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Premier League: Team of the Week XXXIII feat. Manchester United and Manchester City stars

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The big story of the weekend came on Sunday at Old Trafford, where Manchester United helped hand title contenders Tottenham a lifeline with a 2-0 victory over leaders Chelsea, whilst keeping up the pace with the top-four. The gap at the top is now a mere four points going into the final five matches, and the title race remains wide open.

Meanwhile, Liverpool remain third after victory at West Brom, whilst Manchester City tightened their own grip on a Champions League place with an emphatic win at Southampton. Arsenal’s 2-1 win at Middlesbrough keeps them just about in touch, but with seven left for the Gunners to play and trailing Manchester City by seven points, their hopes of the top-four are hanging by a thread.

Elsewhere, Everton kept up their recent run of good form with a 3-1 victory over Burnley, Crystal Palace came from two-down to salvage a point in a thrilling match with Leicester, Hull kept one eye over their shoulders after succumbing to defeat at Stoke, and Swansea remain in trouble after slumping to defeat at Watford.

Sunderland remain bottom and in deep trouble after only managing a draw with West Ham,which left the lack Cats nine points from safety but with one game in hand over Hull, who lie just above the relegation trapdoor.

But who stood out the most an an enthralling Gameweek 33, where the title race was blown wide open and the relegation rat-race took yet another twist?

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Coach: José Mourinho (Manchester United)

Formation: 4-4-2

Mourinho’s opponent in the dugout, Chelsea boss Antonio Conte, absolutely castigated himself after the game, after his Blues succumbed to defeat at Old Trafford against a United side that they had beaten twice in league and cup on home turf this season.

If Conte failed to get his players fired up for the big occasion, Mourinho certainly didn’t, and his side executed the game plan to perfection as the Portuguese got one over on his former side for the first time since taking the reins at United.

His side were just shaded in terms of possession, but that doesn’t take away from how the Red Devils – far from the overly defensive mentality Mourinho has been accused of adopting this season- monopolised the ball, enjoying more opportunities than the visitors and ensuring they were restricted to no shots on target.

Mourinho’s biggest calls came before the game even kicked-off, with Juan Mata out and Henrikh Mkhitaryan named amongst the substitutes, Ashley Young and Marouane Fellaini were named in the starting line-up, but the biggest decision was that the fatigued Zlatan Ibrahimovic was forced to settle for a place on the bench, in favour of an attacking duo of Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard.

The chemistry between the two was a thorn in Chelsea’s side, whilst the defensive cover of Fellaini and Herrera allowed Paul Pogba to roam forward and wreak havoc behind them, a set-up which frustrated the Blues all over the park and re-ignited some doubt in the title credentials of Conte’s side.

For Mourinho, it was another tactical masterclass, and his attempt to rain on the title parade, just as he did back in 2014 at Liverpool when in charge of the Blues, was once more a success.

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Goalkeeper: Simon Mignolet (Liverpool)

Simon Mignolet seems to enjoy playing at the Hawthorns. The Belgian goalkeeper has kept a clean sheet on his last two visits to the Albion, and another fine performance to shut-out the Baggies seems him get the nod as goalkeeper in our team for the second week running.

A big save near the end of the game preserved another vital three points for Liverpool in their quest for the top-four, and he even remained unnerved when opposite number Ben Foster charged forward twice in a vain attempt to help provide the equaliser.

Despite being much maligned in seasons gone by, Mignolet has been one of the stars in Klopp’s Liverpool side of late, and his new-found reliability will only help the cause.

Right-Back: Daryl Janmaat (Watford)

It may have looked a dead-rubber to Watford for some in terms of the respective league positions of themselves and relegation-threatened Swansea, but in reality, this result was huge, as a Watford side who have been struggling in recent weeks mustered a huge victory to get themselves over the 40 point mark and almost certainly guarantee Premier League football next season.

The winner was gifted to the hosts in the end after an uncharacteristic error from Swansea centre-half Alfie Mawson, from which Etienne Capoue profited, but much of Watford’s solidity at the back in shutting out the battling Swans was owed to the presence of right-back Daryl Janmaat.

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Gylfi Sigurdsson, Martin Olsson, and Luciano Narsingh were given no joy by the Netherlands international, whose defensive awareness kept the Hornets well regimented at the back, whilst his runs forward also caused the visitors problems.

