Kunle Ajao

Kunle Ajao

The climb. The climb is strenuous. Harsh and gruelling. Every move done with care and thoughtfulness; the climb may be hard but the fall is unpleasant. But there are not many better feelings than a successful climb. You get to the top of the mountain, and amidst the satisfaction and sense of accomplishment, you savour the view from the top. But here’s one thing you overlook when standing at the top, one thing you never think of when admiring that sight from up above: the only way now is down. The climb was gruelling and rewarding, but to be mobile and prevent stagnation, the only move you have is to go lower. The cruel and unyielding reality that is.

So, Mohammed Salah. The Premier League’s latest golden boot winner. The record-breaker for goals in a 38-game season. 32 league goals. 44 in all competitions. The man who reached ludicrous heights for Liverpool last season. There were always going to be eyes around waiting for Salah in his second season at Anfield, can he do it again? 44 goals as a winger is a preposterous record, expecting it to be done more than once at any point is a little impractical, expecting it to be done in successive seasons is almost herculean.

But that’s the issue Salah faces now. Because he bagged over 40 last term, a current read of three league goals in three months is almost unacceptable by the Egyptian’s standards. But should those be his standards? Shouldn’t there be a difference between reaching a height, and setting a bar? In this modern football world of black and white, perhaps. Don’t meet up to your previously supercilious standards and you’re disappointing. Don’t recreate such outrageous levels you once did and you’re criminally underperforming. Leicester City’s fairy-tale league-winning season will never be forgotten, yet the fact that they’re on a third manager since then means they’ve struggled to get out of the shadow of that 2015/16 season: the Foxes know that season was a one-off and can hardly ever be repeated, yet a taste of what has been achieved, however unfancied or unlikely to happen again, is also a prospect of what can be achieved.

Failure, in most cases, is relative. Little success is comparatively seen as no success. So, in the eyes of many, Mohammed Salah is currently failing, as a result of three league goals of in seven games, his current goal to games ratio in the league will be absurdly compared to that of the whole of last season; 0.4 to 0.8. In truth, Salah has looked less of himself, not just in the goals, but his overall influence on a game, his movement et al. But again, failure is relative, which means this would have been next to no big deal had Salah scored, say, 14 goals last term.

However, this is what Salah has to live with now, and the onus is on him to return to a semblance of last season’s form. And what better way to make known your that you’re still king, than with a top performance against the champions. Liverpool host Manchester City this weekend, a side they beat in three out of four games last season, Salah scoring against City in each of those three victories. The Reds have been tipped by many as the side to run City close in the league this season, so a this game poses a chance to make a statement that they can indeed push the champions to the limit, and for Salah it represents a chance to make a personal statement of his own.

Salah will probably not reach the level he did last term, and he’ll probably not avoid the analysis that will come with that. But he can start to find a middle ground, a consistent level of performance that shows he’s no one-off and takes him out of the shadows of last season’s heights. The only way from the top of the mountain is down, but it’s up to Salah to land, not fall.

Elsewhere:

  • Things are at a stage for Manchester United, where every failure is met with a dagger of criticism, whether or not it’s merited, whether or not it’s over the top. They host winless Newcastle this weekend, a game Jose Mourinho has described not winning as unacceptable. Right now, that’s quite an understatement.
  • Fulham have been branded as entertainers in the Premier League so far, but that’s starting to look like a smokescreen tag to cover their failings, the Cottagers are one place above the relegation zone, with just one win all-season. So perhaps this is not the best time to face an Arsenal side who have won eight games in a row, and despite their entire lack of convictions, will be chockfull of confidence as they travel to West London.
  • And in the biggest contender for least exciting match of the weekend, Huddersfield travel to Burnley this weekend. The Terriers are lodged at the bottom of the table, winless and remarkably toothless, and it’s not outlandish, even this early, to say this game is vital to their survival chances.

Fixtures

Manchester United v Newcastle

Burnley v Huddersfield

Crystal Palace v Wolves

Leicester v Everton

Southampton v Chelsea

Tottenham v Cardiff

Watford v Bournemouth

Fulham v Arsenal

Liverpool v Manchester City


Real look Predictable under Lopetegui so far and, Despite long-term Preaching, Patience Hardly Lasts in the Capital: UEFA Champions League; Matchday Two

It’s important to keep things in perspective and not go overboard. Real knew what they were getting into when they appointed Julen Lopetegui, and there have been more than a couple of signs that when his system is well ingrained into Los Blancos, they may well look a cut above the rest. But so far, they’re still facing teething problems under their new boss, and following defeat to CSKA Moscow in the Champions League, have failed to score in three successive games- the first time that happened in over a decade-, an aberration by their standards.

Lopetegui, though, is keen to dispel talk of under-performance, preaching calm. ‘Ten days ago we beat Roma and weren’t so invincible’, he said post-CSKA. ‘Now, we are not so bad’. The manager’s words do possess some form of truth, but here’s some more actuality: at a club like Real Madrid, tags like ‘weren’t so invincible’ and ‘not so bad’ are almost unacceptable. Perhaps the biggest problem with Real so far isn’t that they are unconvincing or haven’t scored in three straight games, but that Real look predictable.

Real have been many things in the past; a slapdash side with very little long-term view; a well-oiled counter-attacking machine; a street-wise side with an iron will to win, among others. But never have the European champions looked predictable. Perhaps it’s due to fatigue suffered by a few players (read: Luka Modric), the arrival of a new manager that requires acclimatisation, or complacency, but there’s been very little urgency in Real’s games. The passing game will take some getting used to, and is showing signs of progress, but Real haven’t quite displayed those passing methods in really breaking down a side, they’ve never really applied any kind of earnestness in the final third with their passing game.

Then there’s the personnel being set up so far. It’s been a pattern of Los Blancos this term, when chasing a game or needing a goal, the option is to bring on Lucas Vazquez and Mariano Diaz- if they’re not already on the pitch. There’s little dynamism in the substitutions, little potential of game-changing alterations. Perhaps this is where Real missed a trick by not quite acquiring a marquee-like player after Cristiano Ronaldo, for a side that was always going to need time to fully blossom this season, having a game-changer or proven match-winner to get you past those inevitable games where you’ll lack conviction is quite an enviable feat.

In the defeat in Moscow, Real’s numbers read: 26 shots, four on target, 72% possession, 712 passes, with a 91% completion. Possession, not penetration. And the ratio of shots on target to shots show that Real are neither creating many chances, nor are they taking the little ones created. They dominated CSKA, but lacked penetration. They were just about the better team against Atletico Madrid in the derby last weekend, but it was all a bit dreary. They had possession in Seville, three days before the Atletico game, yet looked incompetent of creating anything in a 3-0 defeat.

