This week’s Monday Verdict examines the rise of Harry Winks, asks eight questions of struggling Leeds and looks at how Klopp and Mourinho judged Mohamed Salah differently.
Forget ‘Little Iniesta’, Harry Winks more ‘Mini Modric’!
When watching the recent Champions League clash between Tottenham and Real Madrid it was impossible not to have been impressed with the growing status of young midfielder Harry Winks.
The Hemel Hempstead-born star has had a similar sort of rise to prominence as that of team-mate Harry Kane, albeit without all adulation that comes with sticking the ball in the back of the net at an astonishing rate of knots.
From making his Premier League debut against Liverpool just over a year ago to winning his first senior England cap against Lithuania last month, Winks is hot property right now – so much so that even Barcelona are said to have taken a shine to the 21-year-old, already dubbed his ‘Little Iniesta’ by Spurs chief Mauricio Pochettino.
However, having closely followed Winks’ rapid raise, it is a different pint-sized midfielder that he draws comparison with – none other than former White Hart Lane favourite Luka Modric.
The Croatian schemer was a hugely popular figure during his four-year stay at Spurs, starting out as a wide player before eventually turning into one of the finest central midfielders in world football, as Real Madrid eventually coughed up £30million to take him to Spain in 2012.
With Winks having been a 12-year-old in Tottenham’s academy when Modric arrived at the club he would have seen close hand how the Croat developed his game under Harry Redknapp’s guidance, and there are some real similarities in the way they play.
Two of the most obvious are the ability to take the ball on the half-turn and spacial awareness.
Modric had, and still has, that brilliant knack of being able to turn into space, even when closely marked, and then has the little burst of speed to get away from his man. Watch Winks and you’ll see that four or five times a game.
As simple as it sounds his first thought is normally also to look forward rather than backwards or sideways, as so many central midfielders do these days. He rarely gives the ball away and Spurs are looking to go through him in the majority of their build-up play – not bad for a 21-year-old who has only made 29 Premier League appearances to date.
The creative side of his game will improve with more time on the pitch, but for Winks to go toe-to-toe with a player he would have idolized growing up and come out on top shows what a special talent Spurs have on their hands.
An unfortunate twisted ankle suffered against Crystal Palace on Sunday may deprive England the opportunity to test Winks against the might of Germany and Brazil but if he carries on performing the way he has done so far this season then a seat on the plan to Moscow will surely be his.
Eight questions that under-fire Leeds need to answer
Seven games into the season, Leeds United were top of the Championship. All seemed so rosy in the garden that the wordsmiths were already writing their congratulations and pondering what route their open-top bus parade would take through the city centre.
And with supporters mockingly adopting last season’s “Leeds are falling apart” chant as their own, it seemed the Whites bandwagon was finally gaining momentum. The club felt different this time and somehow this was finally set to be their year….
But as Leeds so often do, the optimism soon started to fade to and now, after seven defeats in their last nine, a very different mood surrounds Elland Road.
But for the hovering dark clouds, Leeds are only three points worse off than they were last season. Some would say their situation is far from a disaster….
Prior to the Brentford game, the club’s chairman, Andrea Radrizanni, offered under-fire manager Thomas Christiansen his support. For too many years Leeds had been a sacking club; dispensing with managers all too frequently. His vow to be different do things the right way is admirable, but in all honesty, Christiansen (and sporting director Victor Orta) have some some serious questions to ask.
-Why did the club sell goalkeeper Robert Green, before seeing if his replacement, Felix Weidwald was up to it? (He wasn’t, by the way)
-Why was an adequate centre-half replacement for last season’s star man, Kyle Bartley, not signed?
-With Charlie Taylor departing, why didn’t the Whites buy a ready-made left-back replacement?
For all the transfer question marks, there has been successes – namely one Samuel Saiz, who looks too good for the Championship and already more than capable of performing at a higher level. The Spaniard is a special talent, and then some…
However, there are questions about the team and it’s selections that Christiansen needs to answer…
–Why is Saiz played out wide when clearly his best position is at a No 10?
