With leaders Chelsea being toppled by Crystal Palace at Stamford Bridge, is it any surprise that my Team of the Week is dominated by Eagles?
But it wasn’t only a good weekend for Palace – Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool kept up the chase at the top, while Arsenal and Manchester City played out an entertaining draw.
At the bottom, Hull joined Palace in earning a big win.
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Goalkeeper – Wayne Hennessey (Crystal Palace)
Three first-half saves by Wayne Hennessey set the tone for an outstanding victory by Crystal Palace over Premier League leaders Chelsea. Prior to the arrival of Sam Allardyce, I’ve seen Palace capitulate having gone 1-0 down away from home. Not so anymore.
I sat behind the dugout at Stamford Bridge and marvelled at the performance by the manager. I saw Allardyce tell Luka Milivojevic in no uncertain terms not to stick his foot where it didn’t belong after a first-half tackle on Eden Hazard. The message being that with 11 men on the pitch Palace had a chance of winning this match and the manager wasn’t prepared to countenance any self indulgence from any player who might undermine his plan.
With Milivojevic firmly back in his box it was left to Hennessey to continue performing in the second half as he did in the first, demonstrating superb goalkeeping with confidence and stature. It worked.
Right-back – Fernandinho (Manchester City)
This player is fast becoming a favourite of mine. Fernandinho can play full-back or in midfield and wherever he plays these days, he’s as safe as houses.
The difficulty the Brazilian has is he and the team are missing a fit Vincent Kompany. I have no doubt that if Kompany plays, Shkodran Mustafi doesn’t win the header that produces the Arsenal equaliser and City go on to win.
What is also clear to me is that City are getting better under Pep Guardiola and whilst there will be changes of personnel next season, Fernandinho will be part of Guardiola’s future.
As for Arsenal, I was perplexed by the muted reaction of their players when Theo Walcott equalised. Muted celebration when you equalise in a game like this? Strange.
Centre-back – Mamadou Sakho (Crystal Palace)
You would have got odds of 11-1 for Crystal Palace to win 2-1 away at Stamford Bridge. The bookies are notorious for giving nothing away, which gives you an indication of the enormity of their victory against Chelsea.
The man responsible for thwarting most of the advances from the league leaders, and has done so for Palace since his arrival on loan to the Eagles, has been Mamadou Sakho. He has been immense for Palace who, despite Chelsea’s many chances, failed to take advantage of them largely due to the out of form Diego Costa.
Allardyce must be congratulated for getting Sakho to Palace. Since his arrival the Eagles have not stopped soaring. If there was a tackle or header to be made he won it and at no stage did the defender look in the least bit fazed by the pressure posed by the Blues, who have an impeccable home record.
The big question for Allardyce and Palace is can they lure the Frenchman away from Liverpool (who still retain his contract) and get him to play for Palace on a permanent basis? If Liverpool were to get a top four place, and their chances seem to improve with every game, I can see Jurgen Klopp seriously thinking about retaining the services of the player to bolster his squad.
Centre-back – Eric Dier (Tottenham Hotspur)
What a wonderful finish by Eric Dier. He might have been a tad fortunate the way the ball fell for him in the Burnley penalty area, but there was nothing remotely lucky about the way the defender tucked it away.
Dier’s progress for club and country has been meteoric, although this season we’ve seen the occasional glitch here and there, especially in the Champions League games at Wembley.
Nevertheless, the defender strikes me as a solid individual with leadership qualities, the sort of defender a manager can depend upon in a crisis.
His goal against Burnley will do his confidence a power of good. I’ve not seen Dier smile in an interview for a long time. It’s always good to see a player with a smile on his face.
Left-back – Andrew Robertson (Hull City)
His touch with his right foot was measured, but the finish with his left was deadly. If you are going to open your Premier League account this was the way to do it.
I didn’t know an awful lot about Robertson before this game although I had seen him play before. However he looks like one of those cultured left-footers who has the ability to manipulate the ball in tight situations.
I can’t really commend Robertson’s performance without talking about the efforts of Hull’s manager Marco Silva. The response he has got from his players has been quite remarkable not to mention their level of performance since he took over from Mike Phelan. This victory over West Ham has given Hull a real chance of survival in the Premier League.
As for West Ham I am delighted that the club have finally released a statement supporting their manager and removing any speculation concerning Slaven Bilic’s immediate future at the club.
Bilic has handled the difficult transition of moving to a new stadium brilliantly. He rid the club of the poisonous Dimitri Payet and almost certainly guaranteed the club another season in the best league in the world. I should think West Ham did have 100% in faith in Bilic. Now all they have to do is show it.
Midfield – Dele Alli (Tottenham Hotspur)
With no Harry Kane to look to for inspiration, Spurs gave the mantle to Dele Alli in the attempt to keep the pressure on Chelsea and it’s working.
