Premier League: Records are fine, but getting the winner is all that counts

The Premier League's top two sides face each other on Sunday, John Roycroft notes that despite scoring a truckload of goals already this season both sides have been let down when they needed a goal most.
Premier League: Records are fine, but getting the winner is all that counts

Manchester City's Gabriel Jesus speaks with manager Pep Guardiola as he is substituted during the Premier League match against Southampton in the 0-0 all draw at the Etihad Stadium, Manchester.

WHILE it's still ridiculously early days. The game that may define who wins the Premier League season awaits us Sunday evening.

The league's two top-scoring sides over the past three or four years do battle once again as Liverpool host Man City at Anfield at 4.30 pm.

While it's debatable whether these sides are as formidable as they once were, recent form suggests that one or the other still will have a major say in the destination of the title come next May.

Last weekend was probably City's best in the Premier League this season so far. Their away victory over Chelsea laid down a major marker against maybe the main pretender to their league title. Under Thomas Tuchel, Chelsea have been outstanding, winning last season's Champions League and already putting on a determined push on this season's Premier League summit. But City, unlike the Champions League final, unpicked the Chelsea defence and made every second The Pensioners were on the ball an uncomfortable experience. It was a dramatic demonstration of drive and hunger from Pep Guardiola's men and a far cry from the abject defeat on their opening day away to Spurs. That had us questioning City's credentials but it was soon dispelled as City then proceeded to string together a formidable string of results that included them scoring 17 goals in four matches.

Shooting blanks

Nevertheless, a subsequent scoreless draw at home to Southampton and Tuesday's blank against PSG in the Champions League is raising some questions about City and in particular their lack of an outright striker.

Guardiola is operating with a false No 9 this season and it worked out ok against Chelsea when Gabriel Jesus scored the winner, just after half-time, but not having a dedicated dead-eye goal scorer has caught them out in other games.

Sure Raheem Sterling, Ferran Torres, Jesus, and Riyad Mahrez will pop up for the score regularly, not to mind having the likes of Kevin de Bruyne ready to pitch in from midfield, but one can tell that Guardiola yearns for someone to grab a bagful of poached goals no matter where he is on the field. 

It's no coincidence that Pep's two big summer deals were for Harry Kane and Christiano Ronaldo. Two players that attract goals the way magnets collect iron-fillings.

That Guardiola failed to get either of them may be the critical weakness in their push to retain the title or push on for the coveted Champions League title. Saying that, it's strange to be critical of a side's lack of firepower up front when they have scored 25 goals in their nine games so far this season. Well, six were against Wycombe in the League Cup, Six against a watery-defence Leipzig in the Champions League, five were against bottom-placed Norwich, and five were against Arsenal having an early meltdown to their season. It's been a lot harder for them against tight defences.

Guardiola admitted as such prior to the Chelsea game, that City lack the “weapon” of a prolific striker that Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United and other rivals possess.

Liverpool's Mohamed Salah celebrates scoring the opening goal against Porto in their Champions League match at the Dragao Stadium. 	Picture: AP Photo/Luis Vieira)
Liverpool's Mohamed Salah celebrates scoring the opening goal against Porto in their Champions League match at the Dragao Stadium. Picture: AP Photo/Luis Vieira)

Mo goals

It's certainly not the case for their Sunday opponents Liverpool. Not only do they have forwards Sadio Mané, Roberto Firmino, and Diogo Jota pitching in their share of goals, they also have had the luxury of having maybe the best striker in the league and maybe in Europe at the moment in the shape of Mohamed Salah.

The Egyptian No 11 has been in imperious form for Jurgen Klopp's side and is playing with a confidence and smile on his face we have not seen since the 2019 Champions League triumph.

His pace, ability to turn defences, and calmness on the ball makes him a perfect hitman. It's a joy to watch him raiding the wing, tormenting fullbacks and passing the ball into the goal. He rarely blasts a shot in, rather finesses the ball into the net.

On Sunday against Brentford, Salah became the third-fastest player to reach 100 league goals for Liverpool, fittingly just behind the legend Roger Hunt, whose death was announced that morning.

The strike also marked the Egyptian's 131st goal for Liverpool in 210 matches in all competitions, taking him to 10th in the club's all-time top scorer charts.

His brace on Tuesday against Porto saw his season's total reach seven in seven games. While Liverpool recorded their sixth game in a row of scoring three goals or more against their opposition.

Brentford goalkeeper David Raya Martin (second left), Mathias Jorgensen (second right) and Pontus Jansson (right) celebrate at the final whistle of their Premier League match against Liverpool at Brentford Community Stadium, London. Picture: Adam Davy/PA Wire.
Brentford goalkeeper David Raya Martin (second left), Mathias Jorgensen (second right) and Pontus Jansson (right) celebrate at the final whistle of their Premier League match against Liverpool at Brentford Community Stadium, London. Picture: Adam Davy/PA Wire.

Even so, despite scoring 26 goals in nine games, Liverpool have been criticised for not putting sides away when they have the advantage. That was evident when a man up against Chelsea, struggling to see off Crystal Palace and especially so against the brilliantly determined Brentford on Sunday when they gave up the lead twice against the Premier League newcomers.

So there it is. Sunday's game sees two sides with an abundance of goals in their favour, yet both are desperate to get a particular type of goal. That most cherished of all strikes, the goal that wins it.

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