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Dublin: 16 °C Saturday 11 July, 2020

Salah's Messi-esque goal and more Premier League talking points

Plus, why the officials at Anfield today deserve to be cut some slack.

Liverpool's Mohamed Salah scores his side's second goal of the game.
Liverpool's Mohamed Salah scores his side's second goal of the game.

1. Salah’s Messi-esque goal

JAMIE CARRAGHER HAS seen almost everything in his many years playing for and subsequently following Liverpool as a pundit.

Yet despite overt familiarity with the football world, the club legend still managed to channel his inner schoolkid this afternoon, as he was clearly bowled over by one particular moment during what was an enthralling spectacle at Anfield.

Liverpool appeared under the cosh, all the momentum was with Tottenham and then suddenly Mo Salah produced a moment of brilliance (and what at the time appeared to be the match-winner).

The Egypt international showed incredible close control, weaving past a couple of Tottenham defenders before producing a smart finish to send the home crowd into ecstasy.

“There’s only Messi in world football who could [also] score that goal,” Carragher said on Sky Sports after the match.

Of course, despite the goal, the 25-year-old still has some way to go to get anywhere near the standard the Argentine superstar has set, but this season alone, the Liverpool star has arguably played as well as anyone in Europe.

Almost any other year, he would be a shoe-in for the PFA Player of the Season award, yet the consistent excellence of Kevin De Bruyne at Man City means he faces strong competition for the accolade.

There is no doubt, though, that he has been a class apart since joining Liverpool for a €42 million (potentially rising to €50 million) fee that already looks a bargain.

He also scored Liverpool’s first goal today, a composed finish after being unwittingly put through on goal by Eric Dier, in the process becoming the Reds’ quickest player in Premier League history to reach 20 goals — a feat that puts him ahead of Fernando Torres, Daniel Sturridge, Robbie Fowler and Michael Owen among others.

What was especially impressive about Salah and Liverpool’s other attackers though, apart from their obvious brilliance, was their work-rate off the ball.

In the first half particularly, Spurs simply could not get any attacking momentum going, as the likes of Eric Dier and Mousa Dembélé were continually hassled and harried into submission.

This energy may have deteriorated somewhat in the second half, thereby allowing Tottenham to belatedly get a foothold in the game, but Salah still had enough in the tank to produce the outstanding moment of a match that was filled with quality.

2. Cut the officials some slack

Britain Soccer Premier League Tottenham's Erik Lamela grimaces as he is tackled by Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk. Source: Rui Vieira

It was a difficult day for the officials at Anfield, and Jurgen Klopp in particular was dissatisfied with their performance.

“That was the level for the game today, but then a situation in the last minute like that? Wow. He (the official) wanted to be middle of interest and he is,” the German coach said afterwards.

“It was clear two sides (of) high quality both wanted to win desperately, but the result was massively influenced by linesman decisions.

“We have to take it, that’s how it is.”

Yet to blame the officials for Liverpool not picking up three points, in a game both sides will feel they could have won, is harsh.

The fact that many people on social media and elsewhere have devoted considerable time debating the nuances of the first spot kick and whether it was the correct call emphasises how tough it is for the referee, who has a limited period to make a definitive decision.

Kane was arguably in an offside position before being taken down by Loris Karius, though Dele Alli’s through pass was deflected, which has prompted much debate as to whether or not the linesman should have raised his flag.

The in-house TV referee Dermot Gallagher and all the pundits in Sky’s studio claimed it was the correct call, though others have cited rules indicating the last touch off the Liverpool player needed to be “deliberate” in order for the goal to stand as a reason why the Reds’ grievances were legitimate.

And while the first penalty was debatable, the second seemed more clear cut.

Again, there was talk of offside in the build-up, but there is no doubt that Virgil van Dijk made clear contact with Erik Lamela.

When you consider those two marginal calls coupled with the referee’s earlier correct decision to book Alli for diving when others might have been deceived by the England international, then the officials surely deserve some slack rather than the abuse that Klopp and others have aimed at them.

Perhaps the Liverpool boss would have been better off reserving his rage for the club’s £75 million January signing who, after failing to win an initial header, compounded that mistake by making an extremely rash challenge on Lamela that ultimately cost the hosts all three points.