Lopetegui said post-match that he has no doubt the goals will come, as will the wins, and he’s not wrong. But perhaps what the manager should worry about is the air of predictability when Real take to the pitch these days. If that continues, then the fear-factor dissipates, and, for all the prospects of this new Real project, that would be unacceptable.

This is still the third month of the season, so once more, it’s key to note the importance of not going overboard. There have been more than a few promising signs, and even the most infallible sides go through blips. But the problem is, Real Madrid are never like most sides.

Messi Masterpiece at Wembley

Only a minute had gone at Wembley when Lionel Messi got a pass, turned, looked up, saw Jordi Alba, and proceeded to find him with an elegant. How long did it take you to read that previous sentence? Yet Messi did all that almost at once. Two goals, many dribbles, passes, side-stepping, and the fact that he hit the same base of the post twice in three minutes with virtually the same run, almost like he took back us in time with the second effort. He’s still better at playing football than we’ll ever be at describing him play football.

Partenopei Get Going at Last

Napoli did everything right at Red Star Belgrade, except score, as the game in Serbia ended goalless. A similar theme was showing on Matchday Two, as they outplayed Liverpool, making the reds look remarkably prosaic, but couldn’t score. But salvation came in the final minute of normal time, when Lorenzo Insigne slid in Jose Callejon’s cross, to give Carlo Ancelotti’s side a win that takes them top. There’s still much time for twists and turns in Group C, but the team considered by many to be the third-best placed to qualify from this group lead the way with a third of its games played.

Elsewhere

  • At some point, Red Star goalkeeper Milan Borjan had to raise a smile, and that facial expression that asked the question ‘what else could I do’. The goalie had just been beaten by a Neymar free-kick for the second time, as the Serbians conceded six at Paris St. Germain. At least they can take solace in the fact Marko Marin got them a goal of their own, and that but for Borjan, PSG would have surely hit double figures.
  • In other circumstances, it would have been a case of Lyon’s stark inconsistency, beating Manchester City yet trailing at home to Shakhtar Donetsk. But two goals in two minutes erased a two-goal deficit, and suddenly a case of how Les Gones showed resolve to come back from the dead. Most importantly, they’re still top of Group F.
  • In this week’s Anti-Mourinho development, aren’t we glad to report that Manchester United looked tepid in a goalless draw at home to Valencia.
  • Another game, another defeat for Monaco. Leonardo Jardim has so far this season tried a 4-4-2, a 4-3-3, a 4-2-3-1, as well as a 3-4-3, all yielding little joy. Worrying times for Les Monegasques.

Results

PSV 1-2 Inter

Bayern Munich 1-1 Ajax

Lokomotiv Moscow 0-1 Schalke

Roma 5-0 Plzen

Hoffenheim 1-2 Manchester City

Juventus 3-0 Young Boys

CSKA 1-0 Real Madrid

Tottenham 2-4 Barcelona

Galatasaray 0-1 Porto

Napoli 1-0 Liverpool

Manchester United 0-0 Valencia

Atletico Madrid 3-1 Club Brugge

Lyon 2-2 Shakhtar Donetsk

PSG 6-1 Red Star Belgrade

AEK Athens 2-3 Benfica


 

Episode One- The Calm After Watching Infinity War for the 486th Time.

 

 

 

Testing, testing. 1, 2, 3. If you’re reading this, you’re one of those privileged to view Spotkick’s first ever of its monthly alternative awards, with a brand of ingenuity and pizzazz.

 

Translation: if you’re reading this, you’re one of those who we probably have to apologise to for this load of gobbledygook- which may or not appear ever again, because we may or may not have had nothing better to do.

 

Either way, you’re reading this, no backsies, as we give out the awards that really matter, starting with:

 

Worst Goal of the Month

 

The category of goals always overlooked, because we selfish lot keep having a thing for the belters, howitzers, the crafty build-ups and what not. You’ve lived in the shadows for too long. Daniele Dessena’s scruffy goal for Cagliari against Inter in Serie A would have been a worthy winner, but got VAR’d off. So, step forward, Iker Muniain’s strike literally on the goal line for Athletic Bilbao against Real Madrid. Don’t thank us, you earned it.

 

Goal Buzzkill of the Month

 

If belters will always tickle your fancy, then you really should have seen John McGinn’s strike for Aston Villa against Sheffield Wednesday; a goal so good FIFA can’t wait to deny it the Puskas award. Then, closer analysis, turns out McGinn just about mistimed his effort, shinning it. Like admiring Andros Townsend’s goal against Manchester United in February, only to see that it took a deflection. Buzzkill.

 

Best retort            

 

Akwa Starlets goalkeeper, Franklin Akwari, who was having none of 3SC’s coach Edith Agoye’s masterminding of a draw in a Nigeria National League game, and responded by whacking Agoye in the head, with the gaffer getting concussed. Take it out of your system, Franklin.

 

The Lincoln-Burrows award for being vicariously punished

 

A tearful Cristiano Ronaldo at the Mestalla, sent off for touching Jeison Murillo’s hair with very murderous intent.

 

Best crisis

 

Barcelona have gone three league games without winning. Real Madrid haven’t scored in two. Mohammed Salah has just three league goals this season. Manchester United are winless in three, or maybe it’s make-believe; just like Southampton’s run of form. So, best crisis surely goes to, drumroll please, Bayern Munich, for having the audacity to follow up a draw with Augsburg with defeat at Hertha Berlin. The Bavarians aren’t even top of the Bundesliga!!!

 

The Thank-goodness-for-the-offside-flag award for Miss That Might Have Been

 

Trust Alvaro Morata to throw his hat in the ring for this category, a late September audition after coming off the bench for Chelsea to head well wide against Liverpool, only to the linesman’s flag. Romelu Lukaku’s header against Wolves is also worth a mention, but the winner has to be Lukaku’s Manchester United team-mate Anthony Martial at West Ham, primarily because it was funnier.

 

The Legends-of-Tomorrow award for eternally pointless graphic

 

La Liga’s 360 replay cam. Stop this madness, please.

 

The City-beat-Newcastle award for consistency

 

Or is it the Mark Hughes whinge award? Take your pick. But Juventus have won seven consecutive games to start the Serie A season. Even in their previous seasons of domination, they haven’t started this well; at least then they had the humanity to let the other sides think things could be different, and that they had a shot at the title. And you thought Cersei Lannister was cruel.

