Premier League Team of the Week feat. Sunderland and Liverpool Stars
As always seems to be the case in the Premier League, there have been a multitude of talking points to emerge from the weekend’s action. Bar one isolated game, there were not a vast number of goals scored but exhilaration was certainly not lacking.
On paper, the Manchester derby was the match with the most potential to excite and despite the 0-0 final score-line, it was far from a bore draw but instead, a game where the defensive application was frequently too much for the attackers on display. Onlookers witnessed an intense start with plenty of high speed action but not a great deal of clear-cut chances to speak of. Anthony Martial; a man in terrific form following his seemingly unjustifiable £37 million move in the summer, was the Manchester United player most likely to cause City’s back-line a problem. In flashes, Touré, De Bruyne and Sterling showed some neat touches to link up intelligently with one another but their work never really resulted in De Gea having to exert himself. Manchester United had the better of the second half and once Lingaard and Fellaini had been introduced, it did look as though LVG’s men would be the ones to grab a winner. Nevertheless, a goalless draw was the final result and neither manager will be too disappointed in the end.
West Ham’s staggering efforts away from home are the primary reasons that Bilic’s new side have attracted attention this campaign so far. However, they became the latest Premier League side to hand out a defeat to Chelsea and as a result, The Hammers are enjoying their best ever start to a Premier League season after ten matches. Perhaps the resounding memory from the game will be Chelsea’s shocking lack of discipline. Mourinho; along with his assistant, were sent to the stands by the referee to maintain the current trend of the Portuguese’s behavioural transgressions. This all came after Nemanja Matic had been dismissed for two nonsensical bookings in the space of nine minutes. On the pitch, this was hardly an isolated incident as the Stamford Bridge outfit had six players booked in total. It has to be said that some of the challenges that came from The Blues’ players over the ninety minutes were shocking and potentially worthy of the FA examining them in the aftermath. A positive story was still to emerge from the game, as Andy Carroll’s first goal since January proved to be the winner in the 2-1 victory. West Ham now possess an unprecedented place in the top four after ten games of the season. Genuine questions now really have to be asked as to whether The Irons can retain that lofty position until May.
Coming off the high point of beating the German juggernauts Bayern Munich, Arsenal had to re-focus coming into their match-up with Everton. The Gunners went into a two goal lead with a pair of headed goals within two minutes of each other. The travelling Toffees did manage to grab one back before the half-time whistle but despite a fairly free-flowing game where both sides looked the most dangerous on the counter-attack, Everton could not find an equaliser. After a superb result at home to Bayern Munich in the Champions League during the week and some stand-out victories in the Premier League, Wenger’s run of form shows no signs of halting meaning that perhaps, The Gunners could provide a concerted and sustained title challenge for the first time in many years.
Sunderland’s recent record going into the Wear-Tyne derby is nothing short of staggering and seems to have been particularly fruitful for Black Cats managers in the early days of their reign. Nothing about that changed on Sunday in the early kick-off as The Mackems enjoyed a 3-0 victory on a decidedly disappointing day for McLaren’s men. After this match, the run stands at six successive defeats for The Geordies against their bitter rivals, breaking the previous record for games between these clubs in their history. In a first half that was almost entirely dominated by the visitors as they mustered a multitude of shots on target, there was a dramatic climax to the half. Coloccini barged into Fletcher in the penalty area as the first period drew to a close and from the resulting spot-kick, Adam Johnson rifled the ball into the bottom corner. The winger seems to enjoy this fixture more than most and Sunday saw a continuation of this run.
Jurgen Klopp’s first Premier League game at Anfield in charge of Liverpool, following two successive draws which demonstrated more promise than genuine substance. Liverpool made most of the running in the opening exchanges with Lallana, Coutinho and Moreno being heavily involved. Ronald Koeman’s side came more into the game as the half went on and certainly went into the break on a par with the home side. The introduction of Christian Benteke in the second half seemed to have the desired effect and as the minutes wore on, Klopp’s side looked to be the more threatening despite some offensive-minded substitutions by the Saints’ manager. The big Belgian more than justified his introduction to the match when; after 77 minutes, a thumping header sparked wild celebrations around Anfield with Jurgen Klopp as animated as any. However, Southampton have not earned the tag of a tough nut to crack for nothing, and grabbed a scruffy equaliser in the final five minutes through Mané before the forward saw red for two silly fouls. The wait for Klopp’s first Liverpool win goes on but there is no doubt that the shoots of recovery are beginning to emerge.
