The Premier League title race remains deep, and the top four race is joining it in depth as the season races into December.
Arsenal’s enjoying a second season at the top of the table near the holidays, and Manchester City’s got two teams in front of it after a wild and woolly 3-3 draw with Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday.
[ MORE: Premier League 2023-24 table ]
Throw surprising depth flexes this season from Newcastle United and Aston Villa plus a return to attacking form from Liverpool and there’s a lot to discuss about what’s real and what’s window-dressing as Premier League sides contemplate their holiday, er, January shopping.
There’s been plenty of action near the bottom, too, now that Everton’s been punished but refuses to quit while Burnley found its finishing boots against wayward Sheffield United.
How did we get here? Let’s relive Week 14 with our writers Joe Prince-Wright, Nick Mendola, and Andy Edwards supplying analysis on the 10 games played in England’s top flight.
Right-side wizardry does the damage as Arsenal attackers love to defend
Arsenal’s right-side of the pitch did the damage early on to set up this win as Takehiro Tomiyasu, Martin Odegaard, and Bukayo Saka linked up to devastating effect. Gabriel Jesus often drifted over to get in on the act even though he had an off day in front of goal. With Tomiyasu preferred over Ben White in recent games, the Japanese defender has taken his chance and was strong defensively and always gave Saka support in attack. The opposite was true too, right across Arsenal’s talented forward line. In the first half Oleksandr Zinchenko lost the ball and Gabriel Martinelli charged back 50 yards to win it back. Cue huge roars from the crowd, applause from Mikel Arteta, and celebrations from Martinelli. For all of Arsenal’s incredibly slick attacking play — only Man City, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and Bayer Leverkusen have scored more goals than them across Europe’s top leagues in 2023 — it is the hunger to defend from the front which has set them up for prolonged success. The sight of Martinelli, Saka, Odegaard and Leandro Trossard charging back to help out defensively sums up what is great about this team. – Joe Prince-Wright
Liverpool prepared to fight fire with fire
Liverpool’s defense is not going to be lauded often this season unless it’s for their contributions to the attack, and Jurgen Klopp’s desire to defend from the front may indeed be his best bet at winning a title. But this Liverpool is also so similar to what we’ve loved about their rise under the German mastermind. They can go-go-go — unlike last season, as the midfield has more gusto — and never look like they lack belief that a result is possible even when performances are down. Trent Alexander-Arnold continues to impress in possession and look at the confidence with which he arrives to the danger areas. Liverpool may not be able to sustain a tight push this season but the Reds are going to go out of their way to go for it, and go for it with vigor. And, really, why not? – Nicholas Mendola
Ange Postecoglou’s big risk gets solid reward
Tottenham didn’t have a single outright center back in the fold and was facing the best attack in the world, and Spurs boss Ange Postecoglou made the bold choice to play his system anyway. Did it work? Well, they got a point! Spurs weathered Man City’s first-half storm — thanks in part to Erling Haaland’s pair of big misses — and stayed in the game with bravery, determination, and valor. Postecoglou knew that City will score goals most games, but he’s also seen City concede plenty like the 4-4 draw with Chelsea. There was some of that in this, and Postecoglou will have engendered even more belief in his men by trusting them to fight with the champs. And Dejan Kulusevski said Postecoglou even roasted them at halftime for not fighting harder. That’s another reward, in a sense, as players were basically dressed down for not backing themselves. Well done for the former Celtic mastermind. Now imagine if he does in London what he did in Glasgow: Deliver trophies. – Nicholas Mendola
Postecoglou had ‘belief’ in players v. Man City
Tottenham manager Ange Postecoglou speaks to the media following his side’s unbelievable 3-3 draw against Manchester City at the Etihad.
Blues respond to Pochettino’s call
Chelsea was very, very poor against Newcastle and Mauricio Pochettino was livid. This was a different Blues team, one that cooked up a pair of early goals and looked prepared to cruise through the first half, which finished with the Blues holding the Seagulls to 0.10 xG. But Chelsea went into the break with just a one-goal lead and had to play the entire second half with 10 men as Gallagher joined Reece James’ last outing as Blues captains showing poor judgment while on yellow cards. This was the opposite of a ‘no sweat’ positive response, as Chelsea had to show terrific resolve in front of Robert Sanchez and a Brighton crowd with little love for a Blues team that’s bought several of the Seagulls’ top stars in recent seasons. That includes Sanchez and Moises Caicedo, the latter of whom dodged multiple calls for seeming second yellow cards. Mykhailo Mudryk then won a VAR-awarded penalty on a Raheem Sterling-authored counter attack, and Chelsea regained a two-goal lead. The Blues would need it, as Joao Pedro pulled one back while Chelsea had to fight through 10 minutes stoppage time. They did, and Pochettino will no doubt be very proud (and a little angry with Gallagher). – Nicholas Mendola
Magpies continue to prove mettle, and Man Utd is missing it
Not many teams in the world down 10 first team players would be expected to go win-draw-win against Chelsea, PSG, and Manchester United, but Eddie Howe’s Newcastle did just that this week. Sven Botman, Callum Wilson, Harvey Barnes, Dan Burn, Sean Longstaff, and Joe Willock have been joined by Javi Manquillo, Elliot Anderson, Jacob Mirphy and Matt Targett. And of course there’s Sandro Tonali’s suspension for gambling. And this should be doubling damning for Man United, as Erik ten Hag’s men have been picking up wins despite mediocre performances — the 3-0 win over Everton aside. Newcastle dominated the visitors. Look at the numbers: 58% possession, 22-8 in shot attempts, and a gaudy +2.29 xG advantage. These are high times at St. James’ Park, and the Magpies the new leadership is yet to really bolster the club’s depth. Scary. – Nicholas Mendola
Will Sheffield United make it to January transfer window with hope?
