Garth Crooks’ team of the week: Azpilicueta, Silva, Salah, Foden

Garth team of the week

Chelsea scored two late goals in a 3-1 win over Southampton to move top of the Premier League while fellow title rivals Liverpool and Manchester City played out a thrilling 2-2 draw.

Manchester United were held to a 1-1 draw against Everton while Brighton and Arsenal finished in a 0-0 stalemate.

Brentford scored in added time in their 2-1 victory at West Ham, while Wolves beat Newcastle 2-1 and Leeds won 1-0 against Watford.

Tottenham edged to a 2-1 win over Aston Villa, Burnley were held to a 0-0 draw by bottom club Norwich and Crystal Palace and Leicester City played out a 2-2 draw.

Check out my team of the week and then make your own selections towards the bottom of the article.

Garth Crooks' team of the week

Goalkeeper: David Raya (Brentford)

David Raya

To lose a game at all is difficult enough but to do so in the 94th minute must have been soul destroying for West Ham. One of the reasons for the Hammers’ defeat was the performance of Brentford’s David Raya between the sticks.

The Spaniard made three outstanding saves at a crucial period, which turned the match in Brentford’s favour. This result puts the Bees above Tottenham, West Ham and Arsenal.

I said last week that Brentford’s squad is so thin it will struggle to survive the demands of the Premier League. After this result Brentford could probably survive anything.

Did you know? Including play-offs, Raya has played in 101 of Brentford’s 105 league matches since joining the club before the start of the 2019-20 season.

Defenders: Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea), Diego Llorente (Leeds United), Trevoh Chalobah (Chelsea)

Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea), Diego Llorente (Leeds United), Trevoh Chalobah (Chelsea)

Azpilicueta: VAR really should mind its own business. Clear and obvious mistakes we were told. So why disallow Timo Werner’s headed goal for Chelsea in the second phase of play which had nothing to do with the previous phase. I assumed the referee waved play on when Cesar Azpilicueta tackled Kyle Walker-Peters in the build up to Werner’s goal but changed his mind when VAR raised a red flag.

It was hardly surprising the Chelsea captain and his manager Thomas Tuchel, went ballistic. Fortunately Azpilicueta didn’t allow the incident to dwell on his mind too long. He provided the pass of the game for Werner to score Chelsea’s second goal of the match and put right what Martin Atkinson had clearly got wrong.

Did you know? Azpilicueta has two Premier League assists this season in seven games, matching his tally from last season already (in 26 appearances).

Llorente: Boy did Leeds need this victory. The reaction by Diego Llorente was that of a striker and it was enough to seal the points – but it shouldn’t have. Yet again VAR gets involved in a situation it should not have got involved in and when it did it still got it wrong.

What is the point of this system? Watford’s disallowed goal was incorrect and almost certainly contributed to their manager Xisco Munoz getting the sack hours after this result. It was Watford’s Christian Kabasele who was fouled in the box and the goal should have stood. I don’t know who was operating VAR but he shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near the technology ever again.

Did you know? Only Liam Cooper (64) completed more passes for Leeds than Llorente (60) in Leeds’ 1-0 win over Watford.

Chalobah: I’m always fascinated by defenders who have a genuine appetite for goals. Trevoh Chalobah scored a cracker against Crystal Palace earlier in the season but his goal against Southampton was particularly interesting.

His movement away from the ball on the set-piece was instinctive. He knew exactly where the ball was going to fall. Most defenders know how to attack the ball especially in the air but few know how to read where it is likely drop in order to apply a timely finish. Chalobah does. Read why I think players should continue heading the ball in the Crooks of the Matter below.

Did you know? Chalobah has scored with his only two shots in the Premier League, against Crystal Palace and Southampton.

Midfielders: Andros Townsend (Everton), Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg (Tottenham), Bernardo Silva (Manchester City), Son Heung-min (Tottenham)

Andros Townsend (Everton), Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg (Tottenham), Bernardo Silva (Manchester City), Son Heung-min (Tottenham)

Townsend: : My goodness it looks like Andros Townsend is enjoying his football again. I don’t know if it’s the Merseyside air that’s done it, but whatever it is he should continue doing it.

Having gone through difficult periods in his career at Spurs and Crystal Palace he seems bang in form for Everton. His goal against Manchester United was of the highest quality. His first touch with the outside of his left boot was only equalled by a finish of precision with his right foot. David de Gea was rooted.

Did you know? Townsend has scored five goals in all competitions for Everton this season, three more than he managed in his last two seasons for Crystal Palace (2 in 61 games).

Hojbjerg: He was never one of my favourite players when he played for Southampton but I must say he has grown on me since his arrival at Spurs. He’s one of the few Tottenham players that have some grit to their game.

