In a new weekly blog, Ben Grounds looks at those in the world of football to have starred and suffered over the past seven days…
The week started with the kind of individual performance which made us fall in love with football. Ozil has often polarised opinion, as Graeme Souness said in his assessment of the German following his spellbinding display in Arsenal’s 3-1 win over Leicester.
Souness is a hard taskmaster who has frequently criticised Ozil for his work rate, but it was as though the playmaker was aware of the special guest on Monday Night Football and decided to put on a special clinic, telling the Scotsman, “Hold my water.”
It didn’t stop Souness from reaffirming his belief that Ozil needs to produce his excellence on a more consistent basis, but the manner in which he cut Leicester’s defence to ribbons with his deftness of pass and dummies showcased why the Premier League needs players like him.
The sceptics were beginning to wonder had he been a one-season wonder. All the key attacking metrics were down on last campaign, his body language suggested fatigue, frustration, even a touch of selfishness.
But Salah is beginning to show the signs of his menacing best of January to February earlier this year, sparked then by a goal that booked Egypt’s place at the World Cup. On this occasion, on a far less prestigious stage, he helped his country to victory over eSwatini (formerly Swaziland), and it appears to have had the same effect on his form.
Salah has scored three goals in a week to steer Liverpool to wins over Huddersfield and Red Star Belgrade, and in so doing became the fastest player to reach 50 goals for the Reds in all competitions – taking just 65 games.
To put that into perspective, Salah’s half-century of strikes is 22 games quicker than Ian Rush and 29 faster than Robbie Fowler. Luis Suarez took 7553 minutes for his first 50 goals, compared to Salah’s 5116. After a ‘drought’ of four games, he appears to be doing just fine.
Mr Bonucci and Mr Chiellini
FIFA president Gianni Infantino called it an ‘absurdity’ that six sides in Italy’s lower leagues are still unsure which division they’re playing in, but the country’s top-table is still in fine fettle.
English clubs have been defeated on three occasions by Italian outfits already this season, with Inter Milan and Napoli dispensing of Tottenham and Liverpool respectively, and the latest triumph owed much to the wiliness of two famed stalwarts.
Juventus’ 1-0 victory over Manchester United was a travesty in scoreline given their superiority, but Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini were so accomplished up against Romelu Lukaku that it moved Jose Mourinho to remark the pair should give a lecture in the art of defending at Harvard University.
Fresh from his very assured Premier League debut in Everton’s 2-0 win over Crystal Palace, Gomes was present alongside the rest of his team-mates at the annual event for the club’s official charity.
The Portuguese midfielder gave a frank admission of his struggles to overcome mental health issues during his time with Barcelona last season, and Gomes endeared himself to Everton supporters during a touching moment with a supporter at the Everton in the Community (EITC) event.
The young fan with Down’s syndrome appeared to be overcome with emotion at playing with his idols, and Gomes was only too happy to provide him with a hug in footage that underlined the importance of staging such events in binding a football club with its community.
The fixture list was enough to make any Championship manager’s eyes water, but this fledgling 40-year-old has relished the challenge – and so have his players.
Then leaders Sheffield United were first beaten at Pride Park on Saturday before fellow promotion rivals West Brom were clinically dispatched 4-1 at The Hawthorns. The weekend’s trip to second-placed Middlesbrough holds no fears for Lampard.
His Derby side have come a cropper following dizzying highs already this season – Leeds put four past them in August while Millwall, Rotherham and Bolton have already recorded home wins – but Lampard has impressively managed a group containing several young pros to within two points of the top.
With Chelsea hosting the Rams in the Carabao Cup just reward for the scalp of Manchester United in the previous round, Lampard has the perfect stage on which to showcase why he is fast-becoming one of the country’s most exciting young managers.
He’s not quite the forgotten man of Stamford Bridge (that unwanted title still was bequeathed to Danny Drinkwater some time ago), but Loftus-Cheek became the first English player to score a hat-trick for Chelsea in Europe since Peter Osgood and Tommy Baldwin 47 years ago.
The midfielder scored a hat-trick in Thursday’s Europa League win over Bate Borisov, but finds himself below four other midfielders in the pecking order.
Loftus-Cheek has played just 33 minutes of Premier League action compared to N’Golo Kante (810), Jorginho (810), Mateo Kovacic (476) and Ross Barkley (301).
Blues manager Maurizio Sarri admits he has a “tactical problem” and is struggling to fit the 22-year-old into the side – but Loftus-Cheek was out to prove a point against the Belarusians.
His first senior hat-trick was aided by abysmal defending, but with Ross Barkley receiving all the recent plaudits, this was a timely reminder to Gareth Southgate of his abilities.
Lukaku must be tired of being called a pussycat by Martin Keown. But the bulky Belgian looked laboured in Manchester United’s defeat to Juventus, extending his barren run to eight games without a goal in all competitions against the side he had talked up wanting to join one day earlier this month.
