Premier League talking points: Rashford faces drop, 'struggling' Man City, Villa fortress

We pick out the big issues ahead of the English top-flight midweek fixtures as the hectic December schedule begins in earnest

Manchester United's Marcus Rashford has scored only two goals across all compeitions this season. EPA
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Will Ten Hag drop Rashford?

All is clearly not well in the world for Marcus Rashford. The England forward cut a forlorn figure on Saturday as Manchester United lost 1-0 to Newcastle United – a scoreline that flattered Erik ten Hag's side.

And it was Rashford's performance – or rather lack of it – that became the focus of fierce criticism from fans and media personalities.

“Body language does not emit contentment,” wrote The National reporter Andy Mitten. “He’s 26 now, he’s not a child any more. He’s got to set the example,” said former Manchester United captain Roy Keane on Sky Sports, while fellow pundit Jamie Carragher added: “What he did last night was nowhere near acceptable.”

Even Ten Hag hinted that all is not well with a player who scored 30 goals last season, but has managed just two this time round.

“I will talk to him and not the media,” said the Dutch coach, who must now decide whether Rashford starts against Chelsea at Old Trafford on Wednesday. “I don't go into individual performances. I knew this issue was coming up … he will return to his form, he will recover and he gets all our support.”

Can 'struggling' Man City return to winning ways?

Three draws in a row against “Big Six” opposition hardly constitutes a crisis, but when your standards are as high as Pep Guardiola's, then maybe you can count Manchester City's form as something of a blip.

Sunday's 3-3 home draw with Tottenham Hotspur came on the back of sharing the spoils with Liverpool (1-1 at the Etihad Stadium) and Chelsea (4-4 at Stamford Bridge) – leaving City three points behind Premier League leaders Arsenal.

It is the longest City have gone without a league win since the end of Guardiola's first season in charge in 2017.

“It's not the first time we have faced this situation where we are playing good but results don't come,” said the Catalan coach, whose team face a trip to Aston Villa on Wednesday without the suspended Rodri and Jack Grealish. “Always we find a solution, but lately the results don't come and we are struggling.

“Football is about mistakes sometimes, but still we are there. After many years we still have the feeling that we want it [the title].”

Man City v Spurs ratings

Will Villa Park fortress hold out?

Aston Villa are riding high in fourth place, built largely on the back of making their home – Villa Park – one of the most difficult grounds in the league to take three points from.

Only three clubs – Liverpool, Newcastle and Arsenal, who have all played more games – have a better home record than Villa this season with Unai Emery's side having won all six of their matches on home soil, the first time since 1932/33 that they have started the campaign in such fashion.

Last month's 3-1 win over Fulham means the Villa faithful have watched their side triumph for 13 consecutive matches with their last home defeat coming way back on February 18 when they lost 4-2 to Arsenal.

Meanwhile, their home goals for (23) and against (five) columns are both currently the best in the division.

But the home fortress now faces the ultimate test of strength against the mighty treble winners who are currently third in the table, one point and one place above Villa.

“It is always difficult to play Manchester City,” said Emery ahead of Wednesday's game. “They are the best team with the best coach.”

Can Newcastle banish away-day blues?

Another team with a fortress-like home stadium is Eddie Howe's Newcastle. The Magpies have won seven out of eight matches as St James' Park, which has been the foundation of a season that sees them sit three points behind fourth-placed Villa.

But while Newcastle are clearly loving life in the comfort of their own home – the likes of Villa, Man City, Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea, Arsenal and now Man United have all lost on Tyneside this campaign – their away form has been far less impressive.

Out of the 26 Premier League points bagged so far, only five have come on their travels – a record that leaves them a lowly 15th in the away-day table; they are second in the home version.

And Thursday's trip to take on Everton at Goodison Park will be made even more spicy by Anthony Gordon's return to the club he left in acrimony in January.

“We're in a really good place, but we know the environment we're going to go into so it's no secret,” said Gordon. “We need to be ready for that. It's going to be a challenging game.”

De Zerbi v Frank: Who wins out of overachieving coaches?

Two managers who have achieved above and beyond the usual expectations at their respective clubs meet on Wednesday when Brighton play host to Brentford.

Roberto de Zerbi was filling big boots when he replaced Chelsea-bound Graham Potter at the Seagulls last season but the Italian managed to guide Brighton to a sixth-place finish to bag a place in European competition for the first time in the club's history.

“I’m proud and I am enjoying a lot working with these players, with these people,” De Zerbi told BBC Radio 5 Live last month. “I want to stay a long time.”

Over at Brentford, meanwhile, Thomas Frank has been in charge since 2018 and the Dane has seen his team secure promotion to the Premier League followed by 13th and ninth-placed finishes in the top-flight, missing out on Europe by two points last term.

Both clubs' form has been mixed this season but Brighton are currently eighth, three points and three places ahead of Brentford, which is still highly impressive considering the superior budgets of those around them in the table.

“I would love to think our club culture is among the best in the Premier League – actually, in the world,” Frank told The Standard last week.

Updated: December 05, 2023, 2:57 AM