Salah outshines Haaland
One had nine goals in his last five Premier League appearances; the other had none. But it was Mohamed Salah, not Erling Haaland, who proved the decisive figure at Anfield on Sunday.
Salah had flickered into life with his six-minute hat-trick against Rangers following a period of poor form and he picked up where he left off against Manchester City. “Electric,” was Sky Sports’ Jamie Carragher’s assessment of his performance.
The winning goal showed him at his devastating best, the 30-year-old cushioning Alisson’s long kick and spinning away from City defender Joao Cancelo in one sweeping movement before keeping his cool to beat the advancing Ederson.
But it was not the first time Salah had engineered a route in behind City’s defence, the visitors requiring an outstanding save from Ederson to prevent him from scoring in similar circumstances soon after the interval.
Haaland, meanwhile, floundered at the other end, Liverpool becoming only the second Premier League side all season to prevent him from scoring – and the first to keep a clean sheet against City.
It seemed everyone inside Anfield was waiting for the net to bulge when he met Kevin De Bruyne’s diagonal cross at the far post in the first half, but his header went straight into the arms of Alisson.
He was denied by the Brazilian on other occasions too, once attempting to lift the ball over him following a trademark run off the shoulder of the last man, then seeing a low strike acrobatically pushed around the post in the second half.
It was not Haaland’s day in the end – albeit only by the ludicrous standards he has set himself – and his misfortune was compounded by the foul on Fabinho which prompted VAR to acrimoniously rule out Phil Foden’s goal early in the second period.
The pre-match discussion had focused on how quite how Liverpool would stop Haaland. But this was a reminder, if it was needed, that stopping an in-form Salah is a similarly difficult task.
Kepa finds ‘fantastic level’
Chelsea boss Graham Potter hailed goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga after his side’s gritty 2-0 win at Aston Villa.
Mason Mount’s double and Kepa’s heroics earned a fifth straight win in all competitions on Sunday.
It cemented Chelsea’s fourth place in the Premier League and they now sit three points clear of Manchester United after their stalemate with Newcastle.
Two sensational Kepa saves to deny Jacob Ramsey and Danny Ings helped Potter remain unbeaten since joining from Brighton last month and the Spain goalkeeper earned the manager’s praise.
“It was a hard-fought game. Aston Villa made us suffer, certainly in the first half. We lost our way a little bit and we needed Kepa to make some fantastic saves,” he said.
“He is contributing to us with clean sheets, how we are trying to play and the environment around the place. Kepa found a fantastic level, he made brilliant saves which kept us in the game.
“We were better in the second half, more stable. It wasn’t easy for us given the amount of games we have played, to come from Milan to here.
“I’m happy for Mason and Kepa in particular, they have managed to help us over the line. Different players will have to step up.
“It’s a collective desire to do the ugly stuff in the game. If we need to suffer we have to suffer.”
As the world’s most expensive goalkeeper having signed from Athletic Bilbao in 2018 for £71m, it has been questioned whether Chelsea could win a Premier League title with Kepa in between the sticks, but having just turned 28, he is entering his peak years.
Judging by his recent form, it could yet prove to be a worthwhile investment.
Villa masters of their own downfall
Steven Gerrard is discovering what happens to teams struggling at the wrong end of the Premier League.
On the day when Villa needed a top performance to turn their joyless season around, they were undone by their own bizarre errors.
Tyrone Mings won’t have made a worse mistake from the hundreds of headed clearances he has made during his career and yet here he was at Villa Park setting up Mason Mount’s opener.
Then there was Emiliano Martinez moving away from the side of the goal he was protecting at a 25-yard free-kick as Mount’s second-half effort swerved in. These costly individual errors don’t happen at the other end of the table.
To complete Villa’s frustration, Kepa Arrizabalaga had the game of his life to deny the hosts, who for the best part of an hour performed well enough to win the game.
The performance will give Villa hope they are on the right track, but now Thursday’s trip to Fulham is a crucial fixture for Gerrard as the pressure continues to mount. Life at the bottom is tough and unfair.
Trippier stakes his World Cup starting claim
With the news on Saturday that Reece James looks set to miss the World Cup with a knee injury while Kyle Walker remains sidelined and Trent Alexander-Arnold having only just returned from injury, Kieran Trippier staked his claim to be Gareth Southgate’s starting right wing-back in Qatar with a fine performance at Old Trafford.
The 32-year-old put in a captain’s display for Newcastle in their goalless draw at Manchester United as he showed his ability at both ends of the pitch.
Defensively he was rock solid, winning possession eight times and making three interceptions – the joint-most for Newcastle in the game.
There was one particular outstanding piece of defending against Cristiano Ronaldo in the second half as he got back superbly to make a well-timed last-ditch tackle to deny the Portugal forward from getting a shot away.
Then there was Trippier’s influence offensively for Newcastle. Their best moment came through the right-back who delivered a fine side-volleyed cross with his weaker foot for Joelinton, who headed against the woodwork twice from it.
The statistics again backed up his effectiveness going forward as he created the most chances (4) and recorded the most final third entries (13) in the game.
Trippier was England’s starting right wing-back in their World Cup semi-final run in Russia 2018 and four years on he could well be starting once again for Southgate in Qatar if he continues with top-notch performances such as these.
Rashford embodies wasteful Man Utd
Marcus Rashford looked to the sky before departing down the Old Trafford tunnel, no doubt mulling over what might have been. Having failed to score from 10 shots against Omonia Nicosia, Erik ten Hag opted to demote the forward to the Manchester United bench for the visit of Newcastle.
