Martial typifies Man Utd muddle
Manchester United supporters did not have many reasons to cheer at Old Trafford on Saturday but they found one early in the second half, when Anthony Martial’s number came up for substitution.
It was an uncomfortable moment on a horrible afternoon for the hosts as they crashed to a 3-0 defeat against Bournemouth. Martial had been a bystander for much of it, mustering only one shot on goal and having only three touches in the opposition’s box.
But the reaction was not just about his display on the day. Rather, it was pent-up, born out of frustration at the fact that, eight years after his arrival, and having only scored 12 Premier League goals across the last four seasons, he is still there and still starting games.
It has long been clear that, for all that thrilling early promise demonstrated in his younger years, Martial is not of the level required for a club of United’s aspirations. And yet, despite vast sums spent on recruitment, there is still no viable alternative.
Rasmus Hojlund has plenty of potential, undoubtedly. But he is yet to score a Premier League goal and it is not much of an endorsement from Erik ten Hag that he cannot hold down a place in this team.
Instead, the Dutchman goes back to Martial, just one of many ill-fitting players in a mishmash of a squad. In the absence of an identity, it is little wonder they remains so wildly inconsistent.
Magic Mo shows his class on landmark occasion
“It’s pretty impressive… an incredible number for a super special player. I don’t know how often he saved us with a goal he’s scored in the right moment.”
The words of Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp after Mohamed Salah racked up another milestone for the club. He has now scored 200 goals for the club – only the fifth player to do so – with his equaliser against Crystal Palace also marking his 150th strike in the Premier League.
And as if anyone needing reminding, Salah put in another star turn on Saturday. He scored one, assisted another and was top in the Liverpool team for shots, touches in the opposition box and second for possessions won.
He was the outlet Liverpool used time and again when they were stifled in midfield, the player that had the fans in the away end hoping whenever he got the ball. Unfortunately, disappointing showings from the likes of Darwin Nunez and Luis Diaz did not help things going forward for large swathes of the game.
And Klopp is right – the contributions and goals he’s scored in big moments are immeasurable. We await to see the scenes as he was awarded a commemorative shirt in the dressing room after the game, but Klopp described it as ‘a pretty loud reception’.
It is more than deserved and Salah is not done yet. He has another Premier League title in his sights and who would deny a player of such talent and class the chance? It would only be fitting.
There is fight in Crystal Palace yet
There was a toxicity in the air at Crystal Palace after Wednesday’s dismal Premier League defeat to Bournemouth. Roy Hodgson took a swipe at the fans after they roundly booed their team off the pitch, although later backtracked.
But three days on, that was replaced by a half-time standing ovation and the Eagles fans should be, as they sing, glad all over after Saturday’s performance, if not the result.
For 75 minutes, Crystal Palace were by far the better side. Overall, they had more shots on target, a higher xG and showed the hunger and fight that had been lacking in midweek.
Roy Hodgson bringing in Will Hughes for Michael Olise worked perfectly. Crystal Palace’s midfield stifled and blocked Liverpool at every turn, not allowing them the opportunity to create chance after chance.
But come the 75th minute, all of their impressive work came crumbling down. It began with Jordan Ayew’s questionable sending off, and he was swiftly followed by goalkeeper Sam Johnstone down the tunnel as the Eagles No1 picked up a calf strain.
It only piles on to an injury list already including Cheick Doucoure and Eberechi Eze, while Jefferson Lerma and Odsonne Edouard also picked up knocks on Saturday.
A late defeat was incredibly underserved for Crystal Palace. But the effort shown by the players will not go unnoticed by the fans. They just need to maintain those levels in every game.
Cooper facing stay of execution
The wave was long and lasting. The foreboding look into the distance appeared to suggest a parting of ways.
Steve Cooper wore an emotional expression as he gestured at Nottingham Forest fans, who sung his name throughout a much-improved display against their Midlands rivals. Another inquest survived.
The 43-year-old, who celebrates his 44th birthday on Sunday, does however remain under huge pressure after only collecting one win in 12.
Cooper’s rally cry to his players was clear: save my job.
His much-changed XI – seven alterations from a midweek thrashing at Fulham – responded to his call, but it wasn’t enough for the win he so badly craved.
He’s earned the enduring respect of the fanbase, but the Nottingham Forest owners aren’t quite as forgiving, and it remains to be seen if he’s done enough to convince Evangelos Marinakis that Forests’ interests are best served by him.
Terrific Trafford and dogged defence give Burnley hope
James Trafford was in the form of his life against Brighton. By the end, the 21-year-old single-handedly ensured Burnley came away from the south coast with a vital point in their battle to stay up.
The England youth international made 10 saves, claimed three crosses, and prevented 2.85 goals during the entertaining 1-1 draw at the Amex Stadium. After Wilson Odobert’s opener was cancelled out by Simon Adingra, Burnley were indebted to their No 1 for producing two fine stops to deny Jack Hinshelwood and Kaoru Mitoma late on.
Having been criticised at times this season, this performance confirmed Trafford can become a top Premier League goalkeeper – but his back four also deserves credit. Vitinho, Dara O’Shea, Jordan Beyer and Charlie Taylor won 22 duels and made 19 clearances between them. They dug in when they could have easily crumbled under the relentless late pressure Brighton created.
Burnley were brought back down to earth with Tuesday’s 1-0 defeat at Wolves following last weekend’s 5-0 thrashing of relegation rivals Sheffield United. Despite dropping 16 points from winning positions in the Premier League this season – the joint-most of any team along with Tottenham – this result will undoubtedly give the Clarets a huge lift.
With 17th-placed Everton visiting Turf Moor in front of the Sky Sports cameras next weekend, Vincent Kompany’s side have an opportunity to build some momentum ahead of a busy festive period.
But whether they have any success during that time will likely depend on Trafford reaching the heights he did at Brighton. It’s a tough ask, but he’s now shown what he is capable of.
Wilder reinvigorates Blades to give them belief
Chris Wilder’s return has breathed new life into Sheffield United exactly when they needed it.
The win over Brentford in just his second game in charge offers hope for the Blades they can save their season after moving two points from safety.
Sheffield United showed organisation, a spirit and a purpose that had been severely lacking under Wilder’s predecessor Paul Heckingbottom.
The Bramall Lane faithful played their part too acting as a 12th man – the fans clearly reinvigorated by Wilder’s return as the home side kept a first clean sheet of the season.
The 56-year-old showed plenty of passion on the sidelines and excitedly celebrated James McAtee’s stunning winner.
Prior to the game, Wilder spoke about reuniting the United fans and the players after a poor start to the season, and it is moments like this that will rebuild that connection.
Belief is finally returning to the club, and with key players to return such as John Egan, George Baldock and Oli McBurnie, United can start piecing together a real survival bid under Wilder.