3. Dream days for Arsenal’s new boys

Arsenal v Everton - Premier League - Emirates Stadium Henrikh Mkhitaryan was man of the match on his full Arsenal debut on Saturday. Source: Victoria Jones

Saturday’s late kick-off could hardly have gone much better for Arsenal.

The Gunners beat Everton 5-1, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scoring a debut goal and Aaron Ramsey hitting a hat-trick.

However, it was another new arrival, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who took home the man-of-the-match accolade.

The Armenia international produced an impressive three assists on his full debut against an Everton side that were afterwards justifiably labelled “pathetic” by boss Sam Allardyce.

Wenger, meanwhile, was impressed by the dynamic duo, who were recruited amid a busy January transfer window for the North London side.

“It is very early, but they look to have the quality to integrate into the game we want to play,” the Arsenal boss said. “They are quick, have sharp movement and are agile and want the ball. It is very good and positive signs.”

Mkhitaryan’s resurgence in form is especially curious. The player struggled at times at Old Trafford, most conspicuously towards the end of his spell there, though his chances were somewhat limited, with so many talented individuals vying for a place in the side.

Arguably the two best attacking players in the Premier League this season, Kevin De Bruyne and Mo Salah, were players that Mourinho previously failed to get the best out of at Chelsea, with both reduced to peripheral roles during their respective stints at Stamford Bridge.

It is early days yet, of course, but Mkhitaryan will feel he has the potential to make himself another player that the Portuguese coach ultimately rues letting go.

4. An emotional afternoon at Old Trafford

Manchester United v Huddersfield Town - Premier League - Old Trafford A banner in the stands for the 60th anniversary of the Munich air disaster ahead of the Premier League match at Old Trafford. Source: Martin Rickett

It was a relatively routine win for Manchester United on Saturday, as Alexis Sanchez scored his first goal for the club from the penalty spot.

A repeat of the reverse fixture earlier this season, when Huddersfield secured a surprise 2-1 victory, always seemed unlikely.

David Wagner’s side had no shots on target and 26% possession overall, and the manager admitted afterwards that “the better team won”. The result left the Terriers 19th, having suffered five league defeats on the bounce.

And while the rather one-sided match might not live too long in the memory, the Munich air disaster commemorations made it an occasion worth remembering.

It is now 60 years since 23 people, including eight United footballers and three club officials passed away in the tragedy.

A minute’s silence was observed prior to kick-off, players wore black armbands and all supporters were given a commorative book and pin.

“Obviously it was a special game, a very sad memory,” Juan Mata said in his post-match interview.

“It was a thing that changed the history of the club and the club showed the passion and the energy that we all have in Manchester United.

“So, we pay respect to the victims and their families, and they will always be in our memories.

“It was a game to win for them and we did it.”

5. City suffer rare lapse in form

Burnley v Manchester City - Premier League - Turf Moor Burnley's Johann Berg Gudmundsson scores against Manchester City. Source: EMPICS Sport

It’s a testament to how dominant they have been this season that even with 12 games for them still to play, a City slip-up feels almost irrelevant at this stage.

On Saturday, Burnley became just the fourth side this season to take points off Pep Guardiola’s men, drawing 1-1 at Turf Moor thanks to Johann Berg Gudmundsson’s 82nd-minute equaliser cancelling out Danilo’s spectacular first-half strike.

Liverpool remain the only English team to beat the Etihad outfit in the league since the beginning of the campaign, while Crystal Palace and Everton have both held the table toppers to draws.

City still hold a 13-point lead over second-placed Man United, and must avoid the temptation to focus too heavily on the Caraboa Cup, the FA Cup and the Champions League — competitions where their hopes of triumphing are not quite so strong.

Raheem Sterling missed a sitter that should have won it when his side were 1-0 up, but Guardiola afterwards defended the player and his team in general.

“That is football,” he told BBC Sport. “Today Raheem missed one chance – it can happen.

“It was not the first time that someone had missed a chance and it was not just Raheem, it happened a lot in this game.

“When we arrived for the last action for a pass, a one-against-one or to dribble against the central defender and shoot, we were not able to do that.

“I am delighted with the way we played but you have to score goals and we were not able to do that, which is why we dropped two points.”

The Catalan boss certainly can afford to be philosophical after such a setback, with his side coasting towards the Premier League title, and their rivals still requiring a minor miracle to have any hope of catching them.

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Paul Fennessy

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