There are individual issues at Manchester United. Cristiano Ronaldo produced another underwhelming performance up front on his return to the starting line-up. Harry Maguire endured a desperate afternoon at the back, looking uncomfortable throughout.
But the real concern in the 1-1 draw against Southampton was that while Ralf Rangnick continues to talk as if the vision is coming together, there was a lack of coherence to their display that was made all the more apparent by the enterprise of the visitors.
Ralph Hasenhuttl is something of a disciple of the United interim boss. The 4-2-2-2 formation that he plays with intense pressing is the Rangnick trademark, a system the German has already felt compelled to abandon since his arrival at Old Trafford.
Is there a lack of belief in their work? This is the fourth time in six games that United have led at half-time only to give up that advantage in the second half. Southampton, who had one day fewer to recover, ran over five kilometres further than the home side.
“It is not a big secret that when they lose the ball the reverse gears are not the best,” said Hasenhuttl when analysing the game afterwards. That is damning for those Manchester United players who are responsible for that failing.
Fourteen Premier League games remain until the end of the season – and the end of Rangnick’s coaching contract with the club. Hope that his idea will take shape is fading. The only goal now is for them to scramble over the line and secure fourth. It is in jeopardy.
Che Adams was the man responsible for the equaliser, producing another strong performance. Meanwhile, the energy and quality of both Southampton full-backs was also impressive, Kyle Walker-Peters and Romain Perraud getting forward well in attack.
But it was the talent of Armando Broja, the on-loan Chelsea striker, that will stay with many after another standout display leading the Saints’ attack. He did not score this time but caused Maguire and Raphael Varane all sorts of problems throughout the match.
There was a warning early on when he slowed Varane down before burning him off near the touchline. Late in the game, he exposed Maguire’s lack of pace after outmuscling him. Two defenders with huge reputations could not handle the 20-year-old Albanian.
It is a team effort under Hasenhuttl and that is as it should be given the coordinated pressing on display. But that is nothing new from this Southampton side. What is striking is that the loss of Danny Ings is not being felt thanks to the impact of the brilliant Broja.
It is easy to forget Raheem Sterling had only scored one Premier League goal this season at the start of December following a stop-start period that perhaps was a bit of a hangover from his dazzling performances for England at the Euros. He even suggested that a move away from the club could be on the horizon when his contract expires at the end of next season.
But the Sterling we are seeing now is the fully-fit and fully-firing version. He was outstanding in the 1-0 win over Chelsea and has maintained that level of form since, ripping Norwich’s Max Aarons apart down the left flank at Carrow Road. His perfect hat-trick takes his tally to eight goals in his last eight appearances against Norwich and he now has 10 goals in total in the Premier League this season. Sterling became the third Manchester City player to score a perfect hat-trick in the Premier League, after Edin Dzeko and Sergio Aguero (twice). Meanwhile, no Man City player has scored more away hat-tricks in the competition than Sterling, with each of his last three coming on the road.
There could be more to come judging on his showing. He is a man in red-hot form.
Three goals and a clean sheet. Frank Lampard could not have asked for a better performance against Leeds to get his first Premier League win in charge of Everton.
It was also a performance that was not the sign of a team that had been dragged into an unlikely relegation battle.
Donny van de Beek impressed on his first start for the Toffees and reminded us why Manchester United had forked out £39m for him from Ajax in the summer of 2020.
Meanwhile, Everton youngster Anthony Gordon grabbed a goal – albeit a very lucky one after deflecting in Richarlison’s shot – and an assist to show why the 20-year-old is fast becoming an integral player for this Everton team.
Van de Beek and Gordon’s displays were just a couple of highlights from a fantastic team performance that had Lampard purring.
“I’m absolutely delighted,” he said. “In terms of our effort, our work-rate, the nature of the team, how we wanted to play, how compact we were, some of the quality play, opportunities created, we created so many good opportunities in the game – I’m really happy.
“I’ve been here two weeks, it’s only a start, that’s for sure and I won’t get overexcited. But I can enjoy it. Seeing my team play like that was everything we wanted.”