Keeping this squad happy will be a constant battle for the Dutchman but winning matches is all that matters. Cristiano Ronaldo shook his head as Rashford replaced him on 71 minutes, a contrast in emotions from when he marked his second coming scoring twice in the corresponding fixture last season.
It was over to Rashford to dig United out of a difficult spot, and he was involved in his side’s two best opportunities to turn one point into three when after setting up Fred for a glaring miss six yards out, Rashford placed his header in the exact same spot, a yard wide of Nick Pope’s left-hand post.
While this draw was another building block in Newcastle’s progression, it halts Manchester United in their tracks after a recent autumn resurgence. Having scored with their 34th shot in the Europa League on Thursday, only two of United’s 15 attempts here were on target.
It says a lot about their current striker situation that fans are pining for Anthony Martial, absent again here through injury, when the Frenchman has one Premier League start in the past 12 months.
For sure, the dreadful Manchester derby defeat demonstrated that Ten Hag has his work cut out to orchestrate a title challenge – but Rashford and the rest of the profligate United attack must rediscover their rhythm if they are to land a statement win over Tottenham in midweek.
Arsenal’s resilience makes them title contenders
They say the sign of champions is winning ugly. And Arsenal have managed two of those victories in a week.
First, they edge past Bodo/Glimt 1-0 in northern Norway with Bukayo Saka’s winner coming off his lips. Now they’ve beaten Leeds with Saka netting the winner again with a goal, penalty and red card for the opposition all chalked off by VAR.
Add a fortunate, soft penalty for their winner against Liverpool last week and some will say Arsenal are lucky. But when does luck stop becoming coincidence?
The Gunners are where they are – with a four-point buffer at the top of the Premier League table – due to their resilience – the word Mikel Arteta keeps repeating this season.
That resilience runs through the team: the redemption of Granit Xhaka after being stripped of the captaincy, Gabriel looking confident respite recent defensive mistakes against Fulham and Tottenham, Bukayo Saka bouncing back with big moments after his Euro 2020 heartache, Aaron Ramsdale stepping up after back-to-back relegations.
A few years ago, Arsenal will have lost all three of these games they’ve won in the last seven days. Before they lacked backbone, wilted under pressure and couldn’t respond to being pegged back.
Now they’re the ones to catch. So how far will this ‘luck’ take them?
Leeds are better than league table suggests
After 10 games, the Premier League tends to divide up into its respective parts: title race, top-four battlers, mid-table side and relegation candidates.
Unfortunately for Leeds, they’re back in the bottom drawer. On the outset, it looks bleak. No wins in six league games, a lack of a reliable goalscorer to get them out of trouble in sight and now one point above the drop zone. The last time they went this long without a win, Marcelo Bielsa was sacked.
But Leeds have all the ingredients to get them out of this predicament. Exciting players, attacking football, a fervent home and away support and a manager who embodies a fighting spirit at the club.
But the small moments are letting them down. Moments like Rodrigo playing a erroneous and unnecessary cross-field ball in the run-up to Saka’s winner, which Jesse Marsch says is “not what we like to do.”
“We were better on the day but we’re walking away with nothing,” said Marsch after his side’s defeat on Sunday. “The first half of the Palace game was outstanding, we should be 3-0 up in that match. We should have been it in this game.
“We’re not capitalising and it puts stress on the environment. I have to stay calm and patient and I hate being patient. I think detest is a better word. But I have to because I see the good work getting done and the progress being made. But at some point we have to build up results.”
If they keep Bamford fit and as sharp as Sunday afternoon, then Leeds will be climbing back up the table in no time.
Strange Southampton baffle again
You never know quite what to expect from Southampton. From an impressive win over Chelsea at the end of August to four defeats in a row, Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side are probably the most up-and-down team in the Premier League.
Defeat against Manchester City last weekend was expected, but losses to Everton, Aston Villa and Wolves before that saw the Saints drop into the relegation zone ahead of Sunday’s Premier League fixtures.
They welcomed West Ham to the south coast having lost 11 of their previous 15 matches in the league. The Hammers had won their past four in all competitions.
Form might not have been on Southampton’s side but it is always foolish to write them off. It is even more foolish to write off Ralph Hasenhuttl.
They may have been clinging on to a point against the Hammers in the end, but the Saints delivered a first-half performance their manager can be proud of. Only one of their seven shots on target during the opening 45 minutes beat Fabianski, but the hosts showed they have the ability and desire to turn their fortunes around.
However, how much more time the Austrian is given to inspire a revival remains to be seen. There were further boos from some of the home supporters at the final whistle, but he will take some comfort in knowing he has survived worse moments since taking charge in 2018. Two 9-0 defeats spring to mind.
Scamacca key as West Ham find their groove
It might seem strange to praise a forward who went close to scoring on at least four occasions but finished the game without a goal.
However, it is worth mentioning the impact Gianluca Scamacca has made on West Ham in recent weeks. It is no coincidence their season has got back on track just as the striker is finding his feet at his new club.
Goals in recent wins over Wolves and Fulham in the Premier League highlighted why West Ham invested £35.5m to sign the 23-year-old in the summer. Despite failing to find the back of the net at St Mary’s, he showed again what an asset he can be for David Moyes.
He was a constant thorn in Southampton’s side and had the football gods been with him on Sunday, he could have easily scored a hat-trick.
Scamacca’s performances have helped West Ham move away from the relegation zone and he will be confident this is just the start of a successful career in the Premier League. The Italian is one to watch.