Gameweek 25: Liverpool Boleh Monday Reflections

As we approach February and Liverpool takes another stride towards the Holy Grail, we take a look at some of the highlights of the weekend and attempt to dissect them.

Manchester United’s dark days are set to stay

grim looking ole gunnar solskjaer

Remember the dark days when Liverpool were under good ol’ Roy Hodgson? We will not blame you if you chose not to; such was the enormity of disappointment the Reds endured during the 6 months, which also included Milan Jovanovic’s largely forgettable stint.

Just when we thought we have seen the epitome of a big club falling spectacularly from grace in recent times, then wheeled along Ole Gunnar Solskjaer who does not seem to be getting a single thing right at Manchester United at the moment.

Claiming that Wolves are a “hard team to break down” is puzzling to say the least, as Solskjaer showed up in yet another baffling post-match interview. Wolves are doing well in the league, but having conceded goals to the likes of Newcastle, Watford and Norwich in very recent weeks, we would like to think the issue here lies somewhere within Old Trafford instead. With Andreas Pereira and Anthony Martial absolutely woeful once again, Solskjaer and his coaching staff must surely take some responsibility.  

But that was just the prelude to his interview – which must now surely be introduced to aspiring managers as part of their coaching badges on how not to conduct one – as the Norwegian went on about the mysterious moving goalposts, which we feel he should have left the excuse for Jesse Lingard to use instead.

Performances on the pitch and post-match interviews are just the tip of the iceberg though, as the recent January transfer window had some fans scratching their heads. Signing Bruno Fernandes is surely a positive, despite the deal taking an eon to complete, as the Portuguese displayed flashes of brilliance on his debut. But Odion Ighalo arriving at Old Trafford is a strange one, perhaps providing Liverpool fans and Hodgson a bit of comfort over the signing of Jovanovic. The former Watford forward enjoyed a purple patch in his previous stint at England – scoring goals for fun for half a season – but that was really all that was: a purple patch.

Venturing into the Chinese Super League at the age of 27 perhaps speaks a little about the Nigerian’s ambitions, whose six month loan spell at The Theatre of Dreams looks set to be challenging even before he kick a ball. Who knows, he might be able to muster 15 goals during the remainder of the campaign, but the manner in which Solskjaer has manage the transfer policies thus far, particularly in the forward department this season, will surely still be seen as a massive disappointment.

We have yet to touch on the whole Glazer family and Ed Woodward saga, whose decisions (or lack thereof) have sparked massive ire of fans – leading to attacks on home, death threats and walk-out protests. All these going on while we can hear Romelu Lukaku and Ashley Young chuckling somewhere in Italy…

VAR: Introducing more problems than it solves?

raheem sterling falling down after a challenge by hugo lloris

VAR was obviously introduced to help referees and rid the beautiful game of errors, further enhancing the appeal of the Premier League. Things have not been exactly smooth sailing, and we have already heard endless debates on the use of VAR in England and it does not look like it is going anywhere for now.

Referees are now finally told by PGMOL to take a look at pitch-side monitors for red card decisions if they feel like they should have the final say, a move surely welcomed by many – and surely puzzling for the other leagues where governing bodies chose to exercise a degree of common sense when they implemented VAR.

Glenn Murray had a crucial goal awarded because of VAR, but it also highlighted a certain loophole -proving that technology on occasions might not prove to be entirely conclusive as no one can be 100% sure if it struck the forward’s arm.

Ok, so a couple of problems solved (well, sort of)... but the weekend highlighted another situation during the Tottenham and Manchester City game which left fans and players bewildered. Sergio Auguero went down after yet another clumsy Serge Aurier challenge, with the Ivorian seemingly to have taken a page of Alberto Moreno’s defending handbook. Mike Dean waved played on and the ball did not go out for two minutes, which is just a minute less than the time required for Sadio Mane to score a hat-trick, before the video assistant referee requested for play to stop and a penalty awarded to City instead.

Which brings about a million other questions: What if Spurs had scored during that couple of phantom minutes? Should a time limit be introduced (e.g 30 seconds) then, should the ball go out of play to allow the decision to be reviewed so that no unnecessary “shadow football” has to be played? Why does the PGMOL introduce viewing of the pitch-side monitors for red-card decisions, but not for penalty decisions? And why didn’t Dean check the pitch-side monitor for Raheem Sterling’s horrific challenge on Dele Ali?

