Premier League Talking Points & Punting Pointers: Jordan Pickford, VAR and contrasting defences

Our football team look at the main talking points from Saturday's Premier League action

Our football team has the main takeaways from Saturday's Premier League fixtures, with some betting pointers that emerged from the action.



VAR saves Pickford and Everton - twice

Joe Townsend

Jordan Pickford avoided punishment for this challenge on Virgil van Dijk

Everton and Liverpool cast aside Goodison Park's recent history as a host of dull Merseyside derbies by playing out an action-packed contest that was indicative of the helter-skelter nature of Premier League football in 2020/21.

The protagonists weren't unexpected as Dominic Calvert-Lewin headed home a late equaliser - his 11th goal in 10 games this season - and after more than two years of unpredictable displays Jordan Pickford reached the nadir of erratic performances.

Pickford's day included everything we've come to expect and more. He twice made brilliant saves, with a full-length dive to deny Joel Matip particularly standout, but never looked calm and in control, characteristics England boss Gareth Southgate praised when he made the Everton keeper his number one back in 2018.


Graham Ruthven looks at what Virgil van Dijk's long spell out could mean

Click to read Graham Ruthven's analysis


Calvert-Lewin has been scoring enough goals to account for the Toffees ever-unreliable, inconsistent goalkeeper but on this occasion it was VAR official David Coote who came to Pickford's rescue. With Liverpool already 1-0 up thanks to Sadio Mane's early goal and Everton's players struggling to gain any kind of foothold it was almost inevitable Pickford would be the first to crack.

A horror challenge on Virgil van Dijk after six minutes left the Liverpool defender unable to continue. Van Dijk was marginally offside though, so marginal that Coote put all his focus on making sure he made the correct offside call; Pickford got off scot free because a referee FORGOT to check for the red card. Truly incredible.

But for an inch, it would have been a Liverpool penalty to potentially make it 2-0, and an Everton team with 10 men for 84 minutes. But for incompetence, it would have at least been the latter.

In Pickford's defence he responded by putting in a pretty good performance, but when his team needed him at the most crucial moment he crumbled again. The home side were holding on after Richarlison's late red card only for the Everton keeper to allow Jordan Henderson's injury-time 'winner' to squirm underneath him. What followed was a decision as equally baffling as Pickford's sixth-minute reprieve as the goal was ruled offside, despite replays appearing to show the contrary.

While Everton can thank their lucky stars and bask in the glow of a point against their greatest rivals, Carlo Ancelotti is unlikely to be so willing to gloss over Pickford's performance. Sweden number one Robin Olsen recently joined on a season-long loan from Roma and it's surely only a matter of time before he is given the gloves at Goodison.

It's needed because Ancelotti will want to solve an obvious weakness. Quite rightly Everton should be praised for their phenomenal start, seven wins and a draw in all competitions, but having started with a pair clean sheets they have conceded in every game since - 10 goals in total. They have to be a good shout for both teams to score and over 2.5 goals when they head to Southampton next weekend, with Everton not to keep a clean sheet also worth a look.

Jack Butland (right centre) could be worth a small stakes punt to make England's Euros squad

More long-term it's worth taking a look at the prices on goalkeepers to make England squad's for the Euros.

Pickford is an astonishing 1/33 to make the 23. There could be some serious money made if you chose to oppose the Everton keeper's inclusion on the exchanges, given how poor his form is for both club and country. It's also worth bearing in mind Southgate jettisoned Joe Hart ahead of the 2018 World Cup despite him playing every minute in qualification.

The men regularly being called up alongside Pickford are Nick Pope and Dean Henderson, and both are understandably odds-on. In the Premier League at the moment, there are only three other English keepers currently first choice - Sheffield United's Aaron Ramsdale (7/2), Southampton's Alex McCarthy (12/1) and West Brom's Sam Johnstone (no price listed).

Jack Butland (33/1) has been in terrible form for two years but got a move to Crystal Palace this week as Vicente Guaita's deputy. Butland is a big favourite of Southgate's, narrowly missing out to Pickford as number one ahead of the World Cup.

He remained in the England squad for a year while playing in the Sky Bet Championship for a struggling Stoke team, and despite often turning in poor performances. Another to consider is Newcastle's Karl Darlow (no price listed) who has had a superb start to the campaign in Martin Dubravka's absence.

