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10 things we learned from the League Cup Final and Week 26 the 2023-24 Premier League season

We had one game moved forward, another pushed back, and there's still one to come Monday, but there's still a full cabinet full of talking points from the weekend of Premier League Week 26 because of the way the League Cup unfolded at Wembley Stadium on Sunday.

Undermanned Liverpool needed almost every tick of 120 minutes to defeat Chelsea and claim a 10th League Cup trophy, and the manner in which their opponents failed to take the opportunity to give Mauricio Pochettino silverware adds a plot point to the Blues' Premier League campaign.

[ MORE: Premier League season hub — fixtures, results ]

And Liverpool getting that trophy despite needing meaningful performances from several teenagers says almost as much as what Arsenal's doing in ringing up 25 goals in a six-match Premier League winning streak, or what Man City and Wolves did by finding a win from substandard Week 26 performances.

We talk about all of the action with the knowledge that we've still got a London derby coming between Brentford and West Ham at the London Stadium (Watch live at 3pm ET Monday on USA Network and stream online via NBC.com).


Two things we learned from the League Cup Final

Van Dijk seals fitting final for Jurgen Klopp’s Goodbye Tour

Chelsea 0-1 (aet) Liverpool — Recap, video highlights

The three teenagers who Jurgen Klopp sent out during the second half of regular team had each accumulated fewer than 100 senior minutes this season for the Reds, but the jobs done by Bobby Clark, Jayden Danns, and James McConnell say so much about what Jurgen Klopp has instilled in a Liverpool club that had stumbled from power before he took the reins. Not one of that trio, nor 20-year-old starter Conor Bradley or late 21-year-old sub Jarell Quansah, appeared to have any sense that their job was anything but to take the bull by the horns and get Liverpool another trophy. Not that opponents Chelsea are anything special this year, but there were a lot of boys going against men and the boys looked like the leaders. And that’s why it’s special that Van Dijk not only led the unit but scored the winner. Think of how many clubs have suffered injury runs like Liverpool, and how many just ended up leaning on the absences as excuses. Klopp didn’t have Mohamed Salah, Darwin Nunez, Alisson Becker, Dominik Szoboszlai, Trent Alexander-Arnold, and Diogo Jota amongst others. All of them game-changing talents. They won. Fantastic. — Nicholas Mendola

Chelsea to be tested by serious setback

Chelsea 0-1 (aet) Liverpool — Recap, video highlights

For 90 minutes, you could’ve argued the Blues deserved to win and were on track to claim the title, yet as the game dragged on in scoreless fashion and Liverpool put in their kids to face to Chelsea’s healthier unit, it started to feel necessary. And yes, Chelsea was missing Thiago Silva, Reece James, and Wes Fofana, but compared to what Liverpool couldn’t call upon? This was such a big opportunity for Mauricio Pochettino to get this maligned team and owner Todd Boehly a trophy, something to hang their hat on and build off. Instead the Blues fell apart, and two marquee subs did little — Christopher Nkunku’s slow start to life at Chelsea continues and Mykhailo Mudryk was full of pace and fury but did not impact the score line. Noni Madueke was pretty darn good but everyone else besides Malo Gusto was cooked by the time he took the place of Conor Gallagher. Their keeper gave them 10 saves and it wasn’t enough as the Blues straight up fell apart in extra time, wilting under pressure. — Nicholas Mendola


Things we learned from Week 26 of the 2023-24 Premier League season

Jorginho thrives as Arsenal’s bounce back exposes poor Newcastle set-up

Arsenal 4-1 Newcastle United — Recap, video highlights

Newcastle is without the majority of its midfield steel as Joelinton recovers from injury and Sandro Tonali serves a long suspension for gambling offenses. The Magpies have gotten through those absences because teenager Lewis Miley has performed beyond his years, Bruno Guimaraes is world class, and Sean Longstaff has pitched in the odd goal (Joe Willock made an argument for minutes with his late goal). Arsenal absolutely exposed the Magpies midfield — and backs — on Saturday, which shouldn’t be a surprise considering the quality represented by Declan Rice, Martin Odegaard, and Jorginho. We wondered last season why Mikel Arteta didn’t turn more often to Jorginho, the old hat whose won just about all there is on offer. He had well over 100 touches to pace all players and nearly completed 100 passes on the day. He sent 12 balls into the final third. While Thomas Partey will soon return, Jorginho’s made his case. Hopefully his cramps at the end of the game are just usage-related and not a sign of an injury. And 90 minutes versus two of Partey, Jorginho, and Rice sounds akin to soccer hell for the vast majority of Premier League teams. — Nicholas Mendola

Man City’s ‘slump’ is a winning one

Bournemouth 0-1 Manchester City — Recap, video highlights

Every team goes through down periods, as poor performances are rarely one-offs. The best teams make sure they still get the points they need to sustain their season’s goals. City’s scored just three times in three matches over the last eight days since coming back from Copenhagen. Pep Guardiola’s men drew Chelsea 1-1. and then beat Brentford and Bournemouth 1-0 to take seven points from this ‘downturn.’ For all of those close results, consider that Man City allowed more than a single xG only in the Chelsea game. They still posted a 2.78-1.83 advantage in that game, then a 2.54-0.50 xG score versus Brentford, and even Saturday were nearly a full xG better than the Cherries at 1.80-0.93. Part of that is the good fortune that arrives with having those dates not against Liverpool, Spurs, or Arsenal, but Man City worked through their issues and then held firm against a Bournemouth team that believed they’d get an earned equalizer. That’s good for both clubs. — Nicholas Mendola

