“I don’t think there’s anyone playing better in the world or in Europe at the moment,” said Jamie Carragher at Anfield. There can be few arguments. Mohamed Salah is not just at the top of his game right now – he is at the top of the game.
The 29-year-old’s brilliance is such that at times he can be taken for granted. But even by the sky-high standards he has set himself, his start to the season has been something special.
Salah has now scored in seven consecutive games for Liverpool – equalling his longest scoring streak for the club and taking him past 100 Premier League goals in the process. There have been nine in all competitions so far this season and three assists too.
No Premier League player has had a direct hand in more goals in 2021/22 and no Premier League player has produced anything quite like what we saw from Salah at Anfield on Sunday.
His goal was an astonishing exhibition of speed, strength, balance and brutal efficiency. When the ball rippled the back of the net, sending Anfield into raptures, there were three City players on their knees in the six-yard box.
This is what Salah does to his opponents and he did it for Liverpool’s opening goal too.
His involvement in the move started deep in his own half, when he beat Bernardo Silva to Joel Matip’s pass, then controlled Fabinho’s chipped ball with expert precision before accelerating beyond Joao Cancelo and sending Sadio Mane through.
It was Mane’s goal but, as with his own, 17 minutes later, it was conjured up out of nothing by Salah. He is operating at a level entirely of his own right now. If City can’t stop him, who can?
The trip to Anfield ended the toughest of weeks for Manchester City, coming at the end of facing both Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain away from the Etihad.
Their chances of replicating last season’s victory at Liverpool were made all the more remote when Pep Guardiola bristled at one or two decisions go against his side during a breathless, see-saw second half.
Guardiola was in full-on meltdown mode when James Milner avoided a second yellow card for a clear bookable offence on Bernardo Silva, but his players kept their cool to share the points.
It ended with Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp slapping one another on the back at the final whistle, but City will perhaps feel this was an opportunity that got away – a game they left open and ought not to have required a numerical advantage for the result to reflect their dominance.
Guardiola celebrated what these two title rivals served up, claiming “this is why the Premier League is the best” and Micah Richards believes there is more to come from his former side.
“I’m fairly confident,” he told Sky Sports. “There are still areas of their game they can improve. They could’ve scored more goals at Chelsea. I’d say it’s been a positive week, but they can’t rest on their laurels.”
We head into the second international break with a familiar top four – the same four that finished in the Champions League places at the end of last season albeit in a different order.
Guardiola admitted beforehand he tends not to sleep so well in the immediate aftermath of games, and he will no doubt be sweating over his star-studded cast as they head around the world.
But four points from visits to Stamford Bridge and Anfield underlined City’s pedigree as champions. They may be third, but they remain the team to catch.
“Tottenham had the outstanding player on the pitch.”
After Aston Villa’s 2-1 defeat at Spurs, Dean Smith’s post-match comments were both gracious and accurate, and the kind of assessment we’ve come to associate with Harry Kane.
But Smith’s remarks were not about Kane, who has been completely out of sorts on the back of an unsettling summer where he wanted to leave the club, but about Spurs’ new talisman, Heung-Min Son.
As Kane has failed to find the net in six Premier League games this season – his longest barren run in the top flight since 2015/16 – his more than able deputy, Son, has picked up the baton and guided Spurs out of this wretched run which has engulfed the club.
His two crucial assists against Villa helped Spurs arrest an alarming three-game losing streak in the Premier League with an important, morale-boosting 2-1 victory which sends Nuno’s under-fire squad into the international break on a much-welcomed high.
It meant Son had been involved in 11 goals in his last 12 Premier League home matches (six goals and five assists), and a first league victory since August 29 was just reward for Son, the perfect remedy to an off-colour Kane.
It was another disappointing afternoon for Leicester – a feeling that has become all too familiar in the last two months.
Against the run of play, the Foxes took advantage of two defensive errors from Crystal Palace to find themselves 2-0 ahead at the break. Arguably, neither Kelechi Iheanacho nor Jamie Vardy will score easier goals this season, each rolling the ball past Vicente Guaita.
