Despite the men in the dugout boasting a full five Champions League titles between them, Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham versus Carlo Ancelotti’s Everton offered very little to get excited about.
Fortunately, a spicy, little subplot unfolded as everyone’s favourite ball of smiling enthusiasm Son Heung-Min and 33-year-old captain of his national team Hugo Lloris almost went full 2005 Lee Bowyer and Kieron Dyer.
On the cusp of half time, Son half-heartedly tracked back after losing possession, Richarlison got a shot away and Lloris was absolutely furious.
The goalkeeper tore over to Son at halftime, had a right old shout at him, and the pair had to be pulled apart by peacemakers Giovanni Lo Celso, Harry Winks and Moussa Sissoko.
Gary Lineker was one of many fans surprised to see two of the more senior players in the Spurs squad losing their temper.
Good heavens indeed, Gary. Many fans were pleased the pair had shown a bit of fight and spirit, after watching their team put in a first half performance devoid of anything of the sort.
Of course, there were plenty of theories as to what the real source of the animosity was…
The Everton result became secondary as debate sparked about who would come out on top between the pair.
But most fans were just rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of watching the fight unfold all over again in a few months time on Amazon Prime’s Tottenham documentary.
And Netflix thought they’d hit the jackpot with Sunderland ‘Til I Die.
In recent years, there’s been numerous examples highlighting how Arsenal have sought to copy, or even take from Leicester City’s overperformance.
There was the attempted move in 2016 to bring over newly minted Premier League winner Jamie Vardy for £22m, which the striker turned down, fearing he would be played out of position, against his natural strengths. And then only months ago, the Foxes’ manager Brendan Rodgers was forced to publicly rule out any interest in taking over at the Emirates, declaring his happiness at his current team.
But as the two teams prepare to meet on Tuesday evening, there’s another Leicester man Mikel Arteta and the Arsenal hierarchy should be taking an interest in.
He’s not the flashiest player for the Foxes, and isn’t likely grab the headlines after their Premier League clash but Wilfried Ndidi is exactly the player that the Gunners’ midfield is crying out for at the moment.
The Nigeria international is the steady anchor that keeps everything together on a consistent basis, without straying from his role at all.
Now before Arsenal fans get too excited – it’s highly unlikely that Rodgers’ side would let him go to a top-half rival. The 23-year old is far too valuable to their style of play and has been a seamless fit into the ‘Kanté-role’ that was the bedrock of their title success in 2016. Not to mention that he’s also tied down for the next five years, meaning a huge offer would be needed to pry him away.
But given that they currently lack a consistent midfield ‘destroyer’, who can also help recycle possession to his attacking teammates, he’s certainly the type of player that club officials should be targeting in the summer.
Often playing as the sole holding midfielder in a 4-1-4-1 formation, the Nigerian is chiefly responsible for protecting his back-four, while also ensuring his colleagues in James Maddison and Youri Tielemans can get the ball quickly enough to create for Vardy going forward.
He’s in the top-three of all Premier League players for successful tackles and interceptions made this season, highlighting just how terrific he is at winning the ball from opponents. When he does have the ball, the midfielder can be entrusted to use it efficiently, shown by his current pass completion rate of 85%.
I think he is the best in the Premier League at tackling and winning the ball back.
– James Maddison, Ndidi’s teammate
His importance has been shown when he’s been sidelined with injury, as Leicester failed to win any of the five games he missed mid-season, due to knee issues. Without him, the Midlands side have looked more vulnerable at the back and lack the tenacious, energetic presence that he brings in the centre of the park – which lets both Maddison and Tielemans shine in their attacking half.
Looking at Arsenal’s midfield by contrast, Ndidi is the exact type of player that they need. While Matteo Guendouzi has been given similar responsibilities for the Gunners, he’s been inconsistent in the role, and has been prone to poor decision-making at times – which is understandable, given he’s still 21 years old.
