BitFootball examines the most important developments and discusses the biggest talking points from Saturday’s reduced schedule in England’s top flight.
Stones is a legitimate right-back option
Maybe this is meant to be a brief thing. While Kyle Walker deals with fitness issues and new left-back Sergio Gomez settles in at the club, John Stones has appeared at right-back in some Manchester City games.
Center-backs filling in at full-back often enact a classic portrayal of the role – Ben White has overlapped Arsenal’s right-sided attacker with some success in the season’s opening weeks. Stones’ interpretation, however, seems more studied. He slides neatly into midfield alongside Rodri when City are in possession, providing protection from counter-attacks and ensuring his side dominates the ball in this area of the pitch. Stones’ extra defensive cover on the right also frees up Joao Cancelo for more attacking work down the left.
The ease with which Stones has slotted in as an inverted full-back is impressive. It also indicates that this might be the result of hard hours on the training ground as Pep Guardiola tries to formulate more tactical options for his versatile team.
There must be a caveat from Saturday’s 3-0 win: it was Wolverhampton Wanderers. This might be the most toothless version of Wolves to play in the Premier League (even less potent than the side that scored a paltry 32 goals, yet still survived, in the 2009-10 season), and their day was made more difficult when Nathan Collins was sent off for a wild challenge on Jack Grealish.
While Stones wasn’t overworked at Molineux, he exuded confidence with the ball, linking up the backline and midfield with short passes, and dealt admirably with attacking left-back Rayan Ait-Nouri. He’d already passed a sterner test three days earlier, too. He calmly addressed Borussia Dortmund’s threat, which mostly came down his flank, before stepping upfield to unleash a vicious strike that turned the tide of the Champions League group-stage fixture.
And Stones isn’t only a viable choice at right-back. He took sole ownership of No. 6 duties when Rodri was substituted in the 81st minute, skipping through challenges and dictating City’s tempo with his passing. Given Kalvin Phillips’ injury issues, Stones could be asked to deputize for Rodri a few times in the coming weeks.
Newcastle’s steep learning curve
Bournemouth were largely negative in their approach at St. James’ Park, relying on last-ditch blocks, Neto’s goalkeeping, and the woodwork to keep Newcastle United at bay. In the final 10 minutes of the first half alone, the Cherries headed or smashed away seven clearances.
This is what the “big six” deal with most weeks. The Magpies will need to get used to it. They’ve quickly become one of the division’s strongest teams following their Saudi-backed takeover, so opponents have adapted accordingly. The most pragmatic way for bottom-half sides to approach Newcastle matches is to pack bodies in front of their creative players and then try to inflict damage on the break.
Newcastle’s frustrations were beginning to show when Bournemouth took the lead through Philip Billing in the 62nd minute, and they could only respond via Alexander Isak’s successful penalty. Eddie Howe’s side lacked invention throughout and can’t expect a huge uptick in performance when the entertaining yet inconsistent Allan Saint-Maximin returns from injury. The majority of Howe’s players appear to lack the guile to unpick low blocks, and the men he called off the bench – Jacob Murphy, Sean Longstaff, and Chris Wood – seemed to be a concession of that weakness. Rather than patiently adhering to their game plan, Newcastle started to play a more direct, cross-heavy game as their desperation grew.
The next stage in Newcastle’s transformation has to be signing better playmakers. Miguel Almiron and Ryan Fraser simply don’t thrive when their team has the most possession – they’re most dangerous in counter-attacks, not against deep-lying defenses – and back-to-back home draws against Crystal Palace and Bournemouth isn’t the kind of form that earns top-four finishes.
At long last, the Son is out
“I like that he’s a bit angry,” Antonio Conte said about Son Heung-Min’s goal drought before Leicester City’s visit, adding, “he wants to try to change it.”
Son was last season’s true top scorer. Granted, he did share the Golden Boot with Mohamed Salah, but the Liverpool forward boosted his 23-goal haul with five penalties. Son didn’t attempt any throughout Tottenham Hotspur’s Premier League campaign, leaving that responsibility to Harry Kane, so reaching his overall tally was an undeniably more impressive feat than Salah’s.
The South Korean scored 12 of his goals over his final 10 league appearances of last term, helping Spurs clinch the fourth Champions League place at Arsenal’s expense. He was irresistible, marking a stark contrast to his return of no goals from the opening eight matches of this season (in all competitions). Son’s alarming dip in productivity threatened to harm his side’s ambitions for the campaign.
What an emphatic way to vanquish those concerns.
It took around 27 minutes for Son to bag a hat-trick after his introduction on Saturday, making him the first Tottenham substitute to record a Premier League treble. A fine Hugo Lloris save helped Spurs cling on to their one-goal advantage moments before Son was brought on, but the benched forward soon helped his side to a 6-2 victory.
Son’s opening goal wasn’t the fortuitous, scruffy close-range finish that people tend to associate with a player overcoming a bad run. It was a quintessential Son strike: a powerful run followed by an unstoppable right-footed smash into the top corner from 25 yards. His second was another effort plucked from the archives as he shifted the ball onto his left foot before bending it into the far corner from a near-identical spot as his first goal.
Son rounded off his treble following an exceptionally timed run. His return to form should strike fear into Tottenham’s rivals: One of the top flight’s deadliest strikers is “angry” and firing, and the proud Korean is also desperate to hit prime condition in time for his country’s tough group-stage matches at this winter’s World Cup.