Apr 4, 2017
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Premier League: Team of the Week XXX feat. Tottenham and Crystal Palace stars

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The Premier League returned for Gameweek 30 following the conclusion of the international break, and the shock of the weekend’s fixtures came at Stamford Bridge, where Crystal Palace fought back from an early deficit to stun Premier League leaders Chelsea 2-1. Their gap at the top of the league is now cut to seven points after Tottenham won 2-0 at Turf Moor against Burnley.

Elsewhere near the top, Arsenal and Manchester City’s clash at the Emirates ended in a thrilling 2-2 stalemate, whilst Manchester United failed to take advantage at home to West Brom, with the Baggies holding them to a goalless draw at Old Trafford.

Those results meant that Liverpool tightened their grip on a top-four place, after overcoming Everton 3-1 in the final Merseyside Derby of the season at Anfield.

Nearer the bottom, Hull City were another side who enjoyed an all-important win after Andrea Ranocchia’s 85th-minute winner saw them beat a stuttering West Ham after coming from behind. Swansea and Middlesbrough both failed to keep up the pace after a goal-less draw at the Liberty Stadium, and Watford piled more misery on Sunderland after overcoming the Black Cats 1-0 at Vicarage Road. Another goal-less draw came in Southampton’s South Coast Derby with Bournemouth, whilst defending champions Leicester continued their revival under Craig Shakespeare with a comfortable 2-0 victory at home to Stoke City.

But who stood out on Gameweek 30 to make The Boot Room’s pick for Team of the Week, as the races at both ends of the table were blown wide open?

Coach: Sam Allardyce (Crystal Palace)

Formation: 3-4-3

Crystal Palace had initially lacked the almost instantaneous ‘Allardyce effect’ that has so often gotten struggling Premier League clubs out of trouble, following the arrival of the experienced coach after his dismissal from the England post. Though Palace have been gaining momentum in recent weeks with a few credible results, but this latest victory, a shock 2-1 triumph at Stamford Bridge over Chelsea, may well be the biggest result of their season.

Allardyce is a manager who prides himself on making sides tough to beat, who defend well and take their chances when they come, before seeing out games. The sit back and pinch a goal approach looked to have gone out of the window early on when Eden Hazard fed Cesc Fabregas to tap Chelsea ahead, and prior to Allardyce’s arrival at the helm, in such a scenario they may well have crumbled.

But, Allardyce responded by urging his side forward, and they caught the Blues very much cold, a wonderful solo equaliser being struck almost immediately by Wilfried Zaha, and they weren’t done there. Again, almost immediately, Palace regained possession from the kick-off, and 91 seconds after Zaha had levelled the match, he turned provider for Christian Benteke to stun Stamford Bridge and put Palace ahead with a cool, dinked finish over the onrushing Thibaut Courtois.

It was then that with their lead to protect, Palace reverted to the trusty Allardyce approach, and were dogged in defence to ensure Chelsea found no way through, whilst also looking threatening on the counter, forcing continual intervention from Courtois. Behind Palace’s cast-iron back-four was Wayne Hennessey, who when called upon was simply sensational, thwarting Chelsea with a string of saves to preserve what could be a vital three points for Palace.

A tactical plan that went out of the window early on, but was surprisingly rescued within minutes before being executed perfectly for the remainder of the game. Allardyce had his side well-drilled to get a result at Stamford Bridge and urged them on in all their determination to get what would be the result of the weekend.

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In fact, it was so unexpected that Allardyce allegedly entered the press room following the match and opened with the words “I bet you weren’t expecting that”. In all honesty, for the vast majority of pundits, analysts, coaches, players, and spectators the world over, he is probably right.

Goalkeeper: Wayne Hennessey (Crystal Palace)

What a performance from Wayne Hennessey at Stamford Bridge. Despite conceding early on, after a quick-fire double of Palace goals turned the match on its head, three wonderful first-half saves from the Wales international set the tone for the remainder of the afternoon. So often would Palace have crumbled in such a scenario, but Hennessey was a testament to the Eagles’ new-found resilience under Sam Allardyce, and the Welshman continued to intervene to preserve the points for his side, with a commanding, confident second-half performance to match the first. He finished up having made a total of 10 saves, the most of any goalkeeper for the club in a single Premier League match since the 2003/04 season.

