Premier League Team of the Week XI feat. Liverpool and Leicester Stars
Without doubt, the story of the weekend in the Premier League came at Stamford Bridge where a 3-1 defeat at the hands of Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool left Mourinho’s job in an even more perilous position. Even so, surely the Chelsea legend is in no immediate danger of receiving his P45? Away from Stamford Bridge, there were plenty of noteworthy moments and top-class individual performances.
The early game on Saturday was billed as The Special One against The Normal One but on Halloween, it was a horror show for Chelsea against Liverpool. An early Ramires header in the opening minutes gave the beleaguered Mourinho the perfect start, with the Brazilian producing a late run into the box to power a header past Simon Mignolet. It was incredibly poignant to see Klopp urging his troops to keep their heads up, a feeling which helped to maintain belief in their principles and way of playing. Liverpool did recover from this early set-back and as the first half wore on, the men in red enjoyed the majority of the possession and openings. When it appeared as though Mourinho and his players would be able to enjoy their half-time oranges, a beautifully finished Coutinho curler from the edge of the area drew the game level. The strike found the back of the net 30 seconds after the period of added time should have elapsed, leading to yet another moment of controversy surrounding a Chelsea match.
In the second half, the match threatened to boil over on occasion but this never really materialised. The tension was sparked; as ever, by a swinging Diego Costa boot. His right foot was planted firmly into the stomach of Martin Skrtel and it has to be said that the number 19 was fortunate that the Slovakian did not make anything of it, or the Spaniard could easily have seen red. Liverpool also nearly had a man sent for an early bath, as Lucas produced a cynical trip after already being booked. Despite Chelsea protestations, Clattenburg kept all 22 men on the park and to rub salt into the wound, Liverpool went into the lead in the minutes that followed. Christian Benteke made a notable impact off the bench and it was his knock-down which fed Coutinho on the edge of the area. Yet more fabulous feet and a crafted shot into the corner put The Reds in front for the first time. The big Belgian bagged himself a goal later too from inside the area to cap off a fine day for all those connected to Liverpool.
The 3-1 win now puts to bed a series of results that had made grim reading for Liverpool fans – eight matches without a win against The Blues. Jurgen Klopp’s first Premier League victory comes in acrimonious circumstances due to the potential impact of defeat on the opposition manager, but the wave of positivity that will now surely flood through the German’s stars could spark a run of great form. It could be argued that the early form of Klopp’s Liverpool had not been overly different to that of Rodgers’ side, but the fact that the former Dortmund manager has secured a victory against Mourinho’s Chelsea; a feat that the Northern Irishman never achieved, means that many of the remaining doubters have been silenced. The Anfield outfit are now unbeaten in 11 games and while the vast majority of these have ended in a draw, it does represent a side that have honed a deep resolve to pick something up from every 90 minutes.
Despite Manchester City’s recent relentless goal-scoring form at home, they endeavoured to create openings without a great deal of success until the latter stages of the second half when the game as a whole took off. Once Nicolas Otamendi had given them the lead, it seemed inevitable that Pellegrini’s men would hold out for a routine victory but a Cameron Jerome goal following a horrendous Joe Hart handling error in the final ten minutes sent the City fans into a frenzy of concern. Through the combination of a calamitous moment from John Ruddy, a Russell Martin hand-ball and then a nerveless Yaya Touré penalty, The Citizens did rack up three more points to remain at the summit of the Premier League table.
Louis Van Gaal has clearly been irked by Paul Scholes’ comments during the week which indicated that the Old Trafford legend believed his former club were exhibiting football far from the exhilarating play we are all used to seeing. Manchester United’s drab display against Crystal Palace has done nothing to dispel these sentiments and in fact, the side more likely to be victorious on the day looked to be Crystal Palace, especially as the game wore on. Bolasie and Zaha appeared to provide the most concerted threat to United’s goal, representing the beneficial effect that searing pace can have on a team. As the match in south London ended goalless, it is now the first time in over ten years that the giants from the red half of Manchester have played out three consecutive 0-0 draws.
