Leicester top Premier League winners as Newcastle lead losers

Date published: Monday 18th October 2021 9:22 - Richard Jolly

Leicester were dazzling, in no small part thanks to another case of Solskjaer bingo. Mo Salah is special. Newcastle are rich yet so very poor.

 

Winners

Leicester City
Because this felt an endorsement of everyone. Brendan Rodgers had endured his toughest spell at Leicester but after beating each of the supposed Big Six last season, he proved that ability has not deserted him. Caglar Soyuncu had started the campaign in car-crash form but looked better alongside Jonny Evans and showed he retains the knack of scoring against Manchester United. Youri Tielemans’ performance level had slipped since he was named Leicester’s player of the year but, as in the FA Cup final, he showed he can deliver spectacular strikes when it matters. Jamie Vardy’s first Premier League goal came in a 5-3 win against United in 2014; seven years on, he put Leicester ahead against them again with his 125th. The summer signing Patson Daka opened his City account with the fourth. In Daka and Ayoze Perez, Rodgers brought on two substitutes who made telling contributions.

Factor in some fine saves by Kasper Schmeichel and James Maddison’s best performance of the season and positives abounded. The 4-2 win over United was a triumph of spirit as well as of Rodgers’ 3-4-1-2 formation. Leicester seemed to have their hunger, pace and pressing game back. And when they play like that, it explains why they have beaten their supposed superiors so often.

 

The outside of Mohamed Salah’s left foot
What a pass for Sadio Mane’s goal. The inside of his left foot isn’t bad either, as Salah showed when he scored himself at Vicarage Road, courtesy of another mesmeric dribble. And as his (otherwise similar) strike against Manchester City indicated, he can finish with the inside of his right as well. Perhaps it suggests the outside of the right boot represents the final frontier for Salah. Right now, there appears to be little else he cannot do.

He made the sequel look enviably easy. Maybe the Egyptian diminished his own wonder goal two weeks earlier by scoring a near repeat, a similar combination of speed and skill, audacity and accuracy of finish, with the dexterity to avoid defenders and the confidence to take a series of them on. Certainly October’s goal-of-the-month competition will be tougher to adjudicate when there are two contenders that are almost duplicates of each other. Possibly an unofficial contest for the best assist might be easier to judge after the lovely ball he bent around the Watford defence for Mane’s opener. It was the pass of a master.

Rewind four years and Salah’s Liverpool career began in auspicious style with a goal at Watford. It long seemed as though his extraordinary 44-goal debut campaign would be an outlier, even as he chalked up tallies in the twenties and the thirties in every subsequent season. Now, with Jurgen Klopp touting him as the world’s best footballer, he may be better even than he was in 2017-18.

 

Roberto Firmino doing unFirmino things
A hat-trick at Vicarage Road means a player who sometimes does everything except score now has the record many a predator would be proud of: a goal every 54 minutes in the Premier League and one every 11.5 in the Champions League this season. In a way, it was an anti-Firmino performance, the player who often pops up in midfield and rarely gets poachers’ goals scoring a treble from a combined total of about 12 yards at Watford. It had similarities with another trio from a workhorse: Dirk Kuyt’s series of extremely close-range finishes against Manchester United in 2011.

Roberto Firmino celebrates his hat-trick goal

 

Sergio Reguilon and Eric Dier
“There is nothing more important than human life,” Nuno Espirito Santo said and, amid the intensity of the game, two of his defenders were quick to recognise that when they helped ensure a stricken supporter got treatment.

 

Harry Kane
A reminder of what made Tottenham so keen to keep him. A first league goal of the season was a typically precise finish and came courtesy of the sort of diagonal run behind a defence that Kane can seem to forget whenever he drops deeper. A first assist got his double act with Heung-min Son back up and running and shows that he remains a terrific crosser. But if Lucas Moura was probably the best of the Spurs front three at St James’ Park, the most significant sight in the forward line may have been the glimpse of the Kane of old.

