Tag: Sadio Mane
1) ‘This is absolutely not normal,’ was one of the conclusions drawn when these two sides last met. Leicester were second and unbeaten at home by Boxing Day of 2019, with one of the best defensive records in the Premier League. Liverpool summarily dismantled them in a 4-0 win that effectively sealed the title before the year was out.
Sunday was not quite as emphatic a statement. Leicester at least had a few opportunities this time and avoided one of those ten-minute collapses Liverpool tend to induce in an opponent. But this was perhaps as impressive, if not more so, than that victory 11 months ago. They hosted a team that had already made themselves at home as visitors to Elland Road, the Etihad and the Emirates. Jurgen Klopp was without two first-choice midfielders, including his captain, as well as his talismanic right-back, two best defenders and most effective goalscorer. Liverpool dominated one of the closest supposed challengers to their throne in a breathtaking display of control and authority. That Aston Villa defeat was even more of an absolute aberration than first thought.
2) There were two particular passages of play that underlined the gulf in quality. The build-up to Diogo Jota’s goal featured 30 passes with Leicester chasing shadows and every Liverpool outfielder having at least one touch. The second half started with a similar sequence, the hosts stringing together 16 passes to create another shooting opportunity for Jota. The opposition’s only touch from kick-off to the effort going over had been Wesley Fofana winning a header that Georginio Wijnaldum instantly recovered and recycled.
It must be knackering to face, both physically and mentally. The levels of concentration and skill required to suppress it should not be understated. This once chaotic Liverpool team has evolved into a patient predator that will wait for its moment to strike instead of ever forcing the issue. Five years of masterful coaching and phenomenal recruitment has come to this.
30 – Diogo Jota's goal for Liverpool came after a sequence of 30 passes; since Opta have this data available from 2006-07, this is the most in the build-up to any @premierleague goal by the Reds. Silky. pic.twitter.com/SQXNDLRYEG
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) November 22, 2020
3) That is perhaps the greatest trick this Liverpool team has pulled: luring every team into thinking managers simply need time and understanding to build something special and realise their grand vision. The example of Klopp and how Liverpool tolerated years of trophyless frustration under his guidance before finally taking their brilliant true form is so often given in defence of coaches – sometimes by them – as proof that all they need is a similar level of trust and belief to create a foundation for such success.
It is a false equivalence. Even ignoring the fact Klopp and Liverpool have never taken a single step back from season to season since his appointment, he and they are the obvious exception to the rule. It is the modern version of pretending a manager should be given as long as he wants because Manchester United once kept the faith with Sir Alex Ferguson and he returned that loyalty with a sport-defining dynasty. Klopp is not as good as the Scot was, but his is every bit as unattainable and unrealistic a blueprint to follow.
4) Brendan Rodgers can console himself with the fact that Leicester were improved from their submissive display last December. They forged far more chances and really ought to have equalised through Harvey Barnes in the first half. James Justin was a fine outlet on the left and almost scored. Jamie Vardy was an utter nuisance throughout.
It sounds incredibly patronising but for five minutes or so in the second half they were excellent, having three unanswered shots around the hour mark, cutting off every passing lane, pressing as a unit and penning Liverpool back. Rodgers tried to capitalise on their period of superiority by bringing on Cengiz Under and Dennis Praet, changing from a back five to match up in midfield and showing more attacking intention. It was a justified decision designed to solidify the change in momentum, a call any good manager would have made.
Liverpool simply absorbed everything and returned it with interest in a final quarter of an hour that featured them hitting the woodwork twice, scoring a third goal and preserving their clean sheet. It summed up the futility of facing them in this mood quite neatly.
5) It is difficult to pinpoint one standout performance from the hosts. A welcome byproduct of Virgil van Dijk’s unfortunate injury was to remove a perceived reliance on any one player. Every teammate has stepped up in his and the other absences since, be they direct replacements or established starters already in the team.
The reaction to the incident that sidelined Van Dijk was overblown. So much so that David Coote was removed from officiating duty for this very match as Liverpool remain perturbed by his handling of the Merseyside derby. But it has reinforced their team unity and strengthened a siege mentality that might well have gone understandably stale after the holy grail was finally found after a 30-year search in the summer. They look every bit as focused as last season. It might perversely be the best thing that could have happened to them.
6) After all, it’s not as if losing Van Dijk has weakened their defence. A first Premier League clean sheet since he was ruled out means Liverpool have conceded two goals from open play in their last seven matches with a variety of different central defensive combinations. That decision not to reinvest in January already seems justified.
Joel Matip was solid. Fabinho alongside him was absolutely faultless. Alisson has a remarkable ability to make crucial saves after having huge amounts of time with little or nothing to do. One of the best counter-attacking teams in the country was thwarted by supreme individuals fitting diligently into an impressive system. Who else remembers when the high line was discussed in hushed, disapproving tones for fear of ridicule?
