Where to start? Four goals, a stoppage-time fifth that should have been, a red card that definitely was, another that surely was but somehow wasn’t, a milestone, a majestic Dominic Calvert-Lewin leap once again, and throughout it all, more Stockley Park-conceived confusion.
Jurgen Klopp fumed at Jordan Pickford’s let-off and then at the computer-generated line that inexplicably deemed Sadio Mane offside. So he was not in the mood to talk Mo Salah and neither, he revealed, was the man who joined the Reds’ 100 club yet saw the achievement overshadowed on a turbulent afternoon.
— Sky Sports Statto (@SkySportsStatto) October 17, 2020
It shouldn’t be. Salah’s left-footed swipe to edge Liverpool back ahead was a typically instinctive way to further cement his legacy. Only two players – Roger Hunt and Jack Parkinson – have reached the landmark in fewer than the Egyptian’s 159 games (all competitions) for Liverpool and his overall performance was one of several that will have pleased his manager when the mist has cleared.
Thiago’s was another. On his full debut, he commanded the midfield with grace and precision and that no-look reverse ball slid into Mane’s path deserved not to slide into insignificance as crosshairs and calculation points took over. But Richarlison’s reckless challenge on the Spaniard may have significant consequences.
“It doesn’t look good,” the manager said after the whistle, and the same initial prognosis was delivered for Virgil van Dijk after Pickford clattered his knees with barely 10 minutes on the clock.
Not long after the Dutchman had departed early for the first time in the league since September 2018, Michael Keane rose at a corner – wickedly delivered by James Rodriguez – with the sort of ease Van Dijk rarely affords. Klopp, having lost Alisson to a shoulder injury, will not want to lose for long the man whose influence extends far beyond the tangible.
After that aberration against Aston Villa, this was a Liverpool performance of quality and purpose but six games loom within 21 days – a gruelling period bookended by trips to Ajax and Manchester City – and with injuries added to VAR insult, Klopp faces an anxious wait over key men.
It was a bold move from Pep Guardiola to include Sergio Aguero from the start against Arsenal after the striker had spent such a long time on the sidelines, but it was a timely return for City, especially with a congested fixture list and long-term doubts surrounding the fitness of Gabriel Jesus.
The Argentine hadn’t played since picking up a knee injury on June 22 but it was like he’d never been away. In the 65 minutes he was on the pitch, he played a key role in City’s winner and was a constant threat to Arsenal in what was a performance full of endeavour and quality.
And his manager was delighted to have him back out on the field. “We are so happy with Sergio Aguero, he was out for four months but is a guy who needs rhythem. I am so happy for him he is back.”
Raheem Sterling, City’s match-winner, was also pleased to have the striker out on the pitch alongside him. “We haven’t been quite as fluent this season but in the last couple of games we have shown that fluency is coming back and it’s great to keep the momentum going,” the England international said.
“When Sergio is on the field you know there can be a goal at any moment. He is vital to help us compete on all fronts and great to have him back.”
“We are incredibly happy. It is four months so he is still short of his condition but we got 60 minutes and that is good. On Wednesday we have another game so it is important because we need his goals and his performances.”
The games are coming thick and fast now for City with the Champions League set to resume this week, and Aguero will have to be managed very carefully as City look to get him back up to full match sharpness.
But with their all-time top goal scorer back, the defence putting in a solid display and victory over the Gunners helping to put their poor start behind them, things are starting to look up for Guardiola and his side.
The wait goes on for Arsenal.
Not only have the Gunners lost each of their last seven league games against Manchester City, they are now winless in their last 29 Premier League away games against “big six” opponents (D10 L19) since a 2-0 win at City in January 2015.
However, there are still signs of progression from Mikel Arteta’s side, who showed improvement from their 3-0 defeat at the Etihad Stadium back in June.
They were solid in defence for large parts of the game with City needing to show moments of real quality to break down the Gunners’ defence. They also had their chances to get something from the game, and but for two magnificent saves from Ederson, one to deny the impressive Bukayo Saka and the other to keep Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang at bay, they may have got a result.
