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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

Preview: Arsenal v. Leicester City

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  • Arsenal have won 9 games in a row
  • Leicester have never won at Arsenal in PL
  • Jamie Vardy has 6 goals in 6 starts v Arsenal
  • Arsenal has won the most PL games and points in October

Arsenal host Leicester City at the Emirates Stadium on Monday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with Unai Emery‘s Gunners aiming for a tenth-straight win in all competitions.

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The Gunners have won six straight in the PL and the duo of Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang have been scoring goals for fun with 11 goals between them. A win would take Arsenal into fourth place, level on points with Tottenham and Chelsea.

In team news Arsenal may be without Sokratis Papastathopoulos who picked up an ankle injury while on international duty with Greece. Leicester will be without winger Demarai Gray.


What they’re saying

Emery on how Arsenal can improve: “Not a surprise. We are doing the things better in our way, but we also need to continue improving, getting better, because we won more consecutive matches but we also need to improve our control in the game. Every match, every team has solutions and quality to give us problems, and Leicester is the same. Our success every day is work, continuing to work hard to improve these things.”

Puel unsure about Arsenal’s title chances: “They have nine wins at this moment which is incredible. They are confident in their play. They are more direct and clinical at the moment, with a clinical player like (Alexandre) Lacazette for example. They can have good confidence for the future, but for the title I don’t know. It is just the beginning of the season and the Premier League has a lot of possibilities.”


Prediction

Arsenal’s firepower suggests they will once again cause their opponent plenty of problems but the pace of Jamie Vardy on the break has caused their own defense plenty of issues in the box. Expect an open, entertaining game. Arsenal to win 3-1.

Mourinho hits out at reporters, defends Chelsea coach

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Jose Mourinho’s season continues to be weird.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Ahead of Manchester United’s huge UEFA Champions League group stage clash with Juventus on Tuesday the Portuguese coach spoke to the media and refused to talk about individual players, with many of the questions asked about Paul Pogba.

“I don’t like this press conference,” Mourinho said. I think the press conference is going in other directions. If the press conference is going in other directions then I want to go in another direction. I don’t want to speak about Pogba, I don’t want to speak about individuals or Spanish journalists. I want to speak about one of the biggest candidates of winning the competition. That is what motivates me, that’s what brings me here. If the press conference is going in other directions, I want to go in another direction.”

[ MORE: 4 things we learned, Chelsea v Man United

So, Mourinho took it in another direction. He instead spoke about the incident regarding Marco Ianni, Chelsea’s assistant coach who celebrated in front of Mourinho’s bench at the weekend and sparked ugly scenes in the technical area after Chelsea’s 96th minute equalizer at Stamford Bridge.

“I want to thank Maurizio Sarri and Chelsea for their honesty. But I’m not happy that it is going too far with the young boy [Chelsea coach Marco Ianni]. I don’t think he deserved more than what he got,” Mourinho said. “He apologized to me. He deserves a second chance. I don’t think he deserves to be sacked. He recognizes he was wrong. He is probably the young coach with great potential. For me it was the end of the story when he apologized to me.”

Asked about the form of his team and Anthony Martial, who scored twice in that largely encouraging 2-2 draw at Chelsea, Mourinho hardly lavished praised on the French forward.

“I think Martial is like the team,” Mourinho said. “The team is playing fine, Martial is playing fine. It’s easier for individuals to play well when the team is playing well. He has been involved when the team played well and he played well too… There were contradictory feelings after the Chelsea match. I told the players we have to keep that happiness, pride and confidence of the way we played. But on the other side, use the anger to motivate ourselves to play a big match.”

That big match sees Cristiano Ronaldo return to Old Trafford to play against his former club and his former manager and United know that their back-to-back UCL games against Juve will determine whether or not they reach the knockout round of the competition.

If they reach the latter stages of the Champions League and finish in the top four of the Premier League this season, then talk of Mourinho losing his job will surely fade away. At least for a few months. He will have to get a positive result against Juve without Alexis Sanchez who is injured, while Mourinho also confirmed Antonio Valencia is still missing.

“They have a lot to offer and an extra year with the same coach and structure. They have won seven titles on the trot and a really special player who makes a real difference. They are more than a contender for the Champions League,” Mourinho said.

When it came to talk about his future at United, which was in jeopardy two weeks ago according to a report, Mourinho was adamant he will remain at Old Trafford, despite suggestions he could head back to Real Madrid for a second spell.

“No. My future is here – I have a contract and until the final of my contract I only think about Manchester United. I am happy to stay here longer than that,” Mourinho said.

With Messi out, Coutinho, Dembele must step up for Barcelona

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) With Lionel Messi out with a broken arm, the two most expensive signings in Barcelona’s history have a perfect opportunity to step up and show their value.

