Premier League Team of the Week VII feat Arsenal and Liverpool Stars
Goals aplenty graced the Premier League this weekend and there was certainly no shortage of individual attacking brilliance on display, making my choice in these areas very difficult indeed. Manchester City had started the domestic campaign in relentless fashion but they were trounced 4-1 by Spurs on the back of a shock home defeat to West Ham United last weekend. Among the scorers for the North London side was Harry Kane who grabbed his first Premier League strike of the season to put an end to the heavily advertised barren run, but this was just one of several goals which was marred with off-side controversy.
Two other stars of England’s top flight had endured similar runs so far this term but put them to bed on Saturday afternoon. The most emphatic change in fortune came from the magical feet of Alexis Sanchez who bagged a hat-trick at Leicester City in Arsenal’s 5-2 rout at the KP Stadium; a match which incidentally saw 42 shots on goal unleashed which is the most so far this season. Wayne Rooney also scored his first goal on these shores this season as Manchester United recorded a 3-0 victory at home to Sunderland. The captain of his club and nation will be delighted about this, and will also be heartened by the fact that The Red Devils ended the weekend at the summit of the Premier League table.
Elsewhere in the Premier League, Daniel Sturridge made a welcome goal-scoring return to life at Anfield, as his brace of strikes in 8 second half proved crucial in guiding Liverpool to a 3-2 win; a match which finished on a much more nervous note than it should have. This was The Reds’ first victory in six attempts and its influence on Rodgers’ future at the club will have to be seen over the coming weeks. On Saturday evening, Chelsea showed the sort of resolve which all aspiring champions need to have to fight back from adversity and rescue a point against Newcastle after being two goals down. Whilst Mourinho’s men did not play particularly badly over the ninety minutes as a whole, it was two moments to forget in defence which cost them dearly and this could persuade him to bring back John Terry who is currently firmly assigned to the substitute’s bench.
Read on to find out my Premier League Team of the Week. Please leave your own thoughts and opinions on the selection in the comments section or on twitter @TBRFootball .
Jack Butland: On a weekend where Joe Hart did not feature due to a niggling injury complaint, Jack Butland impressed in the Premier League once more. The matches were hardly wrought with fantastic performances from defenders or goalkeepers alike, but Butland was the best of a decidedly average bunch in my opinion. There were still a couple of his now trademarked top quality saves at crucial times to keep a charging Bournemouth at bay, but even he was beaten once by a Dan Gosling effort. His stops as the end of the game approached; such as when he stuck out a strong right arm to deflect a close-range shot away from danger, earned Stoke City their first victory of the season.
Héctor Bellerin: The young Spaniard emerged as a true challenger to Debuchy’s right-back berth last season and has not looked back since. Héctor Bellerin has grown into a fan favourite at The Emirates and judging by his performance against Leicester City, it is easy to see why.
Perhaps given licence by Wenger or maybe the urge is ingrained in him, Bellerin displayed great attacking adventure on the right flank at the KP Stadium. With the way that Arsenal play, width from their attacking midfielders is not always apparent and so the overlapping Spanish international is integral to their offensive objectives. In fact, he was heavily involved in the build-up to both of Alexis Sanchez’s first two goals on the day as he advanced at pace down the right flank. Dazzling speed left the opposition with no option but to break from formation to try and close him down which in turn left the creative maestros of Cazorla and Özil in space. Once Bellerin had delivered the ball to them, it was only a matter of time before they supplied the assist. The Spanish right-back also created chances directly, firing the ball across into dangerous areas but the opportunities were not capitalised upon. Bellerin has shown excellent progression in this Arsenal side and is consistently restricting Mathieu Debuchy to life on the bench. With Wenger unlikely to change things too drastically in the coming weeks, expect this trend to continue and Bellerin should cement his place further as he bombs on down the right wing.
