DUBAI: It was an open-and-shut case for many, including his manager.
Mohamed Salah was, it was declared on an almost weekly basis, the best soccer player in the world for the first half of this season, demonstrating the kind of elite-level scoring form only Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and more recently Robert Lewandowski have been able to produce this century.
It wasn’t just the volume of goals — 22 in his first 23 matches — that he was putting away for Liverpool. It was the sheer quality of them that took one’s breath away.
None more so than the weaving solo effort he conjured up against Manchester City at Anfield in October, midway through a run of 10 straight games when he scored, that surely will go down as the Premier League’s goal of the season.
“Come on,” Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp asked out loud, “who is better than him?”
Fast forward six months and Salah is, in relative terms, in a rut. Indeed, heading into a seismic return match against City on Sunday that could yet determine the destination of the title, there’s an argument to say he might not even be Klopp’s go-to striker.
There are potentially a whole host of reasons why Salah is going through his worst scoring run this season, with no goals in five games in all competitions and no open-play goals in six weeks.
Is he tired? He’s already played 47 games this season, after all.
Are painful losses for Egypt lingering? First there was the penalty-shootout loss to Liverpool teammate Sadio Mane’s Senegal in the African Cup of Nations final in February, then a loss — also via a shootout — to the same opponent in a World Cup playoff last month.
Does it have anything to do with his current contract standoff with Liverpool? That would be unlikely.
Maybe it’s simply the vagaries of form and happenstance. Because he’s still piling up the chances, just not converting them.
Whatever it is, this is not the Salah of six months ago. He was substituted midway through the second half in each of Liverpool’s last two games after, by his high standards, fairly underwhelming performances.
“Sometimes he could decide in a better way, no doubt about that, pass the ball quicker and all these things,” Klopp said this week. “But it’s a tough period for Sadio (Mane) and Mo, with the Africa Cup and coming back being immediately available for us again with all the games.
“It’s completely normal in a season that you have these little (ups and downs).”
Will Klopp drop Salah against City on Sunday? He’d be a brave man to do that to the Premier League’s top scorer. But it’s not that he doesn’t have options.
And in Diogo Jota, Klopp has a forward who has helped to take on Liverpool’s scoring burden firstly while Salah was away at the African Cup and then amid the Egyptian’s recent struggles.
Jota appears to be Liverpool’s first-choice center forward now, displacing Roberto Firmino by doing all the dirty work like the Brazilian — the tracking back, the pressing, the harrying of defenders — but scoring a lot more goals at the same time.
Jota has scored four goals in his last six games, including the winner against Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup quarterfinals and crucial openers against Arsenal and Watford in the league. He is tied for second in the league’s scoring chart with 14 goals.
Rested against Benfica in the Champions League in midweek, Jota is highly likely to start against City. It’s which two players are alongside him in the three-pronged forward line that’s the big question.
And this is where Liverpool hold the edge over City, which will start the game at Etihad Stadium one point clear of Klopp’s team with eight games left. Liverpool’s firepower simply is greater, with Klopp able to call upon Salah, Jota, Firmino, Mane and January signing Luis Diaz, who has settled in seamlessly since joining from Porto.
City have a slew of classy attacking midfielders and forward but none have the cutting edge of the likes of Salah — when he’s in form — or Jota.
City manager Pep Guardiola knows a draw is enough to leave the destiny of the title solely in his team’s hands. If that happens, City will win the league by winning its next seven games.
The onus is on Liverpool to go on the attack, which makes the game all the more enticing for fans.
And Klopp, who boldly played a front four of Mane, Salah, Jota and Firmino at the Etihad two seasons ago, knows he has the offensive players to overwhelm City.
Whether Salah is playing or not.
As Salah toils, Jota stepping up as Liverpool’s go-to scorer
As Salah toils, Jota stepping up as Liverpool’s go-to scorer
- “Come on,” Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp asked out loud, “who is better than him?”
- Jota appears to be Liverpool’s first-choice center forward now
DUBAI: It was an open-and-shut case for many, including his manager.
Former champion Simona Halep back in Wimbledon semifinals
- The 16th-seeded Romanian reached the semifinals and stretched her winning streak at the All England Club to 12 matches
- “I struggled a lot last year,” Halep said, “and now I’m just trying to build my confidence back”
WIMBLEDON, England: Simona Halep’s first appearance at Wimbledon since winning the title three years is going just as good as it did the last time.
The 16th-seeded Romanian reached the semifinals and stretched her winning streak at the All England Club to 12 matches by beating Amanda Anisimova 6-2, 6-4 on Wednesday on Center Court.
Halep missed the chance to defend her title at Wimbledon twice, first in 2020 when the tournament was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic and then again in 2021 when she had to sit out with a left calf injury.
“I struggled a lot last year,” Halep said, “and now I’m just trying to build my confidence back.”
In the semifinals, Halep will face Elena Rybakina. The 17th-seeded Rybakina beat Ajla Tomljanovic 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 on No. 1 Court.
Rybakina, a 23-year-old Kazakh, is playing at Wimbledon for only the second time in her career. She lost in the fourth round last year.
