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Premier League: What we learned this week – from Gareth Bale to VAR and Chelsea’s attacking woes

It was the Premier League weekend that saw controversy and conspiracy theories at Stamford Bridge as Manchester United felt they were denied a clear penalty against Chelsea.

We finally saw the best of Gareth Bale for Tottenham as they thrashed Burnley, Arsenal turned in one of their best performances to win at Leicester and Liverpool returned to winning ways in the league at Sheffield United.

All the while, Manchester City sail serenely clear at the top of the table after yet another win.

Here’s Sportsmail’s wrap up of things we learned from another eventful weekend in the Premier League.

The decision not to award Manchester United a penalty after Callum Hudson-Odoi (right) appeared to handle was the main controversy in a game that failed to scale the heights

The decision not to award Manchester United a penalty after Callum Hudson-Odoi (right) appeared to handle was the main controversy in a game that failed to scale the heights

The decision not to award Manchester United a penalty after Callum Hudson-Odoi (right) appeared to handle was the main controversy in a game that failed to scale the heights 

LUKE SHAW’S CONSPIRACY THEORY WAS WRONG THIS TIME… BUT LET’S HOPE REFEREES AREN’T MAKING DECISIONS FOR A QUIET LIFE

As with most big games involving United this season, their Sunday visit to Stamford Bridge failed to hit the heights. A goalless stalemate was always the most likely outcome.

At least there was a whiff of scandal and, continuing a Premier League theme of recent weeks, it concerned the referee.

Stuart Attwell’s decision not to award United a penalty after Callum Hudson-Odoi clearly handled in his own penalty area, despite consulting the pitchside VAR monitor, was always going to spark controversy.

Stuart Attwell went against the VAR recommendation and turned down United's penalty shout

Stuart Attwell went against the VAR recommendation and turned down United's penalty shout

Stuart Attwell went against the VAR recommendation and turned down United’s penalty shout

It also succeeded in prompting some conspiracy theories, with Luke Shaw suggesting in a post-match interview that he overhead Attwell telling Harry Maguire ‘if I say it’s a penalty then it’s going to cause a lot of talk about it after.’

Maguire said that Attwell had been advised by the VAR officials to award the penalty after he didn’t point to the spot initially.

United later claimed that Shaw misheard Maguire’s comments but let’s hope we truly aren’t in a situation where referees don’t enforce the letter of the law in such incidents because the glare of scrutiny on them has become so white hot of late.

The referee allegedly later told Harry Maguire he was worried would be 'a lot of talk' if he gave one; but United later admitted that Luke Shaw had misheard comments made to Maguire

The referee allegedly later told Harry Maguire he was worried would be 'a lot of talk' if he gave one; but United later admitted that Luke Shaw had misheard comments made to Maguire

The referee allegedly later told Harry Maguire he was worried would be ‘a lot of talk’ if he gave one; but United later admitted that Luke Shaw had misheard comments made to Maguire

It came, of course, after Mike Dean was given a weekend’s break after receiving death threats over social media after he was involved in two controversial incidents in a week.

As Sportsmail’s columnist Mark Clattenburg pointed out, Hudson-Odoi’s handball was ‘clear’ and Attwell had access to the same camera angles and replays as everyone else. 

We can only hope the wrong decision wasn’t made simply to try and avoid controversy, because it had the opposite effect.

WOULD REFEREES FRONTING UP ON TV MAKE THINGS BETTER OR WORSE?

That came 24 hours after another referee, Lee Mason, found himself in the eye of the storm after disallowing, then awarding and then ruling out a Brighton goal at West Bromwich Albion.

Lewis Dunk scored from a quickly-taken free-kick after Mason blew his whistle to allow it to be taken. But after realising Baggies keeper Sam Johnstone wasn’t in position, he blew again and ruled it out.

Brighton protests were vociferous and in the face of this, Mason quickly changed his mind again to award the goal.

