PL hits and misses: Super-sub Origi, Man City statement

Cult hero Origi proves his worth to Liverpool again

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Liverpool’s win against Wolves

No player has scored more goals from the bench for Liverpool in the Premier League than Divock Origi and that total does not even include the one that he scored against Tottenham in the 2019 Champions League final. This was yet another important goal for the club.

Origi’s stoppage-time winner at Molineux was also reward for Jurgen Klopp’s positive substitution in removing his captain Jordan Henderson. Wolves have a strong defensive record, riding their luck at times as they sought what would have been a fourth consecutive Premier League clean sheet. It took Origi to change that.

“Divock Origi, the legend,” as Klopp put it in his post-match press conference. “He is an incredible football player. To create these moments he does not need a big run-up. He was a threat before he scored. That goal we have seen often in training.”

Klopp even went as far as to describe Origi as one of the best finishers that he had ever seen in his life and was keen to point out that in just about any other team in the world, the Belgian striker would be featuring rather than more than he does at Liverpool.

Was he close to leaving in the summer?

“If I was at another team I would have gone for him,” he said. “Just because you are not playing for Liverpool does not mean you are not good. Top striker and a top boy. He has already scored some of the most important goals in the history of this club.”

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It must take a certain mentality to be able to accept the situation and adjust to the tempo of games when not used to playing regularly. Origi has carved out a role for himself and carved out a place in Liverpool’s folklore. Klopp summed up the mood in a sentence.

“Winning is great but when Divock scores it is better.”
Adam Bate

Liverpool late show, the mark of champions?

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Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp heaped praise on super-sub Divock Origi

This would have been a tough two points dropped for Liverpool if they had not found a way past Wolves late on, particularly given that the opening was there following Chelsea’s slip against West Ham earlier in the afternoon. How crucial the goal could prove.

A smiling Klopp would not concede it was the mark of champions. “If you do it 38 times, yes,” he said. “If you do it once, no.” Even so, the celebrations on the Molineux touchline told their own tale. “It was really important. It was a really big day for us, to be honest.”

Liverpool were up against a team that had not conceded in their previous three games. It was an unfortunate moment for the Premier League top scorers to be wasteful in front of goal but Sadio Mane and, in particular, Diogo Jota both spurned opportunities.

“We missed a lot of chances and we had to defend the counter-attacks of Wolves with Traore who is quick. That was the challenge today. In the circumstances, I liked the way we played. It was really good apart from the finishing, the last pass, these kind of things.”

Patience paid off and the momentum continues just as Chelsea’s appears to be stalling. There is a long way to go but after so many convincing victories for Liverpool, perhaps it is encouraging that they were able to win a game that they really had to work for.

“We said at the end it was like old times where we got the goal when we really needed it at the end. It is an important skill to stay positive. We have not needed that too often this season but it is still an incredibly important skill and thank God we could show it today.”
Adam Bate

Reigning champions City will take some stopping

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Manchester City’s win against Watford

Before kick-off, there was an ominous feeling at Watford. The hosts had lost their last 13 matches with Man City, and Pep Guardiola arrived at Vicarage Road with a replenished squad. By the final whistle, the alarm bells were instead ringing in Liverpool and west London.

Man City’s dominant display in the 3-1 win was a show of their strength and a statement to their rivals following Chelsea’s defeat earlier in the day.

In truth, they should have scored far more, with Jack Grealish wasting a host of first-half chances and City striking the post twice in the second half. But the return to fitness of their GBP100m man, along with Phil Foden, Ilkay Gundogan, and Kevin De Bruyne, has bolstered their options just as the busiest period of the season approaches.

But City also have a handy run of games coming up, before playing Arsenal and Chelsea at the start of January.

If they keep playing like this – and as much as Bernardo Silva has been brilliant, Guardiola has in-form options across the pitch right now – they won’t give Liverpool and Chelsea much chance to strike back before the calendar year is out. They could hit 2022 with real momentum.

We seem set for a thrilling three-way title race and the leading trio have all had surprising slip-ups at times, which adds to the excitement – but City are in pole position now.
Peter Smith

Cracks appear in Chelsea foundations

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from West Ham’s win against Chelsea

Chelsea had only conceded more than one goal in two out of 52 games under Thomas Tuchel before their trip to the London Stadium. Their defensive record under the German has been extraordinary. But did West Ham expose cracks in their foundations?

Certainly, questions will be asked of Edouard Mendy. The goalkeeper, normally a picture of reliability for the Blues, was not helped by Jorginho’s loose pass when conceding the penalty for West Ham’s opener but there can be no excuses for Arthur Masuaku’s winner.

His positioning was poor and he was not the only member of Chelsea’s defensive unit who endured a difficult afternoon. Reece James was not his usual self. Antonio Rudiger struggled with Michail Antonio’s physicality. Even Thiago Silva suffered lapses of concentration.

Injuries have hit them hard. Ben Chilwell’s thrust was missed on the left-hand side, where Marcos Alonso struggled before his second-half withdrawal, while Andreas Christensen also underperformed in the absence of Trevoh Chalobah.

