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Premier League Team of the Week IV feat. Southampton and Swansea Stars

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As another weekend’s action in the Premier League has now drawn to a close, we look back on the top performers over the ten matches. On Saturday, we observed a remarkable continuation of the trend of away victories. Liverpool and Chelsea were handed shocking defeats at their supposed fortresses at the hands of West Ham United and Crystal Palace respectively. Manchester City however remained perfect, as another victory was added to their tally without conceding any goals. A terrific team performance by Swansea City continued the hoodoo that Monk seems to have over Van Gaal’s Manchester United, achieving a third win in succession. Who made it into your Premier League team of the week? Read over my opinions and feel free to leave your comments below or on twitter @TBRFootball .

Team of the Week - Football tactics and formations

Tim Howard: In a performance that epitomises just what a dependable and agile goalkeeper Tim Howard has become over recent years, the U.S.A. international was at times keeping Tottenham Hotspur at bay by himself. The Everton stopper was vocal and commanding, providing the necessary leadership that maintained vital organisation when under the cosh against Spurs.

Most memorable of his saves came in the first half, although they were indeed more numerous in the second 45 minutes. As Harry Kane sprung the off-side trap to leave the Everton defence watching on, Howard dominated the ensuing one-on-one situation. He made the England man look nervous and out of control of the situation, capitalising on the forward’s current lack of form. Howard also produced a string of match-saving stops in the last portion of the game. As Chadli broke into space in the left channel, he smothered the shot and was then on hand to tip a goal-bound header from Toby Alderweireld over the top of the cross-bar. The veteran ‘keeper also demonstrated no lack of pace off the mark as he sharply raced out to gather the ball after Ryan Mason had an inexplicable amount of space around the penalty spot. Everton’s defensive solidity will be key to their Premier League ambitions and if their back four is indeed disrupted by John Stones’ departure, Martinez will need his most reliable performer to be on top of his game in the coming weeks.

Cédric: As the man brought into St. Mary’s with the unenviable task of replacing Nathaniel Clyne, Cédric appeared to truly arrive on English soil against Norwich City on Sunday. Whilst demonstrating a satisfactory defensive proficiency, his greatest attributes came on the front foot. These were particularly noticeable once Whittaker had received his marching orders for two thoroughly avoidable bookings.

Cédric’s influence on proceedings grew with each passing minute, frequently finding himself as the out-ball for Southampton when they capitalised on their advantage of an extra man. His side enjoyed a greater share of possession and the combination between Mané and Cédric resulted in much joy on the right flank. With Brady facing the nearly impossible task of dealing with a rampant overlapping full-back, he threatened on a regular basis with his crosses produced from the by-line.

Ashley Williams: Once Swansea had hit back in relentless fashion against Manchester United and held a 2-1 advantage going into the final 25 minutes of the match, Ashley Williams’ dominance became clear for all to see. Having suppressed many attacks earlier in the game as The Red Devils dominated possession but could not break through, the Welshman seemed to make it a personal mission that no ball went past him.

His defensive statistics speak volumes even if you had not watched the match itself. Williams made 14 successful clearances, made 5 interceptions and won the same number of aerial duels. Facing a more intricate threat when Wayne Rooney was leading the line by himself and Juan Mata was pulling the strings with his magical left foot, he then had to deal with the aerial prowess of Marouane Fellaini. Williams assigned himself to marking the giant Belgian and unlike in recent times, Fellaini’s impact was severely restricted after coming off the bench. Garry Monk’s captain showed exactly the sort of resilience that Swansea will require in combination with the flair that they possess in abundance further up the field.

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Damien Delaney: As Crystal Palace produced the shock result of the weekend, it was their stoic defensive display against the potentially lethal front-line which was perhaps the driving factor. Central to this was Damien Delaney at centre-back who faced the challenge provided by a riled up Diego Costa head on.

Although it is often more dangerous to play against an angry Costa, Delaney has shown the way for centre-halves yet to confront him in the Premier League. He engaged in a physical battle with the Spaniard and grappled with him all game. Riling him up with the occasional niggle and powerful clearance through the back of the forward seemed to divert Costa’s attention from the important aspects of the game, instead focusing on retribution towards Delaney. The Eagles defender stood up to him manfully, making 14 successful clearances in the 90 minutes and also emerging victorious in 6 aerial duels.