Centre-Back: Vincent Kompany (Manchester City)

Vincent Kompany has had a frustrating time of things of late with injury after injury keeping him out of the reckoning for Manchester City, but he was back amongst the goals over the weekend, his sheer delight visible on his face after his bullet header opened the scoring at Southampton.

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His defensive performance was another plus, adding some stability to a rear-guard that has developed an unwanted knack of conceding goals over the course of the season. Dominance in the air, awareness on the ground, a typical captain’s performance from Vincent Kompany.

Centre-Back: Phil Jagielka (Everton)

The Everton skipper has amassed a handy record of scoring in his last three consecutive games for the Toffees, following his latest goal-scoring exploits in Everton’s triumph over Burnley at Goodison Park.

The England international is looking like a potent threat from set-piece situations, and his overall leadership and reading of the game has been pivotal in helping Everton’s surge up the table following their recent run of impressive form.

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He finished his goal off with all the instinct of a clinical forward too. Goal-line technology confirmed that his initial headed effort had crossed the line, but after Tom Heaton was somehow able to claw the ball away, Jagielka was still able to react first to slam the ball into the back of the net to make sure.

Left-Back: Marcos Rojo (Manchester United)

Besides making more clearances from inside the box, with nine, than any of his teammates in United’s win over Chelsea, it was his personal duel with Chelsea striker Diego Costa, and how he went about getting the best of the Spain international, that helped sway the game in the hosts’ favour.

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Rojo kept Costa firmly on a leash, shackled for much of the contest, and luckily ended up on the right side of some sensible refereeing after the Chelsea forward lashed out in frustration at a rare, poorly-timed challenge from the Argentine.

The duel between the two was a joy to watch, and it was crucial in restricting the Blues to having no efforts on target, giving David de Gea a quiet afternoon.

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Right-Midfield: Xherdan Shaqiri (Stoke City)

There were several performers on the day who were instrumental in Stoke’s victory over Hull, which almost guarantees their Premier League status for another year, but for us, Xherdan Shaqiri pips them, not only for his absolutely wonderful long-range strike which all but killed the game, but for his expert assist for the first goal.

His neat ball inside was picked up by another of Stoke’s stars on the day, Marko Arnautovic, who drilled a fierce shot into the top corner to hand the Potters the initiative. Perhaps unlucky to have not made it in himself, the consensus was that his Swiss teammate was just that little more influential.

Centre-Midfield: Ross Barkley (Everton)

For a man concerned with off-field distractions of late, with the manner of Ross Barkley’s performance against Burnley, you wouldn’t have thought he had a care in the world, other than winning games of football of course.

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Shutting out the headlines, Barkley was the lynch-pin in the Everton midfield, constantly looking to trouble Burnley with his direct running and passing.

He was in the right place at the right time to thwart Michael Keane, clearing the defender’s headed effort of his own goal-line, and eventually made a telling impact at the other end when his fierce drive flew beyond Tom Heaton after taking a ricochet off Ben Mee.

The nigh-perfect end to a difficult week.

Centre-Midfield: Ander Herrera (Manchester United)

Eden Hazard troubled Ander Herrera to the point that the Spaniard was dismissed for a second yellow-card the last time the two sides met in the FA Cup, but in this game, Herrera firmly kept hold of his composure and played like a man on a revenge mission.

He followed Hazard around the Old Trafford pitch like a dog, not giving the Belgian a yard of space and thus neutralised the mercurial winger’s influence on the game, but his most telling impact was at the other end, where, despite his defensive midfield position, he scored and assisted in the Premier League for the first time since October 2015.

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Fortune was on his side as the referee waved away the handball shout in the build-up to the goal, which allowed Herrera the time and space to play an inch-perfect pass through for Marcus Rashford to score, before his deflected strike beat the scrambling Asmir Begovic – in for the injured Thibaut Courtois – to put the game beyond the Blues.

It may just be that with this latest defeat, the Blues are losing their grip on the title too.

Conte will argue his players lacked lustre and motivation, shouldering the blame on his and the team’s approach to the game. On this evidence from Herrera, perhaps they were simply outclassed.

Left-Midfield: Leroy Sané (Manchester City)

Sané has developed a helpful knack of scoring goals for City away from the Etihad. His strike at St. Mary’s was his third in their last four games away from home, and he showed great persistence to get his goal, netting from Kevin de Bruyne’s wonderful pass after Fraser Forster had pulled out a splendid stop earlier on to deny him.

