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Premier League: Team of the Week XXXIII feat. Manchester United and Manchester City stars

Scott Challinor

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The big story of the weekend came on Sunday at Old Trafford, where Manchester United helped hand title contenders Tottenham a lifeline with a 2-0 victory over leaders Chelsea, whilst keeping up the pace with the top-four. The gap at the top is now a mere four points going into the final five matches, and the title race remains wide open.

Meanwhile, Liverpool remain third after victory at West Brom, whilst Manchester City tightened their own grip on a Champions League place with an emphatic win at Southampton. Arsenal‘s 2-1 win at Middlesbrough keeps them just about in touch, but with seven left for the Gunners to play and trailing Manchester City by seven points, their hopes of the top-four are hanging by a thread.

Elsewhere, Everton kept up their recent run of good form with a 3-1 victory over Burnley, Crystal Palace came from two-down to salvage a point in a thrilling match with Leicester, Hull kept one eye over their shoulders after succumbing to defeat at Stoke, and Swansea remain in trouble after slumping to defeat at Watford.

Sunderland remain bottom and in deep trouble after only managing a draw with West Ham,which left the lack Cats nine points from safety but with one game in hand over Hull, who lie just above the relegation trapdoor.

But who stood out the most an an enthralling Gameweek 33, where the title race was blown wide open and the relegation rat-race took yet another twist?

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Coach: José Mourinho (Manchester United)

Formation: 4-4-2

Mourinho’s opponent in the dugout, Chelsea boss Antonio Conte, absolutely castigated himself after the game, after his Blues succumbed to defeat at Old Trafford against a United side that they had beaten twice in league and cup on home turf this season.

If Conte failed to get his players fired up for the big occasion, Mourinho certainly didn’t, and his side executed the game plan to perfection as the Portuguese got one over on his former side for the first time since taking the reins at United.

His side were just shaded in terms of possession, but that doesn’t take away from how the Red Devils – far from the overly defensive mentality Mourinho has been accused of adopting this season- monopolised the ball, enjoying more opportunities than the visitors and ensuring they were restricted to no shots on target.

Mourinho’s biggest calls came before the game even kicked-off, with Juan Mata out and Henrikh Mkhitaryan named amongst the substitutes, Ashley Young and Marouane Fellaini were named in the starting line-up, but the biggest decision was that the fatigued Zlatan Ibrahimovic was forced to settle for a place on the bench, in favour of an attacking duo of Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard.

The chemistry between the two was a thorn in Chelsea’s side, whilst the defensive cover of Fellaini and Herrera allowed Paul Pogba to roam forward and wreak havoc behind them, a set-up which frustrated the Blues all over the park and re-ignited some doubt in the title credentials of Conte’s side.

For Mourinho, it was another tactical masterclass, and his attempt to rain on the title parade, just as he did back in 2014 at Liverpool when in charge of the Blues, was once more a success.

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Goalkeeper: Simon Mignolet (Liverpool)

Simon Mignolet seems to enjoy playing at the Hawthorns. The Belgian goalkeeper has kept a clean sheet on his last two visits to the Albion, and another fine performance to shut-out the Baggies seems him get the nod as goalkeeper in our team for the second week running.

A big save near the end of the game preserved another vital three points for Liverpool in their quest for the top-four, and he even remained unnerved when opposite number Ben Foster charged forward twice in a vain attempt to help provide the equaliser.

Despite being much maligned in seasons gone by, Mignolet has been one of the stars in Klopp’s Liverpool side of late, and his new-found reliability will only help the cause.

Right-Back: Daryl Janmaat (Watford)

It may have looked a dead-rubber to Watford for some in terms of the respective league positions of themselves and relegation-threatened Swansea, but in reality, this result was huge, as a Watford side who have been struggling in recent weeks mustered a huge victory to get themselves over the 40 point mark and almost certainly guarantee Premier League football next season.

The winner was gifted to the hosts in the end after an uncharacteristic error from Swansea centre-half Alfie Mawson, from which Etienne Capoue profited, but much of Watford’s solidity at the back in shutting out the battling Swans was owed to the presence of right-back Daryl Janmaat.

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Gylfi Sigurdsson, Martin Olsson, and Luciano Narsingh were given no joy by the Netherlands international, whose defensive awareness kept the Hornets well regimented at the back, whilst his runs forward also caused the visitors problems.

Centre-Back: Vincent Kompany (Manchester City)

Vincent Kompany has had a frustrating time of things of late with injury after injury keeping him out of the reckoning for Manchester City, but he was back amongst the goals over the weekend, his sheer delight visible on his face after his bullet header opened the scoring at Southampton.

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His defensive performance was another plus, adding some stability to a rear-guard that has developed an unwanted knack of conceding goals over the course of the season. Dominance in the air, awareness on the ground, a typical captain’s performance from Vincent Kompany.

