West Ham beat Leeds 2-1 on Friday night with Everton beating Chelsea 1-0, Aston Villa defeating Wolves 1-0 and Newcastle seeing off West Brom 2-1 on Saturday. Manchester United and Manchester City drew 0-0.
Have a look at my team of the week – and then have a go at creating your own at the foot of this piece.
Goalkeeper – Emiliano Martinez (Aston Villa)
The save from Daniel Podence with Emiliano Martinez at full stretch was impressive but it was the instinctive stop from Leander Dendoncker that made me once again question whether Arsenal were wise to let this goalkeeper leave.
Martinez looked impressive when he came in for the injured Bernd Leno prior to leaving the capital. However since his arrival at Villa Park the Argentine keeper has been outstanding and a valuable addition to a young team going places.
As for Wolves, I’ve seen some poor decisions in my time but nothing quite as bad as the second yellow card given to Joao Moutinho by Mike Dean. He did it with such certainty it begged the question what exactly did he see that made him so certain? In my opinion Dean owes Moutinho an apology. Apparently Dean has booked 3,000 players in his career. Do you think he knows?
Did you know? Martinez made seven saves against Wolves, the most he has made in a single Premier League game.
Defenders – Angelo Ogbonna (West Ham), Michael Keane (Everton), Ezri Konsa (Aston Villa)
Angelo Ogbonna: No Premier League team has scored more goals from set-pieces than West Ham, those goals helping lift the Hammers to sixth in the table. David Moyes’ side are proving to be deadly on set-plays but Leeds are awful.
The Yorkshire club clearly have a problem in this area and Tomas Soucek and Angelo Ogbonna took complete advantage of the situation. Ogbonna’s header was impressive, however I can’t for the life of me understand how VAR could determine that Lukasz Fabianski’s heels were off the line when he saved Mateusz Klich’s penalty, when all the replays suggested that they were not.
If the officials are going to be that pedantic, can we have the same on foul throws please?
Did you know? All six of Ogbonna’s Premier League goals for West Ham have been from set-plays (five corners, one free-kick)
Michael Keane: It’s always a good sign when the manager picks out his defence as the main reason for his team’s victory. Carlo Ancelotti was in no doubt as to the reason Everton beat the club he won the Premier League title with during his last managerial stint in the country.
At the heart of that victory over Chelsea was Michael Keane. The former Burnley defender is one of the game’s unsung heroes. He hardly misses any games, gives 100% every game and even when he has an off-day you somehow can’t give him a hard time about it.
This was an important victory for the Toffees. That said, Frank Lampard’s side didn’t play badly – however Chelsea teams in the past who didn’t play particularly well at Goodison but came away with a result often went on to win things. Which is probably the most telling feature in Lampard’s team so far this season.
Did you know? Keane made 10 clearances against Chelsea, the most of any player in the match. He also won 83% of his six aerial challenges.
Ezri Konsa: There were two wonderful moments in the first half at Molineux when Ezri Konsa used his head and not his heart. Early on, the ball flashed across the near post and just as he was about to stick his right foot out, Konsa responds to Martinez’s shout of ‘keeper’s ball’ and is saved from possibly slicing a dangerous pass into his own net.
The second moment was when Konsa refused to be drawn into a tackle with Pedro Neto having lost the race into the penalty area and cleverly forced the Wolves attacker to redirect the ball away from the goal. If only Wolves defender Nelson Semedo had shown the same composure, before needlessly crashing into John McGinn, Wolves might have got something out of this game.
Did you know? Konsa contested more aerial duels than any other player (eight), winning six of those.
Midfielders – Bobby Decordova-Reid (Fulham), James Ward-Prowse (Southampton), Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), James Maddison (Leicester)
Bobby Decordova-Reid: What a strike. The ball from Ademola Lookman that set up the finish was just wonderful. Liverpool could have been three down by the end of this fixture but a point against the champions will do Fulham the world of good.
I’m convinced their fans, back at Craven Cottage for the first time since the lockdowns, made all the difference. The penalty that gave Liverpool a lifeline was a travesty, the sooner the new handball rule is abolished the better. And how Andre Marriner could have judged Fabinho’s tackle on Ivan Cavaleiro to have been anything other than a stonewall penalty, I will never know.
Did you know? Decordova-Reid has scored in three consecutive home league appearances for the very first time in his professional career.
James Ward-Prowse: The quality of the delivery by this player is as good as anyone in the modern game. His return on free-kicks are pretty impressive too, and he is very much a part of something quite special at St Mary’s at the moment.
The Saints sit fourth in the table, two points off top and a point above Chelsea, yet it wasn’t that long ago when manager Ralph Hasenhuttl’s job might have been on the line. All credit to Southampton Football Club, who stood by their manager when others might have given him his P45.
Did you know? Ward-Prowse created four chances against Sheffield United, his most in a Premier League game this season, last doing more in a single game back in December 2018.