7) So much of Liverpool’s success is down to the tactical intelligence and malleability of their players. Fabinho, the defensive midfielder excelling at centre-half, had obvious traits that were easily transferable to a slight positional change. But Wijnaldum’s seamless transition from potent attacking threat for his country to tireless midfield workhorse for his club is ludicrous. It requires immense acuity.
James Milner might be the best of all. For just over 50 minutes he was fantastic at right-back, a fine Trent Alexander-Arnold impression ensuring Liverpool lost none of that attacking dimension. The removal of Naby Keita for Neco Williams facilitated the captain’s subsequent move into central midfield. His first action there was to instantly release Sadio Mane beyond Fofana, who forced a fine save from Kasper Schmeichel and a clearance off the line from Christian Fuchs.
Klopp is brilliant. But these players deserve so much credit for their understanding of what is asked of them. Not even mid-game positional shifts faze them in the slightest.
He’s remarkable. https://t.co/sbaUvNJ2EI
— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) November 22, 2020
8) On the point of Milner, how strange that Leicester focused on the right-hand side he patrolled so well. The graphic that flashed up in the 25th minute showed that 70% of their attacks had come down that flank, yet only once had he really been beaten. Even then Fabinho came across to cover after Justin evaded both the Englishman and Matip.
There was not much Rodgers could have done to affect the course of this game in reality. Liverpool were without their first-choice right-back so targeting that position was an understandable tactic in theory. But that rather ignores the 18-year career of one of the most astute and hard-working players ever. If only Leicester had someone in charge that had signed him or something. They could have done with a better grasp of the supposed weak point they tried to exploit.
9) Fofana is great fun. Not entirely convinced he is a centre-half on this showing, as Mane constantly out-thought him and Roberto Firmino snatched his soul with a wonderful turn before hitting the post in the second half. But he was a real force on the break with a skill set that could well lend itself to a slightly more advanced role.
There was one instance in the 12th minute, when he tackled one player and released the ball out to the left before haring towards the Liverpool box, only for Justin to overhit a simple pass with Fofana unmarked, that made him seem wasted in defence. A little later he evaded both Keita and Wijnaldum with a run beyond the halfway line to start the move for the chance Barnes should have scored. Six interceptions seems more like the work of a progressive midfielder than a partner to Jonny Evans. Plus moving him forward would reduce the likelihood of each mistake he makes resulting in a shot.
10) Don’t know why that Matip situation was not given as a handball when penalties have been awarded this season in similar circumstances. There will be no further comment at this time.
11) One thing came to mind when watching Jota trying to catch his breath as Milner waited to take a corner both men had combined to win, one bound for the head of Evans. It was his interview after the Atalanta game in which he scored a hat-trick, and the response to being asked whether he was “playing the best football” of his career.
“Well, I’m playing in the best team in my career so far, that’s for sure,” came a thought-provoking and mindful reply. It begged more questions: how many other players are capable of scaling up from teams in the upper or mid-table to the genuine elite? And why do some teams view such signings as beneath them? Liverpool’s front line was comprised of players purchased from Wolves, Southampton and Hoffenheim, who impressed at a certain level and showed enough to suggest they could be elevated even higher in a suitable system with world-class coaching. It is a credit to their scouting and recruitment team – but an equally damning indictment on those who still insist on shopping at Waitrose when there are bargains to be found at Asda.
12) Rodgers was at pains to balance the “narrative” of Liverpool battling injuries by presenting his own list of Leicester absentees after the match. Only the most stubborn fool would deny that Wilfred Ndidi, Caglar Soyuncu, Ricardo Pereira and Timothy Castagne might have made a difference.
But his worst performers were all bona fide regulars. Evans was abysmal, his baffling own goal almost compounded with another in the second half while his distribution was poor. Youri Tielemans was sloppy in possession, more rushed than usual by Liverpool’s midfield. Barnes remains so very wasteful. James Maddison only partially atoned for an anonymous first half with his improvement in the second. Rodgers would have had more of a point if it was the stand-ins letting him down.
13) Schmeichel at least gave a wonderful account of himself with some admirable resistance. The two keepers put in antithetical but excellent performances: Alisson the serene last line of defence and his opposite number more of a Boromir in the face of constant onslaught. His nine saves featured some fine athleticism and acrobatics but also sublime decision-making. It feels as though Schmeichel is never really considered among the league’s best players in his position but he absolutely is.
Schmeichel has had a decent night, but it isn't great for #LCFC when you have to say that.
— Rob Tanner (@RobTannerLCFC) November 22, 2020
14) It seems telling that Liverpool committed 15 fouls spread across nine players and received no bookings, while Leicester managed six between four and had both Justin and Nampalys Mendy yellow carded. The tactical foul ground has been tread countless times before with regards to Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham and the many supposedly nefarious teams that came before them but Klopp has recognised the usefulness of the art too.