 

How Could You Miss That of the Month

 

This award is a pure no-brainer, going to the linesman who failed to notice Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang being three weeks offside for Arsenal’s second goal against Everton. Well according to John Brewin, the linesman was completely gobsmacked at seeing Aaron Ramsey make a mess of the initial chance that his mind blacked out Aubameyang.

 

Most subtle cry for help

 

West Ham 3-1 Manchester United at the London Stadium. Paul Pogba walks out of the United dressing room, then is asked for a word by a journalist. Apparently his reply was: ‘You want me dead?’ Light a candle on the highest window, Paul.

 

The Lauren-at-Eastlands award for most level-headed own goal

 

This!!

 

The Sarah-Jibril award for standing out

 

Chinedu Okoye, chairman of amateur football club Bimo FC, who decided to run for the post of Nigerian Football Federation president, and ended up with no votes, one less than Sarah Jibril did in her primaries for the 2011 general election. Is there a chance Okoye becomes Pinnick’s special adviser on ethics, or is this where he becomes a she, travels back in time, and joins Wakanda’s reputable King’s Guard?

 

Biggest reveal of the month

 

Kevin Keegan opening up that Newcastle United are a badly-run club. Who knew!

 

The Incompetence Escapology of the month

 

The Nigerian ‘Professional’ Football League, who decided to call off the league season with 14 games left, and did in the final few days of August. If you’re going to be incompetent, at least be timely about it. Help the content-seeking.

 

In Conclusion:

 

Huddersfield won’t win a game in the Premier League this season, Scott McTominay is not Bobby Moore after all, Alaves are the best team in Spain, and Frank Lampard is starting to look like a manager, except for how he celebrate goals.

 

Now, Infinity War 487.

 

 

 


It was something of a statement. Spurs turning up at Wembley and making light work of Real Madrid in last season’s Champions League group stage, with an unfit Harry Kane and little need to be at 100%, just two weeks after getting a draw at the Bernabeu. Mauricio Pochettino’s side took four points from Real, and six from Borussia Dortmund in a group which they were tipped by many to fail to get out of. Spurs had peaked.

Then a harsh European lesson in the last 16, as after taking a 2-2 draw from Turin, and dominating just about the entirety of the second leg, the North Londoners still crashed out of the competition at the hands of Juventus. That tie was lost thanks to a five-minute window when Spurs looked like they didn’t know what hit them, and the same seemed to happen in Matchday One of this season’s Champions League, again against Italian opposition. Spurs weren’t quite as dominant as they were against Juventus away at Inter, but when they took the lead at the San Siro, their looked to be only one winner. Inter looked unable to conjure up any form of escapology, and it almost seemed like Spurs were toying with the Nerazzurri, ahead and in control with five minutes left. Yet, in the second minute of stoppage time, Pochettino’s side were behind, and ended up with nothing.

That result was the last of their three successive defeats, which posed the question as to whether they were in crisis. They’ve managed to recover since then, three straight wins- one requiring a penalty shootout in the League Cup- looked to have put to bed talk of the team falling apart, but as they prepare for their second Champions League game of the season, at Wembley, against Barcelona, there’s the sense that this game has the look of a must-win already. A defeat here, and they could end Matchday Two six points off the top two in Group B, a mountain to climb, and the fact that the opponents are Barcelona makes defeat more plausible than victory.

But Spurs won’t be fazed by the Spanish giants, having gone toe-to-toe with one last season. ‘Last season was Real Madrid and now it’s Barcelona’, Pochettino told Marca. ‘It is the essence of the Champions League to play these type of matches against the best teams in the world. They are exciting and motivate us a lot’. Pochettino is no stranger to facing Barcelona, his first game as manager of Espanyol back in 2009 was a goalless draw at the Nou Camp. The Argentine hasn’t had much joy against the Catalan club, but is still stoked about the idea of getting one over the four-time European champions. ‘I’m a periquito and of course it motivates me to win against Barcelona’.

Spurs will also take motivation from the fact that Barcelona are in no untouchable form. Ernesto Valverde’s side followed up a defeat against Leganes, where they conceded two goals in the space of 68 seconds at Butarque, with a draw at home to his former side Athletic Bilbao, where they needed the introduction of Lionel Messi, and a late goal from Munir El Haddadi to salvage a point. The Blaugrana have already conceded as many league goals after seven games this season as they did after 17 last term, an apparent flaw Spurs would hope to cash in on.

Victory over Barca is far from a long shot for Spurs, who’ve shown that they can rise to the challenge. However, victory over Barca is vital for Spurs, who haven’t quite shown that they are the best when under pressure.

Elsewhere:

  • A 4-0 win over Frosinone as well as a derby victory against Lazio means Roma might just have gotten their season together after all. Defeat to Real Madrid on Matchday One was not unexpected, but the home game against Czech side Plzen on Matchday Two is one in which victory is more than estimated.
  • An opportunity missed for Napoli, in Matchday One, who could only play out a goalless draw at Red Star Belgrade. Carlo Ancelotti’s side host Liverpool on Wednesday, in what looks like the game of Matchday Two.
  • Since that uncharacteristic defeat at home to Lyon on Matchday One, Manchester City have gone on a run of three wins, ten goals scored and none conceded in three games. They visit Hoffenheim next, and will be expected to get their European campaign back on track.
  • Speaking of getting European campaigns back on track, Paris St. Germain welcome Red Star to the Parc des Princes. Le Parisiens were defeated a fortnight ago in rather unimpressive fashion at Liverpool, anything short of victory here and there would surely be more inquests.
  • Monaco have had little joy so far this season, both on the domestic front or in Europe. The principality club lie in 18th place in the French Ligue 1, and began their Champions League season with a defeat at home to Atletico Madrid. They travel to the Signal Iduna Park to face Dortmund, the last team they beat in the Champions League (back in April 2017), on Wednesday.
  • And what tactic would Manchester United put forward at home to Valencia? Yes, this is where the Anti-Jose convention is taking place this week.

Fixtures

Manchester United v Valencia

CSKA v Real Madrid

Juventus v Young Boys

Hoffenheim v Manchester City

AEK v Benfica

Roma v Plzen

Bayern Munich v Ajax

Lyon v Shakhtar Donetsk

Tottenham v Barcelona

Atletico Madrid v Club Brugge

Lokomotiv Moscow v Schalke

PSV v Inter

Porto v Galatasaray

Napoli v Liverpool

Dortmund v Monaco

PSG v Red Star Belgrade


Six World Cups. Two different periods of three successive appearances. 23 goals. One net-bulging celebration. One FIFA Goal of the Tournament Nominee. One mighty jaw-dropping miss. And that one ridiculously alluring and out-selling kit.