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The youngster’s lung-bursting 40-yard run to support the Belgian was what helped craft the goal, having shown the desire to get into a position to receive the pass.

It is fair to say that the player signed from Schalke, whom many thought would be a signing for the future, is quickly turning into one of Pep Guardiola’s key players.

Expect more from him in the Premier League and indeed on the international scene in the future.

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Centre-Forward: Marcus Rashford (Manchester United)

Sometimes unleashing young, raw talent is the way to go in football, and Marcus Rashford proved the theory right again, running the league leaders ragged after José Mourinho showed his faith in the youngster by starting him up-top in an attacking duo with Jesse Lingard.

Very few players have troubled Chelsea’s cast-iron defence since Conte switched to a back-three, but Rashford’s chemistry with Lingard, along with the support of Pogba, exposed once more all of the Blues’ frailties, and reminded the Old Trafford faithful that Rashford is a special talent and not just a half-season wonder.

His finish beyond Begovic after being played in by Ander Herrera showed all the instinct, swagger and verve of a seasoned veteran, which would have made the watching Zlatan Ibrahimovic proud.

More importantly, being one of England’s brightest prospects for the future, he looks at home at one of the highest levels in world football. It goes without saying that many United supporters would like to see him start games consistently.

Centre-Forward: Son Heung-Min (Tottenham Hotspur)

Son Heung-Min has been one of the most improved players in Mauricio Pochettino’s squad this season.

His early season run of goals helped carry the side before Kane rediscovered his shooting boots, and he has stood up and been counted when it has mattered the most, the spells when Kane has been out injured, providing a helping hand for six Tottenham goals in his previous four Premier League appearances, assisting one and netting five himself.

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Bournemouth’s case at the weekend wasn’t helped by their approach to the game, but Spurs this season have confirmed themselves as title contenders by showing their clinical streak against both lesser and stronger opposition, and Son has often been at the heart of their creativity, finding himself amongst the goals yet again.

What a transformation from the player who endured such a difficult season in England last campaign after arriving from Bayer Leverkusen. Spurs are firmly in this title race, and much of that is owed to the South Korean.

Premier League: Team of the Week XXXIII

Coach: José Mourinho

Featured Image: All rights reserved by oliveroliu

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.

Manchester City

Manchester City left rattled after Wigan defeat: Is there still hope for their rivals?

After Manchester City’s Monday night defeat to Wigan Athletic, Martyn Cooke questions whether there is still hope for their rivals in the race for silverware this season.

Martyn Cooke

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Photo: Reuters

For much of this season Manchester City have appeared almost unstoppable with Pep Guardiola’s side nonchalantly brushing aside both domestic and European opposition with apparent ease.

This is demonstrated by City’s sixteen-point lead at the top of the Premier League, their progress to the League Cup final and the knock-out stages of the Champions League – all of which have been achieved without breaking sweat.

Guardiola is undoubtedly building something special at the Etihad and the exciting, dynamic and extravagant attacking style of play that he has implemented is something that should rightly be applauded.

The Spaniard looks certain to begin re-filling City’s trophy cabinet this season, after his debut season in English football ended without silverware, and his team’s performance this campaign continues to enhance his reputation as one of the leading coaches in the modern game.

City have been the proverbial run-away train this season and a host of the most prominent club’s in England and Europe have so far been unable to so much as dent their armour.

However, where others have failed, League One side Wigan Athletic succeeded on Monday evening as Will Grigg’s late goal knocked City out of the FA Cup.

It was a night that City lost their composure both on and off the pitch.

Fabian Delph’s red card in first half stoppage time was debatable, although admittedly his challenge was reckless and could have easily have been avoided, but it set the tone for the evening.

On the pitch, City dominated possession despite their numerical disadvantage but were unable to break down their resilient hosts before Kyle Walker’s mistake gifted Grigg the opportunity to be Wigan’s hero for the evening.

Off the pitch Guardiola appeared to lose his composure on the touchline immediately after Delph’s sending off and was embroiled in a confrontation with Phil Cook that continued in the tunnel as the team’s headed for the dressing rooms at half-time.

The final whistle sparked a pitch invasion from the home supporters that saw Sergio Aguero confronted by a Wigan fan as he attempted to leave the field.

