Garth Crooks’ team of the week: Dias, Henderson, Grealish, Bamford, Salah

Garth Crooks’ team of the week: Dias, Henderson, Grealish, Bamford, Salah
Garth Crooks’ team of the week: Dias, Henderson, Grealish, Bamford, Salah

Manchester City led the Premier League standings this week thanks to victories over West Brom and Sheffield United, dropping rivals Manchester United to the top of the league table.

Liverpool maintained their title hopes with wins over Tottenham and West Ham, while Leeds United found their way back to winning ways with victories over Newcastle and Leicester.

But Steve Bruce’s Newcastle celebrated a surprise win over Everton and Thomas Tuchel’s reign at Chelsea began with a 0-0 draw against the Wolves before the Blues beat Burnley.

Check my order and make your own selection at the end of the item.

Goalkeeper – Karl Darlow (Newcastle)

Carl Darlow: My God, did Newcastle need such an outcome. I don’t know who needed it more, the players or the manager. Steve Bruce was under a lot of pressure in the last few games, but he kept his cool. The same goes for his players, especially Carl Darlow, who stood his ground when it looked like Gerry Mina would head in a beautiful cross from James Rodriguez, followed by a parry from Richarlison. It was a very good performance after the home loss against Leeds and three very important points. It’s also a lifeline for Steve Bruce, I think.

Did you know that? Against Everton, Darlow made three saves; it was only against Liverpool in December (four) that he scored more in a league game in which he kept a clean sheet this season.

Defenders – Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool), Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), Ruben Diaz (Manchester City), Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea)

Trent Alexander-Arnold: Trent Alexander-Arnold is back to his best this week. It’s been a while since he was there, but he looked very good against the Spurs. He wasn’t bad against West Ham either. We had to wait 68 minutes to see the quality of Alexander-Arnold against the Hammers, but when it happened, it was great. His cross to Xherdan Shaqiri was simply sensational. What happened next was pure art. Shaqiri found Salah, who made the most fantastic two-touch finish you’ll ever see.

Did you know that? Since the start of last season, Alexander-Arnold has scored more goals in the Premier League than any other defender in the league (21 – five goals, 16 assists).

Jordan Henderson: Captain Marvel is back in the race, albeit at centre, and Liverpool are much better with him against Spurs than without him against Burnley. The fact that Henderson is so comfortable in central defence and that his opponents can’t expose his limited experience in this position probably says more about the evolution of the modern game than it does about the strikers he has faced. I can’t imagine Henderson being as comfortable with players like Andy Carroll or Peter Crouch. In the meantime, let Liverpool’s chances of the title slip thanks to your threat.

Did you know that? Against West Ham, Henderson won 100% of his duels and took possession of the ball 11 times – the most players in the match.

Ruben Diaz: Joao Cancelo was an outlier for City against West Brom, when his goal should have been disallowed after the flag went up, another reminder of the ridiculous rules of the game. He would be my team of the week if he played against a stubborn Sheffield United. Still, I felt compelled to opt for Ruben Diaz after two masterful performances against West Brom and the Blades, who proved to be a much tougher opponent than the Baggies and seem to have found their feet again. Diaz brought a calmness to the City defence not seen since the arrival of the Portuguese international.

Did you know that? Of the 18 Premier League games Ruben Diaz has played in, Manchester City have scored just seven goals.

Caesar Azpilicueta: Thomas Tuchel’s first game at the helm after the departure of Frank Lampard was rather modest against the Wolves. That’s not the case against Burnley. Les Bleus pulled the handbrake on Les Clarets, particularly on César Azpilicueta. The Chelsea captain played in both competitions, but his goal against Burnley was remarkable. Azpilicueta’s determination to take a pass from Callum Hudson-Odoi was convincing. It also makes you wonder why Frank Lampard took so long to leave his entire bottom line behind.

Did you know that? Azpilicueta scored his first Premier League goal in 376 days since his goal against Arsenal in January 2020. Chelsea have never lost a Premier League game in which the Spaniard scored a goal (five wins, four draws).

Midfielders – Jack Grealish (Aston Villa), Ilkay Gündogan (Manchester City), Marcos Alonso (Chelsea)

Jack Grealish: I thought Aston Villa were struggling to get out of Peat Moor with at least a point. Jack Grealish was exceptional that night, putting the finishing touches to a well worked goal against an impressive Burnley who were fighting for their lives. Villa were a little lucky against Southampton though, who could have made something of the game if VAR hadn’t intervened when a Danny Ings shot in injury time was ruled out for offside. When has anyone ever scored a 12-yard goal with their hand? Grealish again made the difference between the two teams, but this time he took all the points.

