Quick Six: Liverpool inches closer, Moyes’ reception, and the rest of the headlines from the BPL weekend

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1. CHELSEA LOSES CONTROL OF TITLE DESTINY

Before we could build the hype for Chelsea’s trip to Liverpool – a match that had the potential to decide this year’s title – an unlikely antagonist intervened. Dormant for most of the season, Sunderland decided to wake up, first taking an unlikely point from Manchester City before pulling the upset at Stamford Bridge.

This was more than your any given sunday-type scenario. José Mourinho had gone 77 Premier League matches without a loss at the Bridge. With City having lost at Anfield, the Blues’ title destiny was back under their control. The season was developing to fit the story England wanted – their favorite manager’s triumphant return.

Instead, after the Black Cats’ 2-1 win in London, two other narratives are taking over. With every result, the Liverpool story is taking hold. At some point, perhaps after Sunday in Anfield, we’ll start talking about this race as if it’s over, but if it were Manchester City, United, or Chelsea in first (a team that had won a recent title), we might already crowned a champion. That Liverpool hasn’t been here before makes us more cautious.

Sunderland’s is the other story taking hold. For most of the season, Gus Poyet’s side has had two matches in hand, games that have given fans reason for hope. But those wishes were overshadowed by form that had left the team winless since Feb. 1.

Now, after a week in which the Black Cats took four points from the league’s second and third place teams, survival is more than hypothetical. Still holding a match in hand, Sunderland’s one win from safety.

2. Mourinho changes up his interview game

What would a Quick Six be without mocking our fascination with José Mourinho quotes, though this week, the Special One decided to change things up. Rather than weaving an obviously false, self-serving view of the Premier League world, the manager’s frustration took over. After referee Mike Dean awarded Sunderland a late, controversial penalty, Mourinho elected to congratulate him (as well as everybody else he could think of) rather than risk a fine.

Seemingly innumerable times this season, this space has asked we bother listening to José Mourinho at all. We have our answer. For all the fantasy he projects in his typical post-match interviews, something clever is always one question away.

Perhaps full sarcasm isn’t the most original response, but in the wake of Saturday’s loss, it told us a lot about Mourinho’s mindset. In that way, it may have been his most useful interview of the season.

3. Suárez enters the 30 club; Sterling steals the show

Robin van Persie. Cristiano Ronaldo. Thierry Henry. Kevin Phillips. Alan Shearer. Andy Cole. They’re the six players who had reached 30 goals in a Premier League season. After of Sunday’s game at Carrow Road, there’s a seventh on the list. Luis Suárez, with three matches to play, has joined what’s proved to be an elite club.

Despite the milestone, Suárez found himself playing second fiddle during Liverpool’s 3-2 win at Norwich City. With two goals and assist, Raheem Sterling gave a Man of the Match-caliber performance, one that made up for any slack left in the absence of Daniel Sturridge. Up to nine goals on the season, the 19-year-old will likely be the team’s fourth double-digit scorer.

It’s a symptom of the progress the Reds have made this season – a testament to what Brendan Rodgers has done with his squad. In recent seasons, the Reds had one or two players you could envision in a table-of-the-table squad. Now they are a top of the table squad, one that’s capable of creating 30 goals for Luis Suárez, another 20 for Daniel Sturridge, and getting a quickly emerging Raheem Sterline to double digits on the season.

source: AP4. Norwich City approaching the Championship

The Canaries put up more of a fight than many expected, getting a Robert Snodgrass goal in the 77th minute to pull them within one. Without a result, however, the team remains within reach of every club in the drop. Even Sunderland, in last place, can pass Norwich next week thanks to its superior goal difference.

Unfortunately for Norwich, things don’t get much easier going forward. A trip to Old Trafford next weekend gives them some hope of a point, but even with the Red Devils’ struggles, the Canaries are underdogs. Closing out the season against Chelsea and Arsenal, Norwich will have to summon the spirit of Sunderland to stay out of the drop.

With Cardiff City and Fulham two points back, Sunderland three, Norwich has become the league’s best bet to go down, even if they don’t sit in the drop. Whereas a month ago nobody looked capable of climbing out of the bottom three, Norwich seems destined to assure one team’s survival.

5. Moyes’ unwelcome, unfair reception at Goodison

Everton may not have been pining for David Moyes to stay, but when the club’s long-time boss left for Manchester United last year, there wasn’t a huge push to kick him as he was walked out the door, either. By the time the Scottish manager returned to Goodison on Sunday, though, the mood had changed. Having seen what the squad is capable of under Roberto Martínez, the Everton faithful are no longer conceding the benefit of the doubt.

Symbolically, it was the low point of what’s destined to be Moyes’ only year at Manchester United. It’s one thing to fail in a new role, to see the person who took your place take your old job to new heights, and to suffer a defeat upon returning to your old haunts. It’s entirely different to return to visit your old office and be ridiculed. For as poor a fit as Moyes has been at United, Goodison’s reaction was too much.

