Liverpool strengthened their place at the top of the Premier League by beating Crystal Palace 7-0 on Saturday, following Wednesday’s last gasp victory over Tottenham.
Check out my team and then make your own selections towards the bottom of this article.
Goalkeeper – Emiliano Martinez (Aston Villa)
Emiliano Martinez: West Brom’s Sam Johnstone is very unlucky not to be in my team. He was sensational against Manchester City but it all fell apart against Aston Villa. Meanwhile, Martinez did what he had to do in both his games.
The match against Burnley was played like a cup tie. The save by Martinez from a Chris Wood bullet header was quite brilliant and very much in line with the keeper’s performances recently. The game away to West Brom was a different encounter entirely. With manager Slaven Bilic having been replaced by Sam Allardyce, the Baggies had something to prove but failed to have an impact once they went down to 10 men.
Allardyce now has 24 games to keep West Brom in the Premier League. Good luck with that.
Did you know? Martinez has kept more clean sheets than any other goalkeeper in the Premier League this season (seven).
Defenders – Joel Matip (Liverpool), Thiago Silva (Chelsea), Tyrone Mings (Aston Villa)
Joel Matip: He survived one or two scary moments but did enough against Spurs to help seal the win and then played a major role in Liverpool’s emphatic victory over Crystal Palace.
Matip hasn’t found it easy to settle in at Liverpool, especially since the arrival of Virgil van Dijk, but the Cameroonian looks very impressive alongside the combative Fabinho. Together, they are becoming a formidable pair.
Matip is also proving to be very dangerous in the opposition’s penalty area and gave Palace nightmares on set-pieces. It was his header that provided Mohamed Salah with his opening goal.
Van Dijk’s absence through injury has forced Reds boss Jurgen Klopp to accommodate both Matip and Fabinho, and they have developed in areas they once struggled.
Did you know? Since the start of last season, Matip has the best aerial duel win percentage of any player in the Premier League (86% – minimum 50 aerial duels).
Thiago Silva: So Chelsea have put a stop to the back-to-back defeats they suffered recently. West Ham were no pushovers on the night, regardless of what the scoreline suggests. However, it was the headed goal by Silva that blew me away.
The way Silva attacked the ball was ferocious and the header flew into the back of the net like a bullet. He looks so assured in defence and seems to have adapted to the new handball rules especially well, taking a driven shot at the Chelsea goal in the stomach with his hands firmly behind his back. There was no way he was going to give a penalty away. Now that’s defending.
Did you know? Nine of Silva’s 16 goals in Europe’s big five leagues have been headers, including seven of the past eight.
Tyrone Mings: You simply can’t ignore a player who has played in every game this season, including seven clean sheets for Aston Villa.
Mings was outstanding against Burnley and was in similar mood against West Brom. The Villa defender appears to have slammed the door firmly shut in the face of strikers looking to take advantage.
Dubbed “the clean sheet gang”, Villa have come away with four points from two games and look a completely different side to the one that just escaped relegation at the end of last season.
What a pity Semi Ajayi couldn’t repeat his performance for West Brom at Manchester City. I’m convinced that if the Baggies hadn’t had Jake Livermore sent off, they would have got something out of this game.
Did you know? Mings has played 90 minutes in seven clean sheets for Villa in the Premier League this season, one more than he did in the competition in the whole of last season.
Midfielders – Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), Bruno Fernandes (Manchester United), Scott McTominay (Manchester United), Gylfi Sigurdsson (Everton)
Jordan Henderson: I said after Liverpool’s result at Fulham that it was a game the Reds would have lost without Henderson’s involvement. I also mentioned that here is a player who would see the Christmas programme through.
He started and finished the game brilliantly against Spurs and did precisely the same against Crystal Palace. His goal against the Eagles was the culmination of wonderful football and a superb finish. He doesn’t score many but when he does they are often beauties.
Another excellent display by Captain Marvel.
Did you know? Henderson has scored 11 of his 27 Premier League goals for Liverpool from outside the box (41%), including his past two.
Bruno Fernandes: Manchester United left both of the division’s Yorkshire clubs in their wake in a matter of days. Sheffield United were outclassed after an awful start by Dean Henderson. I warned Ole Gunnar Solskjaer about transferring the pressure from one goalkeeper to another. Meanwhile, David de Gea resumed his role in goal against Leeds, who were taught an important lesson by the Reds Devils.
Fernandes was most prominent in both games and the driving force behind the victories – although he did receive some help from Scott McTominay against Leeds.
Did you know? Fernandes has been directly involved in 29 goals in 27 Premier League appearances (17 goals, 12 assists).
Scott McTominay: An awful lot was made of the fixture between Manchester United and Leeds. War of the Roses and all that. Well, McTominay put all that nonsense to bed in a matter of minutes at Old Trafford.
Leeds, with a reputation for taking on the big teams, were firmly put in their place. Two beautifully taken goals by the 24-year-old Scotland international set Manchester United on their way to an emphatic victory.
