Garth Crooks’ Team of the Week: Pope, Van Dijk, De Bruyne, Joelinton, Saka, Jesus
Manchester City and Liverpool both won to keep up the relentless pace at the top of the Premier League, while Arsenal beat Manchester United and Burnley overtook Everton to get out of the relegation zone.
Who made my Team of the Week? Check it out below and then make your own selections at the bottom of the article.
Goalkeeper – Nick Pope (Burnley)
What a week it’s been for Nick Pope. He was very unlucky not to make my team selection last week after his performance against West Ham. The England goalkeeper made a number of excellent saves to help Burnley to a well-earned point. Pope made a great reaction save from Che Adams against Southampton in midweek in a victory that became a lifeline to the Clarets as they went into the following game against Wolves with real momentum. Saves from Jonny and especially Nelson Semedo were particularly impressive. Sean Dyche may have gone but Burnley certainly haven’t. Not yet anyway.
Did you know? Pope kept his 46th clean sheet for Burnley in the Premier League, which is now 22 more clean sheets than the next closest goalkeeper for the Clarets (Tom Heaton, 24).
Defenders – Trevoh Chalobah (Chelsea), Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool), Nathan Collins (Burnley)
Chalobah: What Chalobah did against West Ham was precisely what Andreas Christensen should have done against Arsenal. The Danish centre-back’s inability to keep his concentration long enough to eliminate the number of mistakes he made against the Gunners was telling. Christensen arguably started the rot against Arsenal in midweek with an appalling backpass which let in Eddie Nketiah for the first of his two goals. Chalobah, on the other hand, was the central defender against the Hammers who took the responsibility often taken by Antonio Rudiger when he plays and looked impressive for much of the match. Christensen has been at Stamford Bridge for quite some time now but I haven’t seen the sort of development in the defender I was expecting. Chalobah, however, looks an exciting prospect and should be trusted more in the bigger games.
Did you know? Chalobah completed 96% of his passes against West Ham (68/71), the best figure of any player in the match (minimum 30 passes attempted).
Van Dijk: I really don’t know what Liverpool would do without Virgil van Dijk. He was the only player who managed to keep his cool in the Merseyside derby when all around him seemed to be losing theirs. In another fractious affair between these two sides there was a moment when bookings were being thrown around by referee Stuart Attwell like confetti. As for Everton, their situation is quite straightforward for me. If they continue to play with the fight and commitment they showed against Liverpool, staying in the league will not be an issue. The problem for them is if they don’t. As for Van Dijk, he was the coolest man on the pitch.
Did you know? Van Dijk has now played in 63 matches for Liverpool in the Premier League at Anfield and has never finished on the losing side (W55 D8).
Collins: This was a massive win for Burnley against Wolves and another impressive display from Nathan Collins at centre-back. In the absence of Ben Mee, Burnley have had to find an extra gear in defence and Collins has deputised admirably. He scored a vital goal against Southampton in midweek which sealed the points during a very tense 90 minutes. In the following fixture against Wolves, Collins showed composure and nerve and played his part in helping Burnley keep a valuable clean sheet. I don’t know the reasons for the departure of Dyche but it seems to be working.
Did you know? No Burnley player won more aerial duels than Collins (three) against Wolves, while only James Tarkowski (five) made more clearances than his four.
Midfielders – James Ward-Prowse (Southampton), Bruno Guimaraes (Newcastle), Kevin de Bruyne (Man City), Joelinton (Newcastle)
Ward-Prowse: When you’re 2-0 down away from home at half-time you had better have someone special in your team capable of turning the deficit around otherwise the game might as well be over. Fortunately, Southampton have James Ward-Prowse, who seems to have the ability to dig the Saints out of almost any hole. His two goals against Brighton were timely as they were beautifully struck. Southampton will do well to hold on to this player. He’s got so much more to offer and would make the perfect replacement for Jordan Henderson at Liverpool.
Did you know? Only David Beckham and Laurent Robert (five each) have scored more direct free-kick goals in a single Premier League season than Ward-Prowse’s four.
Guimaraes: For the second consecutive week Guimaraes makes my team. The Brazilian was outstanding at home against Leicester but was a class apart against a Norwich side who, from the opening day of the season, were never good enough to stay in the league. In fact, if Norwich had employed the same strategy as Newcastle then they may have found themselves out of this mess. The Canaries might have changed their manager but managers don’t win football matches – players do – and sadly too many of their players were not up to the job.
Did you know? Despite only making his debut in February, only Allan Saint-Maximin (five) and Callum Wilson (six) have scored more Premier League goals for Newcastle this season than Guimaraes (four).
