Premier League Team of the Week feat. Manchester City and Leicester Stars
Individual history was made in the Premier League this weekend, with this alone making it one of the more memorable series of matches for quite some time. However, when you add in the late drama that England’s top flight serves up on a staggeringly frequent basis, it can be classed as a quite brilliant couple of days of action. Which players stood out from the rest to make it into The Boot Room’s Team of the Week? Read on to find out and feel free to leave your comments below or on Twitter @TBRFootball .
Until Manchester City’s 3-1 victory against Southampton on Saturday afternoon, Leicester and Manchester United occupied the top two spots in the Premier League. In some people’s eyes however, the even greater storyline on the day was whether Jamie Vardy; the very definition of a ‘late bloomer’, could break the record for scoring in consecutive games. Even against the famously stoic Manchester United defence, it only took the England forward a quarter of the game to complete the feat. A quite staggering effort was greeted with a cacophonous noise inside the KP Stadium, as Vardy staked his increasingly strong claim for a starting berth at Euro 2016. One of many dangerous set-pieces from The Red Devils capitalised on an apparent weakness from The Foxes and in injury time at the end of the first half, Van Gaal’s side drew level through Bastian Schweinsteiger. The second half was lacked any serious goal-mouth action and the game eventually petered out into a 1-1 draw. Leicester City’s place in the upper echelons of the Premier League table was maintained but you have to wonder if their defensive frailties will be their undoing later in the campaign, when the form of Vardy and Mahrez inevitably hits a rough patch.
Going into a very important London derby both Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea, José Mourinho made a highly notable decision in his team selection. The Portugese manager dropped Diego Costa to the bench at White Hart Lane, instead opting to start with Eden Hazard playing nominally through the middle, although the Belgian had the license to rotate with Pedro and Willian. Spurs were looking to extend their unbeaten run in the Premier League to 13 matches; a feat which they have never achieved before. The first half was equally shared in terms of possession and build-up play, but it was Asmir Begovic who was drawn into the more serious saves. The sheer number of players in midfield areas did not help the game as a spectacle, with both sides struggling to put together attacking thrusts of genuine potency. Bar an impressive save by Hugo Lloris from a powerful Eden Hazard volley, very few opportunities came and went in the second half, with the spoils being shared in the end as the game ended 0-0.
Although Bournemouth peppered Tim Howard’s goal for much of their game against the Merseyside outfit on Saturday, Everton capitalised on their chances when they were presented to them and went in at half-time two goals to the good. With the score-line remaining the same until the 80th minute, it appeared as though victory was assured, but there were countless twists still to come. First of all, a cracking strike from Adam Smith pulled a goal back, halving Everton’s advantage. Then Junior Stanislas levelled things up with a composed finish inside the penalty area before Ross Barkley fired home from close range, five minutes into injury time. The travelling Evertonians were overcome with emotion, thinking that they had surely grabbed the winner, with some forcing their way onto the pitch to celebrate with their heroes. However, in a deeply ironic turn of events, the time added on as a result of this pitch invasion was put to use by Bournemouth as they managed to snatch a point with the last touch of the game, this time from the head of Junior Stanislas to level the score at 3-3.
After Newcastle United went into an unexpected early lead at Selhurst Park, woeful defending from each and every one of their defenders resulted in a terrible day at the office for Steve McLaren and his troops. Only holding onto their one goal advantage for a matter of minutes, they leaked goals at regular intervals from this point on with much of Palace’s success coming from the ineptitude of Collocini and his team-mates. Scathing words and a reported training ground bust-up were the talk of the town last week. What is to come after this performance is anybody’s guess.
Asmir Begovic: There were no stand-out goalkeeping displays in the Premier League over the course of the weekend in my opinion, but the Serbian stopper did all that was asked of him against Tottenham Hotspur. After suffering a knock to the head in the early minutes, Begovic did well to shake the knock off and kept Spurs’ goal-scoring chances at bay. With the imminent return of Thibaut Courtois to training and then first-team action, the former Stoke City goalkeeper will need to make the most of his chances in the side but it has to be said that he has been a fine deputy for the world-class Belgian.