Centre-Back: Phil Jagielka (Everton)

The Everton skipper has amassed a handy record of scoring in his last three consecutive games for the Toffees, following his latest goal-scoring exploits in Everton’s triumph over Burnley at Goodison Park.

The England international is looking like a potent threat from set-piece situations, and his overall leadership and reading of the game has been pivotal in helping Everton’s surge up the table following their recent run of impressive form.

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He finished his goal off with all the instinct of a clinical forward too. Goal-line technology confirmed that his initial headed effort had crossed the line, but after Tom Heaton was somehow able to claw the ball away, Jagielka was still able to react first to slam the ball into the back of the net to make sure.

Left-Back: Marcos Rojo (Manchester United)

Besides making more clearances from inside the box, with nine, than any of his teammates in United’s win over Chelsea, it was his personal duel with Chelsea striker Diego Costa, and how he went about getting the best of the Spain international, that helped sway the game in the hosts’ favour.

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Rojo kept Costa firmly on a leash, shackled for much of the contest, and luckily ended up on the right side of some sensible refereeing after the Chelsea forward lashed out in frustration at a rare, poorly-timed challenge from the Argentine.

The duel between the two was a joy to watch, and it was crucial in restricting the Blues to having no efforts on target, giving David de Gea a quiet afternoon.

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Right-Midfield: Xherdan Shaqiri (Stoke City)

There were several performers on the day who were instrumental in Stoke’s victory over Hull, which almost guarantees their Premier League status for another year, but for us, Xherdan Shaqiri pips them, not only for his absolutely wonderful long-range strike which all but killed the game, but for his expert assist for the first goal.

His neat ball inside was picked up by another of Stoke’s stars on the day, Marko Arnautovic, who drilled a fierce shot into the top corner to hand the Potters the initiative. Perhaps unlucky to have not made it in himself, the consensus was that his Swiss teammate was just that little more influential.

Centre-Midfield: Ross Barkley (Everton)

For a man concerned with off-field distractions of late, with the manner of Ross Barkley’s performance against Burnley, you wouldn’t have thought he had a care in the world, other than winning games of football of course.

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Shutting out the headlines, Barkley was the lynch-pin in the Everton midfield, constantly looking to trouble Burnley with his direct running and passing.

He was in the right place at the right time to thwart Michael Keane, clearing the defender’s headed effort of his own goal-line, and eventually made a telling impact at the other end when his fierce drive flew beyond Tom Heaton after taking a ricochet off Ben Mee.

The nigh-perfect end to a difficult week.

Centre-Midfield: Ander Herrera (Manchester United)

Eden Hazard troubled Ander Herrera to the point that the Spaniard was dismissed for a second yellow-card the last time the two sides met in the FA Cup, but in this game, Herrera firmly kept hold of his composure and played like a man on a revenge mission.

He followed Hazard around the Old Trafford pitch like a dog, not giving the Belgian a yard of space and thus neutralised the mercurial winger’s influence on the game, but his most telling impact was at the other end, where, despite his defensive midfield position, he scored and assisted in the Premier League for the first time since October 2015.

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Fortune was on his side as the referee waved away the handball shout in the build-up to the goal, which allowed Herrera the time and space to play an inch-perfect pass through for Marcus Rashford to score, before his deflected strike beat the scrambling Asmir Begovic – in for the injured Thibaut Courtois – to put the game beyond the Blues.

It may just be that with this latest defeat, the Blues are losing their grip on the title too.

Conte will argue his players lacked lustre and motivation, shouldering the blame on his and the team’s approach to the game. On this evidence from Herrera, perhaps they were simply outclassed.

Left-Midfield: Leroy Sané (Manchester City)

Sané has developed a helpful knack of scoring goals for City away from the Etihad. His strike at St. Mary’s was his third in their last four games away from home, and he showed great persistence to get his goal, netting from Kevin de Bruyne’s wonderful pass after Fraser Forster had pulled out a splendid stop earlier on to deny him.

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The youngster’s lung-bursting 40-yard run to support the Belgian was what helped craft the goal, having shown the desire to get into a position to receive the pass.

It is fair to say that the player signed from Schalke, whom many thought would be a signing for the future, is quickly turning into one of Pep Guardiola’s key players.

Expect more from him in the Premier League and indeed on the international scene in the future.

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Centre-Forward: Marcus Rashford (Manchester United)

Sometimes unleashing young, raw talent is the way to go in football, and Marcus Rashford proved the theory right again, running the league leaders ragged after José Mourinho showed his faith in the youngster by starting him up-top in an attacking duo with Jesse Lingard.

Very few players have troubled Chelsea’s cast-iron defence since Conte switched to a back-three, but Rashford’s chemistry with Lingard, along with the support of Pogba, exposed once more all of the Blues’ frailties, and reminded the Old Trafford faithful that Rashford is a special talent and not just a half-season wonder.