It’s fitting that this hammer blow from Burnley comes with Sander Berge on the pitch, as Sheffield United’s failure to keep the Norwegian nor fill the vacuum left by his transfer was one of two terrible mistakes this offseason. It’s not this writer’s job to say whether manager Paul Heckingbottom is completely above reproach, but the Blades are just clearly the Premier League’s bottom side in talent (especially when down a man). United entered this game absolutely battered in almost every metric, especially in open play where they had been out-attempted 181-91 after just 12 games. Burnley wasn’t too far behind, and it barely registered on the pitch. The Blades finish 2023 with Liverpool (H), Brentford (H), Chelsea (A), Villa (A), Luton (H), and Man City (A). If there’s more than four points in there they’d be right to be happy, so will the Blades be able to add in January or will they be mostly hopeless and building for the Championship by the time they begin their 2024 on Jan. 21? – Nicholas Mendola
Dyche’s Everton accept the mission
It might’ve been Joe Prince-Wright on ProSoccerTalk last week who asked if there was anyone better than Toffees boss Sean Dyche to enforce a siege mentality in the wake of the points deduction. That opinion was looking more like fact on Saturday, as the Toffees were physical and prepared for a slog. It’s easy to forget the sheer size of some of Dyche’s men, as Jarrad Branthwaite, Abdoulaye Doucoure, and Beto prowl the pitch with menace. Throw in vivid wing play from Jack Harrison and Dwight McNeil, who deserved their respective assist and goal, and the late recoveries from Jordan Pickford — who denied a gorgeous Morgan Gibbs-White assist on an Anthony Elanga chance — and Everton will soon be asking less about whether the 10 points hurt their chance to stay up, or if they’ll stop the club from contending for better prizes. – Nicholas Mendola
Dyche praises Everton’s mentality v. Forest
Everton manager Sean Dyche reflects on his side’s 1-0 victory over Nottingham Forest in hostile territory at City Ground.
Brentford vs Luton – Skewed stats tell the story
Sometimes the numbers speak very, very loudly, and there are few lies in the stats behind the Bees’ big win. Shots? Brentford 27-7 Luton. Shots on target? 6-1. xG? The Bees led 3.21-0.22. Passes? 523-185. This was relentless domination from Thomas Frank’s men, and left Luton hoping for better luck next time. – Andy Edwards
Villa’s balance must improve if they want top four finish
If Aston Villa are serious about finishing in the Champions League — and they should be because it is definitely achievable — then they have to improve defensively. Yes, they were coming off the back of midweek European action and were missing Matty Cash at right back but the way Bournemouth carved them open down their left-flank and centrally is a big problem for Unai Emery. Individual errors were costly but so too was a lack of balance defensively. If Villa are going to stay towards the top of the Premier League they have to learn to control games better. Last weekend they won at Tottenham but weathered some serious storms and hit on the counter to prevail. Villa can’t expect to sit back and soak up pressure week after week and keep winning. They lost at Nottingham Forest recently by doing that and almost suffered the same fate away at Bournemouth. Unai Emery’s tactics are risky and when it works on the counter it is incredibly impactful. But right now Villa are hanging on too much in games and relying on Emiliano Martinez to pull off several stunning saves per game to see them through. Somehow, Villa must limit the opposition big chances while also creating plenty of their own. Balance is key and right now it’s just off for Villa but they’re riding their luck and that is why they’re in the top four. – Joe Prince-Wright
Pragmatism wins the day
Both West Ham and Crystal Palace went to their default setting of being pragmatic and keeping hold of what they had as David Moyes and Roy Hodgson used their years of experience to cancel the other out. It wasn’t a classic in East London but after West Ham took the lead through the lively Mohammed Kudus you expected them to kick on. Yet Palace, to their credit, dug in and dragged themselves back into the game. They were given a gift of an equalizer, something Moyes will rue from stand-in defender Konstantinos Mavropanos, but both managers made sure their opponents’ scoring stopped there and that led to limited chances in attack. Neither team deserved to win this game but both put in a respectable display and underlined why they will finish around midtable in the Premier League this season. – Joe Prince-Wright