Sissoko is only Spurs man in team of the week…

Date published: Tuesday 27th November 2018 9:30

Yet another week where it was impossible to include everyone, but at least there was an interesting choice of formations this time. It was either 4-diamond-2 or 4-3-3, in either case neglecting some really fine performances. Even the newbie tiebreaker didn’t help, since there were newbies everywhere on the pitch. In the end I went with the diamond, so as to include a few players who had never made the list, at the expense of a couple who were list regulars last year. As always, I’ll try to mention everyone who stood out. And here we go:

 

Goalkeeper: Wayne Hennessey (Crystal Palace)
I won’t say the goalkeepers’ union decided to take the weekend off, but there was precious little to work with at this position. The two outstanding performers each had a serious flaw: Hennessey should have been punished when he flapped at a set-piece, Ben Foster barely moved for Trent Alexander-Arnold’s free-kick. But there was no one else who did quite enough to get the nod. So I’ll go with Hennessey (much-improved this season), who made a few good saves and (excepting the flap) was even stronger coming off his line, to smother, claim and punch. But if you think Alexander-Arnold’s free kick wasn’t savable, put Foster in instead.

 

Right-back: DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle United)
A Monday night special from the USA international. A strong two-way match, which included a last-ditch block, a brilliant dribble and assist which wasn’t an assist because Matt Ritchie missed the sitter of the century, good passing and crossing, and overall effective defence. We’ve seen a few false dawns from Yedlin, so we can’t say CONCACAF are at his mercy, but it’ll do for now.

Elsewhere, Cyrus Christie had a good match for Fulham against Southampton: he let a few too many crosses in, but also played some fine defence against a lively Nathan Redmond and Matt Targett. Plus, his neat weaker-foot cross eventually led to the winning goal. Aaron Wan-Bissaka must have put the fear of some supernatural being into Anthony Martial, because the Frenchman refused to take him on when given the chance. So a decent match mostly against Ashley Young, although not his best. Nice possibly savable free-kick from Alexander-Arnold.

 

Centre-half: Sol Bamba (Cardiff City)
You can’t take your eyes off him, and not only because he’s so big. When he’s on the pitch, spectacular things happen, like his goal-line clearance to deny Gylfi Sigurdsson. Or his somehow letting a low André Gomes cross go completely by, so surprising Theo Walcott that the winger couldn’t finish. But that was the extent of the scary stuff – the rest of the time he was outstanding, covering immense amounts of ground to stay with Richarlison, winning most of his aerial battles, making crucial interventions. At first it looked as if he’d been at fault for the Everton goal, as Walcott raced into the spot he’d vacated while tracking Richarlison. But a close look revealed he’d done his job correctly, and it was full-back Greg Cunningham’s poor pass that let Walcott through. Okay, once Bamba was beaten by Gomes in the area. But overall an excellent and most watchable showing.

 

Centre-half: Conor Coady (Wolverhampton Wanderers)
Slips in unexpectedly after just missing out last week. James Tomkins made a couple of key interventions, but also came up short in crucial moments, including the set-piece chance that Chris Smalling should have buried. Then there’s Christopher Schindler, who’s been in fine form lately, and had a lovely statline: five tackles, six interceptions, six clearances. A sure thing until he tired badly against Adama Traoré, not that everyone else on the planet wouldn’t have too. So it’s Coady, who wasn’t tested as much as the others, but still found time to make some key plays over the course of a steady match. Wolves have stopped winning, but Coady has been one of their best players lately.

 

Left-back: Sead Kolasinač (Arsenal)
A true forgotten man for the Gunners, he’s actually quite a good attacker, with heavy emphasis on that particular word. Last season he had his best match against Bournemouth, and on Sunday he made the Cherries suffer again. Lots of dangerous incursions up the line, culminating in the simplest of assists for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. His defensive deficiencies were pretty clear, but he did get in a few decent interventions, and every little bit helps.

It was essentially a tie between Kolasinač and Erik Durm of Huddersfield. Durm had the same sort of match at a somewhat lower pitch: good in attack (including an assist on Aaron Mooy’s first goal), a little dodgy on defence. I went with Kolasinač because 1) Durm has one more World Cup winner’s medal than Kolasinač ever will, and 2) Sarah Winterburn might have burst a blood vessel if there were three Huddersfield players on the list. Elsewhere, Lucas Digne continues to impress, a little more in defence than attack. He’ll make this list some time soon.

 

Deep Midfielder: Moussa Sissoko (Tottenham Hotspur)
Not quite the obvious call it looked at first glance. A review of the video showed he had a good but not remarkable first half, and that the tackle on Mateo Kovacič was either perfect or a yellow card, depending on how you looked at it. (His leg brushes the ball, and also goes over it and hard into the man.) But combine his first-half defence with his second-half exertions on the counter – including setting up a Harry Kane miss almost as bad as Matt Ritchie’s – and you have a listworthy performance. What a transformation.

Elsewhere, Wilfred Ndidi came on after James Maddison’s red card and stabilised the midfield for Leicester, allowing the ten men to grab the draw at Brighton. André Gomes showed some attacking promise for Everton, and Jonathan Hogg was one of several Huddersfielders who impressed against Wolves.