Some positive attacking play from Swansea; mainly in the first half, often placed the Arsenal goal under threat and therefore the 3-0 score-line gave the game a rather undeserved one-sided appearance. In fact, The Gunners were matched in almost every facet by their opponents from south Wales until they blew Swansea away in a 15 minute spell of fast-paced football. The 2000th goal under Arsene Wenger’s reign came from the head of Olivier Giroud; a scorer in four of the last five Arsenal games. His fellow Frenchman Koscielny scored a controversial second; two in two for the cenre-half, and from that moment on, Arsenal were rarely troubled. You do have to wonder though what would have happened if a free-kick had indeed been given for a foul on Fabianski; a decision that one can argue over the validity but is certainly commonplace.
A special mention should be reserved for Leicester City’s Jamie Vardy who scribed his name into Premier League folklore, scoring for the eighth game running. He joins a highly exclusive club; comprising of just Daniel Sturridge, Ruud van Nistelrooy and now the former Fleetwood Town forward. Due in no small part to Vardy’s endeavours, Leicester find themselves flying high in third position in the Premier League table, following a 3-2 victory at West Bromwich Albion.
The token goal-fest of the weekend’s action came on Sunday between Everton and Sunderland. We witnessed an astonishing contrast between the dogged display we saw last week from The Black Cats where they soaked up some Newcastle United pressure before exhibiting clinical finishing to win 3-0. Everton raced into an early 2-0 lead at Goodison Park; arguably against the run of play, before Allardyce’s side fought back to draw level. The match was surprisingly open given Sunderland’s formation involved five at the back, but their defensive rigidity collapsed around their ears in the second half as Everton went on to add four more to their total, eventually running out comfortable 6-2 winners. Arouna Koné will grab all the headlines as a result of his hat-trick and the Merserysiders have put a resounding end to a run which saw them go without a Premier League victory in October. While many may place the focus on Sunderland’s significant shortcomings, praise should go to Everton for having the ability to dissect the disjointed Mackems.
Read on to discover who has made my Premier League Team of the Week. Please leave your suggestions and alterations in the comments section or on Twitter @TBRFootball .
Jack Butland: In stark contrast to fellow England stoppers Hart and Ruddy; who both dropped clangers during the weekend’s action, Jack Butland yet again put in a fabulous display that was well worthy of the point earned by Stoke City. Of course, it will take more than one isolated howler from Joe Hart to truly place his national number one jersey under threat, but Butland has been magnificent all season long and can do no more in my opinion.
All facets of a great goalkeeper were demonstrated against Newcastle, with the first of these being rapid reactions to snatch the ball away from poaching Newcastle forwards after the ball had rebounded off the post into the danger zone. Butland was the bane of Moussa Sissoko throughout the match, first spreading himself well to deny him in a one-on-one scenario and then flinging himself to the left to divert a powerful shot over the bar. This particular effort from Newcastle’s number seven looked set to rip the goal from its stanchions but Stoke’s player of the season so far used his athletic ability and strong wrists to prevent the strike from hitting the back of the net. With similar attributes on display to deny an Ayoze Perez effort, perhaps his best stop of the day should be reserved for an acrobatic tip over the bar from a Jamaal Lascelles header. The former Nottingham Forest defender generated significant power with his neck muscles but Butland was equal to it, capping off a fine performance that Steve McLaren drew particular attention to in his post-match interview.
Nathaniel Clyne: The promising right-back scored his first Liverpool goal in mid-week when operating at left-back, the opposite flank to that which he prefers. Of course, the contribution that full-backs strive for does not revolve around topping the goal-scoring charts, but this match-winning moment against Bournemouth can give him renewed confidence that he belongs at the level which Liverpool strive to return to. Clyne frequently had to cover for a distinctly ineffectual James Milner and he did exceptionally well for this additional toll not to hamper on his personal performance too much. Despite playing the full ninety minutes against Bournemouth, Clyne appears to have an undrainable supply of energy. He used this to great effect against Chelsea, making six tackles and winning two important free-kicks for his side when; if he had lost possession, would have left the rest of the Liverpool defence looking decidedly short-staffed.
Although the supply for Chelsea’s goal in the first five minutes came from his side of the defence, I do not believe that much of the blame should fall at Clyne’s feet. This was reinforced by Klopp in a post-match interview, instead bemoaning the misfortune of having many players in one area that were drawn to the man being marked by Clyne. From this moment on, the former Southampton man had great success in nullifying the efforts of Hazard and Oscar, as Chelsea’s chief creators failed to produce many chances at all; so much so that Hazard was withdrawn early in the second half. Clyne was also far more effective than his opposite number in the offensive third, being found in behind Azpilicueta on more than one occasion and while his delivery did not always find a red shirt, it must be said that the pacey full-back never had much to aim at. With a recognised central striker hopefully cementing a place in the side in the weeks to come, we could well see Clyne assisting a fair few goals this term.