-Why is Kalvin Phillips suddenly a guaranteed starter in the No 10 role in his place?
-Who does the manager still persist with summer signing Ezgjan Alioski, who despite scoring at Brentford on Saturday, has looked way below his best for 10 matches now?
-Why does the manager still not know his best centre-half partnership?
-Why does the manager refuse to contemplate a switch to a 3-5-2 (or some variation of it) when facing sides with the same formation; the recent home defeat to Sheffield United showing exactly why the team gets overrun?
These are all questions the manager needs to answer, and answer soon.
The club may no longer be one that sacks their manager at the first sign of a crisis, but with seven defeats in nine, the under-fire manager can ill-afford anything less than a victory when they face Middlesbrough (and former manager Garry Monk) on Sunday November 19 in their next game.
Klopp right, Mourinho wrong over Mohamed Salah?
He might not mention it himself, but Jose Mourinho clearly loves the fact that Chelsea blundered in allowing his summer arrival Nemanja Matic to leave Stamford Bridge.
The £40million arrival certainly looks an astute piece of business given the way the season has gone so far – but why is so little made of the Mohamed Salah’s form at Liverpool and how the then-Blues boss blundered in allowing him to leave without ever really getting a chance to impress?
This time last season, Liverpool’s signing of Sadio Mane was quite rightly branded one of the capture’s of the summer. It would have been hard to think Jurgen Klopp could have topped that addition within his forward ranks again, but the summer signing of Salah in what now seems a bargain £36.7million deal from Roma, may just have done that.
But unlike Mane, there wasn’t universal happiness at the arrival of Egyptian Salah – especially as Liverpool were also being linked with more glamourous names such as Bayern Munich’s Douglas Costa, Athletic Club’s Inaki Williams or even Spartak’s Quincy Promes.
Let’s not beat around the bush: Mourinho got it wrong with Salah at Stamford Bridge. Granted, the then 21-year-old struggled to adapt in his new surroundings, but 19 appearances over two seasons was likely to ever let Chelsea see the best of him….
However, Klopp showed himself an astute judge of a forward player by plumping for Salah, which given the fee, you have to say was money extremely well spent.
“We watched him so often, and wanted to sign him even earlier [than June] so nobody else could jump in, and he was the decision of all of us,” Klopp explained after Saturday’s win.
“When you find a situation where everybody doing the job agrees on a player, you can be sure it will work.”
And Salah has looked on it from day one. Moving to Liverpool was something he clearly wanted, both for his career and to prove to the doubters that his time at Chelsea was just a blip.
A goal in pre-season at Wigan on his debut first showed Liverpool his promise; since then he’s not looked back and having already scored 12 times for the Reds (last season’s top scorer Philippe Coutinho only netted 14), illustrates exactly what an astute piece of business he has been.
15 – Mohamed Salah has had a hand in 15 goals in all comps this season (12 goals, 3 assists), more than any other Liverpool player. Vital. pic.twitter.com/9lFxj98Z8N
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) November 4, 2017
In fact, such is Salah’s form that he’s already outscored the most esteemed and revered Liverpool greats Fernando Torres and Luis Suarez, who only managed 11 and 7 goals respectively in their first 17 games for the club.
GOALS IN FIRST 17 LIVERPOOL GAMES
Robbie Fowler – 14
Mohamed Salah – 12
Daniel Sturridge – 12
Fernando Torres – 11
Luis Suarez – 7
Sadio Mane – 7
Michael Owen – 4
But what is it that makes Salah so different? The Egyptian has pace to burn and there’s few who would beat him in a foot race in the Premier League. His movement is also exceptional, which, having spent time playing in Italy, has helped forge his style where space in between defenders is at a premium.
All things considered, Salah has proved an exceptional piece of business for Klopp and for Liverpool. And while you can’t overlook Liverpool’s defensive fragility, hope will always remain that Liverpool can damage the opposition if Salah, and to be fair Mane, can both maintain their fitness.