Tue. Apr 23rd, 2019

Garth Crooks’ team of the week: Van Dijk, Pogba, Moura and Salah

Liverpool stayed two points clear at the top of the Premier League with a 2-0 win over Chelsea but title rivals Manchester City won 3-1 at Crystal Palace to keep the pressure on.

In the battle for Champions League places, Tottenham moved up to third with a 4-0 thrashing of Huddersfield before Manchester United hung on to beat West Ham 2-1 and climb to fifth.

At the other end of the table, Cardiff were beaten 2-0 at relegation rivals Burnley and Brighton suffered a heavy home defeat, losing 5-0 to Bournemouth.

Fulham ended a run of nine straight defeats as they beat Everton 2-0 while there were also wins for Southampton, who enjoyed a 3-1 success against Wolves, and Newcastle, who won 1-0 at Leicester on Friday evening.

Here’s my team of the week – have a read and select your own below.

Garth Crooks’ Team of the Week

Goalkeeper – Alisson (Liverpool)

Last week I commended Manchester City’s Ederson for his coolness under pressure. This week it’s Alisson who takes the plaudits. This is the business end of the season and the slightest mistake from your goalkeeper and your title dreams could be in tatters. How either of these ‘keepers are keeping their nerves in the white-hot heat of the Premier League title race I do not know but both are doing an incredible job. If you are a ‘keeper, clean sheets are the name of the game at this stage of the season.

Did you know? Alisson kept his 17th Premier League clean sheet of the season, making five saves against Chelsea.

Defenders – Nathan Ake (Bournemouth), Vincent Kompany (Man City), Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool)

Nathan Ake: Another piece of masterful defending by Nathan Ake against Brighton. If Ake wasn’t heading balls out of his own box he was assisting his team in brilliant counter-attacks. Bournemouth’s clean sheet was in no small measure helped by the mind-numbingly stupid tackle by Anthony Knockaert. Last week in the FA Cup semi-final Knockaert wanted everyone to see how good he was. This week all we will remember is how reckless he can be.

Did you know? The Dutch defender made six tackles and three clearances in Bournemouth’s away win at Brighton.

Vincent Kompany: When you’re going for all four major titles you need all your players on top of their game, so imagine the feeling in the dressing room when your captain returns to the starting line-up and plays as though he has never been away. Kompany strolled around Selhurst Park, gently snuffing out the occasional danger. Christian Benteke’s heart must have sank when he saw Kompany’s name on the teamsheet.

Did you know? Vincent Kompany made five clearances and three tackles as Man City won 3-1 against Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park.

Virgil van Dijk: Now this is getting ridiculous. Virgil van Dijk is now stroking balls to Mohamed Salah as if he’s Andrea Pirlo. Not only is Van Dijk running his back four like a military operation, he is also picking out match-winning passes almost at will. Is there anything this lad can’t do at the moment?

Did you know? Van Dijk made a team-high five clearances for Liverpool, while also completing 90% of his attempted passes.

Midfielders – Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), Paul Pogba (Man Utd), Kevin de Bruyne (Man City), Nathan Redmond (Southampton)

Jordan Henderson: If Liverpool do happen to win the title, the return to form of Jordan Henderson will have had a lot to do with it. How much credit Jurgen Klopp will take for that remains to be seen. It was Klopp who dropped Henderson – harshly in my view – but the reaction of the Liverpool captain has been quite remarkable. Henderson was outstanding against Southampton (where he came on after 59 minutes) and again against Chelsea. I don’t know who will take the credit for Henderson’s resurgence but putting him on the bench clearly focussed his thoughts.

Did you know? Henderson provided the assist for Liverpool’s opener against Chelsea, while also completing 85% of his passes in the opposition half.