Did you know that? Grealish made his first direct appearance in 15 league games this season (six goals, nine assists), surpassing last season’s total (14 – eight goals, six assists in 36 appearances) in just 19 games.

Ilkay Gundogan: In the absence of Kevin de Bruyne, Ilkay Gündogan has taken on the role of playmaker. Manchester City are starting to put pressure on reigning rivals Manchester United and Liverpool. They swept West Brom off the park with two brilliant goals from Gündogan. His first was the most exquisite side foot you’ve ever seen, and his second was a masterstroke of the century. Romain Sawyer was still recovering when Gündogan deposited the ball into the net and West Brom were 3-0 down with 30 minutes to play. City had to fight for every ball against Sheffield United, but that didn’t stop them from being top of the league table.

Did you know that? Gündogan has scored seven times in the Premier League this season – his best goal-scoring campaign in the top five European leagues.

Marcos Alonso: It always amazes me that when a new manager comes in who hasn’t been in the spotlight before, suddenly there are players in the spotlight who haven’t been in the spotlight before. Marcos Alonso barely played for Chelsea this season, but he scored what can only be described as a classic Alonso goal. New coach Thomas Tuchel seems to have abandoned the idea of defending Alonso and forced the player to focus on using his magic left foot. Whatever the reason Tuchel has brought back players like Alonso, it will certainly help the club’s English players face reality.

Did you know that? Alonso scored his first Premier League goal against Burnley since February 2020.

Strikers – Mohamed Salah (Liverpool), Patrick Bamford (Leeds), Callum Wilson (Newcastle)

Mohamed Salah: With the absence of Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino at the London Stadium, West Ham must have breathed a sigh of relief following their midweek performance against Spurs. West Ham only had Mohamed Salah – but the Egyptian international looked good and his goals proved to be the right ones. What I didn’t understand was why West Ham were so reluctant to put constant pressure on the pair of Henderson and Nathaniel Phillips, the newcomers. It seems the Hammers have shown too much respect for Liverpool’s reputation and failed to take advantage of a squad plagued by injuries.

Did you know that? Mohamed Salah is the first player to score more than 20 goals in all competitions for Liverpool in four consecutive seasons since Ian Rush did so six times in a row from 1981-82 to 1986-87.

Patrick Bamford: Patrick Bamford came into my team for only the second time this season. The last time was his impressive hat-trick against Aston Villa. Since then his performances have not been brilliant, but at Leicester he has impressed a lot. His goal and two assists against the Foxes sealed a couple of fabulous days for Leeds, who beat Newcastle earlier in the week. Much has been said about Bamford’s disinterest in Jack Harrison’s goal that secured the points against Leicester. What a load of crap. It was the right thing to do and the only thing to do.

Did you know that? Bamford was directly involved in 15 goals in his 20 Premier League appearances for Leeds United (11 goals, 4 assists) – only 17-year-old Tony Yeboah scored more goals in his first 20 Premier League appearances for the club.

Callum Wilson: If a striker scores two goals and his team wins, there’s nothing to complain about. But I bet Callum Wilson will be furious that she didn’t make her hat-trick. Newcastle paralysed Everton and gave the impression of being a team in the top half of the table rather than hovering above the relegation zone. The win would also have been impressive without the extra pressure on manager Steve Bruce, but it could have been a great result if the Magpies had lost again.

Did you know that? Wilson was involved in 67 percent of Newcastle’s 21 goals in the Premier League this season. He scored ten times and provided four assists.

Cold material

The racial hatred on some social media seems to be getting out of hand. Last week, a number of Premier League players were again the victims of racist abuse online – raising questions about what social media giants will do about it.

Manchester United players Axel Tuanzebe and Anthony Matial were the subject of racist comments on social media following Wednesday’s home defeat to Sheffield United, while West Brom sent a disgusting message to midfielder Romain Sawyers following the defeat to Manchester City. Marcus Rashford has recently fallen victim to an idiot who thinks he can get away with such vile comments. That’s because they can.

I watched in disbelief as Twitter’s latest attempt to reassure black players when their spokesperson said they would continue to do their part to curb this unacceptable behavior. Meanwhile, Facebook, which owns Instagram, has stated that it plans to remove it. Well, I’m sure the black players will be on their knees, thank goodness!

Is that really the best these billion dollar companies can do? The racists who constantly spew their hatred on social media must be ruthlessly prosecuted by these companies, reported to the authorities and, if necessary, jailed for this heinous harassment. As long as these companies are not prepared to devote some of their enormous financial resources to this, the ugliest element of society will unfortunately continue to show its ugly face.

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