Although one of the biggest matches in club football; El Clasico, took place over the weekend, the Premier League caught the eye once more with some goal-littered affairs, attention-grabbing score-lines, and dazzling displays. Read on to discover who made The Boot Room’s Premier League Team of the Week and feel free to leave your comments below or on Twitter @TBRFootball .
Jurgen Klopp’s noteworthy decision not to start Benteke against Manchester City; with the Belgian joining the returning Daniel Sturridge on the substitutes’ bench, was entirely vindicated as his side romped to a 4-1 victory at The Etihad. Liverpool started well on Saturday evening, knocking the ball around well and pressing the home team into squandering possession. It was a moment such as this which brought the away side the opening goal of the game. Philippe Coutinho robbed Bacary Sagna of the ball on the left wing and when Firmino knocked the ball into a dangerous area, Eliaquim Mangala could only divert the ball past his own goalkeeper. Even when The Citizens were starting to impose themselves on the game, a rapid counter-attack was sprung by Liverpool and through a combination of their brilliant Brazilians; Firmino and Coutinho, the latter slotted through Joe Hart’s legs to double their advantage. Nothing short of sumptuous attacking play gave Roberto Firmino the goal his first half performance deserved and compounded Man City’s position further. Another break exposed Pellegrini’s side and then brilliant play in tight spaces between Coutinho, Can and Firmino allowed the summer signing from Hoffenheim to simply pass the ball into the net. A stunning Sergio Aguero strike just before half-time buoyed City hearts and it meant that Liverpool went into the interval with an unprecedented 3-1 advantage.
A double change by Pellegrini at half-time sparked a much more potent Manchester City display in the spell immediately after the break. Liverpool appeared to be far less assured and space in the midfield was at a premium. The free-flowing football of the first half was replaced by a frantic battle in the second with the key attribute desired by Klopp now being resilience rather than flair. An inexplicable attempted pass back from Milner into Mignolet’s vicinity was horribly under-hit and presented Sterling with an opportunity to feed Aguero. Only heroics from Mignolet saved the stand-in captain’s blushes, with the missed chance turning out to be the number 10’s final impact on the game. Once the magnificent Argentine had departed the field, the concerted threat left Manchester City and as the clock ticked down to ten minutes remaining, a Skrtel thunderbolt from a corner; his fourth strike against the blue half of Manchester, confirmed a tremendous evening’s work for Jurgen Klopp’s troops. Demonstrating against Chelsea and Manchester City that Liverpool now have the ‘big game mentality’ in abundance, steps must be made to cut out on slip-ups at home against sides such as Crystal Palace.
The ongoing story of Jamie Vardy shows no signs of stopping, as the former Fleetwood Town striker hit the back of the net for the tenth game in succession, equalling the Premier League record in the process. Leicester City find themselves on top of the table and perhaps the biggest reason for this is Vardy’s seemingly unstoppable form in front of goal. With the outright record in his sights, who are Leicester playing next? Manchester United; a side who not only boast the best defensive record in the top flight but were of course the club at which Ruud van Nistelrooy first secured the accolade of scoring in ten consecutive matches. How football continues to keep throwing up situations like this is anyone’s guess. The whole of English football holds its breath to see if the lethal hitman can manage it.
West Bromwich Albion picked up an unexpected but exceptionally welcome three points at home to Arsenal. Wenger’s men went ahead through a well-placed header from Olivier Giroud but a dogged display from The Baggies was rewarded with a 2-1 victory. All of their hard work could have been undone as Santi Cazorla stepped up to take a penalty in the last few minutes but Arsenal’s day was summed up when the Spaniard; normally so composed in everything he does, slipped as he struck the ball and scuffed the ball horribly over the bar.
Joe Hart: Although it may seem entirely perverse to name the best goalkeeper of the week as one who conceded four times on the way to his side losing the match, Joe Hart continued to deny a rampant Liverpool front line with a string of first-class stops. He was called into action at least twice to keep Roberto Firmino at bay when the Brazilian was one-on-one with the City number one. He now dominates these scenarios in a manner comparable to Neuer and De Gea in the modern era, and reminiscent of Schmeichel from years gone by. Left alone on an all too frequent basis to keep the ball from bulging the back of his net, Hart was one of the few City players to emerge from the game with any credit.
