Saturday may have been a routine day in the world’s biggest league, but there must have been some kind of gas cloud that descended on Ol’ Blighty on Sunday. Unlike the one that normally settled across England on Sunday mornings smelling of beer, vomit and some kind of meat (nobody’s quite sure) tinted by a bad dance with Kylie Minogue all night. Sunday was the best day of the season, and perhaps in a few.
Liverpool played a game where they stopped playing defense and would only score goals one would attempt in a game of horse, and still won. Chelsea were mostly terrible, scoring three goals to beat Brighton while playing with 10 men for more than a half. Aston Villa needed a late header to equalise, it says here, “Bournemouth.” And if that wasn’t enough, the day ended with Manchester City and Tottenham recording another chapter in their absurd rivalry over the years as City threw away two more points at home by playing with their food too long to draw, 3 -3. Where to start?
Guess we’ll start at the Etihad as City drew another Big Seven team after taking the lead, just like they did against Liverpool. The difference this time was that they took the lead twice against Spurs and Spurs were nowhere near as strong as Liverpool last week. But in the same vein as that game, City were mostly in total control and seemingly just started scouting the house and checking the fish tank instead of closing the deal. And most teams in the PL can beat you these days if they’re allowed to hang around long enough.
There is no one place to point fingers. While Erling Haaland us one of the collapses of the season, it probably came as a result of his first game with City where he had at least five shots and none of them on target. This never happens:
City took the lead after that anyway, but that seemed to be a symptom of something a little off with the champions. Ruben Dias doesn’t really get close to Giovani Lo Celso here and it’s also Julian Alvarez giving the ball away, and there isn’t really anyone in the center of midfield:
For Spurs’ equaliser, Kyle Walker lets this cross in too easily and Nathan Ake just gets his ass to the ball:
Injuries are definitely an issue. Perhaps with Kevin De Bruyne around, there is more ruthlessness in putting a game away when City are ahead. Perhaps with John Stones around they are a bit more locked down in both midfield and defence. Perhaps there is still a malaise from winning it all last season that makes them complacent when they are on top in a game. It’s probably a combination of everything.
They are going to tear off 13 or 14 in a row in the new year. The fixes needed are minor adjustments instead of major surgery. Yet that streak, when it comes, may not see them move away from Liverpool or Arsenal if it continues until then. They are away at Villa next Wednesday and Villa Park is not a very welcoming place these days.
4. Jurgen Klopp is experiencing a kind of Don Zimmer ’89 season
Perhaps the most esoteric reference I’ve ever made, but I’ll explain for those who weren’t of a certain age and grew up on the Northside. The 1989 Cubs were a good team, the first good Cubs team that I can remember, but they had a horseshoe in their ass all season, a round, bald horseshoe named Zim. Don Zimmer did the craziest things that year, like starting the runners with the bases loaded on a 3-1 count (multiple times!) or having a closer like Mitch Williams literally couldn’t find the plate not, somehow come up with a sub-. 3.00 ERA and 36 saves. Everything came up trumps.
It’s Klopp this season. Plays mostly without a defensive midfielder, often leaving only two defenders behind, frequently fielding four forwards, and most, if not all, work because of the immense talent he has helped collect and develop.
Yesterday may have been his pièce de résistance of the season. With the game tied 2-2 and Liverpool looking rather unconcerned about it, Klopp sent off Alexis MacAllister, the only player even pretending to be a defensive midfielder, and Trent Alexander-Arnold and Ryan Gravenberch barely ‘ made a wave to be a double. pivot, as one is a right-back who moves into midfield and the other a direct attacking midfielder who rarely, if ever, gets within 10 yards of his defence.
You would never guess that Fulham took the lead when there was absolutely no one protecting the defence. After going 3-2 down, Klopp brought on Wataru Endo, the only straight no. 6 currently on the list, brought against. What one would have thought he would have done to strengthen the midfield when the game was tied or Liverpool were ahead. For him to face a deficit was the reverse of how these things go.
So, of course, this is how it plays out:
We couldn’t get a shot of Klopp heading outside Anfield to shoot a pair of six-shooters in the air while donning a cowboy hat and shouting: “All aboard Jurgen’s crazy train, bitches! ” One day we will.
3. Meanwhile on the other side
It’s been my contention, and several others’, that this Man United isn’t really that different from last year’s Man United, it’s just that this one doesn’t have a Marcus Rashford heater to drive to much better results than it deserves. When a player has roles like this made about them or Roy Keane talks about it, you know things aren’t quite the same:
And Rashford was so bad on Saturday, and he’s been so bad all season. Without him, United have no one to pull them out of the mud of their own making. Bruno Fernandes is too busy complaining to anyone, anyone or everyone, Antony Martial gives less of a flying whore than Rashford, Rasmus Hojlund is 12 years old. Here’s an interesting statistic: In 100 minutes of playing time, Scott McTominay touched the ball 31 times. His counterpart in midfield, Bruno Guimaraes, touched it 86 times. And this is a few weeks after McTominay poured in a couple of goals and was hailed as United’s saviour. Uh huh.
2. State of America
For USMNT fans, it was a mixed bag. Antonee Robinson was tremendous for Fulham against Liverpool and he basically had Mo Salah in his pocket the whole game. Salah tried just about everything – staying wide, dropping deep, cutting inside, going for the finish line – and yet Robinson had an answer for it all. At the end of the game, Liverpool basically moved Salah inside all the time to get away from Robinson. He even threw in an assist while racking up 13 interceptions, 13 rebounds and winning seven of his 10 face-offs, all while dribbled just once and committing just one foul. As much as anyone can, Robinson bottled up Salah.
At the other end, Matt Turner lost his starting place in the Nottingham Forest goal again and he lost it to someone who doesn’t seem to know how their hands work in Odisseas Vlachodimos. Yes, Turner had major borkage against Liverpool, but watching Vlachodimos snap at every cross or command his box like the overmatched failure suddenly given control of dad’s company (that was the plot line for the last three seasons of Modern Family ), one fears for the USMNT heading into the Copa America with a non-playing goalkeeper. Again.
1. Sometimes sports stereotypes are accurate
We try not to trade in stereotypes here, but sometimes players like Ollie McBurnie come around. If you were asked to cast a Scottish striker for your movie, you’d choose a giant ginger of elbows with cinder blocks for feet, but also a bat block for a head which is useful when a ball is in the air . May we present one of the most in-character dispatches you’ll ever see:
Before we go…
This is my weekly post, so I can leave by letting you marvel again at Alexis Mac Allister’s goal. CHOOSE. THAT. OUT.
Follow Sam on Twitter @Felsgate and on Bluesky @Felsgate.bsky.social