Toby Alderweireld: The Belgian appeared for Southampton in the Premier League last season and Spurs’ acquisition of him over the summer is proving to be an increasingly shrewd one as the weeks go by. Alongside his countryman Jan Vertonghen at the heart of Tottenham’s defence, he kept the fearsome Manchester City front-line decidedly quiet. Aguero in particular had a simply stunning record against the North Londoners in previous encounters; notching 10 times in 7 matches, but was unable to threaten Lloris’ goal with any extended sincerity. Protecting the Frenchman with the utmost determination, he made eight clearances in the match to ensure the ball remained away from the danger area for as long as possible.
At the other end of the field, the former Atlético Madrid man was on hand to head home an Erik Lamela cross to put his side in front. Whilst Manchester City’s defending at the dead-ball situation was hardly anything to write home about, Alderweireld still produced some good movement to break free of his marker and then made no mistake to head in his first Premier League goal for Spurs. The central defensive partnership between him and Vertonghen is looking more solid week by week and this was put in stark contrast during the week when Pochettino made changes in that area in the Capital One Cup defeat to Arsenal. Quite simply, Alderweireld and Vertonghen have to play in the vast majority of Spurs’ matches for them to mount a concerted top four challenge.
Brede Hangeland: The Norwegian central defender has enjoyed an extended run in the side as a result of injuries to both Scott Dann and Damien Delaney and if his performance on Sunday is anything to go by, he could well hold down a sustained spot. Brede Hangeland was up against a combative and confident Ighalo who was all too keen to engage the towering centre-half in a physical battle. The former Fulham player stood up to the challenge and seemingly relished it.
While the game was goalless, his defensive style was somewhat composed but when The Hornets fell one behind, they flooded forward in search of an equaliser and Hangeland was able to use his strength and aerial prowess to keep the ball away from Hennessey’s goal. A magnificent 16 clearances and 6 victorious aerial duels were the key behind Crystal Palace securing all three points. He ensured that his aggression was high enough to not be out-muscled but below the level that would give away continual free-kicks. Perhaps the most crucial moment was when Troy Deeney attempted to pick out Ighalo in the dying minutes and would have succeeded but for Hangeland’s intervention, powering past the Watford striker to avert the danger.
Kevin Mbabu: Faced with the prospect of encountering a revitalised Chelsea team, Newcastle United fans would hardly have been thrilled with the news of a reserve left-back having to be drafted in. In a pleasing turn of events however, Premier League debutant Kevin Mbabu applied himself very well on the day and was one of many reasons to be positive from a Geordie perspective. At times, the right-footed defender did not look the most comfortable playing on the left side of defence but he coped admirably against a reinvigorated Hazard and flying Pedro. There were of course instances where a lack of experience was obvious, but this can be worked on and the essential natural talent is certainly present.
Mbabu used his youthful exuberance to good effect when surely struggling to keep going in the dying minutes. To the delight of the St. James’ Park faithful, the youngster had some notable moments of success against Chelsea’s chief creators. He robbed their talismanic Belgian at crucial times before delivering the ball safely away from dangerous areas, making nine tackles in total. You would certainly understand if he demonstrated an underlying desire to be cautious and just do his utmost to ensure that he did not make any glaring errors in his first taste of Premier League football. However, in fact he was not afraid to be progressive and attack Branislav Ivanovic, meaning that Chelsea were unable to commit men forward at will for fear of leaving space in behind which would be exploited. This mentality may well have been a contributing factor to the decidedly average showing by The Blues in the first half. Overall, the young defender could not have been expected to do any better and Steve McLaren will be reassured that if Mbabu needs to be called upon again, he can do a job for his side.
Yohan Cabaye: In a display that was typical of the majestic Frenchman, Yohan Cabaye showed the sort of form that enticed PSG into signing him from Newcastle United. Deployed in a deep-lying midfield role that had a greater degree of defensive responsibility than usual, he was able to pick out team-mates both near and far.