Nigeria at the FIFA World Cup has produced quite a few memories, many of them. From Finidi George celebrating like Finidi George in Foxborough, to Jay-Jay Okocha espousing his love for ‘Nkechi’ in Kobe. From the entire nation cursing at Sani Kaita, to Coca-Cola’s ‘Naija Issa Goal’ ringer.

That one time in every four years when even those with very little interest in football take note, when fathers seem to have no other duties than simply being fans, when the morning after the night before is about nothing other than the night before.

So in keeping with Independence Day (our Independence Day, not the American movie), we take a look at every World Cup game Nigeria has ever played in:

1994 (USA)

VS Bulgaria (June 21, Dallas)

After coming close but missing out on appearing in the 1990 World Cup, Nigeria finally made their debut on the global stage four years later. Their first game in Group D was in Dallas against Bulgaria, a game most famous for Rashidi Yekini shaking the net in raucous delight after having the honour of scoring the Super Eagles’ first ever World Cup goal. Goals from Daniel Amokachi and Emmanuel Amuneke capped off a very satisfying win for Clemence Westerhof’s side.

VS Argentina (June 25, Foxborough)

Nigeria’s second group game of USA ’94 was against opponents we’ll come to get accustomed to meeting. Argentina had also begun the tournament with a win, but, thanks to Samson Siasia, fell behind in Foxborough after just eight minutes. It didn’t last long, though, in the 21st minute Claudio Caniggia levelled for Argentina, and then the same man put La Albiceleste in front seven minutes later. 2-1 it finished, and thus began World Cup meetings between us and the Argentines, all of which have ended in disappointment.

VS Greece (June 30, Foxborough)

Nigeria went up against fellow World Cup debutants Greece in their final group game, knowing elimination was a possibility, but so was the chance of topping the group. As it turned out, it was the latter that happened, Finidi George opening the scoring in first half stoppage time, then producing his eye-catching celebration, before Amokachi sealed victory in second half stoppage time. That result, coupled with Argentina losing to Bulgaria, meant the Eagles finished top of Group D.

VS Italy (July 5, Foxborough)

In what seemed like a deliberate attempt by FIFA to make sure the Super Eagles don’t see much of the United States, Nigeria played a third successive game at the Foxboro stadium, a last-16 clash against Italy, who had struggled to get out of Group E. Things to be falling Nigeria’s away, Amuneke putting us in front after 25 minutes, and then in the second half, Italy substitute Gianfranco Zola got sent off. With two minutes to go, Nigeria were heading for the quarter-finals, but a loss in concentration let in Roberto Baggio to roll in a late equaliser for the Azzurri and take us to extra-time. Things got no better in the additional 30 minutes, only 12 of it had gone, when Baggio won a penalty, thanks in no small part to Sunday Oliseh dallying in possession on the halfway line. Baggio scored the spotkick, Nigeria had no answer despite a numerical advantage, and the fat lady sang on our World Cup.

1998 (France)

VS Spain (June 13, Nantes)

A second successive World Cup appearance in a row, and Nigeria were up against it in their first game, having been drawn to play European giants Spain. There were very little surprises when La Roja took the lead midway through the first half, thanks to a Fernando Hierro free-kick, but Nigeria would hit back via the head of the ‘headmaster’, Mutiu Adepoju rising highest to meet a corner, ensuring the Super Eagles would go into halftime on terms. But only two minutes had elapsed in the second half when Raul fired Javier Clemente’s Spanish side back in front. Nigeria, however, would respond again, via a stroke of luck, Spain captain and goalkeeper Andoni Zubizarreta spilling Garba Lawal’s cross into his net with 17 minutes left. And five minutes after, the turnaround was complete, a long-range belter from Sunday Oliseh proving to be a worthy winning goal, as the Eagles left with the points.

VS Bulgaria (June 19, Paris)

For the second World Cup running, Nigeria came up against Bulgaria. But this game in the French capital was underwhelming, the only note of quality was when Jay-Jay Okocha played in Victor Ikpeba to score the only goal of the game just before the half-hour, as two wins in two games meant Nigeria had not only qualified, but also guaranteed top spot in Group D.

VS Paraguay (June 24, Toulouse)

With Group D already in the bag, Nigeria could afford to take their foot off the gas in their final group game against Paraguay, and  appeared to, as the Paraguayans took the lead after just 31 seconds through Celso Ayala. Nigeria replied via Wilson Oruma, but Cesare Maldini’s side’s greater need showed in Toulouse, and goals from Miguel Angel Benitez and Jose Cardozo ensured they’d progress to the next round alongside the Super Eagles.

VS Denmark (June 28, St. Denis)

It was the venue of the World Cup final that the Eagles headed to four days after the Paraguay defeat, to face Denmark, who finished second in Group C. But inside 12 minutes, we were already two down; Peter Moller and Brian Laudrup giving us a mountain to climb already. Danish substitute Ebbe Sand made it three immediately after coming on, on the hour mark, before Thomas Helveg added a fourth with 14 minutes left. Nigeria got a consolation goal from the right boot of Tijani Babangida, but our second World Cup journey, like the first, lasted four games.

2002 (South Korea/Japan)

VS Argentina (June 2, Ibaraki)

A third World Cup appearance in succession, and Nigeria were pitted in the ‘Group of Death’, alongside Argentina, Sweden and England in Group F. With us being pitted in the latter four of the groups, our World Cup group stage would be in Japan, and it began on the 2nd of June in Ibaraki. It didn’t get off to a great start, as a 63rd-minute header from Gabriel Batistuta consigned us to defeat.

VS Sweden (June 7, Kobe)

There was still time for Nigeria to turn things around, and five days after facing Argentina, we were up against Sweden in Kobe. After 27 minutes, we went in front, Julius Aghahowa heading Joseph Yobo’s cross into the Sweden net, but Henrik Larsson would reply for the Swedes eight minutes later. Then just past the hour mark, precisely the 63rd minute- just like Batistuta did against us in Ibaraki- Larsson scored again, converting from 12 yards after been fouled in the box by Isaac Okoronkwo. There would be no equaliser for the Super Eagles, and after just two games, Festus Onigbinde’s side were eliminated.

VS England (June 12, Osaka)

With the Eagles already eliminated, the final game against England was a dead-rubber for us. And in the heat-soaked atmosphere in Osaka, an uneventful goalless game was notable for a start for 17-year-old Femi Opabunmi, and a World Cup debut for a young Vincent Enyeama.

