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Dublin: 20 °C Saturday 21 July, 2018

Same issues continue to plague Liverpool, candy Kane and more Premier League talking points

Also, Mourinho’s United grind out the win while Oumar Niasse’s contribution to Everton says a lot about their issues.

1. Manchester City looking like the team to beat with another goal fest

IT CAN BE perilous to praise a team to the extreme without first noting the opposition they have faced in the process of their ascent.

On the surface any 5-0 victory will naturally set headlines alight and tongues wagging.

Manchester City v Crystal Palace - Premier League - Etihad Stadium Source: Nick Potts

However Man City’s destruction of Crystal Palace on Saturday came against a side who had lost every single one of its previous five Premier League games and, crucially, had yet to even register a goal.

Roy Hodgson may have watched on in woe and equal parts jealously as Man City made it look so simple to carve open opponents and slide the ball into the back of the net with grace and basic instinct.

But even though City’s latest win came against a relegation candidate, it also cannot be said that Pep Guardiola’s side are untested this season.

While they have swatted aside teams like Palace, Watford and Brighton, they have also annihilated Liverpool and Dutch champions Feyenoord in the group stages of the Champions League — 6-0 and 4-0 respectively.

The numbers simply do not lie — City have scored 27 goals in all competitions this season and conceded three, winning seven out of eight games across three competitions.

As in previous games, City looked irresistible at the Etihad on Saturday. Leroy Sane may have struggled to envision himself playing a prominent role in a side filled with players like David Silva, Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva.

However with a goal and two assists in a man of the match display the German demonstrated the strength in-depth which Pep Guardiola’s side have in attack and showed the devastating reality of a side which appears to be the team to beat this season, and the one which could lead the pack hunting for the title.

- Aaron Gallagher

2. Manchester United forced to dig deep but find the will to grind out win

Before this weekend’s round of Premier League fixtures an argument was brewing as to which side you would prefer to watch if given the choice — Manchester City or Manchester United.

Both sides sat joint-top of the Premier League table, both had four wins in five games, neither had been beaten and both had a desire to obliterate opponents with massive scorelines like 4-0 and 5-0 and 6-0 on a routine basis.

However if one was to be asked the same question after today’s pair of games, there would probably be a definitive answer which said the Blues.

That is because a contrast emerged today, not just in the difference in scoreline between City’s 5-0 victory against Crystal Palace and United’s narrow 1-0 win away to Southampton, but also in the manner in which victory was achieved for both sides.

Following the final whistle at St. Mary’s Romelu Lukaku pumped his arms into the air in relief as much as in celebration. His sixth Premier League goal in as many games was the difference between the sides, but United looked far from convincing.

Southampton v Manchester United - Premier League - St Mary's Stadium Source: John Walton

Mauricio Pellegrino’s Saints side came to play and after going behind would not sit back and accept their fate and unlike in previous wins this season United did not push on in the second half trying to add to their talley.

They have made a habit of scoring handfuls of goals in the 80th minute or later this season, but by that stage on Saturday Jose Mourinho’s side were pinned inside their own half clinging onto their lead with vigour and a back-five defensive unit.

In other games Mourinho had brought on Anthony Martial to add to the scoreline, whereas today he introduced defender Chris Smalling to ensure and see out the slim 1-0 margin.

Though it was not as impressive as City’s 5-0 deconstruction of Palace, nor as exciting as 4-0 wins against West Ham, Swansea or Everton, it did produce the same result and earned the exact same three points as their rivals.

For tiresome years Guardiola and Mourinho have clashed for personal reasons, however this season could see their individual philosophies on the game come to the fore — win pretty, or win by any means possible.

- Aaron Gallagher

3. Harry Kane, King of London, is hitting the form of his life

Mauricio Pochettino summed it up best of all following Tottenham’s dramatic 3-2 London derby victory against West Ham: “I’m in love with Harry Kane,” he said, “like the fans are in love. Not just because he scores goals, but because of how he is as a professional.”

The Tottenham manager could not but fawn over his talisman after Kane bagged a brace to earn Spurs their third win of the season, which leaves them fourth and five points off the summit.