Toby Alderweireld: At the heart of Spurs’ recently rock-solid defence, Toby Alderweireld was faced with a different kind of threat to that which Pochettino would have planned for. After Diego Costa was demoted to the bench for the champions, Alderweireld had to employ his pace and athleticism to cope with the highly mobile Chelsea front-line. The Belgian’s awareness was also tested as The Blues’ front four rotated positions very well at times, working in the space between Spurs’ midfield and defence. As composed as ever, the former Atlético defender always seemed to be covering the right areas and sniffing out potential danger to reach Chelsea’s attackers first, making eleven total clearances in the ninety minutes. Toby Alderweireld has not picked up a single booking this season despite being a stalwart for Spurs at the back. This is testament to his superb reading of the game and knowledge of when to make his tackles.
The summer signing from Southampton barely put a foot wrong all day and this is not only restricted to his defensive attributes. He also performed to a high standard when on the ball, either with long and well-directed diagonals towards Harry Kane, or with more intricate passing in tight spaces. As Spurs’ long unbeaten run in the Premier League continues, Alderweireld’s impact on the series of results cannot be underestimated.
Nicolas Otamendi: On a day where Graziano Pellè was serving a one match suspension, Nicolas Otamendi made the most of the fact that the Italian was replaced in the starting line-up by the shorter but livelier Shane Long. The former Valencia defender was victorious in six aerial duels, dominating the situations in which he was involved. In contrast, his international colleague and partner at the centre of defence; Martin Demichelis, appeared fairly inept when Long leapt highest to power home a header past Caballero. The Argentine centre half also made eight clearances as he attempted to persuade Manuel Pellegrini that he should be the man to partner Vincent Kompany when The Citizens’ captain returns to fitness.
Christian Fuchs: The experienced Austrian defender is proving to be a very astute signing by Claudio Ranieri in the summer. Providing the defensive solidity that Schlupp can sometimes lack often gives Christian Fuchs the edge in the biggest of matches and he yet again stood up well to Manchester United’s attacking thrusts. Making five tackles and four interceptions, he nullified the threat of Matteo Darmian and assisted the lumbering Robert Huth in dealing with the searing pace of Anthony Martial. His greatest contribution in the game though came during the first half when he played through a fantastically weighted ball for Vardy’s historic opener. This not only required the technique to pull off, but the vision to even envisage the pass. An understated display that typified Fuchs’ attitude should stand him in good stead for the rest of the campaign.
James McArthur: Bagging two goals in the same game is hardly commonplace for James McArthur but that is exactly what he managed on Saturday. His first was the equaliser soon after Cissé had put the Magpies ahead, with the Scottish midfielder being the beneficiary of a significant deflection to take the ball beyond Elliot. A smart finish, hit low into the bottom corner put the icing on the cake for The Eagles and for McArthur’s personal performance.
The normally aggressive and combative central midfielder barely had to demonstrate any of these traits against Newcastle United, who posed him very little challenge. Instead, he was able to control the pace of the play in a style that befitted his cultured midfield partner; Yohan Cabaye, with 46 of his 50 passes finding a man in red and blue. Furthermore, he had enough confidence that Newcastle did not possess the quality to hurt his side in defence and so broke forward in a manner that was quite alien for the Scotsman, but his impact on the result was certainly tangible.
Moussa Dembélé: As now always seems to be the case since his recent resurgence, Moussa Dembélé put in a typically all-action display against Chelsea with his influence being felt all over the pitch. While it was predicted that the absence of Dele Alli would be acutely felt by Mauricio Pochettino’s side, the way that the former Fulham midfielder took control of the midfield meant that this effect was minimised. In a defensive sense, he made five interceptions and four tackles to break up the intricate play of Chelsea’s technically gifted creators. Not content with simply having a destructive element to his game however, he took the fight to the away side, taking on his opponent successfully on three occasions and winning two free-kicks. Moussa Dembélé is in a rich vein of form and is rapidly becoming the force that we knew at The Cottage.
Emre Can: In a generally dull affair at Anfield where Liverpool ground out a 1-0 win against Swansea, Emre Can was the shining light. The German never seems to tire regardless of how many high intensity matches he engages in week after week. Now truly at home in the centre of midfield for Liverpool; having left the foray into centre-half behind him, he stamps his authority on games with great frequency. Can was heavily involved in the decidedly lacklustre first-half, leading the way in terms of total passes, touches and duels with opponents.
