Premier League hits and misses: Roberto Firmino’s dazzling display, Erling Haaland filling Sergio Aguero void | Football News
The first player to have a hand in four first-half goals for Liverpool. The third player to have a hand in five goals in a single Premier League game.
On an afternoon where everyone draped in Liverpool red shone, Roberto Firmino was without question the standout performer, stealing the show with two goals and three assists in Saturday’s 9-0 mauling of Bournemouth.
Jurgen Klopp credits Firmino extensively for helping embed the brand of football which has been the foundation of his successful tenure on Merseyside. Some have suggested the Brazilian’s powers are waning, but this was a timely reminder of the influence he could have on shaping this latest Liverpool team.
When things are not clicking for Liverpool, Firmino is often the fall guy, as was the case in Monday’s defeat at Old Trafford, but when they are he is the beating heart of Klopp’s machine. The Reds are finally in motion after failing to win any of their opening three games, the Premier League has been warned.
It’s hard to look past anyone else for the man-of-the-match award from Saturday’s game. In 19 second-half minutes, he finally introduced himself to the Etihad crowd in the perfect way.
All three goals were expertly taken and showed off different attributes of his game. The first his ability in the air and need for good service. The second on instinct of positioning while the third was pure physical ability to give Ward zero chance of stopping Haaland’s finish.
The striker cut a frustrated figure in the first half when Crystal Palace’s defenders marked him out of the game. He is their dangerman and Patrick Vieira knew it. But for all of their talent, the Eagles’ backline was never going to hold out for long as Man City began to find their flow, and that proved to be the case.
Of course, Haaland’s attacking stats have him top in almost every category. He had seven shots, all of which came inside the box. All three of his shots on target were goals, and he had an xG of 1.42. Only Silva (15) had more touches in the opposition box than Haaland (10).
Much of the discussion over the last few years has been how Man City were ever going to fill the shoes of Sergio Aguero. Gabriel Jesus did not prove to be the answer and the solution was simple when looking towards the transfer market – it was just a case of whether Man City could land Haaland.
But as ever, they could and they did, with the Norway international already demonstrating the attributes that he is Aguero’s clear successor. Haaland has scored five goals in his first four Premier League appearances – only Aguero (6) has netted more in his first four games for the club in the Premier League.
Haaland was also the second Man City player to score twice on his Premier League debut, following Aguero in August 2011. The comparisons to the Argentine will continue through his time at the club too.
But Haaland shows no signs of slowing down, even in these early few weeks of his Man City career. He may even surpass the Aguero milestones, but there is certainly a lot to be excited about. Believe the hype.
There was plenty to like about Martin Odegaard’s performance in Arsenal’s 2-1 win over Fulham but one moment stood out.
The game had become frantic as Arsenal chased a winner but Odegaard was calm, as he always is, skipping away from two Fulham defenders in the centre circle, drawing applause in the process, then lifting a pinpoint pass out to Gabriel Martinelli on the left.
It was just one of many instances of the Norwegian, wearing the captain’s armband this season and wearing it well, demonstrating the composure and quality needed to keep Arsenal moving in the right direction and keep the pressure firmly on Fulham.
His goal, his third in two games, was of course his most significant contribution, fired in with the help of a small deflection, and it was fitting that it came after combining with Bukayo Saka.
Odegaard’s understanding with his younger team-mate is almost telepathic and it could be seen throughout at the Emirates Stadium as Arsenal tore into Fulham on their right flank.
In total, Odegaard found Saka with 15 passes – six more than any other player – while the England international found him with 12 – nearly twice as many as he played to anyone else.
Fulham struggled to contain the pair at times and while Arsenal were made to wait for the decisive breakthrough, it felt appropriate that, between them, Odegaard and Saka played a crucial role in the comeback.
Saka is not the only team-mate Odegaard makes better, either. “Influence,” said Arteta in his press conference when asked about Odegaard’s contribution. “In difficult moments, take the ball and make things happen. That’s what he has done.”
It is what he will continue to do.
All of a sudden, the mood feels very different at Manchester United – on the pitch at least. Three points against rivals Liverpool on Monday night and the £70m arrival of Brazil midfielder Casemiro meant they travelled to Southampton on Saturday lunchtime full of hope and optimism.
But a word that’s used a lot in football and certainly has not been the case with United in recent years – is consistency. That is their next challenge. A hard-fought win at St Mary’s showed they are capable of producing it.
Finding a settled defence certainly contributes to that, and Erik ten Hag might just have discovered it. Harry Maguire started on the bench again after being dropped against Liverpool, with the United boss warning pre-match that the England defender will not play just because he is the captain of the club.
Maguire now faces potentially his most challenging period since joining United three years ago. Raphael Varane and Lisandro Martinez are showing early signs of forming a solid partnership at the heart of the defence, while left-back Tyrell Malacia also produced another impressive performance in place of Luke Shaw.
Much has been made of Martinez’s height at 5ft 9in, but the stats suggest there has been a fuss about nothing. The Argentine won five out of five aerial duels against Southampton and had a 100 per cent ground duel success rate. Alongside him, Varane looked back to his commanding best.
A first clean sheet of the season will have delighted Ten Hag. His reign is firmly up and running. All of a sudden there’s competition for places again – a positive selection headache to have.