Then VAR intervened. Mason was encouraged to run over to the pitchside monitor to check a potential offside but also to see whether his second whistle had come after the ball had crossed the goalline.

Referee Lee Mason is hounded by West Brom and Brighton players after controversially disallowing, then giving, then disallowing a Brighton free-kick goal

Referee Lee Mason is hounded by West Brom and Brighton players after controversially disallowing, then giving, then disallowing a Brighton free-kick goal

Referee Lee Mason is hounded by West Brom and Brighton players after controversially disallowing, then giving, then disallowing a Brighton free-kick goal 

Eventually it was decided the whistle had sounded before the ball crossed the line and the goal was disallowed, sparking a furious reaction.

The general consensus was that quick free-kicks are part of the game and Brighton’s goal should have stood, with Mason making a mistake.

But speaking afterwards, Dunk said: ‘Why doesn’t he come and speak to the press like me? Never. They hide behind their bubble.’

It’s a debate that has simmered away for some time. Would it be a good thing for referees to come and stand in front of the microphone and explain their decision making?

Brighton captain Lewis Dunk (right) said referees like Mason should explain decisions on TV

Brighton captain Lewis Dunk (right) said referees like Mason should explain decisions on TV

Brighton captain Lewis Dunk (right) said referees like Mason should explain decisions on TV

Probably not. Imagine if Mason had fronted up and admitted he made a mistake, even in the heat of the moment. 

Imagine if he’d been wheeled out to make a sheepish apology or try and explain his actions in the moments just after the match had finished.

There would have been a furious social media backlash against him, any misspoken words seized upon, his credibility would have been destroyed and, like Dean, he’d have been vilified and probably forced to take a step back.

Shoving a microphone in front of a referee’s face with the adrenaline still pumping and the mind racing really isn’t a great idea.

WHERE WILL CHELSEA’S GOALS COME FROM?

Should Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea be sweeping opponents aside given their attacking riches? They haven’t scored more than twice in any of the German’s nine matches in charge so far, netting a total of 10 times.

Tuchel has acknowledged their issues in the final 20 metres of the field, as he terms it, and that was once again in evidence in the goalless draw with United.

Tammy Abraham, left out the squad on Sunday, is finding life tough under Tuchel. Timo Werner is desperately struggling for form. Olivier Giroud is hardly a long-term solution.

Timo Werner again drew a blank, as with all Chelsea's attackers, in the stalemate with United

Timo Werner again drew a blank, as with all Chelsea's attackers, in the stalemate with United

Timo Werner again drew a blank, as with all Chelsea’s attackers, in the stalemate with United

Callum Hudson-Odoi suffered the indignity of being subbed on and then off again at Southampton last weekend, while Christian Pulisic and Hakim Ziyech didn’t look too likely to supply a goal on Sunday.

It’s still early days for Tuchel and some players seem to be absorbing his concepts more quickly than others. That’s understandable given the extremely limited time together on the training ground.

But given the hundreds of millions of pounds Chelsea have spent on attacking talent over the past two years, surely a talented coach like Tuchel should get what he already has firing on all cylinders?

Surely he won’t be demanding another expensive rebuild in his own image this summer?  

It's clear Thomas Tuchel needs more time to work with his attackers on the training ground

It's clear Thomas Tuchel needs more time to work with his attackers on the training ground

It’s clear Thomas Tuchel needs more time to work with his attackers on the training ground

WILLIAN HELPS ARSENAL SEE A BRIGHTER FUTURE

Meanwhile, a former Chelsea man enjoyed a very positive Sunday afternoon. Willian was excellent as Arsenal stunned everyone by coming from behind to win convincingly at Leicester.

It was a performance that offered a glimpse of how things could be under Mikel Arteta if everything finally clicks together.

Willian has been much-maligned for most of the time since he joined Arsenal back in the summer, with plenty of sniping about his large wage packet and doubts over what the 32-year-old can actually contribute.