He did not really have a chance with any of Liverpool’s goals but once again, demonstrated that his resolve was as strong as ever when Benteke bore down on him to put the game beyond all doubt, only for the England man to deny him. With Jack Butland’s continually impressive form grabbing headlines thus far this season, it is a great positive for Roy Hodgson and The Three Lions that Joe Hart too is at the peak of his powers.
Kyle Walker: Kyle Walker has been in fine form this season but against West Ham United, seemed to go up another level. He enjoyed a great combination with Spurs’ summer signing Son Heung-Min and the pair of them gave Aaron Cresswell serious problems going back towards his own goal. The Hammer’s attacking threat was severely blunted and when the former Millwall left-back is usually able to overlap at will, he was instead occupied with a progressive Walker. Many of the breaks that Spurs made through the West Ham defence were spawned on the right flank, including some chances which Harry Kane and others could well have done better with.
Kyle Walker’s goal; Spurs’ fourth of the day, typified the attacking thrust that he provided from his side of the field. Surging into space, he passed the ball into Son and after demanding the return ball, caressed a shot into the net with the outside of his right boot. Likenesses with Glen Johnson at his peak are obvious and Walker’s attacking talents are certainly at a comparable level. Furthermore, the defensive side of his game has come on leaps and bounds; especially this season, and he makes fewer lapses than the former Liverpool full-back. Walker made five interceptions during the ninety minutes and now seems to place less of an absolute reliance on his pace to rescue difficult situations. Assuming his fitness can be maintained, it would appear to be a straight fight between the rapid right-back and Nathaniel Clyne for the first-choice berth in England’s line-up at Euro 2016.
Toby Alderweireld: On a day where Tottenham Hotspur had almost everything go their way, Toby Alderweireld was a brick wall once again at the heart of their defence. It is a credit to his overall footballing intelligence that he frequently features at right-back for Belgium but is a stalwart in the middle for his club side, interchanging seamlessly between the two. He has coped with a wide variety of striking opponents already this season, and managed the supreme physical threat of Andy Carroll well. Alderweireld took the interesting approach of often allowing the former Newcastle and Liverpool number nine to win the header uncontested, with the Belgian instead focusing on dealing with the resulting knock-down. Despite Spurs’ dominance over Bilic’s men, the Belgian centre-half was still required to make eight clearances to keep the ball away from Lloris’ goal.
Toby Alderweireld was on hand to double Spurs’ advantage in the first half and so demoralised The Hammers at a key time. He escaped the attentions of Winston Reid; normally such a stoic defender, timed his jump to perfection and applied the necessary touch to send the ball past Adrian. Alderweireld appears to be a genuine aerial threat in the opposition box which can prove to be a highly valuable trait for Pochettino.
Chris Smalling: Manchester United’s captain for the day in the absence of Wayne Rooney, Chris Smalling showed that he is rapidly growing into one of the most complete central defenders in the Premier League. Deeney and Ighalo have already proven to be a potent partnership in the season thus far; with the latter’s goal output only bettered by Jamie Vardy, but Smalling marshalled the pair of them well. He blocked two goal-bound efforts, won four aerial duels and made an equal number of clearances from dangerous areas.
Not only was his renowned solid defending on show against Watford, but he also demonstrated another side to his game when Manchester United were desperate for a goal in the last few minutes after The Hornets had pegged them back. The centre-half was a genuine threat in the penalty area, but not only with his aerial presence. It was very pleasing to see an English centre-half with the self-belief and technique to match, flicking the ball towards goal with his heel twice in quick succession. The first of these drew a magnificent save out of Heurelho Gomes and from the resulting corner, another Smalling flick eventually saw the ball being turned home from Schweinsteiger via a sliding Deeney. Clearly on point with Van Gaal’s ideology, Smalling is putting his name well and truly in the reckoning for the next captain of Manchester United and potentially even England if his performances continue as they are.
