Garth Crooks’ Team of the Week: Odegaard, Alexander-Arnold, Watkins, Pickford

3 December 2023 0 By Total Football News

Garth Crooks' team of the week

After every weekend of the Premier League, BBC football pundit Garth Crooks gathers his thoughts and gives you his Team of the Week.

Here are this week’s choices. And as ever, Garth also discusses the game’s big talking points in the Crooks of the Matter.

Garth Crooks' team of the weekGoalkeeper

Jordan Pickford (Everton): It was a real team performance away at Nottingham Forest by Everton, and Pickford was at the heart of it. To what extent their performance was galvanised by having been deducted 10 points by the game’s authorities is hard to determine. What was very clear was the celebration of the victory among their players and their fans at the end of the match. It was Pickford’s free-kick, hoisted into the box for James Tarkowski to attack, that resulted in Dwight McNeil scoring the winning goal. But it was the speed with which the England number one came out to smother the threat from Anthony Elanga’s attempt at goal, accompanied by his scream of delight, that epitomised Everton’s determination. This points reduction might prove to be a blessing in disguise for the Toffees.

Defenders

Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool): I don’t think I’ve ever seen four better goals in one Premier League match, and two of them were scored by Alexander Arnold. Admittedly his first goal will be credited to Bernd Leno after Alexander-Arnold’s amazing free-kick went in off the back of the Fulham goalkeeper. However, there was no doubt about the quality of the free-kick. The full-back’s second goal clinched a 4-3 thriller and the points for Liverpool. To score three goals at Anfield and come away with nothing will be a bitter pill to swallow for the Londoners.

Dara O’Shea (Burnley): When Vincent Kompany said he thought his team were outstanding against West Ham last week, I thought he was reaching. The truth was his team were prepared to compete but they couldn’t close the game. Sheffield United, however, posed a very different test and one the Clarets had to pass – and they did so brilliantly, scoring five goals and keeping a clean sheet. However, it was the performance of O’Shea in defence that stood out. He not only competed fairly and squarely against United’s Oli McBurnie, he outplayed him, and that is why the centre-forward resorted to the use of his elbow on two occasions. The Scot eventually received his marching orders but, more worryingly for United, he has a game better suited to the previous century than the modern era.

Fabian Schar (Newcastle): Watching Schar drive at the Manchester United defence with the ball at his feet was almost a throwback to the days of Philippe Albert during the Kevin Keegan era. The ensuing free-kick by Kieran Trippier left Andre Onana in the United goal rooted to the spot, only to be saved by the underside of the bar. Schar’s contribution to Newcastle’s victory cannot be underestimated. The Swiss international was outstanding and never gave Anthony Martial a kick. It was Schar who blocked the shot destined for the back of the net and resulted in Nick Pope dislocating his shoulder. Was he lucky not to get booked for the tackle on Bruno Fernandes? Probably, but referees are allowed to use their discretion in a contact sport.

Midfielders

Luca Koleosho (Burnley): The fixture between last season’s top two Championship teams suggests Burnley are slowly coming to terms with life in the Premier League and Sheffield United are not. Meanwhile, the gulf in talent between them and the rest of the division is less of a gap and more of a chasm. However, Burnley have players who appear capable of adapting to the modern game and none more so than Koleosho. The 19-year-old looks exciting and has an appetite for goals. United manager Paul Heckingbottom said in his post-match interview that he picked a team that was experienced and aggressive but they couldn’t handle the situation. I think that was the only thing he got right all afternoon.

Martin Odegaard (Arsenal): This was the first time I’ve seen Odegaard look something like the player he was for Arsenal last season. His goal was struck beautifully, but he was also back controlling the game from the centre of midfield and setting up chances for his team-mates to score out of nothing. The Gunners are not playing the most scintillating football I’ve seen from them, but they are winning games. I also couldn’t help but notice that Mikel Arteta is not complaining about anything at the moment. I suppose when you’ve just gone four points clear at the top of the table having beaten Wolves, there isn’t much to complain about. Let’s hope he can be just as gracious in defeat as he is in victory.