Perhaps the greatest impact that he had on the game came from set-pieces. From early on, he delivered perfectly flighted balls into dangerous areas that caused problems for the likes of Gomes and Craig Cathcart. A couple of these could easily have found their way into the back of the net and eventually, he was handed the opportunity of notching from the penalty spot. Making no mistake from 12 yards out, he thumped home the penalty and the strike turned out to be the winner.
James Milner: Securing the signature of James Milner on a free transfer was rightly seen as somewhat of a coup for Liverpool in the summer but even so, the England man has hardly been on the top of his game so far this campaign. Whilst he has been far from the worst performer in a red shirt, his failure to grab games by the scruff of the neck has been disappointing. This trend happily ended against Aston Villa on Saturday as the stand-in captain put in a display worthy of that famous armband. Missing his international colleague and fellow work-horse Jordan Henderson alongside him, Milner produced the complete midfield performance in many ways.
The game was only a little over a minute old when the midfield dynamo had ended his scoring duck for his new side. Capitalising on space on the edge of the penalty area, Milner made no mistake despite how early it was in proceedings and fired home a tidy and low finish into the bottom corner to take his tally to three goals against his former club. Working all over the park for the entire game, the ex-Aston Villa midfielder was on hand to make six tackles and set Liverpool up for attacks. He also found himself at the sharp end too, showing subtlety that is rarely associated with him to flick the ball over the defence and setting up Daniel Sturridge to lash home a volley. Liverpool’s number seven created two chances of note in addition to that assist and if he continues in this vein, the horizon may not be as bleak as many thought for the red half of Merseyside.
Erik Lamela: The much maligned Argentine has had nothing short of a horrendous career at White Hart Lane so far, but Spurs’ 4-1 defeat of title favourites Manchester City could prove to be the turning point for both Lamela and his team as a whole. His performances in North London have been so lacking that this match was actually the first time he has scored a goal and picked up an assist in the same Premier League game. Quite a staggering statistic really when you consider the £30 million fee required to bring him to England.
Lamela appeared to be as sharp in the mind as he was fleet of foot against Pellegrini’s men on Saturday. Showing the attributes which he was signed for, the left-footed attacker made clever turns into space, committed defenders, and dribbled with purpose which set The Citizens’ defence on the back foot. It was a run following this formula which played such an important part in the build-up for Harry Kane’s goal. Charging at the heart of Manchester City’s back-line, Demichelis was drawn into a foul just to stop Lamela’s progress and from the resulting free-kick, Kane was able to profit from a fortunate deflection. The Argentine came up with a direct assist in the early minutes of the second half too, producing an excellent delivery for Toby Alderweireld’s near-post header which put Spurs into the lead; a position which was never recovered by The Citizens. Lamela was on hand to round off a fantastic day on a personal basis and for his side as he kept his cool to dribble around Caballero and eventually slot home. Obvious prowess in attack put to one side, he did not shirk his defensive responsibilities either as he made five tackles in the ninety minutes.
Ayoze Perez: In an effort to arrest the simply awful start to Newcastle United’s Premier League season, Steve McLaren seemingly bowed to public opinion and set his side up initially with two men up front, with Ayoze Perez being one of them. The Spaniard drew a smart save out of Asmir Begovic in the early stages of the first half and this positive start set the tone for his entire performance. As The Magpies began the game in a manner which pleased the Geordie faithful greatly, Perez was at the heart of everything. Although nominally playing up top and through the middle, he would work equally hard on either flank and many a dangerous Newcastle attack came as a result of smart interplay between Perez and Janmaat on the right wing.