2010 (South Africa)

VS Argentina (June 12, Johannesburg)

Surprise, surprise. Argentina again. Diego Maradona, who was the skipper when we first met the two-time world champions in 1994, was the coach this time, as Lionel Messi and co were the newest sets of Argentine opponents, this time in Johannesburg’s Ellis Park. Nigeria were back on the Only six minutes had gone when Nigeria went behind, Gabriel Heinze heading home a Juan Veron corner. That was the only goal of the game, but the match itself was most notable for Vincent Enyeama’s Man of the Match performance in Nigeria’s goal, denying Messi on every occasion.

VS Greece (June 17, Bloemfontein)

Bloemfontein was the next South African location, as Lars Lagerback’s Eagles aimed to get their tournament back on track. Greece were the next opponents, a side who’d never scored in the World Cup before, so we were pretty confident. And that confidence almost graduated to smugness when Kalu Uche gave us the lead from a free-kick after 16 minutes. Nigeria were riding high, but things took a downturn when Sani Kaita was sent off after a kerfuffle with Greece’s Vasilis Torosidis. Nigeria were suddenly under pressure, and on the cusp of halftime, Haruna Lukman deflected Dimitrios Salpingidis’s shot into the net. Level at halftime, Nigeria had a numerical disadvantage, and were indebted to Enyeama for staying in the game. But Enyeama could do little in the 71st minute, when he pushed out Alexandros Tziolis’ shot towards Torosidis, who put Greece in front. 2-1 it finished, and Nigeria’s World Cup hopes hung by a thread.

VS South Korea (June 22, Durban)

Nigeria’s national side are famous for their dose of tension-inducing ‘mathematics’, relying on other results going their way to progress. That form was how the Super Eagles got to South Africa in the first place, and they relied on ‘maths’ going into the final group game of this World Cup against South Korea. We needed a win, as well Argentina beating Greece in the other Group B game. We looked to be doing our bit when Uche put us in front inside 12 minutes, but Korea hit back seven minutes before halftime through Lee Jung-Soo. Things became nightmarish when Park Chu-Yung rifled home a free-kick four minutes after the interval, then came the moment that will reverberate throughout World Cup history. Midway through the second period, Uche laid on a pass for Youssuf Ayila, whose cross (you’ve heard, read and/or watched this so many times, haven’t you) was turned puzzlingly wide by Yakubu, who stood two yards from goal. Yakubu did score from the penalty spot with just over 20 minutes left, but a draw was insufficient, as the Eagles crashed out of the World Cup. Neither Yakubu nor Sani Kaita have been seen in a national shirt since.

2014 (Brazil)

VS Iran (June 16, Coritiba)

Nigeria’s first game of the 2014 World Cup was in Coritiba, but back home, everywhere looked green in the build-up, from the streets of Ibadan, the roads in Port-Harcourt, to the nooks and crannies in Oshodi, there was a buzz in the air. Iran were seen by many as the weakest side in the group, so a Nigerian win was expected, almost a foregone conclusion. The game turned out to be the first draw of the tournament, a tepid goalless draw which saw Shola Ameobi in a Super Eagles shirt: it really looked weird.

VS Bosnia-Herzegovina (June 21, Cuiaba)

Nigeria’s second game of the tournament was against Europeans Bosnia, at midnight in our time, in Cuiaba (which for the record is recognised by the Microsoft English dictionary, unlike Coritiba). Nigeria looked to have gone behind early, but Edin Dzeko’s effort for Bosnia was ruled out for offside, a decision which match referee Peter O’Leary later admitted to be a mistake. Nigeria, however took the lead after Emmanuel Emenike got the better off Bosnia skipper Emir Spahic and played in Peter Odemwingie, who found the net, just before the half-hour mark. Dzeko hit the post late in the second half as Bosnia sought an equaliser, but Stephen Keshi’s Eagles held on, and put one foot in the second round.

VS Argentina (June 25, Porto Alegre)

Oh look, people, Argentina again- na wa oo. Nigeria went into the game against the Argentines in Porto Alegre needing just a point to go through with the South Americans. Argentina took the lead after three minutes via Lionel Messi, but Nigeria responded barely a minute later through Ahmed Musa. Messi put Argentina back in front, with a free-kick just before halftime, but Musa would respond for the Eagles again, just after the break. However, La Albiceleste would have the last word, Marcos Rojo forcing home from a corner three minutes after Musa’s second leveller. Despite the loss, Nigeria still headed for the next round, after Iran’s loss to Bosnia. As for Marcos Rojo, it wasn’t the last time we’d hear from him.

VS France (June 30, Brasilia)

On June 30, in the Brazilian capital, Nigeria went up against France in the last 16. After a tight first half in Brasilia, Les Bleus upped the ante, leaving us to cling on for dear life, Yohan Cabaye hitting the bar, while Victor Moses made a goal-line clearance, and Vincent Enyeama produced a handful of saves. But with 11 minutes left, Enyeama would flap at a French corner, leaving Paul Pogba the chance to head the ball into an empty net. A stoppage time own goal from Joseph Yobo- making his 100th Nigerian appearance- sealed Nigeria’s fate, and we headed home, with the last eight still unreachable.

2018 (Russia)

VS Croatia (June 16, Kaliningrad)

Nigeria made light work of their CAF Qualifying group, easing past Zambia, Algeria and Cameroon, despite suffering a three-point deduction, to make it to Russia. Our first game in the World Cup was against Croatia, and an uninspiring first half ended with us behind after an Oghenekaro Etebo own goal. Our second half fared any better, as a penalty from Luka Modric sealed an opening game defeat for us in Kaliningrad.

VS Iceland (June 22, Volgograd)

Nigeria knew the game against Iceland in Volgograd was a must-win, for us to stand a strong chance of getting past the group stage. Once again, the first half was unexciting, but this time, the Super Eagles went into the break level. Then the second half got off to the best possible start, Ahmed Musa firing Nigeria in front after four minutes. Musa hit the post afterwards, before going on to the seal the win with 15 minutes left. Iceland got a chance to get back into the game, but Gylfi Sigurdsson skied a penalty, as Nigeria held on for three priceless points.

VS Argentina (June 26, St. Petersburg)

Yes, Argentina again- guys, we really should hold a reunion. Nigeria were in second place in Group D going into the final group game, while Argentina were bottom of the group with a solitary point, a draw for the Super Eagles would just about be enough for a place in the last 16. But after 14 minutes, we had gone behind, Lionel Messi doing what Lionel Messi does, and giving Argentina the lead. Messi hit the post in the first half as well, as Nigeria went into the break behind, and staring elimination in the face. But a lifeline came six minutes after halftime, when Javier Mascherano fouled Leon Balogun in the box, and Victor Moses converted the resulting penalty; Nigeria were level and back in pole position to qualify. The Super Eagles came close to going in front on several occasions, Odion Ighalo firing a shot wide, and also tested the Argentine goalkeeper Franco Armani, as did Wilfred Ndidi, while Etebo came close with a free-kick. But heartbreak would come with four minutes left, as Marcos Rojo finished from Gabriel Mercado’s cross to put Argentina on the cusp of the last 16. There would be no salvation for Nigeria, as we headed home after three games.