But if Arteta is to create an eventual title-winning team, he’ll need the Frenchman to develop into the mould of the Nigerian, or consider an upgrade, as no other player for the north London side carries the same qualities for the ball-winning midfield position – even Granit Xhaka isn’t a perfect fit for such duties.
Hence the interest in Atletico Madrid’s Thomas Partey makes a lot of sense – and if they were to sign the Ghanaian, he would certainly be deployed in the ‘destroyer’ role that Ndidi currently plays in for the Foxes.
For now though, Arsenal will line up on Tuesday evening without that tough-tackling, defensive shield-like presence in midfield. With Guendouzi’s future at the club uncertain, one of Joe Willock, Xhaka or on-loan Dani Ceballos will likely be tasked with doing the ‘dirty-work’ for Arteta’s side, which actually worked out well against Wolves last time out.
But Leicester’s midfield is a much tougher proposition to stop for the chosen individual – and with Ndidi at the base of their team, they’ll be able to freely attack Arsenal’s vulnerable backline – something the Gunners aspire to, and will do to other teams if they can find their own kind of Ndidi this summer.
Carlo Ancelotti has insisted there is ‘no way’ Everton will sell key players in order to fund a summer spending spree, amid rumours of Chelsea interest in Lucas Digne.
Frank Lampard’s Stamford Bridge rebuild has already started with the signings of Timo Werner and Hakim Ziyech from RB Leipzig and Ajax respectively. The Blues are reportedly keen to bolster their defensive options next, with clean-sheets proving difficult to come by in 2019/20.
Chelsea have supposedly been put off by first-choice target Ben Chilwell by a £75m price tag and 26-year-old Digne has been outlined as a cheaper alternative.
However, Toffees boss Ancelotti has reiterated his desire to keep hold of his most important stars.
When asked if any of his top players could leave, the Italian replied (via the Daily Mail): “No way. At this moment, there are a lot of rumours.
“Lucas Digne is an important player for us, so there is no way that he or anyone else can leave.”
The likes of Mason Holgate, Richarlison and most recently Yerry Mina have also been linked with transfers away from the blue half of Merseyside in recent weeks.
Speaking ahead of the clash with Tottenham on Monday night, Ancelotti was also asked about potential target Pierre-Emile Højbjerg.
Southampton recently stripped Højbjerg of his captaincy duties on the south coast after revealing his desire to play Champions League football.
The Denmark international was previously at Ancelotti’s former club Bayern Munich, albeit before the Italian arrived in Germany, and the manager refused to rule out making a move this summer.
“I know Højbjerg he’s a good player,” the Everton boss said.
“He is playing for Southampton, so I don’t want to talk about another Premier League player and that we are playing against soon. I can give an opinion about him at the end of the season.”
Aston Villa host Manchester United on Thursday night with both sides in need of three points for very different reasons.
Villa have endured a torrid return to league football following the three-month break – picking up just two points from a possible 15. Their poor form has seen their winless run stretch to nine Premier League games, and with just five games remaining they find themselves stuck in the bottom three.
United on the other hand are enjoying their best form of the season (and perhaps in years) and look well set to make a charge for a place in next season’s Champions League. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men are 16 unbeaten in all competitions, with many pinpointing the arrival of midfield dynamo Bruno Fernandes as the catalyst for the club’s upturn in form.
In what could be a crucial game at both ends of the table, here’s 90min’s preview of the upcoming clash.
When is Kick Off? Thursday 9 June What Time is Kick Off? 20:15 (BST) Where is it Played? Villa Park TV Channel/Live Stream? Sky Sports Premier League
Villa’s bid for Premier League survival has been hugely hampered by injuries this season. Big-money summer signing Wesley again misses out and isn’t expected to feature again this season after suffering knee ligament damage in the New Year’s Day win over Burnley.
