It was a privilege to be inside the City Ground to witness the scenes of unbridled joy that greeted Nottingham Forest’s shock win over Liverpool. As Steve Cooper pointed out in his press conference after the game, this was the fixture that the fans had been waiting for.
Forest’s real rivalry with Liverpool may be a thing of the past but in the present their players battled throughout, local boy Ryan Yates epitomising the determination of the side. The Premier League has seemed a slog for this side thus far. This was the reward.
It could also be a template and a turning point. Cooper called it a reference, an example that shows they can cope at this level. Taiwo Awoniyi now has three in three home starts. Jesse Lingard and Morgan Gibbs-White look capable of providing support around him.
For all the struggles, this team went to bed on Saturday evening with only goal difference keeping them in the relegation zone. And it is a team now. One forged on the fly but finally ready to really enjoy rather merely endure this Premier League adventure.
Jurgen Klopp made the point afterwards that set-piece goals count too and it is true that Liverpool would have had a result against Nottingham Forest had Virgil van Dijk been more clinical with his headed opportunities at the City Ground.
However, Forest stifled Liverpool in open play and that should be a disappointment. Key men were missed. Not just Luis Diaz, Diogo Jota and Darwin Nunez in the forward positions but Thiago in midfield and Trent Alexander-Arnold for an hour at full-back.
There is a theory that Mohamed Salah is more potent in the absence of Nunez as it opens up areas for him to exploit rather than staying wide to feed the centre-forward. His Champions League hat-trick against Rangers after Nunez went off showcased that.
But he was kept quiet by Forest with the fluency around him just not there. Perhaps this was just a game too far for this injury-hit Liverpool squad, a third in six days after beating Manchester City and West Ham. But a little momentum has been lost.
Gareth Southgate wasn’t at Stamford Bridge but he’ll no doubt be across the performances of his two left-backs that are all-but-certain to be in his England squad for the World Cup. And in the battle between Luke Shaw and Ben Chilwell with eyes on that opening game with Iran on November 21 it was the Manchester United defender who put in a performance of shirt-grabbing proportions.
It’s easy to forget that just under a month ago the spotlight was on Shaw when he was picked to start for England in the 3-3 draw with Germany having lost his place in the United side to Tyrell Malacia. However, Shaw was England’s best player that night, scoring in an impressive individual showing. He’s kicked on domestically since then too, starting the last four Premier League matches and Erik ten Hag is finally starting to see the Shaw that lit up England’s left-hand side in their run to the European Championship final.
Yet again at Stamford Bridge, he was silky in possession and offered an attacking option when the time was right to join the play, although he wasn’t helped by an erratic Jadon Sancho. When United required a piece of quality, Shaw delivered in added time, whipping in the fantastic cross that Casemiro headed home that nabbed his team a point. And who was Casemiro bullying at the back post for that goal? Chilwell. The Chelsea full-back had a very quiet 90 minutes, offering little going forward and failing to defend his box at a critical time when his team needed him. It was a piece of defending that Roy Keane called “lazy” and lacked “desire.” It’s Shaw’s shirt to lose now.
Graham Potter has long been known for his tactical flexibility, and since taking over at Stamford Bridge there has been no better showcase of his talents than against Manchester United on Saturday.
His Chelsea side were there for the taking for a confident United side who ran their game plan ragged in the opening half hour, with a final ball the only thing missing to make them pay for a poorly executed game plan.
At Brighton, he regularly outsmarted opposition managers with dramatic tactical tweaks, but changing shape and personnel 35 minutes into a game – especially with the scoreline goalless – is a bold move for any coach.
Mateo Kovacic’s introduction had the desired effect, wrestling back control of the midfield battle and allowing Chelsea to improve from seeing barely 30 per cent of the ball in the opening half-hour to having more possession than United for the rest of the game, and earning a deserved draw which looked unlikely at the moment he entered the field.
More encouragingly, it helps to fade the question marks over whether he can command the respect of an established Champions League dressing room. The players are clearly on board with his approach and are as willing to mould as required as much as he is.
“We were getting overrun and the need to make a change was just a feeling that I had, it’s never an easy decision to make but the team responded really well to it,” Potter told reporters afterwards.
Aside from a few false starts – this was the second time in six days Potter made a change at or before the half-time break – the new Chelsea boss’ tenure continues on an encouraging trajectory. Eliminate those, and he easily manage a checkmate next time these two sides meet.
Gareth Southgate was in the stands at Goodison Park, and he will have been left with plenty to ponder after Dominic Calvert-Lewin gave a timely reminder of his abilities in Everton’s comprehensive 3-0 victory over Crystal Palace.
Up against quality defenders in Joachim Andersen and Marc Guehi, Calvert-Lewin more than held his own and his physical attributes gave Palace’s defence problems all afternoon.
He showed finesse, physicality and composure in front of goal when he flicked the ball past Guehi before powering past him and finish superbly past Guaita for Everton’s first and his first goal in five months.
Paul Merson, who was watching the game for Sky Sports on Soccer Saturday, was certainly impressed and thinks he could provide a different dimension for England, when needed at the World Cup.
“Calvert-Lewin was a handful,” the former England international said. “He held the ball up well, he won headers and he looked back to his best.
“His finish was superb. He might just be one of those you take a chance on for England. He’s a player who may pick up an injury here or there but if you get him fit and, on the pitch, he can certainly have an impact on a game.”
It’s every boy’s dream to go to the World Cup. I’ve been counting down the days to get back on the pitch and all I can do is play the best I can for Everton and score goals and see where that takes me. First and foremost it’s what I do here.
