Harry Kane’s incredible September form is put under the microscope, while Liverpool’s failures are once again critiqued in this week’s Monday Verdict.
LIVERPOOL SEARCHING FOR THAT SOMETHING (AGAIN)
As Liverpool walked off the field at St. James Park there must have been an element of Deja Vu for poor old Jurgen Klopp.
Once again he had seen his side dominate a game, even taking the lead thanks to a moment of brilliant from Philippe Coutinho (who doesn’t even want to be there, if you believe the papers), before allowing a defensive error to strip them of two points.
Not only that, but it was a wasteful performance somewhat typical of the Reds.
“I am disappointed, frustrated, whatever you want,” Klopp revealed after the game.
“We shot the ball over the goal even when it was empty. We created five or six outstanding, big chances. Usually we score with one of them. I didn’t see one more chances for Newcastle.
“They got one chance and scored. That doesn’t feel too fair.”
The thing is though, until Liverpool find that ruthless streak, that is exactly how it’s going to be.
Mohamed Salah, Daniel Sturridge, Dejan Lovren and Sadio Mane all passed up chances, and Coutinho’s 25-yard strike was the only thing stopping them from drawing another blank.
With Klopp’s men struggling to find cutting edge and creativity, the man with the power to change something didn’t do so until past the 70th minute.
Bringing on Dominic Solanke and Roberto Firmino may suggest a last 15 minutes in which Liverpool would throw the kitchen sink at their hosts, but then bringing off Salah for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain with less than 10 minutes to go suggested Klopp might not be as unhappy with a draw as his comments suggested.
The equalising goal will hardly make Liverpool fans draw encouragement either, despite the rather fortunate fashion it arose from. Joel Matip’s attempted clearance came back off Joselu and ended up in the net.
In a season where defensive frailty and indecision has haunted them, this was admittedly a whole new type of failure.
Perhaps some credit should be given to Newcastle and to Rafael Benitez for their part in what was a mostly comfortable afternoon. It wouldn’t have been ridiculous to back Rafa to get something against his old club before the game, and by the end he was even bold enough to suggest that dropping points at home isn’t good enough.
Where does this result leave Liverpool in the table? In seventh place, with 12 points and three wins from their opening seven matches. With 12 goals conceded in that period (the most in the top seven, by four goals), there is already a seven point gap between themselves and top spot.
Where does this leave Klopp’s side in realty? Licking their wounds once again, wondering what might have been if they could just find that killer instinct or crucial piece of defensive composure. Or perhaps just a slice of luck.
Any talks of this Liverpool team fighting for the title may just be as wildly inaccurate as when Kenny Dalglish was at the helm. It’s tough to dislike a manager like Klopp, but the line has to be drawn somewhere and you have to ask the question: Is his personality enough to keep him in a job when results simply aren’t good enough….?
HARRY KANE – NOBODY DOES IT BETTER
For a few seasons now, it’s been said the days of being an old-fashioned centre forward is something of a dying art. With so many teams operating with either three-pronged strikeforces, or even ‘false No 9s, the merits of out-and-out goal-grabbers appeared to be a thing of the past.
That is until this season at least, where the brilliance of Alvaro Morata, Romelu Lukaku, Edinson Cavani, Sergio Aguero and Wissam Ben Yedder have shown that perhaps the pundits were too quick to write off the position as an intrinsic facet of the modern game.
And there’s one man who more than anyone who is doing his utmost to prove the art is well and truly alive and kicking: Harry Kane – the man I now consider not just world class, but the world’s best No 9.
He ruthlessly showed his intent against Huddersfield within 10 minutes, latching on to a headed pass to beat Huddersfield keeper Jonas Loessl with ease.
If that wasn’t impressive enough, his second was of genuine quality; hassling the Town defence into a mistake before curling a left-footed beauty into the top corner of the net.
Some will argue Kane’s latest double was against ‘only Huddersfield’, but you can only beat what’s in front of you and the fact that Kane has now scored 15 goals away from home during 2017 – the most in any of Europe’s top five league’s – is testimony to his shear brilliance.
His effiency in front of goal also tells a tale. Hand on heart, when did you last see Kane pass up a clear-cut chance? The fact he rarely misses in front of goal tells its own story – then so too does the fact he’s struck 11 goals in his last 5 games. It’s easy to forget quickly he couldn’t hit a barn door during August too….
Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino sparked amusement earlier this week when he admitted he was “in love” with the Tottenham striker.
“I am in love, the fans are in love, teammates are in love,” the Argentinian quipped.
He followed that up in midweek by admitting that even Mrs Pochettino was getting a little jealous by his affections for the Tottenham striker.
Debates were raised earlier this season whether Kane can now be considered world class. It’s now time to put that argument to bed; the Tottenham man isn’t just in that bracket, he’s also arguably the best No 9 in the world game right now….
NEW ARSENAL ACTUALLY LOOK UNUSUALLY WELL BALANCED
Whisper it very quietly but has Arsene Wenger finally stumbled across how to balance his side properly?
Off the back of the goalless draw at Chelsea and the comfortable home win over West Brom, the Gunners were again impressive as they dispatched a spirited Brighton side on Sunday.
Arguably the most pleasing thing from an Arsenal fan’s point of view must be that they are looking more resilient and seem to have more emphasis on working harder when they are out of possession.
There will be arguments that Brighton did not offer much of an opposition but they made life difficult for Arsene Wenger’s men, packing the defence and making it tough to find space in and around their own box.
Arsenal, however, were patient, kept on probing away and eventually got their just rewards when Alex Iwobi added to Nacho Monreal’s early opener after a sublime backheel from Alexis Sanchez.
Speaking of Sanchez, he was outstanding throughout and showed a real desire to get involved in the game. Whether he is simply auditioning for his next move or not, it would appear that Gunners fans will see the best of Sanchez at least until the New Year, when his future should become much clearer.
But back to this latest Arsenal incarnation under Wenger’s stewardship, he really does have to stick with his current formula and particularly ignore Mesut Ozil when the German is available again.
The former Real Madrid star will only slow things down when Arsenal need to play at a high intensity, both with and without the ball.
Wenger’s only real problem is whether this will be good enough to earn a top-four spot.
Both Manchester clubs look so dominant at this early stage of the season, while London rivals Tottenham are already well seasoned at playing high-octane football under Mauricio Pochettino and Chelsea and Liverpool will definitely still be in the shake-up come April/May.
So yes Wenger has improved this Arsenal team but the problem is that he may have just taken too long to find that correct formula.
LOSING HAS BECOME AN IMPOSSIBLE HABIT FOR SUNDERLAND TO KICK
If Sunderland fans were hoping a step down to the Championship would see an improvement in their fortunes, they’ve certainly had a rude awakening.
Their opening 11 games in the second tier have produced just one win, and they look primed for an all-too-familiar fate – a relegation battle.
And you have to feel for their fans. They haven’t seen their team win at home since before Donald Trump was elected President of the US, and there are no signs of it getting any better at all.
When you are talking about Sunderland you are talking about a club devoid of any detectable semblance of sporting culture. No one in a red and white shirt looks like they have turned up to win a game of football.
They don’t compete, there is nothing even resembling intensity, they seldom support the man in possession of the ball, and there just doesn’t appear to be any desire on he pitch at all.
And none of that is even the most worrying thing. The most worrying part is that nothing is actually changing, despite the now annual huge turnover of players this summer. That means it has to be something cultural within the club itself, and that’s a lot harder to fix.