The Sky Sports writers analyse the key talking points from Tuesday’s action in the Premier League as both Chelsea and Manchester United improve their top-four hopes…
If Manchester United are to go on and secure a top-four finish, it will owe a lot to Casemiro. The Brazilian was eased into the side gradually following his arrival from Real Madrid in the summer, but there is no doubting his importance now.
Starting for the 13th time in 14 United games either side of the World Cup, he produced arguably his best performance yet against Nottingham Forest, the 3-0 win putting Erik ten Hag’s side only a point behind fourth-placed Tottenham.
United certainly needed him given a virus had forced Ten Hag to field a makeshift centre-back pairing of Raphael Varane, who had only just returned from holiday following his World Cup exploits with France, and left-back Luke Shaw.
But the 30-year-old protected that duo superbly, dominating the midfield right from the start of the game and helping to ensure Forest rarely got near the United goal.
He excelled in a defensive sense, snapping into tackles – one of which started the move for United’s second goal – and anticipating danger, but he was similarly influential at the other end of the pitch, his all-round display a reminder of his completeness.
He almost scored with a deft chip which forced a scrambling save from Forest goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey in the second half, and the pass to set up Fred’s late goal, following a typically smart interception, was one of three chances he created.
This kind of performance should come as no surprise, of course. Casemiro is a five-time Champions League winner for a reason. But what’s key for United is that he has adapted to the Premier League so quickly. They have lost only one of those last 13 games he has started. His role in their recent improvement is a significant one.
Rashford ravenous, but is it enough for Man Utd?
Marcus Rashford scored his 10th goal in all competitions for Manchester United this season in Tuesday’s 3-0 win over Nottingham Forest – double his tally from the previous campaign.
The 25-year-old forward looks like a man transformed under Erik ten Hag. Having been a shell of his former self for so long, Rashford has now taken his game to a new level.
There’s been a distinct shift in his mentality. He has a hunger to score different types of goals and is becoming more ruthless as a result. Rashford looks ravenous for goals.
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After all, he needs to meet Ten Hag’s target of 20 Premier League goals this season. The constant push for improvement from his manager is driving Rashford on.
Against Forest, the confidence coursing through him was so apparent. There was no hesitation for his opener and his skill before assisting Anthony Martial’s goal was pure instinct.
With Cristiano Ronaldo out of the door, though, there is an almighty weight of responsibility on his shoulders. It signals a changing of the guard. Rashford is the go-to man now at Old Trafford.
He carries the burden of scoring the goals in a side that struggles to do so. United’s measly return of 23 in the league is 10 less than the lowest scorers in the top four currently, Tottenham.
There are also very few options to support him through a hectic calendar with United still competing on four fronts, with Martial the only other recognised senior striker in the squad.
Ten Hag says United want to sign a striker in the transfer window next month, but seeing Liverpool act decisively to agree a deal for PSV’s Cody Gakpo ahead of them points to trouble ahead.
Reports suggest United are working on a shoe-string budget having overspent in the summer. But this is the moment Ten Hag needs the owners to keep their foot on the gas to capitalise on the momentum he has brought.
Should they fail to recruit a forward, Rashford will surely have too much of a job on his hands to fire United to the top four and a trophy. Even with the help of Martial, Antony, Bruno Fernandes and Alejandro Garnacho.
The club needs to match the ambition of its manager and star forward.
Potter rewarded for conventional thinking
A theme throughout Chelsea’s wretched run of form before the World Cup break was Graham Potter’s penchant for deploying players in unfamiliar – and potentially unsuitable – positions.
The head coach’s line-ups became increasingly difficult to predict as he searched for solutions to his side’s slump, with Raheem Sterling, Christian Pulisic and Conor Gallagher all asked to do stints at wing-back.
But after being handed several weeks to work with his squad as the Premier League paused for the World Cup, Potter opted for a more conventional XI for Chelsea’s first game back and was rewarded with a more fluid and cohesive performance from his side.
Sterling and Pulisic looked vastly more comfortable as wingers than they had at wing-back, while Marc Cucurella put in one of his better performances in a Chelsea shirt after being moved to left-back.
Mason Mount also seemed to benefit from being played as a No 8 rather than as part of a front three, and rewarded Potter for his selection by scoring in a match for just the second time this season.
The way in which Chelsea’s performance regressed in the final 30 minutes against Bournemouth means Potter won’t be able to get too carried away with the display, and a better side would have punished the Blues, but the three points could – and maybe should – convince the head coach to stick with a more recognisable line-up over the next few weeks.
James denied perfect return by cruel injury
Reece James looked like he’d never been away.
Injured since October 11 with a knee issue that required surgery, James made an impressive return to competitive action only for it to end after 53 minutes.
James had been key to Chelsea’s 2-0 lead, tormenting Bournemouth down their left side and linking up flawlessly with Raheem Sterling. The right-back was even denied a goal by goalkeeper Mark Travers late in the first half.
But soon he was trudging down the tunnel after suffering an issue in “the same area” as the problem he’d only just overcome.
Chelsea stuttered after James went off. Cesar Azpilicueta – James’ replacement – was unable to provide the same attacking threat on the right. Fortunately for Potter’s side they already held a commanding lead, but they will have a bigger problem should James be set for another long spell on the sidelines.
Bournemouth must back O’Neil in January
New Bournemouth owner Bill Foley has vowed “there’s no budget” when it comes to the January transfer window – and the Cherries need reinforcements.
The lack of quality in Gary O’Neil’s side was highlighted by Chelsea which is of course no surprise given the London club’s spending power.
Bournemouth’s survival hopes will not be decided by results against the top sides but supporters will hope Foley’s plan to add “4 to 5 more players” comes to fruition in order to stay in the division.
Bournemouth were dominated down the left side of their defence by Raheem Sterling and Reece James in the first half. They improved in the second period yet struggled to break the hosts down, seeing their best chance come through Dominic Solanke’s final-minute header.
O’Neil will take confidence from how his side didn’t crumble after quickly falling two behind although Bournemouth have now won just once in their last seven, losing five times.
Foley will be watching in person when the Cherries play their first home game in seven weeks against Crystal Palace on Saturday. He will see for himself just how much work there is to do in the January market.