Not forgetting his primary assignment however, he exhibited a classic piece of striking play to find himself in between Chelsea’s centre halves, capitalise on Zouma’s inexplicable lack of jump to then control the ball smartly and fire home in emphatic fashion off the upright. Not content with just putting his side in the ascendancy before half-time however, he also swung in the corner that Wijnaldum was able to flick home in the second half to place Newcastle in a strong position. This is one that they eventually conceded as the game ended 2-2 but this was in no way down to a lack of endeavour from Perez. The former Tenerife forward has demonstrated a tremendous work ethic in his time on these shores and Newcastle’s game against Chelsea was no different. Despite expending huge amounts of energy in the attacking third earlier in the game, he was still somehow able to draw the strength to get back in defence and then spring forward to support a break as the game became stretched. You would have to hope that Steve McLaren has learnt a great deal from this game and will persist with the Perez-Mitrovic axis up front.
Alexis Sanchez: The Chilean had a fabulous debut season in England’s top flight but up to the weekend, his exertions in the Copa America over the summer appeared to have taken their toll. However, Alexis’ form had clearly not deserted him completely as he scored his first hat-trick in England as Arsenal beat Leicester City 5-2 away from home. This goal-scoring feat broke his duck in the Premier League this season which had stood at six games, but you must now feel that he will go from strength to strength and could be the driving force behind Arsenal challenging for the title.
On the day, his strikes became increasingly wonderful from one to the next. The first was relatively simple as it only required him to be in the right place at the right time to finish off the chance but putting the ball in the back of the net was vital nonetheless. It proved to be a huge weight off his shoulders and gave Sanchez the renewed confidence to go on and bag two more on the day. The Gunners’ signing from Barcelona is surprisingly adept in the air for a man of his height and rose well to nod the ball past the goalkeeper for his second goal. Clearly riding high on a wave of belief as the minutes ticked by in the second half, it seemed only a matter of time before he completed his hat-trick. The inevitable became reality in fantastic style when Alexis struck a shot sweetly from outside the area. It was not just his goals however which helped Arsenal to victory on Saturday. Outstanding work rate was once again at the forefront of everything he did, attacking defenders in a direct manner but also working hard to win the ball back for his team, making three tackles throughout the match. His dribbling is a sight to behold as he beat his opponent seven times over the course of ninety minutes. The potent Chilean even demonstrated an eye for a pass when his perfectly directed and weighted ball through a tight gap ensured the continuation of a rapid counter-attack that climaxed with Walcott’s opener.
Daniel Sturridge: The injury-prone striker has rightly been the recipient of the most praise following his two goals against Aston Villa which secured Liverpool’s victory. Daniel Sturridge has nearly returned to full fitness and his impact on Brendan Rodgers’ side was clear for all to see. From the first minute, he started to exhibit the link-up play with Ings and Coutinho that Liverpool fans have been craving during his absence from the side. Whilst their individual talents are beyond question, Benteke and Sturridge did not really seem to strike a natural partnership in their limited game time together thus far. On the other hand, Ings appears to work perfectly in tandem with the former Chelsea striker and this pairing functioned far more effectively. In the hole behind the forwards, Coutinho looked far more capable of creating danger and a beautifully intelligent back-heeled flick in the penalty area provided the assist for Sturridge’s second. The effect of Sturridge’s searing pace and relentless movement cannot be underestimated as Coutinho became the beneficiary of more space between the lines.
Supreme natural finishing ability and an encouragingly high confidence were on show in his opener. In what can only be described as poetry in motion, fantastic interplay took place between Sturridge and Milner before a sumptuous volleyed finish cued the long-awaited return of Sturridge’s famous dance. The England man also showed some terrific determination to win the ball back in the attacking third; a trait which provided an instant reward in the second half. Sturridge chased and hassled, regained possession of the football before supplying Liverpool’s midfield who then in turn returned the favour by putting him in place to get his second. Possessing the composure to simply caress the ball into the net with his weaker right foot is a highly positive sign. Liverpool’s number 15 very nearly profited once more from a pass round the corner by Danny Ings but his sliding effort went agonisingly past the post. It seems that the equation to secure Rodgers’ future at Liverpool is almost too simple – he must keep Sturridge fit, firing, and off the treatment table.
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