Tom Heaton meanwhile is another victim of knee ligament damage who won’t play again this campaign. The game is also expected to come too soon to see the return of Matt Targett after he limped off in the 1-0 defeat to Wolves with a hamstring injury.
For the visitors, Victor Lindelöf was forced off at half-time in their thumping 5-2 win over Bournemouth at the weekend. However, the Swede is expected to be fit in time for the trip to Villa Park.
Elsewhere, Phil Jones and Alex Tuanzebe both remain sidelined and will not feature on Thursday.
Aston Villa: Reina; Konsa, Hause, Mings, Taylor; Luiz, McGinn, Hourihane; El Ghazi, Grealish, Samatta.
Manchester United: De Gea; Wan-Bissaka, Lindelöf, Maguire, Shaw; Matic, Pogba; Greenwood, Fernandes, Rashford; Martial.
Villa’s return since the break has not been good. Draws against Sheffield United and Newcastle are all they have to show for their five games back, though their performance last time out in the 2-0 defeat to Liverpool was a little more encouraging.
United’s form is as impressive as Solskjaer has experienced since his tenure at Old Trafford began. Big wins against Sheffield United, Brighton and Bournemouth have seen the Red Devils give themselves a real chance of qualification for the Champions League next season.
Liverpool 2-0 Aston Villa (05/07) Aston Villa 0-1 Wolves (27/06) Newcastle 1-1 Aston Villa (24/06) Aston Villa 1-2 Chelsea (21/06) Aston Villa 0-0 Sheffield United (17/06)
Manchester United 5-2 Bournemouth (04/07) Brighton 0-3 Manchester United (30/06) Norwich 1-2 Manchester United (27/06) Manchester United 3-0 Sheffield United (24/06) Tottenham 1-1 Manchester United (19/06)
Time is running out for Dean Smith’s men. Their positive (if fruitless) display at Anfield will have instilled some much needed confidence, but they need to pick up points soon if they are to avoid the second tier.
United’s away record is unusually poor for a team on as much of a high as they are right now. Just five away wins all season, and if they’re to keep the heat on Chelsea in the race for the top four they’ll need to make it six away wins for the season at Villa.
Having said that, the Red Devils looked superb against Bournemouth and in Bruno Fernandes they boast arguably the best player in the league at the moment. Expect the Portugal international to run the show yet again.
Brentford striker Ollie Watkins is being closely monitored by Premier League sides Southampton and Crystal Palace ahead of a potential transfer in the upcoming window.
Watkins, who is the joint top scorer in this season’s Championship with 23 goals, has been pivotal in Brentford’s push for the Premier League, with the Bees sitting third in the league – five points off an automatic promotion place.
The 24-year-old’s prolific form has reportedly caught the eye of a number of Premier League teams, with West Ham reportedly interested in the striker back in March and even Chelsea linked earlier in the year.
Now The Athletic report that Southampton and Crystal Palace are both interested in Watkins.
Crystal Palace’s Roy Hodgson recently announced his plans to strengthen the Eagles’ attack by dipping into the transfer market and Watkins could be the answer to the lack of goals at Selhurst Park this season. With Jordan Ayew’s nine goals the most at Palace this season, the addition of a highly rated goalscorer like Watkins could be a boost for the Eagles.
Southampton are likely looking for someone to partner with the free scoring Danny Ings, who has been in sensational form for the Saints this season.
Watkins joined Brentford back in 2017 for £1.8m from Exeter City and the forward has gone from strength to strength during his time at Griffin Park, scoring 46 goals over his three years at the club.
A new four-year contract Watkins signed last August has set the striker’s release clause at £18m, a price sure to attract plenty more sides looking to bolster their attacking lines once this season has finished.
A sub-£20m move for the Championship’s top scorer offers a low risk-high reward type of situation for anyone pursuing the forward.
A potential move away from Brentford may ultimately come down to whether Thomas Frank’s men remain in the Championship heading into next season, or whether they make it to the promised land.