Luke Shaw: The former Southampton man has really grown into his role as the firm choice at left-back for Manchester United and his increased self-belief came to the fore against Swansea. With Andre Ayew’s tendencies for attacking and coming infield, Shaw was occasionally granted additional space in front of him and was frequently able to exploit it.

An effective attacking force in both halves of the game, it was in the early minutes of the second period where he had his most notable impact. Streaking forward on the left flank, his direct running and crossing ability caused a moment of panic in the Swansea penalty area. With Wayne Rooney challenging at first, the ball fell kindly to Juan Mata who made no mistake from a few yards out. Luke Shaw adds a dynamic edge to Man United’s play on the left wing now that he has seemingly put fitness concerns firmly behind him. With an ever growing understanding with Memphis and a lack of replacements in his position who could provide the same benefits to the team, Shaw must be seen as important for Van Gaal’s ambitions in the Premier League and Europe.

Jack Cork: Playing alongside Jonjo Shelvey at the heart of Swansea City’s midfield against Manchester United, Jack Cork put in an excellent display that reminded me greatly of Michael Carrick. He rarely looked hurried in anything he did and yet regularly found himself positioned correctly to make a series of vital impacts on proceedings. Allowing the gifted Sigurdsson to feed the rest of Swansea’s attackers, Cork’s most influential moments came in defence as he patrolled in front of the back four at the Liberty Stadium. He made four tackles, an identical number of interceptions, passed sensibly, and operated with an over-arching awareness of the situation at hand.

A particularly notable moment for Cork was when Swansea had the majority of their players committed up the pitch but should in fact have been looking only to retain possession and therefore their dominance on the score-sheet in the process. Under heavy pressure from Wayne Rooney and some onrushing United midfielders, the former Southampton midfielder kept his head magnificently and guided The Swans out of trouble once more with a composed dribble. Jack Cork had lost his place in the Saints’ side under Ronald Koeman and after a return to prominence in south Wales, I am sure Southampton would value his contributions highly now.

Idrissa Gana Gueye: Despite Scott Sinclair grabbing a brace to add to his midweek hat-trick in the Capital One Cup, it was the display of Idrissa Gana Gueye that impressed me the most. One on many summer signings to have arrived at Villa Park, the energetic midfielder was involved in everything positive for Tim Sherwood’s side on Saturday against Bournemouth. Putting his stamina to excellent use, he ratted around the opposition when they had the ball and then became involved in his team’s own attacks.

Gueye created four chances during the game and made five successful dribbles past opponents, whilst also tackling well and covering a great deal of ground. The Senegalese international who arrived from Lille in July could prove to be a stalwart of this latest Aston Villa outfit, becoming one of the integral members of the squad to help stave off fears of relegation.

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Manuel Lanzini: One of several additions to West Ham United’s ranks this summer, Manuel Lanzini had a highly active role in both attack and defence. The Argentine was the man on hand to set the Upton Park outfit on the way to a famous victory on Merseyside. Lanzini was quite simply more alive to the speed of the game than any Liverpool defender, especially the thus far magnificent Joe Gomez who he beat to the ball to calmly stroke past Simon Mignolet. This moment set Lanzini up for a fabulous game where he was direct, showed good pace, and was very tidy in possession. Furthermore, he became truly stuck in to his side’s endeavours in the defensive areas of the field, making eight tackles in a position more reminiscent of a right-back.

There was yet another poignant example of Lanzini’s work ethic and determined play when The Hammers snatched their second goal of the afternoon. Although the scenario was completely initiated by Dejan Lovren’s horrific lapse of concentration near the corner flag, it would not have been translated into anything meaningful; let alone a goal, if Lanzini had not applied the intense pressure. Indeed, so resolute was he that not even the assistant referee’s presence could hold him back!

Sadio Mané: During Sunday’s early game, the Senegalese forward was a constant outlet for Southampton. Sadio Mané’s display provided a perfect example of exactly what Manchester United are reported to be interested in and what the south coast club are desperate to keep hold of. Much like the saga surrounding Morgan Schneiderlin in the last summer window, it seems as though Southampton will remain steadfast on Mané’s future. You can certainly see why.

