Premier League Talking Points, analysis, Ange Postecoglou, Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester City set pieces, Kai Havertz form, title race, Arsenal, latest, updates


A staggering 13-year first helped Manchester City seal a vital point against a title rival, while Ange Postecoglou might have helped Tottenham finally shake off an unwanted tag.

Elsewhere, a major tactical gamble might have cost a dark horse dearly while Kai Havertz’s chant continues to become more ironic with every passing game.

Foxsports.com.au takes a look at the weekend that was in the latest edition of Premier League Talking Points!

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CITY’S 13-YEAR FIRST LEAVES PL GREATS STUNNED

Erling Haaland is on track for another Premier League golden boot but was all-but-invisible for City against Liverpool. The star striker was exceptionally shut down by Virgil van Dijk and managed just 21 touches – fewer in his 90 minutes than Mohamed Salah managed in half an hour off the bench for Liverpool.

But City’s goal came from a rare source: a set piece, their first dead-ball goal at Anfield since 2011.

Kevin de Bruyne took a quick corner to the front post, where Nathan Ake had pushed away a defender to create a gap for defensive midfielder John Stones to calmly finish.

It was a move straight off the training ground.

“That looked like genius from Kevin De Bruyne,” Sky Sports’ Gary Neville said. “How has he spotted that run from John Stones? It is something they have worked on; things like that don’t just happen. What a man to execute it.”

“There are not many players in the world who could do what he’s done with that pass,” Roy Keane added.

“To deliver that and get that accuracy and speed, brilliant. They’d worked on the movement, a little bit of blocking, but the delivery was absolutely fantastic.”

Stones’ goal meant Manchester City scored its first goal from a dead-ball situation at Anfield since 2011. (Photo by Paul ELLIS / AFP)Source: AFP

Stones credited City’s first-team assistant coach and set-piece specialist Carlos Vicens for the goal, telling Sky Sports afterwards: “We’ve worked hard on it all week. We spotted something yesterday, worked on it, and it came off.”

After the goal, City coach Pep Guardiola pointed straight at Vicens in his celebrations – not for the first time this season. Guardiola ran to hug Vicens after a stunning set-piece goal against Burnley last month. De Bruyne shaped up to whip in a cross – even putting his arms in the air to signal the ball was coming aerially – before sliding through a 20-metre through ball that stunned the defence and gifted Julian Alvarez an easy chance.

Vicens coached City’s under-18s before being promoted to first-team assistant in 2021. That season, City broke the Premier League record for the best set piece goals differential – scoring 21 times while conceding just one.

This season, City have again conceded the fewest set-piece goals, just two, though Arsenal lead the league with 18 goals scored from set pieces.

So highly respected is Vicens that in 2022 he was lined up to take the head coaching role at Heracles Almelo in the Netherlands, before backflipping and remaining at City.

He earned City a point at Anfield, and Vicens could well prove a key factor as the title race goes down to the wire.

Stones acknowledged the key role of City’s set-piece coach in scoring against Liverpool. (Photo by Paul ELLIS / AFP)Source: AFP

VAN DIJK IS A COLOSSUS KEEPING REDS IN TITLE HUNT

Liverpool fans would have been nervous when they saw the team sheet for the clash with Manchester City. Cruelled by injuries, the Reds named just one of their best back-five: Virgil van Dijk. He was partnered with Jarell Quansah (21 years old) in the heart of defence, with Conor Bradley (20) on the right and right-footed centre-back Joe Gomez filling in at left back. Behind him was back-up goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher.

Against a deadly attack like Manchester City’s, the Reds faced a tough test. But van Dijk was absolutely magnificent. He kept Erling Haaland to just one shot – well below his season average of more than four per game. Van Dijk was top or equal first in tackles (4), interceptions (4), and last-man tackles (2), and his passing was typically excellent, completing 77 of 79 attempts for a game-high completion rate.

He hasn’t lost an aerial duel since January, and he has now lost just once in 94 matches at Anfield.

Van Dijk has won every single aerial duel in the Premier League since January.Source: AFP

The highlight of the match was when Haaland sized up van Dijk and ran straight at him: a battle between arguably the world’s best attacker and defender.

Van Dijk – without a teammate within cooee – corralled the deadly striker perfectly and the result was a tame shot.

His composure in defence and with the ball at his feet, combined with his vocal marshalling of his young teammates, was crucial in Liverpool’s success.

