With so many of the weekend’s Premier League games called off, we have included the last round of midweek games as well to choose the Team of the Week.
There was just the one game played on Saturday, with Arsenal easing to a 4-1 win at Leeds.
Three games survived on Sunday with Manchester City cruising to a 4-0 win at Newcastle, Wolves and Chelsea played out a goalless draw at Molineux, before a thrilling end to the weekend with Tottenham drawing 2-2 with Liverpool.
Check out my team of the week and then make your own selections towards the bottom of the article.
Goalkeeper – Jordan Pickford (Everton)
Jordan Pickford (Chelsea v EVERTON, 16 December): Liverpool’s Alisson was having a blinder and in my team until he let Son Heung-min in to give Tottenham an equaliser. So instead I’ve gone for Pickford. This was a decent result at Chelsea by Everton after their dismal performance away to Crystal Palace.
The only reason Everton left Stamford Bridge with a point was because of Pickford. He seems less erratic since his successful England campaign last summer and appears to have reduced the number of mistakes he was inclined to make from time to time. I was never a big fan of Pickford, but I must say he has become a calmer keeper and, with it, a better goalkeeper of late. I hope I haven’t jinxed him.
Did you know? Pickford made nine saves v Chelsea, only vs Arsenal in May 2017 (11) has he made more in a single Premier League game.
Defenders – Andy Robertson (Liverpool), Ruben Dias (Manchester City), Romain Saiss (Wolves), Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool)
Andy Robertson (Tottenham v LIVERPOOL, 19 December): I don’t think I have ever selected a player who provided an assist, went on to score a goal and then got himself sent off – all in the same game before. That said, I didn’t think Andy Robertson’s tackle on Emerson Royal was any more offensive than Harry Kane’s challenge on him – and yet the England captain remained on the pitch. This was a proper football match and a game Spurs should really have won based on the chances they had.
Did you know? Robertson’s goal was his 50th Premier League goal involvement (six goals, 44 assists), while he was the first player to score, assist and be sent off in a Premier League game since Aleksandar Mitrovic in 2016.
Ruben Dias (Newcastle v MANCHESTER CITY, 19 December): This fixture turned out to be a walk in the park for City and in particular Dias. He got the party started with the first goal when he capitalised on a lack of communication in the Newcastle defence. Why defenders let the ball bounce in the six-yard box and goalkeepers refuse to tell their defenders ‘away’ in dangerous situations, I will never know? It really isn’t difficult. Until Eddie Howe can get his players to adopt these basic principles they will continue to leak goals and struggle at the foot of the table.
Did you know? After scoring just once in his first 67 matches in all competitions for Manchester City, Dias has now scored two times across his last six games.
Romain Saiss (Brighton v WOLVES, 15 December): Please don’t be alarmed, it’s not the first time Saiss has made my team of the week. The last time I selected him he also scored at Molineux but I’m not sure he played as well as he did against Brighton. His goal at the Amex Stadium was brilliantly dispatched, especially for a centre-back, and his strike that hit the post deserved better. The Morocco international is playing as well as I’ve seen him play. He also played his part in gaining a very useful point against Chelsea on Sunday. All good news for his country, but perhaps not for Wolves as they are about to lose him to the Africa Cup of Nations at the end of the month.
Did you know? Only Raul Jimenez and Ruben Neves have scored more Premier League goals for Wolves since the start of last season than Saiss (five).
Trent Alexander-Arnold (LIVERPOOL v Newcastle, 16 December): Leaving Callum Wilson on the bench was brave, if not foolish, by Newcastle boss Howe at Anfield but, short of another appalling decision by referee Mike Dean, it almost worked. Dean’s inability to get a grasp of the obvious knows no bounds. Why he completely ignored two Newcastle players lying on the ground having suffered head collisions was a mystery to me? I have never known a referee so consistently inconsistent. One person who has been incredibly consistent so far this season is Alexander-Arnold. His use of the ball and quality of pass is second to none, while his goal against Newcastle went past Martin Dubravka like a missile. As for his volleyed cross in the first half against Spurs, that was just astonishing.
Did you know? Seventy percent of Alexander-Arnold’s Premier League goals for Liverpool have come from outside the box (seven out of 10). Of all players to score at least 10 for the Reds in the competition, only Xabi Alonso netted a higher share from distance (79% – 11/14).
Midfielders – Bukayo Saka (Arsenal), Kevin de Bruyne (Manchester City), Joao Cancelo (Manchester City)
Bukayo Saka (ARSENAL v West Ham, 15 December): Arsenal fans will know what I think of this talent. He’s the best thing I’ve seen since I saw Arsenal’s David Rocastle burst onto the scene at Highbury. Saka was brilliant against West Ham and even better against Leeds and the difference between the two teams in both matches. He is the most consistent Arsenal player at the club and has been for the last season and a half – and the reason Arsenal find themselves flying high. I can’t understand how such an ordinary team keeps getting these results. It’s unbearable.
Did you know? Saka created four chances against West Ham, more than any other player. Along with his assist, he had three shots, and 10 touches in the West Ham penalty area.
