Premier League Team of the Week XVII feat. Chelsea and Leicester City Stars
With perhaps the biggest football story of the Premier League season so far taking place on Thursday, it was exciting to see how the weekend’s matches would play out. With crucial results and fine individual displays aplenty, there was significant movement at both the top and bottom of the table. Read on to find out which eleven players have made it into The Boot Room’s Premier League Team of the Week.
With Louis Van Gaal’s position as manager of Manchester United already under strain due to the recent run of poor results, José Mourinho’s availability only accentuated the situation. The Old Trafford supporters would have been desperate for their side to put Norwich City to the sword. The Canaries had lost 4-0 in each of their last three visits to the Theatre of Dreams, but history would not repeat itself on Saturday afternoon. Cameron Jerome does not exactly possess a Vardy-like goal-scoring record in the Premier League; with only five in 58 matches, but it was he who managed to break The Red Devils’ streak of six consecutive clean sheets at home. Alex Tettey doubled their advantage ten minutes into the second half with something of a fortunate finish, before the newly crowned ‘Golden Boy’ of European football for 2015; Anthony Martial, rifled the ball home from close range to reduce the arrears to one. Manchester United could not find another goal however, managing only two shots on target in the entire match. The Old Trafford outfit are now without a win in their last four top flight games and Van Gaal is justifiably “worried” for his future.
The attitude of the Chelsea fans at the first game since José Mourinho’s rather unceremonious departure from the Stamford Bridge hot-seat was always going to be intriguing, and they certainly made their feelings clear from the early stages. Boos rang out from the stands when Fabregas’ and Costa’s names in particular were read out and the response was no different when the pair were substituted later in the day, despite Chelsea being in a comfortable winning position. New temporary manager Guus Hiddink and legendary figure Didier Drogba were sitting alongside Roman Abramovich in the ground and must at least have been encouraged with what they saw on the pitch. Sam Allardyce’s Sunderland were always going to have to ward off an early Chelsea assault and; with renewed vigour, the superstars of last season started strongly and earned their rewards.
Branislav Ivanovic grabbed his first goal since February and with the game less than 15 minutes old, Pedro put Chelsea 2-0 up with his first home goal for the club. Eventually, The Blues ran out 3-1 victors and in hitting the back of the net three times, Chelsea scored more goals in this single ninety minutes than they managed in Mourinho’s final five matches combined. This is yet more evidence that his star men were perhaps not pulling their weight. Quite simply, they looked like an entirely different team on Saturday to that which has staggered from game to game so far.
Off the back of the Chelsea win on Monday night, Leicester City travelled to Everton in a supremely confident mood. There were no signs of tiredness following the huge effort put in by all the players earlier in the week and when Okazaki was felled by Funes Mori, Mahrez; notably not Jamie Vardy, stepped up to take the penalty and converted. Not to be denied, Romelu Lukaku scored again for Martinez’s Everton; his seventh on the bounce in the Premier League, benefitting from a fortunate rebound but exhibiting fine poaching instinct nonetheless. Could Jamie Vardy’s recently set record be under threat already? There is some way for the Belgian to go but it is certainly not inconceivable. A second Mahrez penalty put The Foxes back into the lead and this was followed up by Okazaki’s fine left-footed finish from the edge of the box. A late goal by Kevin Mirallas and concerted Everton pressure in the final few minutes could not derail Claudio Ranieri’s side from another victory. His troops sit proudly at the very summit of the Premier League at Christmas, in stark contrast to their place at rock bottom of the same division 12 months earlier.
Hugo Lloris: The acrobatic French stopper did not have a vast number of saves to make, but such was the pattern of the game that when he was called upon, it often came out of the blue and so Lloris had to be alert. Spurs’ captain got down low sharply on a few occasions to divert goal-bound efforts from the likes of Pellè and Long away to safety. The rest of his team had the confidence of a stable goalkeeper behind them and seeing Lloris’s clean-sheet remain untarnished allowed them to play their natural game.
Adam Smith: Bournemouth’s right-back was involved in almost everything for Bournemouth against West Bromwich Albion, including the opening goal and playing a key role in James McClean receiving his marching orders. Adam Smith put in what seemed to be a hard but fair challenge on the left-footed Irishman in the middle of the park, but what transpired certainly made Bournemouth’s task away from home significantly more achievable. Incensed by Smith’s tackle on him moments earlier, the Irishman took it upon himself to be judge and jury, exacting revenge by chopping down the right-back. McClean rightly received a red card and Adam Smith went on to enjoy himself on the right flank in an attacking sense, with 53 of his 57 passes finding their target and furthermore, storming forward to bag himself a goal. The strike was not too dissimilar to that typical of Glen Johnson in his pomp. Cutting in-field after collecting a long pass, Smith surged past Baggies defenders before a well-placed left-footed effort beat the despairing dive of Boaz Myhill. This would have been the final kick in the teeth for James McClean whereas Eddie Howe on the other hand will be delighted with his side’s resilience and recent upturn in form.