Kai Havertz’s injury forced Romelu Lukaku back into action prematurely – the Belgian was clearly not fully fit – while N’Golo Kante and Mateo Kovacic were missed in midfield, where Jorginho lacked his usual composure and Ruben Loftus-Cheek only impressed in patches.

Tuchel cannot complain about a lack of depth. Chelsea’s squad is arguably the strongest in the Premier League. But the foundations upon which their recent success has been built suddenly look a little less sturdy than before.
Nick Wright

Brilliant Bowen drives West Ham forward

Jarrod Bowen celebrates after scoring West Ham’s second goal against Chelsea

After the crushing disappointment of Brighton’s late equaliser on Wednesday night, West Ham returned to the London Stadium and produced the perfect response. It feels like anything is achievable for this team right now.

Chelsea don’t concede goals. At least they don’t concede many. But West Ham did what only two other opponents had managed in their previous 52 games under Thomas Tuchel, scoring more than one goal against them. In fact, they scored three.

Arthur Masuaku’s freakish third won it, sparking delirious scenes of celebration inside the ground, but Jarron Bowen’s second, struck low from the edge of the box, was the pick of them. The 24-year-old epitomises their fighting spirit. He can play, too.

Bowen was outstanding at both ends of the pitch – just as he has been throughout the season. His speed and directness terrified Chelsea and when it seemed the game was slipping away from the hosts, it was him who drove them forward.

He helped them defensively too, of course. No player on the pitch got close to his total of 25 high-intensity sprints, according to Premier League tracking data, while only Declan Rice regained possession on more occasions (10).

Bowen does not attract as much acclaim as many of his team-mates but his importance to David Moyes’ side cannot be underestimated. Their presence in the Champions League places owes a lot to him. It feels increasingly like they might stay there, too.
Nick Wright

Obvious where Saints must improve

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from the 1-1 draw between Southampton and Brighton

In succumbing to a 98th-minute equaliser from Neal Maupay in the 1-1 draw with Brighton, it is a result that will sting Ralph Hasenhuttl for some time on the eve of his third anniversary as Southampton manager.

This is a young Saints side boasting a starting XI with an average age of 25 years and 279 days – only Arsenal average younger – but with that comes a naivety which is all-too apparent.

It is difficult to assess the progress Hasenhuttl has made during his tenure; Southampton have recorded 33 points this calendar year – the fewest of any ever-present side but their inconsistency is evident within the same game.

The 20 matches lost in 2021 is the most of any team while their 14 goals scored is only more than Norwich (8), Tottenham (11) and Wolves (12). But they were by far the superior side against Brighton.

Southampton dropped more points from a winning position

Given their poor shot conversion rate, it was important that Saints continued their defensive improvement under Hasenhuttl this term, but what transpired were repeated late errors that contributed to two more dropped points.

It now stands at 72 points from winning positions since Hasenhuttl took over – 15 more than any other Premier League outfit. The late goal conceded here was compounded by a hamstring injury to Alex McCarthy which has left Southampton short in the goalkeeping department heading into a busy month.

“It’s a horrible feeling and tomorrow it will be even harder,” Hasenhuttl said afterwards. “We’re not the first team to concede as late as this but it was absolutely not necessary.”

Che Adams dropped to his knees as the final whistle was met by boos from the frustrated home fans. Their team had contrived to find a new way of chucking points down the drain. As Hasenhuttl retreated down the tunnel, it was certainly a sentiment he shared.
Ben Grounds

Maupay epitomises Seagulls’ fighting spirit

Neal Maupay has often been Brighton’s saviour

While Brighton’s wait for a first league win was extended to a 10th game, this was a draw their supporters gleefully welcomed at the final whistle.

Indeed, it is now the Seagulls’ longest winless run in the top-flight since a 10-game run between December 1982 and February 1983. But coming shortly after the St Mary’s stadium announcer had provided the unwanted disruption that trains back to home 57 miles away had been cancelled, Maupay’s finish was all the more sweeter.

Remarkably, 50 per cent of Brighton’s away Premier League goals this season (4/8) have been scored in the 89th minute or later, with three coming in the 90th minute. Three of those four goals have been scored by Maupay (90th vs Crystal Palace and Southampton, 89th vs West Ham).

Graham Potter celebrates a hard-earned point

Brighton’s biggest issue has been converting chances; only three sides in the division have scored fewer. But combining smart build-up play with a killer instinct can be addressed on another day.

For now, that can wait. Potter will count the cost of more casualties after Leandro Trossard was removed with a serious-looking elbow injury, but this was a point gained from a below-par display.

“I don’t think it’s as bad as we initially thought but the early analysis is that it’s a bit more positive than we feared,” Potter said on Trossard. “Over the next few days we’ll have to assess it.

“We have to be honest as we weren’t at our best in the first half. Southampton were a better version of themselves than we were and I have to take responsibility for that as well. We kept going even down to 10 men and in the end, it was great to score and to get a point.”
Ben Grounds

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