Mikel Arteta's faith in Willian appears not to be misplaced after he shone against Leicester

Mikel Arteta's faith in Willian appears not to be misplaced after he shone against Leicester

Mikel Arteta’s faith in Willian appears not to be misplaced after he shone against Leicester 

But he was fully charged at the King Power, linking up effectively with Kieran Tierney on the left side and offering a considerable threat to Leicester’s defence along with Nicolas Pepe.

He delivered the free-kick from which David Luiz headed their equaliser, having set up Tierney for a goal against Benfica the other night.

Arteta has kept faith with the Brazilian despite the criticism that has come his way. Most feared the worst for Arsenal when Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Bukayo Saka were named among the substitutes but Willian showed he still has plenty of uses.

IT IS TOO EARLY TO SAY WHETHER BALE REALLY CAN RESCUE SPURS’ SEASON

Gareth Bale looked fully fit, fully focused and devastatingly effective as he produced a masterclass in Tottenham’s 4-0 thumping of Burnley on Sunday.

In just his third Premier League start of the season, the Welshman scored twice and created another to leave Jose Mourinho purring that he could still walk into any team in the world.

It certainly suggested that Bale’s romantic return to Spurs might not be a complete damp squib after all, but it’s way too early to be drawing too many conclusions off the back of good displays against Burnley and, prior to that, Wolfsberger.

Gareth Bale scored twice against Burnley but let's not call him the saviour just yet

Gareth Bale scored twice against Burnley but let's not call him the saviour just yet

Gareth Bale scored twice against Burnley but let’s not call him the saviour just yet

Tottenham are eighth after their win and it keeps them in with a shot of finishing in the top four. They remain in the UEFA Europa League, with a favourable draw against Dinamo Zagreb, and will play Manchester City in April’s Carabao Cup final.

So all is not totally lost in a season that seemed to be heading nowhere a week ago.

But believing Bale can somehow single-handedly save their season from disappointment off the back of two good displays against modest opposition is a premature conclusion.

SUCH A SHAME IF AGUERO’S CITY CAREER FIZZLES OUT

As romantic a notion as Bale brilliance ending Spurs’ trophy drought is the one that Sergio Aguero’s Manchester City swansong will involve him lifting the European Cup.

Football usually doesn’t care much for romance and it looks likely to prove that way for the Argentine, who has been plagued by injuries all season.

He started Saturday’s 2-1 win over West Ham but looked off the pace and unable to get into the goalscoring positions he has built a stunning career on.

Aguero wasn’t able to react quickly enough to tap home Kevin De Bruyne’s cross and, in the end, Pep Guardiola cut short his first start for four months by replacing him with Gabriel Jesus after 61 minutes.

Sergio Aguero walks around the field back to the bench after being taken off against West Ham

Sergio Aguero walks around the field back to the bench after being taken off against West Ham

Sergio Aguero walks around the field back to the bench after being taken off against West Ham

Afterwards, Guardiola said that he can’t be guided by sentimentality and play Aguero for the sake of it when he isn’t producing the goods for their Quadruple effort.

That’s the right decision even if all neutrals agree it would be a real shame if Aguero’s brilliant career at City fizzles out in a succession of substitute appearances and little cameos.

However, given City now look set to wrap up the league title nice and early, perhaps Aguero, if he stays fit, can start all their league games while others play in the more competitive ones.

KLOPP SHOULD BE HAPPY LIVERPOOL ARE UNDER THE RADAR IN TOP FOUR RACE

‘Plenty of people have written us off. That’s fine,’ said Jurgen Klopp after Liverpool won 2-0 at Sheffield United to round off the Premier League weekend on Sunday night.

It moved the Reds back within two points of a Champions League place and ended a four-match losing streak in league fixtures.

It may have been a pretty feeble title defence by Klopp’s side but nobody was going to keep pace with Man City in their current form.

