With the Premier League back and kicking off, Garth Crooks gives his team of the week.
Garth Crooks’ team of the week is a weekly column that looks at the best players from around Europe in football. In this edition, we see goalkeepers David de Gea and Kalidou Koulibaly, defenders Rudiger and Virgil van Dijk, midfielders Naby Keita and Kevin De Bruyne, strikers Mohamed Salah and Jamie Vardy.
The Premier League’s top three teams are separated by two points after leaders Chelsea were held to a 1-1 draw by Manchester United on Sunday.
Arsenal extended their top-four drive with a 2-0 win over bottom-placed Newcastle, Aston Villa made it back-to-back victories under Steven Gerrard with a 2-1 win over Crystal Palace, and Leicester City beat Watford 4-2 in a thrilling encounter.
Brentford beat Everton 1-0 at home to stop their five-match losing streak, while Norwich and Wolves drew 0-0, Brighton and Leeds drew 0-0, and Tottenham’s match against Burnley was postponed due to heavy snow.
Check out my team of the week before making your own choices at the bottom of the page.
David de Gea is the goalkeeper (Man Utd)
David de Gea produced two saves in the opening three minutes to set the tone for Manchester United’s day.
It was up to De Gea that United made it to halftime without conceding. The same was true in the Champions League match against Villarreal on Tuesday night in Spain. When Jorginho made that colossal error, it handed United the upper hand.
God only knows why Jorginho didn’t just head the ball back to where it came from. I only hope that when De Gea goes through one of his rough patches (which he will), his teammates provide him the same support he has given them recently.
What if I told you that Chelsea has lost all eight of their Premier League encounters against Manchester United. They had previously gone 10 games without a league victory over United, which occurred between 1938 and 1950.
Antonio Rudiger (Chelsea), Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool), and Nuno Tavares (Chelsea) (Arsenal)
Antonio Rudiger: In the first half, he produced a fantastic tackle that set the tone for the rest of his performance. Rudiger enjoys a good fight, and the games against Manchester United, Liverpool, and Manchester City are tailor-made for him.
Of course, there are instances when Rudiger is hunting for conflicts even when none exist – in which case he will manufacture his own. He’s not opposed to scoring a goal now and again, as long as it’s on his head and he’s approaching the opponent’s goal.
During the last minutes of the game against Manchester United, he was gifted with a great opportunity and blasted the ball high, wide, and handsomely. Virgil van Dijk squandered a similar opportunity against Southampton. Both of these players are world-class defenders, and they both make my team of the week.
What if I told you that Chelsea have tried 49 shots and had 100 touches in their opponent’s penalty area in their previous two Premier League matches at Stamford Bridge, but have failed to win both of them.
Virgil van Dijk: Few center defenders in the world could have scored a goal like Van Dijk did against Southampton.
It took a lot of skill to hit the ball on the volley and steer it towards goal with enough speed to beat the keeper from just inside the area. For Liverpool, this was a piece of cake.
Southampton, on the other hand, seem poor without Danny Ings up front and Jannik Vestergaard at the back. If these two issues aren’t addressed in January, the Saints will not be marching on, but out of the league.
What if I told you that Trent Alexander-Arnold has assisted six of Van Dijk’s 11 Premier League goals for Liverpool.
Nuno Tavares: I’d missed this youngster before, but he’s now on my radar. Full-backs who aren’t hesitant to attempt to have an effect on the game have always piqued my interest.
If he wasn’t going into the opposition’s half with the ball, Tavares was attempting to set up one of his teammates for a goal. Bukayo Saka’s goal was assisted by a fantastic assist.
In terms of Newcastle, it’s evident that Eddie Howe has a lot on his plate. I couldn’t help but observe that the new manager has put his confidence in Jonjo Shelvey, who had a good game. If Howe can keep Shelvey healthy and motivated for a long period of time, Newcastle might save a lot of money in the transfer market in January.
What if I told you that Arsenal has never lost a Premier League home game against a team that is currently in last place.
Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka, Liverpool’s Thiago Alcantara, Leicester City’s James Maddison, and Liverpool’s John McGinn are among the midfielders (Aston Villa)
Bukayo Saka: From the start of the game, Saka seemed to be a serious competitor.
In the early stages of the game, he gave Newcastle a scare, but the Geordies held on. It was only a matter of time, though, until this tremendous young talent revealed Newcastle’s flaws on the right wing.
Saka scored a fantastic goal and put in a tremendous amount of effort. I’m looking forward to seeing how much he’s improved since the European Championships when he takes his next penalty.
What if I told you that Saka has scored or assisted in each of Newcastle’s last three Premier League games.
Thiago Alcantara: The Spaniard has never really persuaded me that he has acclimatized to the Premier League’s intensity.
He can certainly play, but when the game becomes rough or chaotic, I often feel that his lack of speed restricts his ability to interact and the game passes him by. Liverpool’s domination against Southampton helped them to keep control of the game, especially Thiago.
He’s a wizard with the ball and has the softest touch. This is fine when your team is in command, but Liverpool needs the occasional rottweiler (enforcer) in midfield, which he does not provide.