And the same can be said for the Everton fans, who had longed for such joy following the miserable reign of Rafael Benitez. They even chanted Lampard’s name towards the end of the game, such is their delight at the former England midfielder’s appointment.
It seems Everton are finally harmonious on and off the pitch, and they will now be hoping it is only upwards from here this season.
Brentford came into their game against Crystal Palace on the back of five successive defeats in the Premier League, so they will no doubt be pleased to have put an end to such a dispiriting run.
Thomas Frank appeared to set up his side with the primary intention of not losing, and they were reluctant to take too many risks when in possession.
The Bees ended the match with a passing accuracy below 70 per cent, and that figure fell to below 60 per cent when they entered the Eagles’ half.
Remarkably, neither Palace nor Brentford had a player flagged offside during the game – a clear sign of both sides’ unwillingness to gamble with the point they ultimately earned.
Brentford’s happiness to settle for a share of the spoils was understandable, though, given their poor form and their pre-season aspirations of remaining in the Premier League.
The Bees remain clear of the relegation zone and, by avoiding defeat, know they are inching towards securing their top-flight future for another year.
The sense that Patrick Vieira is a manager who struggles to set up his team in a positive manner when on the road was strengthened after Crystal Palace’s toothless performance in their 0-0 draw at Brentford.
The Eagles’ only genuine chance of the game came after Brentford gifted them the ball on the halfway line, allowing Odsonne Edouard to play in Jordan Ayew on the right of the Bees’ area.
But – perhaps unsurprisingly for a player who has two Premier League goals since the start of last season – Ayew sliced his effort high and wide.
That was a good as it got for Palace, and they ended the game with an xG (expected goals) total of just 0.49 and only three shots on target.
Vieira had similar problems setting his team up to attack away from home during his time at Nice, where his side averaged just 0.9 goals per 90 minutes in his 37 away matches managing the French club.
Palace’s struggles away from home have led to them winning just once on the road this season, with only Burnley having a worse record.
While it does not appear to be something that will cost the Eagles their Premier League place – they are currently 12th – it is something Vieira will need to address as he continues to put a stamp on his side.
It was another demoralising day for Watford as Roy Hodgson’s wait for a first win – and first goal – since taking charge at Vicarage Road continues.
It was a comfortable 2-0 victory in the end for Brighton in a game the visitors largely dominated. The result means Watford have lost six consecutive home games in England’s top flight for the first time in their history.
And the stats do not get any better. On their longest run without a win since 1999, they have now failed to score in four consecutive league games – but there is hope.
The return of Ismaila Sarr – back after winning the Africa Cup of Nations with Senegal – at least gives Hodgson some optimism of escaping the drop.
The 23-year-old scored five goals in 12 league games before a knee injury in November and his introduction at half-time gave the home fans a much-needed boost.
“He’s a player that we are hoping, going forward, will give us something a bit extra,” Hodgson said after the match.
“But it was a big ask for him today, having come back from Africa and the celebrations from Senegal winning the cup, sort of asked more of him than he was able to give us today.”
Watford’s only shot on target came courtesy of Sarr and although they remain deep in the relegation mire, he could be their best chance of getting out of it.
Neal Maupay may have grabbed the headlines for his stunning strike in Brighton’s 2-0 win at Watford, but it was his team-mate Tariq Lamptey who impressed most at Vicarage Road.
Helping his side to their first league win since January 2, the full-back’s intent was obvious from the first minute. His pace and tenacity down the right-hand side caused Watford problems throughout, with his pin-point cross to find Maupay for the opening goal the highlight of a commanding performance.
There is a reason why Lamptey has been linked with a move away from Brighton. The former Chelsea youngster quickly became a fans’ favourite after signing for the club two years ago, and his admirers already extend far beyond the Amex.
Tottenham were interested in signing the 21-year-old last summer but with his Brighton contract not expiring until 2025, the south coast club have some much-needed leverage if any of the Premier League’s ‘big six’ come calling again.
But despite a yellow card for a reckless tackle late in the second half, Lamptey was instrumental in almost every promising Brighton attack and, if he can consistently perform at this level, Graham Potter will do well to keep hold of him.