Jordan Henderson: This was a very difficult fixture for Liverpool. It shouldn’t have been if you look at the way they dispatched Wolves last week and their players compared to Fulham but they played Champions League in midweek and of course it took its toll. If you want to be the best team in Europe though, that’s what you have to do.
No Jordan Henderson in this side and Liverpool lose this game. Ravaged by injury, I get the feeling the Reds might be feeling a little sorry for themselves but not Henderson. Liverpool are facing a gruelling period over Christmas but I bet captain fantastic plays in every one of those fixtures.
Did you know? Henderson regained possession 14 times against Fulham, more than any other player, whilst he also made more interceptions than any other Liverpool player (three).
James Maddison: Well, we know he can play, we just haven’t seen an awful lot of him this season for one reason or another. Maddison scored two goals against a Brighton side who were out of their depth for much of the match.
If his first goal was a little fortuitous, his second was the midfield player at his best. Much has been made about the comparison between Maddison and Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish and which one might be better suited for England. I offer a modest suggestion – play both.
Did you know? Maddison scored his first ever Premier League double on Sunday, in his 78th appearance in the competition.
Forwards – Callum Wilson (Newcastle), Jamie Vardy (Leicester), Eberechi Eze (Crystal Palace)
Callum Wilson: Having had a squad ravaged by Covid-19 in recent weeks, Steve Bruce eventually got a chance to put the pandemic behind him and produce a team that needed all hands on deck to beat a stubborn West Brom. It was just as well he had Callum Wilson, who was involved in their first goal and then spent the rest of the game running the Baggies ragged.
Bruce made an inspired double substitution late in the second half, both of whom turned the game. Dwight Gayle got the winner with an amazing header after Jacob Murphy delivered the most exquisite cross. But it was Wilson who had pulled the West Brom defence apart in order for Gayle and Murphy to finish them off.
Did you know? Wilson, who did not have a shot, was involved in 18 duels in the game. Nobody else was in more.
Jamie Vardy: Leicester’s defeat at home to Fulham a few weeks ago put into sharp perspective just how big an achievement winning the Premier League title in 2015-16 actually was, any suggestion of the Foxes doing it again suddenly didn’t look quite so attractive.
One of the few survivors of that historic season is Jamie Vardy, who at 34 looks like he could play on until he’s 40. His goal, and Leicester’s second, was Vardy at his absolute best. Leicester may not win the title this season but Jamie Vardy is still having one of those parties.
Did you know? Vardy has been directly involved in 14 goals in 11 Premier League appearances this season (10 goals, four assists).
Eberechi Eze: The game between Crystal Palace and Tottenham was something of a non-event. Vicente Guaita made a number of top-class saves having been at fault for Harry Kane’s goal. Had it not been for the howler he may have been in my team of the week.
By far and away the star of the show, though, for me was Eberechi Eze. The former QPR forward has come on leaps and bounds since his arrival at Selhurst Park. He has the balance and ability of Wilfried Zaha and he’s now starting to make some excellent choices in his passing.
As for Spurs, they missed a golden opportunity to stretch their lead at the top. They didn’t play particularly well but had they won on the basis of a poor performance, what a message that would have sent to Liverpool and Manchester City.
Did you know? Eze created five chances against Spurs, more than any other player in the game. The last Palace player to create as many in a Premier League match was Patrick van Aanholt in February against Newcastle (six).
The Crooks of the Matter
I said it in this very column that it was only a matter of time before footballers walked off the pitch and the game’s authorities would only have themselves to blame.
Tuesday night’s Champions League fixture between Paris St-Germain and Istanbul Basaksehir was abandoned after both teams walked off in protest over allegations the fourth official had racially abused the assistant coach.
I’ve heard players use racial language to intimidate other players, and I know all about fans racially abusing black players on the pitch, but I’ve never heard of a match official directing a racial slur at a member of the coaching staff. What’s the game coming to?
Some have argued, and quite unbelievably, that because the fourth official came from Romania that somehow it lessens the offence due to their country’s lack of diversity. What, don’t they have satellite TV in Bucharest? This argument would be funny if the incident wasn’t so serious. How is it possible that an official, appointed by Uefa, could be so painfully arrogant that he thought he could get away with it? What aspect of zero tolerance and NO TO RACISM were Uefa teaching their match officials at their conferences?
The truth is this whole charade is indicative of an organisation that lacks moral fibre. European games are taking place amongst players and staff members who speak every language under the sun and their fixtures televised halfway across the globe. In fact it was television footage that seemed to identify the crass nature of Sebastian Coltescu’s utterances towards the Basaksehir assistant coach. The question now is what is Uefa going to do about it?
If Coltescu is found guilty of the charges then he must be struck off from all Uefa activities. Anything less would leave a grotesque stain on president Aleksander Ceferin’s tenure and leave the entire organisation in moral disrepute.
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