 

Edouard Mendy
It was a bombardment; “hell on earth,” according to Ben Chilwell. Chelsea’s inexperienced defence were subjected to a storm. Malang Sarr and Trevoh Chalobah were starting to struggle as Brentford had 12 shots in the final 11 minutes. None went in, thanks in part to a goal-line clearance from Chalobah but still more to three extraordinary saves from Mendy. Some of his clean sheets last season came courtesy of the protection he was afforded: at Brentford, it was due to him, to his agility, athleticism and defiance. The Senegalese was one of the signings of last season. He may be the best goalkeeper of the campaign thus far and if Chelsea do win the title, Mendy’s resistance to the late assault at Brentford will feel seminal.

 

Wolves
Two-nil down with 11 minutes remaining, 3-2 winners in a local derby courtesy of magnificently scruffy goals from Conor Coady and Ruben Neves. Wolves now have three wins in a row and four in five games. After the drudgery of Nuno Espirito Santo’s final season, they have become very watchable again. Bruno Lage may be one of the lowest-profile Premier League appointments of the last decade, but there are signs he was a fine choice to give them an attacking makeover. And his decision to bring on Daniel Podence at Villa Park was justified: he was hugely influential.

 

David Moyes
For a long time, the footnote to David Moyes’ Everton career was that his first return to Goodison Park was his last game as Manchester United manager, the sack coming 48 hours later. It was a stunt that there was a man in the crowd dressed as the Grim Reaper, but a prescient one nonetheless. Since then, there have been times when Everton have spent more and achieved less than they did under Moyes but either the supporters, the board or both have not wanted him back when there was a vacancy. But 2021 has brought West Ham twin wins at Goodison, both examples of the merits of Moyes, just as the job he is doing in London is increasingly reminiscent of the one he performed on Merseyside. A manager many wrote off is entitled to enjoy a feeling of redemption.

 

Nathan Collins
Burnley have suffered three 5-0 defeats at the Etihad Stadium with the stalwarts Ben Mee and James Tarkowski paired in the centre of defence. Minus Mee, a still greater thrashing may have beckoned. Instead, just the 20-year-old Collins’ second top-flight appearance was an impressive affair. As Burnley remain winless and their defenders are resolutely unglamorous there will be precious little fanfare but Sean Dyche, an old centre-back himself, is a fine judge of players in his position. In Collins, he looks to have found a dependable stopper.

 

Losers

Amanda Staveley
And not merely for looking like someone who had never celebrated a goal before so didn’t quite know how to. After the euphoric reception that underlined the sense that Newcastle fans have welcomed the takeover and the ideal start on the pitch that Callum Wilson’s second-minute opener provided came the reality check. Newcastle were outclassed by an out-of-form Tottenham team. The predatory Wilson and the entertaining Allan Saint-Maximin showed their quality but the fault-lines in the squad were apparent again.

Joe Willock was prolific as a loanee but has been ineffectual as a permanent signing. The defensive solidity Rafa Benitez instilled is gone now and Newcastle are too easy to play against. Steve Bruce has been afforded too little credit for his achievement in lasting 1,000 games as a manager but perhaps he should be put out of his St James’ misery. As fans called for his head, it illustrated again that a buyout was completed without any proper plan for a manager, leaving Bruce languishing in limbo.

Newcastle can’t buy any new players for ten weeks. They may be firmly entrenched in the relegation zone by then. If Staveley and co did not realise before, they should know now that the world’s richest club can be one of the poorest teams in the division.

Now go and read 16 Conclusions.

 

Jonjo Shelvey
It was quite a way to impress his new employers. His first yellow card came for a needless hack, 90 yards from his own goal. His second followed because he is both too slow and felt the need to foul Reguilon anyway. Shelvey has always been prone to doing really stupid things. When a clearout is on the agenda, a red card in a new regime’s first game felt like particularly bad timing.

 

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
His new contract seems to have come with a season ticket for the losers section. In the Manchester United manager’s defence, their defeat at Leicester was a first in 29 away league games, ending a record-breaking run. And, at a point when setbacks abound, it is the manner of them that feels most damning of Solskjaer.