The inconsistencies of the VAR will surely provide more bemusement and controversial talking points in the months to come; such is the poor execution so far. It is inconceivable how so much more work has to be done, and we believe it is fair to say that it has been creating more problems for the Premier League than Mario Balotelli would have in a crowded bar.

Manchester City showing signs of a decline

manchester city gundogan misses a penalty against tottenham

A 2-0 away loss to Spurs when your team is down to 10 men hardly warrants too much concern, but when you are Manchester City and have set the bar so high as they did in previous seasons, you start to wonder if the Citizens are showing signs of slowing down.

Pep Guardiola’s men had as you might expect dominated the game, despite having Oleksandr Zinchenko sent off. But they have been displaying so many uncharacteristic traits this season, perhaps underlining the significance of Vincent Kompany’s absence. The ruthlessness in front of goal which saw them plunder a whopping 201 league goals in the last two seasons have disappeared – they have been less prolific and this game saw them squander golden opportunities, including fluffling a penalty which Sergio Aguero untypically let up. Their defence is unusually leaky too – conceding almost twice more than Liverpool this season. Mistakes are unusually common too – Riyad Mahrez’s awful corner-kick eventually led to the silly foul committed by Zinchenko, ultimately causing them the game.

The departure of Kompany is also accompanied by the likes of key players David Silva, Fernandinho and Aguero edging towards the twilight of their fantastic careers, and with Guardiola not known to extend his stay at a club for too long, are we starting to see the fall of one of the greatest Premier League clubs?

Liverpool’s (almost) goal of the season

salah celebrating a goal

The Reds hammered Southampton 4-0 at Anfield, a score-line that surely flattered the runaway leaders. The men in red are showing no signs of slowing down, with Jordan Henderson leading his side to another victory with a man-of-the-match performance. Sitting 22 points at the top, the Kop cannot have too many complaints about the game, but there was a moment that they might have wished it turn out a little differently.

Mo Salah so nearly scored the goal of the season after some unbelievable play, but was ruled out correctly for offside. Even non-Liverpool fans will have to put their hands up and marvel at the build-up that led to that chance – such was the confidence and technique the players displayed. Some incredible one and two touch passes saw Jurgen Klopp’s charges bring out the ball expertly from the back and have Salah tucked it home expertly after being put through on goal, only to see the linesman’s flag went up, much to everyone’s dismay except the Saints.

The Egyptian King went on and scored two goals during the game, but we are pretty sure he would exchange his brace for that effort to stand instead.

Special mentions this week…

Bruno Fernandes made his debut against Wolves, much to the delight and relief of Manchester United fans. Having made to see the likes of Lingard and Pereira featuring on a regular basis this season, can we really blame them? The Portuguese was lively against Wolves, registering the most shots in the game and showing flashes of his quality. His touches and passing were excellent too, displaying the sort of urgency and penetration that the Red Devils sorely lack, despite playing in a more defensive position than he would have preferred. Not bad a debut for a man who had been in the country for less than 48 hours.

tanganga passing a ball for tottenham hotspur

England do not seem to have a shortage of young promising defenders at the moment, and Japhet Tanganga looks like he might be the next bright prospect at the moment. Thrown into his Premier League debut against Liverpool earlier this year, the Spurs defender has every reason to be excited about his future, as he performed admirably in their victory over Manchester City. The Englishman was deployed at left-back and handed the duty of keeping Mahrez quiet – a thankless task that even experienced players will struggle with. The 20 year-old came up well on top, using his pace and strength to great use and keeping the Algerian well at bay. Gareth Southgate looks like he will have a nice problem on his hands by the next World Cup.

Shkodran Mustafi might remind Arsenal fans of a certain Pascal Cygan and spark some truly unhappy memories, but it is fair to say that the German has been coming into his own in recent weeks. He did make a horror backpass in the clash against Chelsea, but the 27 year-old defender has been one of the better Arsenal players lately, together with Granit Xhaka – another player who just months ago looked like his future at the Emirates could not get any bleaker. Mustafi put in another great performance at Turf Moor, leaving manager Mikel Arteta a problem to decide when is the best time for new signing Pablo Mari to make his debut.