You can also trust him in a battle and at times the game against Aston Villa became just that. What was impressive, however, was the way Hojbjerg took his goal. He did it with consummate composure and in a manner that suggests Tottenham or their manager are not under any pressure at all – and we know that’s not true.

Did you know? Hojbjerg scored with his only shot, completed more passes (59) and won possession more often (10) than any other Spurs player against Aston Villa.

Silva: I’m not in the habit of selecting Bernardo Silva ahead of Kevin de Bruyne but on this occasion I feel I have to. Silva was brilliant throughout the match against Liverpool and for much of this game De Bruyne wasn’t.

Silva was also booked in the match for a genuine mistimed tackle but it was neither cynical nor calculated. However, the tackle on Silva late in the match by James Milner was both. Milner should have received a second yellow but didn’t. Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola suggested in his post-match interview that he wasn’t surprised by the referee’s decision, after all it was Anfield. It’s true and it used to happen in my day and it’s time it stopped.

Did you know? Silva completed more passes in Liverpool’s half than any other Manchester City player (26).

Son: It’s been a tough couple of weeks for Spurs and especially for their manager Nuno Espirito Santo. Against a very dangerous Aston Villa outfit both the team and the manager held their nerve in what was a very tricky fixture. Harry Kane looked much more like himself, but it was Son Heung-min who provided two important assists for Hojbjerg and Lucas Moura, who for some reason saw his goal credited to Villa defender Matt Targett. I can’t understand why. Targett doesn’t want to have an own goal next to his name and Moura is desperate for one. The good news is that some of the heat has been taken out of the Tottenham Hotspur pressure cooker, at least for the time being.

Did you know? Son Heung-min ended a run of nine Premier League games without an assist, setting up Tottenham’s first goal against Aston Villa

Forwards: Mohamed Salah (Liverpool), Hwang Hee-chan (Wolves), Phil Foden (Manchester City)

Mohamed Salah (Liverpool), Hwang Hee-chan (Wolves), Phil Foden (Manchester City)

Salah: It’s official: Mohamed Salah is back to his best and being the player I saw arrive at Anfield four years ago. Regular readers will know that I have had my issues with Salah when I thought he was chasing the golden boot award the moment the first ball of the season was kicked. Not anymore. Against Manchester City he was unselfish, showed blistering pace and sublime finishing. The ball for Sadio Mane to score was sensational while his own goal was just breathtakingly brilliant in such circumstances. Great to you have you back, Mo.

Did you know? Salah has scored in seven matches in a row in all competitions, equalling his best ever scoring run with Liverpool, doing so for the first time since April 2018.

Hwang: It looks like Wolves have found a finisher to go with Raul Jimenez. Both men were in devastating form against Newcastle, who couldn’t have finished a fish supper. Granted Jeff Hendrick came on and scored a stunner for the Magpies, but if you can’t take the simple chances you’re going to struggle to win matches.

Meanwhile, Hwang finished superbly on two occasions and both were supplied courtesy of the bang-in-form Jimenez. Wolves look so much better with a fit Jimenez back in the side but Hwang’s ability to finish could become a major asset.

Did you know? Hwang Hee-chan was the first Wolves player to net a brace in a Premier League game since Diogo Jota in February 2020 against Norwich

Foden: He missed two gilt-edged chances in the first half and I am convinced a Sergio Aguero or Gabriel Jesus would have taken one of them. Whenever Pep Guardiola asks Phil Foden to lead the attack he doesn’t get the best out of him.

Put him on the left of a three-man attack and you have a completely different player. His goal against Liverpool demonstrated that with a little more time at his disposal he can not only finish but pick out players who are in better positions to score goals. The last time I saw Foden play at Anfield he scored a similar goal. He clearly likes the big occasion.

Did you know? Foden (21y 128d) is the youngest player to score in three consecutive Premier League appearances against Liverpool since Romelu Lukaku in November 2013 (20y 194d).

Pick your XI from our list and share with your friends.

The Crooks of the Matter

I was fascinated by the recent comments made by former England captain Terry Butcher suggesting that heading the ball should be completely phased out of the game. I was slightly taken aback by his statement, not least because the former Ipswich centre-back was rather good at it.

His reasons were of course because of research showing that professional footballers were more likely to get dementia or Alzheimer’s as a consequence of repeatedly heading the ball. The discovery is worrying if not entirely surprising. The head is not designed to be repeatedly bashed against any object never mind one travelling at speed. So why do I disagree with my former England Under-21 colleague?

To compare professional footballers with members of the public is an unfair comparison. It would be more reasonable if football players were compared to men and women competing in other sports like rugby or boxing.

Furthermore, the dynamics of football are so intoxicating it makes it the most watched sport on the planet. Change it and it will lose so much of its appeal. So what is the professional game to do under these circumstances? Leave it to the modern-day players I say. Let them contemplate the risks and allow them to make their own choices. After all, we made ours.

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