Forget Robbie Fowler, there’s a new god on Merseyside.
When opposition fans stand to applaud a goal scored against their team, you know you’ve witnessed something special. But in truth, even if football isn’t your game, it would have been easy to realise Mohamed Salah scored a quite special goal to cap a pulsating performance at Vicarage Road in Liverpool’s win over Watford. Those lucky enough to be there witnessed a special player at the top of his game, to the extent he may just be the best footballer on the planet. Jurgen Klopp certainly thinks so and it’s hard to argue.
The moment that drew those in the home end to stand in appreciation came on 54 minutes. With his sensational solo effort in the draw with Manchester City still fresh in the mind, he repeated the trick with another piece of majestic skill. Three Watford defenders were around him inside the area but he managed to turn them all inside out before firing home a precise finish into the far corner. It was the work of a genius. It was Salah’s 10th goal of the season – he has scored in Liverpool’s last eight games.
But it wasn’t just that one outstanding moment, Salah was at the heart of everything this fantastic Liverpool team did. His marker Danny Rose must have wished he’d stayed in bed. To go along with his goal, Salah grabbed two assists, the first being a majestic defence-splitting pass for Sadio Mane to score his 100th Premier League goal.
In his current form, this is Salah’s world and we are just living in it.
The result was in the balance at the King Power Stadium right until Patson Daka tapped in at the back post in stoppage time but the verdict on the performance levels of the two teams was in well before that. Manchester United have high-class individual talent but they are not a high-class team.
Leicester might be closer to the opposite. Occasionally, there is a slack touch or a brain fade that undermines their efforts – United’s second goal being an obvious example. But there is a cohesion to their work, a subtlety to their build-up play that is still absent in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side.
Youri Tielemans is a player who would grace any side in the Premier League, there is no questioning his individual ability. He impressed with a dramatic goal that found the top corner – of course he meant it – but he showcased much more than that.
“He is an outstanding young player,” said Rodgers afterwards. “He has been away and played a couple of games in the international break so to come in and play with that poise and quality in the game… He has scored one and [David] de Gea has made a great save from another where he tips it onto the post.”
Tielemans receives passes on the half-turn, lends the ball to team-mates and is forever looking to find space. At 24, he has the nous of a veteran. Perhaps United will convince themselves that if they throw enough money his way then their midfield problems will be over. But their issues are bigger than that.
Rodgers talked of how his midfield were “all willing to take the ball and play through, allowing us to build” but could Solskjaer say the same of his players? “Their central midfield players were not pressing so we could be patient and move the ball through the pitch,” the Leicester boss continued.
When those comments were put to Solskjaer, he refused to single out the midfield duo of Nemanja Matic and Paul Pogba. “I wouldn’t say that is only Nemanja and Paul, it is the team as a whole,” he said. “Maybe by dropping off a bit we gave them too much space.” It was passive and it was a problem.
United will win games because they have players like Mason Greenwood who are capable of the spectacular. But will they ever win games because they are a team greater than the sum of their parts? All the clever interplay to remember at the King Power Stadium on Saturday came from Leicester. It was damning.
Five Chelsea players made it onto the 2021 Ballon d’Or shortlist when it was announced last week. But perhaps their most important player didn’t make the cut.
Edouard Mendy demonstrated on Saturday night just how crucial he is to Thomas Tuchel’s side. In total, there were six saves against Brentford but the three stunning stops, in the final stages of the match, when Chelsea were on the ropes, really underlined how essential he is to this team.
He has transformed the Blues’ backline since he joined the club as something of an emergency replacement for the out-of-form Kepa Arrizabalaga in the summer of 2020. This was his 20th Premier League clean sheet in just his 38th start. Only four keepers have hit that milestone quicker.
It’s now five clean sheets in eight Premier League games this season, too. Under Tuchel, Chelsea have been watertight – and Mendy brings confidence and belief to this defence.
It was a little different at the Brentford Community Stadium, with youngsters Trevoh Chalobah and Malang Sarr taking two of the three centre-backs spots and in at the deep end a little against a Brentford side so threatening on the front foot. As a result, Mendy was busier than usual, with the hosts twice hitting the woodwork, but when Mendy was called upon, he didn’t let his team down.
“This clean sheet is down to Edou today,” Tuchel chuckled to Sky Sports after mention of his goalkeeper’s heroics. “Maybe this was not the cleanest sheet we ever had but it was very important to get the three points.”
On a day when Liverpool showed their attacking brilliance and Man City racked up another win, the pressure was on Chelsea to come through what was an impressively gruelling test from Brentford. Thanks to Mendy they did that.
If he isn’t world class, then who is?