Centre-Back: Andrea Ranocchia (Hull City)

Andrea Ranocchia has helped steady the ship somewhat since new manager Marco Silva brought the Italian in on-loan from Inter Milan. Although in the first-half, he was involved in an abject performance from the Tigers in which their three-man defence struggled against a depleted West Ham, and went in at the break trailing thanks to Andy Carroll’s 18th-minute opener, presented on a plate by teammate Curtis Davies.

Reverting to a back-four in the second-half, Hull rediscovered their verve, and Ranocchia’s aerial presence began to count, with Andy Carroll restricted to a mere one effort on target in the second-half, which went straight into the hands of goalkeeper Eldin Jakupovic, before he made his presence tell in the opposite penalty area five minutes from time. The Hammers looked as if they’d done enough for a point before they naively left the Italian unmarked in the area, and he gobbled up the chance, rising high to head home and seal the points for Hull.

Centre-Back: Eric Dier (Tottenham Hotspur)

Dier’s strike at Turf Moor was a wonderfully taken goal. It was his first in the top-flight since December 2015, and his first goal away from White Hart Lane in the league since August 2014. Despite not scoring often, when he does get on the score-sheet they’re often significant, and his latest strike may well be the biggest goal of Spurs’ season so far. With Chelsea trailing at home and Spurs simply unable to break through Burnley’s resistance, a chance to make-up ground on the leaders looked to be slipping away, until the Clarets failed to deal with Christian Eriksen’s corner, and Dier reacted first to fire through a crowd of players and into the goal.

Dier’s progress for club, as well as for country, has been sensational, having transferred seamlessly between roles as a holding-midfielder and centre-half/sweeper throughout the season, and on this occasion, he was in the right place at the right time at the other end to re-ignite Spurs’ title hopes.

Centre-Back: Mamadou Sakho (Crystal Palace)

Since his arrival on-loan from Liverpool, Mamadou Sakho has been critical in preventing Sam Allardyce’s Crystal Palace side from shipping goals. He has only featured in four games since his arrival, but Palace have managed three clean sheets in that time, and he may not have added to that tally but he helped the Eagles to a precious win nonetheless, using all of his strength and guile to help slam the door in the face of the league leaders, keeping Diego Costa particularly quiet in the process.

Sakho was vital in helping keep Palace determined at the back despite Chelsea’s early advantage and imperious home form, and when they had struck back to regain the lead, he was determined to let nothing beyond him, and if it ever did, he had the confidence of having a capable shot-stopper in Wayne Hennessey behind him. No doubt, he’d be a stellar addition if Palace were to retain his services beyond this season, but given his form for the South London club, a recall to Anfield following this season may be in the pipeline.

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Right Wing-Back: Antonio Valencia (Manchester United)

The Ecuadorian put in yet another tireless shift for Mourinho’s Manchester United, even though they couldn’t find a way through the West Brom rearguard for all their attacking endeavour. He had relatively little to do defensively given how deep the Baggies were camped in their own half, but he got up and down the flank when necessary, and was behind much of United’s penetration down the right, with Juan Mata missing. Without the attacking influence of Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic up front, however, they just couldn’t profit from Valencia’s creativity and work-rate, Ben Foster intervening to keep them out on three occasions.

Centre-Midfield: Kevin de Bruyne (Manchester City)

Kevin de Bruyne alongside David Silva is a notorious lynchpin in midfield for Manchester City and has been consistently all season, assisting 11 Premier League goals this season, a joint-best, after adding to that tally in City’s entertaining draw with Arsenal at the Emirates.

Following a dangerous Arsenal attack, in which they nearly fired the opener, De Bruyne received the ball in his own half and first-time played a stunning 60-yard pass which bisected the Gunners’ defence and found Leroy Sané, who raced away from Arsenal’s retreating defence and slid the ball home beyond David Ospina to put the visitors ahead.

De Bruyne dictated play for long periods and for a good two-thirds of the game was simply unplayable. He played a vital role in City’s second goal, coolly dispatched by Sergio Aguero, and struck the post with David Ospina helpless, a chance which, if converted, would have surely put the game beyond the Gunners.

