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Highlights

Quad-chasing Liverpool inevitably top Winners and Losers…

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The Quad is on, on, on for Liverpool while Manchester City’s goalkeeper had a horrible time as did both North London clubs…

 

Winners

Quadruple-chasing Liverpool
Jurgen Klopp has been right to dismiss talk of the quadruple. There are reasons why no one has ever done it and, most years, someone starts speculating about it ludicrously early and when the chances are actually remote. And yet it is starting to feel feasible for Liverpool. An FA Cup semi-final win was a reminder of the times when they used to torment Manchester City with fast starts. Klopp has picked some random sides in the FA Cup over the years but his semi-final teamsheet showed more intent from him than Pep Guardiola. His selection calls – Ibrahima Konate over Joel Matip, Thiago Alcantara and Naby Keita instead of Jordan Henderson, Sadio Mane as a centre-forward – were all justified by their performances. There is a broader picture, too, of a team who are still competing on all fronts in the second half of April. Both Klopp and Virgil van Dijk have said recently that no one should take this for granted. They are right. Wherever this season takes them, it is shaping up as a special one.

Now go read 16 Conclusions

 

Sadio Mane
Roberto Firmino was supposed to be the leader of the press for Klopp. As the Brazilian adjusts to a new role, perhaps more substitute than starter, Mane has taken his spot in the middle of the attack. His pressing drew a hideous error from Zack Steffen and brought Liverpool’s second goal. His own second, volleyed in, took him to three goals against Manchester City in seven days and 10 in his career. It is an illustration that Mane can trouble even the best defences and his excellent April – with four goals in three starts – is ensuring that Mohamed Salah’s rare goal drought is not mattering yet.

 

Cristiano Ronaldo
Manchester United should not have re-signed him. They should look to rebuild without him next season. In the broader picture, each can be the case. After all, even Ronaldo can only hold off the forces of time for so long. He has only scored in three games in 2022. But he has got a hat-trick in two of them. Against Norwich, as against Tottenham, he seemed to win a game through willpower, a capacity to turn back time and a sense of his own greatness. Each contained a close-range strike, a terrific header and a long-range thunderbolt. His latest treble took him to 20 club goals for a 16th successive season which, like a 60th hat-trick of his career, is just ridiculous. And the possibility is reopening that Ronaldo could yet fire this flawed United side back into the Champions League.

 

Brighton, kings of north London
Just when their season seemed to be petering out, Brighton conjured their two best results of the campaign. Successive Saturdays brought a capital double, wins at Arsenal and then Tottenham. The previous run of six defeats in seven games illustrated they can veer out and in of form with little warning, that there can be something frustratingly enigmatic about Albion. Yet the last couple of weeks have shown much of what is right about Graham Potter’s team: while they did not have any big-six scalps earlier in this campaign, they have proved in previous years that they can beat their supposed superiors and can do it with tactical intelligence and an ambitious blueprint. Perhaps Antonio Conte became the latest to be confounded by Potter’s unpredictability: he probably did not anticipate seeing Leandro Trossard start as a wing-back. But the Belgian’s terrific winner was also further evidence that Brighton have several players who look at home on such stages. Yves Bissouma was outstanding, as he can be against elite teams, especially in nullifying Harry Kane. If part of the story of Potter’s Brighton revolves around the occasionally prolific and often profligate Neal Maupay, they have prospered against Arsenal and Spurs by benching him and overloading with adaptable midfielders. It is a very Potter-esque way of prevailing.

 

Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Mason Mount
It can seem as though Mount is enjoying the career Loftus-Cheek could have had, as the Chelsea academy product who has gravitated to a pivotal role in their first team and the England side. Arguably Loftus-Cheek has even more attributes, though, amid injuries, questions about his best role and a frequent status as a fringe player, he can seem a case of permanent potential. A belated first goal for Chelsea since 2019 – and only a second for anyone – underlined how he has too little to show for his talent. But, after impressive displays as a wing-back against Southampton and Real Madrid, he struck as a central midfielder in the FA Cup semi-final against Crystal Palace, capping a performance that showed his passing ability and running power. Mount’s goal seemed less surprising but, even for a player with his achievements in recent years, scoring at the Bernabeu and Wembley in successive matches has made this a memorable week. When Loftus-Cheek scored his previous goal for Chelsea, Mount was on loan at Derby. Now he has accelerated beyond the older man but in games like Sunday, it feels as though Loftus-Cheek could yet join him in many a Chelsea side in the future.

 

Fraser Forster
The Southampton goalkeeper has played well on consecutive Saturdays against London clubs at St Mary’s. The similarities may end there, given that he conceded six goals to Chelsea and kept a clean sheet in victory over Arsenal. If his defiance was important in halting a slide, there may be a personal significance: Forster’s contract expires in the summer and if Southampton are unlikely to offer him such generous terms again, he is giving them reasons to make him their first choice next season.

 

Christian Eriksen
A Christian to have a very good Easter. Maybe it was fitting that Eriksen’s free kick was headed in by Pontus Jansson for the winner at Watford. It took Brentford past the symbolic 38 points. It means Eriksen has started five Premier League games and Brentford have won all five. The feelgood story of the season may have doubled up as the best transfer.

