February 22, 2024

Garth Crooks’ Team of the Week: Saka, Haaland, Rice, Gallagher

After each Premier League weekend, BBC football expert Garth Crooks collects his thoughts and gives you his Team of the Week.

Here are this week’s picks and, as always, Garth also discusses the game’s key talking points in the Crooks of the Matter.

Garth's team of the week imageGoalkeeper

Caoimhin Kelleher (Liverpool): Alisson was out due to illness so Kelleher made a rare appearance for Liverpool and played exceptionally well. The Republic of Ireland goalkeeper made two excellent saves against Burnley and, in Alisson fashion, stayed on his feet both times to force the striker into a poor decision.

First he denied Zeki Amdouni, who scored clear on goal, and later David Datro Fofana. Both Burnley strikers should have scored, and they would have if Kelleher had not assessed the situations correctly. Burnley had plenty of opportunities to get something out of this match, but blew it.

Defenders

William Saliba (Arsenal): West Ham never gave Arsenal a glove. The Gunners were as strong in defense as they were in attack. There was a moment late in the match when all the Arsenal players seemed to be defending as if their lives depended on it, even congratulating each other as if they had scored a goal when the danger had finally passed. Saliba was at the heart of this impressive defensive performance. That said, I don’t think I’ve seen a West Ham side capitulate so badly. A defeat of this magnitude – 6-0 at home – will reignite questions among their fans as to whether David Moyes is the right man to take the Hammers forward. I think a little investment in the team might be a better idea.

Harry Maguire (Manchester United): Whatever you think of Maguire’s football qualities, he does not shy away from his responsibilities and does not shy away from a challenge. His time at Old Trafford has been inconsistent to say the least. He has struggled to hold down a regular place in the first team, has been the subject of transfer speculation and is to some extent considered surplus to requirements, but none of that has fazed him. When he is selected to play, and normally when Manchester United are struggling or dealing with an injury crisis, he has gone a step further. His performance in the 2-1 win against Aston Villa was unwavering. It was his assist that created United’s first goal for Rasmus Hojlund, who scored from close range as he won every header in his area. You can’t argue with that.

Gabriel (Arsenal): I thought he was excellent against Liverpool the week before and his performance against West Ham was just as impressive. It was Gabriel’s 150th league appearance for the Gunners and the Brazilian looks impressively impressive and far less likely to give away a penalty or stupid free-kicks on the edge of his own penalty area. He has always been an asset at set pieces because he attacks the ball so well, which he aptly demonstrated when he scored Arsenal’s third goal of Sunday’s match while protecting an impressive clean sheet. He has forged a formidable defensive partnership with William Saliba, not unlike Kolo Toure and Sol Campbell who were part of the ‘Invincibles’. Although I don’t see any Premier League titles on the horizon in the short term.

Midfielders

Conor Gallagher (Chelsea): Chelsea’s FA Cup win over Aston Villa last week was impressive, but I wasn’t convinced they could repeat the same performance against Crystal Palace in the league. For 45 minutes I was right. Chelsea were slow, labored and downright boring, and Palace deserved their first-half lead. Suddenly Raheem Sterling comes on and Chelsea finds a spark and a rhythm to their game. Gallagher and Cole Palmer start to come to life and you start to wonder: why wasn’t Sterling in the park from the start? Gallagher scores two goals against the club that helped launch his career, and he leaves Selhurst Park with Crystal Palace wondering where their next point will come from. Well, there is gratitude for you.

Declan Rice (Arsenal): I thought the £105 million price tag for Rice was ridiculous. The fact that Arsenal actually paid it was quite astonishing. Normally, those amounts of money are reserved for attackers who score twenty goals per season. However, since the arrival of the former West Ham captain at the Emirates, he has looked imperious. Long gone are the extravagances of Granit Xhaka, in exchange for a much more acceptable and even-tempered Rice, who is a much better footballer anyway. The ball he gave to Gabriel to head home was a peach, while his strike, which put Arsenal 6-0 ahead, was as good as it gets. What is clear to see is that Rice has grown as a player since joining Arsenal. He certainly plays for a better team and with better players, but he has acquired the confidence and authority that comes with that.