Liverpool have committed 91 fouls to Leicester’s 88 this season. Yet the former have received seven bookings – the fewest in the Premier League this season – to the latter’s 21 yellow cards, which is the division’s most. So many prospective Leicester moves were countered at the source with a simple trip or obstruction. So few Liverpool attacks were stopped with such nous at any point.
15) Andy Robertson deserves a mention: he was brilliant. So too was Mane, who is at a similar stage of baffling under-appreciation as Mo Salah. These are talents who have achieved so much and make it look so easy that they risk it being taken for granted.
Yet the leader in those stakes for this game must be Curtis Jones, slotting seamlessly into the country’s best team despite not exiting his teenage years for another couple of months. To not look even vaguely out of place in this side, helping fill the voids left by Jordan Henderson, Thiago and even Fabinho, is quite something. Let’s call this a defeat for John Barnes and a resounding victory for the alien concept of being patient with a young player, letting any opportunities present themselves and watching him grasp them with maturity and confidence. Why loan him out to start 25 games at West Brom when he can be meticulously coached in Liverpool’s exact style, playing a little less but learning exponentially more?
16) Then there’s Firmino, whose goal will only placate the critics for so long. He has looked tired at times, sloppy in possession and tired out of it. The emergence of Jota only forced the issue further; those debates would have been undermined completely if Divock Origi was the only alternative. But this was much closer to the Firmino of years gone by. His goal was a more quantifiable measure of his impact – and particularly welcome after hitting the post when it seemed as though he would never score again – yet the things that really define him were all there: the link-up play, the insatiable work-rate, the skill.
One of the inevitabilities of team sport is the constant demand to improve and refine. When a team emerges that is so clearly operating at a much higher level than anyone else it emphasises how silly it is: they could not possibly be doing so well if any of their composite parts was not performing to their manager’s standard. Each of us are guilty of being swept away by the current of popular opinion at times. Bear with me, but it might be that Klopp has a better idea of what
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Former Liverpool striker Ian Rush believes Sadio Mane deserves to be crowned player of the year after the Reds beat Chelsea 5-3 on Wednesday.
The Senegal international has scored 21 times this season, which is two behind team-mate Mohamed Salah.
Captain Jordan Henderson, however, appears to be the front-runner to contest the title with Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne when it is announced on Friday.
FEATURE: Liverpool top Premier League winners and losers
Rush, Liverpool’s record goalscorer, believes Mane should be in the conversation.
“It’s been very difficult. I am biased as I like strikers and I think Mane has been fantastic,” he told the PA news agency.
“Jordan Henderson has been incredible and Virgil Van Dijk is Van Dijk but I think Mane has been fantastic this season.
“People say Salah hasn’t been as good as he has been and we all know that but he’s still our top goalscorer.
“It just shows how good he was when he scored those 43 goals (in his maiden campaign at the club three years ago).
“People are judging him on that and that was an incredible season and you are not going to get that again.
“He is still doing a great job but Mane seems to have upped his game this season.”
Despite winning the Premier League – their first title in 30 years – at a canter, there has been questions asked about the depth of Jurgen Klopp’s squad.
Back-up forwards Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – although he has also mainly been deployed in midfield, Divock Origi, Xherdan Shaqiri and January signing Takumi Minamino have contributed just 13 goals between them.
Klopp was interested in RB Leipzig striker Timo Werner but withdrew when the price became too high and he signed for Chelsea.
The Reds boss has sought to manage expectations for the summer transfer window after the impact and uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic.
Rush, however, is backing the manager and his recruitment team and believes there are a number of youngsters who have had first-team experience this season who could be given a chance.
“Werner is a great player and people said they should have got him but there is a reason they didn’t get him,” he added.
“I am sure he would have loved to come to Liverpool but I think Klopp is right in what he is doing. They should want to come not for the money but because of Liverpool Football Club.
“Liverpool have their principles and everyone wants to play for them but at the end of the day they have to be the right player.
“Look at the front three. Is someone going to come to play second-fiddle to them because I’d be surprised if anyone would get in front of those three?
“If you look at the defence the two full-backs are fantastic and you have (Joe) Gomez and Van Dijk. The midfield is fantastic.
“The young players at Liverpool are doing a great job. Neco Williams coming in, Curtis Jones, Rhian Brewster on loan at Swansea, I think they are relying on the academy for players to come through.
“When they beat Everton in the FA Cup there were some quality players so maybe they don’t need to sign young ones any more, maybe it’s just signing an experienced one.
“But it’s difficult because if you’re going to play £80million for someone you expect to start the season with them.”
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Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has given his backing to forward Roberto Firmino after his Anfield goal drought continued.
The Brazil international has not scored in the Premier League at home since March last year and his strike against Atletico Madrid in the Champions League four months ago is his only goal in front of the Kop since then.
