Another straightforward week, with de Gea outstanding performances de Gea almost de Gea everywhere. A 4-1-4-1:
Goalkeeper: David de Gea (Manchester United) The man. It may seem blasphemous to talk about anyone else this weekend, but Adrián was superb for West Ham, and we shouldn’t be surprised. For several years the advanced stats, including expected goals and such, had him as one of the top shot-stoppers in the league. He lost form early last year and was dropped for Darren Randolph, and West Ham’s owners went for the big name in the summer. But assuming he’s found form again, Adrián is better than Joe Hart. David de Gea is better than everyone.
Right-back: Joel Ward (Crystal Palace) His best game in quite some time. Played solid in defence against Kieran Gibbs and Sam Field, beaten a couple of times but mostly kept things under control. Added a couple of crucial blocks, and got forward effectively too, winning several corners. Decent passing as well. The Frank de Boer nightmares are over.
Centre-half: Ashley Williams (Everton) He’s been in steady decline for a while now, but don’t be surprised if Big Sam makes a difference for him. He needs a dose of positional discipline, and Allardyce is just the man to provide it. Against Huddersfield he mostly stayed put and did what was necessary, winning plenty of headers, marking Laurent Depoitre closely. A couple of subpar clearances were the only blemishes.
Centre-half: Ahmed Hegazi (West Bromwich Albion) Has been on the fringes of this list for a while now. Remarkably mobile for a big man, his positioning and technique have improved steadily since the start of the season. Was overall excellent against Crystal Palace, winning headers as always, tackling precisely, anticipating play. Still occasionally loses focus, as he did when losing Christian Benteke on a corner. Also will occasionally come out too far, as he did once against Palace as well. But he looks like a top-flight fixture.
The Manchester United central defenders, although they bent under the onslaught, all had plenty of vital interventions, and the same can be said for West Ham’s three. Elsewhere James Tarkowski had another good match.
Left-back: Ryan Bertrand (Southampton) Two weeks in a row for the man with a Champions League winners’ medal. He had a quiet first half, but with Bournemouth going for the win he ran wild on the wing in the second. Defended pretty well too, tackling and blocking crosses. Could easily have had an assist on a cross of his own. He’s been excellent lately, and in my humble opinion Should Be On The Plane.
Ryan Bertrand is a genius 🤣🤣🤣 pic.twitter.com/9qShnAhszm
— Jake (@Everything_City) December 3, 2017
Deep Midfielder: Claudio Yacob (West Bromwich Albion) The hardest choice, with three worthy candidates. Nemanja Matic and Pedro Obiang had similar games, both looking good against a ferocious attack but also struggling at times. Matic had been on the list before, and so lost out on the tiebreaker; Obiang faded a bit too much in the second half, and failed to close down Kevin de Bruyne on the winning assist. So I went for the solid choice. Yacob replaced an injured Gareth Barry after half an hour, and delivered a most un-Yacobean performance: only one foul, no yellow cards, intelligent positioning, stable and near-immaculate play. If Alan Pardew wants to play more expansive football, Yacob could be very useful guarding the back door.
Winger: Victor Moses (Chelsea) Had Matt Ritchie for lunch. It may have made sense for Newcastle to play three at the back against Chelsea, but Ritchie doesn’t have the pace to be a wing-back, and Moses figured that out early. Just ran by him whenever he had the chance, delivered a laser assist for Alvaro Morata, and won a PK. Good to have him back.
Winger: Riyad Mahrez (Leicester City) Away from the bright lights, a classic title-year Mahrez performance. Drove the counterattack with elegance and flair, and could easily have had a couple of assists.
Marc Albrighton also deserves mention for his part in the Leicester attack, as does Demarai Gray. Sofiane Boufal continues to look lively for Southampton, and is ready to secure his place in the lineup long-term.
Attacking Midfielder: Philippe Coutinho (Liverpool) Would have made the list even without the two late goals. Dribbled everyone in a blue-and-white shirt and passed to everyone in a red. Liverpool’s attack is in full cry these days, and he directs the chorus.
Attacking Midfielder: Jesse Lingard (Manchester United) I’ve always liked him. Okay, he’s not a star, but even at Manchester United not everyone has to be. He works hard, he’s fast, and he has that special touch of inventiveness you need at top level. He also seems to be a man for the big occasion: did you doubt for a moment he’d bury that first goal or be right there for the third? Long may he take selfies.
Eden Hazard was ho-hum excellent instead of spectacular. Paul Pogba was in the running for all of the central midfield spots until the red card – a bit unlucky maybe, but I don’t think you can fault the ref. Joe Allen stood out for Stoke in both defence and attack, and on another day might have made the list.
Striker: Roberto Firmino (Liverpool) The whole package. Ball-winning, hold-up play, passing, pressing, two clinical finishes. When he’s on his game, there’s no more versatile player in the league. Mo Salah took a break from scoring all the goals to looking brilliant in the build-ups.
The player I most hated to leave out was Peter Crouch, who gave “dominant in the air” new meaning against Swansea City. The stat guys say he won only 10 aerial duels, but that’s because at times the Swans didn’t even bother contesting them. He was the out ball at least half the time, and registered a textbook Route One assist for Mame Biram Diouf. A thumbs-up for Josh King, who had his best game of the season: strong on the ball, a nice quick turn and shot. Dominic Calvert-Lewin didn’t figure much overall, but did the business when it counted.