Sadio Mane’s glorious return, Jack Grealish’s rising stock and more – 5 Premier League talking points
The Senegalese extended Liverpool’s lead at the top to 25 points thanks to a late winner at Norwich
1. Centurion Mane emerges as PFA front-runner
Sadio Mane was held back by Jurgen Klopp from the beginning at Carrow Road, no doubt hopeful that his impact would not be crucial following a spell out through injury. But with the game level, the Senegalese emerged from the bench after an hour and proved decisive in earning Liverpool a 1-0 win, bringing up his century in English football (75 goals for the Reds and 25 goals for Southampton) with a typical Mane finish.
It’s the instinctive nature of Mane to throw a limb towards the ball, bring it under his spell, and compute exactly what he’ll do before his foot has even returned to the floor. Not only the precision of the finish, but the symmetry of his body, despite adjusting mid-air, ensured a 12th league goal of the season, to go with eight assists, which surely pushes him to the front of the queue to win the PFA Player of the Year, alongside teammate Jordan Henderson. While Henderson has been vital to the mentality and spirit of this team, Mane is a rare talent and more irreplaceable than the Reds skipper, which should convince many when evaluating each player’s value for the champions-elect.
2. Ings still in contention for shock golden boot
Danny Ings may not have been able to prevent Southampton from suffering defeat to Burnley – who claimed a precious 2-1 away win – but he registered his 15th goal of the season to close the gap on Jamie Vardy, now without a goal in nearly two months, but still in front on 17 goals in the golden boot race. Sergio Aguero is on 16 goals, while Mohamed Salah (14) and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (14) are best-placed to retain the title they shared with Sadio Mane (12) last season with 22 goals. It is remarkable that Ings is in such esteemed company, with his previous best of 11 goals at Burnley back in 2015 before serious problems with injuries disrupted his impact in the top flight. With 12 games remaining.
3. VARcical scenes at Molineux
Willy Boly thought he’d put Wolves ahead against Leicester only for VAR to incomprehensibly rule the goal out after spotting Pedro Neto, on the far side of the pitch by the touchline, had left a portion of his heel dangling barely a few inches offside. Nuno called for “something to be done” in frustration at full-time, while Brendan Rodgers refused to revel in his side’s fortune, agreeing that the system “needs to be reviewed at the end of the season”. Conor Coady was perhaps strongest when condemning the technology, claiming that the “referees don’t know what’s going on”. With enormous competition throughout the campaign, Boly’s ruled-out goal might just be the most shocking decision with most watching left embittered.
4. Grealish’s star shines brighter
Aston Villa maintain that Jack Grealish will not be leaving without a fight, but the job just got even harder after another dazzling display. Grealish sliced Spurs apart at will throughout Sunday’s contest; picking the pass when he needed to or driving past opponents with his immense acceleration and strength to hold off challenges. Toby Alderweireld, in particular, struggled to contain Grealish, who has blossomed into the complete player this season under Dean Smith. There is still the job of inspiring Villa’s escape from relegation, but his value will continue to soar with more displays of this calibre.
5. Pepe’s coming out party
Although the scoreline was lopsided by the end, Arsenal had initially struggled to break down Newcastle. Enter Nicolas Pepe after a frustrating 54 minutes, clipping a ball to the back post for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to head home and bring the Emirates back to life. Then the best side of the Ivorian: an instinctive finish from a ball delivered with pace, he duly dispatched it on the half-volley to provide some relief in the stadium. Pepe is still a work in progress, but unlike many of Arteta’s other options, the former Lille man is undoubtedly a match-winner and should ultimately take centre stage during this transition.