Paul Pogba: Big moments in games require big players. Paul Pogba assumed the mantle of the big man way before he came to Old Trafford, but since the departure of Jose Mourinho he has convinced me (arguably his biggest critic) that he never ducks the big occasion. The two penalty conversions against West Ham got Manchester United out of jail. He may not always produce his best performance but he makes himself accountable.

Did you know? Paul Pogba is the first Manchester United player since Ryan Giggs against Spurs in April 2010 to net two penalties in a Premier League game at Old Trafford.

Kevin de Bruyne: What a time to have Kevin de Bruyne fit and back in your team, just as you’re about to up the tempo and go for the quadruple. The Belgium international provided two defence-splitting passes for Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus against an utterly outclassed Crystal Palace to keep the pressure on Liverpool. With De Bruyne fit and playing well again, anything is possible.

Did you know? De Bruyne created six chances for Man City at Selhurst Park, with two of those resulting in assists for team-mates.

Nathan Redmond: This lad scored his seventh and eighth goals of the season in the victory again Wolves – another team suffering from an FA Cup semi-final hangover – but it should have been his 17th and 18th. Redmond has all the right pieces of the jigsaw but sadly not all in the right places. Ability, pace and vision are essential components of any forward but if Redmond could add finishing with any kind of regularity to his repertoire then he’d be at a top four club.

Did you know? Southampton’s Redmond scored just his second Premier League brace, his first coming in March 2017 against Watford.

Forwards – Raheem Sterling (Man City), Mohamed Salah (Liverpool), Lucas Moura (Tottenham)

Raheem Sterling: What is so impressive about Raheem Sterling’s performances of late is that he doesn’t just look world class, his conduct and comments as a professional footballer are beginning to sound statesman like too. His two goals against Crystal Palace were taken with a confidence the player didn’t possess two seasons ago. Likewise his post-match interview; calm considered and full of common sense.

Did you know? Sterling scored a brace from two shots on target against Crystal Palace, including Man City’s opener in the game.

Mohamed Salah: I said last week that Mohamed Salah was back when he scored against Southampton and ripped his shirt off with a defiant stare. If anyone was in any doubt about my suggestion then all they had to do was take a look at Salah’s goal against Chelsea. Have you ever seen a strike like it and in a game that meant so much? Up until that point I thought Chelsea were the better side but who cares? Goals like that deserve to win matches.

Did you know? Salah scored once and created four chances for Liverpool at Anfield, the most of any player for the Reds.

Lucas Moura: This lad has been a bit-part player for Spurs since his arrival from PSG two seasons ago but he seems to make a significant impact on the game whenever he plays. His role in Tottenham’s demolition of Huddersfield Town was no exception. Moura ripped the Terriers to shreds with a beautifully taken hat-trick. What followed will stay with those that witnessed it as it unfolded for the rest of their lives. Read more in the Crooks of the Matter below.

Did you know? The Brazilian netted a hat-trick for Spurs against Huddersfield, scoring with three of his four shots in the game.

Now it’s your turn

You’ve seen my selections this week. But who would you go for?

The Crooks of the Matter

If ever there was a week, amidst Fifa’s latest announcement that racism in football has to stop, where I needed to be reminded what football was really all about; then the moment Lucas Moura stood waiting for his wife to bring his baby son (barely capable of walking) to pitch side of the new Tottenham Hotspur stadium and share in his dad’s first Spurs hat-trick was it.

Those of us who have children and have shared in the honour of playing this magnificent game, at any level, must have felt moved by the sheer joy of the occasion. Moura invited his son to kick the ball, that was now officially his, on the hollowed turf as if it were their own back yard. By now, the remnants of the 58,000 crowd had seen what was going on and decided to engage in the fun by encouraging his son’s every move towards the ball, culminating in a massive roar of approval with each kick. The occasion lasted only a few minutes but I enjoyed it almost as much as I did his father’s hat-trick.

It’s these moments that are magical about our game, here a fixture reaches way beyond the result and deep into who we actually are. Just ordinary people who want to share in the moment.

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