Arsenal v Watford. September 29, 2018. Alexandre Lacazette gets into the box, goes past Christian Kabasele, is tackled by Kabasele, but opts to stay on his feet, and eventually plays a cross/shot over Ben Foster’s goal. Replays show Lacazette was clearly fouled by Kabasele, but, mostly as a result of his honesty and refusal to go down, he gets no penalty.

That seems to be a recurring theme in football, players not getting decisions until they end up on the ground, almost like it’s not a foul until the player lies on the turf. In Watford’s draw at Fulham last weekend, Troy Deeney was on the receiving end of a not-so-clean tackle from Fulham’s Timothy Fosu-Mensah and was praised by many for not going down and making a meal of it. The decision looked like one warranting a red card, and speaking on radio in midweek, Deeney posed the question as to why players necessarily have to go down before a clear and obvious decision is made.

Lacazette was on the receiving end against the Hornets, but his side got away with something similar almost exactly a year ago. In Arsenal’s win over West Brom in September 2017, Lacazette scoring both goals, Jay Rodriguez was fouled in the Arsenal box midway through the first half, but as a result of him getting up and firing a shot wide immediately, it was deemed as next to nothing.

Same goes for Raheem Sterling in Manchester City’s draw against Tottenham at the start of 2017, Sterling on the receiving end of an obvious push from then Spurs defender Kyle Walker, but due to the winger’s refusal to go down and rather being intent on getting his shot away, no decision was given, and almost immediately, Spurs go down the other end and score. Pep Guardiola was far from pleased at fulltime, while Walker himself admitted to pushing Sterling.

So what’s the reward for honesty? For all the clamour over the need for players to stop exaggeration and keep on their feet, players who show those traits shouldn’t be denied clear and obvious decisions because they show those traits. There’s always talk, as regards to fouls in the box especially, that the player goes down anticipating contact, or makes the most of very little contact. But, as condemnable as those acts are, the lack of ‘justice’ to the more honest ones wouldn’t help; if a player sees his honesty as getting nothing more than ‘proper football men’ applause, then surely it encourages him to be more cunning. If you play the ethics right, and it yields nothing, then why not skirt the rules a bit?

If the world can sit up and take attention when a player opts to con the referee, why can’t it do the same when players are fouled, but instead choose to be honest and stay on their feet, and as a result get nothing. Listen to commentators in replays of such scenarios and the word is usually ‘I’m not encouraging players to go down, but…’, which just about makes the point: your honesty will hardly get the justice it merits.

Make no mistake about it, diving and trying to con the referee will always be despicable. But when it seems like the officials are giving decisions looking less at the cause, and more at the consequence, then you can hardly begrudge a player trying to overplay and exaggerate contact. The reward for honesty on the pitch seems sparse, and until that changes, tilting the rules will always be seen by many as clever, rather than corrupt. Playing by the rules doesn’t seem as lucrative as playing the rules.

 


It seemed too good to be true. After the pre-season build up to Jose Mourinho’s third season at Old Trafford, then the two defeats in the opening three games, three away wins in a row to repress the growing sense of discord was supposed to be perceived as a false dawn. This was Jose Mourinho’s third season at the same club after all; the house of cards are supposed to fall, the ticking time-bomb expected to go off anytime soon, and successive victories at Burnley, Watford, and Swiss side Young Boys are just gestures of defeating defiance.

So, three successive games without a win since that victory in the Champions League seem more like it, first a draw at home to Wolverhampton Wanderers, then a penalty shootout defeat to Derby County in the League Cup, all mixed with off-field chaos. First Paul Pogba pointed out that United need to attack more, after the draw with Wolves, then Mourinho announced that the Frenchman would never captain the side again, and, after the League Cup exit at the hands of Championship side Derby, footage appeared of a supposed hubbub between the player and manager.

And the week was capped off with a hapless defeat at West Ham on Saturday. There was general bafflement at Mourinho’s system at the London Stadium, the decision to play Scott McTominay in a back three, the apparent game plan of trying to sit back and exercise caution away at a West Ham side, who had beaten United once in the last 21 meetings, and had one won of their last 12 home league games before this encounter.

United look second-best from the get-go, and only five minutes had gone when Felipe Anderson scored for West Ham. ‘We were a team that comes with that mental fragility of a bad result (that Derby match)’ said Mourinho. ‘Coming here and after five minutes we were losing 1-0, which is not the best way to start’. Mourinho also pointed out, and rightly so, that Pablo Zabaleta was offside in the build-up to Anderson’s opener, but the linesman was given cause for hesitation after McTominay failed to keep in line with the rest of the defence, highlighting his exoticism in that position.

The Red Devils did grow into the game, putting West Ham on the back foot, Romelu Lukaku hitting the outside of the post with a header, yet when the next goal came, it was into the back of David de Gea’s net once more, Andriy Yarmolenko’s shot ricocheting in off Victor Lindelof. Mourinho noted the lack of aggression at West Ham’s second goal, and to be fair, the aggression was lacking all-game, the Portuguese manager citing flaws in United’s ‘mental approach in certain duels’. Even in United’s best spells, they could barely fashion out anything, despite the fact that Marcus Rashford halved the deficit before Marko Arnautovic put them out of the picture. 

So, who’s to blame? Who’s been to blame all season? The players, for looking so off the pace, and performing nowhere near their best? The manager, for constantly talking down the club’s chances all-season? The vice-chairman, for keeping hold of players Mourinho seemed to be happy to let go, and for not backing him enough in the summer window?

Either way, a split for Mourinho and United looks inevitable, like the players are waiting for it, the manager is waiting for it, the media are waiting for it, and it’s almost a matter of ‘how soon’. To paraphrase Samuel L. Jackson as Augustus Gibbons: checkmate in three, Jose. You should see it coming.