In the men’s quarterfinals, two-time champion Rafael Nadal was to play Taylor Fritz on Center Court while Nick Kyrgios was to face Cristian Garin on No. 1 Court.
Halep is making her 10th appearance at Wimbledon and has reached the semifinals for the third time. She is the only Grand Slam champion left in the women’s tournament.
“I’m very emotional right now, because it means a lot to be back in the semis,” Halep said.
The match against Anisimova appeared to be as straightforward as her first four victories at this year’s tournament — all came in straight sets. But the 20th-seeded American broke Halep when she was serving for the match at 5-2.
Anisimova then had three more break points when Halep again served for the match at 5-4, but the Romanian won five straight points to finish the match.
“She could crush the ball in the end, and I didn’t know, actually, what to do,” Halep said. “But I just believed in myself. I said that I have to stay there, strong on my legs.”
Halep injured her calf more than a year ago, forcing her to withdraw from the French Open and Wimbledon. She started working with Patrick Mouratoglou, the former coach of Serena Williams, in April.
Costa Rica down Panama 3-0 at the CONCACAF W Championship
- The tournament serves as qualifying for next summer’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand
MONTERREY, Mexico: Rocky Rodriguez and Maria Paula Salas scored in the opening half and Costa Rica went on to win their opening group-stage match 3-0 over Panama on Tuesday night in the CONCACAF W Championship.
The tournament serves as qualifying for next summer’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.
Rodriguez, who plays for the Portland Thorns in the National Women’s Soccer League, scored on a header in the sixth minute. Salas scored in the 24th.
Katherine Alvarado converted a penalty for Costa Rica in the 60th minute.
Costa Rica and Panama are in Group B with Canada and Trinidad & Tobago, who play in the late game.
Eight teams have been divided into two groups for the tournament. The top two finishers in each group earn spots in the 2023 World Cup. The third-place finishers will go on to a 10-team intercontinental playoff in February in New Zealand.
The winner of the tournament will also earn one of the region’s spots in the 2024 Olympics.
Costa Rica have been to the World Cup just once before, in 2015. Panama has never qualified for international soccer’s most prestigious event.
The US, Mexico, Jamaica and Haiti are in Group A.
Tiger Woods looking at British Open as historic occasion
- Woods won in 2000 by eight shots to complete the career Grand Slam at age 24
- He won again in 2005 to complete a different kind of slam
NEW YORK: The British Open is scheduled for Royal Liverpool, Royal Troon and Royal Portrush over the next three years. The Old Course at St. Andrews typically is used every five years.
That adds to the perspective of Tiger Woods playing this year.
When he said Tuesday that “this is a pretty historic Open,” Woods just as well could have been talking about himself as the 150th anniversary of golf’s oldest championship.
“I’m lucky enough to be part of the past champions that have won there, and want to play there again, and I don’t know when they are ever going to go back while I’m still able to play at a high level,” Woods said at the J.P. McManus Pro-Am in Ireland. “I want to be able to give it at least one more run at a high level.”
Woods won in 2000 by eight shots to complete the career Grand Slam at age 24. He won again in 2005 to complete a different kind of slam. Each time Jack Nicklaus played a major for the last time, Woods won.
He is 46 and still walking gingerly at times from his right leg and ankle being pieced back together following his February 2021 car crash outside of Los Angeles.
Woods returned to play the Masters and PGA Championship, both times making the cut, though he withdrew after the third round at Southern Hills. He skipped the US Open, though not necessarily by choice.
“The plan was to play the US Open, but physically I was not able to do that,” Woods said at Adare Manor. “There’s no way physically I could have done that. I had some issues with my leg and it would have put this tournament in jeopardy, and so there’s no reason to do that.”
That he is even playing is remarkable considering the nature of his injuries, particularly the threat of having part of his leg amputated, which doctors were able to avoid.
He has no idea how much longer he can play, or at least compete. Woods is unlikely to tee it up after the British Open until December, either at his Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas or what has become his fifth major, the PNC Championship with son Charlie.
“If you asked me last year whether I would play golf again, all of my surgeons would have said, ‘No,’” Woods said. “Now if you say, ‘Play at a championship level,’ well, that window is definitely not as long as I would like it to be.”
The grand celebration of the 150th anniversary of the British Open coincides with a dispute between ScotRail and ASLEF, the union for train drivers.
As a result, the R&A has contacted ticket holders to advise they travel to the Old Course by road or alternative public transport. Nearly 300,000 spectators are expect for the British Open next week.
ScotRail has limited service because of the dispute. It said trains between Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen to Leuchars — the closest station to St. Andrews — would run every hour on tournament days.
The R&A said it will increase capacity at park-and-ride facilities to cope with more cars. Travel time to the Old Course is likely to take a lot longer.
“Due to circumstances out of our control, we have no choice but to urge fans to not travel by rail to The Open and to use alternative means of transport to get to and from St. Andrews next week,” said Johnnie Cole-Hamilton, executive director of championship at the R&A. “There is a risk that fans who travel by train may find there are no services to get them home.”
