Garth Crooks’ team of the week: Alisson, Fernandes, Mane, Willian, Greenwood
Champions Liverpool beat struggling Aston Villa in their first home match since winning the title, while Manchester City suffered a third straight away league defeat with a loss to Southampton.
Manchester United thrashed Bournemouth, and Chelsea and Leicester also won comfortably – beating Watford and Crystal Palace respectively – to stay in the hunt for Champions League qualification.
Brighton piled further misery on Norwich, while Arsenal strengthened their Europa League push with a win over fellow European hopefuls Wolves.
Elsewhere, West Ham moved a point closer to safety with a draw at Newcastle,Sheffield United drew at Burnley and Tottenham edged past Everton.
Goalkeeper – Alisson (Liverpool)
Alisson: Liverpool were 2-0 up against Aston Villa and in stoppage time when Alisson made the save of the match from Jack Grealish. The ability to make great saves when you have hardly touched the ball is a feature of great keepers. Alisson reminds me of Ray Clemence, who also was a great Liverpool goalkeeper and title winner. Alisson, like Clemence, makes goalkeeping look easy and produces crucial saves when it matters. They also understand the confidence a clean sheet can have on their defenders’ morale. Alisson is worth every penny of the £66.8m Liverpool paid for him, and probably worth considerably more now. You can read more about Liverpool’s title winners in the Crooks of the Matter below.
Did you know? Since the start of last season, Alisson has kept more Premier League clean sheets than any other goalkeeper (34).
Defenders – Jack Stephens (Southampton), Shkodran Mustafi (Arsenal), John Egan (Sheff Utd)
Stephens: Thou shall not pass. That seemed to be the theme of the entire Southampton team against Manchester City. The visitors absolutely dominated the ball but couldn’t get through the Saints defences. Southampton’s concentration and desire was immense. Considering they are safe, and have been for some time, this was one hell of a team performance. However, there was one standout performer and that was Jack Stephens. The Southampton defender was quite brilliant. Manchester City had 29 shots but still couldn’t find the back of the net. Gabriel Jesus may be a top striker but he’s proving to be no Sergio Aguero.
Did you know? Stephens’ five blocks against City was the most of any Southampton player.
Mustafi: I saw the Gunners against Southampton and Brighton and thought they were shocking. I don’t know what Mikel Arteta has said to his players since those defeats, but recent results seem to suggest it’s working. They reduced Wolves to one clear chance when Adama Traore fluffed his lines. Apart from that Wolves never had a sniff. At the heart of this impressive away victory was Shkodran Mustafi. The German World Cup winner looks like he could have a similar influence in this new Arsenal set-up as his compatriot Per Mertesacker did during his successful period at the club. These are interesting times at Arsenal.
Did you know? No Arsenal player registered more clearances (five) and passes (68) against Wolves than Mustafi.
Egan: It looks like Sheffield United have got themselves back on track after some very shaky results. John Egan also had a rather uncertain return to the game after the lockdown. He was sent off against Newcastle United, where he looked off the pace, but was then impressive against Spurs and looked back to his best away at Burnley. As for his goal, well, you won’t see a better-struck half-volley this season. Considering it was only his second goal for the club it was some finish.
Did you know? Egan’s equaliser for Sheffield United was his first goal since August 2018, and also means he has now scored in League Two (one), League One (10), the Championship (seven) and the Premier League.
Midfielders – Willian (Chelsea), Bruno Fernandes (Man Utd), Declan Rice (West Ham), Bukayo Saka (Arsenal)
Willian: He was outstanding against West Ham in midweek and the architect of Watford’s downfall at Stamford Bridge. Mason Mount and Ross Barkley appear to be the main beneficiaries of Willian’s brilliance in midfield at the moment. The Brazilian is giving Chelsea what Eden Hazard gave them last season, and not just from the penalty spot either. His all-round game has been the glue to the vast majority of Chelsea’s performances this season. If he doesn’t play well, neither do Chelsea. If Willian does leave the club at the end of the season I will be very eager to see who in their ranks will replace him.
Did you know? Willian is the first Chelsea player to score a penalty in three consecutive Premier League games and the sixth different player to do it in the competition.
Fernandes: His execution of his goal from a free-kick was superb and put the finishing touches to a brave attempt by Bournemouth to win this fixture. Bruno Fernandes has scored five goals in eight Premier League matches – and that’s not just because he’s excellent at taking free-kicks but because he is prepared to run beyond his forwards into the danger zone. His assist for Mason Greenwood’s first goal was simply wonderful; the pass had all the care and attention the striker needed to complete his two-touch finish. Fernandes also picked out Anthony Martial before his fantastic strike. The Portuguese is the one that is making it all happen at United at the moment.
Did you know? Fernandes (six goals, five assists) has surpassed 10 goal involvements in his ninth Premier League appearance for Manchester United, making him the joint-quickest to that tally of any player for the club in the competition, alongside Eric Cantona and Robin van Persie.