Elsewhere:

  • Not that United’s current state of tartness should take the shine off what has been a positive couple of weeks for West Ham. Seven points from three league games for Manuel Pellegrini’s side, after none in the previous four. The Hammers have finally got going.
  • Stat attack: Manchester United conceded their 12th league goal of the season at West Ham. It took them until December 17th to concede that much last season.
  • It seemed like there would be no breakthrough for Liverpool, who fell behind at Chelsea to the in-form Eden Hazard, as they headed for a second defeat to Chelsea in four days. On Wednesday, in the League Cup, it was a moment of brilliance from Hazard that decided the game in Chelsea’s favour. This time, it was Daniel Sturridge who produced a bit of magic late on, to drag the Reds level. Jurgen Klopp’s side no longer has a 100% league record, but they showed another form of persistence and quality to fashion out a point at the Bridge.
  • Two minutes. Two goals. Just like it was for them at home to Everton, Arsenal delivered quickfire strikes to see off Watford. Alexandre Lacazette was lively again, despite not scoring, but questions remain on how the Frenchman’s form and presence lessens the influence of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. The Gunners were still far from convincing in an end-to-end game, but most importantly, have garnered five league wins in a row.
  • There were boos at the end at St. James Park, after Newcastle lost at home once again, their fourth league loss on their backyard in four games this season, at the hands of Leicester. A trip to Manchester United up next means things are unlikely to get better soon.
  • That looked more like it for Everton at Goodison Park, who scored three without conceding against Fulham, a double from Gylfi Sigurdsson, who initially missed a penalty, for only a second league win of the season for Marco Silva’s side.
  • Harry Kane looked quite sharp at Brighton a week ago, and he certainly looked just as strident at Huddersfield this weekend, as his double led to Spurs’ second league win in a row at the John Smith’s Stadium. Huddersfield remain just as hapless as they are winless.
  • And Southampton lost without scoring. Would you believe it?

Results

West Ham 3-1 Manchester United

Manchester City 2-0 Brighton

Huddersfield 0-2 Tottenham

Wolves 2-0 Southampton

Newcastle 0-2 Leicester

Arsenal 2-0 Watford

Chelsea 1-1 Liverpool

Cardiff 1-2 Burnley

Everton 3-0 Fulham

Monday Night Football: Bournemouth v Crystal Palace

 

 


Time will never not keep making fools of us. A year ago, a meeting between Chelsea and Liverpool had very different headlines; the champions against a Reds side who are soft-centred and increasingly vulnerable at the back, a game between Antonio Conte’s Blues who rose to every adversity and Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool side who didn’t look like they could compete on two fronts. When the season began, this fixture, still some two months away back then, was seen as a Chelsea side who’d take an enormous amount of time to achieve cohesion and buy into Maurizio Sarri’s philosophy against a Liverpool team who are Champions League finalists and now look the most furnished to challenge league champions Manchester City.

It’s still mostly seen as the latter, but Chelsea beginning the season in much more upbeat fashion than many thought makes it look like both sides are closer than initially assumed. Not that Sarri is among those who think so. ‘They (Liverpool) are a step ahead of us at the moment’ said the Italian manager. ‘We have started to work all together only about 40 days ago, less 10 for the international break, so for us it’s a bit early. We have to work then, maybe, in one year we will be at the same level as Liverpool’.

Chelsea began the season with five league wins from five, then preceded to play out a goalless draw at West Ham in their sixth, in a game that serves a timely reminder that the Blues are far from fully acclimatised to Sarri-ball. ‘We need to move the ball quicker, I think’ Sarri added. ‘We need more improvement without the ball. We are improving in the defensive phase. In the last two or three matches we’ve done very well. But we have to improve in the offensive phase, especially in this kind of match’.

And the Italian is not wrong on the Blues having to improve on the offensive and defensive fronts. Liverpool are increasingly becoming a balanced side, offensively formidable and defensively resolute, which means Chelsea have to set up an unlockable defence and find a key up front. Eden Hazard has shown he could be that key, the Belgian skipper who seems to be enjoying life under Sarri, and whose moment of individual audacity decided events when both teams met in the League Cup on Wednesday.

That game may be likely to be taken in sequestration, as League Cup fixtures generally are, but it should do no harm to Chelsea’s confidence as they host the would-be champions this Saturday. Chelsea are still as a bit of underdogs in this game, but the Blues have always seemed to love being in unfancied positions, and coming up with the goods.

For the acclimatisation that the Blues still have to do, for all the general consensus about Liverpool being a cut above the Blues, a win at Stamford Bridge this weekend and the Blues go above them, and have a chance of starting October as the country’s top side. It’s always being parlous to write them off.

Elsewhere:

  • Newcastle know they can ill-afford another result that’s not a win, especially at home. Rafa Benitez’s Toon Army host Leicester this weekend, and there’s the fear of whether the Spaniard’s demeanour over players is rubbing off on the squad. Another defeat, and the questions won’t go away.
  • A win at Everton, a clean sheet against Chelsea, West Ham are starting to look an actual team, with a plan. But whatever progress they’ve made will be tested this weekend when they host Manchester United. United are not in the most bubbly mood themselves, with potential civil war and mutiny probably making it the right time to face the Red Devils.
  • Cardiff remain winless, and the Bluebirds still seek lift-off. They host Burnley this weekend, who, for all their overachievement last season and them getting their first win last weekend, are the kind of opponents whom a win against won’t be too fanciful.

Fixtures

West Ham v Manchester United

Arsenal v Watford

Cardiff v Burnley

Everton v Fulham

Chelsea v Liverpool

Huddersfield v Tottenham

Manchester City v Brighton

Newcastle v Leicester

Wolves v Southampton

Bournemouth v Crystal Palace


What! How! 2010 FIFA best player award and no Wesley Sneijder in the top three? An atrocity! What about Diego Forlan, the man who almost single-handedly inspired the achievements of Atletico Madrid and Uruguay in the same year? Not there too? Barbarity! Three Barcelona players? Scandalous! Why don’t they just have the ceremony at the Nou Camp.

Those are the kinds of slurs FIFA were subjected to when their nominee-list for the award of the best player in the award of 2010 was released. And those are the kinds of similar negative retorts the association would always get over their awards. How come Andres Iniesta never got a best player in award? How on earth did Thierry Henry never get crowned the best in the globe? What did he and he and he do to merit a FIFPRO XI spot? How come, FIFA, how come?

And it’s no different this year, first the outrage from some when Lionel Messi was omitted from the top three list, an insubordination in football, a downgrading on the game, many saw it. But what happens if Messi is included in the top three, then someone misses out who will create a similar surge in outrage; for instance: Mohammed Salah broke records, yet he’s not here; how did they have the audacity to omit Cristiano Ronaldo; or: what else would Luka Modric do to get recognition.

That’s the problem with individual awards, you can only give it to one, and you certainly won’t leave all to be content. Keep doing the awards and fingers are pointed at the detriments of handing out individual gold stars. Stop giving them and there’s talk about how the game doesn’t recognise talent and effort. The smears, though, were minimal- if any- this year, as Modric turned out to be the best player in the world, but that doesn’t mean FIFA didn’t leave itself open to shots of scrutiny and criticism.