Robbie Brady: The Irishman was Norwich City’s best performer on a day where they ran Chelsea very close indeed and José Mourinho will be very relieved to have earned all three points. Robbie Brady could; on another day, easily have won a penalty for The Canaries when cutting infield. His highly crafted left boot delivered dangerous balls into the area and John Terry needed to be somewhere approaching his best to keep Mbokani from putting his head on the end of them. He went agonisingly close to finding the corner of Begovic’s net in the latter stages of the second half, unleashing a powerful drive after doing exceptionally well to lever Matic off the ball in Chelsea’s defensive third. Robbie Brady was a key figure for the Republic of Ireland in their two-legged play-off for Euro 2016 qualification and although he is often one of Norwich’s best players from week to week, Alex Neil must hope that Brady can find a way to win games on his own.
James Milner: Liverpool’s number seven has been struggling for form recently but he had an absolute ball against his former side. Terrific combination with Adam Lallana on The Reds’ right flank terrorised Kolarov and The Citizens had no response. Throughout the game, Milner turned up everywhere on the pitch and really seemed to have benefitted from the enforced break which came his way as a result of a minor injury. Reinjected with energy, the ex-Man City midfielder’s lung-busting display was placed in stark contrast to the lumbering and lethargic Yaya Touré who was hauled off at half-time by Pellegrini. Undoubtedly overcome with an urge to impress his previous employers, Milner would have been invaluable for The Citizens on Saturday but instead demonstrated to Klopp that his role on the right of midfield can yet be a fruitful one for the side.
It will be interesting to see how the former Dortmund manager integrates Jordan Henderson back into Liverpool’s midfield, with his imminent return to fitness meaning that this problem will soon have to be overcome. However, while Milner is putting in seven tackles, winning four aerial duels, and producing such an overall combative display, it is a very pleasant headache to have. The England international who has played for Leeds and Aston Villa too over the years, hounded the opposition whenever they had the ball. This was truly the James Milner that Liverpool fans have been expecting to see since his arrival and they will be hoping that this is the start of a consistent trend.
Ross Barkley: Everton’s number 20 put in the sort of display which Everton and England fans alike will be delighted to see. Having never been averse to scoring the odd thunderbolt from outside the area, Barkley’s goal output over the course of an entire campaign has been placed under question. He bagged a brace against Aston Villa on Saturday and while neither were individually fantastic, it shows that he is developing a knack for being in the right place at the right time. His first goal for example was nothing more than a tap-in but the Ross Barkley of last season would almost certainly not have found himself in the position to convert. Furthermore, it was his intelligent flick in the build-up play was vital in the creation of the chance from which he eventually profited.
The Everton youth product was rewarded for his drive and determination later in proceedings too, capitalising on a loose ball in the box to slot home. Away from his goal-scoring exploits, Barkley exhibited exceptional awareness and composure to supply Lukaku with a first-time pass in the second half, allowing the Belgian to convert beyond Guzan without breaking stride. This is the sort of quality which we have come to expect from the potential England superstar and this season is showing all the signs of being the one where he really stamps his authority on games from week to week.
Philippe Coutinho: The interplay between fellow Brazilians Coutinho and Firmino that was so fatal for Manchester City was exactly what Liverpool fans have been yearning for ever since Firmino joined the club’s ranks in the summer. Up until this weekend, it had only really been observed in fits and starts as neither international counterpart were on top form together consistently. On Saturday, both exhibited a work-rate that is typical of a player under Jurgen Klopp and adds an extra string to his bow that is already packed tight with talent. His closing down of Bacary Sagna after Hart’s clearance caused the first goal and this was just one example of a break that was sparked by Coutinho’s work. We saw more of his typical brilliance on the ball when combining with Emre Can to feed Firmino inside the six yard box.