Mané operated primarily from the right side against Norwich but drifted infield on occasion and was just as effective despite the close proximity of defenders. Employing a variety of offensive tactics, he used lightning pace to go on the outside of Robbie Brady or quickly switched onto his left to produce a shot on target. Five successful take-ons are evidence of his threat to Alex Neil’s side and in addition to creating three chances, he provided the assists for two of Southampton’s three strikes on the day. The only aspect missing from Mané’s exertions at St. Mary’s was a goal but his all-round play was undeniably fantastic. 6pm on Tuesday evening cannot come soon enough for Saints fans.

Andre Ayew: The left-footed forward began proceedings operating off the right hand side where he has been deployed for Swansea City ever since his arrival this summer. Here, Ayew remained at his tenacious best, never letting an apparent lost cause slip by without attempting to make something from it. However, when Garry Monk saw fit to shuffle his system around in the second half after the introduction of Ki, Ayew moved into a more orthodox role up front; one which is perhaps his more natural position.

The former Marseille man really came into his own here. First; on the hour mark, he pounced on a fine delivery from the flank to turn home the equaliser in the form of a powerful header. Only a few minutes later in the match, Ayew found himself in a small area of space but this was still sufficient to feed his strike partner Gomis with a delicious pass with the outside of his foot. Admittedly, Romero will be disappointed with his efforts to stop the shot but without the perfectly weighted ball from the Ghanaian, the opportunity would not have arisen. With the absence of Jefferson Montero expected to have hit Swansea hard, Ayew stepped up to the plate and; alongside Gomis, continued his fantastic form so far this season that has seen Garry Monk’s side pull off a couple of impressive scalps already.

Bafetimbi Gomis: The man who can boast the enviable record of scoring a goal in every Premier League outing this season thus far seemed to enjoy the physical battle with Chris Smalling and Daley Blind. Bafetimbi Gomis’ presence alone resulted in a sense of unease and nervousness amongst the defence as his markers would occasionally make rash decisions or resort to grabbing his shirt to restrict his chances. Swansea’ chief hitman took his goal smartly to complete a rapid turn-around after initially falling behind to a close range Juan Mata strike in the early stages of the second half. Gomis bent his run intelligently to stay on-side and showed his intentions to Ayew who then obliged by delivering the through ball on a plate.

Relishing the role as a sole front man, Gomis won more than his fair share of headers in the late match on Sunday. He provided a fine platform for the rest of the side to play from, remaining a reliable outlet when the ball was hit long into either his feet or chest. Not only was he the picture of brute strength, but he also produced a few deft touches to lay the ball off to team-mates. In addition to his fourth goal in as many games, Gomis had a couple of early opportunities go begging that could have found their way into the back of the net on another day. He crafted these for himself as a result of sheer power, determination, and a fine touch. One chance even glanced against the post as he was still able to produce a dangerous effort even when falling away from the ball. Gomis’ run must surely come to a halt at some stage soon and it will be interesting to see how The Swans manage when their most consistent goal-scorer hits a patch of poor form.

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I am currently at university studying Mechanical Engineering, but in my spare time I'm into all things football. I'm an avid Liverpool fan but always try to remain impartial. My other interests include gaming and Formula One.

FA Cup

Rochdale 2-2 Tottenham – Lucas Moura shines despite disappointing day for Spurs

Jake Jackman

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Tottenham

Tottenham are going to have to rely on a replay for the second successive round as they conceded a dramatic late equaliser to Rochdale. It was a reminder of the magic that the FA Cup still possesses and it will provide a useful cash injection for the League One club. Spurs opted to make several changes and rest key players, but they selected a team that should have progressed on the day.

Ian Henderson scored in the first-half to give Dale a first-half lead and it was deserved. Keith Hill’s team played good football and went toe-to-toe against their more illustrious opposition.

Lucas Moura and Harry Kane scored to put Tottenham into a 2-1 lead, but that wasn’t the end of the goal-scoring as Steve Davies scored to take the tie to a replay. Here are three talking points from Spotland:

Lucas Moura’s performance showed why Tottenham signed him

It was a signing that came out of left-field, as Tottenham prefer to do their transfer business in the summer. However, this opportunity was too good to turn down as they were given the chance to sign a proven Brazilian international. He had fallen on tough times at PSG and rarely featured this season, but he proved why the club signed him on Sunday.

The Brazilian wasn’t afraid of the fight and was up for the test offered by League One opposition. Every time he got on the ball, it looked like he could make something happen, as shown by his seven dribbles completed.

