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EPL results 2021, Manchester United, Liverpool FC, Man City, Spurs, Cristiano Ronaldo, fixtures, highlights, PL table, Arsenal

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This weekend’s Premier League fixtures threw up surprise result after surprise result, as Chelsea and Manchester United both suffered their first defeats of the season, while Liverpool were held to a thrilling draw.

The top five teams are now separated by just one point after six games, while there is a worrying trend appearing at the bottom.

Here’s everything we learned from this weekend’s games…

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Bruno’s HORROR penalty miss costs United | 00:40

RONALDO HAS RESHAPED – OR RUINED – UNITED’S ATTACK

Cristiano Ronaldo is the greatest scorer in the world – if not football history. But his return has given manager (and former teammate) Ole Gunnar Solskjaer some massive headaches. At first glance, it would seem to be a good problem to have: how to fit United’s most star-studded attacking squad in a decade in a starting XI. But there’s a deeper problem – and it’s been made all too clear this week.

In the last two games – a 1-0 Cup loss to West Ham and this weekend’s 1-0 defeat to Aston Villa – they have taken 55 shots without scoring a goal. Against Villa, just four shots were on target. Against the Hammers it was six.

Last season, United averaged less than 17 crosses per PL game, the same as the season before. This season, it’s up to almost 21 per game. In parallel, the number of shots they have taken has also gone up – 13.8 shots per game last season, 17.8 this season. Unsurprisingly, their cross accuracy and shot accuracy have slightly dipped. To put it simply, they are chancing their hand at low-percentage plays time and again.

Some of that is down to the arrival of Ronaldo. The attack revolves around him – and too often, the youngsters who look up to him are looking to him on the field rather than carving out strong chances. The number of crosses has understandably risen as United seek to get the most of out their talismanic number seven. Yes, he scored four in his first three games, but against Villa he was almost completely marked out of the game. United kept pinging in crosses and shots, but they were largely speculative. Their only golden scoring chance of the game was Fernandes’ late penalty attempt which he blasted well over the bar. Ronaldo will likely take over duties from the 12-yard-spot in the future.

Ronaldo’s movement can unsettle defences, and his scoring record inside the box is second-to-none. With Paul Pogba and Fernandes, United has two stellar midfielders capable of both delivering brilliant crosses and finishing them with well-timed late runs. Bombarding the box is not necessarily a poor strategy. But against disciplined defences – like Villa’s – United lacked cutting edge and creativity to break them down, or get into strong scoring opportunities. Instead, players like fullback Aaron Wan-Bissaka were left floating in poor crosses from relatively-safe positions which the defence comfortably handled.

United STUNNED by late Villa winner | 01:28

The big-money signing of young winger Jadon Sancho should have ignited their attack alongside the Portuguese superstar.

“Old Trafford will give him the platform he needs to release his untapped talent and perform at the highest level,” Solskjaer said. That hasn’t happened.

Sancho now has featured seven times – 327 minutes – without a goal or assist. In the league, he has taken just two shots. Constantly moving the versatile flyer from the right to the left flank hasn’t helped – and Wan-Bissaka has struggled offensively as he is unable to build a combination with a regular right-winger.

Sancho only arrived in August missing all of United’s pre-season training camps, and struggled to get up to speed early. But there’s reason for hope. Last season, he failed to score in his first 11 Bundesliga appearances, before finally scoring his first league goal of the season 2020-21 in early January. He went on to score 16 times in 38 games in all competitions, including eight in 26 league appearances.

United have now lost three of their four most recent clashes, with the only win coming thanks to a stoppage-time penalty save from David de Gea. Ronaldo’s arrival changed the way United attack – and not necessarily for the better – but the blame won’t fall on him. It falls on Solskjaer, and the knives are sharpening.

Auba channels Henry’s iconic celebration | 00:32

ARTETA FINALLY FINDS FORMULA

Three drab, disappointing, goalless defeats to start the season left Mikel Arteta with five games to save his job – yet with one of those five left to play, he has won all of them to pull Arsenal off the foot of the table and breathed life into their season.

During that rocky, three-week period, Arteta didn’t have a clue what his best team was, using 24 different players in what seemed like an extension of preseason in trying to figure out who could play where and with what combinations.

It’s been a criticism which has been thrown at him during his entire spell at Arsenal as he has never truly been certain on the 11 names that form his strongest team.

However, the North London derby was different and with a near full-squad to choose from for the first time in a long time and he finally appears settled.

After a Premier League high of 14 changes to the starting XI over the first four weeks, Arteta has only made three since and has stumbled on a now very settled team, with back-up goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale now between the sticks and new right-back Takehiro Tomiyasu very comfortable alongside a much-improved Ben White.

With a fit-again Thomas Partey as the anchor and the exuberance of youth ahead of him in Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith Rowe and Marten Odegaard, what once looked like a team of young guns without any direction suddenly looks like an impressive collaboration between some of Europe’s brightest stars.

And with some very winnable fixtures to come, they now have a real opportunity to press on with their progress.

Kane error compounds Spurs wretched day | 00:41

KANE LEADING BY POOR EXAMPLE FOR SPURS

Just like how Harry Kane has led by example in dragging Tottenham through everything good they have achieved over the last few years, his current form is typical of how much they are struggling at the moment.

Spurs were swept aside against their fiercest rivals, not that you would have known there was bad blood between the teams with how lacklustre the visitors were as they conceded three goals for the third consecutive Premier League game.

Spurs have only managed four goals in their six games so far this season, while Kane is goalless himself and is clearly still suffering from a summer which saw the disappointment of losing in the final of Euro 2020 on penalties and then seeing his dream move to Manchester City blocked.

