It isn’t just that Mo Salah is a wonderful passer of the ball, it isn’t just that he has supreme ball control, it isn’t just that he both makes and scores great goals, it isn’t just that he has dancer’s feet, and it isn’t even that his beaming smile can light up even the greyest afternoon. It is that all of these things on their own would make a great player but, all rolled up into one man, they make him the greatest striker currently working on earth today.
He doesn’t just score the occasional great goal; he scores great goals pretty much every week. His strike against Watford was his 10th in 10 games.
To watch how he applies a soft touch of pressure to the top of the ball with his studs, rolls his foot over the ball, nudging it forward, applies a firmer touch to beat a defender, chops it back, momentarily looks up to see where the keeper is and put it in the very place it cannot be saved — well, it is breathtaking. Salah can win any game all on his own, no matter the opponent. Pure joy.
A weird day at St James’ Park
It has been a very undignified week in the northeast that saw Newcastle United plummet in the eyes of many outside of Tyneside (and a small number inside). After the fizz of the early minutes and perhaps inevitable home goal, Spurs scored a well-deserved equaliser and soon took the lead.
Football will do that to you. Just when you think you’re ahead, it slaps you down.
The fact the first half was held up for a long while by a medical emergency added to the surreal feeling on the day. That it should do so on such an occasion must have made some feel it was a day that was somehow cursed.
Then Spurs scored a third and bossed the second half.
Isn’t it funny how life has a habit of getting in the way of fantasy? The atmosphere was deflated until Spurs gifted them an own goal, but Spurs saw the game out easily.
After the first 15 minutes, Newcastle were rotten. This sort of performance wasn’t in the script, but then the script was written for a horror movie where a legendary football club held in wide affection is taken over by an oppressive, bloody regime that jails and murders its opponents.
Is Claudio already in the ejector seat?
This week it is Claudio Ranieiri’s turn to manage Watford, and who would genuinely be surprised if the Pozzo regime sacked him before the end of next month? Unless he can transform Watford’s terrible form immediately, that is what looks likely to happen.
Mistake numero uno was playing their best man, Ishmail Sarr, through the middle. It was a disaster. But this was a DNA-deep team failure.
They simply didn’t show the needed application. There was no new manager bounce, rather a new depth was plumbed. They actually looked scared for most of the game and couldn’t muster any aggression or competitive spirit, bar one late strike on goal.
Playing Liverpool is tough enough at the best of times and they absolutely rang rings around the Hornets. His biggest ever Premier League defeat is one black mark against Claudio, three and its ciao, baby.
Wolves wake up and win
One of the best feelings as a fan is when you’re going into the last 10 minutes of the game, two down and feeling that the game has gone. You stay to watch the entrails of the tie not expecting anything to happen, except maybe the other side will score a third. Instead, you claw one back, five minutes later you equalise and, as five minutes of injury time plays out, you score the winner via a massive deflection with the last kick of the game. It doesn’t happen very often, but it happened at Villa Park on Saturday.
Dean Smith couldn’t process it in his post-game interview but, in truth, there’s little to take out of such a result beyond glory or heartache. These rare and apparently random goal splurges are one of the reasons football continues to hold our attention.
In today’s more corporate league, with its institutionalised financial inequality making it ever more predictable, we need what Douglas Adams called “the random improbability drive” to kick in more often. Don’t try to understand it, just enjoy it (unless it happens to you).
Manchester United: Put simply, they’re no good
What do they think they’re doing? Were they supposed to be trying to play a high pressing game or not? Some tried, some didn’t. The players that did try, didn’t try very hard and the ones that didn’t, often stayed so far back they surrendered the midfield to Leicester. It was all a mess.
Harry Maguire was dreadful. He looked slow, mentally and physically. They’ve employed a set-piece coach, but to absolutely no positive effect.
United’s reliance on their ‘just do something’ policy, produced two great individual goals, but they allowed a decent Leicester side to play and put no pressure on them at any point. This is the fault of the manager and coaching team, and everyone knows it. Put simply, they’re no good.
With a run of hard games awaiting them, the time has come to be decisive. They have all the talent to succeed in the squad but not in the dugout. At the moment United look like a clown car made out of Ferrari parts.
Brentford: The plan is working
If Man Utd want some tips on how to play as a team and not as individuals, they should look no further than Brentford, who more than held their own against a Chelsea side assembled at fantastic cost.
They play to Thomas Frank’s system and know it inside out, right down to all those long throws. This means they are organised and cohesive. They can be really direct at times, which is why the crowd absolutely love it. There is nothing that gets fans going more than a big boot upfield and a big lad like Ivan Toney hunting the ball down, nothing like getting it wide for crosses into the box.
It has long been derided in this country as somehow unsophisticated and unworthy but that is nonsense. Most intricate play is lost on fans in the stadium because they’re too far away to see it; it is appreciated only by a TV audience. However, a long ball and fast striker is a simple joy that, like a defender clearing out a striker, should never have been looked so snootily down upon. Brentford’s wins have been impressive, but here, how they lost — hitting the post twice — was just as significant.
Burnley: Owner problems?
At least Burnley didn’t ship five goals this time, their par performance at the Etihad. That is at least something. While they put up some degree of resistance against a far-from-peak-form Manchester City, they look every bit a bottom-three side. No wins, three draws, and only five goals scored; the combination of a weak defence and an impotent strike force absolutely screams relegation.
Manager Sean Dyche appears to have run out of ideas, or the previously successful ideas have stopped working. Now they appear a rather lumpy, one-dimensional side without even the grit they once showed.
This drop in standards has coincided with the new owners ALK Capital taking over late last year in a deal which, remarkably, used the club’