Liverpool’s original Brazilian magician is on a terrific run of goal-scoring form; notching on four occasions in his last three matches, and continued his series of goals against Manchester City with four in five to his name now. Applying a sweet connection to Firmino’s cut-back, Coutinho was content to use the pace already on the cross to take the ball beyond Joe Hart. Liverpool’s number 10 also set up two chances that another day, could well have led to a hat-trick of assists had Liverpool’s finishing been up to scratch or Joe Hart not being in outstanding form. The talismanic figure had to be withdrawn early due to a hamstring complaint. Although understandably disappointed, he did not appear to be too downhearted which perhaps provides hope to Liverpool fans that the injury is not too severe.
Roberto Firmino: The Brazilian summer acquisition has not shot out of the blocks since his arrival at Anfield, but in recent weeks he has begun to become a crucial player for Liverpool. Initially what appeared to be a controversial decision to start the game without a recognised striker, Klopp’s choice to opt for Firmino through the middle paid dividends as the minutes went on. Some of the link-up play between him and Coutinho was mouth-watering at times and this was on display at the sharp end for each of Liverpool’s opening three goals.
After his cut-back had been turned into his own net by Mangala, Firmino produced a perfectly weighted cross to Coutinho who dispatched the chance to cap off a fine counter-attack. At the pinnacle of The Reds’ attacking line, he buzzed around Manchester City’s defenders and made them appear nervous at every moment. What was most pleasing for Liverpool fans was not the superb quality and audacity he employed at times to keep the ball away from opponents; flicking it over their heads in an impudent style, but he has clearly bought into Klopp’s philosophy of pressuring in packs. He was often the one to make the first break towards the ball and once Firmino’s endeavour in attacking areas was backed up by those around him, the results were clear to see. A magnificent half-hour of football was epitomised when the number 11 tapped home from a few yards out after the City defence had been cut to ribbons. The Anfield faithful have been waiting for an excuse to adore Roberto Firmino and by grabbing his first goal in a red shirt; while being an integral component in a fantastic team victory, he is well on the way to the Kop’s love raining down on him.
Gérard Deulofeu: On a day when Everton totally dominated an abject Aston Villa side, Gérard Deulofeu put the team managed by Rémi Garde to the sword. While Ross Barkley and Romelu Lukaku were the ones to grab the goals; and with them the headlines, the Spanish winger’ contribution to the 4-0 drubbing was no less important. Aston Villa’s defence; particularly Kieran Richardson, simply could not handle the pacey youngster. His incisive dribbles created chances all game long and he seemed to place the opposition on the back foot whenever he sniffed the chance of a run.
While not providing the killer pass, it was Deulofeu’s work in the build-up which made much of the Merseysider’s terrific day possible, as he beat his man on four occasions and created two chances from the right flank. His continually impressive displays do have the appearance of a double-edged sword however, as the presence of a so-called “buy-back clause” in the winger’s contract looms over the long-term future of Deulofeu at Goodison Park. Of course, Barcelona are hardly short of quality players in attacking positions but if the La Masia product maintains his current level, you feel that it is only a matter of time before he returns to Catalonia. Everton and Martinez must make the most of his presence on Merseyside while they can.
Romelu Lukaku: Everton’s main man up front scored two goals against Aston Villa on Saturday and in the process, became only the fifth player to reach the tally of 50 Premier League goals before turning 23 years old. This is hardly a token achievement, as Lukaku joined an exclusive club of legendary goal-scoring figures within the game after notching his first against The Villains. The former Chelsea and Anderlecht powerhouse is equally adept on the floor and in the air, epitomised by his two goals on the day. A fine header gave him his first and to cap off an excellent day at the office for The Toffees, he slotted home past Brad Guzan after some neat build-up work.
Everton’s big-money signing made some high quality runs throughout the game and with the knowledge that the attacking talent behind him would be all too keen to slip him in, he made eager darts beyond the last man at every opportunity. Roberto Martinez said that Lukaku has gone up another level this campaign and you would find it hard to argue with that opinion. Growing into a genuinely feared forward across the land, Everton’s significant monetary outlay that brought him in from Stamford Bridge is beginning to look like something of a steal.
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