Salah tops Premier League winners and losers

Rafael Benitez is a big loser, while Salah is a winner along with Man City, after *that* counter-attack.



Mohamed Salah
19 goals in 19 games this season and most of them have been bloody brilliant. He’s a great goalscorer of great goals; that’s a rare combination. Perhaps less so at Liverpool than at any other Premier League club – Luis Suarez and Fernando Torres also had this frankly unfair knack of scoring lots and scoring beautifully.

Both Everton full-backs felt Salah’s wrath on Wednesday. By the time Salah touched the ball from Jordan Henderson’s pass for his first, he was about ten yards in front of Lucas Digne, who had been level with the Reds striker just a couple of seconds before. As Salah clipped the ball beyond Jordan Pickford into the far corner, Digne was nowhere near him.

It was then Seamus Coleman’s turn to see the Egyptian’s clean heels as Salah robbed the Everton captain of possession, ran from the halfway line, away from Coleman with the ball at his feet, and slipped the ball past Pickford once again.

His blend of speed, control, movement and finishing has always been wonderful, but never quite as wonderful as it is right now.


READ MORE: 16 Conclusions: Everton 1-4 Liverpool


That Manchester City counter-attack
A spot of head tennis from Joao Cancelo in his own box, a pass through the legs of an Aston Villa forward by Riyad Mahrez in his own box, a first-time ball from Fernandinho to Gabriel Jesus running down the wing, a look from Jesus, a touch from Jesus, a perfect cross from Jesus, a volley from the edge of the box into the roof of the net from Bernardo Silva. 15.68 seconds, and they pissed about in their own box for a third of that.

Everything about this Bernardo Silva goal is magnificent

— GOAL (@goal) December 2, 2021

We rarely get to see that sort of goal from Manchester City. Silva et al are usually camped on the edge of the box, with opposition teams pushed back and scared to commit too many bodies forward. That goal is why. It was perfect, from calm start to devastating finish.


James Maddison
Man’s got his swagger back. Grouped at the start of last season with Mount, Phil Foden and Jack Grealish, there came a point, around March, when it became unfair to compare the Leicester playmaker with the other trio, such was their prosperity and his hardship.

Maddison went on a run of 16 Premier League games without a goal or an assist, but followed a goal and two assists in the win over Watford, with another assist and a big hand in the other goal in the 2-2 draw with Southampton. Two drops of the shoulder, one on each side of the box, opened up space up brilliantly for the two goals. His awareness of space – particularly knowing when to stand still – is quite brilliant when he’s in this form. And then of course he has the touch and poise to make room and create chances.

Maddison puts his upturn in form down to confidence, and for him, confidence means swagger.


“We were completely underperforming as a team… (It was) very sloppy and it was a very unusual performance for us. I had the feeling we were not ready.”

Thomas Tuchel was furious on the touchline throughout. Just a week on from their best performance of the season as they walked all over Juventus in the Champions League, they put in their worst at Vicarage Road. They were particularly awful in a first half in which Watford pressed high and won what felt like every challenge and second ball.

But then Chelsea scored two brilliant goals. Their movement off the ball and the runners into the box was the one positive aspect of their game – the stuff that was missing from the draw with Manchester United. Mason Mount scored and claimed an assist and Kai Havertz led the line well with his neat touches and that surprising pace that continues to surprise despite people banging on about how surprising it is.

If it was a one-off performance, this was a fantastic evening for Chelsea – picking up three points having played so poorly. If it wasn’t, people will start to question the quality in the depths of this supposedly deep squad. Tuchel’s six changes completely disrupted his side’s flow; they got away with it.


The Big Three
Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool have a combined goal difference of 79. West Ham are the only other team in the Premier League with a positive goal difference on eight. We may never have seen three Premier League teams with such evenly matched brilliance.


Southampton’s set-piece coach
“Dave does nothing else,” said Ralph Hasenhuttl in December of last year, explaining the role of Dave Watson, who eats, drinks and sleeps set-pieces.

Wednesday was only the third time Southampton have scored more than one goal in a league game and both came from neat little corner routines. Tempting as it may be to swing the ball into the box when James Ward-Prowse is on the pitch, the Saints ‘did something different’ twice (they may actually have done it more than twice) and it worked twice.

Both involved passing the ball into the box and both spread utter panic in the Leicester ranks. It was as though Southampton had broken the rules by not simply piling in for 50:50 headers from looping deliveries. There’s got to be a good reason why teams don’t try this sort of thing more regularly, but I will forever be too dense to understand.


Declan Rice
Around a year ago there was speculation as to whether Chelsea might sign Rice and play him in defence. There’s no chance of that happening now.

He may well move to Chelsea, but playing him in defence would now limit the part of his game that separates him from almost any other midfielder in the Premier League and makes him arguably the best of all of them. It’s not just the way he bursts through gaps in opposition teams, but his control of the ball as he does so and the decisions he makes having forced00 000000000000000000000000000000000himself into the final third. What a season he’s having.


Neal Maupay
He misses a hell of a lot of chances and was booed off against Leeds for his profligacy. He scored an overhead kick in the 89th minute to get those fickle football fans immediately back on side.