Which individuals do you think performed best for their side over the weekend? Read on to find out my Premier League Team of the Week and feel free to leave your comments below or on twitter @TBRFootball .
Costel Pantilimon: Although his side ran out 3-0 victors against Newcastle United, it was hardly a stroll in the park for Costel Pantilimon. In fact, it was the general consensus that he kept Sunderland in the match in the first half. The Magpies had been brimming with confidence from the 6-2 victory over Norwich and seemed to be creating chances almost at will and it appeared only a matter of time before they took the game away from the hosts. Sissoko, Perez and Wijnaldum were scything through the back four but the giant Romanian was there to stop them at the last line of defence. His saves grew in magnitude immensely when The Black Cats notched a controversial penalty in added time at the end of the first half.
In the second 45 minutes, Mitrovic was the beneficiary of a deflection off Cattermole and with just Pantilimon to beat, Newcastle’s striker could find no way past the hulking frame of the Romanian international. Much criticism has come his way so far this season but in incidences such as this, we can see that Pantilimon could still prove to be a crucial player in Sunderland’s bid for survival under Sam Allardyce. Coates and Kaboul were the partnership at the heart of defence once John O’Shea had left the field due to injury and they looked far from secure. Even when their opponents were reduced to ten men, Sunderland’s ‘keeper hardly had an easy time of it. A surging run from Wijnaldum and some neat interplay resulted in space emerging for the in-form Dutchman and only an outstretched right hand from Pantilimon could stop a goal-bound effort. He was vocal towards his defence for most of the match but seemingly to no avail and as such, should receive the vast majority of the praise for the clean sheet on the day.
Antonio Valencia: Once an out-and-out wide-man with pace to burn whose sole desire was to reach the by-line and supply crosses, Antonio Valencia is now almost entirely deployed as a conventional right-back. Personally, I am unsure whether his inclusion in Van Gaal’s starting line-up against Manchester City says more about the Dutchman’s belief in Valencia or a lack of faith in Darmian. Either way, the Ecuadorian did not let him down whilst he was on the pitch. With long-term concerns over his positional sense on the field, he would always be tested when facing the rapid Raheem Sterling or tricky De Bruyne, but Valencia coped admirably with both. Manchester City looked nowhere near as incisive as they have been in recent matches and much of the supply line coming from their left side was stopped at source by Valencia. Assuming that the injury he picked up during the game is not too serious, Darmian could have a genuine fight on his hands to regain a first-team role.
Martin Skrtel: Recently, it has been his central defensive partner Mamadou Sakho who has earned most admiration from the supporters but the consistent rock alongside him; Martin Skrtel, produced a highly impressive showing against Southampton. Amongst Liverpool fans, this is the pairing which the vast majority have been crying out for and they look to be asserting themselves now, becoming more solid as a result. Skrtel was generally the man to pick up Graziano Pellè throughout the match; a striker who has been a threat to many an experienced Premier League defender during his time on these shores. Due to the physicality of the Italian forward, Liverpool’s long-serving defender could not always rely on his usual dominance in combative one-on-one encounters. Nevertheless, he won more than his fair share of headers and used an ever-developing intelligence to anticipate balls into the bustling front-man. The Slovakian made six clearances with many of these being from the front post area; a region which he loves to dominate.
Alongside the blocks and interceptions that are typical of a Martin Skrtel performance, he also displayed a serenity on the ball which was promising to see. His distribution from the back is often under-appreciated but as far as centre-halves go, he is far from the worst. The prime example of this was when he unleashed a fabulous raking pass from back to front, nearly setting Coutinho free. With performances such as this, you have to imagine that clean sheets are to follow on a regular basis.
