The Premier League is the biggest league in world football and there are always plenty of talking points - whether it's the opening weekend or in early-April with the title race heating up.
Here, Ben Dinnery will look at the best of the weekend's action while also highlighting teams and players to watch for upcoming gameweeks throughout the 2023/24 Premier League season.
Arsenal are becoming hard to ignore, while Jurgen Klopp must be cursing his luck as the Reds’ injury issues continue to cause problems. You can never rule City out, and this season’s title race could go down to the wire.
However, at the opposite end, only a miracle can save Burnley and Sheffield United, who are at risk of becoming the worst side in top-flight history, having conceded a record-high 65 goals after twenty-five games.
Brentford vs Liverpool
The 1-4 scoreline is a little misleading, and despite the margin of victory, this game has been overshadowed by the number of injuries Liverpool incurred during the match, but more on that later…
The underlying data reveals an overperformance from the visitors, while Brentford failed to match their xG (1.85), missing three Big Chances. Liverpool, however, scored four times (2.86 xG) while creating six excellent opportunities, the highest of any side in Round 25.
For the hosts, Ivan Tony was once again the main threat, and with each passing game, the striker is beginning to recapture the form that will make him one of this summer’s hottest prospects.
After nine months of watching on from the sidelines, Toney has bagged four goals in his first five games back, and with some appealing fixtures on the horizon, he could still break into double figures.
But while the Reds left the Gtech Stadium with three points, they also lost three players during the first half as their injury list continues to grow…
Curtis Jones was the first to go after being caught on the lower leg – shin and ankle – and the unfortunate Diogo Jota is set for around two months out after a coming together with Bees captain Christian Norgaard.
Thankfully, it looks like initial concerns of ACL damage were premature, with an MCL injury (medial collateral ligament) the more likely prognosis. Meanwhile, Darwin Nunez asked to be replaced at the break due to an undisclosed issue.
Reports from Egypt also suggest the recently returned Mohamed Salah may have suffered a setback in his first appearance since recovering from a hamstring strain. Add this to the likes of Trent Alexander-Arnold and Dominik Szoboszlai, plus Thiago Alcantara and Alisson Becker, and injuries threaten to derail the Liverpool title charge.
This weekend the Reds face Chelsea in the Carabao Cup final at Wembley, although they take on Luton at Anfield beforehand.
Realistically, Liverpool may need to win 12 of their thirteen remaining matches to stand a chance of winning the league, and the visit of Champions Manchester City in Gameweek 28 will be pivotal.
Burnley vs Arsenal
The winter break has certainly helped Arsenal, with the side hitting top gear since the resumption of play, winning all five Premier League matches with a healthy +19 goal difference.
After the early season criticism of boring football, Mikel Arteta has turned things around, and his side are primed to push City and Liverpool.
Whether this upturn can be attributed to fewer fixtures and a less congested schedule with no European distractions, or if indeed, this is all part of the Arteta masterplan, to dial up performances at various junctures throughout the campaign to try and optimise levels.
Looking ahead, Arsenal have some great fixtures, with their trip to The Etihad over Easter being the most difficult.
Prior to that, the predictive data gives them a positive chance in all of the matches leading up to Gameweek 30, and while it may not be a title decider, I’m betting it will have a bearing on the outcome.
Tottenham Hotspur vs Wolverhampton Wanderers
After five successive home wins, Spurs’ run came to an end as Wolves bounced back from arguably their worst performance of the season in week twenty-four.
On Saturday, Tottenham’s luck finally ran out, as the result finally matched their underlying numbers, with Richarlison, Heung-Min Son and James Maddison delivering sub-par displays.
However, it didn’t begin that way, as Hee-Chan Hwang missed a guilt-edged opportunity to put Wolves in front, and it looked as though Tottenham would continue to defy the odds. But Spurs failed to heed the warning, and instead of a wakeup call, it was a sign of things to come.
Tottenham were never at the races, and complacency was the only reason it took Wolves until the 42nd minute to open the scoring. Gary O’Neil’s side were excellent on the counter, breaking quickly through Pedro Neto and Pablo Sarabia.
Over their last ten matches, Tottenham sit sixteenth for xG conceded (20.07) and were it not for goalkeeper Guglielmo Vicario, things could have been a lot worse.
The team has a challenging run of fixtures through until the end of the season, and these defensive fragilities will need to be addressed if they hope to make a European qualifying place.
Manchester City vs Chelsea
Some see this as another City blip after their eleven-game winning streak (all competitions) ended. But there were aspects of the game that would not have pleased Pep Guardiola, areas that he must work on.
The data shows City were dominant in possession, but Chelsea managed this well, playing on the counter-attack.
The Blues’ low block made it difficult for City, who lacked that killer final pass, and they could not press home their advantage despite a weekend-high 31 shots (2.9 xG), although only five of these managed to hit the target, whereas Chelsea had six!
Both strikers failed to add to their season tally. Erling Haaland had an off day, accruing over 1xG, while Nicolas Jackson missed a sitter rated at 0.5xG (the best opportunity of the match).
But poor finishing aside, this was a hugely impressive display from Chelsea. Malo Gusto was one of the players of the match: the full-back has formed a great partnership with Cole Palmer and these two were a threat throughout. Gusto created two Big Chances with a 0.19 xA.
However, the bigger picture is that Chelsea are without a win in eight against City, across all competitions, a run stretching back to 2021, with their last victory coming in the Champions League Final.
Consistency is vital, and Pochettino will be hoping his side can defy the football odds to climb the table and mount a late push for Europe.