The Argentinian appeared to swing an arm in response and was clearly unhappy by whatever he had seen or heard, with the stewards and police nowhere to be seen.

Meanwhile, a small group of City supporters reacted to the pitch invasion by hurling bottles, coins and advertising hoardings.

It was all rather unsavoury, from all parties involved, and it will not go down as one of City’s most memorable evenings.

Clutching at straws?

On Monday evening, for arguably the first time this season, City looked rattled.

Credit will go to Wigan Athletic, who were organised, resilient and able to capitalise on the numerical advantage that they were handed, but this result will also provide City’s rivals with a timely boost.

This was a reminder that Pep Guardiola’s side are not an invincible force and that they can be beaten.

For the first time a chink has appeared in City’s armour.

Guardiola and his players will not have time to digest Monday’s defeat and now head into a challenging run of fixtures that will possibly determine their season.

On Sunday they have an opportunity to claim the first silverware of the season when they face Arsenal in the League Cup final before facing The Gunners at the Emirates Stadium five days later in the league.

Then there is Chelsea and the second leg of their Champions League tie against FC Basel at home, before potentially tricky back-to-back away games at Stoke City and Everton.

If City’s season is going to unravel then it will happen over the next month or so.

However, the upcoming run of fixtures also provides City with an opportunity to win silverware, further cement their position at the top of the Premier League and capitalise on a four-goal advantage from the first leg of their Champions League tie against Basel.

Even a handful of defeats would not necessarily totally derail their season.

In effect here, we are clutching at straws, but Wigan provided a glimmer of hope that City’s dominance can still be stopped.

It may seem unlikely, but the dent that the Latics made in the armour of Guardiola’s side is the first sign of weakness or frailty that we have seen all season.

Guardiola and his side may still romp to a treble by the end of the campaign, but a League One side had provided the Premier League and clubs in the Champions League that there is still plenty to play for this season.

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Manchester City

Manchester City must guard against complacency

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Photo: Reuters

Manchester City have been absolutely fantastic this season after they failed to pick up any silverware last term, the first time Pep Guardiola has gone a whole season as manager without winning a trophy of some description.

It looked like the Premier League leaders would become the second side to complete an invincible campaign but Liverpool ended their hopes of that with a classic 4-3 win.

After the weekend’s action, the Citizens have a 16-point lead over 2nd-placed Manchester United but must make sure they don’t let that slip away.

It is an extremely tough task for any of the Premier League’s top sides if they want to catch the Citizens but they certainly shouldn’t lose hope of closing that substantial gap.

In the two games after losing to Jürgen Klopp’s side, Man City didn’t falter and scored six goals to earn six more points but in the third match, they failed to beat a resilient Burnley unit.

They drew 1-1 which was disappointing after taking the lead from a scorching Danilo strike in the first-half.

The two results against the Clarets and Liverpool have showed that Pep Guardiola hasn’t built a completely bulletproof team.

The two matches that they have dropped points in since the New Year were against very different teams.

Liverpool are sublime going forward but leave a lot to be desired for at the back, while Burnley are an incredibly tight defensive squad with little cutting edge in attack.

The latter relied on an 82nd-minute ‘smash-and-grab’ equaliser while the former overcame City with a furious nine-minute spell in which they scored three goals to put the fixture beyond doubt.

This should give confidence to every other team in the league as a side who aren’t considered by anyone as one of the Premier League’s ‘big teams’ managed to take points from them.

Man City are facing a few tough fixtures in the league as well as some congestion as they are still fighting on four fronts.

Their next four matches are in four different competitions with one in both the FA Cup and the EFL Cup, and their first leg of the last 16 in the Champions League, before a return to Premier League action.

Their two league games after next week are against Arsenal and Chelsea and while wins in those would be considered as them getting one hand on the title, they could easily slip up.

You can get 21/5  for Chelsea to beat City on Sunday 4th March. For a Man City win, punters can get 8/13 and 29/10 if it’s a Draw.

You can have Man City to beat the Blues in your 5+ Acca Insurance with Coral Betting and if one of your legs lets you down, you’ll receive your stake back.

To win the Premier League, Pep Guardiola’s side currently sit at odds of 1/500, so you’re likely to find more value in the race for the top four, where you can back Chelsea at evens and Arsenal at a HUGE 14/1.

