Incredible Alisson winner keeps Champions League dream in Liverpool’s hands
We’ve said it for months. This is the season to expect the unexpected and never write anything – or anyone – off. We had another reminder of that on Sunday, when Alisson became the first Liverpool goalkeeper ever to score in a competitive match. He picked a prime moment to do it, too – a 95th-minute winner when the Reds’ Champions League dream was fading at West Brom.
Given the tough time, Alisson has been through in his personal life it was a special, emotional goal. And his wonderful post-match interview with Sky Sports’ Pat Davison captured the importance he placed on it, both on a personal level and for his team.
Because when the dust settles on Liverpool’s escape act at the Hawthorns, they will find themselves in a remarkable position. For much of this season, Liverpool have felt they have been fighting against the odds, with injuries throughout the side – and most importantly to Virgil van Dijk – ending their hopes of defending their Premier League title.
Yet now they can salvage Champions League qualification from this campaign. Given their travails, that would be a success.
As far back as two months ago, Klopp himself had branded their top-four hopes as “almost impossible”, after six defeats in seven games had seen them plummet down the table. But unlikely results and slip-ups opened a door – and with two more wins, Liverpool will likely barge through it.
Third-placed Leicester and fourth-placed Chelsea can achieve a maximum of 72 points and 70 points, respectively. But crucially they can’t both reach those totals, because they meet on Tuesday night in the penultimate game of their Premier League seasons.
As for Liverpool, they can reach 69 points if they beat Burnley away, and Crystal Palace at home. Do that, and they have a fantastic chance of reaching the top four. A Leicester defeat to Chelsea and then a big win for the Foxes on the final day against Spurs would be the only permutation to deny Liverpool.
With two games to go, it’s going to be dramatic, whatever the outcome. But then, that’s one thing we can reliably expect from this season.
Grim Goodison form undermines Everton again
If the Premier League table focused solely on away performances, Everton would be sitting pretty in the top four and on the cusp of qualifying for the Champions League.
Unfortunately for the Toffees, it doesn’t. The impressive performances on the road which have been a hallmark of this season of progression under Carlo Ancelotti and propelled the club into European contention are being undermined by a succession of abject home performances, and their season of promise is on the brink of collapse.
Goodison Park is notoriously a formidable nut to crack for travelling teams, or at least that used to be the case. Already-relegated Sheffield United became the latest side to make a mockery of the once fortress-like reputation of Everton’s iconic stadium, which has now played host to nine home league defeats this season.
The 2020/21 season is now the fifth league campaign in which Everton have lost nine times at Goodison and the first since 1993/94. Worse still, there is still one more game to go, against Wolves on Wednesday, where an unenviable record could be set with fans in attendance.
Ancelotti is hopeful the long-awaited return of supporters can summon a performance from a group of players who have dazzled on the road but disappeared on home turf. For the sake of those in attendance, who have been starved of live football over the past 14 months, now would be a great time for Everton to rise to the challenge.
Grealish is back – but not with a bang
Jack Grealish was given just under 30 minutes in Aston Villa’s defeat at Crystal Palace as Dean Smith continues to manage his workload carefully. It is clear to see Villa’s dynamo is just easing himself back into proceedings.
He was on the fringes of the game in his cameo – an unusual sight when he dons the Villa colours. There was his usual buying of free-kicks in dangerous positions – one that drew a yellow card for Joel Ward – but he was unable to dictate the way Villa go about their business in the final third, having only 16 touches of the ball and failing to create a chance for his team-mates. It was Palace who finished the stronger with Grealish on the pitch as they turned the game around with goals from Wilfried Zaha and Tyrick Mitchell to land a corker of an encounter 3-2.
The topic of Grealish’s fitness with the European Championships in mind was put to Smith in his post-match press conference.
“I’ve got no comment on the England squad,” Smith replied when asked about reports that Gareth Southgate might not include Villa’s star man in his 26-man squad.
“Will he be fit enough for the Euros? Yes. We’re building him up. I don’t pick the squad.”
Grealish is expected to start at least one of Villa’s two remaining games. Southgate will be watching closely.
Alli enjoying late-season flourish at Spurs
For Tottenham, the equation is fairly simple: win their two remaining games then they will be playing European football next season. It may not quite be the competition they aspired to return to at the start of the campaign, but it will be a satisfactory consolation given the obstacles they have encountered along the way.
Graeme Souness was right when he reflected that Wolves “didn’t turn up with any fire”, but they were faced by a reborn Dele Alli, who has flourished since Ryan Mason replaced Jose Mourinho on an interim basis.