Ryan Bennett: Alex Neil surely intimated to his troops in the build-up to Norwich City’s game at Old Trafford that they would have to surrender the vast majority of possession. This certainly panned out as The Canaries had a measly 29.6% of the ball over the ninety minutes and did not earn a single corner. Nevertheless, the most important statistic is the one which earned them three points and Ryan Bennett was crucial in achieving this. Partly down to Manchester United’s much discussed impotence in front of goal, but also because of Bennett’s supreme focus and commitment, Van Gaal’s side were limited to two shots on target during the ninety minutes. The experienced defender came into the side for André Wisdom and slotted in at centre-half seamlessly. He was commanding throughout the match and made eleven clearances. Wayne Rooney’s 500th game for Manchester United would have been planned out very differently in the Englishman’s head but he had an exceptionally poor day and could not overpower Ryan Bennett.
Miguel Britos: Starting without a genuine number nine in their line-up, Liverpool were looking to pose a mobile threat to Watford’s back-line in the form of Firmino, Coutinho and Lallana. Aside from a few brief flashes, none of these technically gifted players challenged Miguel Britos and it was not until the introduction of Divock Origi that he looked even the slightest bit unsettled. Nevertheless, the Uruguayan centre-half adapted quickly and was also able to stop Christian Benteke from exerting any influence on proceedings. Britos blocked two goal-bound efforts from players in red, made four clearances and intercepted attacking passes on three occasions. Although Watford’s superb forward thrusts sealed the magnitude of the victory, it was the performance of Britos alongside Craig Cathcart which prevented Liverpool from ever really asserting themselves on the game, despite Klopp’s men dominating the possession and territory.
Christian Fuchs: Everton have been in fine attacking form for the majority of this Premier League campaign and as such, Leicester City’s defenders would have to perform to a level perhaps not required so far this term. Away from Romelu Lukaku, Gérard Deulofeu has been The Toffees’ star attacker and it was Christian Fuchs’ task to stop the Spaniard. The Spanish winger is arguably in the form of his life but through Fuchs’ work-rate, resolute defending and strong tackling, Deulofeu’s threat was mostly nullified. In addition, Everton’s front-line is far from rigid and so several times, Lukaku or Koné would drift over to their right flank and Fuchs was ready to deal with this too, as well as the frequent overlapping runs from Seamus Coleman. Later in the game, Aaron Lennon; whose pace will always pose a challenge to any full-back, came onto the field and the Austrian defender dealt with him admirably. Tiring legs against the raw speed of Lennon would never be a pleasant combination but sheer determination on the part of Fuchs prevented Everton from creating too much from their right flank.
Moussa Dembelé: Taking his place in the heart of midfield alongside Eric Dier, Moussa Dembelé was Tottenham’s lynch-pin once more, with everything going through him. Confronted with the unenviable task of dominating an opposition midfield containing the hulking figure of Victor Wanyama, the Belgian international used his own physique in combination with superior technical ability to control the midfield battle. This personal victory provided excellent ground for the rest of the Spurs players to build on and as a result, enjoyed a fairly comfortable victory. Dembelé won five free-kicks for Pochettino’s side and was also successful with the same number of tackles. On the ball, he was equally adept, taking on an opponent on three occasions and only misplacing four passes during the entire match. His display was a key reason behind Spurs overcoming their recent blip in form and taking advantage of Manchester United’s loss to claim fourth spot.
Alex Tettey: Supplying all the energy in the heart of Norwich’s midfield that Manchester United failed to replicate in their own, Alex Tettey ratted around the star names in red and did his best to not let them settle on the ball. He also positioned himself well to deal with attacks, making six clearances throughout the match. The Norwegian midfielder also displayed vision and intelligence too, particularly when his incisive pass into Nathan Redmond’s feet took a couple of United defenders out of the game and allowed the former Birmingham winger to break away down the middle of the field, culminating in Cameron Jerome’s opener. For Norwich’s second and the midfielder’s first; a strike which turned out to be the winner, Tettey dispossessed Wayne Rooney near the half-way line with a strong tackle and wasted no time in springing the counter-attack. Collecting the ball from Cameron Jerome, a powerful ‘toe-poke’ finish into the bottom corner past a motionless David De Gea from the edge of the area cued Tettey’s celebrations; a just reward for his endeavours throughout the match.
