Premier League player – Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Manchester United)
The accused has-been of November is the is-right-now of December. Perhaps jolted by the widespread criticism he suffered, Ibrahimovic is back in the form of his career. Sunderland simply couldn’t cope. Five chances created, four shots, three shots on target, two assists and a goal instead of a partridge in a pear tree. At the age of 35, Ibrahimovic is the second top scorer in the country. Caps should be doffed, and apologies offered by those who wrote him off.
Football League player – Anthony Knockaert (Brighton)
With all respect to Newcastle United’s very many fine players, I’m of the belief that Rafa Benitez doesn’t manage the Football League’s best player. Instead that honour goes to Knockaert, who it’s difficult to believe isn’t yet a Premier league player. His dribbling, crossing and shooting are all worthy of a place in the top half of the top flight, and I’m not simply resorting to hyperbole.
Had Knockaert joined Brighton before January they would already be in the Premier League, but the delay may only be temporary. The winger created three chances, scored a goal and was generally brilliant in a victory over QPR that took Brighton to the top of the Championship. The Frenchman has scored or assisted 20 league goals this year, and I wish he played for my team.
European player – Łukasz Teodorczyk (Anderlecht)
A shallow pool from which to choose with European leagues enjoying their Christmas break, but Anderlecht have played twice in the league over the course of the last seven days. Teodorczyk scored once in the first game and twice in the second to take his team up to second in the league and extend his own lead at the top of the goalscorers chart. On loan from Dinamo Kiev, the Poland international has 24 goals in 30 club games this season. It’s not all Arkadiusz Milik and Robert Lewandowski, y’know.
Best goal – Henrikh Mkhitaryan (Manchester United)
To avoid repeating myself, to Winners and Losers: ‘Mkhitaryan’s was a goal of magnificent quality, the type you see once or twice a season in your own league. The athleticism, invention and execution all had to be near-perfect to avoid him looking stupid, let alone scoring. It was Rene Higuita’s scorpion kick with bells on: A flatter cross, one-footed, in a competitive match.’
I’m still tingling a little just thinking about it.
Best pass – David Silva (Manchester City)
The beauty was in how easy he made it look. The ball was passed by Kevin de Bruyne to Silva on the right edge of the penalty area. In one movement and one moment the Spaniard had glanced up, opened his body and side-footed the ball across the face of goal for Kelechi Iheanacho to score. Silva put just enough pace to make cutting out the cross an impossibility, and not so much that finishing the chance was anything but a formality.
Best backpass – Ryan Shawcross (Stoke City)
Don’t stop, don’t look, don’t listen. That’s the Shawcross code.
Decision of the week
ICYMI: A customer cashed out this £1 acca for £223k yesterday.
Had he waited another 4 minutes, it would have been worth NOTHING pic.twitter.com/UvozZMtnDO
— Betfair (@Betfair) December 27, 2016
PR own goal of the week
Leicester fans have got a Jamie Vardy mask on their seat today – in protest by owners at his ban pic.twitter.com/6qZccPRGTw
— Mike Anstead (@mike_anstead) December 26, 2016
“Don’t you think ordering 25,000 masks to protest about a perfectly reasonable red card in a position where we have the most cover is a bit much? No? Fine, you win.”
Best tactical move – Antonio Conte (Chelsea)
Conte’s switch to a three-man central defence has been the most successful tactical move of this Premier League season, but Conte caused another surprise on Boxing Day. The expectation was that Michy Batshuayi would start in Diego Costa’s absence, but Conte instead opted for Eden Hazard as a false nine.
Similarly to Alexis Sanchez at Arsenal, Hazard dropped deep to pick up the ball and wide to run at the full-backs, but was comfortably Chelsea’s best player. To touch the ball nine more times than any teammate from that advanced position indicates just how important he is to Chelsea’s attack. Conte has found his attacking Plan B.
Worst tactical move – Eddie Howe (Bournemouth)
Fair play to Howe for trying something different, but Bournemouth would have been far better sticking with the formation that his defenders know. Instead, Adam Smith effectively played as a right midfielder after being brilliant at full-back, and Simon Francis was dragged out to the right as a result. The lack of central defenders at Howe’s disposal meant that Charlie Daniels, who would be a superb left wing-back, was used in central defence with Brad Smith on the left. Was Tyrone Mings not fit enough to start centrally?
Premier League loan player – Sullay Kaikai (Brentford)
The lack of top-flight European football opened a window for a Football League loan player, and Sullay Kaikai fits through that window perfectly. Sam Allardyce might not be the perfect appointment for a young Crystal Palace player hoping to break into the first team, but all the player Wayne Rooney named his child after can do is his best.
Against Cardiff on Boxing Day, Kaikai scored twice, had the most shots of any player in the match and more shots on target than any other player too. Sound impressive, does it? He was only brought on in the 63rd minute.
Quote of the week
“The mascot is out of order, isn’t he? If someone is diving, they don’t get that angry. There’s contact. It wasn’t given. It’s up to Watford to sort it out, really. The Premier League and FA can look at that and do what they want to do” – Sam Allardyce.
You’re starting an argument with a furry hornet, Sam. Let it go.
Desperately thinking of the name of your first pet and your mum’s maiden name of the week
Safe to say Samir Nasri has had an…interesting night. pic.twitter.com/6EZXED5uhE
— From The Stands (@FromTStands) December 27, 2016
Samir Nasri’s ex-girlfriend gets her own back while he presumably struggled to change his password.
‘Stop. F**king. About’
Dembele of the week – Moussa Dembele (Celtic)
Ousmane hasn’t played. Mousa hasn’t played. Several other previous winners of this coveted award haven’t played over the last week either. Christmas week is a time when Dembeles are scarce on the ground. Yet there is still one.
Step forward one of the originals, Celtic’s Moussa Dembele. The 20-year-old was only introduced as a half-time substitute but still found time to assist Celtic’s second goal and score their third. Brendan Rodgers faces a fight to keep hold of him.
Writer of the week – Daniel Storey