It’s easy to pile on to Moyes right now. Manchester United fans are right to see him as a symbol of an unnecessarily exaggerated fall. But given his service to Everton, Sunday’s reaction went too far. If nothing else, Moyes deserved respect for the decade he gave to the club.

6. Aston Villa’s conditional takeover

The news came Thursday night, but over the last two days, the seeds of speculation have taken hold, so much so that Randy Lerner took to the club’s website to address the uncertain situation around his club. Aston Villa appears destined to be sold, but only if the club stays up, a situation that puts even more pressure on Paul Lambert to keep the Lions in the Premier League.

Lambert had already been the subject of increased criticism from Villa supporters, with the team’s uneven form and new relegation worries making it difficult to tell if the club was making progress. On Sunday, Lerner sought to assure fans that, for was difficult as recent seasons have been, Lambert was operating within parameters set by ownership. Blame Paul if you want, it implied, but know he’s acting under my commands.

That there may be a different person giving those commands next year has given supporters hope. Even the few Lerner supporters that remain would concede the owner’s plans since Martin O’Neill left had been either non-existent or more humble than many would expect. Recently a consistent contender for European spots, Villa is now obliged to relegation battles. For those keen to note this is the biggest club in Birmingham, the current state is unacceptable.

The new owners are supposed to be more ambitious. They want to invest. They want to compete, all of which makes the next three games even more important. If Lambert doesn’t keep them up, Lerner can’t sell the club.

Oxlade-Chamberlain injury update

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Jurgen Klopp does not seem confident that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will play again this season.

The Liverpool and England midfielder suffered an injury to his right knee early on in Liverpool’s 5-2 win over Roma in their UEFA Champions League semifinal first leg, as he appeared to extend his right knee under his body when making a challenge on Aleksandar Kolarov.

Speaking to the media following Liverpool’s dramatic win, Klopp was downbeat about Oxlade-Chamberlain’s chances of playing again this season.

“We don’t know exactly but if the medical department are quite concerned without a scan, you can imagine it’s difficult. The season is not that long anymore. It doesn’t look good,” Klopp said. “I’m a very positive person and still hope it only feels bad, but is not that bad. We’ll see. We lost a fantastic player tonight. It’s not good news.”

This injury has come at such a bad time for The Ox.

He has been flourishing with Liverpool in a central midfield role and has delivered key goals and assists in big wins since arriving from Arsenal last summer. Most notably the Ox’s driving midfield runs have caused Manchester City all kinds of problems and he scored two screamers against them in wins at Anfield in the Premier League and UCL.

Georginio Wijnaldum stepped in admirably for Oxlade-Chamberlain against Roma and the Dutch midfielder will be used alongside James Milner and Jordan Henderson from here on out by Klopp, especially with Emre Can battling a back injury.

As for Oxlade-Chamberlain, he will now be focused on trying to be fit for the UCL final on May 26 (if Liverpool get there) and on making England’s 2018 World Cup squad. That seems like a big ask given Klopp’s gloomy assessment.

Wenger: Timing of departure “not really my decision”

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Arsene Wenger has been speaking about his Arsenal departure and there are some intriguing details emerging.

Wenger, 68, announced last Friday that he would be leaving Arsenal at the end of the current 2017-18 campaign after almost 22 years in charge.

But when asked about the timing of his decision during his press conference ahead of the Europa League semifinal first leg against Atletico Madrid on Thursday and whether or not that was helpful, Wenger said it was taken out of his hands.

“The timing was not really my decision, the rest I have spoken about already,” Wenger said. “I focus on what I have to do every day. At the moment, I work like ever.”

Wenger added that he will “for sure” continue to work beyond this season but wasn’t giving anything away on where he would go. The Arsenal boss also said he had a “high opinion of Luis Enrique” but that he didn’t “want to influence the next manager” of Arsenal with so many contenders mentioned as he also confirmed he will have no say on his successor.

What do we make of all this?

Wenger still has one more year left on his current deal at Arsenal and it appears he was keen to be in charge next season, but he could have simply been saying that he would have preferred an announcement at the end of the season rather than before a big European semifinal. His comments can be interpreted either way but many journalists in the room are all suggesting Wenger was talking about the overall decision to step down now.

The growing, and widely reported, notion that Wenger stepped down before he was sacked seems to be on point. After three Premier League titles and 10 major trophies in total in over two decades in charge, it appears Wenger didn’t get to decide when he called time on his Arsenal career.

The perfect end for Wenger at Arsenal would be to win the Europa League and then leave on a high, but these comments suggest the Frenchman may not be happy with some of the hierarchy at Arsenal.

These comments amid links to PSG and the French national team also suggest to rule out a role upstairs at Arsenal, at least for the foreseeable future, for Wenger. Intriguing times ahead.

Roma condemn violent scenes outside Anfield

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AS Roma have condemned an attack from some of its supporters on Liverpool’s fans before the game after a 53-year-old Liverpool supporter was injured outside Anfield before the UEFA Champions League semifinal first leg on Tuesday.

The Serie A side said that a “small minority of traveling fans brought shame on the club” as two men from Rome have been arrested on suspicion of attempted murder after the attack on the Liverpool fan who is in a critical condition after suffering head injuries.