Reds get it right after the break

Liverpool 4-1 Luton — Recap, video highlights

Jurgen Klopp might’ve expected this score line, but the journey to 4-1 wasn’t a clean ride. Caoiminh Kelleher probably wants the goal back and Klopp won’t like a seventh-straight game conceding at least one goal. But everything else came to life after halftime, and there’s not a man who hit the pitch who will feel he didn’t contribute to the win. Alexis Mac Allister and Ryan Gravenberch were very good, and Wataru Endo did especially well in the second half as Luton’s midfield could not replicate a dominant first frame. It wasn’t easy for Liverpool, but it was straight-forward especially after the Hatters fell apart in their second half. The Reds took 17 shots in the second half and had 2.25 xG in that frame. — Nicholas Mendola

Brilliant Bailey personifies Emery’s Villa

Aston Villa 4-2 Nottingham Forest — Recap, video highlights

If there’s one player who is a perfect fit for Unai Emery’s tactics it is Leon Bailey. It took the Jamaican winger time to adjust to life in the Premier League but he scored one and set up another and his direct runs, trickery and ruthless decision making sums up Villa perfectly. Bailey was a constant threat in the first half as Villa were 3-0 up and most of their attacks came from his side. John McGinn and Douglas Luiz are so influential and give Villa a wonderful platform in midfield but Bailey, and Jacob Ramsey on the other flank, give Villa creativity and drive in the final third. With Watkins finishing everything right now it’s easy to focus on his form being the main reason behind Villa regaining their composure in the top four race. But Bailey, who was subbed off in the 91st minute to a standing ovation, is a player who sums up Emery’s football and this Villa side perfectly. — Joe Prince-Wright

No Hojlund, mo ‘problems

Man Utd 1-2 Fulham — Recap, video highlights

Rasmus Hojlund was not only red-hot when he suffered the injury that cost him his place in the Man United lineup, he was atop the side’s Premier League xG leaderboard. Lost in the Old Trafford relief and/or delight from a rescued point is that the Red Devils were largely second-best at home, though the margin was close. The absence of their great Dane was a big part of this problem, as United was not dangerous early and only found that sort of desperation and desire shown in other games by the latter stages of the game. Anthony Martial’s absence meant Marcus Rashford up top, and Erik ten Hag’s clearly turned on Antony after an extended run of chances to be more than a flop. Young Omari Forson started and wasn’t poor but neither a game changer, while Amad Diallo did little in relief of the 19-year-old. Hojlund had scored in six-straight Premier League games and won’t return until well into next month. Judging by Saturday’s performance, that could mean an exit from the FA Cup and a Manchester derby demolition. — Nicholas Mendola

Set pieces the story as Brighton rally versus Everton

Brighton 1-1 Everton — Recap, video highlights

Everton didn’t attempt their first shot of the game until the 57th minute — at which point Brighton had already taken 11— but they were first on the scoreboard with just over a quarter-hour left to play. In true Sean Dyche style, the goal came from a set piece as Jordan Pickford booted the ball into the penalty area where it was only partially cleared before falling to Jarrad Branthwaite near the penalty spot. Branthwaite smashed a rising finish home to put the Toffees ahead against the run of play. Things got worse for Brighton eight minutes later, when Billy Gilmour went in high on Amadou Onana. Gilmour put his studs into the side of Onana’s calf and was quickly shown a straight red card. The sending-off certainly made the uphill sledding even steeper, until a bit of football irony struck Dyche in the 94th minute. Set pieces giveth, and set pieces taketh. The initial corner was headed away, but only as far as Pascal Gross, who has a wand of a right foot when it comes to crossing the ball. Gross curled one over and around the Everton defense and found Lewis Dunk’s head at the far post. Dunk looped a perfect header out of Jordan Pickford’s reach and placed it just inside the far post to rescue a point in the end. — Andy Edwards

Another season, another finish in The Crystal Palace Zone

Crystal Palace 3-0 Burnley — Recap, video highlights

In 10 Premier League seasons, Palace have never finished higher than 10th (which they did just once) nor lower than 15th (also once), with eight (and soon-to-be nine) seasons between 11th and 14th. The Crystal Palace Zone. It is difficult not to wonder what this season could have been if Michael Olise and Eberechi Eze had both been healthy from the start and through the campaign. And still, their abbreviated contributions loom rather large: six goals, three assists in eight starts and, most importantly, nine points won. Olise has the talent required to take Crystal Palace out of The Crystal Palace Zone, but Crystal Palace might fall outside of The Michael Olise Zone this summer if one or two of the PL’s giants come calling. — Andy Edwards

Manager of the Year contender O’Neil can smile at result despite performance

Wolves 1-0 Sheffield United — Recap, video highlights

Wolves have to win games like this, and they did just that. No, it wasn't close to pretty especially given expectations against a Blades side that leak goals and rarely threaten the opposition. In fact, Sheffield United played one of its better games in some time and deserved a goal to go with their efforts. But Gary O'Neil's men gritted their teeth and found their way to three points. It has them realistically in frame to go to Europe, which is wild considering how and why Julen Lopetegui left the club. Should Manchester City win the Premier League and Wolves reach a top-seven spot, O'Neil should claim Premier League Manager of the Year status this season. . — Nicholas Mendola