To put Sheffield United and Leeds away in the space of five days suggests both recently promoted clubs have some work to do before either can start pushing their weight around against Manchester United.
Did you know? McTominay became the first player to score twice inside the opening three minutes of a Premier League match.
Gylfi Sigurdsson: When did Sigurdsson assume the captain’s armband? Well, whenever it was, it seems to be working. He has arguably been Everton’s most consistent performer in their past two games. It was Sigurdsson’s quality ball into Leicester’s penalty area that caused mayhem and provided Mason Holgate with his opportunity to score. By the way, well done Lee Mason for taking back control and using the monitor to overturn his original decision and refuse to award Ayoze Perez a penalty.
Against Arsenal, it was Sigurdsson again who delivered another peach of a ball, this time for Yerry Mina to head home. Mina’s movement for the goal was matched only by the quality of the Iceland international’s delivery. Toffees boss Carlo Ancelotti has got Sigurdsson playing again.
Did you know? Sigurdsson assisted a goal from a dead-ball situation for the 17th time in the Premier League, the third most behind Chris Brunt (23) and Christian Eriksen (20) since he joined Swansea City in January 2012.
Forwards – Mohamed Salah (Liverpool), Jamie Vardy (Leicester), Roberto Firmino (Liverpool)
Mohamed Salah. I don’t think I’ve seen a football match where a team has scored so many quality goals. Salah had only been on the pitch for a matter of minutes and he was among the goals. His instinctive header and superb strike just epitomised Liverpool’s class.
This was a better team performance by Liverpool than the one I saw beat Leeds in their opening game of the season. However, a note of caution for Klopp: don’t mess Sadio Mane around. He’s been the Reds’ best forward for over a season and if Klopp is going to substitute him, especially when he’s in such fine goalscoring mood, he needs to let him know well in advance. Watching Mane come off muttering his frustrations isn’t a good look and Klopp is deluding himself if he thinks such things don’t matter. And he should never think for one minute that the big European clubs aren’t watching his every move.
Did you know? With two goals and one assist, Salah became the first substitute to be directly involved in three goals in a Premier League game for Liverpool.
Jamie Vardy: This was like reliving a nightmare. I saw Leicester beat Tottenham at White Hart Lane the year the Foxes won the title and Vardy was outstanding that night.
Just when you thought Serge Aurier had removed that erratic behaviour from his game, he panics and gives away a penalty. Barging into attackers on the edge of his own area is the game of fools. Aurier has been outstanding recently and to see the defender slip back into old habits is very concerning. Come to think of it, watching Spurs revert to everything I hate about a Jose Mourinho team was simply awful. If Spurs have to play like that then winning is essential.
Did you know? Vardy became the first player to score away from home against a side at three different venues in the Premier League with his penalty against Spurs, having now netted against them at White Hart Lane, Wembley and Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
Roberto Firmino: Once again, Liverpool came good when it mattered. The header by Firmino against Tottenham was worthy of winning any match. Talk of titles for Spurs were always premature, but fun while it lasted.
What compounded Tottenham’s defeat at Anfield was that they could manage only a draw at Crystal Palace, while Liverpool blasted the Eagles off the park. Firmino started and finished one of the best moves I’ve seen all season. The ball from Andy Robertson was just out of this world. It was the beginning of the end for Palace and a worthy addition to Firmino’s superb header against Spurs.
Firmino was struggling a few weeks ago. He’s not any more – he’s now back in business.
Did you know? With two goals and an assist against Crystal Palace, Firmino reached 100 goals and assists in the Premier League (62 goals and 38 assists).
The Crooks of the Matter
Every once in a while, something happens in football that not only baffles you but has cause to create confusion and conspiracy. The refusal of Arsenal to play Mesut Ozil is bewildering – not just because they are paying him a fortune, but also because this is the worst start the Gunners have had to a season in over 40 years.
Unai Emery tried his best to bring the best out of the German, even making him captain on occasions. When Ozil wasn’t at his best he was still good enough for Arsenal. However, since Mikel Arteta succeeded Emery, the situation surrounding Ozil has gone from bad to worse. Every club submits a 25-man squad for the season and the thought of Ozil being incapable of making the cut is absurd, giving rise to other considerations.
Ozil has friends in high places. Last year, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan – hardly the most popular man in the West – was the best man at his wedding in Istanbul.
But it was Ozil’s criticism of the way the Uighur Muslims in China’s Xinjiang region are being treated that has caused most offence. His comments sparked a furious reaction among many of his four million social media followers in China, with several burning his shirts in protest. Even the coverage of Arsenal’s game against Manchester City on 15 December 2019 was initially pulled.
Whatever Ozil’s political position, it should have nothing to do with his ability to play for Arsenal and I accept the club and manager’s view when they insist it is not the reason for the player’s omission. Team-mate Bernd Leno also stated recently that the midfielder has been a model professional throughout this difficult time for him.
In which case, I have to question the judgement of Arteta leaving Ozil out at all. Such a decision makes no sense. Ozil’s omission contributed to Emery losing his job and it may, during this awful run of games, do the same to Arteta in the end.
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