Britain Soccer Premier League Source: Tim Ireland

The win did not always look guaranteed after the Hammers produced the most dramatic of comebacks to turn a 3-0 deficit with half an hour to go, into a 3-2 scoreline capable of earning a share of the spoils.

Despite the late lapses in concentration, Kane was the undisputed star of the show and a player who only seems to be reaching new heights with each passing week.

Once dubbed a one-week wonder, into a one-season wonder, the 24-year-old has firmly established himself as the most consistent (August hoodoos aside, naturally) and potent attacking threat in the Premier League.

He scored 29 goals in 29 games last season, 25 goals in 38 games the year before and with today’s brace has recorded 21 goals in 29 London derbies.

More significantly, only Lionel Messi and Robert Lewandowski have a better minutes/goal ratio than the England international — with the player now just two goals short of Cristiano Ronaldo’s own Premier League goal tally.

Barring a move abroad to one of Europe’s elite super-clubs eyeing his signature, Alan Shearer’s Premier League all-time scoring feat will undoubtedly be in Kane’s sights.

- Aaron Gallagher

4. Same Liverpool issues on show in another chaotic, frenetic game

There was a moment in the second-half of Liverpool’s 3-2 win over Leicester that just seemed to sum up their problems.

Emre Can played a careless, risky pass in front of his own goal and it very nearly led to an opening for the home side.

Sure, every player makes bad decisions in games. But this just tapped into a wider ill in Liverpool’s psyche: a lack of calm and composure especially at key moments. At the time, shortly after the restart, the Foxes were playing well – dogged, determined and looking to pounce on any scrap that fell their way.

Leicester City v Liverpool - Premier League - King Power Stadium Source: Mike Egerton

And Liverpool seemed happy to oblige. It made sense to put their foot on the ball, for certain players to stand up and relieve the little bit of pressure. Instead, there was a distinct lack of steadiness.

They had control of the match when 2-0 up but that was about it. Even with the last meaningful moment of the game, they conceded a cheap free-kick and allowed Leicester one final chance to whip in a set-piece: an element to their game that Liverpool seem to have a Kryptonite-like relationship with.

Fittingly for Liverpool, the match was decided by a frantic, chaotic few minutes – not the peaceful tranquility of their comfortable 2-goal advantage.

The thing is that in a scrappy street-fight, Liverpool should still have enough. Their great moments just about outweigh their bad ones.

But, sometimes, it’s not enough. Leicester could and should have earned a point and a 3-3 draw from being 2-0 and 3-1 in front at various stages does not look good on anyone.

Jurgen Klopp can celebrate the victory but he still has plenty of work to do in fine-tuning the repeated problems that make Liverpool games highly entertaining to watch for neutrals but certainly excruciating to watch for the club’s supporters.

- Eoin O’Callaghan

5. Niasse contribution can’t disguise from wider Everton problems

It says much that the two-goal Everton hero in their crucial win over Bournemouth actually hadn’t played a league game for them since May of last year.

Oumar Niasse will get the headlines but his inclusion in the squad, not to mind his actual introduction 10 minutes after the interval, is revealing.

Everton v AFC Bournemouth - Premier League - Goodison Park Source: Barrington Coombs

Ronald Koeman encouraged him to leave Goodison Park in August 2016 if he wanted to play first-team football. Niasse eventually went in January, signing on loan with Hull and scored a few times but not enough to keep them in the top tier.

On Wednesday, he returned to an Everton squad for the first time and scored in the EFL Cup win over Sunderland after coming off the bench.

It was a sure sign that Koeman had lost faith in the attackers at his disposal. Everton had just gone four games without a goal. The new faces hadn’t started well. After being replaced at half-time in the 3-0 loss to Tottenham, Sandro Ramirez has started from the bench in the last four matches.

All out of ideas as he watched his side stare down the barrel of another league loss, he threw Niasse in. The striker had a point to prove and delivered. But, it’s very much a short-term fix.

Romelu Lukaku’s departure was always going to be crucial but Koeman clearly felt the sum of Everton’s parts could be enough.

It hasn’t been. Not yet anyway. Niasse can only cover the cracks temporarily and Koeman will be acutely aware.

- Eoin O’Callaghan

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Classy Coutinho helps Liverpool halt their slump after Vardy misses from the spot

Super sub Niasse saves Everton and eases the pressure on Koeman

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