Seven talking points: Rashford renaissance, Pepe a work in progress and Ndidi absence hits Leicester hard

Sports Staff

Pepe remains a work in progress

Costing Arsenal a total of £72m, we’ve yet to see any signs of Nicolas Pepe living up to his eye-watering transfer fee. Much was made of the Ivorian upon his arrival at the Emirates. He’d scored 24 goals in one season for Lille, they said. He’s quick. He’s a superb dribbler of the ball, capable of ghosting past defenders with ease.

In reality, though, Pepe remains a work in progress. Acclimatising to English football has proven tricky – and today was another reminder of the forward’s teething problems. Although he showed his ability in reading the game and finding the space, the final product was missing.

He is a man who constantly seems to be on the verge of losing control, fumbling his way forward as he goes, throwing out erratic, unwieldy legs in the hope of bamboozling his opponents, only to trip over himself or concede possession. The potential is there but Mikel Arteta will know he has other options at his disposal.

Tanganga gamble pays off

Jose Mourinho's tactics against Liverpool on Saturday night may come up short, but the gamble to start defensive wildcard Japhet Tanganga at the back certainly paid off.

There were other moments of rawness – an ill-timed second-half slip almost led to a second goal for Liverpool – but those pale in comparison to all the things he got right. No Tottenham player made more tackles (2). No Tottenham player made more interceptions (2). And only Alderweireld (TEN!) made more than his eight clearances. He even filled in at left back when Mourinho finally ripped down the fortifications and signalled for Érik Lamela and Giovani Lo Celso.

His performance was all the more impressive considering the size of the task Mourinho entrusted to him. Perhaps it would have been easier for him to be stationed in between Toby Alderweireld and Davinson Sánchez. Instead, he was deployed on the right of the trio, meaning he had to be perpetually aware of Serge Aurier’s sorties forward. In despite of the mistakes, it was a performance to be proud of from the young defender.

Victory over Brighton helps heal Everton wounds

A Richarlison goal late in the first half was enough for a 1-0 win over Brighton, securing the Carlo Ancelotti's third win in four Premier League matches since taking over last month.

The result helped, in part, to erase some of the memories of the previous week's humiliation by Liverpool's second string in the FA Cup at Anfield. That led to fans turning up at the training ground wanting to speak to the players, and midfielder Fabian Delph getting dragged into an online argument which, ultimately, led to him being booed when he came on as a second-half substitute.

But a rise to 11th in the table, level on points with Arsenal, has lifted spirits again and Ancelotti will start to work on making his side more consistent.

"This is part of my job to give continuity to the team because I think this team can be competitive with more continuity and more intensity in the game and playing better," he said. "But we have time to work. The fact that we don't have a game in this period during the week can help us to improve quickly."

Rashford renaissance continuing to blossom

He was one of the few players to emerge from the Manchester derby defeat with any credit. In fact, he is one of the few to have enhanced his reputation at all during Manchester United‘s difficult season to date. But this is becoming the finest campaign of Marcus Rashford’s career.

His two goals – the first a smart far-post finish, the second a penalty – not only took this game away from Norwich City, but took him to 14 league goals for the season – his best ever top-flight return. 19 in 30 appearances across all competitions is pretty good going too.

Rashford’s tally has been helped by becoming United’s undisputed penalty-taker, but it is easy to forget just how sporadic his playing time was until Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s arrival. He is not just a regular now, but United’s most important player and he is beginning to look like one of the most effective counter-attackers in Europe.

Ndidi absence hits Leicester hard

What a difference one player can make. With Wilfred Ndidi sidelined through injury, Leicester looked lost in their 2-1 defeat by Southampton at the King Power. Without Ndidi acting as a defensive buttress to the hosts' midfield, making those crucial challenges and interceptions in front of the backline, Southampton were given free license to cut through their opponents at will.

“We didn’t press the game strong enough, or well enough, and then when we had the ball, we made too many mistakes when we had the ball,” Rodgers said after the loss."They played through our midfield too easily and then they get in and get the goal, so a disappointing result for us.”

Having struggled for form and results in their last two games, the Foxes will be desperate to sign the Nigerian return to the starting side as soon as possible.

Leicester struggled for structure and shape against Southampton (Getty Images)

Ayew steps up as Zaha fails to hit top form

Far too much reliance is placed on Wilfried Zaha by Crystal Palace, meaning that when he’s not at his best, the side often come up short in finding the back of the net. Indeed, there’s a reason that only Watford have scored fewer goals in the Premier League this season.

Today it was a case of mixed fortunes for the winger. Although his presence grew as the match approached its conclusion – he almost bagged an assist with a floated ball to the back post on 80 minutes – there were lengthy spells at Selhurst Park where Zaha simply failed to assert himself.

Luckily for him and his teammates, Ayew was on hand to do the dirty work. It was an industrial performance from the forward, whose hard running and reading of the game reaped the rich reward of a second-half equaliser. Palace still need to do more to take the game to their opponents and bring some bite to their attacking play, but on this occasion the home fans will be grateful for Ayew’s no-nonsense, hard-working approach.

Norwich sinking without a trace

To succeed as a promoted side, you cannot concede several goals a game. Sheffield United play football which is easy on the eye but are also brilliantly organised and compact when they need to be.

Norwich can thread together fluid, attractive attacking moves too but cannot expect to survive on this defence. United are not a particularly free-scoring side, but Mason Greenwood’s goal was the seventh they have put past the Canaries this season.

The away end’s chants of “there’s only one Daniel Farke” at full time show he retains the support of the fans. Farke appears to be under little internal pressure too. But as it stands, Norwich are only going one way.

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