Garth Crooks’ team of the week: David de Gea, Danny Welbeck, Antonio Rudiger, Diogo Jota
Tottenham Hotspur went top of the Premier League with a 2-0 win against title rivals Manchester City.
Defending champions Liverpool put aside their injury concerns to produce one of their best performances of the season in a 3-0 win against Leicester City.
Manchester United claimed their first Premier League victory of the season at Old Trafford by beating West Brom 1-0.
Chelsea won for the fifth game in a row in all competitions with a 2-0 win at Newcastle, while 10-man Arsenal drew 0-0 at Leeds.
But who impressed me in the Premier League this week? Here’s my team. Read why I selected them below and choose your best XI at the bottom.
Goalkeeper – David de Gea (Manchester United)
David de Gea: The Manchester United keeper has taken some stick and from those who should have known better. There was even a time when some pundits thought he should have been dropped. For whom exactly? Someone with less experience? Oh I see, let’s throw some other goalkeeper into the lions’ den so we can destroy him after a couple of games, shall we?
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has done well to ignore those overtures and stick with one of the few genuine world-class goalkeepers in the game. His point-blank save from West Brom’s Conor Townsend was crucial to Saturday’s victory.
What saved United, quite apart from their clean sheet, was the penalty decision given for handball by referee David Coote. If the West Brom defender Darnell Furlong could have got his hand out of the way of a ball travelling at the speed of light then I’m sure he would have done. This is such a bad law it’s scary and the quicker it’s binned the better.
Did you know? Since conceding six against Spurs, De Gea has conceded just one goal in three Premier League matches at Old Trafford (that goal coming from the penalty spot against Arsenal), keeping two clean sheets, with one coming on Saturday against West Brom.
Defenders: Antonio Rudiger (Chelsea), Eric Dier (Tottenham), Gabriel (Arsenal)
Antonio Rudiger: Where has Rudiger been? He’s not been injured. I don’t know what’s gone on between Rudiger and manager Frank Lampard but it can’t have been pretty.
The German international has been out of the Chelsea starting line-up since the start of the season, while Chelsea were leaking goals like a sieve. Whatever happened now seems to be in the past and the relationship appears repaired.
Rudiger, back in the side, looked like he’d never been away against Newcastle and played his part in another clean sheet for the Blues. He may not be in Thiago’s Silva’s class but his commitment to the cause is unquestionable.
Chelsea will need his passion in the latter stages of the season and Lampard would do well not to lose that loyalty.
Did you know? Making his first Premier League appearance of 2020-21, Rudiger played more passes than any other player across this weekend’s Premier League matches, completing 101 of 108 (94%).
Eric Dier: Manchester City haven’t replaced Vincent Kompany, nor the quality of David Silva, nor the midfield authority of Fernandinho – and they can’t expect Kevin de Bruyne (who replaced Yaya Toure) to do everything.
That in itself is quite an indictment when you consider the spending power of City and the influence of manager Pep Guardiola.
However, for Saturday’s opponents Tottenham, I think Jose Mourinho may have found a permanent place for Eric Dier in his side.
I have never fancied Dier as a midfield player because of his limitations on the ball, but his commitment, strength and combative nature are such attractive elements to Mourinho. In a team often described as lacking steel, the defender’s presence has become a crucial feature in the Tottenham set-up.
Did you know? No player made more blocks across this weekend’s Premier League games than Dier against Manchester City (three), while only Lewis Dunk (nine) made more clearances than the Tottenham defender (eight).
Gabriel: Putting your body on the line for your team is one thing but it’s something entirely different when you’re prepared to stick the most sensitive parts of your anatomy in the line of fire in order to salvage a point away from home.
Arsenal were already down to 10 men and on the rack when Gabriel spread himself in a desperate attempt to block a shot in the final minutes of the game against Leeds, epitomising his efforts. The blow would have left most players in a heap but Gabriel just needed a moment or two to recover.
What a contrast to see Ezgjan Alioski go down as though he had been hit by a train in order to get Nicolas Pepe sent off after the slightest contact. Pepe was stupid enough to fall for Alioski’s earlier provocation, of course, but to go down like that – really? The Leeds defender needs to have a word with himself.
Did you know? Gabriel has played eight of Arsenal’s nine Premier League games this season, with the Gunners conceding just seven goals in these matches and keeping three clean sheets, including one against Leeds on Sunday.
Midfielders: Solly March (Brighton), Declan Rice (West Ham), Georginio Wijnaldum (Liverpool), Danny Welbeck (Brighton)
Solly March: The goal by March in the 2-1 victory at Aston Villa was sensational and on balance Brighton deserved to win this match.
The last time I saw Villa they battered Arsenal but their game against Brighton was a very different affair entirely. This match was played like a fifth-round FA Cup tie, with both teams prepared to go toe to toe.
It was a great watch but the turning point in the fixture came when Michael Oliver gave a last-minute penalty to Villa for March’s tackle before reversing his decision having viewed it a second time. We all make mistakes but the referee – and only the referee – should have the ability to rectify his mistake using the technology. And quite rightly.
Did you know? Solly has scored two goals in his past six appearances for Brighton, as many as in his previous 95 league games for the Seagulls.
Declan Rice: This was a big win for West Ham at Sheffield United and the Hammers are on a roll.
There was no Michail Antonio to spearhead the attack but that didn’t seem to matter. This was a spirited all-round team performance and, on this occasion, led by Rice.
Sheffield United played well for much of the match and with better finishing the Blades certainly would have come away with something.
Rice has had a good week, having played in Belgium and scored against Iceland while on international duty with England. To return to club football and perform the way he did says a lot about the player. Read more about my thoughts on the club-versus-country row in the Crooks of the Matter below.