What if I told you that This season, Liverpool has scored 39 goals in 13 Premier League games, its greatest goal total in a top-flight season.
James Maddison: A goal from Maddison – who also set up a couple of goals in dreadful circumstances – gave Leicester the boost they needed to put the game out of Watford’s grasp.
It was Maddison’s most impressive performance in a long time. It was fortunate, since the Hornets, revitalised under Claudio Ranieri’s careful eye, gave it their all.
Watford can undoubtedly score goals, but if Ranieri can teach his players how to defend, they may be a side worth paying attention to.
What if I told you that Maddison scored and assisted for the first goal in a Premier League game on Sunday, in his 111th appearance in the division.
Steven Gerrard may have won two games in a row, but it was John McGinn’s performance at Selhurst Park that secured Villa’s triumph.
McGinn had a chance to score early in the game when he cut in from the right and curled a left-footed drive just beyond the far post with Vicente Guaita beat.
Palace had been performing well lately, but this was a dismal performance. With Michael Olise returning, Christian Benteke scoring again, and Wilfried Zaha looking dangerous, Patrick Vieira seems to be on the approach of putting together a truly good squad in south-east London.
What if I told you that McGinn has equaled his greatest goal total in a Premier League season with 12 appearances this season for Aston Villa. In both the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons, he scored three goals.
Salah, Salah, Salah, Salah, Salah, Salah, Salah, Salah, Salah, Salah, Salah, Salah, Salah, Salah, Salah, Salah, Salah, Salah, Salah, Salah (Liverpool)
Salah Mohamed: Some of my readers may be astonished to see that Diogo Jota is not included in this week’s picks. That’s because, whether he scored two goals or not, I felt his performance was average in compared to Sadio Mane and, particularly, Salah.
At the moment, the Egypt international is a delight to watch. When Salah is playing for the team rather than just chasing goals, there isn’t a better striker in the world. He was outstanding against the Saints.
Salah’s strength is something that astounds me. On the ball, he is lightning fast and tremendously powerful. Liverpool, on the other hand, has a problem. In January, they will lose both Mane and Salah to the African Nations Cup. I’m curious as to what effect this will have on their championship hopes.
What if I told you that Salah has been personally involved in 25 goals in all competitions this season, more than any other Premier League player, with 17 goals and eight assists.
Vardy, Jamie: Vardy was throwing another one of those parties.
The former England international hasn’t been in my team of the week in a long time, but his performance against Watford left me in an untenable situation.
Vardy, to his credit, plays with such zeal and excitement that it is contagious. His link-up play with Maddison against Watford was particularly impressive, and it’s always lovely to watch excellent players playing well together.
What if I told you that Vardy has now scored 93 Premier League goals at the age of 30 or older, matching Ian Wright’s record. Since his debut in January 2017, only Harry Kane (108) and Mohamed Salah (106) have scored more goals in the tournament than Vardy.
Sadio Mane: This was Mane’s greatest performance. Against a Southampton team that never adjusted to the rigors of Anfield, the Senegal superstar was everywhere.
When Mane is at his best, he not only scores goals, but he also has an impact on the game. After being on the receiving end of a horrible tackle by Jan Bednarek, who was fortunate to be on the field, he had a superbly headed goal disallowed offside.
I chastised Jurgen Klopp last week for getting involved with Mikel Arteta and inflaming the fans for a mild challenge compared to Bednarek’s hit on Mane. Klopp deserves credit for not attempting to sway the referee’s decision, but Bednarek should have been sent off.
What if I told you that In all competitions, Liverpool has now scored two or more goals in 17 straight games. They are just the second English Premier League team to do so, after Sunderland in 1927.
Choose your XI from our list and tell your friends about it.
Choose a formation. Team members should be confirmed.
The crooks in charge of the situation
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s ignominious resignation from Manchester United raises the issue of whether he should have been granted the position in the first place.
Following the unceremonious dismissal of a United great, the board has once again found itself at odds with the supporters, who demand that a manager worthy of their club and the players they desire be hired.
Ralf Rangnick has being targeted. Who is Ralf? Even before the new temporary coach takes up his job, I can practically sense the dissatisfaction and disgust for the appointment swirling through Old Trafford.
Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Manchester United have the difficulty of becoming victims of their own past as well as their own success. Furthermore, there can only be a few managers in the world with the kind of reputations required to manage such clubs, much alone maintain control of their locker rooms.
I completely understand Zinedine Zidane’s decision to decline the position. Why would he come out of retirement to risk his reputation after doing the unthinkable by winning three Champions League championships with Real Madrid?
At United, there is just too much to accomplish. Mauricio Pochettino leaving PSG also makes no sense to me. He can forget about winning the Champions League with Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe, and Neymar if he can’t win it with United.
So, who is it? United have, in truth, locked themselves into a major bind. Managers were available, but they dallied and procrastinated, paying the price for both.
They now have the unfortunate issue of either taking another gamble or, better still, attempting to identify a replacement for Alex Ferguson. Whatever it is, I don’t have a smidgeon of jealousy for them.