Brighton level things with minutes left!#PLonPrime #WHUBHA

— Amazon Prime Video Sport (@primevideosport) December 1, 2021



Newcastle centre-backs
Ciaran Clark’s brain fart after nine minutes was laughable. Having gently volleyed a clearance gently into Teemu Pukki’s midriff, he followed one mistake with another by blatantly hauling the Norwich striker down when through on goal. It was beyond daft. But attempting to restrict farts to trousers, while apparently an infringement of all of our human rights, has proven particularly difficult for Newcastle defenders. The analysis of their problems ahead of kick-off focused on individual errors. There have been been far too many this season.

But you get what you pay for.

The last centre-back Newcastle spent more than £9million on was Fabrizio Coloccini in 2008, who captained them to their fifth place finish in 2012. The three centre-backs used against Norwich cost a combined £14million. They’ve spent over £9million on 16 players since Coloccini. Only one – Jamal Lewis – was a defender, and he made his first start since February on Tuesday.

In an attempt to fudge their way back towards something like the glory days, signing ‘exciting’ forwards for decent money, Newcstle have completely disregarded their back four. Big money doesn’t necessarily equal quality, as Newcastle will inevitably discover in the next few transfer windows, but it often does, and in spending a pittance on defenders they haven’t put that to the test. They surely will in January. They have to – with these defenders, Newcastle will be relegated.


Rafa Benitez
The Everton fans that remained at Goodison Park beyond the hour mark, did so to boo their team, and more specifically, their manager.

But that’s sort of the point. He’s not ‘their manager’, and such a display against the bitter rivals that – to those fans – he still represents, has made certain that he never will be.

The Spaniard is an excellent fall guy for the Everton board, and it almost feels like they appointed him for that reason. Having been left in the lurch by Carlo Ancelotti, with no money to spend in the summer, who better to draw criticism from the hierarchy than the manager Everton fans despise over all others? It’s incredibly uncomfortable even to imagine that being their thought process.


As the draw at Newcastle meant Norwich had picked up eight points from a possible 12, criticism of their performance was soft. But it was a pitiful attempt to break down a team that has the worst defensive record in the Premier League and were a man short for 80 minutes.

This was a relegation six-pointer and stealing a march on Newcastle could be very important indeed ahead of January, when Amanda Staveley and Eddie Howe have little choice but to throw money at footballers and their agents. It may not feel like it now, but that could prove to be a huge missed opportunity for Norwich, who need more guile in the final third. Time to bring Todd Cantwell in from the cold.


Leicester have now conceded 25 goals this season. Only Norwich, Newcastle and Watford have conceded more. Only Crystal Palace have had more goals scored against them from set-pieces. Leicester are already halfway to the tally they shipped last season after 14 games. And no-one in the Premier League has made more saves than Kasper Schmeichel.

Unlike Newcastle, Leicester are supposed to have good centre-backs. Jonny Evans is better than Harry Maguire, apparently. And Caglar Soyuncu – deemed by many to be a surprise upgrade when Maguire left for United – has typically shown himself to be a very capable Premier League defender. They now seem to spend more time arguing with each other than clearing danger or marking opponents. They miss Wesley Fofana desperately.


Robert Sanchez
He does not like it up ‘im. Sanchez must have spent a big part of the build up to facing West Ham on dealing with set pieces, but it didn’t look like it. The Brighton keeper got nowhere near the ball for West Ham’s goal, ending up in his net with the ball from Tomas Soucek’s flicked header. And he was very fortunate not to concede another, after he was saved the embarrassment of another flap as Michail Antonio got the slightest of touches to be ruled offside.


Saul Niguez
Jorginho may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but there’s nothing like watching Saul Niguez try to play football for 45 minutes to make you realise just how good the Italian is.

“I don’t know where he goes,” Tuchel said, wondering what Saul might do next for Chelsea having hauled him off at half-time for the second time in two Premier League starts. That would have been a fair query about the Spaniard’s state of mind while actually playing football – where the hell does he go?

He looks bored, or dazed, or drunk, and will surely never start another Premier League game for Chelsea.


Crystal Palace
Raphinha’s 94th-minute penalty was the third time Patrick Vieira’s side have conceded an equaliser in injury time this season. That’s a difference of six points that would see Palace sixth in the league rather than 12th.

We’ve dropped 568 points in added time and that error has made me more angry than of them.

— HLTCO (@HLTCO) November 30, 2021

The Palace defenders, calm and assured for 90 minutes, use one hand to push the panic button in stoppage time and the other to shoot themselves in the foot, making Marc Guehi’s use of an apparent third arm to block a header and concede a penalty all the more impressive.


Somehow, Wolves are sixth. They’ve scored 12 goals all season and just one in their last four. Bruno Lage has done a fine job at Wolves, as have their recruitment team once again, but despite some brilliant attacking quality to call upon, it’s not quite clicking for them. Only Southampton have a worse goals minus expected goals score – Wolves ‘should’ have scored five more than they have this season.

The stats suggest not all of them should have come against Burnley, but it felt like they could have. Adama Traore was excellent up to the final third, but usually not in it, and if he was, someone else would make a bad decision or fluff a chance. All of their forwards are brilliant up to a point – the point being when it comes to putting the ball in the back of the net.

It feel like it’s a case of when and not if it all comes together for Wolves, and it’s on those forwards, not Lage, to make it happen.


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