Who played the most glorious pass you will ever see? Whose performance had been a long time coming? Find out in Garth Crooks’ team of the week.
Liverpool ended a sequence of four league games without a win with a 2-0 victory at Sheffield United and reduced the gap to the top four after the Hammers’ defeat, Chelsea’s 0-0 draw against Manchester United and Leicester’s 3-1 home loss to Arsenal.
There was a comfortable 4-0 win over Burnley for Tottenham, while fellow European hopefuls Aston Villa won 1-0 at Leeds and Everton moved to within two points of the top four with a 1-0 victory over Southampton.
At the bottom end of the table there was a precious 1-0 win for West Bromwich Albion over Brighton, while Newcastle drew 1-1 against Wolves and Fulham picked up a point with a 0-0 draw at Crystal Palace.
Check out my team of the week and then make your own selections towards the bottom of the article.
Goalkeeper – Sam Johnstone (West Bromwich Albion)
Sam Johnstone: If ever there was a day when you wanted your goalkeeper to keep a clean sheet then this was it. West Brom are desperately struggling to survive in the best league in the world and they battled it out and won the day against a team in a similar position.
Nerves were at breaking point for everyone concerned, including the officials when Lewis Dunk’s free-kick was ruled out. Brighton boss Graham Potter handled himself impeccably in the midst of extraordinary circumstances.
West Brom centre-back Kyle Bartley put in another superb defensive display and his goalkeeper Sam Johnstone played an absolute blinder, under extreme pressure.
Did you know? Johnstone became the first goalkeeper to reach 100+ saves in the Premier League this season (105 in total) – he’s surpassed the 100 saves mark in each of his past four seasons in English league football.
Defenders – David Luiz (Arsenal), Ruben Dias (Manchester City), Kyle Bartley (West Bromwich Albion), John Stones (Manchester City)
David Luiz: You can’t tell me the move for his goal wasn’t planned. David Luiz and Willian knew exactly what they were doing. Luiz looked totally uninterested during the set-up with his hands on his hips watching events. His movement across the face of the six-yard box was excellent and matched only by his header – Arsenal’s equaliser.
It’s quite commendable that Luiz is still prepared to put his head into dangerous areas considering his clash of heads with Wolves’ Raul Jimenez, which put both players out of action for some time.
Did you know? Luiz scored for the first time in 40 Premier League games, since netting against Crystal Palace in October 2019.
Ruben Dias: It’s difficult to fathom that his goal against West Ham was his first for the club. Ruben Dias has been quite magnificent this season in defence for Manchester City but had so far failed to hit the back of the net. Actually, the defender has been unfortunate not to have opened his account on previous occasions. However his headed goal against West Ham only did justice to the cross provided by the king of assists Kevin de Bruyne.
The ball was wonderful, I will concede, but do not make the mistake that assists, however brilliant, can ever replace the value or the execution of scoring a goal. An identical chance created by Jesse Lingard and missed by Issa Diop clearly illustrated that point.
Did you know? Dias became City’s 19th different scorer this season, excluding own goals. They have had more different scorers than any other Premier League side in all competitions this campaign.
Kyle Bartley: Boy, did West Brom need these three points. The manner in which they came I will talk about in more detail in the Crooks of the Matter below, but they could be the turning point in Brighton’s season, never mind West Brom’s. Bartley was outstanding last week against Burnley when he held the fort with 10 men. This week the defender pops up with the winner that gives Sam Allardyce a glimmer of hope of survival in the Premier League, and with it, his esteemed record of never having suffered relegation as a manager.
There are 12 games left and I predict the Baggies are going to need 36 points to survive. That record looks doomed.
Did you know? Bartley has scored three Premier League goals this season; only in 2016-17 (six, for Leeds) has the defender netted more in a league campaign.
John Stones: So when Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus can’t do what they are paid to do along come Dias and John Stones to do the job for them. Both Manchester City’s centre-backs scored important goals against West Ham to strengthen their grip on regaining the title.
This has been a season like no other, with the club’s top two strikers struggling for goals and forcing Guardiola to find suitable methods to replace them. Stones and Dias have very much been part of that solution.
Did you know? No Premier League defender has scored more goals in all competitions this season than Stones (four), with all four of his strikes coming in 2021.
Midfielders – Georginio Wijnaldum (Liverpool), Kevin de Bruyne (Manchester City), Willian (Arsenal), Jesse Lingard (West Ham United)
Georginio Wijnaldum: The first half was like attack versus defence. Liverpool were doing all the attacking and Sheffield United’s Aaron Ramsdale most of the defending. The keeper made saves from Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Georginio Wijnaldum and that was just in the first half.
It started to look like it was one of those nights for Liverpool where nothing was going to beat Ramsdale but it was only a matter of time. Wijnaldum once again seemed to keep it together for Liverpool in the absence of Jordan Henderson. Should anything happen to Wijnaldum between now and the end of the season, bearing in mind their injury list, I think Liverpool would implode.