Roberto Firmino (left) and Curtis Jones (right) scored as Liverpool won at Sheffield United

Roberto Firmino (left) and Curtis Jones (right) scored as Liverpool won at Sheffield United

Roberto Firmino (left) and Curtis Jones (right) scored as Liverpool won at Sheffield United

In the circumstances, being in a position on the shoulder of the leading pack in the top four race is a good place to be.

Liverpool have more than enough quality to comfortably finish in the top four and if the attention is elsewhere and the pressure off, they can focus on the Champions League as well.

It’s the first time in two or three years that Klopp’s Liverpool can play football without the rigours of being in the title race and all the while they can quietly rebuild for a push next season.

WHY ARE PALACE STILL SO TOOTHLESS WITHOUT ZAHA?

Wilfried Zaha has been absent for Crystal Palace’s last four league games now. They lost the first two of them, 2-0 at Leeds and 3-0 at home to Burnley, then committed daylight robbery to snatch a win at Brighton, scoring with both their shots on target.

In Sunday’s goalless draw with Fulham, they didn’t even manage a single shot on target in yet another toothless attacking performance.

We all know that Palace are underpowered when Zaha isn’t playing but it’s remarkable that his absence seems to result in a complete absence of attacking intent, even at home to a side in the relegation zone. Where’s the Plan B?

Christian Benteke (left) barely got a sniff as Crystal Palace created next to nothing on Sunday

Christian Benteke (left) barely got a sniff as Crystal Palace created next to nothing on Sunday

Christian Benteke (left) barely got a sniff as Crystal Palace created next to nothing on Sunday

It was Fulham who were left to rue all the missed chances and they could have closed the gap to 17th-placed Newcastle to just a point.

Roy Hodgson said Palace are ‘realists’ but does that really mean they can’t cross the halfway line without Zaha in the team? Christian Benteke barely got a touch, while Andros Townsend and Ebere Eze couldn’t make an impact.

BRUCE’S PUBLIC CRITICISM COULD EASILY BACKFIRE

It was brave of Steve Bruce to single out Jamal Lewis, Martin Dubravka, Joelinton and Matt Ritchie for criticism when analysing what went wrong for Wolves’ equaliser at St James’ Park on Saturday night.

In a dressing room where confidence must be as brittle as thin ice, where relegation is a looming danger when the team should probably be mid-table, and where he is under increasing pressure, words could easily backfire.

Newcastle manager Steve Bruce singled out four players at fault during their draw with Wolves

Newcastle manager Steve Bruce singled out four players at fault during their draw with Wolves

Newcastle manager Steve Bruce singled out four players at fault during their draw with Wolves

Bruce blamed Ritchie for not relaying his tactical instructions quickly enough, Lewis for not cutting out the cross and Dubravka for not keeping it out. Joelinton got a mention, too, for missing a crucial chance to win the game.

Given their dreadful situation, the Newcastle boss is frankly extremely fortunate not to have 50,000 angry Geordies singling him out for criticism at every home game.

SMITH GETS IT RIGHT WITHOUT GREALISH

Before Saturday’s game at Leeds, Aston Villa’s win percentage without Jack Grealish in their side dropped sharply from 42 per cent to 17 per cent.

But in contrast to Hodgson and Zaha at Palace, Smith got his game plan spot on in the absence of his talisman as Villa moved within six points of the top four.

Matchwinner Anwar El Ghazi offered Villa's threat in the absence of Jack Grealish at Leeds

Matchwinner Anwar El Ghazi offered Villa's threat in the absence of Jack Grealish at Leeds

Matchwinner Anwar El Ghazi offered Villa’s threat in the absence of Jack Grealish at Leeds

He brought Marvelous Nakamba and Jacob Ramsey into midfield to add steel and protection for the back four, while Ahmed El Mohamady did a fine tracking job on the dangerous Raphinha.

Anwar El Ghazi then provided the magic touch to compensate for Grealish’s absence, scoring an early winner and testing Leeds with other efforts.

It was a performance that once again illustrated how far Villa have progressed this season.

Source: Daily

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