 

Bruno Guimaraes
Game by game, week by week, the sense grows that Newcastle have got a gem. The Brazilian decorated the win over Wolves. He decided the game against Leicester, plunging forward to head in injury-time. Guimaraes only scored three goals for Lyon. He has already equalled that tally for Newcastle. Perhaps more pertinently, he has showed the class to render him a favourite at St James’ Park and suggest those clubs who scouted him but did not bid, such as Arsenal, may come to regret that.

 

Losers

Zack Steffen and Pep Guardiola
Two goalkeepers took their time on the ball in their own box against Liverpool. Last Sunday, Ederson recovered with such nonchalance that Guardiola subsequently said it was “crazy” how calm the Brazilian was. On Saturday, Steffen was tackled by Sadio Mane and the ball flew into the City net. Perhaps the rested Ederson would have saved Liverpool’s first or third goals but, if occasional mistakes are the price of a policy of playing out from the back, there is a sizeable drop-off between Ederson and his deputy, and Steffen was also culpable for City’s semi-final defeat last season. Guardiola is not alone in playing his back-up goalkeeper in the Cups: Klopp often does, too, but he parachuted Alisson in for the latter stages and his saves from Gabriel Jesus may have prevented a City comeback. Nor did Guardiola’s rotation succeed elsewhere: a few days after Fernandinho announced he is leaving City came a game to suggest he is making the right decision. He hasn’t often showed his age, but, pushing 37, it felt too big an ask for him to take on Liverpool. As twin 2-2 draws in the Premier League demonstrate, they are hard enough to face with City’s strongest side.

 

Arsenal, in an awful April
TS Eliot argued April was the cruellest month and he never had to contend with the loss of Thomas Partey and Kieran Tierney. For Mikel Arteta, it has been a terrible month: three seemingly winnable games against Crystal Palace, Brighton and Southampton have produced no points and a solitary goal. The strategy of relying on a small group of players has felt flawed when it has looked too small: with Takehiro Tomiyasu and Alexandre Lacazette also absent, Cedric Soares, Nuno Tavares, Albert Sambi Lokonga and Eddie Nketiah all started at St Mary’s. None would get in too many top-four teams. Given Lacazette’s goal drought, perhaps there was an irony that Arsenal had 23 shots without scoring when he was sidelined. It nevertheless highlighted the dangers in having a forward line with too little firepower and forever relying on midfielders and wingers such as Emile Smith Rowe (one goal in 2022), Gabriel Martinelli (one goal in 2022), Martin Odegaard (two goals in 2022) and the admittedly more prolific Bukayo Saka to bail them out. They are an average team playing averagely.

 

Tottenham, drawing a blank
First came the statistics showing that, since the middle of February, the three players who were directly involved in most Premier League goals were Harry Kane, Heung-Min Son and Dejan Kulusevski. Then came a performance of no shots on target and a first-half expected goals tally of just 0.02. If it reflects how well Brighton subdued them, preventing Kane from turning playmaker when he dropped deeper and cutting off some of the supply line, it also supported the theory that, from an attacking perspective anyway, Spurs are a three-man team. Stop the big three and the rest offered little. And should Spurs miss out on the Champions League, they can reflect on four defeats – to Southampton, Wolves, Burnley and now Brighton – where they underachieved. Just when they seemed to be acquiring the relentlessness of the classic Antonio Conte sides, they were slow, soporific and bland, playing with the air of a side in a meaningless end-of-season game rather than one with the carrot of a top-four finish.

 

Paul Pogba
A parable of modern-day Manchester United. The world record signing, a player supposed to propel United back to the summit of the game was instead booed by his supporters when taken off with them drawing at home to the division’s bottom club. Pogba had done a wretched job of protecting a fragile back four, underlining the importance of Scott McTominay and Fred in their absence and while most have long assumed that an £89 million buy will leave on a free transfer when his contract expires in the summer, the fans’ reaction only reinforced the impression it is time for a change.

 

Roy Hodgson
Management can have its addictive powers, but there are times when it is best to remain retired. Sam Allardyce had a reputation as a guarantee of safety, was lured back by West Bromwich Albion last season and discovered he had jumped aboard a sinking ship and was powerless to halt its descent. The same may be true of Hodgson at Watford: while he began his reign by showing an ability to get the Hornets to keep clean sheets, he has proved unable to get a point, let alone a win, at home. This could be an inglorious end to his career.

 

Maxwel Cornet
From his collection of wonder goals to his stirring winner against Everton, many of the highlights of Burnley’s season have come from Cornet. And yet if, as looks likely, it ends in relegation, they can reflect with regret on two glaring misses from him, under two managers, which may have cost them three points: firstly at 1-0 down against Norwich, when he ought to have scored and Burnley instead lost 2-0 in what proved Sean Dyche’s final game. Then, at 1-0 up against West Ham, when he missed the target from the penalty spot. To compound that, Cornet conceded the free kick for Tomas Soucek’s equaliser as the caretaker Michael Jackson’s bow brought a draw. Dyche talked a lot about fine margins, and that sometimes felt self-serving, given the drop in Burnley’s performance levels this season, the marginal cost of two wayward finishes could be colossal.

 

Romelu Lukaku
Even Timo Werner is coming good. But not Lukaku, as a hideous miss showed.

The post Quad-chasing Liverpool inevitably top Winners and Losers… appeared first on Football365.

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