Bruno Guimaraes (Newcastle): He scored two of the best goals I’ve seen all season in the 3-2 win over Nottingham Forest. The skill and technique required to produce such a high-quality finish on the volley against Forest was sensational, while his second goal was worth winning any game. Guimaraes has been an inspiration since arriving at St James’ Park. Geordie fans have always loved their midfield players, especially those who wear their heart on their sleeve and show they care, and Guimaraes is one of them. Newcastle had a little too much for Forest on the day, but the hosts were unlucky not to be awarded a penalty when Taiwo Awoniyi appeared to be brought down by Martin Dubravka. Referee Anthony Taylor was having none of it.

Kevin de Bruyne (Manchester City): The quality of player Pep Guardiola left out of his starting line-up seemed to indicate that City viewed Everton as an easy choice. It took 65 minutes for the Manchester City manager to change his tune by bringing on De Bruyne. Guardiola clearly wanted the luxury of keeping a number of players fresh for the Champions League match against FC Copenhagen on Tuesday night, but he had to revert to Plan B. Once De Bruyne had established his presence, lateral passes now went forward. De Bruyne’s through ball that allowed Erling Haaland to score his second goal of the match was every defender’s nightmare, made worse by the quality of the finish.

Forward

Erling Haaland (Manchester City): Everton made Manchester City work for the points, but it was mistakes from arguably their two best defenders on the day, James Tarkowski and Jarrad Branthwaite, that cost them the match. Haaland accepted the gifts and put Everton to the sword on both occasions. The victory of City, who still have a game in hand, keeps the pressure on leaders Liverpool, but Guardiola’s team will not want to drop any points ahead of their departure to Anfield on March 10. City face local rivals Manchester United before they meet Liverpool and it is imperative they keep Haaland and De Bruyne fit if they intend to win the title this season. If something were to happen to either player and Liverpool extended their lead to five points, it would be over.

Ivan Toney (Brentford): What a fantastic finish we saw from Toney. The Brentford striker is back in action after his eight-month ban and is scoring goals like he never left. When players have been out of action for as long as Toney has, you have the right to be a little rusty, especially in front of goal. However, Toney has been as sharp as a razor since returning to the first team, and the Bees really needed him. Brentford had lost seven of eight league games before Saturday, but against Wolves they played well and deservedly the 2-0 victory. It appears that with just one year left on Toney’s contract, Brentford are looking to cash in. Arsenal should have picked him up at the time he was suspended and he would have cost half of what he would cost now. I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up at Chelsea. They desperately need a top striker.

Bukayo Saka (Arsenal): He has come a long way since missing his penalty in the Euro 2020 final. However, the way the England international put his spot-kick past Alphonse Areola in the West Ham goal to put Arsenal 2-0 ahead seemed pointing out that Saka hasn’t lost any sleep over penalty taking since that fateful night. I said then that the experience would make him a player, and that’s what happened. Not only has he become one of the best players in the country, he is also Arsenal’s most consistent goalscorer. Meanwhile, as emphatic as their win against the Hammers was, Arsenal cannot win the title without a top-class natural player at centre-forward, and they don’t have one.

Short presentation gray line

The criminals of the case

Ange Postecoglou made the point last week to condemn the game’s lawmakers Ifab’s insistence on the introduction of ‘blue cards’, where players are sent off the field for ten minutes for dissent or cynical fouls. The Spurs boss has recently made some very astute comments about the way faceless bureaucrats are unnecessarily interfering with the professional game, and I couldn’t agree more. The introduction of sin bins will simply give referees the opportunity to impose the game with poorly judged decisions and allow enough time to have a detrimental effect on the quality of the match. Any team worth its salt will simply park the bus in front of the goal until the expelled player returns. I would also be less concerned about the proposal if I thought the majority of referees could actually tell the difference between a genuine attempt to win the ball back and one that isn’t.

What’s worse is that the rule changers want to try out the new system in the professional game. Have they not learned their lesson? The Premier League is not the place to run pilot projects.

They did this with the video assistant referee when they used first-class matches to test the competency of the technology and what a disaster it turned out to be, especially in the early days. If they are going to introduce new laws into the game, players and managers, and especially the fans, deserve to have those laws benefit or enhance the game, not disrupt it.

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin wants nothing to do with the idea, say this isn’t footballexternal link – and he’s right.

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