Did you know? Only one player on the pitch bettered Wijnaldum’s tally of two chances created (Alexander-Arnold – three), while the Dutchman also completed 95% of his passes (56/59).
Kevin de Bruyne: The ease at which he moved the ball from his right foot to his left in order to provide a better angle for Dias to attack, the most glorious floated 40-yard pass you will ever see in your life, said all you need to know about De Bruyne’s talent. The Belgium international then proceeded to spray the ball around all afternoon and looked majestic doing it.
As for the Hammers? All credit to them, they not only stood up to the champions-elect but really should have got something out of this game the way they performed.
Did you know? No player has provided more Premier League assists this season than De Bruyne (11) – indeed, his assist for Dias was his 77th in the competition, moving him into the all-time Premier League top 10 for assists.
Willian: To be out of the team for such long periods and to come back into the Arsenal side and perform so well against an in-form Leicester, and away from home, was impressive. Willian has struggled since his arrival at Emirates Stadium, although he made my team of the week after an impressive debut against Fulham in the opening game of the season.
This was a costly defeat for the Foxes. They missed out on a chance to go second in the table above Manchester United and lost Harvey Barnes to an injury that could keep him out for six weeks. Just when England manager Gareth Southgate was getting interested.
Did you know? Willian created a game-high three goalscoring chances against Leicester and posted a 97% pass success rate (34/35), the best of any player in the game.
Jesse Lingard: I said some weeks ago that Lingard looked in the mood to prove his critics wrong. His return to first-team action after such a long absence has been impressive and his most recent performance against Manchester City was no different.
Whatever the reasons Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had for allowing Lingard to play on loan at West Ham for the rest of the season, Lingard is making the Manchester United’s manager’s decision-making look questionable.
Scott McTominay, Fred and Daniel James might have seen Lingard out of the Old Trafford door for now but when the England player is in this mood he looks hard to ignore.
Did you know? Lingard has been directly involved in four goals in his five Premier League appearances for West Ham (three goals, one assist), double the amount he managed in his last 35 games for Manchester United (two).
Forwards – Gareth Bale (Tottenham) and Richarlison (Everton)
Gareth Bale: Burnley, decimated by injuries and with a squad about an inch deep, suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of Spurs. Three goals in 31 minutes was bad enough but when I saw Burnley’s Chris Wood still warming up when the Clarets were 4-0 down it suggested this had damage limitation written all over it.
The architect of their downfall was Gareth Bale. This performance by Bale has been a long time coming but I would prefer to see it against the bigger clubs than the ones fighting relegation. However that’s been Jose Mourinho’s fault, not Bale’s.
Did you know? Bale has been directly involved in seven goals in his past four appearances for Tottenham in all competitions (four goals, three assists), scoring and assisting in his two starts in this run, against Wolfsberger in the Europa League and against Burnley.
Richarlison: Last week I remarked on how Richarlison enjoyed the freedom of playing up front without the support of Dominic Calvert-Lewin. Well the striking partners were reunited against Southampton and Calvert-Lewin played a pivotal role in the Brazilian’s goal.
Everton now sit in seventh, on the same points as Liverpool, with a game in hand. If Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin can recapture the spark they had earlier in the season, Liverpool might find themselves finishing behind their arch rivals. Now wouldn’t that be interesting.
Did you know? Richarlison has scored in three consecutive Premier League appearances for Everton for the first time since December 2019, while against no side has he scored more goals in the competition than against Southampton (4 – level with Wolves and Leicester).
The Crooks of the Matter
The big talking point of the weekend was the controversy surrounding Lee Mason. The Greater Manchester referee found himself at the centre of a storm after disallowing a goal he had previously given in the West Brom-Brighton game at the Hawthorns.
What was so amazing about this incident was that it was clear from the start that Mason had made a mistake. Having given the free-kick correctly in the first place, Brighton’s captain Lewis Dunk spots West Brom goalkeeper Johnstone holding the post and still organising his wall, asks the referee if he can take the free-kick. Mason, unaware that Johnstone is not ready, agrees to Dunk’s request and blows his whistle to take the free-kick but, as Dunk strikes the ball, Mason realises the keeper is out of position and blows his whistle a second time to halt the play.
Mason’s mistake, of course, is he decides to give the goal but VAR reminds him that he blew the whistle a second time and therefore must disallow the goal and rectify his mistake.
What I find remarkable about all of this was the request by the Brighton captain that the referee should somehow come on TV to explain his mistake.
Why? Has Pascal Gross or Danny Welbeck been asked to explain why they missed their penalties or why Dunk himself was found out of position for Albion’s first and only goal of the game? No, because these are errors. Unfortunate and costly but mistakes nevertheless.
The game has already found itself in the dock struggling to cope with so many changes to its rules and conventions. Let’s not make hanging referees out to dry for making genuine mistakes another one of them. Especially when those mistakes are rectified.
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