Which player has come of age? Garth Crooks' Team of the Week
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Which player has come of age? Garth Crooks' Team of the Week

Mar 9, 2024
Garth Crooks' team of the week

After every Premier League weekend, BBC football pundit Garth Crooks gathers his thoughts and gives you his Team of the Week.

Here are this week’s choices and, as ever, Garth also discusses the game’s big talking points in the Crooks of the Matter.

Garth Crooks' team of the week graphicGoalkeeper

Caoimhin Kelleher (Liverpool): Caoimhin Kelleher makes my team selection once again this time ahead of Alphonse Areola, whose penalty save against Everton and general performance placed him in contention for the number one spot. However, the importance of Liverpool’s clean sheet in their 1-0 win at Nottingham Forest cannot be overstated. Anthony Elanga was clean through on goal, but the forward couldn’t get past the Republic of Ireland keeper. By this time in the match it was pretty obvious that Kelleher was still basking in the afterglow of his Carabao Cup final performance and it was going to take something quite special to beat him.

The fact that Forest were incapable of putting the ball into the back of the Liverpool net having created so many chances should be of far greater concern to manager Nuno Espirito Santo and the club’s owner Evangelos Marinakis, than the controversy surrounding the referee Forest are claiming cost them the game.

Defenders

Kurt Zouma (West Ham): He gave away the penalty but that didn’t faze him in the slightest – Kurt Zouma returned to Goodison Park and played a blinder in West Ham’s 3-1 win. His headed goal from a corner was as good as I’ve seen from a defender. He was head and shoulders above everyone else in the box. The West Ham skipper may not be the most comfortable defender on the ball but has an enormous leap from a standing jump and he is a ferocious competitor. The Hammers don’t play around at the back – they keep it simple and it suits them.

Meanwhile, Everton have gone nine Premier League games without a win but must hold their nerve and not lose confidence. They played well against the Hammers and deserved to get something out of the fixture.

Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool): If ever there was a sign that teams are desperately searching for points as they start their sprint for the end-of-season finishing line, then Liverpool’s win at Nottingham Forest was it.

Forest almost pulled off what would have been a shock draw had it not been for missed chances and Virgil van Dijk producing a commanding performance once again in defence. The Liverpool skipper got back brilliantly to block a shot from Morgan Gibbs-White that even the brilliant Kelleher in the Liverpool goal would have struggled to save.

The past 11 days may well define Liverpool’s season. To have won all four games when they have had so many injuries to contend with is impressive. All eyes now turn to Anfield this Sunday when they take on Manchester City. Whoever wins that match the title suddenly becomes theirs to lose.

Micky van de Ven (Tottenham): Cristian Romero may have got the goal in open play that sent Tottenham on their way to victory against Crystal Palace but it was Micky van de Ven who provided a moment of sheer audacity.

Very occasionally you see a defender who is so comfortable on the ball he can play almost anywhere on the pitch. Van de Ven is one of those players. I’m not one for defenders taking unnecessary risks, especially when you’re the last man in defence and outnumbered by the opposition, but the way Van de Ven drew in Matheus Franca in the 88th minute, dropped his shoulder, and went past the Crystal Palace forward as if he wasn’t there was stunningly brilliant. What was odd was that no-one seemed to mention it. The only other defender I’ve seen perform this skill with such ease was Dutch compatriot and Ajax legend Ruud Krol. Now he was a player.

Midfielders

Tomas Soucek (West Ham): I remember when Tomas Soucek scored the winner at Goodison Park in 2021, but his goal that put the visitors 2-1 up against a desperately unlucky Everton on Saturday was better.

The cross from Mohammed Kudus left Soucek with an awful lot still to do but the Czech produced a two-touch finish that was off the charts. Soucek’s strike became even more relevant due to his fantastic defensive clearance off the West Ham goalline moments earlier. This was another impressive performance by the Hammers, with back-to-back wins and playing as well as I’ve seen them do all season, but I don’t see it cutting any ice with their fans over David Moyes. The manager still hasn’t signed a new contract and the old one runs out at the end of the season. Meanwhile, I haven’t seen one placard or banner asking him to stay. Not one.

Alexis Mac Allister (Liverpool): Jurgen Klopp called it a “super, super assist” at Nottingham Forest, and who would argue with him? Alexis Mac Allister didn’t just see the pass, he executed it brilliantly. Saves, assists and last-minute goals are all going to contribute to the final tally on the last day of Liverpool’s season. However, I doubt there will be a better or more important assist than the one created by the Argentine World Cup winner, for Darwin Nunez.