Jose Mourinho’s touchline row with Chelsea assistant Marco Ianni showed the ringleader is still busy cracking his whip, but it’s left his lion overwhelmingly tamed.
He can still perform his trick of miscontrolling the ball and passing straight to an opponent, but Lukaku looks a shadow of the player United signed for £75m. A rest is unlikely given Everton are the visitors to Old Trafford this Sunday.
Mourinho said afterwards, “[The concern is] not just with the goals he’s not scoring but also his confidence, in his movement, his touch. He is not linking the game well with his team. I have to agree his moment is not sweet.”
The striker’s big chance conversion rate is down 26 per cent on last season, while his minutes per goal this term stands at 276 compared to 106 at the same stage of last season.
Lukaku can point to an almost non-existent supply-line but with his last shot on target in the Premier League coming against Watford on September 15, he needs to do a lot more to shake off the current malaise.
Real Madrid’s dreadful start to the La Liga season reached its nadir as they were beaten 2-1 by Levante at the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday, heaping yet more pressure on manager Lopetegui.
It’s is hard to know where to point the finger at Madrid at the moment, with Lopetegui apologists criticising Florentino Perez for a lack of investment in the first team stretching back two years.
Put simply, and on a much grander scale, the side are now failing to reproduce the same results with a weaker squad in the same manner Southampton no longer do following a spate of high-profile departures. But Lopetegui looks set to be the fall guy in all of this, with Real reportedly eyeing up Antonio Cone as his replacement.
With the decision seemingly already made that the former Spain head coach is not the right fit, a victory over Barcelona in El Clasico this weekend could prove an almighty inconvenience for the club’s hierarchy.
The last time Messi missed an ‘El Clasico’, Donald Trump was about to host the first season of Celebrity Apprentice. Much has changed in the 11 years since, but Messi will be absent once more from the Camp Nou showdown this weekend.
The Argentine has been in scintillating form this season, scoring 12 goals in all competitions, but he’s now been ruled out for three weeks after breaking his arm in the 4-2 win over Sevilla last weekend.
Barcelona have enough quality at their disposal to counter the loss of their talisman – witnessed during the Champions League over Inter Milan in midweek – but with Ernesto Valverde’s side just one point clear at the La Liga summit, the Catalans now face the ultimate test to show they can function in Messi’s absence.
Lloris began the week in fine form. The Frenchman produced three vitally important saves to keep out Marko Arnautovic and preserve his team’s clean sheet as Tottenham recorded their best start to a Premier League season against West Ham. Positionally he remains sound.
But all the good work at the London Stadium was undone in Eindhoven. Spurs were in control and on course for a much-needed 2-1 win at PSV when Lloris came haring out of his goal to swipe the legs of Hirving Lorenzo. It was reckless, unnecessary and deserving of the red card that has severely compromised his side’s Champions League hopes with the hosts coming back to salvage a point.
The 31-year-old made being the sweeper-keeper his trademark, but having been caught in no man’s land against Barcelona, his poor judgement is beginning to make him a liability. Putting his recent indiscretions off the field to one side, Lloris’ uncharacteristic mistakes before, during and after France’s World Cup triumph points to a drop in focus that provides Mauricio Pochettino with a fresh problem to solve.
The wheels have come off at Fulham following a promising start. Over-reliant on Aleksandar Mitrovic’s goals and porous defensively, Jokanovic faces a make-or-break home game with Bournemouth at Craven Cottage this weekend.
The Serbian is coming under increasing pressure following the 4-2 defeat at Cardiff which sent Fulham cascading into the bottom three. It’s not been so much a bad week for the Premier League newcomers as a bad two months, with things getting increasingly worse.
Fulham’s disastrous defence has conceded nine goals in their last two games, conceding 25 in total – comfortably the most in the division. Jokanovic looks no closer to finding the right combination at the back with 61 shots on goal allowed in just nine games.
They also come out bottom on the ‘expected goals against’ metric, with their xGA of 19.53 far higher than the likes of Cardiff (13.89) and Huddersfield Town (13.49). Mourinho remains the favourite to become the first managerial casualty of the season, but Jokanovic is not far behind. His position looks very precarious.
Managers with a bad run of results has spread further west of the capital. There’s a familiar theme here with October offering a natural point for struggling clubs to seek a new voice. But for Brentford, under different circumstances, there has been an unwelcome change.
The Bees were buzzing along happily under Dean Smith, in the play-off spots on October 6 after a 1-1 draw at Leeds. But they’ve now gone eight games in all competitions without a win, losing four – including Frank’s opening two games against Bristol City and Preston.
Smith sought pastures new, partly due to his boyhood ties to Aston Villa, but perhaps also with a sense he had maximised his potential growth at Griffin Park. Frank has been promoted from his position as assistant, but he has thus far created the opposite of a managerial bounce.
The Dutchman will point to shoots of recovery in the second-half fightback at Deepdale, but the trip to high-flying Norwich offers little scope for respite following a tough start.