Almen Abdi: Abdi found himself all over the pitch against Liverpool, offering himself in both attacking and defensive areas. He chased up and down on the right side of midfield and did a superb job in breaking up Coutinho’s efforts to link with Alberto Moreno, making eight tackles before he was withdrawn with around ten minutes remaining. Not earning the praise of the likes of Ighalo, Deeney, or even Gomes, Almen Abdi put in a typically understated display but one that should not be undervalued. His work-rate meant that Liverpool were unable to establish a period of genuine dominance and perhaps more impressively, he did not pass up the opportunity of progressing forward down the right flank, with his crosses spawning two chances for his team-mates at Vicarage Road.
Oscar: Perhaps spurred on by the vitriol thrown towards him; and several others in fact, by the Chelsea fans, Oscar put in his best display for the club in recent memory. His swagger had returned and he carried himself with supreme confidence, pulling off the most audacious of flicks and tricks with apparent ease. At one stage, the Brazilian simply waltzed through Sunderland’s defence, with his opponents incapable of getting anywhere near him. Chelsea’s number eight successfully took on an opponent six times during the match and in that period, had 108 touches of the ball, proving how instrumental he was to Chelsea’s success against Allardyce’s side. Helped by The Black Cats’ defenders dropping off the Brazilian, Oscar was able to create space for himself to operate in. On one occasion, he made room for the shot and in the same instant, unleashed a curling effort towards goal which brushed the side-netting on its way behind. This was one of the few shots which was off-target for Oscar, as he troubled Pantilimon five times. To cap off his excellent performance, he dispatched the calmest penalty you could ever wish to see, selling Pantilimon completely with a stutter during the run-up, and simply passing it into the opposite corner.
Riyad Mahrez: Undoubtedly one of the front-runners for the Premier League Player of the Season is Riyad Mahrez and he continued to demonstrate his importance to Leicester City by bagging a brace against Everton in a match where The Foxes were pushed all the way. Both of Mahrez’s goals came from the penalty spot but his performance was about so much more than two free shots at goal from 12 yards out. His contribution to Leicester City’s cause can only really be compared to that of Eden Hazard last term. The opposition; including Everton on Saturday, do not know how to combat the Algerian when he gets on the ball and has time to get his head up. He was confident enough to either dribble past his marker or slip clever balls through the defensive line. This was in evidence when Vardy won The Foxes’ second penalty of the game, as he latched onto a pass from Mahrez that flummoxed the Everton defenders.
The man who cost Leicester City the paltry sum in today’s market of £400,000 hit the back of the net twice against The Toffees, taking his season’s tally to 14 goals; just one behind Jamie Vardy, and extending his recent record to six goals in the last three matches. His first on Saturday just about snuck in the corner despite Tim Howard springing away well to his right. The Algerian opted for the opposite corner when he next lined up from 12 yards out, with the seemingly inevitable result repeating itself. The only question is, how long can Mahrez continue to perform at this outstanding level?
Odion Ighalo: Both Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo had a marvellous afternoon’s work against Liverpool, with the pair causing Liverpool’s defenders to appear jittery and rushed. This must surely have been expected by Jurgen Klopp and his coaching staff but even so, they seemed to have nothing in place that was capable of stopping the lethal duo. While Watford’s captain made his presence felt all over the pitch, it was Ighalo who really put The Reds to the sword with a couple of goals to send The Hornets well on the way to a 3-0 victory. The Nigerian’s first came in the opening quarter of an hour and put his side two goals up. Chasing after a lobbed Troy Deeney pass, he was able to out-muscle the notoriously ferocious Martin Skrtel and then; from an ever-tightening angle, found the inside of the far post to beat the beleaguered Adam Bogdan. His 12th strike of this fantastic breakthrough season for Ighalo in the Premier League came in the closing minutes and was more straightforward than the first. A great cross from Behrami found the energetic forward unmarked between Liverpool’s defenders and he nodded home the simple opportunity. From the very first minute, Ighalo produced some powerful surges in attacking areas. For the vast majority of the campaign, the former Udinese striker has looked like the kind of player that Liverpool fans hope Christian Benteke to be. Aside from his brace, another brilliant individual moment came from the lethal hitman when he produced an outrageous piece of skill to sweep past Mamadou Sakho in a tight area near the by-line, leaving the Frenchman in a heap.
Featured Image: All rights reserved by Ryu Voelkel
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