F365’s weekly awards: Benteke, Pochettino, Big Sam, Dembele

Matt Stead

Premier League player – Christian Benteke
The ex-Liverpool striker chose not to properly celebrate either of his goals against his former employers but the intensity in his body language suggested that he was aching to let loose. And who could blame him?

The Palace striker flopped spectacularly at Anfield, though the blame for that should also be shouldered by those who identified him as a good fit for the Reds. Jurgen Klopp wasted little time in assessing that he wasn’t suitable for his style of play, just as he wasn’t for Brendan Rodgers’. Cuddly Klopp either failed or didn’t try to hide his antipathy towards Benteke as his time on Merseyside came to an end, so his brace to give Palace their third consecutive win at Anfield must have tasted sweet.

“I was motivated, I would say,” Benteke admitted, but his performance was hardly an anomaly. The Belgian has scored five goals in his last five games, as part of what Klopp admitted has become “one of the best offensive lines in the Premier League” alongside Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend.


Football League player – Britt Assombalonga
The £5.5m Forest centre-forward looked close to his best last weekend when Reading were dispatched at the City Ground.

Assombalonga missed most of last season with a knee injury and the front man has had more than his fair share of niggles this term. But still, he remains Forest’s top scorer with 12 goals, eight of which have come in braces.

His double against play-off hopefuls Reading came via a cool finish when played through, before a bullet header in the second half. As important as his goals, his hold-up play was tight and he defended from the front for 90 minutes, despite Mark Warburton’s pre-match plan to give him just over an hour.


European player – Lionel Messi
‘The best player in history’ chose the last kick to settle a crucial Clasico on Real Madrid’s turf and score his 500th – five-f*cking-hundredth – goal for Barcelona, all the while sending them to the La Liga summit and opening up a title race that could have been as good as over.

Messi stroked in Jordi Alba’s pull-back having taken a fair beating for the previous 92 minutes. The Barca genius levelled the game in the first half all the while biting on a Kleenex having just had Marcelo perform a crude dental extraction with his forearm. Casemiro chased him all over the Bernabeu for 70 minutes, giving out digs whenever he got within touching distance, while Sergio Ramos was far less subtle when he launched a two-footer late on.

All those incidences considered, it appears clear that Real targeted Messi, which makes you wonder: have they learned nothing in the last decade and a bit? Just like Maradona, unless you literally break him, Messi won’t back down. The match-winner holding his shirt aloft for the Bernabeu as the 92nd minute ticked over will be one of the enduring images of the season.


Best goal – Nemanja Matic
Only the second best goal of his career –  this one was better, according to the man himself – but it still made Kurt Zouma see God…


Best pass – Christian Eriksen
Dele Alli told him where to put it, but there are very few players who you’d trust to deliver a pass that seemed to make time stand still. It was Eriksen’s 20th assist of the season, with the Spurs playmaker becoming the first player in Europe’s major leagues to reach the landmark this season. No wonder Barca are sniffing…


Best save – Gianluigi Donnarumma (AC Milan)

A bloody wonderful save – is there a goalkeeping equivalent to a thunderb*stard? – and yet Gianluigi Donnarumma’s continued excellence at 18 is not the most surprising thing here.

Who knew Massimo Maccarone was still just 37?


Best tackle – Andy Halliday (Rangers)

He got a booking for that. A yellow card.


Best tactical move – Sam Allardyce
It was neither subtle nor pioneering. But if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Allardyce’s plan for Liverpool was carried out almost to the letter by his Palace side and, of course, Big Sam didn’t waste the opportunity to bask in his own glory.

“I thought we were, from start to finish today, tactically exceptional,” he said.

“With our limited possession we exposed Liverpool’s weaknesses time and time again today and ultimately that has brought us from 1-0 down to win it. I give the players a huge amount of credit for the way they defended and how they exposed the weaknesses of Liverpool defensively, which in the end they couldn’t cope with.

“Liverpool at home play a superb attacking style in terms of football which means that both full-backs will go right up the pitch. It is very similar to Arsenal which means (Joel) Matip and (Dejan) Lovren are very exposed.

“Because they are very exposed in that position, if you get the right runners in behind then they are two big men that don’t like turning and going back to goal.

“On the corners everyone knows Liverpool are pretty weak, they conceded six off corners which we told the lads about. It’s now seven off that corner that has got us the winner.”



Worst tactical move – Mauricio Pochettino
The Spurs boss remained adamant that picking Heung-Min Son to play as a left wing-back was “a good move”. It was hardly a disaster, but it certainly wasn’t the one of Pochettino’s smartest ideas.

With Danny Rose injured, Son was selected ahead of Ben Davies, and it was the South Korean who gave away a crucial penalty just before the break. Pochettino insisted it was not a penalty but Son was, at best, naive.

The Tottenham boss justified Son’s selection by stating that the threat of Victor Moses was effectively nullified – aside from when he earned the penalty. But Son’s goal threat was also snuffed out. The attacker has scored six times on Tottenham’s road to Wembley but his defensive duties meant he did not have a single shot on target against the Blues.


Premier League loan player – Christian Atsu
Few contenders this week, so the Chelsea attacker on loan at Newcastle takes the award after settling nerves at St James’ Park with the Magpies’ second goal in a 4-1 win over Preston that sealed promotion back to the Premier League.

It was a timely strike for Atsu, on a personal level as much as for the club. It was his fourth goal of the season as Rafael Benitez considers whether to take up the option Newcastle have to buy the 25-year-old for £6.5million. That option reportedly expires a week after the end of the season, with Atsu keen to be playing regular football after four seasons as a Chelsea nomad.


Dembele of the week – Ousmane Demble
The Borussia Dortmund star was the only Dembele to do anything of note this weekend; in a 3-2 victory over Borussia Monchengladbach, ESPN say “his pinpoint assist for Aubameyang was delicious”.


Compiler of the week – Ian Watson