The loss at Leicester was a case of Solskjaer bingo. United were poor in midfield. They conceded from a set-piece. They were vulnerable on the counter-attack. They were out-thought by a rival with a smaller budget. They were outrun by a team who pressed more.

There is often one farcically bad element; here it was conceding 15 seconds after the restart following Marcus Rashford’s fine equaliser. There tends to be a piece of strange thinking, and picking the slow and immobile Nemanja Matic ticked that box. There is the enduring question of which of United’s surfeit of superstars to cram in and how, and Solskjaer looks no nearer to providing the correct answer.

Afterwards Paul Pogba provided an enlightening interview in which, besides saying that United conceded “easy and stupid goals,” he reasoned: “We need to change something.” And while he was not implying it, separately many another was concluding that the something to change can be found in the dugout. The raft of contracts for Solskjaer and his assistants show the United board do not share that view, but an increasing number of others do.

 

Claudio Ranieri
Mrs Ranieri likes living in London, her husband has said. She may want to savour it while she can; Mr Ranieri’s spell in gainful employment in the Watford area may prove shortlived. Certainly, given the Hornets’ history and Watford’s fixture list, the temptation is to fear for him. Ranieri’s debut was his heaviest ever Premier League defeat, 5-0 to Liverpool, and Watford’s worst since Quique Sanchez Flores’ second game of his second spell ended 8-0 to Manchester City. It scarcely needs saying that he did not last long.

With precious little time to work with his new charges, Ranieri is not solely culpable, even if he did pick two specialist left-backs and still left Danny Rose isolated and exposed against Mohamed Salah. Rather, after the charm he displayed at his unveiling, this felt an unwanted reality check. Watford were lacklustre, shambolic and hideously bad; a manager who celebrates his 70th birthday this week said the “presents” were given to the visitors.

Perhaps it merely underlined what Watford argued when sacking Xisco Munoz: that results were flattering and performances worrying. In a way, this presented grounds for Munoz’s dismissal, 12 days after his departure. But while Ranieri can be a master of charming soundbites, the promise to pay for dinner if Watford kept a clean sheet was invalidated inside eight minutes. He has drilled many a defence before; their next few weeks may include many a wisecrack but old-school Italian defending is required if he is to last longer than he did at Fulham.

 

Raheem Sterling
There can be a temptation to interrupt everything in the context of the big-name players, especially when they are recalled after being dropped, still more so when they have hinted at leaving if they don’t get more football. Such is the price they have paid for success. Sterling did not play especially badly against Burnley, though one stray touch in the box when Kevin de Bruyne found him felt poor, and he looked short of his natural sharpness. But with Ferran Torres out for a couple of months and his greatest chance of action coming as a striker, Sterling was moved to the left after 45 minutes in a sign that, despite his words to the contrary, Pep Guardiola was unimpressed with him in the role where he may need to excel to regain his status as a talisman. A player who got 31 goals for City in 2019-20 now has two in his last 27 club games.

 

Leeds
They may be losing their title as the great entertainers. Leeds have only scored four goals in their last six league games. Against a Southampton side who were winless, they mustered a mere three shots, none on target. The absences of Kalvin Phillips, Raphinha and Patrick Bamford, their three finest midfielders or forwards, were mitigating factors, but Leeds looked worryingly average without them, shorn of invention and dynamism.

 

Fred
Lost his record as the only player to score a Premier League goal at St Mary’s for Southampton this season. He must be devastated, even if Armando Broja’s maiden top-flight strike may have been particularly special as it drew him level with Fred.

 

Josh Sargent
Missed an open goal because he couldn’t kick the ball hard enough. “To bring the ball into the empty net is difficult,” said Daniel Farke. It probably shouldn’t have been.

 

Alex Iwobi
At least Sargent made contact. Iwobi didn’t when his golden chance materialised. Still, records of two goals from 61 games are not compiled by shooting well from six yards.

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