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He came closest to ending that run when he beat goalkeeper Nick Pope – not an easy task considering the Burnley goalkeeper’s form in the 1-1 draw which ended Liverpool’s 100 per cent home record – but hit the post to be denied the opportunity to double the Reds’ lead.
The 28-year-old has just 11 goals this season, compared to fellow forwards Mohamed Salah (23) and Sadio Mane (20), and has not scored in the league since January.
“It cannot become a psychological problem because Bobby played an outstanding game and we don’t judge him,” said Klopp after the champions dropped their first points at Anfield since January 2019.
“We just don’t think about it. It’s not important who scores. We need Bobby for other things, we need Bobby in exactly the spaces where he was, we need him as a link-up for all the other things.
“We only have chances in other positions because Bobby plays the way he plays. And he will score, there is absolutely no doubt about it.
“We are not worried at all about that because he played an outstanding game and was involved in so many decisive situations.”
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Roberto Firmino is rubbish, apparently. This lot know the value of a striker who lets others do the scoring.
10) Christophe Dugarry
For a striker who can boast character references from three former European champions in Milan, Barcelona and Marseille and one award-winning author in Steve Bruce, all on a CV including a 1998 World Cup win and Premier League survival with Birmingham half a decade later, Christophe Dugarry could never have been described as prolific.
Even in his best league season he never reached double figures. Dugarry hit nine for Bordeaux in 1994/95 but did not scrape together more than five goals in a single campaign anywhere else.
That was the tally he managed in a magnificent half-season on loan at St Andrew’s, propelling the club to four straight Premier League victories in April 2003 with Geoff Horsfield as his foil. Better that than warming the bench for Stephane Guivarc’h in France five years prior. Dugarry didn’t start a single game for the world champions in 1998 but still scored more goals than Aime Jacquet’s first-choice forward – one – before repeating that feat with similar success at Euro 2000.
9) Kevin Davies
The Blackburn version of non-scoring striker Kevin Davies bore a few subtle differences to the iteration that later impressed with Bolton. Which is to say there were a couple more flailing elbows and snide digs in the ribs of unwitting Premier League centre-halves, as well as him being generally better utilised by a manager that truly understood his skill-set.
Some strikers capitalise on the fear of the unknown to elicit panic in defenders through unpredictability. But Davies was different. The danger in dealing with him was in knowing exactly what to expect: a battle. And not one he would quantify through the traditional means of goals or even shots, but in providing an attacking outlet, holding the ball up and being an all-round nuisance.
A record of 88 goals across 15 top-flight seasons would not ordinarily be cause for cult-hero status and adoration as a striker, but that longevity speaks to a player carrying out a particular role more effectively than anyone else could. That’s *England international* Kevin Davies to you.
8) Ivica Olic
Though not without his share of important goals, Ivica Olic was rarely the designated driver of any attack outside of his native clubs. At CSKA Moscow there was Vagner Love and Jo. For Hamburg, Rafael van der Vaart and Paolo Guerrero. Arjen Robben, Marios Gomez and Mandzukic and even Darijo Srna had better records for Bayern Munich and Croatia.
But anyone could see his worth to whichever squad was lucky enough to have him. Olic was tireless and tenacious, selfless forward rather than centre-forward, and a quite wonderful complement to any attack.
Take Louis van Gaal’s reaction to his Champions League semi-final hat-trick against Lyon in 2010. “He scored three goals, he pressed high on the pitch as well, which is important in our organisation. He scored three goals but it is because he is the closest player to the goal. I’m sorry, but that’s the way I think.”
It’s enough to bring a tear to the eye.
7) Olivier Giroud
It is, in many ways, an unfair characterisation: Olivier Giroud scored more than 100 goals for Arsenal in just over 250 appearances, shared the Ligue Un Golden Boot as champion with Montpellier in 2012 and might yet declare on a Premier League century.
That reputation exists for a reason, though. It became a point of intense debate in 2018 when he led France to World Cup glory despite going the entire tournament without a single shot on target. Some saw a waste of a starting place in an otherwise thrilling team; Antoine Griezmann credited someone who put teammates “in the best possible position”. Eden Hazard, for what it’s worth, said Giroud was “maybe the best in the world” as a target man not two years ago. And he’s played with Christian Benteke.
6) Flemming Povlsen
The scorer of the only goal in Spain’s most recent World Cup qualifying defeat in March 1993, Flemming Povlsen actually had a solid record at international level. Yet it seems entirely fitting that five of his 62 caps and none of his 21 goals came during Denmark’s crowning achievement at Euro 1992.
He remains as revered by his country for that success – assisting the two group goals against France and John Jensen’s opener in the German-conquering final – as he does at Borussia Dortmund. Tears were shed upon his injury-enforced retirement in 1995, an elusive Bundesliga title having finally been delivered after three runners-up medals at Koln and the Westfalenstadion. The most goals he ever managed in a single club season was 13, his invaluable work-rate more than making up for any deficiencies.
