Hits and misses: Toney makes perfect response to World Cup snub

Toney responds with majestic masterclass

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from the Premier League match between Manchester City and Brentford.

It wasn’t just Ivan Toney’s two goals at Manchester City that might have left Gareth Southgate wondering if he’d made the right decision not to take him to Qatar.

It was the way Toney played with a presence, almost a swagger up against the champions. In the very first minute he fancily flicked the ball into a team-mate. In the 97th, he flicked in the winner. From start to finish it was a statement performance.

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The Soccer Saturday panel react to Ivan Toney’s late winner for Brentford at the Etihad.

The only thing Toney did wrong was not scoring a hat-trick, but he gave himself the best chance with all six of his shots on target. He had the most touches of the ball out of any Brentford player and played the most passes of their outfielders. This was a masterclass in leading the line, bullying a defence, in the backyard of possibly the best team in the world.

The focus was naturally on Erling Haaland’s return to the City line-up yet Toney stole the show. He won’t be going to the World Cup with England, but he gave everyone a reminder of why he went mighty close to doing so.
David Richardson

Nunez emerging from Mane’s shadow

Darwin Nunez celebrates putting Liverpool back in front
Image: Darwin Nunez celebrates putting Liverpool back in front

Many fingers pointed towards Sadio Mane’s departure as one of the reasons Liverpool are not performing at the level of recent seasons this term.

A key figure in that argument was Mane’s replacement Darwin Nunez, who was not producing the numbers despite being an £85m arrival from Benfica.

But Nunez’s confident display against Southampton epitomises the confident forward the Uruguayan is now becoming. He now has seven goal contributions in his last seven Liverpool games in all competitions, six of those are goals.

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from the Premier League match between Liverpool and Southampton.

He took both chances expertly against the Saints. The first was a confident first-time finish by adjusting his body to reach a difficult ball – symbolising how he is starting to adjust to life in Merseyside despite the challenges of a new country.

The second saw him take the ball from Mohamed Salah’s toes – a sign of his intentions to become Liverpool’s main man not just this season but in the future.

Now Mane is becoming a distant memory at Anfield and there is a new in-form player in Liverpool’s ranks. Nunez can now be a key figure at this World Cup coming up for Uruguay and should his confidence continue, he is capable of a similar impact for Liverpool in the second half of the season.
Sam Blitz

Positives in defeat for Jones

A ninth Premier League defeat of the season saw Southampton slip to 19th in the Premier League table but this one felt a little different. Nathan Jones left Anfield empty-handed but with plenty to build on.

He had only had one full training session with his new players following his appointment as Ralph Hasenhuttl’s successor on Thursday but his impact could be seen in their performance.

There was a change of system, the 49-year-old switching to a back three, the same formation he used at Luton Town, but most striking was the positivity and adventurousness of their play.

Southampton attacked Liverpool from the start, striking back immediately after Roberto Firmino’s opener through the excellent Che Adams and throwing bodies forward at every opportunity.

There were defensive issues in the first half, when Darwin Nunez’s double ultimately took the game away from them, but Southampton approached the second period with even more energy and intent, forcing a string of fine saves from Alisson.

The outcome may have been different had one of those opportunities found the net. A goal would have certainly made for a nervy finale inside Anfield. But nobody could accuse Saints of lacking courage and there was plenty of industry too.

According to Premier League tracking data, Southampton covered more ground than Liverpool (114km to 112km) and registered 157 high-intensity sprints to the hosts’ 129.

The World Cup break will give Jones time to put his stamp on the side, but even in defeat there were glimmers of encouragement about what their future might hold under the Welshman.
Nick Wright

Everton should prepare for January now

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from the Premier League match between Bournemouth and Everton.

Ask any Evertonian, and they will tell you how regularly the club leave it until the final day of the January transfer window to complete the biggest chunk of their mid-season business.

But there can be no excuse this time. This time, it cannot pass by as a window remembered for the business that was not done.

This result peaks the anxiety among supporters. It is a squad weak on the ground and it is a group that looks jaded just 15 Premier League games into the season.

Lampard has worked through the thirds. He has a world-class goalkeeper behind a new centre-half pairing that look like they have been playing together for years. It is a defensive triangle to rival most top-half teams.

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Frank Lampard said he could understand why the Everton fans voiced their frustrations after the final whistle of the 3-0 defeat to Bournemouth.

The new midfield three – Amadou Onana, Alex Iwobi and Idrissa Gueye – are combative, tireless and mobile – in stark contrast to the lightweight imitations of previous years. But it lacks goals.

That would not be such a problem if the front three were scoring, but that is Lampard’s next act.

He has stabilised his side’s core but both he and director of football Kevin Thelwell spent the run-up to the summer Deadline Day looking for difference-makers in the final third. Unusually, Lampard now has six weeks before business can officially be concluded to get ahead.

Ben Brereton Diaz, a name mentioned in the summer, has continued scoring at Blackburn, but their elevated position as Championship title challengers makes the Chile striker attainable but only at a premium.

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There was a confrontation between Everton’s players and fans after the final whistle of their 3-0 defeat to Bournemouth.

Mohammed Kudus’ Champions League exploits and Cody Gakpo’s season in general with PSV prior to his World Cup call-up for the Netherlands mean the ship has sailed on those two targets.

The sprinkle of stardust on top should not wait until deep into January when significant strides can be made in these dormant World Cup weeks.

With Dominic Calvert-Lewin allowed to recover between now and Boxing Day, among others, the break has come at the right time for Everton. Now, Lampard has to put it to good use.
Ben Grounds

Barnes the underrated star of Leicester’s revival

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights of Leicester’s win at West Ham

It’s been quite the turnaround for Leicester in the last few weeks. While James Maddison’s headline-grabbing form has earned him a World Cup place and Wout Faes’ introduction hugely improving the Foxes’ defence, it’s arguably Harvey Barnes who has been the underrated star of the recent revival.