His finish beyond Begovic after being played in by Ander Herrera showed all the instinct, swagger and verve of a seasoned veteran, which would have made the watching Zlatan Ibrahimovic proud.

More importantly, being one of England’s brightest prospects for the future, he looks at home at one of the highest levels in world football. It goes without saying that many United supporters would like to see him start games consistently.

Centre-Forward: Son Heung-Min (Tottenham Hotspur)

Son Heung-Min has been one of the most improved players in Mauricio Pochettino‘s squad this season.

His early season run of goals helped carry the side before Kane rediscovered his shooting boots, and he has stood up and been counted when it has mattered the most, the spells when Kane has been out injured, providing a helping hand for six Tottenham goals in his previous four Premier League appearances, assisting one and netting five himself.

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Bournemouth‘s case at the weekend wasn’t helped by their approach to the game, but Spurs this season have confirmed themselves as title contenders by showing their clinical streak against both lesser and stronger opposition, and Son has often been at the heart of their creativity, finding himself amongst the goals yet again.

What a transformation from the player who endured such a difficult season in England last campaign after arriving from Bayer Leverkusen. Spurs are firmly in this title race, and much of that is owed to the South Korean.

Premier League: Team of the Week XXXIII

Coach: José Mourinho

Featured Image: All rights reserved by oliveroliu

23 year old from Stoke-on-Trent. Avid Port Vale fan. Also follow Derby County & OGC Nice closely. BA Hons Modern Languages Graduate (University of Oxford). My prior experience in Sports Journalism comes from Volleyball & Floorball, having worked on major tournaments with the CEV, FIVB, & IFF. Have been contributing pieces to The Boot Room since 2016. Views are my own.

Manchester City

Manuel Pellegrini’s poor China record should give West Ham cause for concern

The Chilean international looks set to join the Hammers.

Max Cohen

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Pellegrini
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As Manuel Pellegrini inches closer to being named West Ham United’s new manager, many have applauded the potential appointment of a Premier League-winning boss.

With spells at some of the world’s most successful clubs, the Chilean is certainly an impressive acquisition for the Hammers.

Yet Pellegrini’s most recent coaching assignment has been nothing short of mediocre, a sign that should slightly worry West Ham supporters.

Pellegrini officially left Chinese Super League side Hebei China Fortune on Saturday, after just under two years at the club.

The Chilean was appointed in August 2016 and registered an unspectacular record at the club.

Pellegrini’s first season ended with Hebei in fourth position, yet the club missed out on AFC Champions League qualification by one place.

This year, the team has taken a dramatic step back in the opening months of the season.

(Photo by Geoff Caddick/Getty Images)

Under Pellegrini’s management, Hebei China Fortune currently sit eighth out of the 16-team Chinese Super League.

The side has only picked up just 15 points from 11 matches to date, a disappointing return considering Pellegrini has talents such as Ezequiel Lavezzi, Hernanes, and Gervinho at his disposal.

As the Chinese Super League is a far less important and internationally relevant league than La Liga or the Premier League, Pellegrini can perhaps be forgiven for not taking his job as seriously as his past assignments at Malaga, Real Madrid, and Manchester City.

Yet, his Chinese struggles are worrying nonetheless, as ideally West Ham supporters would like to be acquiring the services of a manager who enjoyed success at his most recent club.

In all, the ex-Manchester City manager still has a Premier League title to his name, a fact that makes his recent tough spell in Asia less concerning.

Nevertheless, Manuel Pellegrini’s underwhelming time at Hebei China Fortune reveals that the manager still possesses flaws and should not be expected to work immediate wonders at West Ham.

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Manchester City

Record-breaking Manchester City show Pep Guardiola was right not to change his philosophy

The Spaniard won his first Premier League title in swashbuckling style.

Martyn Cooke

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Photo: Getty Images

When Pep Guardiola was appointed as manager of Manchester City in the summer of 2016 it is fair to say that his arrival was met with a mixed reaction throughout British football.

First, there was obvious excitement throughout the blue half of Manchester. Guardiola was widely regarded one of the best managers of his generation after trophy-laden spells with Barcelona and Bayern Munich.

He was renowned for the exciting, possession-based style of play that he implemented and the team that he built at the Nou Camp at the start of the twenty-first century produced some of the best football of the modern era.

Then there were the sceptics – and there were plenty of them. The comments were predictable and filled with clichés, unevidenced assumptions and meaningless jargon.

It was suggested that Guardiola had only won trophies with clubs where the race for the title was a two-horse race at best and that he had always inherited world-class players.

Furthermore, it was claimed that the Spaniard’s total-football philosophy would never work in the hustle and bustle of English football.