Malacia becomes Ten Hag’s first signing at Man United
- Ten Hag’s recruitment drive is starting to gather pace, with Denmark midfielder Christian Eriksen reportedly agreeing to join United on a free transfer after his impressive loan spell at Brentford last season
LONDON: Manchester United completed their swoop for Feyenoord defender Tyrell Malacia on Tuesday as Erik ten Hag made his first signing since taking charge at Old Trafford.
United landed Malacia in a reported £12.95 million ($15.4 million) deal after making a late move for the Netherlands fullback, who had been close to joining French club Lyon.
The 22-year-old has agreed a four-year contract with the option of a further 12 months.
It is a landmark deal for Ten Hag, who had been linked with a host of potential signings before finally making Malacia the first acquisition of his United reign.
Ten Hag arrived at United in May after finishing his successful spell at Ajax, where he had plenty of opportunities to see Malacia’s quality with Dutch rivals Feyenoord.
Malacia, who made 136 appearances for Feyenoord, said: “It’s an incredible feeling to have joined Manchester United. This is a new chapter for me, a new league with new team-mates and a tremendous manager leading us.
“I know from playing against his teams in the Eredivisie, the qualities that he has and what he demands of his players.
“While I know that I am still young and will continue to develop, I can promise the United fans that I will leave everything on the pitch every time I pull on the red shirt.”
Malacia, who plays largely at leftback, is expected to be part of the United squad that leaves for the pre-season tour of Thailand and Australia on Friday.
“I’ll always be thankful to Feyenoord for all they have given to me and my family. None of this would be possible if it wasn’t for them,” Malacia said.
“Now I’m ready to focus on the future with United, and help my new club achieve success.”
Capped five times by the Netherlands, Malacia is likely to compete with England leftback Luke Shaw for a place in United’s starting lineup.
“Tyrell is an exciting, dynamic young footballer with excellent experience for his age, including five seasons in the Eredivisie, a European final and full international honors for the Netherlands,” United football director John Murtough said.
“We look forward to seeing him continue to develop under the guidance of Erik ten Hag and his coaching team in the years ahead.”
Ten Hag’s recruitment drive is starting to gather pace, with Denmark midfielder Christian Eriksen reportedly agreeing to join United on a free transfer after his impressive loan spell at Brentford last season.
Barcelona midfielder Frenkie De Jong and Ajax defender Lisandro Martinez have also been linked with moves to Old Trafford.
As well as overhauling a squad that finished a disappointing sixth in the Premier League last season, Ten Hag must resolve the future of Cristiano Ronaldo.
Ronaldo missed training for “family reasons” on Monday after reportedly asking for a transfer following United’s failure to qualify for the Champions League.
United are said to be determined to hold onto the Portugal striker, who finished as their top scorer last season.
Van Aert wins stage 4 in style and extends Tour overall lead
- The 27-year-old Van Aert is considered one of the best multi-skilled riders in the world and is a former three-time cyclo-cross world champion and a one-day classics specialist
CALAIS, France: Belgian rider Wout van Aert won the hilly fourth stage of the Tour de France and extended his overall lead after attacking strongly on the day’s final climb on Tuesday.
The Belgian rider kept the leader’s yellow jersey for the Jumbo–Visma team after taking it for the first time on Saturday. He also extended his lead in the green jersey contest for best sprinter.
Van Aert shook up the peloton when he surged ahead up the last of the five climbs — a 900-meter ascent up Cote du Cap Blanc-Nez at a gradient of 7.5 percent — about 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the end.
The 27-year-old Van Aert is considered one of the best multi-skilled riders in the world and is a former three-time cyclo-cross world champion and a one-day classics specialist.
The Jumbo-Visma rider flapped his hands like a bird’s wings as he sat up on his bike. He crossed the line eight seconds clear of countryman Jasper Philipsen of the Alpecin–Fenix team, with Jumbo-Visma teammate Christophe Laporte taking third place in a sprint finish.
Van Aert picked up a 10-second time bonus and is now 25 seconds ahead of Yves Lampaert in the overall standings and 32 seconds clear of two-time defending champion Tadej Pogacar.
Pogacar’s rival Primoz Roglic, the 2020 Tour runner-up and Van Aert’s teammate, stayed seventh overall and remained nine seconds behind Pogacar, with both finishing in the main pack.
After a travel day, riders tackled a sunny 171.5-kilometer (106.3-mile) route from the coastal city of Dunkirk to Calais, where riders could see the English coastline when they arrived into the much-used port location. Van Aert completed it in 4 hours, 1 minute, 36 seconds.
Danish rider Magnus Cort, who thrilled crowds with his breakaway rides during three intense days in Denmark, was again in the early breakaway — this time alongside Anthony Perez.
Perez pulled ahead some 45 kilometers (28 miles) out and Cort was caught by the peloton shortly after. Cort picked up more points in the polka-dot jersey bid but much more difficult climbs in the Alps and Pyrenees are still to come.
Wednesday’s fifth stage is a flat stage for sprinters over 157 kilometers (97 miles) starting at Lille Metropole and going over some of the feared cobblestones that feature on the Paris-Roubaix one-day classic.
The race ends on July 24 in Paris.