While the Reds have been decimated by injuries, van Dijk has been a picture of consistency – no player has started more of Liverpool’s league games than Van Dijk’s 26.

The Reds have overcome all of those injuries to remain firmly in the title race. Without van Dijk, they’d be nowhere near.

Van Dijk was the man of the match with a sublime performance.Source: AFP

ANGE’S TROOPS SHAKE OFF ‘SPURSY’ TAG AS RIVALS’ BOLD TACTICS BACKFIRE

When Tottenham and Aston Villa last played in the Premier League, it was the latter who struggled to deal with Ange Postecoglou’s inverted wing back system.

However, Villa boss Unai Emery proved his tactical acumen by making a halftime change to deal with the system and it worked as the visitors emerged 2-1 victors at Tottenham’s home turf.

To combat Tottenham’s inverted wing backs from the outset, Emery boldly adopted a 3-5-2 formation which transformed to 5-3-2 when defending, as Matty Cash and Lucas Digne flanked a back three of Pau Torres, Clement Lenglet and Ezri Konsa.

It was the first time Villa had used that approach all season long and for the first 45 minutes it worked, even if it left Ollie Watkins and Leon Bailey largely isolated in attack.

But it took just five minutes into the second half for Tottenham to break the deadlock courtesy of James Maddison before Brennan Johnson doubled the visitors’ advantage shortly after.

A John McGinn red card for Villa in the 65th minute left Emery’s side with an almighty mountain to climb and it proved to be an insurmountable task, as Tottenham added two more goals in stoppage time via Heung-Min Son and Timo Werner.

The back five was evidently a tactical gamble that significantly backfired, especially given the implications of the fixture.

Sizzling Spurs sink 4 past Villa | 01:05

As it stands, only the top four will progress into next season’s Champions League which is why Tottenham’s victory over Villa, who sit in fourth place, was so vital.

The 4-0 win kept Tottenham in fifth, but they are now just two points behind Villa and have a game in hand.

Additionally, the defeat marked Villa’s fourth defeat in five games across all competitions, a marked contrast from the 17-game unbeaten run that was ended by Newcastle only in late January.

On the contrary, perhaps this result proves Postecoglou has rid Tottenham of its ‘Spursy’ tag that has plagued the club for years.

In high-stakes games in previous years, Tottenham developed a reputation for faltering under the bright lights.

But against Villa, on their home turf no less, Tottenham were anything but ‘Spursy’.

Crucially, Postecoglou’s side have no other domestic or continental competitions to worry about outside of the Premier League while Villa are still in the Europa Conference League.

With a win over their biggest rival in terms of Champions League qualification, Postecoglou will hope the three points proves to be the torpedo of momentum the team needs, especially with a three-game run against Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool in the not-too-distant future.

Tottenham’s win over Aston Villa gave them the advantage in the race for the top four. (Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

IRONY BEHIND GUNNERS STAR’S CHANT AS EPIC RUN CONTINUES

“60 million down the drain, Kai Havertz scores again!”

The sight and sound of Arsenal fans belting out Havertz’s chant to the tune of Shakira’s Waka Waka has become a staple this season but none more so than in recent fixtures.

Havertz moved to Arsenal from Chelsea last summer, bringing an end to a three-year stint where he never really quite looked at home anywhere on the field.

It also took the German international some time to bed in at Arsenal but Havertz is now excelling and it’s coincided with a staggering run of form for Mikel Arteta’s side.

Arsenal’s 2-1 win over Brentford at the Emirates was their eighth in a row, a run in which they’ve scored 33 goals and conceded just four.

Of course, it’s been a collective effort on the goalscoring front, but Havertz’s goal against Brentford turned out to be the match winner.

Havertz has four goals in his last four games for Arsenal. (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP)Source: AFP

Havertz’s goal was also his fourth in as many matches, highlighting his growing importance to Arsenal as the title race continues to take twists and turns with every passing week.

Prior to this run of form, it took Havertz 23 games across all competitions to score four goals.

Havertz’s ability to play as a striker or in the midfield offers Arsenal with crucial versatility, allowing for plenty of dynamism in attack.

In fact, he began the contest against Brentford up top but dropped back into a midfield role when Gabriel Jesus was substituted on.

With Havertz consistently on the scoresheet and Arsenal racking up goals for fun — specifically an average of 4.13 goals per game over the last eight fixtures — could it be the tonic needed for the Gunners to go one better than last season?

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