Although Lucas Leiva; Liverpool’s resurgent midfield enforcer, was missing from the game due to suspension, the recruit from Bayer Leverkusen did not let this deter him, instead taking up the mantle himself. Can won four tackles and made an equal number of interceptions, with these pieces of destructive play often prompting him to charge up the pitch and launch an attack.
Manuel Lanzini: The tone for Manuel Lanzini’s performance was set from the early minutes when he produced a beautifully crafted piece of footwork to dance through the heart of West Brom’s defence. Working fantastically well in tandem with Mauro Zarate, the man that The Hammers have signed on loan was a joy to watch and provided the spark that broke the notoriously frugal West Brom defence on one occasion and threatened to do so on several others. He conjured up three chances for his team-mates and the four times that Lanzini took on his opponents was irrevocable evidence that they found it a great challenge to contain him. The onus of creativity is now firmly planted on his shoulders following the confirmation of Payet’s long-term absence from the first-team picture. If his display against The Baggies is anything to go by, the West Ham faithful can be fairly optimistic that their talismanic signing from Ligue 1 will not be too sorely missed.
Kevin De Bruyne: Manchester City’s record summer signing from Wolfsburg was directly involved in every goal for his side against Southampton and undoubtedly made the difference on the day. He possesses the essential extra quality that defined Manchester City’s overall dominance. The manner in which he caresses the ball is evidence of his superior touch, ability and awareness. Whilst his goal in the early minutes; a strike which marked The Citizens’ initial pressure on Stekelenburg, was more down to Raheem Sterling’s break rather than the Belgian’s brilliance, his play elsewhere was nothing short of outstanding.
The first of his assists came a clever delivery at a corner, in which he pulled the ball back along the ground perfectly into the path of Fabian Delph. The Southampton defenders were caught completely unaware and such was the quality of the pass into the former Villa midfielder, that he was placed under minimal pressure before his strike found the back of the Saints’ net. De Bruyne turned provider once more for Manchester City’s third goal of the day, this time with the moment of class coming in the delay on his cross for Kolarov. It was this timing which allowed the left-back to be found in space and while the quality of the finish must take some credit, the nature of the Belgian’s delivery once again demonstrated the higher level of footballing intelligence which he possesses. With multiple other chances coming as a result of De Bruyne’s cultured right boot, he shone on a day where Aguero failed to hit the heights, emphasising the midfielder’s importance to this Manchester City side.
Yannick Bolasie: The Congolese international bagged a brace against Newcastle and terrorised their defence for the entire ninety minutes. Bolasie’s contribution was felt all over the pitch as Palace put the Geordies to the sword in the Premier League, taking five shots and taking seventy touches. Alan Pardew had made the deliberate decision to deploy him in a more central area than usual and it certainly paid off. Beating his man on four occasions, Yannick Bolasie’s final ball was also up to standard as dangerous crosses were the cause of nervousness in the Newcastle defence, resulting in two chances for his team-mates.
His first goal was more memorable for Newcastle United’s shambolic defending than terrific attacking play, as the ball dribbled its way across the penalty area while countless defenders simply stood and watched. For his second, the pacey forward; frequently linked with more established Premier League clubs such as Spurs, ran totally free in the 18 yard box to get on the end of a header across goal by Scott Dann, capitalising on the space to tap home at the far post. You would have to imagine that Pardew will continue with the experiment of playing Bolasie through the middle as no one from Newcastle United’s ranks could lay a glove on him.
Jamie Vardy: With the weekend belonging to Jamie Vardy beyond any other player, it is only right that he finds his way into The Boot Room’s Premier League Team of the Week. Even if all he had achieved against Manchester United was score, there would be an argument for his place in the side anyway, but his display contained far more than that. He was as industrious as ever and despite the lime-light being well and truly thrust upon him, he continued to put the team’s ambitions beyond his own. Many other Premier League stars would showboat if they were in such a position but instead, Vardy chased defenders down as vehemently as in every other match this season and looked to run into the channels to provide an out-ball for his team-mates.
It was this type of work in particular which was all so important for Leicester City, as Manchester United dominated possession of the ball for swathes of the match. In order for Ranieri’s men not to become bogged down and sit too deep, Vardy hassled and harried The Red Devils’ centre halves and occupied the back three on his own at times. His selection may be seen as somewhat of a sentimental decision, but if anyone has ever deserved it then it is Leicester City’s number nine.
Featured Image: All rights reserved by Alex Hannam
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