Nicolas Otamendi: It was widely considered that the determining factor behind Manchester City’s limp attempt to retain their Premier League title last season was the insecurity of the back-line. Therefore, the addition of Nicolas Otamendi to The Citizens’ ranks could be as important as De Bruyne or Sterling. The Argentine started alongside club captain Vincent Kompany and outshone his fellow defender. Unlike the vast majority of centre-halves, Otamendi is more than happy to shift out of his nominal position to sweep in behind his full-backs and avert danger in the process. This feature of his game came to the fore in the Manchester derby as he helped to keep willing runners at bay.
Furthermore, in a manner that is not too dissimilar from Kompany at his best, Otamendi made many vital interventions near the half-way line and impressively, rarely became exposed in behind. Making eight clearances and five tackles, his staunch defending helped to keep Martial limited to the periphery of the action and Wayne Rooney almost anonymous.
Alberto Moreno: In my opinion, this was Alberto Moreno’s best display in a Liverpool shirt to date and with an extended run in the side guaranteed; injury permitting, the Spanish flyer’s development could continue at a frightening pace. Of all his strengths, awareness and defensive positioning have previously been called into question, and for good reason. However, against Southampton, he seemed to have put these shortcomings behind him. Often being the man in Liverpool’s back-line to cut out a pass or win the ball back with a strong challenge, Moreno dominated the left flank.
Perhaps what will remain in the minds of the fans will be the chances that he spurned to produce an effort on target. While these moments were doubtlessly disappointing, his determination to be in the right area was pleasing to see and even if he did not convert, his presence in attacking areas alone meant that Southampton’s defenders had one more variable to consider. His outstanding contribution to the game came when Mané was released beyond Liverpool’s back-line into acres of space and appeared to be bearing down on Mignolet’s goal. However, despite Mané’s own prowess in the sprinting stakes, Moreno tore up the distance between the two and put in a perfectly timed sliding tackle to avert a highly dangerous situation. As it was, The Reds were not able to see out the game without conceding but Moreno’s efforts for the entire 90 minutes should not be underestimated.
Santi Cazorla: Although Cazorla’s quality on the ball is nothing new, it never ceases to amaze that he can operate with such consummate ease in tight spaces and with either foot. Against Everton; a side with energetic midfielders who press with enthusiasm, Arsenal’s number 19 dictated the pace of the play and it was clear to see that when The Gunners were at their most comfortable, the gifted playmaker was at the centre of it. In addition to his unerring precision in open play, Cazorla delivers a mean free-kick. This was on display when a cross was flighted into the box with perfect trajectory, pace and direction, making Howard’s task nearly impossible. Koscielny applied the smallest of touches; all that was necessary, and from that moment on, Arsenal never really lost control of the game. Excluding the assist for Koscielny’s goal, four other chances came from the magical feet of the former Malaga man.
Santi Cazorla carried out some tremendous defensive work at times too. The most notable of these situations occurred when Coleman had broken free of the attentions of Nacho Monreal but the diminutive Spanish midfielder was on hand to slide in intelligently and win the ball back for his side. This was perhaps the most important of the five interceptions that he made over the ninety minutes, putting in a complete performance that was worthy of the captain’s armband on his sleeve.
Yann M’Vila: In the many dreary days which Sunderland have experienced so far this campaign, M’Vila has often been the sole shining light. The Frenchman was the linchpin of The Black Cats’ midfield and his importance in their victory should not be overlooked. With many of Newcastle’s forward-thinking players looking to operate in-field, M’Vila had a great deal to think about even when the opposition’s ranks were depleted to ten men. He made four clearances and an equal number of interceptions and then drove forward from deep areas after breaking up play. An individual moment of brilliant quality came from the right boot of M’Vila when his volley from a corner was unfortunate not to find its way into the back of the net. To avoid slicing the effort horribly wide or over the bar demonstrated terrific composure.