His performance against a Burnley side who have taken big scalps at Turf Moor this season epitomised a young lad who appears fearless on the ball.
The 20-year-old moves gracefully over the ground and his general awareness is outstanding. The way he found Son Heung-min for Tottenham’s second goal was quite brilliant. The only feature I don’t like about Alli’s game is his obsession with making contact with his opponent in the opposition’s penalty area and making out he’s been impeded.
Penalties should be awarded, not prized out of referees. If he wants to be a Steven Gerrard or Frank Lampard, he must eradicate that from his game and promote the things that make people want to pay good money to see him. That way he can be anything he wants to be.
Midfield – Kevin de Bruyne (Manchester City)
That was a world-class ball from Kevin de Bruyne for Leroy Sane to score Manchester City’s opening goal against Arsenal. To hit a defence splitting 60-yard, first-time ball takes some doing.
For one hour, De Bruyne was the best player on the park. He hit the post with David Ospina beaten and he was instrumental in City’s second goal.
Arsenal, meanwhile, should be concerned. They are fighting for a top-four position and an FA Cup final place and, for some inexplicable reason, their fans seemed to be subdued for long periods against City.
The Arsenal players showed real backbone to bounce back in this game on two occasions. There is still a lot to play for and the team deserves their wholehearted support regardless of what some fans might think of their manager.
Midfield – Philippe Coutinho (Liverpool)
It’s great to see Philippe Coutinho back in sparkling form again. Regular readers will know that it has been N’Golo Kante, Eden Hazard and Coutinho who are my three Premier League stars competing for the player of the season award.
Had it not been for his injury sustained earlier in the year, Coutinho might have canvassed enough votes to render himself the clear favourite to receive the prestigious award, as opposed to Kante or Hazard who have both had injury-free seasons.
Coutinho’s goal against Everton was simply superb in a Merseyside derby that snapped, crackled and popped. That said, Ronald Koeman’s disapproval of the Liverpool bench’s insistence that the referee must issue a card every time a foul is committed was justified.
Ross Barkley made two poor challenges and was lucky to stay on the pitch but that was the decision of the referee. Please let us not descend to coaching staff trying to get players sent off. Referees don’t tell them how to do their job.
Forward – Demarai Gray (Leicester City)
If Leicester City’s game against Stoke was anything to go by, then the Foxes really should have dispensed with the services of Claudio Ranieri much sooner. Central to this performance was Demarai Gray, who appears to be becoming a driving force behind Leicester revival.
Gray produced two glorious saves from Stoke keeper Lee Grant and was a constant menace throughout the game. The Potters were in similar battling mood as they were against Chelsea two weeks ago, when Phil Bardsley seemed determined to get a second yellow card regardless of the cost to his team or their future fixtures.
Similarly Ryan Shawcross’s tackle on Gray reminded me of Manchester United’s Nobby Stiles’ tackle on Eusebio in the 1968 European Cup final at Wembley. Shawcross seemed so concerned about Gray’s pace and willingness to run past players and, like Bardsley, took it upon himself to take the player out regardless of the consequences.
Fortunately, Shawcross only received a yellow card. It should have been a red just for the cheek of it!
Forward – Christian Benteke (Crystal Palace)
It’s been some time since I picked Christian Benteke in my Team of the Week, but it’s good to see him back. The former Liverpool striker led the line for Crystal Palace beautifully against Chelsea and gave David Luiz and Gary Cahill a torrid time in every department.
If he wasn’t challenging them in the air and putting them under pressure he was heading away corners in his own penalty area. However, it was his partnership with Wilfried Zaha that really excited me. These two boys were responsible for Chelsea’s demise with great link play and two sensational goals.
It was Palace’s second goal and the chip over an advancing Thibaut Courtois by Benteke that was pure genius. It wasn’t just about the skill but the way the striker held his nerve and waited for Courtois to go to ground before he chipped him that was most impressive.
A beaming Allardyce came into the press room and said “I bet you weren’t expecting that?” He got that right as well.
Forward – Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace)
What a week Wilfred Zaha has had. He scored a sensational goal for Ivory Coast in midweek and continued in the same vein against Chelsea. It wasn’t just Zaha’s confidence on the ball that was so impressive – we know he can play – but his overall contribution to the collective team effort was outstanding.
There is a lot of talk about the Ivorian joining Spurs in the summer. An attractive move for the player I must admit. Who wouldn’t want to add the possibility of playing Champions League football to his international career?
However, may I suggest that Zaha, having had a disappointing period at Manchester United, takes a pause before considering White Hart Lane. Another season at Crystal Palace under the tutelage of Allardyce may be more beneficial to his overall development.
Spurs have enough Fancy Dans in their line-up without adding to them. Palace, on the other hand, are in desperate need of flair and exuberance in an otherwise functional, but effective outfit. Still, if Zaha insists on a move to the Lane, who could blame him?
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