FIFA were always going to get criticised no matter what went down on the night, but this time it seemed like it set itself up for failure, like it made a huge bet that it would receive a fair amount of condemnation. The first issue to be dissected and met with sneers was Mohammed Salah winning the Puskas award for the best goal of the year, for his strike last December against Everton.

Then came the slurs: Salah’s goal over Benjamin Pavard’s, or the audacious overheads of Ronaldo and Gareth Bale? Admittedly those are supposedly decided by votes, but try telling that to social media or the public, the sharks ready to jump on what they perceive as errors, however circumstantial, inadvertent or unavoidable.

And if the world was unhappy at Salah being given the best goal, you could only imagine their rage when they saw the FIFPRO XI. First, the case of Dani Alves, who's been injured for quite a while now, you'd be forgiven for thinking he's retired, yet the Brazilian was recognised by FIFA as the best right-back in the world.

Then the utter confusion over the eleven. David de Gea is the goalkeeper in the side, but Thibaut Courtois was awarded as the best goalkeeper in the world. Mohammed Salah was good enough to be among the final three nominees, yet wasn't good enough for the XI.

How do these add up? What were the criteria for making these decisions? Is one category voted for and another selected, are the different categories decided on by different sets of people?

FIFA's decision-making on its award would always raise more questions than answers, but this year's version was almost alien to logic.


 

There’s hardly any shame in losing to this Liverpool side. A 3-0 defeat to Jurgen Klopp’s ever-threatening team at the ever-raucous Anfield is no cause to panic or be too glum. Especially when you are a mid-table side.

 

But for Southampton, this wasn’t just about the scoreline, more like the performance. Lacklustre, leisurely, listless. Southampton looked almost decidedly second-best, like they could have played this game without opponents and yet still have lost. ‘If you come to this place with the individual talent they have in abundance, if that dictates they are better on the day than you then you have to hold our hands up, but I didn’t think in that first half they were markedly better’, said Saints boss Mark Hughes afterwards.

 

And not only did Sparky have a point that Liverpool weren’t distinctly better, the Welshman should also be worried that their hosts didn’t have to be. Liverpool could have played with a mentality of ‘let’s just turn up and turn them over’ and they would hardly be wrong. It was basically the way the first goal: only 10 minutes had gone when Xherdan Shaqiri’s shot ricocheted its way to Wesley Hoedt, who had enough time to get the ball out of danger, yet opted to put his thigh at it, resulting in a preventable own goal.

 

From Hughes’ setup, the Saints game plan was to sit out and play it safe for as long as possible, yet that hardly lasted. ‘When you come to places like this you’ve got to remain in the game and be resolute’, said Hughes. But if Southampton were still in the game after conceding the first goal, they certainly weren’t after conceding a second, in also preventable circumstances. Considering the Saints’ game plan before kick-off, surely the last way for them to concede was via a set-piece, particularly a side with players like Hoedt, Jannik Vestergaard and Oriol Romeu in the team, yet Joel Matip had virtually a free header to double Liverpool’s advantage.

 

Two-nil down after 20 minutes is always a sign of a horror start, yet can also mean there’s enough time to mount a comeback. Against a side like Liverpool, the immediate concern is not getting blown out of sight rather than getting back in it, yet Southampton hardly did either. Every attack they embarked on was ill-fated from its get-go, every foray forward lacked any conviction, like it was a passage of time until Liverpool got their third, which came via Mohammed Salah in first half stoppage time. ‘We just made mistakes that allowed them to get a head of steam and three goals to the good unfortunately’, added Hughes. ‘It’s a shame. Maybe before the game no one expected us to win, but I just felt in the first half we didn’t give ourselves an opportunity to stay in the game’.

 

It’s taken two seasons, and Southampton have gone from the side that everyone admired, that always persevered and conquered despite the odds and loss of key men, to a side who almost seem comfortable not trying, a side who seem like they are in the knowledge that there are at least three other clubs worse than them, at least three clubs who’ll certainly end up in lower positions than them come May. The energy, the desire to upset, the tendency to look greater than the sum of their parts, all those traits look to be gone. Of course, there’s only so much you can do if you constantly lose key players, this isn’t just about the quality of the players, but as much about their attitude.

 

Skipper Ryan Bertrand said, after the loss, that it’s been a positive start; six defeats and one win in six games, with nine goals conceded. Are the Saints comfortable with their new standard or is Bertrand just trying to spur morale in the dressing room? Admittedly this was against Liverpool, against whom even champions Manchester City have looked second-best, and it probably might have been different had the league’s loan rules not prevented Danny Ings from playing against parent side, but, as Charlie Austin’s isolation asked, where would the supply have come from if he had played?

 

The days of the Saints punching above their weight look well behind them, now it’s as if they can barely punch. If last season taught them anything, it’s that complacency and feeling entitled in this league is a recipe for disaster. However far north you’ve once gone, things have the ability to go south real fast in the big time.

 

Elsewhere:

 

  • A first league win for Burnley, four goals scored, three from two of their front men, and none conceded at home to Bournemouth. Perhaps the secret to Sean Dyche’s side getting back on track was simply playing on a Saturday.
  • Five for Manchester City in South Wales, yet the scoreline hardly flattered them. Riyad Mahrez’s first goals for the club, as well as a goal for Sergio Aguero on his 300th appearance for the club, to put the Lyon debacle behind them. Neil Warnock had cautioned no mistakes after the Bluebirds lost at Chelsea last time out, so he won’t be too ecstatic about watching Bruno Ecuele Manga practically gift Mahrez the fifth goal.
  • A first competitive clean sheet for Arsenal under Unai Emery, four league wins on the bounce, and a climb into the top six. There were still more than a few signs of vulnerability from the Gunners at home to Everton, and there’s still much room for improvement, but the fact that they are on this run despite being at full-pelt is definitely encouraging.
  • Perhaps there was no game with the most apt scoreline this weekend than Crystal Palace and Newcastle playing out a goalless draw at Selhurst Park, thanks in no small part to Mahmadou Sakho. Newcastle’s winless start to the season continues. Even without Christian Benteke, the Eagles are still doing their best not to score.

 

Results

 

Manchester United 1-1 Wolves

 

Leicester 3-1 Huddersfield

 

Cardiff 0-5 Manchester City

 

Brighton 1-2 Tottenham

 

Liverpool 3-0 Southampton

 

West Ham 0-0 Chelsea

 

Crystal Palace 0-0 Newcastle

 

Arsenal 2-0 Everton

 

Fulham 1-1 Watford

 

Burnley 4-0 Bournemouth

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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