Kevin de Bruyne (MANCHESTER CITY v Leeds, 14 December): It hasn’t taken De Bruyne very long to get back into the swing of things. Two goals against an utterly-destroyed Leeds – his second by far the best of the game – saw the king of the assists back to his best. Leeds conceded three at Chelsea, seven at Manchester City and another four at home to Arsenal. Do you think there’s any chance of Leeds forgetting their swashbuckling approach to the game while they come through their injury nightmare – and just try to keep a clean sheet for a change? Leeds fans must be desperate for a 0-0.
Did you know? Since his debut for Man City in September 2015, De Bruyne has scored more Premier League goals from outside the penalty area than any other player (20).
Joao Cancelo (Newcastle v MANCHESTER CITY, 19 December): The strike from Cancelo was wonderful, but Newcastle defenders cannot afford to stand off their opponent and put their hands politely behind their backs and allow the man on the ball to shoot at goal. They must be prepared to engage those in possession and put their foot in or block the shot, especially against top-class players like Cancelo. This game was another masterclass by City. By the time they were 3-0 up, players in blue were queueing up to add to the scoreline. Being top at Christmas spells real danger for Liverpool and Chelsea. If Newcastle are to survive this season they must spend in January and do it wisely.
Did you know? Cancelo has been directly involved in 10 goals for Manchester City in all competitions this season (three goals, seven assists); the first time a defender has reached double figures in a single season for a Pep Guardiola side since David Alaba for Bayern Munich in 2013-14.
Forwards – Phil Foden (Manchester City), Gabriel Martinelli (Arsenal), Jacob Ramsey (Aston Villa)
Phil Foden (MANCHESTER CITY v Leeds, 14 December): I’ve compared Foden with Arsenal’s Saka and Chelsea’s Mason Mount in the past, both English players who are developing just as fast and every bit as good as the City player. However, under Guardiola’s influence I see a young Andres Iniesta emerging and the kind of player who, in time, will prove to be an extraordinary asset to City – if he isn’t one already. Against Leeds he once again showed the capacity to complement the abilities of Bernardo Silva, Ilkay Gundogan or De Bruyne, which is a credit to the lad and the way he implements the instructions from his coach.
Did you know? Foden’s opener against Leeds was Man City’s 500th Premier League goal under Pep Guardiola, in just his 207th game in charge, the fastest any manager has seen their sides reach 500 goals in the competition (previously Jürgen Klopp, 234).
Gabriel Martinelli (Leeds v ARSENAL, 18 December): I do like Martinelli. Quick, direct and not lacking in confidence in front of goal. The Brazilian’s finish against West Ham was classy while his two goals at Leeds simply established the fact this lad is to be taken very seriously. It might be a reason for Mikel Arteta to let Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang go, although I wouldn’t advise it just yet. Whatever is causing Aubameyang to misbehave it would be in Arteta’s interest to fix it. There are still plenty of goals in the Gabon striker and they are always a good reason to persevere with any player that can produce them on a regular basis – and he can.
Did you know? Martinelli scored his first Premier League double in his 39th appearance in the competition. At 20 years and 183 days, he is the youngest player to score a league double for Arsenal since Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain against Crystal Palace in February 2014 (20 years 171 days).
Jacob Ramsey (Norwich v ASTON VILLA, 14 December): It can’t be much fun when you come up against the club that just sacked you, but that was the challenge facing Dean Smith last Tuesday. Two things struck me as I watched Aston Villa inflict a humiliating defeat on his Canaries, who look like they are slowly suffocating at the bottom of a very deep pit. Firstly, they are doomed – and a point I made after their first defeat of the season at home to Liverpool. Secondly, what an exciting prospect Villa look again under Steven Gerrard and Ramsey looks a real prospect. There’s a hint of Gary Shaw about his game. If he proves to be anything like as good as the former Aston Villa striker and title winner then he’s in for one helluva career. But he will need all of Gerrard’s guidance to do it.
Did you know? In his 50th senior club appearance in all competitions (43 for Aston Villa, seven for Doncaster), Ramsey netted just his fifth goal and his first since netting against Arsenal in October, with all five coming away from home.
Pick your XI from our list and share with your friends.
The Crooks of the Matter: Messi v Maradona
I found the claim by Arena publication recently that Lionel Messi is, in their opinion, the greatest footballer of all time an interesting one. I was amazed any player given such a title would not have won the greatest prize of all – the World Cup. The very thought of Messi being considered better than his Argentine compatriot Diego Maradona, I found astounding. Maradona won the World Cup almost single-handedly in 1986 and would have won it again in 1990 had he had other genuine world-class players in his team to help him do it. Messi has, of course, never won the World Cup, but had plenty of opportunities.
Many might consider this argument futile, but it’s what sports fans love to debate. Who is the greatest racing driver? Is it Ayrton Senna, Michael Schumacher or the recently-knighted Lewis Hamilton? Who is the best pound-for-pound fighter or the greatest tennis player? The debate rages.
So what is the criteria for such an accolade? Well, the game is nothing without honours and if you’re going to be regarded as the best-ever footballer then I think you should have won the greatest prize that sport has to offer. To put Maradona in third place behind Messi is one thing, but to relegate Pele – who won the World Cup three times and scored 1,000 goals – to second is like putting Frank Sinatra on the bill behind Ed Sheeran at the Royal Albert Hall. Fans look at the poster and know the list is intrinsically wrong.
There is no doubt popularity has its place and people are entitled to their preferences, but to acquire greatness you can’t just have played on the greatest stage, you must have become the master of it.