Manchester City increased their lead at the top of the table to seven points with a win over Tottenham.
Check out my team of the week and then make your own selections towards the bottom of the article.
Goalkeeper – Emiliano Martinez (Aston Villa)
Emiliano Martinez: The save from Leandro Trossard in the early exchanges of this match against Brighton gave some indication of the sort of form Martinez is in at the moment. My particular favourite was the save from Dan Burn, whose header looked a certain goal had it not been for Martinez’s athleticism. Joel Veltman was the next to be denied, followed by an extraordinary save from an exquisite Danny Welbeck flick at the near post that caught everyone by surprise apart from Martinez. The Argentine is looking every bit a top-four keeper and if he can’t achieve it with Villa I suggest he does it with someone else.
Defenders – Matthew Lowton (Burnley), Joachim Andersen (Fulham), Issa Diop (West Ham)
Matthew Lowton: Burnley’s resurgence in the Premier League cannot be underestimated. The Lancashire outfit have won three and drawn one of their last six league outings and they are eight points clear of the bottom three. They looked dead and buried two months ago. The man of the match against an uninspiring Crystal Palace was Burnley’s Matthew Lowton, who is normally making goalmouth clearances, but took his goal superbly. I have enormous regard for Roy Hodgson but I hope he calls it a day at the end of the season and on his terms. Palace need to move on and Eddie Howe is an absolute must. Howe could be their next Steve Coppell.
Joachim Andersen: What a result for Fulham and Scotty Parker. Everton are another team chasing FA Cup glory and it may be at the expense of a top-four place in a season where anything seems possible. Fulham took full advantage of an Everton side who looked lacklustre from a nine-goal thriller against Spurs in midweek. The star of this show however was Joachim Andersen, who won every header and seemed to intercept every ball that came into the Fulham penalty area. This was a victory, and a clean sheet especially, that will sound warning bells to Brighton, Burnley and in particular Newcastle, who slowly but surely have been dragged into the relegation battle.
Issa Diop: I must be dreaming. West Ham in the top four? Well they were for a brief moment after their victory over a Sheffield United side who, for the first time, looked like a team that is starting to accept its fate. The Hammers are doing precisely what Sheffield United are not and that is scoring goals, keeping clean sheets and winning football matches. Issa Diop comes back into the side after being forced off with an injury in his previous game and looked like he’s never been away. An excellent defensive performance by the lad.
Midfielders – Jesse Lingard (West Ham), Ilkay Gundogan (Manchester City), Bruno Fernandes (Manchester United), Harvey Barnes (Leicester City)
Jesse Lingard: The way Jesse Lingard is playing for West Ham at the moment brings into question the wisdom of Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s decision to let him go to east London on loan in the first place. David Moyes will know only too well from his own days at Old Trafford what the lad is capable of and plays him in a role that suits the England international perfectly. When he’s on form, and he is at the moment, his ability to transition the play from defence into attack is as good as I’ve seen from any player and he demonstrated it beautifully against Sheffield United. Of course Manchester United have Bruno Fernandes to do that but should anything happen to him they could regret letting Lingard go out.
Ilkay Gundogan: Well, I’ve been banging on about Ilkay Gundogan for some time. The Germany international has been outstanding since Kevin de Bruyne’s injury and carried City to the top of the table on his shoulders. I know that anyone with the meanest intelligence could have spotted his brilliance but nevertheless he’s been wonderful to watch. The question now is if the groin strain Gundogan suffered against Tottenham keeps him out for any length of time, can Phil Foden take over the mantle and fulfil the potential everyone has been taking about? As for Spurs, Jose Mourinho is convincing no-one when he tries to tell Tottenham fans that his team are fighting for him, or united in a cause, when they have conceded eight goals in two games.
Bruno Fernandes: Is Bruno Fernandes the only player at Manchester United who believes they can win the title? What a chance they had to stay tucked five points behind arch-rivals Manchester City. Valuable points went begging against a very ordinary West Brom. Where were Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford? They never turned up. If ever there was a day when Fernandes needed a little help from his friends, then this was it. So United played a midweek FA Cup tie but they couldn’t have had a better league fixture to follow than against the Baggies. If United are going to make such hard work of winning these sorts of matches, finishing in the top four might be a challenge never mind the title.
Harvey Barnes: Harvey Barnes caused Liverpool all kinds of trouble down their right-hand side. The visitors clearly didn’t think this emerging talent was worth paying any more attention to than normal. Well they certainly paid the price for that. For most of the afternoon Trent Alexander-Arnold couldn’t cope with the lively Barnes. The winger was responsible for the free-kick that created the goal opportunity for Maddison, produced a superb save from the troubled Alisson (before the goalkeeper’s collision with his own defender) and then put the game beyond the champions with a brilliantly taken goal. Former Liverpool manager Brendan Rogers must have taken great satisfaction having beaten the team that unceremoniously showed him the door.
Forwards – Timo Werner (Chelsea), Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Arsenal), Pedro Neto (Wolves)
Timo Werner: At last, a run of 14 games without a goal has come to an end as Timo Werner finally hits the back of the net. In fact it was Werner who changed the game for Chelsea with an assist for Olivier Giroud, after the Blues had lost Tammy Abraham with a dubious tackle by Jamaal Lascelles, before converting himself. By the celebrations that followed Werner’s goal, the player’s popularity with his team-mates matches his quality.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang: The old adage ‘a happy player is a good player’ seems to work very well with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. The Arsenal captain put family before football by attending to his ill mother, with the issue becoming slightly more complicated as he had to leave the Arsenal coronavirus bubble to do it. There is no doubt Arsenal suffer without him but the Gunners reaped their reward on his return to action with a wonderful hat-trick by the Gabon star. However, if Leeds had started the match like they finished, it might have been a very different story.
Pedro Neto: This was a game that was turned on its head by a shocking decision. Can anyone tell me what constitutes handball any more? The penalty decision awarded by Graham Scott against Southampton’s Ryan Bertrand not only forced the game with Wolves to descend into farce but practically gave the visitors the points. Pedro Neto’s goal, however, was sheer class. The Portuguese striker produced a moment of magic in order to seal the game. However, the Premier League need to take note, this new handball rule (like the offside rule) needs to be amended before the fans return. A generation of players will not be the only ones that won’t stand for it.
The Crooks of the Matter
There can be no greater fear than hearing ice cracking under your feet. However, it appears the cracks were starting to become apparent in Liverpool’s title defence as early as their opening game of the season. Leeds United ran the champions ragged and had it not been for VAR and a slice of good fortune, Liverpool would have been embarrassed by the Premier League newcomers. Most of us heard the sound of an ominous crack that Saturday evening but ignored the signs. Their 7-2 drubbing away at Aston Villa shortly afterwards, a game the now injured Virgil van Dijk featured in, provided us all with even more evidence that something just wasn’t right, but we still chose to ignore the signs. After all, this was Liverpool with a team full of world-class players. But you don’t need to have a team of world-class players suffering from a crisis of confidence before the ship starts going down – just one or two.
What we saw at Anfield, when Alisson appeared to crumble against Manchester City under the sheer weight of pressure that comes with trying to retain the title, was the point at which everyone suddenly sat up and took notice. The reality was we had just ignored the obvious. As if draws against Fulham away and West Brom at Anfield weren’t bad enough, to lose at home to Brighton and Burnley should have told us Liverpool’s ship was not merely damaged but in danger of sinking. I’ve said repeatedly in my team of the week that the relationship between Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane hasn’t been ideal, while the team’s capitulation at Leicester is a further cause for concern. Of course their fans might have made a difference but what’s the point in speculating? They aren’t there.
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