Usually, when one player dominates a game, bending it to his will, you think of hat tricks and thunder-bastard goals and everything offensive. After all, soccer is judged on who scores and who doesn’t. And that goes for pretty much every sport.
Occasionally in the NFL you’ll see a guy with a five-sack game and that encounter will be forever be defined by that player’s name. Goalies in the NHL can simply turn the result however they see fit, but that’s about it. But almost always it’s the guy who dropped 50, or threw for five touchdowns, or scored four goals. Rarely do we say a defensive performance was so far and away the signature output from a game.
It’s even rarer that any player can do anything against Manchester City to have their name rise above their metronomic excellence and domination. The fact that Saturday saw a defender from Southampton do so is staggering. That’s what Mohammed Salisu accomplished in the Saints’ 1-1 draw against City, the first time City hadn’t won their match since 2017, or at least that’s what it feels like (it was 12 games straight in the league).
For a brief sample of what Salisu managed on Saturday, here he is robbing Kevin De Bruyne blind, and that’s KEVIN DE BRUYNE, no worse than what, the third best player in the Premier League? Out on the counter in space? In a spot that’s almost certainly death for every opponent who sees De Bruyne get off the leash:
By this point, everyone knows what a Man City game looks like. They possess the ball forever, they find space between the lines that seemingly shouldn’t exist, and they simply impose their will and walk their way into the penalty area where someone is found with a pass for a tap-in. You can’t stop it. And when they don’t have the ball, they immediately get it back as teams desperately heave the ball up to a forward that doesn’t have a teammate within emailing distance of him, and he loses the ball only 35 yards from his own goal and the whole thing starts over again.
What Man City rarely runs up against is one defender, standing on the bridge, saying, “You shall not pass!”
One who’s just always in the right spot and intercepting that final pass that always ends up in a look at an open goal. A defender who is just always in the way of that shot that normally goes in on the way to yet another 5-1 City triumph. For all of Man City managerPep Guardiola’s brilliance, not even he can plan for a player simply channeling the Reality Stone, bending things to his will and then setting things back right when it suits him.
Salisu’s numbers from Saturday’s draw are ridiculous. They are as follows:
- Six tackles
- Four interceptions
- Four blocks
- 15 clearances (!)
Obviously, you can only achieve these kinds of numbers when the other team always has the ball, which City always does. But it’s also a mark of the constant threat that City always carry, and the effort of one man to turn them away. The number of City attacks that fell apart at the feet of Salisu was close to innumerable.
In reality, this wasn’t much new for Salisu, and that one performance will almost certainly put him on the shopping list for a bigger club looking for their own Virgil van Dijk, who himself made his name at Southampton. Salisu has been one of the Premier League’s best centerbacks all season, and there’s an argument he’s been the best, even if Southampton’s overall defensive record isn’t glowing. That argument would be as follows:
And he won’t turn 23 until April.
Salisu still only has 33 appearances in the Premier League over the past two seasons, but that won’t stop teams from calling Southampton in the summer with checks big enough to make a thud when they hit the ground. And Southampton might not get a better price than they would this summer, which for a club like them they can’t miss out on. When and if Salisu becomes the next galactic defensive star for someone in the Champions League, we’ll look back at this game as the genesis.
The draw keeps the title race with a barely audible pulse. Liverpool’s dicey win over Crystal Palace on Sunday brings them within nine points and a game in hand. Should they win that, and then beat City in Manchester come April, maybe we’ll have something. But the real winner was Salisu, and the money he’s about to make for both himself and Southampton.