Virgil van Dijk: Virgil Van Dijk has been highly impressive since his move in the summer from north of the border. Although the weight of a reported £13 million transfer fee would inevitably have hung heavy on the defender’s shoulders, he seems to have formed an instant understanding with club captain Jose Fonte. The success of the partnership seems to derive not only from the fact that each are solid defenders who do the basics well, but also because the Dutchman’s talents complement those of Fonte. Van Dijk is athletic and deceptively quick, helping the Southampton back-line to fend off a variety of attacking threats.
The utility of the Dutchman was seen to the greatest extent in the second period of the match, as Southampton emerged with a much more defensive mind-set than in the first 45 minutes. This trend only became more apparent once The Saints had been reduced to ten men after Wanyama’s dismissal, with The Cherries seeking to grasp their final opportunity to take any points back home. Van Dijk made five interceptions; many of which at crucial times, and Bournemouth had two efforts on target blocked by the body of the Dutchman. With Fonte’s injury during the game a concern for Koeman going into the next few matches, van Dijk’s acclimatisation to Premier League football will be tested to the maximum.
Mamadou Sakho: Liverpool’s number 17 has not had it all his own way since an £18 million switch from PSG a couple of years ago, but Mamadou Sakho is now really beginning to establish himself as a brick wall at the heart of The Reds’ defence. Rapidly growing into a cult figure for many Liverpool fans, the Frenchman put in another lion-hearted display against Chelsea that typified the reasons behind Anfield’s adoration. His commitment to the cause can rarely be questioned and when he flung his body in the way of goal-bound efforts on at least two occasions, made commanding tackles and held his own in the air, we saw a Sakho exhibiting the determination required for Liverpool to return to a seat at the top table.
The stalwart for the French national team was not only successful in breaking up Chelsea attacks however, also doing well in possession of the ball and allowing his side to build neat offensive moves of their own from deep-lying areas. While not falling into the trap of overplaying in risky zones; something which he has certainly done in the past, he rarely lumped the ball up-field in an aimless manner. Of course, he is far from the most skilled on the ball and kept it simple in the majority of cases, but it was his well-directed 50 yard diagonal which played an important part in Liverpool’s second goal. Klopp’s approach to how his defenders should deal with pressure at the back seems to differ to that of Brendan Rodgers, in that it does not appear to revolve around “keeping possession at all costs”, so much so that it often landed The Reds in trouble. Sakho himself has often been the recipient of a barrage of criticism for an apparent lack of ability in possession, but he has gone some way to disproving his doubters in the most recent few weeks of the campaign. The spine of Liverpool’s side appears much more assured and no small part of that is down to the partnership between Skrtel and Sakho and the confidence which then spreads to Mignolet.
Nacho Monreal: Nacho Monreal has been an exceptionally consistent performer for Wenger’s Arsenal side since the latter half of last season and it is a testament to this that Kieran Gibbs has not really been given a chance to regain his place. While the Spanish left-back is not renowned for his penetrative overlapping runs or reliably accurate delivery from wide areas, what The Gunners have been the recipient of is tremendously stoic defending. Even this has not always been associated with Monreal, especially in the immediate aftermath of his move to The Emirates Stadium, but it is something he can boast an abundance of now. The understanding with both the left centre-back; frequently Koscielny, and Alexis Sanchez makes Arsenal’s left flank a genuine concern for opposition.
Against Swansea on Saturday, Monreal had to deal with some dangerous attackers, intent on creating chances from his side of the field but he defended admirably. In recent times, he has produced a fine display against the might of Bayern Munich and proved that the threat of Andre Ayew cutting in-field was no more serious. Coming out on top eight times across both duels in the air and on the ground, in addition to making five interceptions, shows how integral Monreal was in breaking down Swansea’s attacking thrusts. Arsenal’s recent run of form; Capital One Cup aside, is something to be proud of for Arsene Wenger and while other stars may be gaining more noticeable praise from media and fans alike, Monreal continues to demonstrate why his influence on the side should not be overlooked.
