Premier League Team of the Week XV feat. Newcastle and Stoke City Stars
This weekend in the Premier League, even more life was breathed into the title race as Arsenal and Leicester City were victorious while both halves of Manchester dropped points. Chelsea’s misery appeared to have relented prior to their game against Bournemouth, as Mourinho’s side had picked up a few good results on the spin. However, Eddie Howe and his visiting outfit from the South Coast handed out a 1-0 defeat to The Blues at Stamford Bridge, with Saturday evening perhaps being the low-point of their campaign. Read on to discover which individual performances cemented a player’s place in The Boot Room’s Premier League Team of the Week.
Going into the weekend’s action, Manchester City were sitting pretty at the pinnacle of the Premier League. With a few injury problems hampering their ranks, it was still not expected to hinder The Citizens’ chances at The Britannia. The two supreme English shot-stoppers who are in position to fight it out for The Three Lions’ number one jersey at Euro 2016 were on display and it proved to be Jack Butland’s team who came out on top. Joe Hart returned to the first team after missing a couple of games due to a hamstring complaint and was City’s captain on the day as Kompany, Touré and Zabaleta were all absent. His side were completely outplayed in the first half and while windy conditions will not have helped some of The Citizens’ technical players, champions should be able to apply themselves in whatever scenario is presented to them. An early brace from Marko Arnautovic, City showed very little cutting edge to place them back in contention for the three points. An injury to Fernando compounded Manchester City’s woes, hindering their long-term ambitions and; given the fact that Pellegrini had already made all three permitted substitutions, they had to finish the game with ten men. The match ended 2-0 with England’s current number one describing the result as one that “they cannot accept”. Nevertheless, it has happened and the blue half of Manchester must be exceptionally keen for their star men to return in order to avoid similar results in the future.
Diego Costa started a second consecutive Premier League match on the bench against Bournemouth on Saturday evening and although the feared hit-man did make it onto the field of play this time, his impact was not significant enough to rescue the situation for Mourinho’s side. Much to the crowd’s displeasure, Chelsea could not break down an incredibly stubborn and hard-working Bournemouth side and Howe’s troops were rewarded for their efforts when they grabbed a controversial winner in the last ten minutes. Glenn Murray nodded home only a short time after coming off the bench in place of Josh King, after the Norwegian forward had run himself into the ground for Eddie Howe and his Cherries team-mates. In a debatably off-side position, the former Crystal Palace striker applied the final touch to send the travelling fans into delirium and for all of José Mourinho’s attacking intent, the home team came away with nothing. The beleaguered Chelsea lie in a miserable 14th position and even their top four hopes are looking increasingly improbable now.
The late match on Sunday saw a Newcastle side; on a miserable run of results and suffering from the ire of their own support, welcome a Liverpool team who had been rampant away from home under Jurgen Klopp. The Geordies put in a fantastically committed display that delighted the St James’ Park faithful. While The Reds appeared to be labouring from their recent exertions in all manner of competitions, they failed to create many meaningful openings at all and in the end, Newcastle were fully deserving of their 2-0 victory. Those precious three points took McLaren’s side above bitter rivals Sunderland in the quest to avoid relegation from the Premier League.
With both United and City dropping points on Saturday, Leicester City were handed the opportunity of returning to the top of the Premier League table. They managed this with some aplomb, defeating Garry Monk’s men 3-0 at The Liberty Stadium with Riyad Mahrez grabbing a hat-trick. The Foxes’ position at the summit of the top flight is unprecedented and for them to have maintained this kind of form into December means that they must be considered as genuine contenders this season, especially when they win games without Jamie Vardy adding to his tally.
Artur Boruc: AFC Bournemouth’s goalkeeper made one crucial save after another. Artur Boruc returned to first-team action; as did Thibaut Courtois, and both goalkeepers impressed for their sides but as Chelsea’s pressure became increasingly concerted, Boruc stepped up to the plate and did not show any signs of wavering. Hazard, Costa and Willian provided the most genuine threat but they were thwarted time and again by Boruc. His performances this season have not always been exemplary; with one horrendous error costing his side the points coming to mind in particular, but he put in a flawless display against Mourinho’s Blues. Although the result for The Cherries against Mourinho’s men is fabulous and inspiring in equal measure, Bournemouth now need to maintain this level to play their way to Premier League safety and Eddie Howe will be hoping for his ‘keeper to continue to produce similar displays.