5) Emile Heskey
Some artists only become truly appreciated after their time has passed. Vincent van Gogh enjoyed relatively moderate fortune as an artist during his lifetime before his work captured the posthumous zeitgeist. Emile Heskey similarly had his admirers over a career that spanned more than two decades, but his role has gained value and recognition in retirement.
There is a reason no forward in history has made more Premier League appearances, and why Alan Shearer only earned one more England cap. A couple of managers might have been misguided or misinformed but it is no coincidence that ten or so at club and expectant international level trusted him so. Heskey was far more multi-dimensional than a couple of step-overs against Algeria – or even his perennial role as Michael Owen’s sidekick – might suggest.
4) Karim Benzema
If there was one glaring current omission from this list, it might be the last witness to see Loris Karius’s career alive. Karim Benzema is a questionable inclusion as a whole but the current Pichichi runner-up qualifies on account of that 2017/18 season alone.
That was Benzema at his altruistic finest. He scored five La Liga goals, level with Casemiro and Toni Kroos, with that Champions League final strike among his 12 in all competitions. Yet he was given almost as many minutes as Luka Modric by Zinedine Zidane, who noted last year that his compatriot “contributes much more than goals and does better for others”.
As Benzema himself said at the height of his criticism in 2017: “A modern forward must do other things related to passes, movement and spaces.” Check, check and check again.
3) Gianfranco Zola
A scorer of great, often sublime goals, Gianfranco Zola was never a great goalscorer outside of the precursor to that iconic Parma side. He never got particularly close to matching league tallies of 18 and 19 in his first two seasons at The Crusaders, be that as Diego Maradona’s apprentice at Napoli or in his role as Chelsea’s master.
At Stamford Bridge in particular, Zola never was defined by goals. He won the FWA Footballer of the Year award in his first season despite being outscored by Gianluca Vialli in the Premier League and Mark Hughes in all competitions, his November 1996 arrival only partially explaining that apparent anomaly. In Chelsea’s list of all-time top scorers, he sits between Eidur Gudjohnsen and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink but possesses the combined popularity of both and more.
Alex Ferguson crowned the Italian a “clever little so-and-so” not because of his goal against Manchester United in February 1997, but the preceding magic that dumbfounded both Denis Irwin and Gary Pallister and captivated a country. To judge that genius in basic numbers felt crass.
2) Roberto Firmino
It feels like an age since Jurgen Klopp last referred to Roberto Firmino as Liverpool’s “engine”. That description would be no less true now than it has been at any point during their five-year Anfield association.
The Aston Villa victory was a case in point. The Reds were struggling until Firmino was introduced. His movement and selflessness created the chance from which Sadio Mane scored.
So while rival fans can point to Mason Greenwood having as many Premier League goals this season in far fewer minutes, and some may struggle to comprehend his importance, Liverpool with and without their attacking fulcrum are different teams entirely. Liverpool have four crucial players at the theoretical peak age of 28 – Firmino, Mane, Virgil van Dijk and Mo Salah – but the Brazilian will be the most difficult to replace.
1) Dennis Bergkamp
‘When you have a player like that as a coach, you do not tell him how to play football, you just try to fit him into the team in the way which allows him to express his talent to the maximum potential,’ wrote Arsene Wenger in the programme notes for Dennis Bergkamp’s testimonial.
‘He was always a striker, yet not a striker – a midfielder yet not a midfielder, so I always felt that the second striker position was his natural position. He was at ease there, he knew when to drop off, and he could just smell out the game. He had instinct and super intelligence. As well as his talent, he had super, super intelligence.
‘His role in the team changed over the years. When I first arrived he was a goalscorer, and obsessed by scoring like may forwards are, but slowly he became more obsessed by the team and by how much he can provide. He understood that he could score less, but help the team score more.’
The numbers add up. Bergkamp reached double figures for goals in his first four Premier League seasons and never again thereafter, scoring 22 times in all competitions in 1997/98 and anything between three and ten from 1999 to 2006. But his influence was as enduring as his brilliance; only the rarest fool would have doubted that then or now.
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1. Guard of honour? Don’t care and nor should you. On we go…
2. Fair play to Jurgen Klopp. The only prize on offer to Manchester City tonight was momentum ahead of next season and Klopp could have taken even that off the table by naming an understrength side. A Harvey Elliott here, a Curtis Jones there and, all of a sudden, the game would have had a very different look and significance.
But he resisted that urge. One to eleven, this was a proper Liverpool without an asterisk, without proper motivation and – superficially at least – without any excuses.
3. And good to see Pep Guardiola play Phil Foden in a game of consequence, and in this more advanced role which increasingly seems like it might become his permanent home.