 

Right Midfielder: Aaron Mooy (Huddersfield Town)
And here’s one of them. Last year he figured largely as a deepish playmaker, but this year he’s been most effective on the right of a narrow 4-2-3-1. It gets him a bit closer to goal, and higher up the field on the press, where he can recover loose balls in more dangerous situations. A certain fellow Terrier got well-deserved praise and a punning headline in F365, but it was Mooy who ran the match, just passing Wolves silly, and almost as an afterthought scoring twice. In another oh-by-the-way, he notched five tackles as well. But we already knew Mooy was quality, so he had to take second billing (yes, I went there) to…

 

Left Midfielder: Philip Billing (Huddersfield Town)
He’s one of my favourite players to watch, because he has a very wide variety of skills, and from game to game you never know which ones are going to show up and which ones aren’t. (This is a guy who recorded 93.1% passing against Liverpool and 71.4% against Fulham.) Against Wolves, for the first time, all the skills were on display at once. He passed incisively, was very strong in the air, anticipated opponents’ passes effectively, dribbled a couple of men, and used those long long legs for a Goal Decision System clearance. Lost an assist on a good Rui Patricio save, and his perfect pass up the line sprang Erik Durm in the build-up for the first goal. Last season he was slowed by ankle surgery, managing only eight starts and eight sub appearances; this season he’s simply played his way into the line-up, starting all 13 matches. He won’t be 23 until next summer. Will he play for Denmark or Nigeria?

 

Attacking Midfielder: Stuart Armstrong (Southampton)
Here’s another guy who’s played himself into a line-up, and let’s at least give Mark Hughes credit for something before he’s sacked. Armstrong scored two very different goals against Fulham, each excellent in its own way: a control and sharp finish, an unstoppable long-distance blast. Early in the match his hard shot should have resulted in the opener, but Manolo Gabbiadini couldn’t finish the big chance after a rebound. There were also some nice attacking runs, and his passing was tidy and intelligent. It’s only one match, and goodness knows what Southampton’s next manager will want, but I’ve already got March 2020 marked on my calendar, when Scotland figure to compete in the can’t-miss dramatic inaugural UEFA Nations League C Play-offs.

Elsewhere, Gylfi Sigurdsson, after an ordinary first half against Cardiff, came out of the locker room and controlled the match for nearly a half-hour. Was kept off the scoresheet by Bamba’s goal-line clearance, then scored on the rebound from Theo Walcott’s shot. Tom Cairney had his best match of the season in the number 10 spot for Fulham. In other news, David Silva is still very good. And spare a thought for James McArthur, who’s generally in too heavy competition to make this list. He had a strong defensive match playing on the wing against Manchester United, and threatened once or twice in attack too.

Because we’ve got a diamond instead of a 4-3-3, all the wingers missed out, and there were three, maybe four who were easily strong enough to make the list. Leroy Sané can sometimes look like a one-trick pony, albeit a really really good trick. But against West Ham he was pretty versatile, playing through the middle a few times and working his way into good positions in the area. Naturally he also did the usual trick to assist Raheem Sterling, and a late second goal tied the ribbon on a fine performance. (Sterling is the ‘maybe’ – you decide.) Then there’s Son Heung-Min, for whom the word ‘inexorable’ is too mild, who just kept going and going until he got his rather remarkable goal, and didn’t stop after that either. I could watch videos of him 24 hours a day. Finally, Ryan Sessegnon was excellent for Fulham against Southampton, including two assists (one fabulous pass, one stay-tough header) and a crucial pass in the buildup for the other goal. Was less involved towards the end, when Fulham were defending, but had done plenty damage.

 

Striker: Aleksandar Mitrovič (Fulham)
He did plenty damage too, coming out of the doldrums with a super performance against the Saints. Physically dominant, particularly in the first half, with Maya Yoshida the unfortunate victim. In the second half he actually lost quite a few aerial duels, but was still very strong in possession. Two very fine finishes, one with the head and one with the right foot, both requiring pinpoint precision. Could easily have had a third, but Alex McCarthy saved well. His two best matches have been against Burnley and Southampton, so maybe he’s a bit of a flat-track bully, but bulliness has rarely been more fun to watch.

 

Striker: Sam Vokes (Burnley)
I went online to find the Welsh word for ‘Mister’, but it seems that it’s usually ‘Mister’ as well. What’s the deal there? Anyway, Mister Samuel Vokes it is, after a real old-time centre-forward performance – and by old-time I mean somewhere before Edward the First. Won everything in the air, bruised any bodies within range, scored with a super header, and was unlucky not to grab two assists as well. Get this: he even registered three successful dribbles, bringing his season total to exactly three. Heartbreakingly, he couldn’t get up high enough to head home the equaliser at the death, but it was such a glorious display I won’t dock him. And I’d have backed him against Edward the First if he’d been around back then.

Vokes booted Harry Kane out of what would have been a thoroughly deserved spot as well. For maybe the first time this season, we saw the Kane we’ve known, loved, and doubted whether he actually existed: just working his a**e off and contributing in every way everywhere on the pitch. If he hadn’t missed that second-half goal, he’d have been undisputed man of the match. He was mine anyway.

Peter Goldstein

 

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