Adam Smith: Eden Hazard has risen significantly from the deep trough of his poor form over the last few weeks and the reinvigorated Belgian appeared determined to create havoc in and around the Bournemouth penalty area. When Chelsea’ number 10 popped up on Chelsea’s left flank, Adam Smith dealt with him admirably, all too aware that he was facing an opponent with a vast array of talent. Smith won six tackles and intercepted forward passes on four occasions. Great defensive maturity could also be observed when Willian or Pedro tried their luck on Smith’s side of the field. The right-back defended with intelligence, showing them onto their weaker side and especially when Chelsea did not have an aerial threat in the 18 yard box, encouraging the attackers towards the by-line rather than infield. Smith won five free-kicks for his team, moments which allowed Bournemouth some valuable respite after terrific application and work-rate for the cause.
Ryan Shawcross: An exceptionally poignant statistic involving Ryan Shawcross has only become more valid since Stoke City defeated Manchester City 2-0 at the Britannia Stadium. While their captain has been on the field, Mark Hughes’ side have not conceded a goal. If nothing else, this demonstrates his value to the team. Wilfried Bony was almost completely ineffective and as such, the big-money signing from Swansea was hauled off shortly after the interval. Furthermore, the wizardly David Silva failed to unlock the Stoke City defence that was marshalled expertly by Ryan Shawcross. When Pellegrini threw on a raft of attacking substitutions in quick succession, even their fresh legs and new ideas could not get the better of the hard-man at the heart of Mark Hughes’ back-line. The experienced professional was victorious in four of his aerial duels, made four clearances and an equal number of interceptions, relishing the difficult conditions to dominate opposition forwards like Shawcross seems to adore.
Simon Francis: While Glenn Murray may well take the headlines for the dramatic nature of his match-winning header, Simon Francis’ impact at the back was tremendous and without the stable foundation which he helped to provide, the rest of his team’s endeavour would have come to nothing. The captain’s leadership and vocal presence at the heart of the back-line was necessary when transferring the duty of marking opposition attackers. Initially, Francis had to deal with the highly technical and mobile threat of the rotating Hazard, Willian, Oscar and Pedro. Diego Costa’s arrival on the scene posed a different sort of danger to Francis and his fellow defenders, with the burly Spanish striker being a permanent presence in the penalty area and providing a greater physical challenge. Francis took this in his stride too however, leading to Costa becoming an increasingly frustrated and isolated figure up front. The captain made six clearances and a vital block of a goal-bound shot, doing his utmost to protect Bournemouth’s clean sheet.
Paul Dummett: For a side on a run of form such as Liverpool going into their game against Newcastle United, the opposition defenders would expect to be placed under substantial pressure. Paul Dummett was on the flank where Jordon Ibe and Nathaniel Clyne; both of whom are blessed with a great deal of speed, would be trying to break the Magpies down. The Welshman consistently dealt well with these threats throughout the match; making seven tackles in the progress, and when Klopp made changes to his team to try and break the dead-lock, Dummett adapted. Surrendering ground in the pace and natural ability department to Liverpool’s attacking players, Newcastle’s left-back made up for it by demonstrating terrific application and his efforts to stop The Reds’ attacks at source made his team-mates lives a great deal easier.
N’Golo Kanté: In a typically understated display by Leicester City’s summer signing from French football, N’Golo Kanté was incredibly hard-working and had the quality to make the most of opportunities presented to him. He broke up play and then initiated attacks for The Foxes, springing their athletic and technical players in forward areas. Kanté is developing a strong partnership in the engine room of Leicester’s midfield with Danny Drinkwater and the pair are a challenge for anyone. The former Caen midfielder was the key reason behind Ranieri’s side overrunning the Swansea midfield despite often being in a numerically inferior position. Kanté made four crucial interceptions, only adding to his vast tally for the season as a whole. This currently stands at 64, by far the highest in the entire Premier League, demonstrating his value to The KP Stadium outfit.
Georginio Wijnaldum: Newcastle United and Mike Ashley spent a significant amount of money bringing the Feyenoord youth product to the North East; with a reported figure of £14.5 million required to secure his signature, and he has been their key man on several occasions in a disappointing season to date. With Liverpool’s fluid system, Georginio Wijnaldum had to get through a great deal of work in the wide areas to track runners in a red shirt and once he was moved into the middle of the park, his workload arguably only increased. Adding a notable degree of flair and close-control to the rest of Newcastle’s industrious work, he did appear to be the man who would make the difference on the day for Steve McLaren’s side.