One of the theories about Foden is that City are too good to facilitate his development. That in the situations in which he’s typically used, their superiority is such as to provide no sort of useful context. Who knows if that’s right, but it sounds logical enough, and so seeing him in this kind of game – dead rubber or otherwise– felt like it actually served a purpose and a function.
4. Tonight was just Benjamin Mendy’s fiftieth Premier League appearance for Manchester City. There lies a problem which needs addressing this summer/autumn/winter/whenever the transfer market opens.
5. Penalty? Initially no, then yes. The first bits of contact were fine, because that was the kind of standard penalty box grappling that referees pretend not to see. But after Sterling had shifted the ball out of his feet and created an angle to cross or shoot, Gomez kept hold of him, denying him the opportunity to exploit the space he’d manufactured.
He probably did go down quite easily, but the game has created a situation whereby players feel the need to do that to get the decisions to which they’re entitled.
6. Gomez was culpable again for the second. He was left exposed as that move unfolded, finding himself one-on-one with a player capable of shifting and shooting with lightning speed, but Sterling was only scoring in one way and Gomez failed to protect that route to goal.
Don’t let him cut inside, don’t let him cut inside, don’t let him cut inside.
In the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t a big deal – it barely warrants a conclusion – but, while obviously talented and deservedly Virgil van Dijk’s first-choice partner, Gomez isn’t one of those players who’s guaranteed a starting place and neither is he in such substantial credit that bad moments occurring back-to-back can just be shrugged off.
That isn’t a prompt to re-categorise him, that would be absurd, but this was a reminder that van Dijk’s shadow is a forgiving place and that, when he’s not quite himself, there are still imperfections in Liverpool’s backline.
7. Defensive issues aside, the movement from Kevin De Bruyne for City’s second was exemplary. Most of the time, it’s De Bruyne’s talent which draws praise and quite rightly so, because that dynamic playmaker category – that floating position he plays – is a territory almost all of his own.
But that second goal was about workrate: his run drew Andrew Robertson away from the ball, creating the time and opportunity for Foden to play Sterling in on Gomez. Simple, but superb. The goal doesn’t happen without him and his industry is just something else of virtue to admire.
8. That goal isn’t scored without Phil Foden, either. There are lots of young players who are pretty on the ball and who can play with one or two touches in tight spaces, but not nearly as many who know when to release possession. Foden seems to have that instinct and – at a guess – that’s probably why Guardiola currently sees him as a credible attacking option.
It’s a fine art. Having the timing to draw players in and then exploit the space created by that displacement is a real skill and Foden has it.
9. …and he can finish. That much we knew – or are starting to know – but the intricate build-up also made him look like a player born to play for Guardiola. The finish was comprehensive, a lovely lift over Alisson and high into the net, but it was the awareness for where the defenders were and where the space to drive into would be that made it such a charming bit of play.
Admittedly, it had become obvious by that point that Liverpool weren’t themselves and that one team was considerably more committed to their task than the other. But what a good goal and it’s rare that Andy Robertson is made to look that silly by anyone, let alone a player still searching for a permanent place in a first-team.
10. Let’s put Rodri in the ‘maybe’ pile. As time goes on and a replacement becomes increasingly hard to find, it’s becoming obvious – if it wasn’t before – just how unique Fernandinho is. Even now, at 34, City just aren’t the same without his tranche of abilities at the base of their midfield. Understandably so, because how many players with his quiver of passes also possess such sturdy defensive attributes too?
Put in another way: Could Luka Modric also play centre-half? Could Toni Kroos or Casemiro?
It’s not just a question of being able to sit and pass – see Jorginho’s issues at Chelsea for proof of that – because Guardiola’s teams not only need to be armed with knifing precision from deep midfield, they also require the player in that role to perform the defensive duties of a small army without possession.
Can Rodri do that? Let’s see. The positions he receives the ball in are smart enough and he seems composed in possession, but there isn’t an overwhelming case for him yet.
11. That’s going to be a long-term argument, isn’t it? You can feel it coming. On the basis that City have other priorities this summer and whatever money they do spend will be used to reinforced the centre of defence and the full-back positions, Rodri will presumably have at least another season to make this role his own – during which, naturally, his supporters and apologists will clash after every game.
He’s going to be one of ‘those’. Nice ball over the top for the fourth goal, mind. Lovely. He’s a good player. Unfortunately, the man he’s tasked with replacing was an extraordinarily rare one.
12. How do Liverpool work Naby Keita into this midfield?
It seems necessary for the sake of the side’s evolution. That seems absurdly harsh given everything the Henderson-Fabinho-Wijnaldum trio has achieved but, on a technical basis, Keita is probably better than all of them. People forget how he was viewed during his time at RB Leipzig. Temperamental and occasionally difficult, but also absolutely brilliant – shades of Iniesta, even, in the way that he’d carry and create.
