Arthur Masuaku was Africa’s unlikely hero in the Premier League this weekend, while Chelsea goalkeeper Edouard Mendy was defended by Joe Cole, the former West Ham United and Blues midfielder, who claimed the stopper was “not a robot” after perhaps his worst performance yet for the Londoners.
Premier League notables
When forecasting who could be the match-winner during West Ham’s rollercoaster 3-2 victory over Chelsea on Saturday, Democratic Republic of Congo full-back Masuaku would not have been high on the list.
Indeed, the 28-year-old hadn’t scored a goal in 95 Premier League outings for the Hammers before his attempted 87th-minute cross duped Mendy and swirled in at the goalkeeper’s near post.
The goal secured all three points — and a well-deserved triumph — for the hosts, who initially struggled to contain the European champions but roared back into the bout after a tactical re-jig.
Masuaku was typically modest after the match, downplaying his late winner on Instagram.
“So, was it a cross or was it [a] shot?!?” the Leopards full-back wrote on his @masuaku26 handle. “Hint: I was as surprised as you.
“All it takes is hard work…and a bit of luck,” he posted later, while also earning the bemused praise of manager David Moyes.
“I said to him that I thought it was a great cross,” the Scot told journalists after the match. “It was very fortunate, the goal, but in football you need a bit of fortune sometimes.
“In the last few games we have lost it a little bit, but today we got it back.”
The Irons were well worth their three points even before the intervention of their unpredictable substitute.
Chelsea coach Thomas Tuchel — and Mendy — will surely be dwelling on a recent run of form that has seen the Blues win just two of their past five league games.
Mendy was duped — as we all were — by Masuaku’s cross, but he would have had time to re-position his body and turn the ball around his near post had his judgement and anticipation been better.
Earlier, he had been culpable for Manuel Lanizini’s 40th-minute equalising penalty, when he reacted slowly to Jorginho‘s back pass, attempted to dribble past the excellent Jarrod Bowen, and clumsily sliced town the lively attacker.
It’s not been a terrific week for Mendy, who missed out on the Yashin Award at Monday’s Ballon d’Or ceremony having previously put his team under pressure with his poor passing in the draw against Manchester United.
It feels churlish to criticise a goalkeeper who has exceeded expectations since arriving in English football, although Tuchel did acknowledge his stopper’s role in a disappointing defeat.
“Everybody is involved,” the German coach said of the Hammers’ first goal. “The pass [from Jorginho] is not the best decision to pass this ball back, the orientation is not the best, we can save it. Decision making is also not the best from [Mendy] in this moment, and then suddenly you concede.”
Cole, speaking in the BT Sports studio, was quick to defend the Senegal No. 1.
“Mendy was at fault for the penalty,” the ex-England midfielder said. “[Masuaku’s goal] was a freak of a goal. You can’t blame him. He’s been outstanding for such a long time.
“Goalkeepers are human beings, not robots. It would take something like that to beat this Chelsea team — a world-class goal or something out of the ordinary.”
Another of Africa’s most high-profile players — Arsenal forward Aubameyang — is also in the midst of a funk, although the Gunners hitman’s decline is more concerning than Mendy’s recent lapses after Monday’s 2-1 defeat by Everton.
Arsenal’s captain was omitted from Mikel Arteta’s starting lineup as the Spaniard preferred Alexandre Lacazette despite the Gabon striker’s club-high nine goal involvements this term.
Lacazette lacked intensity and looked way short of his best as he attempted to go alone against Everton’s centre-backs, and it was interesting that Arteta turned to Anglo-Ghanaian forward Edward Nketiah rather than Aubameyang when Gabriel Martinelli was replaced in the 71st minute.
It was a telling decision on many levels, particularly considering Nketiah — who was rumoured to be heading for the Arsenal exit door during the summer –is at loggerheads with the club over a contract extension, and has now scored just twice in his past 19 Premier League outings.
If not starting Aubameyang was a snub, turning to Nketiah first was an insult by Arteta, who is savvy enough to know the external chatter that such a decision will prompt.
Nketiah missed a glorious chance when he headed against the post from point-blank range, although Auba — who was introduced for Lacazette with five minutes to play — was also guilty for dragging a glorious effort wide in stoppage-time.
Aubameyang now hasn’t scored since the victory over Aston Villa on Oct. 22, with his six-match barren streak representing his longest goalless run since 2014, when he failed to net in 14 consecutive matches for Borussia Dortmund.
In the medium-to-long term, the discussion will again emerge centre on whether one of Africa’s all-time great strikers is in permanent decline, although short-term scrutiny will focus on his relationship with Arteta.
“We made some changes today, we have to freshen up,” Arteta said before the match. “We have some games coming up and I want to have everyone fit and available.”
Only time will tell if Arteta’s Aubameyang gamble pays off, while the decision to leave €79 million man Nicolas Pepe on the bench will also raise eyebrows.
Also in the Premier League, Ezri Konsa, who is eligible for the Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola, scored twice as Aston Villa defeated Leicester City, while Mohamed Salah provided the decisive assist for Divock Origi‘s late winner for Liverpool at Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Salah now has registered a goal or an assist in his past 13 top-flight matches for the Reds.
To continental Europe…
While Victor Osimhen‘s injury will surely hit Nigeria hard at the Africa Cup of Nations, Awoniyi’s magnificent goalscoring form in Germany ought to assuage Gernot Rohr’s concerns… if the head coach includes him in his Super Eagles squad.
The ex-Liverpool forward netted his ninth goal of the campaign as Union Berlin defeated beleaguered RB Leipzig 2-1.
Awoniyi could have scored more goals on the night, having registered several attempts, but he will take from heart from his standing in the Bundesliga scoring charts.
The midfielder has been no stranger to the scoreboard in recent seasons, having netted a career-high 13 goals last season.
However, his effort in the fifth minute against the newly promoted side was the first of his three league goals this term to have come from open play, and his first non-penalty strike since the spring.
Milan head coach Stefano Pioli will be scratching his head at the prospect of losing the in-form Kessie for such a critical portion of the campaign during next year’s Africa Cup of Nations.
He ended his six-game goal drought with a fine effort in the 3-2 defeat by Fiorentina on Sunday, taking his tally for the season up to a combined eight goals and assists from 15 league outings so far this term.
Of all the players in the Italian top flight to have been directly involved in eight goals so far this term, only 21-year-old Fiorentina attacker Dusan Vlahovic has managed more than Barrow.
Vlahovic scored the winner for Fiore on the day, while Morocco’s Youssef Maleh netted his first Serie A goal to open the scoring for the visitors.
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