Calvert-Lewin, when fully-fit was a regular in the England squad and was in Southgate’s 26-man squad for Euro 2020. Injury issues have seen him fall down the pecking order, with Tammy Abraham and Ivan Toney getting, but his performance against Palace will certainly give Southgate something to ponder.
And with three games left to impress before Southgate has to name his squad for Qatar, there’s every chance Calvert-Lewin could be on the plane.
Lampard: Southgate knows what DCL can do
Frank Lampard on Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s World Cup chances:
“I’m delighted for Dominic because I know how much he wants to force his way into that picture. He loves playing for his country and has been involved many times before. His injury has been a huge frustration to him.
“All I would say is I won’t pick Gareth’s team for him at all, but he does know what Dominic can do because he’s worked with him before. Dominic has to show how fit and fresh he is for Everton and today was an all-round performance of what he is, which makes him an England striker, Everton striker, Premier League striker. The rest is for Gareth to choose. But I am delighted because I see the work he puts in behind the scenes to get fit. If he can stay fit then maybe he can make a case for himself.”
Crystal Palace are now without a win in seven Premier League away games (drawn four and lost three).
They last endured a longer winless streak on the road in the top flight between May and December 2017, with that run stretching 10 games.
Sky Sports pundit Paul Merson thinks Palace could well match that stretch into the season because of the way Palace set up away from Selhurst Park.
“When the Crystal Palace team came out, you looked at it and there was no one in there to win the ball,” he told Soccer Saturday. “They are all good players when they’ve got the ball, but you can’t go away from home in the Premier League and be that open, playing with loads of dribblers. You just can’t do it. You need to be solid in midfield.
“I just don’t see Palace winning an away game all season with the way they are setting up at the moment.”
Palace boss Patrick Vieira admitted after the game his side’s away form is something that needs to be looked at but he doesn’t want to hit the panic button just yet.
When asked whether his side’s away form is a problem, Vieira replied: “It’s something we have to look at but again we aren’t going to throw everything away. It was a bad day today and we have to keep working hard.”
While Vieira is right not to hit the panic button just yet, he will be pondering long and hard what he can do to help solve his side’s struggles on the road.
Last weekend’s loss to Liverpool and the issues that surrounded it – from VAR to unacceptable chants to coin throwing – will still be very fresh in Man City’s minds, especially given they had a rare week without any football.
But these things often serve to spur footballers on, and Saturday’s win against Brighton certainly did that. Although they’ve done it plenty of times before, it will have been a boost for City to have beaten a team that tested them for large spells of the game.
It was far from a vintage Man City performance with errors littered throughout their play. On two occasions, Ederson made potentially costly mistakes. Aymeric Laporte and Manuel Akanji’s defending for Brighton’s opener was poor, and the passing at time wasn’t as slick and crisp as we have come to expect.
The 3-1 scoreline arguably flattered them. They were not at their free-scoring best either and Pep Guardiola even described Brighton as one of the toughest opponents they could face at the moment. The Seagulls proved again that they can test the big teams, although City’s quality won it in the end.
And what quality it was. Erling Haaland again popped up with a couple of goals, as is becoming his norm. In only two games against Liverpool this season – the other being the Community Shield – has he not been involved in goals for Man City.
Credit really though for Haaland’s first has to go to Ederson, who certainly made up for his mistakes with a sumptuous assist. His vision to spot the run so far down the field was world-class, and the delivery matched it.
But the standout goal of the afternoon came from Kevin De Bruyne – sporting a Halloween-esque black eye after taking a football to face in training on Friday, although declined to reveal who hit it. He was afforded far too much space to shape his shot after Bernardo Silva’s pass, and produced a thunderous finish.
Although not a team usually short of confidence, the midweek break and win against a tricky Brighton side will have done Man City the world of good, especially with away trips to Borussia Dortmund and Leicester to come this week.
With the likes of Haaland and De Bruyne in the squad, a moment of magic is always around the corner and City will need a few of those this season – every team does.
When he arrived at Brighton’s training ground on his first day, Roberto De Zerbi must have flipped open the fixture list and held his head in his hands – Liverpool, Tottenham, Man City and Chelsea all in his first six Premier League fixtures.
It would be daunting for even the most experienced of managers, but he proved against Liverpool that he could keep Brighton competitive and despite a 3-1 scoreline, the Seagulls pushed Man City for much of the game.
The first half had more City penalty appeals than chances of note with a rather even match-up on that front. “I think in the first half, we could play with more energy, with more confidence, with more personality,” De Zerbi said, and he certainly had that from his team in the second half.
Shortly after the beak, Brighton ended a run of three games without a goal as Leandro Trossard fired home a wonderful strike from the top of the area.
It was the first goal Brighton have scored since De Zerbi’s opening game, when Trossard scored a hat-trick against Liverpool. One thing he must try and rectify – most likely in the January transfer window – is a wider source of goals in his team.
But one thing Brighton did which few manage at the Etihad is impose their game on City for long spells of the game. Even Pep Guardiola admitted his side had to suffer against the Seagulls and were dictated to at times.
Brighton had eight shots while Man City only had two more, although crucially, three of their four were on target. Only one of Albion’s shots on target found the net.
While there may be some at Brighton who are getting twitchy with a lack of wins under De Zerbi, it’s not quite time to do a Watford-esque switch just yet. Brighton still remain in the top half of the table, although should have taken all three points against Nottingham Forest in midweek. At the Etihad too, a point would have been a fair reflection of the match as a whole.
As De Zerbi himself said: “After five games, we played every game well and sometimes very well. We took only two points and this is sad for us, but we have to work, to improve. I believe if we play the same way, same style, we will win a lot of games.”
Brighton seemed to have settled well under their new manager and they are heading in the right direction. They have some very winnable games coming up before the World Cup break and surely, the first three points of the De Zerbi era cannot be far away.