Forest’s wide men provide hope
The academies of Manchester United and Chelsea have a decent reputation for bringing through highly talented and technical players. Anthony Elanga and Callum Hudson-Odoi both got a taste of Premier League football with their first clubs but for various reasons were allowed to leave in the summer to join Nottingham Forest. Aged 21 and 23, respectively, the duo have time on their side. Against Newcastle Elanga’s pace was a constant danger, helping him kick dust into Dan Burn’s face as he sprinted beyond the full-back, who had no answer to the Swede’s pace. Hudson-Odoi’s threat comes from cutting in from the left, which brought him his goal on Saturday. Nuno Espírito Santo was eager to bring in a winger in January, acquiring Gio Reyna, another 21-year-old, from Borussia Dortmund because he thinks counterattacking football could be key to Forest’s success.
Southgate left to feast on Rice
If Gareth Southgate was hoping to pore over this game for clues as to which of West Ham’s eligible midfielders might be best qualified to partner Declan Rice, he will have probably given up and gone back to scanning the Eredivisie highlights after the opening half-hour. James Ward-Prowse is a long-term squad absentee, but still on the numbers the most effective England-qualified backup in the league. Deployed in an unhelpful advanced scrapping role, he had to wait 14 minutes and 48 seconds here for his first slightly exasperated touch. Kalvin Phillips came on with the score already 4-0. By the final half hour, with Arsenal taking turns to tee up Mohamed Elneny for a final banter-goal, the notion there was anyone in the West Ham team with a compelling claim to match Rice’s levels at the Euros seemed a little distant. Perhaps there was also a clue as to why Rice has sharpened his all-round game under Mikel Arteta, for whom midfield is an obsession, as opposed to a coach in David Moyes who seems at times to want to play without one.
United suddenly looking up
Whatever befalls Erik ten Hag, there is hope of leaving a better legacy than his predecessors from Manchester United’s lost decade. To accompany the youthful promise of Alejandro Garnacho, Kobbie Mainoo and Rasmus Højlund, whose opening goal made it five in five matches, a couple of other United careers, previously believed to be unsalvageable, have been resurrected. Harry Maguire, besides gaining aerial supremacy at set pieces, dominated Ollie Watkins when pre-match analysis, including that of Roy Keane, had pinpointed the England pair’s battle as one the United player was likely to lose. Match-winner Scott McTominay meanwhile, set for sale last summer, has become a supersub in the club’s finest traditions, a latter-day Ole Gunnar Solskjær or Javier Hernández. “I know big Scottie’s great at coming in like that,” said a rueful Aston Villa captain John McGinn of his Scotland colleague’s winner, scored from a pearling cross by Diogo Dalot, himself another Ten Hag salvage job.
City revving up for double-treble
Cometh the defining phase of the season, cometh Manchester City. Pep Guardiola’s sky blue machine are second, two points behind Liverpool with a game in hand, have an FA Cup fifth-round tie with Luton Town, and are at Copenhagen on Tuesday in the Champions League last 16, first leg. The double-treble is firmly on, despite the manager rating this a “99.99%” impossibility. Instead, Guardiola wishes to focus on the Danish side. “Maybe we rotate on Tuesday,” he said. “We won all the [group] games and now are there. So much we want [to win the Champions League again] it will be a problem for the opponents. But Copenhagen were in a group against Bayern Munich, Manchester United, and they went through. We played there last year and didn’t win. From my experience the first leg of the last 16 is always tricky.”
Supersub Elliott making his mark
It was more by accident than design but the introduction of Harvey Elliott against Burnley provided another example of Liverpool’s ability to turn a game thanks to the quality and mentality of their substitutes. Elliott replaced the injured Trent Alexander-Arnold after a subdued first half from Jürgen Klopp’s team and lifted their afternoon with two pinpoint assists, propelling Liverpool back to the Premier League summit in the process. He may crave more starts but, at the age of 20, the gifted midfielder is only two shy of 100 appearances in a Liverpool shirt. As Virgil van Dijk said: “He goes through a lot of things personally. He would love to be playing week in, week out but playing at the highest level you also have to be patient and grab your moments when you get them. He has to keep going, don’t be frustrated that you don’t play as sometimes it is part of the business, but when you get your opportunities you have to perform and that’s what he has done again.”
Sarr’s energy transforms Spurs
Tottenham were one of the busiest clubs in the January transfer market as they brought in the defender Radu Dragusin and the forward Timo Werner on loan but perhaps their most important signing of the month might turn out to be the new six-and-a-half year contract handed to Pape Matar Sarr. The 21-year-old was outstanding in the pulsating late victory over Brighton on Saturday, scoring on his return from Africa Cup of Nations duty during an all-action performance in central midfield that showed why the Senegal international is valued so highly by the manager, Ange Postecoglou. Schooled at Génération Foot – the same Dakar academy that helped to produce Sadio Mané – Sarr joined Tottenham from the French club Metz in 2021 and is quickly developing into one of the league’s best young midfielders who seems to have limitless potential.