Premier League: 3 talking points from the weekend's action
The past weekend was important for clubs at both ends of the Premier League table. Especially given Manchester City's defeat in their last encounter away to Liverpool, as well as the fact that only six points separated 15th and 20th in the standings.
We take a look at three key results and talking points in the latest round of top-flight games.
Honours even at Goodison
Everton hosted West Bromwich Albion on Saturday afternoon, in a fixture between two sides struggling for consistency. Prior to kick off there was a well-observed minutes silence for the late Cyrille Regis, the former West Brom forward who passed away last week.
Everton manager Sam Allardyce handed a debut to new signing Theo Walcott. The 28-year-old occupied a wide berth alongside Nikola Vlašić, with Cenk Tosun playing through the middle. Wayne Rooney could only make the bench. As for the visitors, Jonny Evans retained his place in the side despite constant speculation linking him with both Manchester clubs and Arsenal. Gareth Barry was given a chance to impress his former employers, while Jay Rodriguez and Salomòn Rondón were trusted to lead the line for Alan Pardew's men.
Rodriguez opened the scoring early on. A weighted pass from midfielder Grzegorz Krychowiak allowed the former Southampton man time to slot past Jordan Pickford. West Brom held their own in the first half and had chances to double their lead.
The second half was sadly defined by a season-ending injury to Everton's James McCarthy. As the Republic of Ireland international rushed back to stop Rondón, who was through on goal, the Venezuelan forward connected with McCarthy's leg rather than the ball. Allardyce confirmed after the game that it was a double fracture of the tibia and fibula.
Everton found their equaliser shortly after. Oumar Niasse made an instant impact just 56 seconds after coming on. The striker struck the ball past Baggies keeper Ben Foster following Walcott's header. The former Arsenal man had delivered on his first Premier League start since April 2017.
Speaking in his post-match interview after the 1-1 draw, Allardyce couldn't hide his frustration, “There was a lack of performance and we must pick ourselves up and work hard to be more ready mentally."
As for West Brom, Pardew can certainly take a lot of positives from the performance, despite his side sitting three points from safety.
No Silva lining for the Hornets
Leicester City hosted Watford at the King Power Stadium, with both sides having experienced mixed campaigns thus far. The Foxes began the season with a negative string of results. However, Claude Puel's arrival revitalised the team. Watford, meanwhile, started the season superbly but have failed to pick up points lately. This ultimately led to manager Marco Silva receiving the sack on Sunday afternoon.
Leicester opened the scoring against the Hornets. Jamie Vardy converted from the penalty spot after being brought down himself by Watford defender Molla Wague. The visitors had difficulty creating a clear-cut chance to level the scores before Troy Deeney saw his effort ruled out for offside.
From that moment, Leicester dominated the encounter. Riyad Mahrez secured all three points in stoppage time, finishing from a tight angle. The Foxes held on to their 2-0 advantage, taking them up to seventh in the table. Watford remain tenth.
Despite the disappointing result, Marco Silva spoke defiantly after the game, giving no indication that his job was in danger, “We need to turn the hard work into points and the confidence will come.”
Sergio puts the Citizens back on track
After the defeat to Liverpool in their last outing, Manchester City's home fixture against Newcastle United took on new significance. Some pundits had tipped the Citizens to go the season unbeaten. The Saturday evening kick off provided a challenge for Guardiola and his players' mental resolve.
Guardiola opted for an attacking trident of Raheem Sterling, Leroy Sanè and Sergio Aguero. David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne complimented the stellar offensive unit. With Vincent Kompany still sidelined, John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi were given starting berths in central defence. For the visitors, Rafael Benitez left out Matt Ritchie, Ayoze Pérez and Dwight Gayle, opting for a pragmatic and compact line up against the league leaders.
Man City dominated the opening encounters, with the ever-impressive Sterling unlucky not to score in the first half. Aguero, making his 200th Premier League start, opened the scoring not long after the half-hour mark. The Argentine produced the deftest of touches to head De Bruyne's effort past Newcastle goalkeeper Karl Darlow. The home side were then awarded a penalty after Sterling was fouled by full-back Javier Manquillo. Aguero stepped up and duly converted to double both his and City's tally.
Despite dominating, Man City's lead was halved due to a combination of poor defending and good Newcastle counter-attacking play, allowing former Norwich man Jacob Murphy to chip over Ederson. After conceding, the ever-animated Guardiola urged his side forward to put the game beyond the Magpies. It worked. Leroy Sane embarked on a mazy run before playing in Aguero, who powerfully converted past Darlow to complete the perfect hat-trick.
After the game, Guardiola alluded to Newcastle's defensive tactics: "We face these kind of teams... who play with the 5-4-1.. (it is) why it's so important to attack this kind of team. When you have the ball, the opponent does not. To concede, they have to have it. It is not easy with 10 players plus the keeper behind the ball."
The result sees Newcastle in 15th, one point above the relegation zone. Although Benitez can be pleased with his team's spirited display, it is a points business. His team have not picked up many of late. This, coupled with the uncertainty regarding the club's proposed takeover, means Benitez will need time, patience and backing in the transfer window if Newcastle are to remain in the Premier League next season.