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With four matches in the space of three weeks, including the EFL Cup final and a Champions League match, Manchester City might encounter some injuries and that could be their undoing in the games against Chelsea and Arsenal.

The two London sides have certainly got their problems but the Gunners look like a different animal with a couple of very good January signings while Chelsea can be absolutely fantastic if all of their players are fit and firing, especially Eden Hazard who has been linked with a move to Man City.

Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City side are in an unbelievable position to go on and win their third Premier League title but as their Spanish boss has said, they aren’t over the line yet and still have a lot of work to do over the next 12 matches.

It would be unimaginable for them to let their lead at the top of the table slip but a run of poor results or a bad set of injured players and they could be in a bit of trouble.

However, they are still on for a sublime quadruple and at the end of this month they have the chance to win their first piece of silverware in the EFL Cup final against Arsenal.

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Leicester City

Manchester City 5-1 Leicester City: Sergio Aguero issues timely reminder to Pep Guardiola

Rob Meech brings us three talking points from the Etihad as Manchester City dismantled challengers Leicester City, 5-1, to continue their pursuit of the Premier League title.

Rob Meech

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Manchester City
Photo: Reuters

Sergio Aguero scored four second-half goals as Manchester City blitzed Leicester City to take another step towards the Premier League title.

Raheem Sterling’s third-minute opener was cancelled out by Jamie Vardy, as both teams went into half-time level-pegging.

Then came the fireworks.

Aguero netted his first on 48 minutes before putting another three past Kasper Schmeichel, with his fourth and final goal coming on the 90-minute mark.

City’s victory, coupled with Manchester United’s surprising 1-0 defeat to Newcastle United, extended their advantage at the top to the table to 16 points.

Leicester, meanwhile, remain in eighth spot despite enduring a torrid evening at the hands of Aguero and co.

Here are three talking points…

Aguero issues a timely reminder to Pep Guardiola

There is only one place to start.

At times, this has been a difficult season for the Argentinian sharpshooter, who has often played second fiddle to Gabriel Jesus in the crunch fixtures and cut a frustrated figure on the sidelines.

However, the Brazilian’s injury opened the door for Aguero and he has barged through, reminding Pep Guardiola why he can still play a major role as City fight on three fronts; in the Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League.

Aguero was at his predatory best against a Leicester side that were far too accommodating in the second period and, with Kevin de Bruyne pulling the strings in behind, the Argentine has the perfect foil.

All the talk right now is about Harry Kane, but Aguero is only two goals behind the Tottenham man in the goalscoring charts, after netting in his seventh straight game at the Etihad.

This tally has also seen the 29-year-old surpass 20 goals for the fourth successive season.

Off-field issues undermine Leicester

With such a major distraction off the pitch this week, a visit to the runaway leaders was not the ideal fixture for Leicester manager Claude Puel.

Riyad Mahrez had dominated the headlines in light of his failure to report for training.

A U-turn saw him make himself available for the City clash, but at such short notice he was only afforded a place in the substitutes bench, coming on just after the hour mark.

Mahrez has acted unprofessionally after a deadline-day move to City was blocked by the club and he will have bridges to build with the club’s supporters.

When Vardy scored for the fourth game in succession to equalise, those fans would have hoped that they could return to the Midlands with a point.

Alas, City flexed their muscles after the interval and extinguished such aspirations.

But Leicester, in the comfort of eighth spot, can hopefully look forward with their best player back in the right frame of mind.

De Bruyne sparkles like a real diamond

This week, Chelsea playmaker Eden Hazard was honoured with Belgium’s player of the year award.

Perhaps that was the spur for de Bruyne to produce another virtuoso performance.

He was always at the heart of City’s attacking play, the conductor of the orchestra who is at the peak of his powers.

De Bruyne assisted City’s first three goals to take his tally for the season to 14 – four more than his nearest challenger.

The cross that teed up Sterling was perfectly weighted, so was the delivery that enabled Aguero to open his account.

Another sumptuous ball from de Bruyne for the Argentinian left him with the opportunity to double his tally, which he duly took.

Football is subjective, but it is hard to believe at present there is a better midfielder in Europe than de Bruyne – that includes Hazard.

Belgium are fortunate to have them both in their ranks.

Wrapping them up in cotton wool will be crucial to their World Cup bid.

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