Centre-Midfield: Dele Alli (Tottenham Hotspur)

Once again missing the attacking potency of Harry Kane, the onus was on Tottenham’s creative players to provide the killer touch, not least young prodigy Dele Alli. He has repaid the club with the faith shown in him by manager Mauricio Pochettino with eight goals and three assists in the calendar year 2017 alone, and his incisive passing helped carve a way through Burnley for Spurs to maintain the pressure on leaders Chelsea, after their slip-up at home to Crystal Palace.

 

Burnley have one of the strongest points’ return records in the Premier League at home, but Dele Alli got the ball down and helped dictate play without any such fear of the statistics, showing superb awareness to pick out Son Heung-Min, who fired in Spurs’ second of the match to put the game beyond the Clarets. Tottenham had to work for this, but in games where results must be ground out, class can unlock teams, and Alli brings that in abundance.

Left Wing-Back: Andrew Robertson (Hull City)

As he has been consistently for Hull this season, Robertson was an outlet down the left, even in the midst of a poor first-half team performance against the Hammers, and he was rewarded with his first goal in the Premier League, taken with a perfect right-footed first touch and an instinctive finish with his left, after being fed by substitute Kamil Grosicki. His 81 touches of the ball meant that he saw more action than any of his teammates, whilst also leading the way for attempted passes (49), interceptions (two) and recovering possession (10).

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This latest victory may well prove key in Marco Silva’s bid to keep Hull in the Premier League, and without Robertson’s influence down the left, retaining possession in tight situations when closed down at will, they may well have lost out.

Right-Forward: Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace)

Wilfried Zaha has been hitting the headlines of late, and he seems to finally be coming unto his own at Selhurst Park under the tutelage of Sam Allardyce. Having attracted much media attention for his international switch from England to the Ivory Coast, given his shortage of opportunities for the Three Lions, he has begun to show that Gareth Southgate may well have missed out on a gem. He has netted six goals now for Palace this season, better than his previous three seasons in the top-flight combined, and probably registered the best of the bunch on Saturday, with a quite stunning solo goal against league leaders Chelsea.

Besides that, his collective contribution to Allardyce’s side, tracking back and helping out his full-back, then taking apart the opposition with weaving runs forward when in possession, was simply fantastic. It is no wonder speculation is linking him with a move to a bigger club over the summer, with Tottenham one of the sides thought to be in the running.

Centre-Forward: Christian Benteke (Crystal Palace)

The Belgian forward just loves playing at Stamford Bridge, despite its reputation as a fortress. He has netted at the home of the Premier League leaders on each of his last three visits to the ground, with former clubs Aston Villa, Liverpool, and most recently Crystal Palace, and what a goal it was for the Eagles on Saturday. He cleverly waited, holding his nerve for the opportune moment, waiting for Thibaut Courtois to rush off his line before coolly chipping the ball over his advancing compatriot to put Palace ahead after being fed by Wilfried Zaha. Chelsea never recovered from the shock of seeing their early lead turned on its head, and it was Benteke combining with Zaha twice that wrote the script for Chelsea’s downfall.

 

As Palace sought to defend their lead, Benteke helped ensure they were a threat on the counter, using his strength to hold up the ball and give David Luiz and Gary Cahill a full workout in dealing with him. As well as being a handful in the air and of course holding the ball up on the ground, when not trying to cause chaos in the Chelsea half, he was back in his own box for set-pieces to get the ball clear. A good all-round team contribution, capped by a remarkable finish.

Left-Forward: Philippe Coutinho (Liverpool)

Philippe Coutinho is beginning to get back to his best following injury. Despite his spell out earlier in the season, he has still managed an impressive six assists, his second best total in a Premier League campaign so far, though that may be a lot more impressive were it not for that absence.

His most notable contribution in the Merseyside Derby win over Everton was his goal that handed Liverpool the points, and it was a strike befitting the occasion, a weaving run which bamboozled the Everton defence, capped by a curling finish into the top corner that Joel Robles and the Toffees back-four could merely stand back and admire.

Featured Image: All Rights Reserved by Christine Sanjaya.


Scott is a Port Vale fan who writes regularly for The Boot Room as a freelancer. He is a fan of several sports but most of his experience in journalism comes from football and volleyball. He has produced several works on major Championships for both the FIVB and CEV in the volleyball world out in Switzerland, and is currently studying for a BA Hons in Modern Languages at the University of Oxford.

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