Lucas Leiva: As perhaps the player who has been through the most series of ups and downs at Anfield in his now lengthy career on Merseyside, Lucas is currently enjoying something of a reinvigorated role in the first team picture having been seemingly on his way out under Brendan Rodgers. In a noticeably youthful Liverpool team, he provides a vitally experienced head in the heart of midfield and recently, he seems to have started to make the right decisions on the ball. This has not always been the case and while he is notorious for his ability to break up play for the opposition, Liverpool fans have often been frustrated at his shortcomings in possession. However, this has undergone a noticeable improvement and Lucas is becoming an increasingly progressive influence when the time is right.
The Brazilian holding midfielder made interceptions at crucial moments and did exceptionally well at covering his defenders and fellow midfielders, generally timing his tackles well. Of course, his influence on the game did wane once he came agonisingly close to receiving his marching orders, rightly in fear of making another false challenge. Nevertheless, it was interesting to see that Jurgen Klopp did not withdraw him from the firing line despite the looming danger of playing out the rest of the game with ten men. This was a risky decision by the German manager but Lucas stood up to the task, walked the metaphorical tight-rope for at least 25 minutes, and by coming through this personal examination of his composure, will have demonstrated to Klopp that he is a man to turn to as the going gets tough.
Riyad Mahrez: One of the surprise stories of the Premier League season thus far, Riyad Mahrez is now up to seven goals for the campaign after his latest brace against West Bromwich Albion. Following a lightning quick start to the Premier League season, the Algerian has not been Leicester’s ‘go to’ man for the last few weeks due to the sheer brilliance of Jamie Vardy more than anything else. However, in a match against the clean sheet specialists at The Hawthorns, Mahrez was the man for the big occasion, arguably outshining his team-mate despite the former non-league forward scoring for the eighth game in succession.
On hand to cancel out Rondon’s opener for The Baggies, Mahrez produced some smart movement behind the defence to get on the end of a teasing cross from the left and finish the chance with the minimum of fuss from inside the six yard box. His second of the day was almost a mirror image of the first, this time turning home a ball in from the right of the field. It was not only his goal-scoring contribution that will have been noticed by Ranieri, but terrific creativity throughout helped to peg back a stoic outfit managed by Tony Pulis who have notched up six clean sheets already this campaign. Popping up on either the right or left, West Brom could never tie him down all day and doubling up on the tricky winger was their only option, thus creating space for other members of The Foxes side.
Philippe Coutinho: While Chelsea’s number 10 failed to come to the Stamford Bridge party, Liverpool’s very own mercurial talent stepped up to the plate and put in a match-winning display. After opening day heroics against Stoke City, Liverpool’s talisman has endured a sticky spell where his struggles to influence proceedings have not gone unnoticed by the Anfield faithful. As one of the few who; up to this weekend, had not had their fortunes noticeably turned around by Klopp’s arrival, the German’s message finally seems to have got through to the diminutive Brazilian. Coutinho worked just as hard as any other Liverpool attacker and after a first half where he failed to capitalise on a few openings, his undoubted quality burst to the surface with a mesmeric jink and finish at the end of the 45 minutes. Leaving Chelsea defenders flat-footed, he ensured that his effort comprised of a controlled strike rather than a blazed shot over the bar and he reaped the rewards with his second goal of the season.
Coutinho reached a trio of goals for the campaign with an almost perfect replica in the second half, yet again leading Terry and Cahill a merry dance as he curled a right-footed shot past Asmir Begovic. Typifying the blend which Klopp aspires towards; having even his most talented stars demonstrate a terrific work ethic, Philippe Coutinho’s performance against Chelsea can be the spring-board for the Brazilian to truly stamp his mark on this season’s Premier League.
Jamie Vardy: Although it is only natural that the long-lasting memory from Jamie Vardy’s performance against West Brom will be the continuation of his goal-scoring exploits, he yet again proved that he is far from only a goal poacher. Vardy’s run of scoring in eight games on the bounce is bettered only by Ruud van Nistelrooy’s ten for Manchester United and in his current form, you would not bet against the England international going on to match if not usurp this record. For me however, it was Vardy’s overall display which impressed most, in no way putting personal glory above the success of the team and working just as hard as ever.