His toothless displays have left Spurs looking lifeless and there for the beating in every game they’ve come into since he came back into the starting XI, having missed the first two wins of the season.

“He doesn’t look happy,” Gary Neville said on Sky Sports. “The balls played up to him were long punts, (but) Harry doesn’t look himself in terms of his body language.

“He looks like he’s still carrying over the situation from the summer. (But) he could’ve still had two or three goals today and a penalty. There’s still a contribution, but he’s just not himself.

“Neither is Son (looking happy), I’m not just singling out Kane. Son and Kane look like they’ve had their balloons burst at a party as a kid. That’s what it looks like.”

Graeme Souness added: “They’re two big players for Spurs. They have to make the difference when things are going bad. If it’s not them, who are they going to rely on?

“They look like a sorry group of players who feel sorry for themselves. It’s time for the good senior pros, it’s time for Harry Kane and whoever else may deem themselves a big player, they have to stand up and be counted.”

City finally get the better of Chelsea | 01:31

TUCHEL’S TOUCH RUNS OUT OF MAGIC

Three times already this season, Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel has proved how valuable he will be in this title race with bold substitutions to turn the tide in games.

Against Liverpool, he sent on N’Golo Kante to weather the storm after Reece James’ sending off and won a memorable point at Anfield. Against Aston Villa, he hooked off new signing Saul Niguez at the break and put on Jorginho, who controlled the midfield and oversaw a 3-0 win. Against Tottenham, it was much of the same, this time Mason Mount making way for Kante to drive another 3-0 win.

However, he missed a beat against Manchester City, who had totally dominated the opening 45 minutes at Stamford Bridge.

Tuchel didn’t move until after 53 minutes when the Blues had fallen behind to add Kai Havertz and take a man out of midfield to push on for an equaliser.

It was successful in opening up the game and giving Chelsea more chances but they were unable to put them away as they were denied a goal for the first time this season.

Had Tuchel been as sure of himself as he had been in the previous three games, Chelsea would have had more time to score and even claim a victory. His indecisiveness cost them and it is a lesson he will surely keep in mind with the rest of the season ahead.

Vardy bags double and OG vs. Burnley | 01:25

BRENTFORD BUZZING – AND BRINGING FUN TO THE LEAGUE

Promoted side Brentford’s training ground sits on Jersey Road near to Heathrow Airport. “We are not designed to fly,” manager Thomas Frank said after they were promoted for this season. “But there we are, flying into the Premier League.”

For a club he described brilliantly as “a bus stop in Hounslow,” their start to a first top-flight campaign since 1947 has been vertigo-inducing (okay, enough with the aeronautical metaphors).

Brentford have beaten Arsenal and Wolves. They’ve drawn with Aston Villa, Crystal Palace, and now Liverpool in a 3-3 thriller where they scored the opener. Their only defeat so far came via a stoppage-time goal from Brighton – another brilliant story this season.

Speaking to Sky Sports after the game, Reds boss Jurgen Klopp said he didn’t quite enjoy the game. “[I’m] not sure enjoy is the right word. It was a wild ride. They deserved their three goals for the way they played. We obviously couldn’t deal with the long balls today but we should have scored more goals.”

He might not have enjoyed it, but everyone watching sure did. It was breathless football from both teams, end to end with chances aplenty. Brentford used a 3-5-2 formation and pressed high, a tactic few Premier League sides dare to attempt against the Reds, and their goalkeeper David Raya’s long balls were exceptional in kickstarting counter-attacks. He targeted Ivan Toney, who regularly knocked the ball down for strike partner Bryan Mbuemo.

Klopp said: “Toney and Mbuemo did really well. Brentford deserved a point…Their goalie should have number 10 on his shirt with the balls that he played!”

Liverpool’s attack was sublime at times. Mohamed Salah bagged his 100th Premier League goal in a club-record fewest games, while Diogo Jota and youngster Curtis Jones also got on the scoresheet, the latter on his 50th appearance for the club.

But Liverpool’s defensive woes – failing to deal with long balls and the set-piece routine that created the opener – were reminiscent of last year’s difficult campaign, and indeed many seasons across the last decade.

On a weekend when their rivals slipped up, the match felt like an opportunity missed, even if they did rise to the top of the table.

As for Brentford, nine points from their first six matches is an exceptional return, well above all reasonable expectations.

“How could you not have fun as a newly-promoted club in the Premier League?” said CEO Jon Varney to offthepitch.com recently.

It’s been giddy, fantastic fun so far.

Reds and Bees in 6-goal THRILLER | 01:26

PREMIER LEAGUE’S NEW DEADLIEST STRIKER?

West Ham against Leeds United was a thrilling end-to-end encounter, with very little of the game played in the middle third and 35 shots across the full 90 minutes.

It was chaos, but once against West Ham had their difference maker.

Michail Antonio already has five goals and three assists in five Premier League games this season (as well as a sending off) and is quickly becoming the deadliest striker in the league.

He was relatively quiet for the majority of the game but was switched on at all times as shown with his late winner.

He holds a conversion rate of 23 per cent, with only Heung-min Son holding a higher one of players who have scored 15 or more goals in that time. Only Mohamed Salah and Harry Kane have a lower minutes per goal ratio that he does over the same period of time (once every 161 minutes).

“It was not his best game, but his finish was magic,” said David Moyes after the win.

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Ralf Rangnick warned Man Utd players may not respect him after appointment

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RALF RANGNICK has been warned over potential issues he will face as Manchester United boss.

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Barcelona eyeing additional Man Utd player as they prepare Edinson Cavani swoop

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BARCELONA are keen to bolster their attacking ranks in January.

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Man Utd fired warning that Bruno Fernandes has been 'figured out' amid recent poor form

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BRUNO FERNANDES has not been at his best for Manchester United of late.

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