That’s heady praise, possibly even hyperbole, but there’s no question that if his abilities were woven into this side properly, then its midfield would become a protagonist in games in a way that it currently isn’t and probably unlock different ways of winning games. It might also move away from some of its current dependencies, too, and the difficulties it experiences without Sadio Mane or one of the full-backs.
What’s the answer? Fabinho’s the best defender of the lot, he has to play. Henderson has also been deified on Merseyside in a way that makes his technical shortcomings essentially irrelevant. He’s not going anywhere. Is it Wijnaldum – is he going to have to be the necessary sacrifice if Keita is to have the impact he should?
13. Just to revisit the point about Benjamin Mendy. He actually played well this evening and, because he did, that first point seems really harsh. But isn’t the problem his fragility? His running style seems changed from what it was two years ago, and he seems a more clunky, clumsy player.
It’s like the difference between a young Jack Wilshere and the older incarnation, the version most recently seen limping about against Chelsea on Wednesday night. An injury and another interruption never seems very far away and, on the basis of the points raised in this article about the differences between Liverpool and City, that doesn’t seem like an uncertainty which can be left unaddressed for much longer.
14. The VAR intervention in the Sheffield United-Tottenham game remains the silliest of the night, but the decision to disallow Riyad Mahrez’s goal gave it some competition. Yes, it’s the rule, but when goals are being chalked off for handball when that handball has only occurred because of a foul, then it’s time to have a rethink about some of these mechanics.
If Fabinho doesn’t go through the back of Phil Foden, then Mahrez would probably still have run through to score. At the very least, it’s worth acknowledging that the literal way in which some of these laws are being applied is not really in the interests of the sport.
15. This game isn’t going to have any long-term worth, but it’s testament to how finely tuned football teams are. Liverpool probably didn’t have the most arduous week of training and, most likely, dietary and nutritional standards were allowed to slip over the last few days too. That’s putting it mildly, even though they probably didn’t spend the last 72 hours living like they were on a stag-do at the darts.
But it’s amazing how different they were. The energy levels were down, but not nearly as much or as noticeably as the general focus. Some of the positioning in defence was absolutely wild and, within the space of a week, all the little cohesions and understandings which make this Liverpool side so great had dissolved.
No big deal, they’re champions, but it’s a reminder of how elite teams need to be perpetually maintained to retain their advantages and also how dependent on their chemistry they ultimately are. It’s only been a few days and yet – despite probably living well and basking in the post-title glory a bit too much – that slight decrease in competitive tension reduced one of the most dominant sides of any Premier League season to generic cannon fodder.
16. For City, this wasn’t meaningless. It’s not some grand triumph which redefines their league season or disguises the fact that they remain a team with flaws. But it was good enough to continue the changing discussion around them; they’ve been excellent since the restart, playing like a side who are beginning to recover some lost ground.
They seem very fresh. Even in the Premier League, where they have nothing to play for and only injuries to avoid, there’s a life to their football which they didn’t have before the lockdown. Not domestically, at least. Whereas previously everything had felt as if it was reaching the end of a cycle, now it’s the opposite. Maybe it’s the appointment of Juanma Lillo as an assistant, perhaps it’s Guardiola’s infectious intensity, or maybe it’s a simple as a refocusing in response to having to sit and stew during lockdown, and these players seeing a thousand Liverpool victory laps in their mind.
Who knows, but they’re different. The football is bright and sharp, and inventive in a way which suggests a new degree of fertility. Even with six games left, they look like a side who can’t wait for next season to begin.
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The strong squad Jurgen Klopp has built at Liverpool could see RB Leipzig’s Timo Werner move elsewhere this summer, according to former Chelsea midfielder Craig Burley.
Before the Premier League was suspended it looked as though the Germany international was heading straight to Liverpool – but the current situation has thrown that into doubt due to uncertain finances.
Although Liverpool continue to be linked with Werner, there have been rumours that Chelsea could rival them for the 24-year-old if they miss out on Lyon striker Moussa Dembele.
MAILBOX: Damned if you spend big; Juve prove you’re damned if you don’t…
And Burley can see why Chelsea “would be interested” in Werner – who scored in Leipzig’s 4-2 win on Monday night against Cologne – as he “ticks every box for them”.
“You want to back yourself as a player,” Burley told ESPN.
“You’ve got a manager in Klopp who will be very enthusiastic in trying to sell the platform to him.
“Clearly when I played, you played on the Saturday, you played on a Wednesday and expect to play the following Saturday if you played well enough. If you got told you were left out of the side, you knew it wasn’t for resting purposes, it was because you were dropped.
“The game has changed, you’ve got to have a deep squad and a quality squad.
“I think Klopp can sell to Timo Werner that Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah have carried the load for Liverpool, and they’re not going to play 50 or 60 games per year.
“I’m not surprised Chelsea would be interested, though, he ticks every box for them.
“He can play out wide, they’ve got wide players, he can play through the middle, he works hard, he presses when he’s not got the ball, it absolutely makes sense for him.”