Did you know? Among Premier League midfielders, only N’Golo Kante (27) has made more interceptions than West Ham’s Rice (22), who made two against Sheffield United on Sunday.
Georginio Wijnaldum: I’m surprised this lad is still at Anfield. At one point I was almost certain that fellow Dutchman Ronald Koeman was going to take Wijnaldum to Barcelona.
It made sense, of course. Wijnaldum is perfect for the Spanish giants but Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp didn’t even dignify the rumours with a response and it wasn’t long before it was clear that Wijnaldum was going nowhere.
For me, the Netherlands international is a coach’s dream. He works his socks off in every game and, in the absence of Jordan Henderson, is the player who links the back four to the front three. The tackle by Leicester’s Nampalys Mendy on Wijnaldum was late enough to have received a red card, but it didn’t because the Liverpool player didn’t make a fuss. I wish there were more like that.
Did you know? Wijnaldum has won 133 of his first 200 matches for Liverpool. The best ratio for any player in the club’s history.
Danny Welbeck: You don’t play for Manchester United, Arsenal and England unless you know what you’re doing. Welbeck may play for Brighton now but the way he took his goal against an in-form Aston Villa made his credentials perfectly clear.
Welbeck can still score goals at the highest level. During his time at Watford he suffered from the sort of injuries that have persisted throughout his playing career. Now he may have found a club that suits his style of play and this could be kinder to his body.
The Seagulls play a nice passing game and use Welbeck’s speed to run in behind defences to great effect. Brighton manager Graham Potter also tends to leave smashing into opponents to less cultured teams.
Did you know? Welbeck has scored five Premier League goals against Aston Villa, more than against any other side.
Forwards: Diogo Jota (Liverpool), Dominic Calvert-Lewin (Everton), Harry Kane (Tottenham)
Diogo Jota: The impact Jota is having on Liverpool since his arrival on Merseyside has been quite extraordinary.
It normally takes a player anything up to three months to settle into a new team, particularly if that arrival is after the season has started. Kevin Keegan and Kenny Dalglish had similar impacts when they arrived at Anfield in the 1970s but there are not many like that.
Portugal striker Jota has not only hit the ground running, he’s setting records. Four goals in four consecutive games at Anfield gives you some indication of his influence.
Leicester, who have been tipped as one of the teams that might compete with Liverpool for the title, looked ordinary at best and even out of their depth on occasions. The main reason was due to their inability to handle Jota, who looked electric.
Jota’s arrival at Anfield just might be the reason they retain the title.
Did you know? Jota became the first player in Liverpool’s history to score in each of his first four home top-flight league appearances for the club.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin: Calvert-Lewin is back and so are Everton.
After a run of three defeats, with their performance away at Southampton by far and away the worst, the Toffees’ win at Fulham would have tasted sweet.
With Richarlison and James Rodriguez joining forces with Calvert-Lewin in attack, Everton looked an entirely different proposition. The England striker has now played 11 games for Everton so far this season and scored 13 goals.
As for Fulham, they are already fighting it out with Sheffield United, West Brom and Burnley for Premier League survival. I think Sheffield United can get out of this, so Fulham have a real problem.
Did you know? Calvert Lewin has scored in seven of his nine Premier League appearances for Everton this season (10 goals) making him the top goalscorer in the division.
Harry Kane: Spurs went top of the table after their victory over Manchester City on Saturday and they did it with the minimum of fuss.
Kane wasn’t on the scoresheet but his influence on the outcome of the match was unmistakable. The England captain’s movement seemed to bamboozle City and help set up Son Heung-min’s opening goal before providing the most glorious through ball for Tottenham’s second, which put the game well beyond the visitors.
City look rather tame to me at the moment but I do agree with Pep Guardiola – a two-year contract doesn’t mean a row of beans without results.
Did you know? Kane has provided nine assists in his nine Premier League games this season, more than any other player in the division. Indeed, Kane had provided just eight assists in his previous three league campaigns combined (94 games).
The Crooks of the Matter
On Friday, Jose Mourinho called for more transparency from England manager Gareth Southgate over how decisions are made regarding players pulling out of international matches.
The Tottenham boss said Raheem Sterling, who missed all of England’s three games in November, would play for Manchester City against Spurs on Saturday, which he did as a 72nd-minute substitute.
Is Mourinho trying to convince me that during his managerial career he hasn’t encouraged a single player to pull out of a meaningless international fixture? Please, pull the other one, it’s got bells on!
As long as there have been international fixtures club managers – not all of them, but those who have “trophies” at stake and I stress the word trophies – will try to influence their players not to play in meaningless friendlies.
They tend to be players who are vital to both club and country but as far as I am concerned the decision is more often than not down to the player not the manager.
One of the reasons I have the utmost respect for Wayne Rooney is due to the fact he hardly ever missed any internationals. I can think of one United player who seldom showed up at all to play for his country but was quick to seek his country’s managerial post the moment it became available. The remarkable thing was they gave it to him.
The club-versus-country row has always been an issue but for Mourinho to apparently point the finger at Guardiola over Sterling’s absence was not only a cheap shot but an indication that he’s up to his old tricks again.
Why? Because he knows he could never convince Harry Kane to miss an England fixture. What Mourinho did was poor. To cast such aspersions is, in my view, unacceptable.
Why? Because ultimately such a decision is down to the player and him alone. If a player decides, for whatever reason, not to accept the invitation to play for his country then the England manager has a decision to make over whether to pick him in the future. It’s a simple as that.
Pick your team of the week
Pick your XI from our list and share with your friends.
Pick your XI from our list and share with your friends.