Who has a new hero? Garth Crooks’ Team of the Week

19 February 2024 0 By Total Football News

Garth Crooks' team of the week

After every Premier League weekend, 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 week
Goalkeeper

Ederson (Manchester City): The Manchester City keeper has not made my team selection for some time. I’m not entirely sure if that says more about his defenders than it does about his own performance. However, the Brazilian had to be at his best during Saturday’s 1-1 draw against Chelsea.

City might have gone 2-0 down if it hadn’t been for the brilliance of Ederson, who produced an excellent double save, with the first denying Raheem Sterling his second goal of the match.

The defending champions may look back at this fixture at the end of the season as a defining moment. The title could hinge on the finest margins and Ederson’s double save might prove to be the difference.

Defenders

Nelson Semedo (Wolverhampton Wanderers): There were so many impressive performances for Wolves in their 2-1 win at Tottenham that I could have picked out any number of their players to be in my team.

Nelson Semedo deserved a mention as he was outstanding. His ability to get forward, but also defend with equal measure, was impressive. He had a superb effort saved by Guglielmo Vicario when the rebound should have been converted by Hwang Hee-chan. He then produced the ball of the match in the second half for Pablo Sarabia, who should also have scored, and produced the block of the match to stop Dejan Kulusevski putting Spurs ahead.

Playing with a back three seems to have transformed Wolves, allowing Semedo to cascade forward almost at will. Arguably Wolves’ most improved player since his arrival.

Lewis Dunk (Brighton & Hove Albion): It was Dunk’s header across the face of the Sheffield United box that created Brighton’s first goal and opened the floodgates as they won 5-0. Brighton were rampant, and clearly in no mood to repeat the performance they turned in against Luton Town, where they lost 4-0 to another team fighting relegation.

Sheffield United admittedly weren’t helped by Mason Holgate’s early red card for his tackle on Kaoru Mitoma, but the defender got what he deserved. If players are behaving like this in matches, it will have been spotted in training and it needs to stop.

It’s no use the coaching staff telling the viewing public in post-match interviews that it’s over zealousness or the player “will learn from this”. The coaching staff are the teachers – and when players step out of line like that, then they have to bear some of that responsibility. Sheffield United have a rich history and a reputation to protect – and it should be protected.

Murillo (Nottingham Forest): Murillo was the only person standing between West Ham’s Michail Antonio and a free shot at the Nottingham Forest goal. The way the defender slowed Antonio down and then stood him up before dispossessing him wasn’t merely impressive, it was defending of the highest quality. Antonio was desperate for the defender to lunge in or commit himself but the Brazilian simply waited for the striker to make his move and read the situation brilliantly.

However, the dismissal of Kalvin Phillips in West Ham’s 2-0 defeat was desperately poor. If we’re now sending players off for attempting to win the ball, then the game is in a perilous situation. As for Morgan Gibbs-White exaggerating the challenge, and flying through the air like a trapeze artist, he should be ashamed of himself. Getting players sent off is not what the game has ever been about.

It was a good win for Forest and another setback for David Moyes. The lack of investment in the team by the board suggests Moyes is no longer of value to the club and they are waiting for his contract to run down. That’s the professional game for you.

Midfielders

Raheem Sterling (Chelsea): Sterling came on at Crystal Palace last Monday and changed the game for Chelsea as they won 3-1. To his credit, manager Mauricio Pochettino recognised his player was back in the mood and started him at Manchester City on Saturday.

And Sterling returned to Etihad Stadium with devastating effect. The way Pep Guardiola reacted to Sterling’s goal, having let his one-time darling leave the club, suggested it must have been like a dagger to his heart. The pain etched on Guardiola’s face, not to mention the hysterical waving of the arms in desperate disapproval, said it all.

Sterling, in return, tried to control his emotions and pay a little respect. City had, after all, provided him with trophies and the most successful period in his glittering career. However, the clenched fist and the puff of the cheeks exposed his relief and no doubt a certain satisfaction.

Martin Odegaard (Arsenal): What did Burnley expect when they gave the Arsenal captain enough space and time to put the ball precisely where he wanted to? What they deserved, that’s what.

Martin Odegaard must have thought it was his birthday after four minutes of this fixture. He had been given enough room to drive a coach and horses through. He took his chance, and Arsenal were on their way to a 5-0 victory at Turf Moor.

Do the Burnley players not realise that they are fighting for their Premier League lives? If they don’t have the presence of mind to close down one of the best teams in the country, who have one eye on the title, then its hardly surprising they get taken apart.

Odegaard went on to make Burnley’s life even more miserable with a lovely assist for Bukayo Saka’s second goal and generally ran the show.

