It’s the very last Team of the Week of the season, and not before time. The games are starting to get that end-of-term feel, and this round may have had the fewest top-class performances of the entire season. It was tempting to boot the whole thing into Row Z and go straight to Teams of the Year, but 1) there’s a chance to salute some good solid players; 2) with West Brom for the drop, it’s nice to be able to praise their efforts at Old Trafford. So we finish with a 4-2-2-2 Baggie Bonanza:
Goalkeeper: Ben Foster (West Bromwich Albion)
It was another thrilling weekend in the England goalkeeper stakes, with Joe Hart, having shown so well against Chelsea, spilling against Stoke City. Nick Pope was excellent, with two difficult stops (one stretching, the other with a strong arm) and his usual majestic form off the line. Jack Butland had a good match too, with several decent saves and a couple of strong punches of his own (he did fail to get to one high ball). But the winner is an Englishman who most assuredly won’t be going to the World Cup. Ben Foster denied Romelu Lukaku brilliantly twice, once coming out and staying big, once diving to his right on the line. He also saved with his legs from Alexis Sánchez and rocketed off his line to smother a heavy Lukaku touch. At 35, he’s comfortable at West Brom, and has said he’ll stay next season. Good for him.
If David De Gea just made that save Ben Foster made, the BBC would make a documentary on how he spreads butter on his morning toast.
— LP ✈️ (@Verttonghen) April 15, 2018
Right-back: Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool)
Against Bournemouth he had a chance to express himself, as they say, and some of those crosses were as good as anything Keats and Shelley ever had to offer. (Byron had a club foot, and couldn’t cross at all.) Plenty of good passes into the heart of attack as well. Defensively uneven against Josh King, but the only possible choice in this spot. And he makes our list of top ten full-backs of the season.
Centre-half: Craig Dawson (West Bromwich Albion)
Perhaps I should have docked him for what looked like a penalty when Ander Herrera went down, but it’s the last TOTW of the season, it was a dry week at this position, and otherwise he was pretty good. Centre-half is his natural spot, and he was typically aggressive without being out of control. Blocked several shots, kept his position well, didn’t let anyone past.
Centre-half: Craig Cathcart (Watford)
The first of two Northern Ireland internationals in the squad. He’s had a terrible time with injuries the past two years, and this was his very first start of the season. But when fit and in form, he’s a useful defender. The Hornets played conservatively at Huddersfield, so Cathcart had a lot to do, and did it all well. He has only one more year on his contract, and given Watford’s Carousel of Coaches, his status next year is uncertain. But if he won’t be a regular at Vicarage Road, I hope he gets a chance elsewhere.
Not tweeted about the game because I was so pissed off! Deeney was utterly useless again, Gomes needs to come back now, Doucs can’t play with Capoue only positive Craig Cathcart looked solid. Unfortunately don’t think Javi is the man to take us forward #WatfordFC
— Rikki Aldridge (@rikkialdridge) April 15, 2018
Left-back: Stephen Ward (Burnley)
The Burnley full-backs don’t get the same publicity as the centre-halves (until now), but they do their jobs just as reliably. In keeping with the theme, Ward has been more controlled this season than last: fewer fouls, fewer yellow cards. Against Leicester he was tested by both Riyad Mahrez and Harry Maguire, and showed himself comfortable and capable. Was beaten once on a far-post cross, but Maguire should have been penalised for a foul on the play.
Deep Midfielder: Chris Brunt (West Bromwich Albion)
A real fan favourite at The Hawthorns, even more so after he openly criticised Alan Pardew’s tactics one day in the dressing room. He’s had a good year under the radar, totaling six assists (four off set-pieces), and best in the league in accurate crossing percentage. Against United he just sat deep, blocked the angles, got to the ball, and made sure a teammate had it next (92.1% pass completion). All you could ask for.
Deep Midfielder: Mousa Dembélé (Tottenham Hotspur)
I saw the City-Spurs match differently from most. City may have started fast and won going away (unlike Tiger Roll), but I thought Spurs were in command the middle third of the game, and the man who did most of the commanding was Dembélé. A typical exhibition of strength and skill. He tired toward the end, as has frequently been the case this year, but in a week without dominant performers, he belongs.
Mousa Dembele is absolute Class 👏🏾 seriously underrated
— Emmanuel Appiah (@eappiah_3) April 14, 2018
Jack Cork just missed out, with an effective match defending against Leicester’s midfield. Jordan Henderson deserves a mention as well. Luka Milivojevic had another strong match for Crystal Palace, and Ed’s right when he says the Serb is one of the best central midfielders outside the top five. Didn’t do as much as usual defensively, but more prominent in attack. Hard to believe that was his first assist of the season – wonder if he’ll have a few friendly words with Wilfried Zaha about that first goal…
Attacking Midfielder: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Liverpool)
Looks good in the middle of the park, doesn’t he? Drove at will through the Bournemouth midfield, delivered a variety of fine passes, pressed with the best of them. Went for glory unsuccessfully a few times, but with Liverpool rampant you could hardly blame him for trying.
Attacking Midfielder: David Silva (Manchester City)
Not his most spectacular outing, but still the main man in the win over Spurs. It’s telling that although Pep decided to substitute three of his attackers, he left Silva, the oldest, on the pitch the full 90.
Striker: Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace)
Two goals and an overall good showing in The Derby That Dare Not Speak Its Name. Not exactly his usual fare: the second was his first Premier League headed goal ever, and the first was a simple tap-in. Got a tiny bit selfish with that one – if he lets it go, Luka Milivojevic gets the G by his name – but that’s what strikers are supposed to do, and at least Harry Kane didn’t claim it.
Striker:Jay Rodriguez (West Bromwich Albion)
You can’t say his season has been a resounding success, but with his seventh goal he nosed past Salomón Rondón as top scorer for the side. Five of those seven goals contributed to a positive result, too, which with the Baggies is saying something. This isn’t a sympathy pick, by the way: against United he did some fantastic dirty work on defence and advanced the attack effectively several times. If he stays at Albion, he should be a force in the Championship.
A good match for Sadio Mané, of which there have been several lately, although I rated his performance just a tiny bit behind Rodriguez’s. Last but not least, let’s mention Roberto Firmino, the player’s player. He lost out to Rodriguez on the newbie tiebreaker, but he’s a footballing education all by himself.
That’s it for the season, then. Thanks for reading, and special thanks to all those who responded in the comments, even those who were less than polite. This is by its very nature a controversial feature, and I hope I responded substantively to the various opinions. We’ll have some Teams of the Year coming up, and an award or three.