In the end, Arteta was left disappointed on his return to the Etihad. “I’m sad not to get anything from the game,” the Spaniard said. “I felt we kept growing and growing, having more belief that we could get something. I’m proud of the way we played individually and collectively. It’s not easy to produce a performance in a stadium like that. We need everything to go our way to get a win here. The three or four chances you need to put them away.”
There is a process going on at Arsenal and there will be a few bumps along the way, but despite defeat, the Gunners showed they are still on the right path under Arteta.
Without local representation, there were question marks over whether Carlo Ancelotti’s rejuvenated Everton side could restore some much-needed intensity to the Merseyside derby. Their last meeting against Liverpool in June was a dreary goalless draw in which both teams each managed just three shots on target with the visitors having 70 per cent possession.
And while Everton were unable to end their decade-long winless drought against their neighbours, the manner in which they fought back twice to earn a point delighted their manager.
“We could’ve won, drawn or lost,” Ancelotti said afterwards. “The performance was good as we wanted to compete and in the end we did really well, with a good spirit. When we were down, we never lost confidence and we had opportunities to go ahead with Richarlison hitting the post. I am really satisfied.
“When you concede a goal, you always have to defend better and we have to defend better in certain situations, but against Liverpool it’s really difficult. They keep a high intensity on the pitch, but we competed well.”
A perceived mental block has been previously debated, but this is a new-look Everton who entered the derby for the first time since September 1989 top of the table. After several meek renewals, the ferocity was back here as Richarlison saw red with a wild challenge on Thiago – Everton’s record 15th against their rivals in a Premier League fixture.
It came after Virgil van Dijk had hobbled off in the first half with a knee injury inflicted by Jordan Pickford, and while Liverpool were left to count the injured, Everton will take comfort from their efforts against their city rivals. Ancelotti spoke of how the derby would test his team’s mettle, and with Dominic Calvert-Lewin adding to his early-season goal rush, they emerged from their stiffest challenge still unbeaten, providing a further indication of the progress being made under the Italian.
The murmurs were getting louder. If Timo Werner had gone another 90 minutes without scoring in the Premier League, the questions would have come.
Is he struggling to settle? Can he keep up with the pace of the Premier League? Is he being played in the right position?
But within half an hour of Chelsea’s 3-3 draw with Southampton, Werner had put all of that to bed.
They may not have got the desired end result, but Werner’s performance on Saturday will bring Chelsea fans excitement. It’s clear the 24-year-old is a match winner.
His two goals were self-made. The first came from a quite sublime dummy to leave Jan Bednarek in quicksand, before dancing past a couple of challenges and picking the perfect time to shoot through a crowded penalty area.
The second was pure confidence. This time he got goal side of Bednarek the conventional way with intelligent running, before having the nouse to lift it over Alex McCarthy and head into an empty net.
Werner was making runs all afternoon – helped in part by Southampton’s press and higher-than-usual line – and was not stuck to one position. In fact, Chelsea’s entire front four had the freedom to roam where they felt necessary.
Aside from the goals, Werner showed a willing team ethic to his play, happy to go for a more sensible option rather than bursting with the ball into the box. He registered a team-high 91 per cent success rate with his 22 passes, one of those for Kai Havertz’s goal in the second half following another run in-behind.
If the late flurry of Manchester United goals at Newcastle hadn’t made you sit up and take notice, then Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s post-match comments certainly should have.
“Our season started today. We’ve come up to the speed of the game and that showed today,” the United boss told Sky Sports after the 4-1 victory at Newcastle.
For a Manchester United manager – or any manager for that matter – to admit it’s taken four games for his team to get off the ground just about sums up this remarkable Premier League season unfolding in front of our eyes.
After the shambolic collapse to Spurs before the international break, Solskjaer would have taken any kind of victory to ease the pressure on his increasingly beleaguered squad, but he got much more than that.
Four fine goals, stellar performances from Harry Maguire, Juan Mata and David de Gea and a rousing all-round response on Tyneside that announced Manchester United’s arrival in the 2020/21 season.