Let’s start with a stat – Barnes has registered 18 Premier League goal involvements in 2022 (10 goals 8 assists), a figure bettered by only four other English players (Kane 34, Maddison 23, Toney 23, Saka 19).

Two of those 10 goals have come in the last two Premier League outings and they were similar in timing. Against Everton last weekend, Barnes scored in the 86th minute to seal a 2-0 win. At the London Stadium, it was a 78th-minute goal to again secure a 2-0 victory. Both goals were of top quality and the 24-year-old has now scored in all five of Leicester’s Premier League wins this season.

Barnes was the driving force behind Leicester’s attack and you could hear the West Ham groans every time he flew down the left wing. Barnes had the joint highest number of shots in the Leicester side (2), the most dribbles and was involved in the most duels (14).

He had a hand in the Foxes opener too, showing superb anticipation for Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall’s drive into space. It’s that kind of football intelligence that will further drive Leicester up the league.

With the World Cup just eight days away too, it’s hard not to foresee which players could be included at Euro 2024. If Barnes continues on his current trajectory, you would expect him to be challenging for a place.

For now though, he will have six weeks to rest, recover and work on his game to further improve ahead of a busy second half of the season.
Charlotte Marsh

Why can’t West Ham finish?

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West Ham manager David Moyes says he understands the fans booing at full-time following his side’s defeat to Leicester.

It was another frustrating afternoon for West Ham. They lost a third successive Premier League game, which leaves them hovering perilously close to the relegation places heading into the World Cup break.

But it’s hard to see how they came away without finding the back of the net. The Hammers had 18 shots to Leicester’s nine and had the same number on target (6). The big difference though lies in the 2-0 scoreline – the Foxes were far more clinical.

On paper, West Ham have formidable attacking options, but they are just not firing. Jarrod Bowen, Gianluca Scamacca, Said Benrahma and Lucas Paqueta all missed chances, while Tomas Soucek had a goal ruled out for offside.

Let’s not forget Michail Antonio – who missed the game through illness – Pablo Fornals and Manuel Lanzini are pretty handy in front of goal too. But West Ham have still scored the third-lowest number of goals in the Premier League this season.

David Moyes went some way to try and explain his side’s lack of cutting edge this season: “We’ve done a lot of good things, but we just can’t find a way of scoring goals at the moment. Whatever we do, we just can’t find a way.

“We’ve not got our set-pieces as good as we had or whatever it may be. We’ve had lots of situations like that, goals in open play not as regular as we’d hope. But not for the want of trying or not trying to get that to work.”

Moyes also said he would rather his side went into the World Cup break in good form. Not to question the thinking, but I would argue that this has come at the perfect time for the Hammers.

They’ve had a jam-packed schedule, including qualifiers for the Europa Conference League, and recent results suggest that the players need time to rest and recharge before another busy period of the season.

Although Moyes pointed out that he is ‘always working with the players’, the break will give them time to improve every area of their game and integrate new signings further into the squad. This will hopefully include their quality in front of goal.

Football is not a complicated game – if a couple of those 16 shots find the net, you’re more than likely to take some points. Now, it’s time for West Ham to convert those into goals.
Charlotte Marsh

Cooper’s new deal and tactical tweak paying dividends

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights of Nottingham Forest against Crystal Palace in the Premier League

Nottingham Forest’s concerning start to the season after signing an extraordinary 23 players in the summer led to fears over Steve Cooper’s future, despite the manager hauling them off the bottom of the Championship and into the Premier League via the play-offs in a matter of months.

But the club displayed a rare show of faith in their under-fire manager by awarding him a new contract in the wake of their 4-0 defeat at Leicester.

While it would be a stretch to say Forest’s form has drastically improved since that dispiriting night at the King Power Stadium on October 3, there’s no doubt things have picked up for the East Midlanders.

Their upturn in form has not only coincided with Cooper’s new deal but also the decision by the manager to ditch his three-at-the-back formation in favour of a four-man defence.

Forest are unbeaten at the City Ground since the Welshman tweaked his tactics and have lost just two of the eight matches they have played since the defeat at Leicester.

Forest may remain in the relegation zone as the Premier League pauses for the World Cup but, thanks to home wins over Liverpool, Tottenham and now Palace in the last few weeks, Cooper and his players have started to turn around a season that threatened to be spiralling out of control.
Joe Shread

Main man Zaha fails to show for Palace

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Crystal Palace manager Patrick Vieira says their 1-0 loss against Nottingham Forest reflects his side’s season so far

Wilfried Zaha’s six goals and two assists in the Premier League this season have been worth 11 points for Crystal Palace, meaning only Erling Haaland (14) has earned more points for his side in the 2022/23 campaign.

Zaha has spent the best part of a decade fulfilling the role of Palace’s talisman, but his below-par performance embodied the tame manner in which the south Londoners entered the World Cup break at Nottingham Forest.

The Ivory Coast international marked his 30th birthday this week, but he entered his fourth decade in the worst way possible when he blew his chance to open the scoring for Palace from the penalty spot.

Things went from bad to worse for Patrick Vieira’s side when Morgan Gibbs-White scored but, despite having more than 30 minutes to respond, they ended the game with a non-penalty expected-goals total of just 0.33.

Even though they had less than a third of possession, it was Forest who conjured the majority of the chances. Meanwhile, Palace recorded a total of zero shots on target.

After entering the game with the opportunity to win three Premier League games for the first time since June 2020, Palace’s lack of consistency clearly frustrated Vieira when he spoke after the match and it was interesting to hear that he has already turned his mind to making signings in January.
Joe Shread


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