July, striker Lyle Foster spoke about suffering with depression. In November, Burnley revealed that Foster would be taking some time out to get specialist mental health help, having not appeared in the Premier League since 21 October.

Foster came on as a substitute on Saturday evening. That does not mean he has fully recovered and does not mean that he will not suffer setbacks in his recovery. But it is a sign of progress within that recovery journey and that is to be celebrated. All evidence suggests that Burnley and Kompany have handled Foster’s mental health situation with great professionalism and kindness. For that, we should thank them too.

Sheff Utd

Speaking after the 2-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge, Chris Wilder bemoaned the naivety of his team during the opening 15 minutes of the second half.

“It was just a mad 15 minutes at the start of the second half, where our naivety shone through,” Wilder said. “As a young, inexperienced team. It sometimes happens. I thought we were in a good place up until half time, the shape of the team was good and the distances, back to front, were good.

“We were naive in opening the game up. That isn’t being over-critical of them because the exuberance of youth and inexperience shone through there. We chased the game in the first 10 or 15 minutes and made the game big. They wanted the game to be big, they wanted you to open up.”

That’s an interesting assessment because it tells us everything about what Wilder wants this team to be, particularly away from home where Sheffield United have only taken a single point this season. He wants them to stay incredibly compact throughout and look to nick goals in the final 20 minutes of the game.

And that makes complete sense. During the season that Wilder took Sheffield United to ninth, his team scored 15 away goals in 19 games. They scored equalising goals – that ended in a draw – in the 78th, 80th. 83rd, 88th and 89th minutes that season. This is the blueprint and Wilder will be frustrated to have done half a job before squandering the positives.

But as Wilder points out, this is an inexperienced team, far away from those soldiers of 2019-20. Then, Wilder had the fifth oldest average starting XI in the division; now it’s the sixth youngest. He has attackers who want to express themselves and that will take some reformatting.

There are two other issues that jump out. Oli McBurnie can be a useful physical presence as the central striker, no doubt. But he must also improve his ability to hold up the ball for precious seconds if Sheffield United are going to sit deep. Otherwise, possession is lost before anyone has got high enough up the pitch to join him. It’s something that he and David McGoldrick did well in rotation in 2019-20.

Also, the Blades must improve their resistance to counter-pressing, namely the pressure they attract from opponents in the seconds immediately after winning possession. They did indeed play well for periods at Stamford Bridge. They also repeatedly ceded possession shortly after winning it and that is a surefire way to cause yourself defensive headaches.

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