It certainly turned out that way, as the former PSV man drove into the penalty box with increasing frequency as The Magpies injected more verve into their attacking play. A shot that was seemingly heading wide from the boot of Wijnaldum was deflected past Mignolet by Martin Skrtel for Newcastle’s opener and as Liverpool threw caution to the wind, the classy Dutchman was on hand to seal the result with a deft flick over the onrushing Belgian goalkeeper. Newcastle United fans know the quality that Wijnaldum possesses and so they simply demand that they see it with increasing regularity, in hand with concerted effort over the ninety minutes.
Xherdan Shaqiri: Stoke City’s summer signing provided the ammunition for Marko Arnautovic to put Manchester City two goals down and his work throughout the game was the main reason behind Pellegrini’s troops constantly feeling insecure in defence. While the diminutive stars in the dark shirts of Manchester City struggled in the face of the strong wind, Xherdan Shaqiri was able to perform just as well if not even better than usual.
Stoke’s number 22 successfully took on an opponent on five occasions and these manoeuvres often directly resulted in a goal-scoring chance for a team-mate. Shaqiri’s final ball has often been called into question but this certainly seems to have been well and truly put to bed now. He provided two assists; both converted by Marko Arnautovic, and his fantastic deft touches and incisive vision nearly put Manchester City even further behind their opponents from the Potteries. Shaqiri worked in between the lines, darting into space and thriving on the gaps that were left by an immobile defensive structure. Neither Demichelis nor Otamendi wished to step out to engage him for fear of being beaten by his supreme pace and skill and as a result, he was granted the freedom of Man City’s half.
Riyad Mahrez: Jamie Vardy was unable to continue his unbelievable goal-scoring run but in the absence of the former Fleetwood Town forward hitting the back of the net, Riyad Mahrez was on hand to pick up the baton. The Algerian trickster bagged a hat-trick to push Leicester City on towards a dominant victory that sees them sit at the top of the Premier League. His first of the game was somewhat fortuitous, as Mahrez smuggled the ball home from a corner while not knowing a great deal about it. His second goal was calmess personified, collecting a pass from N’Golo Kanté before placing the ball under his spell and almost passing it home. Kanté was again involved in Mahrez’s third, bursting through Swansea’s midfield before the Frenchman fed Jamie Vardy. Incredibly unselfishly considering his proximity to personal acclaim, Vardy laid the ball off to Mahrez in space. The Algerian justified the Englishman’s pass by completing his hat-trick in style. His form has not dropped off since the very beginning of the Premier League campaign, and this must put him in contention for Player of the Season.
Marko Arnautovic: Grabbing the headlines for his goal-scoring efforts at home to title-chasing Manchester City, Marko Arnautovic produced possibly his best display for Stoke City on Saturday. The Potters lined up in a system not too dissimilar to that employed by Jurgen Klopp to dismantle Man City a couple of weeks ago, and Arnautovic frequently found himself at the pinnacle of this forward line. He joined in with the intricate build-up play between Bojan and Shaqiri before making an intelligent run to put himself in a position to score.
Stunning the watching fans, Arnautovic had bagged his brace within the first quarter of an hour and on another day, could easily have had many more. His first was converted from close-range after some clever and tricky work from Stoke’s prestige summer signing; Xherdan Shaqiri. The same combination were on hand to put a second past Joe Hart. Shaqiri span away from Man City’s midfield and Arnautovic timed his run in behind their defence to perfection before slotting home neatly with a first-time strike. Before the referee had even blown for half-time, the former Inter Milan winger could have capped off a perfect first half with a hat-trick but was denied by the width of Joe Hart’s post after Stoke City’s Swiss flyer had played Arnautovic in once more. The Austrian international chased and hassled Manchester City’s defenders all day in a performance that demonstrated terrific skill and work-rate in equal proportions. If Mark Hughes can continue to get this kind of display from the maverick figure, Stoke could be in line for their best ever Premier League finish.
Odion Ighalo: Notching his ninth of the campaign against Norwich City, Odion Ighalo has continued to out-perform club legend and crowd favourite Troy Deeney, with the Nigerian doing his utmost to be the driving force behind Watford retaining their top flight status. His tally now stands at nine for the season and if you examine the current calendar year overall, Ighalo has hit the back of the net 25 times; the best total in all of English league football. Winning the penalty from which Deeney converted, Ighalo tested Norwich’s defenders to their limits all game. The Hornets’ import from Udinese provided terrific assistance to Watford’s entire attacking endeavour and it is clear that he is far from content with isolating himself to the penalty area. Still finding himself in the vital areas at the right time to force Rudd into a save, Ighalo involved himself in the build-up play and his influence drags defenders out of position. He really is starting to make a name for himself in the Premier League and The Hornets’ front-line; comprising of the former Udinese forward and Troy Deeney, is a danger for any defence.
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