Manchester City reduced the gap at the top of the table to four points with a 2-1 win over leaders Liverpool in one of the games of the season.Tottenham remain third with a 3-0 win at Cardiff on New Year’s Day, while Arsenal beat Fulham 4-1 and Leicester grabbed a 1-0 victory at Everton thanks…
Manchester City reduced the gap at the top of the table to four points with a 2-1 win over leaders Liverpool in one of the games of the season.
Bournemouth and Watford played out a thrilling 3-3 draw, while Marko Arnautovic scored twice in two minutes to salvage a 2-2 draw for West Ham against Brighton.
But which players earned a spot in my team of the week?
Goalkeeper – Angus Gunn (Southampton)
Your football team have conceded 24 goals in the past 10 games and the manager decides to put you in goal away at Chelsea for your league debut?
It takes a brave manager to make such a decision, but a goalkeeper with enormous guts and determination to come through the match with a clean sheet.
Angus Gunn’s decision-making was spot on and his save from Eden Hazard in the first half set him up for the remainder of the match. There was a shameful dive by Marcos Alonso towards the end of this match, by the way.
Did you know? At 22 years 345 days old, Gunn became the youngest Southampton goalkeeper to keep a clean sheet in the Premier League since Paulo Gazzaniga against Cardiff City in December 2013 (21 years 358 days).
Defenders – Antonio Valencia and Phil Jones (both Man Utd), Andrew Robertson (Liverpool)
Antonio Valencia: How good is it to see Antonio Valencia back in the Manchester United side? Here is another player I have no doubt is delighted to see the back of Jose Mourinho. The Ecuador international played the game against Newcastle United as though he had never been away. United are playing like a team that might win things again – if I were Chelsea or Arsenal I would be very concerned. Fourth spot now looks like a three-horse race and right now my money is on United.
Did you know? Valencia was making his first start in the Premier League since September.
Phil Jones: This is a player who has found himself struggling to get into the Manchester United team prior to the departure of Mourinho. However, if Phil Jones keeps making recovery tackles like the one he made on Salomon Rondon in the early stages of the game against Newcastle then, barring injury, the England international may find himself a permanent fixture in the Solskjaer era. The tackle required a focus I’ve not seen in Jones for some time.
Did you know? Manchester United kept a Premier League clean sheet for the first time this season with Jones in the starting line-up, at the sixth attempt.
Andrew Robertson: It’s not often defenders on the losing side make my team of the week but occasionally an exception has to made. Andrew Robertson is the exception and that is because he is an exceptional player. He gets better with every game. He handled Raheem Sterling masterfully and still had the time and composure to deliver the most exquisite ball for Roberto Firmino to head home and all in a white-hot atmosphere. Make no mistake, this kid is outstanding.
Did you know? The Liverpool left-back made more tackles and gained possession more times than any of his team-mates against Manchester City.
Midfielders – Bernardo Silva and Fernandinho (both Man City), Luka Milivojevic (Crystal Palace), Christian Eriksen (Tottenham)
Bernardo Silva: I don’t think I’ve seen two players work harder in midfield at the same time as Bernardo Silva and Fernandinho. They were like perpetual motion, constantly fetching and carrying for their team-mates in order to do maximum damage to their opponent. It was a magnificent game of football between City and Liverpool played at the highest level. I never really thought Silva had this desire in him. Boy, was I wrong.
Did you know? Bernardo Silva covered 13.7km (8.5 miles) against Liverpool, the most by any player in a Premier League game this season.
Fernandinho: I said last week in this column that Manchester City cannot win the title without Fernandinho in their team. If ever there was a performance that highlighted that statement then his contribution against Liverpool must be it. The Brazil international was amazing and he is one of the most selfless players I have ever seen. It’s the stuff that makes players great. Roy Keane had it, N’Golo Kante certainly has it and Fernandinho has it without question.
Did you know? The Manchester City midfielder completed 34 passes in the opposition half, more than any other player on the pitch.
Luka Milivojevic: If a team ever gets a penalty then you want Luka Milivojevic to take it. The Crystal Palace captain has been their ‘Deadeye Dick’ when it comes to taking spot-kicks. His penalty conversion against Wolves, who seemed to have run out of gas after their impressive win against Spurs, was emphatic. I see Roy Hodgson was trying to lure Liverpool’s Dominic Solanke to Selhurst Park on loan. I would go for Tammy Abraham at Aston Villa – now there’s a player bursting to make the big time.
Did you know? Milivojevic has scored 16 league goals for Crystal Palace since the beginning of last season, four more than anyone else.
Christian Eriksen: This was like taking candy from a baby. Thirty minutes into the game and Cardiff were on the floor. It was less of a knockout blow by Spurs and more like a series of blows that did Cardiff in. Christian Eriksen seemed to run out of steam against Wolves, but somehow recovered in time to face the Bluebirds. Spurs have got to rid themselves of this Jekyll and Hyde personality. We need to know what team is turning up every week.
Did you know? Eriksen has scored 19 goals from outside the box in the Premier League – more than any player in the competition since his debut in September 2013.
Forwards – Marcus Rashford (Man Utd), Sergio Aguero and Leroy Sane (both Man City)
Marcus Rashford: What a delight to watch Manchester United these days. The shot from Marcus Rashford’s free-kick was too hot for Martin Dubravka in the Newcastle goal and presented itself nicely to Romelu Lukaku to open his account. The goal Rashford actually scored was taken with the confidence we know he poses and that Mourinho was about to destroy. Oh, how I am looking forward to this lad developing under a caring manager.
Did you know? Rashford has been directly involved in 10 goals in his past nine matches.
Sergio Aguero: There can only be a handful of strikers in the world who could have scored a goal of such magnitude in an atmosphere so intense as that which Sergio Aguero netted against Liverpool. His first touch was so incredible it rendered every Liverpool defender in the penalty area helpless and at the mercy of the Argentine. As for the finish, well it was lethal and the beginning of the end for the Merseysiders. The Premier League title is still alive, folks.
Did you know? Aguero has had a direct hand in 25 goals in his past 17 appearances at home in the Premier League (20 goals, five assists).
Leroy Sane: Just when I was starting to get frustrated with Leroy Sane he pops up and scores the winner in the biggest game of the season so far. There are times with this player when it seems as if things are not as important as they should be. But it’s at that moment Sane becomes his most dangerous. The way the Germany international took his goal against Liverpool showed enormous composure and self-belief. Sane is a talent all right.
Did you know? Sane has been directly involved in 26 goals (nine goals and 17 assists) in 25 league games at Etihad Stadium since the beginning of last season.
Now it’s your turn
You’ve seen my picks this week. But who would you go for?
Pick your XI from our list and share with your friends.
Pick your Team of the Week
Pick your XI from our list and share with your friends.
The Crooks of the matter
It’s about time this barbaric nonsense stopped. Even I accept it can’t go on, it’s totally incompatible with the modern game.
The amount of football over the festive period was bordering on the insane. Where has all this wall-to-wall football come from over the festive period, anyway?
Thank goodness the winter break comes into effect next season, and not before time.
Quite apart from the extraordinary demands placed on the players (horses get better treatment), the other question that needs to be addressed is: what about the fans?
By the time away supporters have bought their match ticket, programme, a cool beverage and a hot dog you could be looking at £70 at some clubs. Times that by four, if you include 22 December as part of the festive period, and you start to get the picture.
Yes, I admit that I have argued before that the best league in the world must have its unique selling point, but we must put quality before quantity.
The reality is the players don’t want it, fans can’t afford it and television audiences are starting to reconsider the price of their packages.