A couple of minutes after full-time, you’d be forgiven for thinking Brentford had earned a point, not just been beaten in a west London derby, such was the positive vibe among the home support.
Three years to the day after Thomas Frank became Brentford manager, his side troubled the European champions to such an extent that Ben Chilwell described the last 20 minutes as “hell on earth”.
Brentford deserved a point, at the very least, denied by some outrageous goalkeeping from Edouard Mendy, and if the game was played another day, Frank is convinced his side would win.
“It’s crazy when you look at the stats after the game,” said Frank after the game. “Nine out of 10 games we would have won it.”
He’s right. More often than not, the physical bombardment chucked at Chelsea in that second half would topple the majority of the Premier League. He said Chelsea were very lucky: it’s an understatement.
Brentford will have difficult periods this season where they doubt themselves and their methods – it’s inevitable for any newly-promoted club – but it doesn’t feel like that time is coming any time soon.
For now, the feel-good factor remains, even in defeat
In a week dominated by speculation linking one of their stars with the Manchester City exit door, another answered Pep Guardiola’s call and did his talking on the pitch.
Bernardo Silva was linked with a move away from the Etihad Stadium in the summer, the British-record signing of Jack Grealish looked, in part, to address the void City were expecting to fill.
For whatever reason, Silva remained in Manchester and it’s proving to be a masterstroke, with his unplanned stay coinciding with arguably his best form in a City shirt.
The Portuguese has been one of the champions’ standout performers this season and, on an afternoon where his team-mates were uncharacteristically off colour, his contribution was the driving force behind City keeping pace at the top of the table.
It wasn’t the prettiest or his best goal, but Silva’s opener after 12 minutes put the writing on the wall for Burnley, laying the foundation for a victory that was as laboured as it was crucial.
City made hard work of an outing they usually rise emphatically to, but it wasn’t for the want of trying from Silva, who Guardiola believes is at the peak of his powers.
“The performance of Bernardo has been extraordinary again,” the City boss said. “We are incredibly lucky to have him. He is a joy to have with us and is playing in an incredible top level right now.”
Silva has demonstrated the importance of letting his football do the talking amid swirling speculation. Some of his team-mates would do well following his lead.
Aston Villa 2 Wolverhampton Wanderers 3. Jeff Stelling told Soccer Saturday that you’d have got 1,000/1 on that scoreline with 10 minutes to go. Villa had done all the hard work, and looked set for a return to winning ways but events unravelled for them in the closing stages.
Having lost each of his opening three league games 1-0, there is a growing sense that Bruno Lage has started to adapt to his new surroundings at Wolves, who came from two goals down to win in an away Premier League game for only the second time ever, also doing so against Southampton in January 2020.
This was a game where tactical alterations made a difference with Daniel Podence injecting much-needed urgency into a Wolves team that was meandering towards a routine defeat. You even sensed Lage had left it too late when he introduced the diminutive forward on 74 minutes.
“It’s easy for me to say now I made the right choice,” he said afterwards. “It’s easy to say ‘I was right’ when you win. But you have to take decisions. The other players who start or come on, help the team to win three points.
“It is the kind of environment I want to live in. We don’t deserve to lose. I don’t think Villa deserve to lose.”
Yes, it’s also easy to manage in hindsight but you could visibly see the difference once Villa boss Dean Smith opted to withdraw Douglas Luiz, clearly protecting him having played for Brazil less than 48 hours earlier. Marvellous Nakamba, his replacement, was involved in Wolves’ equaliser as his clearance smacked into Conor Coady.
At that stage, Smith would’ve told his players to take their medicine but another silly foul from substitute Jacob Ramsey contributed to Ruben Neves’ fortuitous winner. It was almost the last kick of a seesaw game that was a great advert for the Premier League.
On this evidence, these are two teams that will be nestled in midtable obscurity for much of the season, as they are more or less now. As a local derby, Wolves fans may well have been looking to leave early with 10 minutes remaining. But with bragging rights in their back pockets, they’ll be pleased they stayed.
There’s always pressure on Premier League managers, but when you are yet to win in the league this season, it is intensified to a new level – just ask Ralph Hasenhuttl.
It’s not the first time he’s found himself on an extended winless run, but facing an out-of-form Leeds, this was their chance to finally register three points. And in front of their home fans, they put on a superb performance to do just that.
Despite having only two days to fully prepare for the game after the international break, Southampton played some really wonderful football and despite not having Che Adams, Adam Armstrong or James Ward-Prowse on the field, looked exciting in attack.
There may have been a sense of dreaded déjà vu at half-time. The Saints had a string of chances – twice forcing saves from Illan Meslier while Mohamed Elyounoussi just missed a header – and registered 12 chances without scoring.