But what does this mean for England’s Maguire and Shaw, with the World Cup in Qatar only three months away?
Manchester United’s defence might look more assured, but the same can also be said of Southampton’s. New signing Armel Bella-Kotchap, who arrived on a four-year deal from Bundesliga club VfL Bochum this summer, is the main reason for that.
The 20-year-old was a commanding presence at the back, winning headers, blocking shots and making expertly-timed challenges – most notably to deny Anthony Elanga a clear sight of goal.
Bella-Kotchap could have easily been named man of the match had he taken a first-half chance instead of blazing over from a few yards out, but he looks more than capable of becoming an established Premier League defender.
Southampton boss Ralph Hasenhuttl will feel aggrieved not to see his side come away with at least a point. On another day, they could have taken all three. They battled bravely and competed in every area. If they can show a bit more quality in front of goal, they should easily avoid a relegation battle this season.
Conor Gallagher has waited longer than most for his chance in Chelsea’s first team, having been sent on loan to four different sides before finally making his Blues bow as a late substitute in the opening-day win over Everton earlier this month.
The 22-year-old really grabbed the attention of both fans and Gareth Southgate, the England manager, during a highly productive spell at Crystal Palace last season, when he excelled as a goalscoring, marauding midfielder.
However, he has been pressed into action in a very different role in recent weeks having been asked by Thomas Tuchel to fill the not insignificant hole the injured N’Golo Kante has left in the heart of Chelsea’s midfield.
Gallagher struggled in the heavy defeat at Leeds last weekend and was replaced after 64 minutes, but things got even worse against Leicester in what was his first start for his boyhood club at Stamford Bridge.
Gallagher’s first yellow card was for a foul on Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall near the touchline and he was then dismissed just minutes later for a foul on Barnes after being left hopelessly exposed for a second time as Leicester countered from a Chelsea corner.
The consequences of his latest foul quickly dawned on Gallagher, who looked distraught as he trudged down the tunnel, where he was left to contemplate how to get his fledgling Chelsea career back on track.
There was no comforting arm around the shoulder from his head coach, either, with Tuchel saying after the match: “It’s a very, very bad decision from Conor and of course he’s upset – everyone was upset because it almost killed the whole match.”
Anthony Gordon’s goalscoring showing in Everton’s draw at Brentford was, as Frank Lampard summed up, a credit to the player to produce such a display with so much noise around him.
But beyond the 21-year-old’s starring role in west London, positives are still at a premium for the Toffees. They could have been beaten several times over by the Bees and though Thomas Frank’s assessment that the hosts would have won “99 times out of 100” was typically hyperbolic, they were lucky to come away with the point they earned.
Lampard was seven minutes away from taking all three for the first time this season which would have done a mighty injustice to the chances the hosts created, and in contrast how little Everton had in the opposition box.
The arrival of Neal Maupay has to change that. For large periods of the game, Everton were a match in possession and control, but when they got near Brentford’s box, with no focal point or natural striker of any kind to play off, they had little to build around.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s return will offer another option of proven quality but with the obvious caveat of his injury record, Maupay may need to play a large role in transforming Everton’s play, which has brought them only three goals in their opening four games.
“We’ll get better,” admitted Lampard afterwards. “With Neal and Dominic, it’ll firm us up at the top of the pitch. There’s other parts of the team I’m really happy with.”
Graham Potter has a phenomenal ability to mould players into playing a position in his fluid system. He is a football owner’s dream. Instead of looking towards the transfer market for answers, he coaches the footballers at his disposal and gets the absolute maximum out of them.
Pascal Gross has long been a deep-lying midfielder or a wing-back during his time with Brighton but he is quickly now becoming their most potent attacking weapon in the final third. His position is now one of freedom playing centrally behind the impressive Danny Welbeck and he is returning a fantastic strike rate of goals. This latest cool finish to beat Leeds was his fifth Premier League goal in his last seven appearances and his third already this campaign after his double at Old Trafford. Potter’s team have now won eight of their last 11 Premier League games either side of the summer break. It is no fluke.
Gross is an intelligent footballer playing for an intelligent manager at a very intelligent club who has the knack of finding space and that ability is being utilised by Potter further up the pitch where his quality ball striking is proving the catalyst for Brighton’s fantastic form. It shows no sign of stopping either.
“We need to get competitive in this decision because [if not] there will be days like this again.”
There are defeats, and then there’s the loss Liverpool inflicted on Bournemouth.
The Cherries would not usually be judged on their results against the Premier League’s big teams, their top-flight status will hinge on games against sides in and around them, but the abject nature of the record-equalling 9-0 defeat at Anfield shone a spotlight on the deficiencies in Scott Parker’s squad, deficiencies he is all too aware of.
“The bottom line is we were in an arena with massive quality and, at this moment in time, we’re probably not equipped to handle it,” he said. “Today just proved too big a challenge, the levels – a clinical team and the intensity of the stadium – were far too big. It was a real humbling experience.”
With five days to go until the transfer window shuts, Parker called on Bournemouth the club to ask themselves whether the players he’s been given is sufficient to sustain their Premier League survival challenge.
With all the evidence suggesting to the contrary, the only positive is that such clarity was provided with time remaining to bring in further reinforcements. Now it’s over the Bournemouth to produce a performance as clinical as Liverpool’s in the transfer market.