But Leicester were second best for much of the game against a spirited Palace side, and the absences of Jonny Evans and Wilfred Ndidi – two of their most crucial players – were obvious.
Going forward is not the issue for Leicester. Vardy and Iheanacho did their jobs by scoring the goals, with Harvey Barnes lively once again. The issues came in midfield, where the ball was given away far too cheaply and far too often, and in defence.
Leicester are missing the presence of Evans in the centre of that back line. While former Southampton pair Ryan Bertrand and Jannik Vestergaard have more than enough Premier League experience between them, there’s something about Evans that gives the Foxes more solidity.
Brendan Rodgers said after the game: “2-0 is always a dangerous scoreline and in most of my time here, I would’ve felt really comfortable in that position with how we defend with the ball and when we don’t have it, we’re normally very solid.
“I never felt overly comfortable [on Sunday] and when it gets to two each, the momentum can really go against you, but the players kept fighting and I was encouraged by that aspect. They gave it everything, but we’re just not playing to our level.”
There is no doubting Leicester has the talent in their squad and manager to be able to turn things around. Teams always go through cycles and this is Leicester’s time for a dip – they’ve been on quite the ride since their Premier League promotion.
But Rodgers also needs to use the next two weeks of the international break to figure out a strategy before the situation becomes worrying. There’s still plenty of time to turn things around.
Selhurst Park is renowned for its special atmosphere. The fans are loud, passionate and there is very little space between the pitch and the stands – you can hear everything from those first few rows.
It means that when Crystal Palace are playing poorly, you know about it and under Roy Hodgson, while the Eagles were a solid team, there wasn’t much creativity and some fans were disgruntled.
But something special is brewing at Selhurst Park. Under Patrick Vieira, Crystal Palace are unbeaten at home this season, including a convincing 3-0 win against Tottenham. Their only defeats have been against title favourites Chelsea and Liverpool.
Vieira has done exactly what was asked of him in the summer. He has brought exciting, attacking football to Selhurst Park, utilising young talent. Michael Olise – Palace’s first scorer on Sunday – is a 19-year-old summer acquisition, set up by the club’s latest academy graduate, Tyrick Mitchell, himself only 22.
But perhaps the most impressive part of the Vieira renaissance is the determination, personality and desire he has instilled in his side. They dominated the play throughout, recovering from two defensive errors and a string of missed chances to take a deserved point.
Vieira once again made the right decisions with his substitutions. His first two both scored – Jeffrey Schlupp after just 48 seconds against his former side – and it’s not the first time a player he has brought on has found the net. Odsonne Edouard – looking to be another fine summer signing – did so after 29 seconds against Spurs.
Dissenters may say that three of those results at home have been draws, but let’s not run before we can walk. There is real change and improvement being moulded and with the direction Crystal Palace are moving in at the moment, it will not be too long before those three points start racking up nicely.
Rarely do promoted teams come and dominate a top-six team in their own back yard in the way Brentford did for 45 minutes at West Ham. In fact, it wouldn’t be too over the top to declare that Thomas Frank’s team’s first-half performance at the London Stadium was the most complete showing ever seen by a newly promoted team in the Premier League. Brentford looked like the team with European credentials, not West Ham.
Frank’s men could have been 4-0 up inside 20 minutes, instead, it was only 1-0 courtesy of Bryan Mbeumo’s sliding finish. Declan Rice was overrun, Michail Antonio silenced – it was staggering stuff from the west Londoners, who played with such energy, cohesion and quality that the game probably should have been over by half-time.
There was an inevitability about the Hammers improving as the game wore on but it still took a fine finish from Jarred Bowen, capping a spell of West Ham pressure, to draw David Moyes’ team level. ‘Let’s take a point and head into the international break’ would normally be the case for most teams at 1-1 away at West Ham but Brentford aren’t most teams.
They staged one last hurrah and gave their away end a momentous memory to savour when Yoane Wissa hammered home the winning goal. The Premier League ride has been a special one for those fans so far.