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Spain legend Xavi thinks Liverpool’s Sadio Mane and Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang would struggle to fit into Barcelona’s style of play if they made the move to the Camp Nou.
Mane has become an irreplaceable part of Jurgen Klopp‘s side in the past three seasons, coming up with a number of match-winning contributions to keep the Reds on the charge for a first league title in 30 years.
Aubameyang, meanwhile, boasts the impressive record of having scored 61 goals in 97 Arsenal appearances, including 17 in the Premier League this season.
MAILBOX: Gerrard was a man without a home, Alphabet XI simulation and…
The Gabon international – who has a year left on his contract – is more likely to leave than Mane this summer and Barcelona have been linked with the striker alongside Inter Milan marksman Lautaro Martinez.
Xavi, however, has explained that neither Aubameyang nor Mane would likely fit in at Barca, who need a player who can perform in “small spaces”.
“Mane and Aubemayang can kill you in open space. But Barcelona need players who know how to move in small spaces,” the legendary midfielder said.
“I am thinking about player who would adapt to Barcelona and it’s not easy to find one. Samuel Eto’o was perfect as is Luis Suarez right now.”
Suarez moved to Barcelona from Liverpool in 2014 but reports have suggested that Martinez is being eyed as the long-term replacement for the 33-year-old.
Indeed, Barcelona have been stretched for attackers this season with Suarez, who underwent knee surgery earlier this year, joining Ousmane Dembele on the treatment table.
Reports have also suggested that Neymar is angling for a return to Barcelona, something Xavi hopes can be arranged.
“Football-wise, he is among the three or five best in the world,” Xavi said of the Brazilian. “I hope that he returns to Barcelona.
“He was his teammate. He would add a lot. A positive character. It would be an extraordinary signing to become a difference-maker.”
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Liverpool could hand Sadio Mane a new contract at Anfield to keep him out the clutches of Real Madrid, according to reports.
Mane, who moved to Anfield in the summer of 2016, has become irreplaceable in Jurgen Klopp‘s team having scored 77 goals in 161 appearances for the Reds.
Indeed, his stock has risen immensely in the past two seasons, when he has helped fire Liverpool to Champions League glory and come up with several match-winning contributions.
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Such performances have reportedly led to interest from Real Madrid, who have been uninspiring in their efforts to replace Cristiano Ronaldo.
However, according to Football Insider, Liverpool are weighing up ending any further interest in Senegal international Mane by handing him a ‘blockbuster new contract’.
The winger’s current terms – extended in November 2018 – expire in the summer of 2023, by which point Mane would have turned 31.
Therefore, it is said that Liverpool believe another extension will put paid to Madrid’s hopes of landing the player on a big-money move.
Madrid signed Luka Jovic and Eden Hazard last summer but both have been blighted with injuries, with former Chelsea man Hazard suffering two ankle problems.
Jovic has also struggled and Madrid announced recently that the former Eintracht Frankfurt striker has injured his foot amid the shutdown of football across Europe.
Mane, meanwhile, has been a virtual ever-present for Liverpool and has only missed two games all season due to a slight hamstring injury.
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Liverpool’s Premier League title challenge may been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic – but the squad still seem to be in high spirits.
They are currently self-isolating at home and they have been doing their training sessions over the Zoom video conferencing app.
Winger Sadio Mane celebrated his 28th birthday yesterday and Jurgen Klopp took time out of their latest workout to celebrate the occasion.
Watch the video here.
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Sadio Mane “may have to leave Liverpool” if he wants to win the Ballon d’Or, according to former Senegal international Diomansy Kamara.
The 28-year-old has scored 16 goals and provided eight assists in all competitions this season, helping Liverpool to a 25-point lead at the summit of the Premier League.
Mane has been one of Liverpool’s best players this season along with the likes of Jordan Henderson and Virgil van Dijk and that has led to reported interest from Real Madrid.
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And Kamara reckons Mane could have to move away from the club if he wants to win the Ballon d’Or at some point in his career.
“If Mane, one day wants to win the Ballon d’Or, he may have to leave Liverpool as the club are maybe not the best advocates for him, despite their outstanding performances,” Kamara told ESPN.
“Now he needs to continue to work, and maybe even change clubs, because we’ve seen that Liverpool don’t really play to Mane’s strengths and [people] gave their votes to Virgil van Dijk even though Mane and to a lesser extend Mohamed Salah were equally in the running.
“Considering his value in the market, considering the quality of the side he’s playing in, there aren’t many other clubs he could go to today to make a major leap.
“So we have to talk about Real Madrid. His style of play is a bit closer to the criteria they’re looking for over there, and if I was his agent, I’d take him to Spain.
“We all dream of seeing Mane in the colours of Real Madrid, and we know that Zinedine Zidane appreciates him, but will it become a reality? We’ll have to see.”
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