Adam Johnson: Whilst he is not alone in this regard in the Sunderland contingent, Adam Johnson seems to enjoy his best moments for The Black Cats against their arch rivals. The latest derby was no exception as the former Middlesborough and Man City winger scored the game-changing penalty and was a threat to Newcastle all afternoon.
Indeed, it was his inventive delivery from a corner which culminated in Sunderland snatching their second of the day through Billy Jones after Johnson’s cross had found Yann M’Vila in space. During the time where the game was still a contest, the England international produced a thunderous effort that was only denied by the cross-bar and in the confusion that ensued, nearly provided an assist for Fletcher to bag the third goal for The Black Cats. All in all, he was the impetus behind Sunderland’s attacks and Sam Allardyce must hope to inspire similar performances from him in the coming months.
Dimitri Payet: West Ham’s French recruit from Bilic’s first transfer window at the helm of The Hammers has been one of the top Premier League performers so far this season. Having earned the adoration of the Upton Park faithful at a rapid rate of knots, they now rise to their feet whenever he picks up the ball and his team-mates are keen to find him in space at every possible opportunity. As always seems to be the case at the moment, Payet justified the acclaim attributed to him and provided dangerous deliveries in open-play or from set pieces. It is a highly valued trait to be able to produce on a consistent basis and not one that many players possess.
Payet has an unexpected physicality to his game and when combined with his direct running style, defenders are forced to make difficult decisions from the first minute. Despite not hitting the back of the net himself against Chelsea, he was heavily involved in both of West Ham’s goals and indeed in everything positive for his side on the day.
Alexis Sanchez: After initially suffering through a barren run by his standards, Alexis Sanchez has since been enjoying a terrific series of games. Despite his intensity level week after week for club and country, the Chilean’s tank never seems to run dry and this was on display yet again against Everton. Still retaining his undoubted quality in the final third of the field, Alexis’ impact on Arsenal’s success was felt more acutely in their defensive efforts. Faced with a marauding Seamus Coleman and pacey Deulofeu on the right flank, Sanchez provided great protection for Nacho Monreal. Perhaps the most noteworthy example of this effort going back towards his own goal was when he overpowered the Irishman in his own left-back area and a well-directed pass up-field nearly resulted in a goal for Mesut Özil.
In offensive areas too, Alexis exhibited pace, power and determination to make a chance out of nothing. A prime example of this was when a sliding pass unexpectedly found a way beyond Giroud and; despite conceding a head start to Coleman in terms of position, the Chilean still reached the ball first and forced Howard to turn his shot around the post for an Arsenal corner. In the dying minutes of the game, Sanchez still found himself in dangerous attacking areas despite the effort he had put in and would have assisted Arsenal’s third goal had it not been for Flamini heading straight into the hands of Tim Howard. Perhaps the toughest decision for Arsene Wenger to solve at this current moment is how to ration Sanchez’s minutes on the field. He is absolutely integral to Arsenal’s ambitions but you feel that at some point, the Chilean needs a rest to avoid an exceptionally costly injury.
Harry Kane: Having been far from his best in the current Premier League campaign by his own admission, Harry Kane announced his return to form on the domestic scene in some style against Bournemouth. Kane completed his hat-trick completed just after the hour mark, making it the second ever in his Premier League career. His first goal of the day came from the penalty spot and it was he who was tripped by Artur Boruc after Kane’s movement in behind the defence spawned a tricky situation for the newly promoted club. The resulting spot-kick was dispatched with ease, matched only by the finish for his second of the day. Once again running beyond the Bournemouth back-line, Kane proved to be too much for Eddie Howe’s side to handle. The icing on the cake for both Spurs and Kane was realised when the forward was on hand to snaffle up a rebound in the six yard box, displaying yet another example of his natural finishing prowess.
The England international won seven of his nine aerial duels, providing the platform for his whole side to operate around. Some tremendous work from the young forward in the left channel created the chance for Lamela to score Spurs’ third of the day, demonstrating that Kane’s influence is not limited to the width of the 18 yard box.
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