Rice: This was a game I thought West Ham should have won. They certainly had enough chances. The inspiration behind the victory against Chelsea and the heart of a steely performance against Newcastle at St James’ Park was Declan Rice. In the absence of Mark Noble, Rice has proven himself to be something of a leader for the Hammers. The England international is only 21 and has caught the eye of a number of clubs – there’s even speculation that Chelsea manager Frank Lampard has targeted the versatile Rice as a potential centre-back for the Blues. That will go down like a lead balloon in East London.
Did you know? Rice gained possession nine times against Newcastle, more than double the number of any of his team-mates. And no other player on the pitch made more than his three key passes.
Saka: This was without doubt the best away performance I have seen from Arsenal since their return from the lockdown – in fact, since Arteta took charge. The star of the show was Bukayo Saka. The last time I saw an 18-year-old look so comfortable in a Premier League fixture was Wayne Rooney – the youngster has none of Rooney’s brawn but plenty of grace and style. His goal was brilliantly taken, while his post-match interview was almost more composed and impressive than his performance on the park. Like Rooney, this lad can play anywhere on the pitch and does so willingly. Saka signed a long-term contract last week and, having seen some of his games, I’m not surprised. Along with the likes of Eddie Nketiah, Joe Willock and Nicolas Pepe, supported by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Arsenal might not be looking at mid-table mediocrity after all.
Did you know? Saka’s goal was his first in the league for Arsenal. Aged 18 years 303 days, he is the second-youngest English player to score in the Premier League for the Gunners, after Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain against Blackburn in February 2012 (18 years 173 days).
Forwards – Mason Greenwood (Man Utd), Jamie Vardy (Leicester), Sadio Mane (Liverpool)
Greenwood: This kid looks like he could be something special. Greenwood was sensational against Bournemouth. His desire to score goals appears to be insatiable. His inclusion in Manchester United’s forward line now makes complete sense of Alexis Sanchez and Romelu Lukaku’s departure from Old Trafford. While I was castigating Ole Gunnar Solskjaer for selling two of his top-class players, the manager was thinking ahead. He knew exactly what Greenwood was capable of and so did everyone else at United. The question now is can the Red Devils keep Real Madrid and Barcelona at bay? If they can, Liverpool and Manchester City may have a problem next season.
Did you know? Greenwood has now scored eight league goals for United in 2019-20 – among players aged 18 and younger, only Michael Owen (twice), Robbie Fowler and Rooney have scored more in a Premier League season.
Vardy: Two shocking mistakes, the first by Vicente Guaita and the second by Mamadou Sakho cost Crystal Palace the match. I can’t for the life of me understand why defenders try to play in dangerous areas when there is no requirement to do anything of the sort. Sakho is a good defender, but only when he sticks to the basics. Neither can you play in goal if you’re afraid to take a smack in the face. Guaita looked like he was afraid of his own shadow for Leicester’s first goal. Meanwhile, Jamie Vardy looks back in business. His first goal, his 100th in the Premier League, was a gift, while his second had the audacity of a striker back in form.
Did you know? Vardy scored his 100th Premier League goal, the first Leicester player to reach treble figures in the top flight since Arthur Lochhead in 1933-34.
Mane: Five goals in five previous meetings for Sadio Mane against Aston Villa provided a certain sense of inevitability about this game. Villa were fighting for their Premier league lives, while Liverpool had started their title-winning tour. For an hour, Villa matched the Reds in every department until Mane struck his sixth goal in six appearances against the Villans. Liverpool should consider themselves fortunate that their league title was pretty well wrapped up before the lockdown. They have not been the same without their fans.
Did you know? Mane has been directly involved in eight goals in his past five Premier League appearances against Aston Villa (six goals, two assists).
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The Crooks of the Matter
From the moment Liverpool were received by Aston Villa with their guard of honour, you sensed that the Reds were in a very different mood than they were against Manchester City. I felt a little sorry that Liverpool had to face their biggest challengers for next season’s title so soon after having won the Premier League themselves for the first time. To then get a 4-0 mauling was unfortunate. Having never won the title myself, I can’t tell you what it feels like, but I did win trophies during my career and if that’s anything to go by then what this group of Liverpool players must have felt would have been out of this world.
Partying until the early hours of the morning after you’ve won a major competition is often the only way you can make sense of your achievements. Self-indulgence, if only for 24 hours, feels like heaven when you’ve spent the best part of a year totally focused on winning football matches.
However, this squad of players now find themselves in illustrious company. They follow the likes of Roger Hunt, Ian St John, Kevin Keegan, John Toshack, Emlyn Hughes, Alan Hansen, Graeme Souness, Mark Lawrenson, Kenny Dalglish, Ian Rush and John Barnes, all of whom have won the title for this very famous club. Mohamed Salah, Mane, Robert Firmino, Jordan Henderson and Virgil van Dijk will now also become part of Anfield folklore. To win the Champions League last season was quite special. However, this is a different matter entirely. It’s the title.
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