[ MORE: La Liga scores, schedule

Barcelona spent more than 300 million euros ($350 million) to sign Brazil midfielder Philippe Coutinho and France forward Ousmane Dembele last season as it reinvested the money – and then some – from Neymar’s move to Paris Saint-Germain.

While both Coutinho and Dembele have shown several flashes of their world-class talent, neither has fully met the huge expectations that inevitably accompanied their price tags.

Messi set up Coutinho to net the opener and then added a second goal in a 4-2 win over Sevilla on Saturday in the Spanish league before he awkwardly fell on his right arm, which bent back and snapped a bone. The costly victory lifted Barcelona past Sevilla and to the top of the standings.

Now, while Barcelona’s all-time top scorer recovers, Coutinho and Dembele will be under pressure to lead the team in important games this week.

Barcelona hosts Inter Milan on Wednesday seeking a third victory in as many Champions League games. That will be followed by the always demanding “clasico” against Real Madrid at home on Sunday. Team doctors expect Messi to also be unavailable for three other games, including a visit to Inter next month.

“When (Messi) is with us he gives us a sense of security,” Barcelona defender Gerard Pique said. “He is the best in the world. You notice when he is not there, but whether he is with us or not, we have to keep going. We have a good team. We are playing well in time for the big week ahead.”

To acquire Dembele from Borussia Dortmund in 2017, Barcelona agreed to a transfer deal that could reach 147 million euros ($169 million).

After a first campaign in Spain limited by injuries, Dembele returned from helping France to win the World Cup and made a strong start to the season by scoring five goals in nine consecutive starts.

But when Barcelona faced a challenging Champions League match at Tottenham, coach Ernesto Valverde left the 21-year-old Dembele on the bench in favor of Arthur in midfield. Barcelona won 4-2, with Messi scoring twice and Coutinho once.

Valverde replied “I don’t know” when asked if he thought Dembele had lost confidence.

“He participated in the start of the season,” Valverde said. “He hasn’t been a starter in the last three matches, but we are counting on him . He is very talented. We expect a lot from him and we think that he has the capacity to improve.”

Coutinho arrived from Liverpool in January for 160 million euros ($184 million) as part of the rebuild following Neymar’s departure. But despite regular goals, he needs to be more of a playmaker for Barcelona following the departure of Andres Iniesta.

Valverde can now deploy the pair, along with Arthur, with Messi out.

REAL MESS

Julen Lopetegui’s job as Real Madrid coach is in question following a club record scoring drought and a winless run of five consecutive matches.

But some of the problems that threaten to ruin Lopetegui actually began under predecessor Zinedine Zidane.

Even though the team won an unprecedented third Champions League in a row, Madrid played poorly in the other competitions during Zidane’s final season in charge.

Madrid had practically given up defending its 2016 league title after only three wins in nine matches from October to January. That came just before its stunning home loss to Leganes that eliminated it from the Copa del Rey.

Instead of significantly reinforcing a flawed team that also lost top scorer Cristiano Ronaldo in the offseason, Madrid signed a pair of backups and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.

Lopetegui needs his team to rebound immediately with a winning streak, starting against Viktoria Plzen on Tuesday and at Barcelona.

Madrid defender Marcelo said the players were behind Lopetegui. He compared the situation of the first-year coach to that of Rafa Benitez, who was fired after seven months on the job and replaced by Zidane in 2016.

“We are completely behind our coach,” Marcelo said. “(The media criticism) is unfair. It is like what happened to Benitez. I don’t like it when coaches aren’t allowed to work.”

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

A-League team do not seem keen on Usain Bolt

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Comments from Usain Bolt’s agent claimed that the Central Coast Mariners had offered the former sprinter a professional contract to play in the A-League.

However the Mariners’ manager has pretty much quashed the idea of Bolt signing permanently, while the club have refused to comment and the Australian federation believe there is an offer on the table.

Yep. This is a bit of a mess.

Bolt, 32, has been on trial with the Mariners over the past few weeks and scored twice in his first start in a friendly 10 days ago.

But the head coach of the Mariners, Mike Mulvey, has said that any contract offer is news to him.

“I do appreciate how important this story is to the rest of the world. I do appreciate that,” Mulvey told reporters. “But you have a look at our front line today and you wonder whether he will get in any of those positions, wouldn’t you?”

Asked about where that leaves Bolt’s future, Mulvey issued a sharp response on the “speculation” and said he “didn’t know anything” about a contract offer.

With talk of Bolt being offered a deal to play in Malta on the back of this trial stint with the Mariners, it appears the Jamaican sprinting legend will now have to head elsewhere to fulfil his dream of being a professional player.

After training stints with Borussia Dortmund and Stromsgodset, which were basically publicity stunts, his time with the Mariners has been a serious attempt at earning a pro deal. The lifelong Manchester United fan wanted to switch sports and prove he could score goals as well as terrify defenses with his pace.

Where will he end up next? Will he stay in Australia? Is this the end of his soccer dream?

This is all getting a little bit confusing.