Below is the statement in full from the Italian club.

AS Roma condemns in the strongest possible terms the abhorrent behavior of a small minority of traveling fans who brought shame on the club and the vast majority of Roma’s well-behaved supporters at Anfield after getting involved in clashes with Liverpool supporters before last night’s fixture.

There is no place for this type of vile behavior in football and the club is now cooperating with Liverpool Football Club, UEFA and the authorities. The club’s thoughts and prayers are with the 53-year-old Liverpool fan in hospital and his family at this time.

Salah’s sensational season in context

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Mohamed Salah is having a season on the same level as Lionel Messi.

Some* will even say it’s better.

[ MORE: LFC 2-1 Roma | Klopp reacts ]

There are few ways to overstate how well the Egyptian has performed for Liverpool this season, and few matches have been as strong as Tuesday’s destruction of AS Roma.

Make no mistake about it: Destruction is the right word. I Lupi isn’t dead thanks to the Reds right side of the defense and James Milner‘s arm, but it was fading out of consciousness when Salah departed the game.

It’s not crazy to draw the connection. Just ask Jurgen Klopp:

“If anyone wants to say it is my mistake that we concede the two goals because I change the striker, I have no problem with that,” he said. “Mo was running all the time and it would not have helped us if he gets an injury. What a player. If you think he is the best in the world, write it or say it. He is in outstandingly good shape, world-class shape, but to be the best in the world you need to do it over a longer period, I think. The other two are not bad.”

No, no they are not, but Salah is on their level.

The aesthetics of his first goal were first-class, dinging off the bottom of the cross bar like a vicious swish of a Steph Curry three. When the night ended, Salah had two more goals and two more assists to bring his total to 43 goals and 15 assists in 47 matches. In three more matches, the best player on the planet has 40 and 18 (Ronaldo has 42 and 7 in 39).

[ MORE: LFC supporter in critical condition after Roma attack ]

The reason not to overreact is Luis Suarez’s 2013-14, in which he posted posted 31 goals and 24 assists in 37 games and would’ve arguably made Salah’s season look just “pretty great” if the Reds were in European football (or, one could argue, Suarez wasn’t slowed by the demands of a more congested adventure).

And we also won’t know Salah’s path next season. Take Cristiano Ronaldo’s 2007-08 season, the closest thing we have to Suarez or Salah in this generation. The then-23-year-old posted 42+8 in 49, but took a step back the next season before exploding into space upon debut with Madrid the following season (His second Real campaign, 2010-11, was the first real otherworldly CR7 campaign, with 53+18 in 54).

Salah is the Premier League Player of the Year, and he’s the front-runner for the Ballon d’Or (which is likely to be determined by this summer’s World Cup in Russia, with Argentina and Portugal possibly on a quarterfinal collision course and Egypt in an very winnable Group A with Russia, Uruguay, and Saudi Arabia).

Jurgen Klopp deserves much credit for Salah’s explosion. Even if the Egyptian began his ascent in Italy, there’s been nothing like this. And if he can do it a few more years, he has the chance to land amongst the generational names in soccer (perhaps as the best African player in Premier League history with Yaya Toure and Didier Drogba).

He’ll almost certainly become the all-time single-season Liverpool league goal scorer this season barring rest for the UCL, and he’ll be their top all-time according to Opta if he nabs four or more goals across 4-5 matches (Roma again, Stoke, Chelsea, Brighton, and probably Real Madrid or Bayern Munich).

The Reds were unbelievably good for 80 minutes on Tuesday — 75 of which were Salah-led — and the praise would’ve been flowing like a waterfall had they not switched off for 10 (in which it must be said Liverpool was fortunate to only concede twice!).

*By the way, Messi fans, you’ll be relieved to count me as not one of those who’d say Salah is having a better season. It’s closer than you think. Messi is better than Salah in league play, while Salah is having a superior UCL campaign. Given the general consensus top-to-bottom on Premier League vs. La Liga and Barca’s UCL competition vs. Liverpool’s opponents — which is drawing level now — we’d say it’s even.

Messi vs. Salah league play (per 90, Squawka)
Assists: Messi 0.4-0.31
Key passes: Messi, 2.16-1.63
Chances created: Messi, 2.56-1.94
Attack score: Messi, 73.04-54.5
Possession score: Messi, 5.6 to minus-5.12
Pass completion (%): Messi, 81-77
Shot accuracy: Even (62%)
Tackles won: Salah, 0.24-0.2
Take-ons won (%): Messi, 69.47-64.96

Messi vs. Salah league play (per 90, Squawka)
Assists: Salah, 0.45-0.23
Key passes: Salah, 2.13-1.72
Chances created: Salah, 2.58-1.95
Attack score: Salah, 70.89-55.69
Possession score: Messi, 2.71 to minus-3.34
Pass completion (%): Messi, 81-73
Shot accuracy(%): Salah, 73-69
Tackles won: Messi, 0.69-.45
Take-ons won (%): Salah, 76.4-61.4