One of Southampton’s struggles this season has been failing to convert their chances, but Armando Broja was certainly not going to join that club on his first Premier League start.
It was a wonderful Saints break, started off by a superb Moussa Djenepo pass, finding Nathan Redmond’s run in behind Diego Llorente. The 20-year-old Chelsea loanee then slotted home confidently to win the game for his team.
“Every win is massive,” Ralph Hasenhuttl told Sky Sports after the game. “We have been close at times this season to getting three points, but something was missing. Today, everything fit perfectly and I think that’s why we won.”
As with any win, Southampton now need to build on what they showed on Saturday. Consistency can be difficult, but it’s time the Saints started marching up the Premier League table.
With the football calendar continuing to be as intense as ever, Leeds were missing a string of their key players on their trip to St Mary’s.
Raphinha – who had still been with Brazil until the early hours of Friday morning – Kalvin Phillips, Patrick Bamford and Junior Firpo were all noticeable absentees, and it showed in a below-par Leeds performance.
Marcelo Bielsa’s side failed to register a shot on target in the entire game, and only had three overall. We have been used to seeing Leeds rack up big numbers with their chances, but without the creativity of Raphinha and the target man in Bamford, it was hard to do so on Saturday.
Tyler Roberts saw a curling effort fire wide in the only chance of note in the first half. Dan James could have taken advantage of a sloppy Southampton error after the break, but his ball past an on-coming Alex McCarthy fired wide.
Marcelo Bielsa told Sky Sports: “It was very difficult for us to recover the ball, difficult for us to provoke the opponent into mistakes, and it was difficult for us to stop them from getting the ball from their defence to attack.
“It’s not common that we’re missing six players, but the team that started the game was formed of players that usually play and who we were in condition to play a more even game.
“We thought we could dominate and impose ourselves, it wasn’t what happened clearly.”
Of course, having those players back in the coming weeks will hopefully see Leeds improve, especially with only a small gap to the relegation spots.
Let’s face it, even the most ardent Burnley fan wasn’t expecting the Clarets to end their wait for a first Premier League victory of the season at the home of the champions.
Burnley’s previous four visits to the Etihad Stadium had all ended in 5-0 thrashings, and when Bernardo Silva gave Manchester City a 12th-minute lead, another arduous afternoon looked on the cards for Sean Dyche’s side.
But to their credit, Burnley produced an encouraging defensive performance which, while not securing anything from the game, frustrated City for large parts and laid the blueprint for their latest Premier League survival bid.
In the end, their hopes were dashed when Kevin de Bruyne finally doubled City’s lead 20 minutes from but, on another day – had the likes of Maxwel Cornet, Josh Brownhill and Ashley Barnes had their shooting boots on – Burnley may well have staged a real upset and left Manchester with a point.
“We didn’t get anything but there are signs the team is heading in the right direction. There is belief around what we are trying to achieve,” was Dyche assessment after the defeat, which saw Burnley drop to second bottom in the Premier League table.
Burnley’s destiny this season will not hinge on their results against clubs of Manchester City’s stature but if they can repeat this performance against sides closer to them in table, victories – and ultimately safety – will be theirs to seize.
Daniel Farke likes to focus on the positives.
His team are still winless after eight Premier League games, with their two points the lowest tally they’ve ever recorded at this stage of a season, but he was quick to list what he liked about their 0-0 draw with Brighton in his post-match press conference.
The back-to-back clean sheets, two games unbeaten, creating more chances than they did against Burnley last time out, the work rate of his players… But he couldn’t avoid the glaring problem for Norwich right now, which is their finishing.
Credit to Farke, he praised Josh Sargent for what he contributed on Saturday, with the 21-year-old running himself into the ground to offer options and hold the ball up for his side. But the striker’s open-goal miss in the first half and his poor touch which blew a one-on-one opening in the second, couldn’t be avoided. “He knows better than anyone else he should have scored,” said the manager.
Sargent’s chances were glaring misses but he wasn’t alone in wasting good situations. Teemu Pukki had half the stadium celebrating when he was played in during the second half before chipping his finish into the side-netting instead of over the on-rushing Robert Sanchez and into the goal.
It’s been a recurring theme of Norwich’s campaign, with just two goals to their name. They have recorded the fewest shots on target in the top flight too, which, as well as chance creation, points to a lack of quality in the final third.
“We took another step in the right direction but we are not over the moon – we created so many good situations and more than enough chances to score a goal,” said Farke.
The manager may be seeing steady progress from his side but unless they start hitting the net they won’t make the leaps and bounds they need to after their so-far winless start to the season. It seems simple to say, but it may well prove difficult to resolve.