But Butland would be my man at a Hollywood price, which will shorten dramatically if he gets game-time at Selhurst.


The case for the defence, Mr Lampard?

Tom Carnduff

Jannik Vestergaard celebrates Southampton's late equaliser at Chelsea

When you're spending drastic sums of money to improve your squad, you want to ensure that all areas are covered.

And while Frank Lampard was given a huge budget to bring in some of Europe's best players, his complete disregard for the defensive areas has left Chelsea with the same issues they were facing last season.

Yes, Thiago Silva and Ben Chilwell did arrive at Stamford Bridge but it remains an area that was completely overlooked. Chelsea had very few issues in scoring goals during the 2019/20 campaign; keeping them out was the biggest problem.

The transfer business demonstrates that it's an area that will have to be revisited again in less than 12 months' time. Southampton have put their name on an increasingly long list of teams who know how to get the better of Chelsea's backline.

Another error from Kepa Arrizabalaga gifted Southampton one of their equalisers but their third and final goal was deserved based on the course of the game. The Saints enjoyed more on and off target shots; that's despite Timo Werner's lively presence up top for the hosts.

But we sit here once again not discussing the performance of the forwards but their showings at the back. Chelsea have now conceded nine goals in their first five games; not good enough for a club who should be aiming for constant involvement in the title race.

We may point towards Liverpool's 13 conceded over the same period but over half came in the freak 7-2 defeat at Aston Villa. It's a patch of rough form for the Reds compared but a consistent element of Lampard's Chelsea.

The unbalanced nature of the spending has contributed to their current issues with 99 goals conceded in Lampard's 62 games at the helm, an alarming figure for a top-four side - and they show no signs of stopping the flow.

Sevilla may not be a high-scoring team but they shouldn't be as big as 12/5 for victory over Chelsea in their Champions League meeting on Tuesday. This is a team who enjoyed success over both Manchester United and Wolves en route to winning the Europa League last season.

The Spanish side are also 7/4 to score 2+ goals which is just too generous based on this Chelsea defence. We're now at a stage where we can strongly believe it's just not going to get better until they have the opportunity to spend once again.


'1-0 to the Man City'

Joe Townsend

Manchester City celebrate Raheem Sterling's goal against Arsenal

It was Arsenal, under George Graham's tutelage in the 1980s and '90s, who developed the reputation for grinding out 1-0 wins. At the Etihad on Saturday, it was Manchester City who showed they could rely on a strong defensive base when needed too.

Pep Guardiola's side weren't at their fluent best, but deservedly came out on the right side of a 1-0 match on their own ground for the first time in 30 fixtures; not since victory over Leicester in May 2019 had they been successful in a one-goal contest at Etihad Stadium. And it didn't come by chance.

City suffered terrible defensive problems last season, especially pre-lockdown, which knocked them out of the title race before they were ever really in it. This term, there had been no clean sheets in their first three Premier League fixtures and their opening home match was a 5-2 thrashing by Leicester.

Guardiola, such a devout disciple of gung-ho, high-pressing football showed his willingness to adapt but also had his team line up in a way no-one was likely to predict.

In the first half, full-back Joao Cancelo played in central defence with Kyle Walker in his natural right-back position. Early in the second period, they switched around. Nathan Ake, a centre-half, played at left-back for the full 90 minutes.

Deep-lying playmaker Rodri was utilised more as an anchorman, and occasionally even an additional defender to make it a back three. Unlike Guardiola's previous uses of a 3-4-3, where the express idea has been to create more attacking outlets for his team, this was a City putting defensive shape first.

It worked too, with the Gunners barely creating a chance in open play after half-time.

Arguably this was a more impressive display than if City had swept Arsenal aside with a flurry of goals, because they showed a pragmatic side to their play that has been sorely lacking for more than a year. For all their scintillating play and record goalscoring, it's easily forgotten that in their title-winning campaigns of 2017/18 and 2018/19 they kept a respective 18 and 20 clean sheets - each season only one shy of the most in the division.

For a short-term punt, they are 5/4 to keep a clean sheet against Porto in the Champions League in midweek and 7/5 to keep West Ham out in the Premier League next weekend. I like the look of both as odds-against prices for what feels like a very different City.


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