He had a touch of class that allowed him to stand out from the rest of the players on the pitch and if he can consistently perform at that level, he will turn out to be a great signing.

His movement was superb, as he regularly found pockets of space to exploit. Interestingly, he won five aerial duels and that shows that he has quickly adjusted to English football. It was Lucas that scored the equaliser mid-way through the second half with a confident finish. He will have played himself into Mauricio Pochettino’s plans for the coming weeks.

Rochdale impressed on their day in the spotlight

They were written off before a ball was kicked as they were facing one of the best teams in the country. Rochdale are currently rock-bottom of League One and 11 points from safety, albeit with four matches in hand. They laid a new pitch ahead of this match and the players adapted to it well, showing that they can play good football.

Callum Camps and Andrew Cannon impressed in the centre of the park, while their two wily experienced strikers got the goals. Ian Henderson was a tireless worker in the final third and put the Tottenham defenders under pressure.

He snatched at a couple of chances in the first-half, but he remained cool when another chance came his way and scored the opening goal.

It will be a tough ask for them to go to Wembley, but they can go there with no fear as they have nothing to lose. The tie will give them an injection of money that the club needs, especially if they are to suffer relegation this season.

Toby Alderweireld looks a long way from his best

The Tottenham defence didn’t look as assured as they usually do and both of their centre-backs struggled at times during the match.

Alderweireld was left out of the trip to Juventus and there were some supporters that questioned that decision. However, he looked short of match fitness against Rochdale and was arguably at fault for the late equaliser.

The Belgian international looked rusty and his decision making was not great. He picked up a yellow card for a rash tackle and that is one example of that. Juan Foyth played alongside Alderweireld and his inexperience showed when Rochdale did attack.

For Alderweireld, he wants to be back in the first-team and that is eventually where he will be, but he isn’t at the level required to be starting right now. Tottenham are fighting on multiple fronts and they can’t afford to have any players that aren’t at 100%. He is returning from a serious injury and he will need time to get back to his best.

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Liverpool

Roberto Firmino: His performances will shape the end to Liverpool’s season

Martyn Cooke

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On Sunday afternoon at St Mary’s Stadium the returning Virgil Van Dijk took centre stage and assumed the role of pantomime villain for the day.

However, whilst much of the pre-game build up was centred on the former Southampton defender, who was making his first return to the club since signing for Liverpool in January, the post-match conversations were focused on the brilliance of the Dutchman’s attacking teammate.

Roberto Firmino is one of the most under-rated players in the Premier League and his performance last weekend reaffirmed that he is one of the most effective forward players in the top-flight of English football.

The Brazilian has rarely been the centre of attention since arriving at Anfield in the summer of 2015 for £29 million and the media have often overlooked his significant contributions on the pitch.

Roberto Firmino

At Liverpool he has been forced to be content playing in the shadow of Philippe Coutinho, prior to his move to Barcelona, and Mohamed Salah, who has been a revelation since joining the club in the summer.

But Firmino is now emerging as one of the most creative, innovative and exciting forwards in the Premier League and he is undoubtedly one of the most improved players of the season.

The 26-year-old is both a creator and a goal scorer, as Southampton discovered to their cost at the weekend, when he opened the scoring with a neat finish within the opening six minutes before providing the assist for Salah’s goal with an ingenious flick.

The goal was his 20th of the campaign, which was shortly followed by his 21st of the season against Porto in the Reds’ midweek Champions League fixture, and he is now only nine short of becoming the Premier League’s all-time highest Brazilian goal scorer.

Firmino is a unique mixture of technical brilliance, creativity, innovation and an intelligence that makes him unpredictable, difficult to mark and a constant threat, regardless of where he pops up on the pitch.

However, whilst his Brazilian flair may catch the eye it is his willingness to pressurise opponents and work hard off the ball that is genuinely impressive.

He is certainly a favourite of Jurgen Klopp, who admires his hard running, work rate and pressing that often sets the tone for the rest of the team.

The 26-year-old has still gone somewhat unnoticed this campaign despite his consistency and performances on the pitch and the fact that he has missed only one league game all season.

But that is set to change.

Firmino’s performances and form have proven that there is still a bright future at Anfield despite the departure of Coutinho in January.

