Garth Crooks’ Team of the Week: Alisson, Salah, Kane, Fernandes, Maguire

Garth team of the week

The Premier League title race took a twist as leaders Manchester City were beaten at home by Tottenham and Liverpool capitalised with a hard-earned win over Norwich.

Throw in Chelsea’s refusal to bow out of the title chase, Newcastle’s new-found resilience and Burnley’s discovery of goals and there was plenty to talk about.

But what you want to know is who made my team of the week? Make your own selections at the bottom of the article.

Garth Crooks Team of the Week for 20 February

Goalkeeper – Alisson Becker (Liverpool)

Alisson Becker

Alisson: When it comes to one on ones, Alisson is one of the best goalkeepers in the game. However, his distribution is fast becoming just as good. He’s not as good as Ederson when it comes to passing and controlling the ball with his feet in difficult situations but he’s quite brilliant when identifying which striker is available and where defences are vulnerable. His delivery for Mo Salah’s goal -Liverpool’s second – absolutely breathtaking. I’ve seen Alisson do this sort of thing before when he kicks the ball out of his hands and brilliantly finds the player he is looking for in a wonderful position but they fail to finish the job. This time he found Salah and the Egypt international was equal to it.

Did you know? Alisson provided the second Premier League assist of his career – setting up Salah on both occasions – against Norwich. Only seven goalkeepers have registered more assists in Premier League history than the Brazilian.

Defenders – Craig Dawson (West Ham), Harry Maguire (Man Utd), Antonio Rudiger (Chelsea)

Craig Dawson, Harry Maguire and Antonio Rudiger

Craig Dawson: He did it away against Leicester and again against a Newcastle side who look better with every game. Craig Dawson has got the taste for goals in his veins again. He had it at West Brom, Watford and now West Ham. Dawson is a very dangerous opponent in the opposition’s penalty area but he’s also an excellent defender. Newcastle on the other hand are no longer a soft touch. Eddie Howe has bought well and, given the right financial resources, could turn the Magpies into something very interesting.

Did you know? Dawson has scored 19 goals in the Premier League since the start of 2014-15 – more than any other central defender – with 14 of those coming via headers.

Harry Maguire: The England centre-back has been under severe scrutiny this season, taking a fair amount of stick as a consequence. However, the Man Utd skipper has not buckled under pressure. He’s also the occasional whipping boy for United’s poor performances, particularly when Paul Pogba is not on the field, but he’s not allowed it to get to him or affect his performances. His goal against Leeds epitomised his determination and character as he outfought Diego Llorente to nod home United’s opener. This was a big win for United and although they didn’t keep a clean sheet, Maguire played his part in an impressive victory away from home in atrocious conditions.

Did you know? Maguire’s goal was Man Utd’s first from a corner in the Premier League this season (their 139th corner). Seven of his 11 Premier League goals have been headed, including all four of his strikes for Manchester United in the competition. Seven of Maguire’s 11 top-flight goals have also come away from home.

Antonio Rudiger: His performance against Crystal Palace had a hint of audacity to it. I always get the impression with Rudiger that if his team is boring or struggling to find the net, he takes it upon himself to do something about it. His shot from 30 yards would have found the net if it hadn’t been for a superb intervention from Vicente Guaita in the Palace goal. Most of the talk surrounding Rudiger these days seems to be around whether he has come to some sort of arrangement with Chelsea regarding his contract. It’s clear the club don’t want to lose him but this has gone on quite long enough. Either Rudiger wants to play for the club on a long-term basis or he doesn’t. It’s time it was sorted out.

Did you know? Rudiger had more touches (102) and both attempted (94) and completed (83) more passes than any other Chelsea player against Crystal Palace.

Midfielders – Bukayo Saka (Arsenal), Bruno Fernandes (Man Utd), Emile Smith Rowe (Arsenal), Dejan Kulusevski (Tottenham)

Bukayo Saka, Bruno Fernandes, Emile Smith Rowe, Dejan Kulusevski

Bukayo Saka: Arsenal seem to be finding themselves under Mikel Arteta – by investing in youth with a hint of experience. One of his most influential players, and one of the youngest, is Bukayo Saka. I don’t think there is any more I can say about this player that I haven’t already said. We are, however, coming into a period in the modern game when English players are starting to look attractive to the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid again. Although in the current climate I doubt whether they can afford the likes of Saka. Which is fortunate for Arsenal.

Did you know? Saka registered his 11th goal involvement in the Premier League this season (seven goals, four assists), the most of any under-21 player and a haul bettered only by Jarrod Bowen (16), Mason Mount (13) and Trent Alexander-Arnold (12) among English players.

Bruno Fernandes: I have very little time for any manager, especially with limited resources, who leaves their most talented player on the bench against a top-class side and still expects to get something out of the game. In the first half, Leeds were like lambs to the slaughter playing Manchester United. How you leave Raphinha on the sidelines against a team like United beggars belief. Bruno Fernandes on the other hand played throughout in very difficult conditions and was outstanding. He covered every blade of grass, scored a brilliant goal and demonstrated just what top-class players have to offer.

Did you know? Fernandes has now scored six Premier League goals against Leeds, more than he has against any other opponent in the competition. In the Red Devils’ history, only Bobby Charlton (nine) scored more league goals against the Whites than the Portuguese.

