Xhaka can get in F365’s team of the week!

Date published: Tuesday 6th November 2018 9:38 - Sarah Winterburn

If you like strikers and central defenders, this was your week. A phenomenal number of good performances in both spots, so get ready for a couple of dissertations – plus a completely gratuitous addition to Steven Chicken’s Football TV shows we’d like to see. And a 4-4-2:


Goalkeeper: Hugo Lloris (Tottenham Hotspur)
An easy choice at this position. While smooth Brazilians named ‘–son’ were making high-profile mistakes, the erratic Frenchman with the double-L performed like a World Cup winner. Three fine saves: a leap high to the right, a kick low to the left, best of all a dive low to the right. Add in a heaping handful of plays coming off his line, and Spurs had themselves a fortunate win. If you’re wondering how Lloris has stacked up lately in the shot-stopping department, Sam Jackson’s comprehensive ratings had him a strong third behind De Gea and Pope last year. But for this season, as of a few weeks ago, he was only in the middle of the pack. Elsewhere, Asmir Begovic, Rui Patricio and Joe Hart all made multiple notable saves.


Right-back: Seamus Coleman (Everton)
Spent almost the entire match buccaneering or freebooting or whatever it is full-backs do when they’re compared to pirates. (Why is it only full-backs?) Combined well with Theo Walcott and whoever else was nearby, and at times didn’t need to combine with anybody. Has always been a goal threat, and left no doubt with his finish. Also should have had an assist on his cutback for Gylfi Sigurdsson. Was frequently caught upfield, but that’s the way the Toffees play it these days, Jim lad. Give him an honorary eyepatch and parrot. And let the record show I refrained from calling his manager Long John Silva.

Just behind was Pablo Zabaleta, who continues to defy Father Time and all of his descendants. Beaten once late, but otherwise ranged up and down the line doing the necessary, with timing going forward that was worthy of Greenwich. Then there’s Matt Doherty at wing-back, right now as good a candidate as any for most underrated player in the league. A very smart attacker, who knows when to slip inside and when to continue wide. He would have had the assist had Wolves’ first goal not been wrongly disallowed.


Centre-half: Michael Keane (Everton)
Has gone under the radar while we’ve been watching Richarlison and Gylfi Sigurdsson, but has really stepped up the past few weeks. Glenn Murray had been in excellent form, but Keane was dominant, and equally good with significant interventions elsewhere. By the way, Keane generally rates as one of the better passing defenders, and helped out the attack with some beauties here.


Centre-half: Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool)
This one was really a toss-up between van Dijk and Shkodran Mustafi, both of whom were excellent in their very different styles of play. Van Dijk was cool and controlled, recovering with ease every time it seemed he might be in danger; Mustafi was showtime, flying out to make plays all and sundry. Where you stand on this one depends on how you read their mistakes. Mustafi didn’t move over to mark van Dijk when the Dutchman got through and almost scored (although he did eventually clear the ball). On Lacazette’s goal, van Dijk let the striker go and then, seeing Alisson coming out, didn’t retreat to the line for a potential clearance. I gave it to van Dijk because if Alisson doesn’t come out, there’s probably no goal. But make the call any way you want.

I very much wanted to put Rob Holding in. He had the tiebreaker in his advantage, and was fantastic at times, tackling and anticipating as well as anyone. But there were three times where he clearly wasn’t fantastic, and that was too many. Remember when Granit Xhaka tracked back brilliantly to win the ball from Mo Salah? Salah was free because Holding was badly beaten well up the pitch. When van Dijk hit the post with the goal gaping, it was Holding who he outjumped. And on Milner’s goal, it was Holding’s attempted clearance that put the ball in his path – a bit unlucky, I’ll admit, but it’s a defender’s job to clear and clear well. I’ll repeat, though: otherwise he was fantastic.

Elsewhere, Ben Mee was ten minutes away from an excellent match (including one of the clearances of the season) when things fell apart, both for him and Burnley. Sol Bamba looked good for Cardiff until he handled on the line, on which Lee Probert made the most obviously wrong call in the history of top-flight English football. I hope he can prove he was screened, because otherwise he’ll be spending some time in the Jupiter League – and not the one in Belgium. Zanka had a good match for Huddersfield, both as the outside back in a three and marking Aleksandar Mitrovič as part of a two. Finally, in honour of his 45-minute stint replacing the injured Jamaal Lascelles, it’s time for the new TV show:

Schär and Schär Alike – A Switzerland international defender discovers he has a long-lost identical twin brother, and together they lead Newcastle on an unlikely FA Cup run. In the final at Wembley, the Magpies defeat Manchester City 1-0, with one brother scoring the only goal and the other making a late goal-line clearance to save the match.


Left-back: Charlie Taylor (Burnley)
A considerably less piratical performance for this full-back, but in its way just as effective. Fought a protracted ship-to-ship duel with Grady Diangana, and won just about every engagement. The scoreboard says Burnley conceded four, but Taylor conceded nothing. A short piece in the Guardian sported the headline ‘Youngster Diangana a revelation for West Ham’ and he was – but only after moving into the middle to get out of Taylor’s range. Rarely got forward, but his run and cross nearly produced the equaliser when Chris Wood headed against the bar. The ninth different left-back to make the list in a mere 11 weeks.


