The Workmanlike Performers: Column 5

Soccer games that people actually care about are back after a long international break. Did Liverpool’s title hopes survive? Did Solskjaer get off to a winning start as permanent manager?? Can a song hold sway over player performance??? Read on for answers.

Sam Cicci: Good day, fair weather fans and soccer enthusiasts! We return to you all after an extended international hiatus to again bring you hard-hitting coverage of the weekend’s Premier League action! I know players were eager to get back to their clubs and continue on with the business end of the season. Which team most impressed you with their performance this past weekend?

Matthew Hein: I will not be talking about Liverpool – Spurs, so let us look elsewhere. Man United may not have played their best game of football on Saturday, but they keep finding ways to win. Ole Gunnar won his first game as permanent manager and has consistently brought the best out of players Mourinho pushed to the side. Luke Shaw produced one of the season’s best assists with his pass to Rashford for his first goal, while Martial luckily bundled in a second and United escaped with a victory over a solid Watform team. These games were the ones that seemed destined for draws under Mourinho, but maybe Solskjaer has finally found the Sir Alex Ferguson blessing. Tied with Spurs on points, they look determined to break into the top four after a horrific start to the season.

Do you wish to talk about the game that I have already tried to erase from my memory? (rumor has it Sissoko’s shot is still sailing towards the moon to this day.)

SC: Well, if I were a Spurs fan, I would have been gutted. Liverpool largely controlled the first half without creating too many solid openings other than Robertson’s fantastic assist for Firmino. Then, in the second half, Tottenham completely took over the game and probably should have won it. They continued to get into good positions and work the ball through Liverpool’s press with ease. Unfortunately, Eriksen had an off game. And when he’s off, Tottenham’s attack stutters. His service was decidedly lacking, and no one else seemed to be able to get the ball to Kane in good positions. If the Dane were “on,” Tottenham probably win this game by multiple goals.

But, the tipping point probably came with Sissoko’s miss. Spurs again broke with a stellar counter, putting Sissoko and Son through against a solitary defender. It must be said, Van Dijk probably displayed some of the best 1v2 defending I’ve ever seen. He cut off the passing lane to Son and pretty much had Sissoko looking uncomfortable the whole way. The frenchman always looked hesitant to shoot, but come on man, at least put your shot on frame! That’s the game right there. Then, Lloris swats the ball into Alderweireld for a freak own goal. Damn. Another feeling of “what could have been” for Spurs.

While Eriksen had an off day, Salah continued his run of being essentially useless and squandering plenty of good build-up when Liverpool attacked. What’s wrong with him? Was he maybe <gasp> just never that good to begin with?

MH: People who expected Salah to replicate last year’s performances were misguided. Even in this “off” season he still is tied for second in the league in goals, which Liverpool fans would have gladly signed up for when he first transferred. While he had been excellent at Roma, his past season of 32(!!!) goals in just the Premier League was a huge outlier for his career. The problem seems to be that now he expects that Messi-like production from himself again. You can see it from the top row of the Kop; he is simply thinking too much about his game. The weight of the title race, his newfound fame, and all the expectations have seemed to affect him. It might be because his Liverpool song really is quite uninspiring and literally only talks about him running down the wing.

SC: Makes you think back to that old English proverb: “If the fans’ song about you is uninspired and only talks about you running down the wing, your performances will likely suffer.”

Arsenal are set to play Newcastle but, at the time of writing, the game hasn’t aired yet. To be fair, no one cares about Arsenal, so we won’t waste your time. Until next week, BarnBurners!

Volleys

  • Huddersfield’s relegation was confirmed BEFORE APRIL EVEN STARTED. I know there’s a lack of parity between big and small clubs, but that, frankly, is embarrassing. Expect Fulham to join them shortly.
  • #deepcut but Everton actually played extremely well in a mid-table battle. Their 0-2 away victory was one of their best performances of the season and they have been gaining some form of late. West Ham only could muster 3 total shots in an abject performance from their squad. Maybe next season Everton can challenge for a Europa League spot again.
  • A lucky three points for Chelsea, which keeps them in the hunt for the top four. Sarri left Hazard on the bench, which lead to a pretty subdued display from the rest of the team. When the Belgian came on in the second half, it was starkly apparent how much more quality he possesses than some of his teammates. Even so, it took an offside Azpilicueta goal and a stoppage time winner from Ruben Loftus-Cheek (hooray for youth products!) to snag the victory against a relegation struggler.

Apology

This week I will accept Tottenham Hotspur right back Kieran Trippier’s apology on behalf of the Spurs faithful. He says: “I am sorry that during the World Cup I fooled everyone into thinking that I was actually a top level player. I really only have one skill, crossing the ball, which has become vastly overrated at this point because it is hard to find anything else positive about my game. I cannot take anyone on nor can I defend anyone. I am also sorry that Kyle Walker-Peters has too many names and Aurier is a walking yellow card so I am forced to play.”

Workmanlike Performer of the Week: Angeliño’s Face

What do we look for in a workmanlike performer? Someone who puts their head down and gets the job done in an unfussy manner (and that goes double for when the performance involves said person’s head). That’s exactly what PSV’s Angeliño’s face did when it took a high boot from Ajax’s Noussair Mazraoui in a top-of-the-table Eredivisie clash. Despite taking a beating, Angeliño’s face continued to be a presence during the game and didn’t shirk from it’s responsibility of doing things that a face does during a soccer, like contort into a grimace at the slightest contact or shoot daggers at the referee. The free-kick after the foul even led directly to an equalizer! PSV lost, though.

— Matt Hein and Sam Cicci


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