Emile Smith Rowe: It wasn’t so much Emile Smith Rowe’s goal itself that caught my eye but the fact that from the moment he received the ball, the only thing he had on his mind was a goal. The player claimed in his post-match interview that he’s been working on his finishing. That’s fine, but what I saw against Brentford was a player with the ability to not only score a goal but carve the opportunity out all by himself. To be in a position to both score and create all at the same time is a rare quality in a player. If Arsenal can find a top-class striker to replace Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to go with Smith Rowe and Saka, the Gunners could find themselves firing on all cylinders again and they’ve not done that for a while.

Did you know? Raheem Sterling (10) is the only English player with more Premier League goals this season than Smith Rowe (nine).

Dejan Kulusevski: It was his first start in a Tottenham shirt – and what a start! The Swede looked extremely comfortable and took his goal calmly and with the minimum of fuss. What I like about this kid is he doesn’t seem in the least bit excitable and may prove to be a valuable addition to Antonio Conte’s new-look Tottenham. Hearing that Conte is actually enjoying his time at Spurs these days, in contrast to the rumours circulating recently, must be very comforting if you’re a fan. Man Utd made a big mistake not snapping up the Italian manager when he was available and Tottenham must give Conte whatever he wants in order to do his job.

Did you know? Kulusevski became the fourth Swedish player to score on his first Premier League start, after Martin Pringle for Charlton against Newcastle in January 1999, Johan Elmander for Bolton against Stoke in August 2008 and Zlatan Ibrahimovic for Man Utd when they faced Bournemouth in August 2016.

Forwards – Mohamed Salah (Liverpool), Harry Kane (Tottenham), Son Heung-min (Tottenham)

Mohamed Salah, Harry Kane and Son Heung-min

Mohamed Salah: If there were any lingering disappointments regarding Mohamed Salah’s defeat in the African Nations Cup final against Senegal then we saw the last of them in Liverpool’s demolition of Norwich at Anfield. The Egyptian superstar was at his dazzling best against the Canaries. In fact, so were Sadio Mane and Luis Diaz, who looks like the perfect fit for a forward line capable of taking up the reins of a newly opened title race. Tottenham’s victory over Manchester City and Liverpool’s game in hand makes the Premier League title race very interesting again. Liverpool needed snookers to get back into the title race and Spurs have just provided them with one.

Did you know? Salah became the 10th player to score 150 goals in all competitions for Liverpool, and the second quickest to reach this total for the club (233 apps), after Roger Hunt (226 apps).

Harry Kane: He hasn’t made my team for some time and four games without a goal doesn’t tell the entire story. The truth is he hasn’t been in the greatest form and neither have the team. However, this performance was almost off the chart. Kane’s distribution throughout the game was outstanding and so was his partnership with Son Heung-min. Tottenham share a history of having classic matches against Manchester City, the most famous game taking place in 1981, when Spurs beat City 3-2 (again) in a match in north London on a Thursday evening. Spurs fans of a certain age haven’t forgotten that game either.

Did you know? Kane’s winner for Tottenham, in 94 minutes 25 seconds, was the latest winning goal scored against Manchester City in the Premier League since Michael Owen for Manchester United in September 2009 (95:27). It was also the second latest winner in the competition scored against a side starting the day top of the table since sports analytic firm Opta started recording exact times (2006-07), after Danny Welbeck for Arsenal against Leicester in February 2016 (94:28).

Son Heung-min: The ball for Dejan Kulusevski was perfect in so many ways. Firstly, due to the fact that the Sweden international had made up the ground to join Son in the first place to give him the option to shoot or pass. Son then waited and drew Ederson out of his goal – a move the goalkeeper should not have made under the circumstances, as City players were hot in pursuit of Son. Then, just as you thought Son was about to shoot, the South Korean superstar passes the ball square to Kulusevski who coolly finishes. It was textbook football and set the tone for Tottenham’s entire performance. Son’s contribution and partnership with Kane was outstanding, with Kulusevski as an excellent support act.

Did you know? Tottenham duo Harry Kane and Son Heung-min have now assisted one another for 36 Premier League goals, the joint most of any pairing in the competition’s history, moving level with Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard.

Pick your XI from our list and share with your friends.

The Crooks of the Matter

Two important issues involving fans have emerged in the past two weeks with both topics receiving short shrift from a prominent football club and the players’ union. I was absolutely delighted to see the PFA fighting back on behalf of its members, insisting supporters who invade the pitch and assault players must be banned for life. The response came after a Leicester City fan had been charged by police after running on to the pitch to approach Nottingham Forest players.

Meanwhile, Tottenham Hotspur announced that the use of the Y-word made their fanbase feel uncomfortable, stating “it was time to move on” from associating the term with the club. And about time too. I’ve never really understood why the club’s executives have tolerated this nonsense for so long.

As for fans running on the pitch, that should have come with a lifetime ban years ago. In the ’80s, fans seemed to be running on the pitch almost at will.

I remember playing in a match for Charlton against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge when, with minutes left to play, I could see the fans mobilising themselves to run on the pitch and so I asked the referee how long was left. The official sent me away with a flea in my ear, refusing to tell me how much time was left to play.

As I was chairman of the PFA at the time, I made it abundantly clear that if fans ran on the pitch and any player was harmed as a consequence I would hold him directly responsible. Having given the situation some thought, the referee gave me a 60-second warning notice, in order for me to alert my team-mates he was about to blow the whistle.

It was just as well; we had pushed Chelsea towards the second division and their fans weren’t happy about it. Those 60 seconds were more stressful than the game itself as we raced to the tunnel with Chelsea fans in pursuit.

The very thought of fans running on to the pitch and not knowing what they might have in their possession was the most nerve-wracking experience I’ve had playing the game.

The safety of the players has always been paramount. It was then and it is now.

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