Central Midfielder: Granit Xhaka (Arsenal)
Some things you have to see to believe, and there are others where even seeing doesn’t help. In that class was the performance of Granit Xhaka against Liverpool. In fact, watching it twice made it seem even less believable. He was ridiculously good, moving quickly to the man, tracking runners like mad, anticipating opposing passes. The most surreal moment came in the 89th minute, when Liverpool won the ball and started a quick counter. Andrew Robertson got the ball on the left and sent in a cross, and there was Xhaka rising to clear with authority, like he’d been doing it all his life. All of that was more than enough to outweigh the one big mistake – and he was so brilliant otherwise I won’t even describe it this time. (Watch the highlights and you’ll spot it.) Could it be there was a top-class player there all along, just waiting for the right manager?


Central Midfielder: Idrissa Gueye (Everton)
Unlucky to miss out last week, he’s here after a second straight excellent outing. Brighton couldn’t get past him. Six tackles, three interceptions, and despite pretty aggressive play, only one foul. His form dipped a bit last year, but now his tackle percentage and tackles/90 are at an all-time personal high – in the latter category he leads the league by a large margin. If you’ve forgotten, he was relegated with Aston Villa, which proves something or other.

Lucas Torreira had another impressive match (should he have tracked Firmino on the offside goal that wasn’t?), and only loses out because he’d already been included this season. And I’d have found a way to include Pedro Obiang had he been allowed to complete 90 minutes. He was outstanding in West Ham’s midfield three, particularly incisive in passing (not always his strong suit). Also nearly scored on a long-distance blast. Unlucky to be substituted after an hour, although to be fair bringing on Chicharito helped turn the match.


Winger: Raheem Sterling (Manchester City)
Unless and until he posts a 95% conversion rate, or wins the Golden Boot at two consecutive World Cups, he’ll have his detractors. But he’s a pretty good player, so let’s just enjoy it. My favourite moments from Sunday were 1) the first assist, when he kept the ball until the precise moment; 2) the second goal, where he shrugged off hard contact from Wesley Hoedt to get into position.


Winger: Felipe Anderson (West Ham United)
Doesn’t have the pace to be a classic winger, but has everything else. Can beat you to both sides, can pass on the ground or cross in the air, can place the through ball, can finish. Does it all with an easy elegance, too. (And he tracks back!) Did whatever he felt like against Burnley, including some telepathic combinations with Marko Arnautovic. His second goal was lucky, but his first was an ice-cold weaker foot finish, and earlier he lost a sure tally when Ben Mee cleared his curler. Finished with 103 touches, 25 more than anyone else on the pitch.

Elsewhere, there’s nothing I like more than a two-footed finisher, and Pedro (along with Son Heung-min) is the best around. Since he joined Chelsea, he has 11 league goals with the left foot and 11 with the right. A fine attacking match against Palace, with a goal (left-footed) and assist (right-footed) the appropriate rewards. After 45 minutes Anthony Martial looked ready for a man-of-the-match performance, but was less effective after the break.

And now we go to the striker spot, where we had no less than six performances well worthy of mention. At times like this the whole Team of the Week exercise seems a bit silly. But I’ll try to do justice to them all. One seemed to stand out just a tiny bit above the rest…


Striker: Marko Arnautovic (West Ham United)
When West Ham fans of this generation get together to reminisce about their wonderful Austrian striker, I hope they remember to give David Moyes some credit. Don’t anyone ever say that this guy doesn’t work hard: against Burnley he was all over the pitch, hoovering up loose balls, setting up teammates, making runs into position. A confident finish for the first goal, part of the buildup for two others, stopped twice by Joe Hart. Two tackles, too.

Five more fine performances, all roughly of the same class. Thankfully, three of the five strikers had already been on the list this season, so that left one in blue and one in old gold, unless it’s orange. The nod went to…


Striker: Raul Jiménez (Wolverhampton Wanderers)
A fascinating player. Strong and agile, with absolutely first-class intelligent movement. He roams widely to link with teammates – his heatmap from this weekend is a classic – yet so very often winds up in the penalty area when required. Against Spurs he scored a legitimate goal that was chalked off, won a penalty, scored a penalty (neatly deceiving Lloris), had one good shot saved and another blocked. Also made several fine passes and manoeuvered well in close quarters. He’s on loan from Benfica, and I sure hope Wolves can make it permanent.

Just missing out was Alvaro Morata. Two not-at-all-easy finishes, one with each foot, and a little of that fine holdup play we remember from last season. By the nature of the match and his particular style of play, he was less involved than Jiménez overall. And naturally if he scores that last one-v-one chance, the hat trick vaults him onto the list. But if you think the two goals are enough, I won’t squawk.

Now for the rest of the roll of honor. Callum Wilson is not a target man, but he did a great imitation against Manchester United, positioning himself well against Victor Lindelof and bringing his teammates into play effectively. Got in perfect position for his goal. Richarlison was excellent too, with two goals (the first really wonderful ) and a variety of other attacking contributions. His touch seemed a tiny bit off at times, only a minor blemish. Finally there’s Sergio Agüero, whose contribution was a little overshadowed by Sterling’s. He was in fine form, slick both dribbling and passing, and arriving at the right place to slam home Sterling’s cutback.


Peter Goldstein

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