Mahrez’s miss, Mwepu’s magic and Aubameyang strikes again

Africa’s top stars were influential in one of the biggest matches of the season — for better and worse — as Liverpool and Manchester City shared the spoils in their Premier League summit showdown.

At the Emirates Stadium Enock Mwepu‘s stunner silenced Arsenal, while Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Victor Osimhen were also among the goals in Europe’s biggest leagues.

First to the Etihad Stadium, where Manchester City maintained their slender one-point lead over Liverpool at the pinnacle of the Premier League as the two sides played out an entertaining 2-2 draw.

Africa’s biggest names were in the thick of the action, although Sadio Mane — who ultimately secured the points — had endured an anonymous first-half as City dominated, opening the scoring early through Kevin de Bruyne following a deflection off Joel Matip, before Diogo Jota restored parity for Liverpool against the run of play.

Gabriel Jesus — a surprise inclusion in Pep Guardiola’s line-up — gave City the advantage again heading into the break, only for Mane to level the contest in the 46th minute following excellent work from Mohamed Salah.

The Egypt forward, delivering his best performance since the 6-0 demolition of Leeds United in February, pulled inside and released Mane — outpacing Kyle Walker — with a cross-field ball, before the Senegal man beat Ederson with a first-time finish.

The assist was the highlight of a fine Salah display, as he caused City problems with his movement between the lines and put in an admirable shift defensively as the Reds steadily got more of a handle on the contest.

The goal ultimately secured a point for Liverpool — denying City the chance to all but kill the title race — and keeps alive the Reds’ hopes of ending the season with a quadruple, having already clinched the League Cup so far this term.

However, they rode their luck during the latter stages of the contest, with Riyad Mahrez — introduced as a 75th-minute substitute — having two fine opportunities to settle the contest.

In the 90th minute, he sent a swerving freekick against the post, and then, in stoppage time, he spied Alisson off his line after being played in by the outstanding De Bruyne.

Surely, the Algeria maestro could have whipped in beyond the Brazil goalkeeper, or even have played in Phil Foden, but instead, perhaps too encouraged by the keeper’s advance, misjudged an attempted lob and sent the ball sailing harmlessly over the bar.

“It’s a great chance,” De Bruyne told the Sky Sports microphones after the match. “Riyad chose to chip and if it goes in, it’s a wonder goal.”

Guardiola, too, paid tribute to the North African, despite plumping for Jesus in his starting XI.

“I’m in love with Riyad, he is an incredible player and person,” Guardiola said, as per BBC Sport. “We thought we needed a different quality upfront. We will need him until the end.”

There were shades — although Mahrez won’t want reminding — of the same player’s penalty miss in the meeting between these two heavyweights in October 2018, when no-one knew just how tightly fought this era-defining rivalry would become.

On that occasion, even though the season hadn’t yet reached the halfway point, Mahrez’s missed penalty looked like it could prove decisive, although City ultimately pipped the Reds to the title by one point.

The former Leicester City star will be hoping for a similar outcome this time around, having spurned another golden opportunity — all these years later — to put some distance between these close combatants.

At least, for now, he keeps the title race compelling.

Even if City remain favourites for the title, with an ostensibly more favourable run-in ahead of them, birthday boy Mane served a reminder — once again — that he remains one of the most effective big game players of his generation.

No player has scored more goals in the knockout stages of the Champions League than Mane since the start of the 2017-18 season, and expect the Senegal man to decide a few more clashes as Liverpool go in search of their quadruple.

Certainly, this was a stark reminder of the 30-year-old’s quality as he approaches the final year of his contract at Anfield.

Much of the post-match discussion after Arsenal’s latest defeat — at home against Brighton & Hove Albion — has focused on the Gunners’ ongoing collapse as the season’s conclusion draws closer, but Mwepu’s wonderstrike was a worthy winner of any Premier League contest.

The Zambian had already set up Leandro Trossard for the Seagulls’ opener before slamming home the second, capping off an excellent midfield display in which he dovetailed superbly with Mali’s Yves Bissouma.

The midfielder demonstrated composure and self-awareness to send Trossard through with a deft cut-back just before the half-hour mark, and then met Moses Caicedo’s chip to lash home — demonstrating immense technique and power — to dispatch an effort from range past Aaron Ramsdale.

While Mwepu’s display was excellent, it’s worth noting that he was only up against an Arsenal midfield seemingly manned by Granit Xhaka, weakened severely by the injury absence of Thomas Partey.

Another Ghanaian, Eddie Nketiah, came off the bench with half an hour to play and had a chance to seal the contest after Martin Odegaard’s late consolation from range, only to be denied — twice — by goalkeeper and woodwork.

Nketiah’s miss wasn’t the worst by an African player in the Prem this weekend — that ‘accolade’ must go to Maxwel Cornet who conspired to miss from point-blank range when picked out at the back post — although Wilfried Zaha went close with two penalty misses in Crystal Palace’s 2-1 defeat by Leicester City.

The first — coming after a casual run-up — was saved by Kasper Schmeichel, only for VAR to demand the spotkick be retaken following Caglar Soyuncu’s encroachment.

Again Zaha stepped up, and again Schmeichel saved, only this time, he was unable to deny Zaha, heading home the rebound, with no reprieve coming from VAR.

It was the highlight of a feisty display from the Ivory Coast wideman, who appeared to up his game as the Leicester fans made him acutely aware of their displeasure with his theatrics, but was ultimately unable to force the issue.

New Nigeria international Ademola Lookman opened the scoring for the Foxes, while Zaha’s header was his 11th goal of the season — equalling the best league tally of his career.

Elsewhere in Europe, African hotshots Aubameyang and Osimhen were on target for Barcelona and Napoli respectively, albeit as their clubs endured differing fortunes.

Auba’s run continues at Barca, as he netted an equaliser in a thrilling 3-2 victory at Levante, with both sides looking — at one point — like they’d claim maximum points.

Xavi Hernandez’s side are now unbeaten in 15 matches in all competitions — stretching back to January 20 — while Aubameyang, who hadn’t scored in his previous two matches, now has 10 in his 11.

Osimhen too is enjoying a purple patch of late, and has now had a hand in six goals in his last three matches, having registered a goal and an assist on Sunday.

However, his star turn against Fiorentina wasn’t enough for Napoli to take maximum points, as they fell to a 3-2 defeat in front of their own fans.

The defeat leaves the Partenopei on 66 points after 32 matches, two behind league leaders AC Milan and level with Internazionale having played a game more.

Osimhen’s goal at least takes his tally for the season up to 12 league goals, only one off his career best — registered with LOSC Lille in the 2019-20 campaign.

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