Alli was at the heart of everything that was good about Tottenham, involved in 17 duels. That he lost possession 15 times showed his willingness to push the boundaries of possibility in front of the watching Gareth Southgate.
“I enjoyed it,” he told Sky Sports. “When we have the ball and play like this, it’s a joy. I just try to express myself and have fun.
“Mentally, I just went out there to try to help the team as much as l can. If we are to win these games, we have to all work together. Personally, I’m just trying to find rhythm and form.”
It may well come too late for inclusion at the European Championships this summer, but it is good to see Alli with the ball at his feet again.
Carvalho offers Fulham hope for the future
Fulham will be missing from the Premier League next season after their relegation was confirmed following the home defeat to Burnley last Monday, but Scott Parker was encouraged by the full debut of Fabio Carvalho against Southampton, a loss that he described as being a “snapshot of their season”.
The Cottagers are coming to terms with a second relegation in three years, and while this marked a seventh defeat in eight games since their spirited win at Liverpool, Carvalho showed signs he could play an important part in taking the club off this rollercoaster of ups and downs.
“Fabio was fantastic,” said Parker. “This team has been in need of goals. His overall performance was full of confidence. He showed his quality. It didn’t surprise me.
“He’s shown that he can score at Under-23 level and in training. He was in the team because he deserved to be in it, not because it was an opportunity. The one shining bright light from today was Fabio. He was the massive plus from today.”
Fulham were widely criticised in 2018/19 when they were relegated despite spending almost £100m on transfers, conceding 81 goals in the process, and while more slack defending contributed to a 19th defeat of the season, Carvalho took his goal extremely well.
Aged 18 years and 258 days, he became Fulham’s third-youngest goalscorer in the Premier League behind only Ryan Sessegnon (18y 155d) and Collins John (18y 176d). With a number of players’ loan contracts due to end, he looks a player the west Londoners can build their future around.
Is Torres the ready-made replacement for Aguero?
It was a sensational performance from Ferran Torres against Newcastle. And, as Man City look for Sergio Aguero’s successor, the Spaniard has put himself at the forefront of the reckoning.
First – the stats. He had the highest number of shots (5) and all three that were on target ended up in the back of the net. He has now scored seven Premier League goals this season – almost doubling his tally in one outing at St James’ Park. Five of those goals have now come in City’s last four Premier League games too.
Each of the goals came with its own sensational finish. The first was an audacious flick to send Ilkay Gundogan’s free-kick goalwards. His second was a smart finish from a Gabriel Jesus cross, while his third showed brilliant intuition to turn home Joao Cancelo’s rebounded effort off the post. He showed superb skill, brilliant reactions and vital instincts through the game that will serve him well in the Premier League.
Although City initially signed him as a winger in the summer, Torres is proving to have the makings of a talented striker. It could not come at a better time for City either with one of the Premier League’s best, Sergio Aguero, leaving the club at the end of the season.
After the game, Pep Guardiola told Sky Sports: “Yeah, he can be [a No 9]. We will use him, we used him and he was brilliant.
“He came as a winger, but he has to think about [being] a striker. When Sergio, Gabriel were out, he was there… He didn’t have many minutes, but when he played, he had a sense of goal.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen. Maybe we buy a striker, maybe not.
“We have a guy, he’s young. A good transfer. I can use him on the left, right or as a striker. The season is too long, we can’t play just 11 players, the best striker we can buy can’t play all the minutes. You have to have 50, 60, 70 top players you want, then the academy, we have two, three, four or so interesting players I’m pretty sure next season will help us.”
Torres is still only 21 and it is his first season in the Premier League. Yes, he has produced some good numbers considering the limited game time he has had in spells, but to be anointed as the next Aguero, he must produce the same as he did at Newcastle on a consistent basis.
He must also adapt to a new central role in attack, although based on Friday’s performance, that will not take much. The future is bright for Torres, but there must be caution over placing too much pressure on his shoulders after Aguero’s departure.
Rodrigo showing flashes of his class
There’s a reason Leeds splashed out their record sum – more than for star winger Raphinha – to bring in Rodrigo from Valencia last summer, regardless of what his meagre goal tally or minutes suggest.
Leeds don’t get many transfers wrong these days although even Eddie Nketiah’s arrival could not unseat Patrick Bamford in the Championship last season, but Rodrigo has followed suit this year and appeared one of few not to shine in a superb campaign for the club finally back in the Premier League.
The 30-year-old has played 25 times for Spain, and three years ago scored 16 times in La Liga for Valencia. Sometimes it’s just a case of a bad fit, to a club or a league. But after a slow start, including being subbed on and then off again against Chelsea in March, things are starting to click.