De Bruyne: Manchester City went top of the table 24 hours after Liverpool had taken the mantle after a routine win against Brighton in midweek and De Bruyne made sure they stayed there after demolishing Watford three days later. He had missed the FA Cup semi-final against Liverpool through injury and City felt his absence. However his return to their starting line-up instigated Watford’s 5-1 thrashing. City’s semi-final exit highlighted the importance of De Bruyne to their fortunes and keeping him fit between now and the end of the season will be vital if City are to stand any chance of winning the Champions League and Premier League titles.
Did you know? De Bruyne has assisted nine Premier League goals against Watford, his most against a single opponent in the competition.
Joelinton: If Dean Smith thought for one second that Norwich had any chance of staying in the Premier League before their home game against Newcastle United then Joelinton must have made him think again. Two first-half goals from the Brazilian merely cemented Newcastle’s emergence as a mid-table team no longer flirting with relegation and to be taken very seriously. If the Magpies continue to buy wisely and build on what they have created since the new owners have arrived then next season could be their most exciting season in the Premier League since the arrival of Kevin Keegan. It took him little time to settle in but when he did what a chapter it was. What’s more, looking at the Newcastle fans at Norwich, the Geordie Army can sense it too. The club is in good hands.
Did you know? Joelinton scored his first ever Premier League brace. The Brazilian became the fourth player to score in their 100th Premier League game for Newcastle, after Gary Speed, Andy O’Brien and Ayoze Perez.
Forwards – Bukayo Saka, Eddie Nketiah (both Arsenal), Gabriel Jesus (Man City)
Saka: I said shortly after the Euros that Saka would benefit greatly from the experience of this international tournament. Missing penalties is an awful experience for any professional footballer and only those with the meanest intelligence could have anything other than complete and total sympathy for the taker. Saka not only has immense talent but courage to go with it. Returning to take penalties for your club, having missed them so publicly for your country, takes guts. His penalty against Chelsea in midweek followed by the one that sent David de Gea the wrong way against Manchester United were quite brilliant under the circumstances.
Did you know? At 20 years and 230 days, Saka is the youngest player in Premier League history to score a penalty in consecutive appearances.
Nketiah: He showed great pace and even better finishing against Chelsea and it took VAR some time to decide his goal against Manchester United was offside by the finest margin. Nketiah was outstanding against Chelsea in midweek and led the Arsenal line against Manchester United like a senior pro days later. Ralf Rangnick may feel United are in desperate need of ‘open heart surgery’, well, we all knew that before he came. The point is he was supposed to complete the operation, not merely make the diagnosis. No wonder United are in such a mess. They have a dentist doing a surgeon’s job. Read more about what I think the new manager of Manchester United, Erik ten Hag, has to do in the Crooks of the Matter below.
Did you know? Against Chelsea, Nketiah scored his first Premier League goals in more than a year – since a stoppage-time equaliser against Fulham in April 2021 – while also netting his very first brace in the top flight.
Jesus: You concede a goal three minutes and 40 seconds into a match, I am perfectly entitled to ask what exactly was said in the dressing room before the players took to the pitch and did they hear one single word of it? Watford were doomed from the moment they conceded the first goal. As for Jesus, regular readers will know how much I hate teams who play with a false number nine, no matter how good that team think they are. City have suffered in terms of their goal tally because they have left Jesus out of the team on so many occasions. Well, the Brazilian’s four goals helped their goal difference immensely against Watford and in the final stages of the title chase City might need them. A natural finisher if ever I saw one.
Did you know? Jesus became only the second Manchester City player to be directly involved in five goals in a single Premier League game (four goals, one assist), after Sergio Aguero scored five against Newcastle in October 2015. He was the third player to score four goals in a Premier League match for the Citizens, after Edin Dzeko and Sergio Aguero.
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The Crooks of the Matter
Real Madrid and Barcelona have practically bankrupted themselves in order to try and retain their superiority in Europe.
Meanwhile, Manchester United owners have spent more money than any of their European counterparts and still haven’t landed the European Champions League or the Premier League title post Sir Alex Ferguson. United’s problem is that they have bought so very badly.
If their next manager Erik ten Hag has any sense he will not keep faith with the same players who have let down previous managers so villainously and initiate the exit of certain players who have overstayed their welcome and others who simply are not good enough and with that money fund a new regime.
He must be ruthless otherwise everything he has achieved at Ajax will count for nought. Manchester United is a different beast entirely and if he doesn’t get it right he will be shown no mercy and devoured like all the others before him.