Enzo Fernandez (Chelsea): You can’t score two goals and win the game for you team with 10 men, and not get in my team. I’ve seen Fernandez have better games, but he won’t score two more important goals. What is wrong with Chelsea? In consecutive weeks, they have had Reece James and Conor Gallagher, both wearing the captain’s armband, sent off for bookable offences. What’s that about? The Blues just about got away with it against Brighton and spent the final eight minutes hanging on. Seldom will they perform in such a reckless fashion and come away with all the points. You’d have thought they would have learned their lesson at Newcastle.

Dwight McNeil (Everton): He deserved a goal earlier in the match and would have had one but for a superb clearance off the line. However, the finish by McNeil that eventually won Everton the match was a lovely strike. Boy, did they need these three points after their 10-point deduction by the Premier League recently for the contravention of their Financial Fair Play regulations. Everton seem to have taken their punishment on the chin and got on with matters. No-one is doubting that if a club breaks the rules, then they also deserve sanctions. However, to ensure the integrity of the game remains intact, football fans need to be absolutely sure that if other clubs are found guilty of similar practices, they must be punished in proportion to their offences.

Forwards

Anthony Gordon (Newcastle): Gordon has now scored in four Premier League home games, and the way he is playing I’ve no doubt there are more to come. His performances for Newcastle recently beg the question, why hasn’t he been considered for England? The difference between Gordon and Marcus Rashford on Saturday night was like chalk and cheese. One player was clearly enjoying his game and the other wasn’t. I have been a huge admirer of Rashford, even when he was having a difficult time under Jose Mourinho, but his performance at St James’ Park was concerning. It’s time Rashford stopped sulking and produced the passion and desire a team like Manchester United deserve.

Ollie Watkins (Aston Villa): I saw Watkins score a hat-trick against Brighton and every goal was either scuffed or a mishit. Of course, as long as the ball ends up in the back of the net, the striker couldn’t care less. However, his goal against Bournemouth was a sensational header. The ball was behind him but the England international worked so hard to position his body in order to direct the ball goalward and got his reward with a superb equaliser with minutes left to play. Bournemouth, meanwhile, have had a resurgence. It wasn’t that long ago that manager Andoni Iraola was staring at the exit door, but with 10 points in the last five games, the Cherries suddenly look like a team that will survive.

Dejan Kulusevski (Tottenham): It was Kulusevski’s superb through ball that set Son Heung-min free to put Spurs 1-0 up within the first 10 minutes against Manchester City. From that moment on, the Sweden international’s game went from strength to strength. If anyone was going to get the equaliser at the end, it was Kulusevski. The way the player attacked the ball, and buried Nathan Ake in the bargain, was impressive. All credit to Tottenham – they were prepared to take the European champions on, and they did. With Cristian Romero and Micky van de Ven in the side, the result might have been different. And that’s the point, isn’t it? Ange Postecoglou can walk away from this game knowing he’s not far away from having a top four side.

Short presentational grey line

The Crooks of the Matter

The new handball rule has to be amended. It is causing almost as much controversy as VAR – and the lawmakers are now considering bringing in sin bins. Where will it end?

The rules have survived quite happily for over a century, but the sports administrators have insisted on changes that have clearly damaged the game. The handball rule, according to the laws of the game when deciding a handball decision, must have three key considerations:

  • Whether it is a “deliberate action” by the player – ie have they moved their arm towards the ball?
  • The proximity of the player from the ball and the speed it hits them on the arm/hand
  • If the hand or arm is in “an unnatural position” – ie away from the body

In the case of the handball by Newcastle’s Tino Livramento in midweek against Paris St-Germain, the referee deemed that, even if it was not deliberate and the defender was unable to react quickly enough, his arm was in an unnatural position. It is this element of the rule that is causing so much confusion. What is an unnatural position? Put 10 referees in a room and they will all give you a different version of what, in their opinion, is an unnatural position. The law is far too subjective to be effective.

We are then told that the decision made at the Parc des Princes on Tuesday could not have happened in the Premier League because allowances are made by officials when the ball strikes another part of the body first, prior to it hitting the player’s arm. Of course, this doesn’t stop players, desperate for a verdict, appealing for anything and everything that looks remotely suspicious – alerting the fans to their bias, knowing television commentators and pundits everywhere are left with no option but to embroil themselves in the entire circus, leaving the referee with a massive problem.

The whole purpose of these decisions was to help referees, not make their lives more difficult. I’m afraid these interventions by the lawmakers have actually made their jobs almost unmanageable. Please, leave the game alone.

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