In a half-hour cameo following one of Bamford’s quieter afternoons at Turf Moor on Saturday, Rodrigo scored two excellently taken goals, the first made by an exquisite first touch and the second by some superb composure to round Bailey Peacock-Farrell and score.
As well as adapting to a new league, confidence is key for any striker and he finally has it. Some glowing words from his manager after the match will only help that further.
“Rodrigo is a player at a very high level,” said Marcelo Bielsa. “He’s a player, like I’ve said before, that it takes him a while to get to his full form. When he finally finds his full form he’s a player that is very unbalancing.
“I think in the game against Tottenham and the game today, I think we saw a version of Rodrigo close to what he’s capable of.”
Bamford will be looking over his shoulder if this continues; even with 15 goals this season, no one is infallible and having scored one in his last seven, the tide could easily turn.
But for Leeds, and Bielsa, what a wonderful problem to have.
Tella’s special moment has Hasenhuttl smiling
Nathan Tella was rejected by Arsenal after a decade playing in their youth set-up but in scoring and providing an assist in Southampton’s victory over Fulham, the forward showed just why he was worth persevering with.
Theo Walcott was warming up when Tella struck his first senior goal, adding to Che Adams’ opener before wheeling away to the touchline to celebrate with a player he knows so well from his time at the Gunners.
It was fitting that he would then set up Walcott for Saints’ third, and Ralph Hasenhuttl told the 21-year-old to cherish the moment after his battle to break into the top flight, made even tougher by a serious knee injury.
“He’s now on the scorer list in the Premier League and it’s a special moment for him,” Hasenhuttl said. “His smile on the face is always there and this is what I really like about him. He enjoys working for the team, he enjoys training with us and he enjoys every week in which he is allowed to play football.
“Maybe the ACL injury helped him to understand how special it is to be part of a Premier League team, and he’s a very big talent from our academy. It’s a signal for all the other players coming up that there’s a chance to go through [to the senior team].”
Tella’s composed finish came in his 21st Premier League appearance, finding the back of the net just 98 seconds after coming on as a substitute. Saints are up to 13th and have found their scoring touch again. With prize money at stake, Tella has played himself into a position to start at least one of the remaining games against Leeds and West Ham.
All is well with Danny boy
Danny Welbeck is certainly showing his worth at Premier League at a perfect time in his career. Snapped up on a performance-based deal by Brighton, Welbeck has found his fitness and more importantly is now finding the net for Brighton just as his contract is about to expire in June. This was the second home game in a row the former England striker has found the net. Welbeck rifled home 11 minutes from against Leeds after executing a perfect Cruyff turn on a dropping ball and produced another silky finish in this draw with the Hammers.
It was a performance where perseverance was rewarded. Welbeck didn’t stop running all night with his movement excellent at times, despite not being found too much by some poor approach play from his team-mates. When the pass did arrive – from Percy Tau – Welbeck was deadly with his finish. This was his 50th Premier League goal and there is certainly a lot of life left in him at Premier League level judged on his performances over the past eight weeks.
Graham Potter has confirmed there is an “intention” to reward Welbeck with another deal. Now he’s fit and firing, it’s a no-brainer.
Willock scores and shines again
All the talk at Arsenal is about young guns Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka, but away from the Emirates Stadium, it’s another young Gunner who is putting his name up in lights at Newcastle.
Joe Willock, who joined Newcastle on loan from Arsenal in January, put in another energetic display for Steve Bruce’s side and he got himself on the score sheet yet again during their 4-3 defeat to Premier League champions Man City on Friday evening.
It was his fifth goal in as many league games and his sixth during a brilliant spell at St James’ Park, which is more than any Arsenal player has scored in the same period.
He is the first Newcastle player to score in five consecutive league matches since Papiss Cisse and he became the youngest player to score in five consecutive Premier League appearances (21y 267d) since Jose Antonio Reyes in September 2004 (21y 10d) and the second youngest English player ever, after Michael Owen in 2001 (21y 247d).
“We have to respect that Joe is Arsenal’s player but if it’s possible we’d love to keep him,” said Steve Bruce after the game and it’s so easy to see why Newcastle would be so desperate to keep him on Tyneside.
However, with Willock in scintillating form, they could be left disappointed as Mikel Arteta watches on with interest.
With daily reports suggesting a huge overhaul of Arsenal’s squad in the summer, Arteta has a huge decision to make regarding Willock’s future. Does he cash in to help fund any sort of rebuild? Or with a good core of young players coming through at the north London club, does he give the 21-year-old another chance at the Emirates Stadium?
If it’s the former, there’s no doubt Newcastle will be at the front of the queue to give him a permanent home.