His technical style of play would come unstuck in the so-called ‘best league in the world’ and would not be effective on a cold, wet Tuesday night at places like Stoke City in front of a tribal, raucous home support.

In his debut season with Manchester City some of the negative predictions appeared to be coming true.

(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Despite winning all of their opening 10 games of the season under Guardiola, City experienced a poor run of form during the Christmas period that left them trailing their title rivals.

The team were unpredictable and inconsistent during the second half of the campaign and heavy defeats against Everton (4-0) and Leicester City (4-2) left many onlookers wondering if Guardiola had finally been sussed.

The Spaniard never shied away from the critics and he staunchly defended his philosophy despite some poor results and vowed that he would not change his style of play.

City finished the season without a trophy and the sceptics went into the summer proclaiming how they had correctly predicted Guardiola’s failure.

What a difference a year can make.

City’s last-gasp victory against Southampton on the final day of the season rounded off what has been a record-breaking campaign in which Guardiola’s team have swept aside all before them in the Premier League.

The list of achievements is remarkable.

City this season have set new records for most consecutive wins (18), most goals scored (105), most wins (32), most away points won (16), most points (100), the biggest goal difference (+79) and the biggest points gap (19).

Suddenly the sceptics are beginning to look incredibly foolish.

In truth, it is hard to remember a campaign in the modern era where one team has been dominant from start to finish in the way that City have been. Furthermore, not only have the won, but they have won with style.

Guardiola’s playing philosophy has clicked over the last twelve months, undoubtedly aided by effective recruitment during the summer, and the team have played with flair, energy, creativity, pace and innovation.

Opponents, barring perhaps Liverpool, have simply not found any way to combat City’s free-flowing football.

(Photo by Paul Ellis/Getty Images)

Critics will still point to an early exit in the FA Cup against Wigan Athletic, where City played most of the game with ten men, and defeat in the Champions League to Liverpool, where a poor first half at Anfield effectively ended the tie before it had begun, but the success of Guardiola’s style of play is undoubted.

No one is suggesting that the Spaniard needs to alter his philosophy to meet the demands of the English game anymore.

Instead, it is English football that will need to change in order to meet the challenge of Guardiola’s football revolution.

The concern for other Premier League clubs is that City are threatening to establish themselves as the new dominant force in the domestic game. There is nothing to indicate that Guardiola or the team that he has assembled will be loosening their grip on the Premier League trophy any time soon.

The future is bright. Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus, John Stones, Leroy Sane, Benjamin Mendy, Bernardo Silva, Aymeric Laporte and Ederson are all under the age of 26. This is a group of players that is still improving and will be hitting the peak years of their career over the next half-a-decade.

Manchester City’s success this season is just the start of what could turn into a period of unrivaled dominance, further underlining that Guardiola was right not to change his philosophy.

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English Premier League

With or without David Moyes, West Ham should target his former player John Stones

West Ham would be wise to swoop on the apparently fragile status of Stones’ Man City career.

Mathew Coull

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Back in 2013 then-Everton boss David Moyes secured the signature of a very highly rated young Yorkshireman named John Stones. The Everton manager signed the teenager from Barnsley for a fee reported by the BBC to be in the region of £3 million.

The same report suggested Everton fended off interest from the likes of Chelsea, Aston Villa, Sunderland, Manchester City and Wigan Athletic to complete the deal.

Soon enough Stones started earning rave reviews among the Everton fanbase but Moyes himself never got much chance to work with the defender. Moyes left Everton for Manchester United just six months after signing Stones. The youngster then went on to become a regular in the Everton and England defence, eventually earning a move to Manchester City – reportedly worth £47.5 million, according to Sky Sports.

(Photo credit should read Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)

But this summer, should Moyes consider trying to sign Stones once again.

Despite making big improvements to his game at Manchester City, Stones looks like he could leave The Etihad this summer. The champions signed French defender Aymeric Laporte in the winter and Stones currently finds himself fourth-choice centre-back at the club.

In order to continue improving and maintain his place in the England starting XI, the defender needs to be playing regular football. Moyes, now manager at West Ham United, has the opportunity to offer him just that.

Of course, much of this depends on whether West Ham retain Moyes as manager which, according to The Telegraph, looks increasingly unlikely.

Moyes would no doubt be a big lure for Stones if West Ham were to make a move for the player, clearly as a loan deal considering the vast sum necessary to pry him from City.

(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

But even if Moyes does go, West Ham should try and bring the England man to the London Stadium.

He could offer a brilliant ball-playing option at the back that West Ham fans would greatly appreciate. His experience of playing at a higher level could also be vital for the development of talented Irishman Declan Rice and in a back-three, often West Ham’s recent choice, Stones is a brilliant central defender.

So, with or without Moyes at West Ham, Stones should be on the radar for the London club this summer.

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