As for the controversy surrounding referee Paul Tierney and where the game should have restarted. The referee made a mistake, however once the ball was back in play it was incumbent on Forest to defend their goal regardless of the referee’s decision. They had numerous opportunities to clear the danger and failed.

As for former official and now Nottingham Forest analyst Mark Clattenburg, asking to see the referee after the game was an interesting request. What was he intending to do – compare career mistakes?

Harry Wilson (Fulham): It’s been a while since Harry Wilson made my team selection. He was impressive last week at Manchester United and even better in the 3-0 win against Brighton at Craven Cottage. His goal was also superb, as was his all-round contribution to Fulham’s victory over the lacklustre visitors. The Seagulls look like they are suffering from the mental and physical fatigue associated with competing in Europe, which Newcastle have also felt. It’s not simply having an impact on both clubs’ injuries, but the ability to produce the expected result or retain their performance levels. It will be interesting to see where Brighton and Newcastle finish this season. A year out of European competition might do them good and give them a chance to recharge their batteries.

Martin Odegaard (Arsenal): Arsenal had cut Sheffield United open on two occasions in the 6-0 win on Monday before Martin Odegaard scored their opening goal. The ball he then sent to Gabriel Martinelli from inside his own half was sensational and a statement of intent if ever I saw one. Arsenal were 3-0 up in a matter of 15 minutes, Sheffield United had made their first substitution and home fans were streaming out of Bramall Lane in droves. Arsenal were brutal, Bukayo Saka was having the time of his life and by the time the Gunners were 5-0 up Sheffield United were praying for the half-time whistle. This was a walk in the park for the visitors and I could have selected anyone in an Arsenal shirt, but the star of the show was Odegaard and that’s why he’s in my team.

Forwards

Phil Foden (Manchester City): The goal, as spectacular as it was from Marcus Rashford, wasn’t enough to clinch victory. As Manchester United went 1-0 up against their biggest rivals you couldn’t help thinking what United fans would prefer at that point – three points to help them in their pursuit of a Champions League spot, or deny Manchester City three points and practically hand Liverpool their 20th league title. However, City’s ability to remain unflappable in these situations remains their unique quality, and eventually they broke down United to win 3-1. Phil Foden was immense and this young man is now producing the kind of performances we tend to associate with Kevin de Bruyne and Bernardo Silva. Foden has come of age.

Ollie Watkins (Aston Villa): When you score 16 top-flight goals and it is only March it suggests you’re on for 20 for the season. That is a milestone that has always been of significance for any striker who considers himself among the game’s elite. Ollie Watkins is on fire and Aston Villa are the beneficiaries. What is most interesting about the two goals Watkins produced against Luton was the quality of the finish. Both goals were brilliantly dispatched; not scuffed or deflected but finished with aplomb. Luton’s 3-2 defeat by Villa has provided Everton and Nottingham Forest with some breathing space between them and the Hatters, who yet again failed to close a game having fought their way back into the match.

Yoane Wissa (Brentford): The goal by Wissa in the 2-2 draw with Chelsea was superb. Overhead kicks, when executed properly, have always looked spectacular and so was his. It’s important that they had Wissa back from the Africa Cup of Nations because the Bees were in desperate need of a lift having lost three games on the bounce – and that’s what the DR Congo forward gave them. The Bees did well against a side keen to put the disappointment of the EFL Cup final behind them, and Chelsea had to dig deep to get a point out of the game.

Thomas Frank’s rallying cry in his post-match interview about his team’s commitment and passion for the cause was heartfelt, if not slightly overdone. Brentford players have never lacked those qualities and they still have plenty of points to play for. The Bees will be fine.

Short presentational grey line

The Crooks of the Matter

The headline ‘The wasted talent’, which referred to the four-year suspension imposed this week on Juventus and former Manchester United player Paul Pogba for doping offences, made me chuckle. He certainly is an enigma; a complicated and inconsistent player without doubt, but no right-minded football person could ever argue that his talent has been wasted – he won four Italian Serie A titles and a World Cup for goodness sake. There can only be a handful of players anywhere in the world with that sort of record.

Pogba’s mistake was returning to Manchester United for a staggering £89m, and not just failing to win the Premier League, but not even coming close. That is why the France superstar will never acquire the legendary status afforded by United fans to the likes of Bryan Robson, Roy Keane or David Beckham, none of whom had Pogba’s gifts or won the World Cup.

Regular readers will know that I have been one of Pogba’s biggest critics. Not because of his colourful hairstyles, however much I hated them, but that on too many occasions he robbed us of his genius. All football fans want to see is those who have the magic produce it when they pay to see it. Sadly the magic, all too often, simply wasn’t there. And now we feel short-changed.

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