Deployed as an unconventional number nine, the Brazilian is the centre of a dynamic attacking forward line that sees him flanked by Salah on one side and Sadio Mane on the other.

The trio possess the pace, intelligence and creativity to threaten any team in Europe, as demonstrated by the mid-week five-goal demolition of Porto in the Champions League, and central to their effectiveness is the link up play of Firmino.

Still only 26, the Brazilian is about to reach the peak of his prowess and his continued development under Klopp poses the exciting question of how much better the forward might become in the forthcoming two or three years.

He certainly possesses all of the characteristics to become a legend at the club, should he choose to remain at Anfield long term, and he now has the opportunity to step out of Coutinho’s shadow and enjoy the limelight for himself.

Liverpool supporters will be hoping that Firmino can maintain his current run of form over the coming months and his performances will shape the club’s season.

His creativity and knack for scoring goals will be an invaluable commodity as Klopp goes in search of a top four place and potential silverware.

Firmino my have been underrated in the past, but he is now taking centre stage as the focal point of Liverpool’s attack.

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Huddersfield Town

Huddersfield Town 0-2 Manchester United: Three talking points from the John Smith’s Stadium

Rob Meech brings us three talking points from the John Smith’s Stadium as Manchester United overcame Huddersfield Town in their FA Cup 5th Round contest.

Rob Meech

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Photo: Reuters

A brace from sharpshooter Romelu Lukaku fired Manchester United into the quarter-finals of the FA Cup at the expense of Huddersfield Town.

Lukaku opened his account in the third minute before netting his second of the evening shortly after the second-half resumption.

Victory was not as straightforward as the scoreline suggested. However, as the Terriers produced a spirited display after the early setback.

There was also controversy involving the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system.

Juan Mata saw an effort ruled out for offside after a review, but confusion abounded about whether it had been the correct decision.

Here are three talking points from an eventful encounter, as United set up a last-eight tie with Brighton & Hove Albion…

Lukaku’s goals are a fillip for Jose Mourinho

The Belgian has come in for criticism from some quarters for his goal return since last summer’s big-money transfer from Everton.

While he may not have reached the levels of Harry Kane or Mohamed Salah, Lukaku has now scored 21 times in all competitions for United this season.

That tally was boosted by his double against Huddersfield, which showed off his best attributes.

Lukaku was too strong and clever for Huddersfield’s defence as he latched on to Mata’s through ball for the first, before putting the finishing touch to an Alexis Sanchez pass for his second.

The former Chelsea man’s performance will be the biggest plus for United boss Jose Mourinho, who is relying on him to spearhead the attack for the remainder of the campaign.

Lukaku is a confidence player, so this was a timely boost ahead of a crucial run of fixtures both domestically and in Europe.

VAR under the microscope yet again

The introduction of technology to any sport usually results in teething problems.

It is fair to say VAR has experienced more than its fair share in football this season.

Employed in some FA and League Cup matches, controversy has never been far away. This was again the case at Huddersfield.

Mata appeared to have doubled United’s lead just before half-time, but referee Kevin Friend waited for confirmation from VAR that he had been onside.

After about a minute, Friend disallowed the goal when it was judged that Mata had been fractionally offside as the ball was played.

Contention emerged when viewers saw the incident on TV, where the guidelines were clearly not straight.

In fact, they were embarrassingly wonky.

Further replays suggested – with parallel lines correctly in place – that Mata’s knee had indeed been offside, but it was a very close call and certainly not an obvious mistake by the referee’s assistant.

These technical hitches will need to be ironed out before VAR is brought in universally.

Huddersfield can be positive despite FA Cup exit

With their Premier League status hanging in the balance, it would have been understandable if Huddersfield manager David Wagner had seen this fixture as an unwanted distraction.

But there was absolutely no suggestion that they were trying not to win the match, or prepared to exit the competition without a fight.

The Terriers, who famously beat United at home in the Premier League last October, carried on from where they left off last weekend in the impressive 4-1 victory over Bournemouth.

Conceding so early to United had not been in the script, but the hosts regrouped quickly and caused their opponents plenty of problems.

Ultimately, the difference between the two sides was the quality of finishing.

Whereas the visitors scored with their only two shots on target, Huddersfield wasted numerous openings as they slipped to defeat.

Nevertheless, attention can be turned back to their bid for survival, without their confidence dented.

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