Joao Gomes (Wolverhampton Wanderers): The quality of some of the football Wolves played at Tottenham was off the charts. Gomes’ first goal wasn’t a surprise, especially if the opposition aren’t prepared to compete for headers in their own penalty box – Tottenham paid the price for their lack of competitiveness early in the match.

However, the second goal was the result of the most wonderful counter attack masterminded by Pedro Neto who, for me, has been Wolves’ player of the season. It was finished again by Gomes, who had the most inspired afternoon.

Tottenham should have got a point out of this game based on chances but both keepers were excellent on the day.

Gary O’Neil is doing something very exciting with this group of Wolves players. They are clearly enjoying playing for him and their style of play is great to watch.

Bukayo Saka (Arsenal): Arsenal could have played their match at Burnley with one arm tied behind their backs. They passed the ball around Turf Moor as if it were an exhibition match and their hosts let them.

Playing pretty football is fine but there comes a time when the home side have to compete, especially when the opposition are better than you. Arsenal looked majestic and scored almost at will while Burnley looked not only out of their depth but, most worryingly of all, in desperate need of inspiration.

Meanwhile, Saka put his second goal into the roof of the Burnley net so emphatically, it was if he was thoroughly bored with the mismatch and couldn’t wait to get the game over and done with so he could get on with his weekend’s activities.

It looks like the Gunners are refusing to give up on their title dreams. The way they are playing, who can blame them?

Forwards

Ollie Watkins (Aston Villa): What on earth was Antonee Robinson thinking? If in doubt, throw the ball down the line away from your own goal. They teach you that at schoolboy level.

This obsession with putting the ball in dangerous areas and leaving your team-mate to deal with the problem is becoming a horrible feature in the modern game. Well, Ollie Watkins took full advantage of Robinson’s error of judgement and he made them pay for their folly, and he didn’t leave it there either. The striker scored again in the second half with an even better finish as Villa won 2-1.

Players such as Watkins must be licking their lips when they see the ball go back towards the opposition’s goal and are given a chance to steal the ball. Whatever happened to that wonderful old adage: don’t put the ball at risk?

Rasmus Hojlund (Manchester United): Hojlund’s first goal in the 2-1 victory at Luton smacked of a player bang in form and his second was just stunning improvisation. Luton players were left waving their hands in the air appealing to the referee that Hojlund had somehow used his arms and not his chest to direct the ball into the net but that was nothing more than sheer desperation and they knew it.

Manchester United left Kenilworth Road having done enough but should have won this game by a street. A run of seven goals in six games suggests Hojlund has found his wings and is starting to fly. The youngster also looks like he’s made of tough stuff. He’s come through a very difficult period at the club and it must have been painful.

However, it looks as if the United fans might have a new hero, and the club a new Frank Stapleton!

Mohamed Salah (Liverpool): It’s no use Jurgen Klopp putting his hands on his head every time one of his players goes into a tackle. Curtis Jones, Diogo Jota and Darwin Nunez all came off with injuries in Liverpool’s 4-1 demolition of Brentford but that’s football.

Expecting a footballer not to pick up knocks is like expecting a chef never to cut his finger. This wasn’t a dirty match full of pernicious tackles but a full-blooded Premier League fixture.

Liverpool are involved in four competitions and their wounded list is lengthening. The Reds are still flying high at the moment but can’t sustain any further injuries in what is fast becoming a depleted squad.

The Merseysiders are about to play a resurgent Chelsea in the Carabao Cup final which, at one point, looked a forgone conclusion but is now too close to call. Any more players sidelined and it would also pose a serious threat to their title challenge.

Fortunately they have Mohamed Salah back after a stint on the treatment table and he looked impressive. With Salah on the pitch, anything is possible.

Short presentational grey line

The Crooks of the Matter

An awful lot was made of Chelsea’s Cole Palmer returning to Etihad Stadium at the weekend and that he may have received the cold shoulder from Ederson in the tunnel as both teams were waiting to take to the pitch before the game. From what I could tell, every Manchester City player who came past Cole, as they lined up in the tunnel, gave him either a pat on the back, a firm handshake or a warm embrace. I must say, I was mightily impressed. I recall things being very different years ago.

We all remember the incident in 2005 involving Arsenal’s Patrick Vieira and Manchester United’s Roy Keane when the two captains clashed in the tunnel at Highbury prior to the game. Well, that was not uncommon in the 80s and 90s. In fact, Wimbledon became quite famous for intimidating the opposition in the tunnel. The Crazy Gang were notorious for such behaviour, especially at their old Plough Lane stadium. In those days, there were two very famous players who would cause mayhem at any opportunity and if you weren’t up for the battle, you might as well have gone home.

I can assure you what takes place these days in the tunnel is very different from what used to occur. Cole Palmer’s reception couldn’t have been better in my view, even if one player did give him the cold shoulder.

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