On the day, his goal came in typical Vardy style as, making a run into the channel, he was released into space by a team-mate and from that moment on, there was no looking back. Bearing down on goal with the steely determination befitting that of a boxer delivering the knock-out blow, Vardy waiting for the goalkeeper to commit himself before striking sweetly across him into the far corner. Cue ecstatic celebrations, but his impact on Leicester’s fortunes were hardly confined to this moment alone. The in-form hitman could easily have added even more goals to his name on the day as; if fortune had been on his side, a couple of audacious flicks may well have found their way into the back of the net. Aside from this, tremendous work ethic; a trait that we have come to expect, often forced defenders to rush their decisions and rather than building moves more slowly from the back, were instead forced to hit longer balls with more hope than expectation of reaching their target. Robert Huth is the sort of centre-half who thrives on this kind of lofted delivery to his opposing striker and it is from this grounding that Leicester City built their victory.
Arouna Koné: The hat-trick hero from this weekend’s action was Arouna Koné, but the praise should not only fall to him, as he made the most of the terrific supply line from Gérard Deulofeu and Romelu Lukaku. Plagued by injuries for much of his Everton career, he seems to have rediscovered the form which saw him score goals aplenty at Wigan Athletic; a trait which convinced Roberto Martinez to bring the Ivorian with him to Merseyside. On the day, Koné was the primary beneficiary of a slightly altered system that the Spanish manager has employed for the majority of the season. While Lukaku would be expected to play the role of the nominal number nine given his height and physical prowess, Everton’s attackers operate in a structure that is far from rigid. They all rotate positions and as a result, frequently find pockets of space between defenders who are unsure of who to mark.
Before bagging a goal of his own, Koné was on hand to assist Everton’s opener. He picked out their flying Spanish winger in acres of space in the right channel with a well-directed pass. Deulofeu went on to finish well, with the number 19 more than repaying the favour with a number of assists of his own throughout the match. For Kone’s first goal and Everton’s second of the match, the forward took part in some neat interplay with his strike partner Romelu Lukaku and, with the space he found himself in, placed an audacious finish into the top corner with his left foot from just inside the penalty area. As The Black Cats began to push more men forward in search of a route back into the game, Koné found himself as the spare man as Everton broke away following a failed Sunderland. The Ivorian forward had already proven earlier in the day that his finishing is nothing to sniff at, and he dispatched this latest chance into Pantilimon’s net with ease from an ever tightening angle. An absolutely delicious ball from Belgian international Romelu Lukaku set Koné up for his hat-trick. Preying on the shoulder of the last Sunderland defender, Everton’s number nine snuck into the six yard box to nod home after Lukaku’s ball in left him with a fairly easy opportunity to score. Martinez and Everton fans will be hoping that there are many more days like this to come from their experienced campaigner.
Odion Ighalo: The forward who is growing into the role of star man for Watford continued his terrific start to life in the Premier League by bagging a brace to take his tally for the campaign to seven. Odion Ighalo was exceptionally lively as has been the case all season, living on the shoulder of the last defender. In the top flight to date, he has undoubtedly been the main man for The Hornets, releasing the burden of pressure on captain Deeney who has only managed to notch once in the top flight so far this campaign. Ighalo suffered four fouls in his time on the pitch and created two chances in addition to the brace of goals he scored on the day, going some way to demonstrating his all-round importance to Flores’ side.
Ighalo’s first goal of the day was down to his sharp-minded play in the penalty are to ensure he was in the right place at the right time to tap home from a yard out. Anticipating that Andy Carroll could make an error, he was more alive than the defenders surrounding him. Ighalo’s second strike was much more visually impressive and; hitting the back of the net just after the start of the second half, dealt a hammer-blow to the hearts of West Ham’s players. Holding off Collins and Tomkins well, he demonstrated great strength and a nose for goals in equal proportions as he blasted a powerful finish into the roof of the net. Born out of frustration at the Nigerian’s ability to find space in dangerous areas throughout the game, James Collins ploughed through the back of the lethal forward in the minutes following his second goal and the defender earned a well-deserved straight red card. Premier League action seems to suit Ighalo down to the ground and with Watford riding relatively high in mid-table, you have to feel that they stand a good chance of avoiding relegation if Ighalo continues at his current level.
Featured Image: All rights reserved by Faris Barca
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