Sports

Garth Crooks' team of the week: De Gea, Maguire, Fernandez, Ings, Aubameyang


Champions Liverpool were brought back down to earth by their predecessors Manchester City, after Sheffield United strengthened their top-six hopes with victory over Tottenham.

Wolves heaped more misery on local rivals Aston Villa and Manchester United cruised past Brighton to keep up pressure on Chelsea, who lost at West Ham, in the race for Champions League qualification.

Third-place Leicester were also beaten by Everton, relegation-threatened Bournemouth were thumped by Newcastle and Arsenal beat strugglers Norwich, while Burnley won at Crystal Palace and Southampton won at Watford.

Elsewhere, holders Manchester City were the last team to book their place in the FA Cup semi-finals with victory over Newcastle.

Goalkeeper – David de Gea (Man Utd)

De Gea: The Spain international has had his goalkeeping credentials brought into question recently. Well, when you’re as good as David de Gea you’re expected not to make any mistakes. Against Brighton, the Manchester United keeper didn’t put a foot wrong and in fact made two saves that would have demoralised the Seagulls. It’s no coincidence that De Gea’s recent form and general demeanour in United’s goal have coincided with his team’s improved performances. A goalkeeper is only as good as the players around him and on the odd occasion slightly better.

Did you know? De Gea has kept a clean sheet in seven of his past nine games in all competitions.

Defenders – Ben Mee (Burnley), Harry Maguire (Man Utd), Benjamin Mendy (Man City)

Maguire: This wasn’t the greatest FA Cup-quarter final I’ve ever seen but it was in sharp contrast to the performance Harry Maguire gave against Spurs in the Premier League draw at Tottenham. Roy Keane was so angry with Maguire’s game during his half-time analysis he could hardly speak. What Keane didn’t factor into the equation was Maguire’s lack of match fitness because of lockdown. Against Norwich the England international, who scored the winner by the way, was better and against Brighton he helped United secure a semi-final spot.

I hope Roy’s calmed down now.

Did you know? Maguire completed the most passes (85) of any player in Manchester United’s victory against Brighton.

Mee: This victory over Crystal Palace would have done Burnley a power of good. The mauling they received from Manchester City would have taken its toll but the Clarets showed great character to beat Watford and Crystal Palace in a matter of days. James Tarkowski and especially Ben Mee were outstanding at Selhurst Park and deserved their victory. The Burnley captain has conducted himself in a statesmanlike fashion during a difficult time for Burnley on and off the pitch. When Mee finally retires from football the club should seriously think about retaining his services. Football needs people like Mee.

Did you know? Mee’s winner against Crystal Palace was his first goal in his past 120 appearances for Burnley since netting against Manchester City in January 2017.

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Mendy: This wasn’t the Liverpool we know but a team who looked like they had spent the last few days partying. If they had, who could blame them? They were, after all, the newly crowned champions. Meanwhile, Manchester City looked like a side in the mood to make a point. Not only were they 3-0 up at half-time but they were also determined to keep a clean sheet. Benjamin Mendy appeared more determined than most. The French international looks like he’s over his injury problems and has won the confidence of Pep Guardiola again.

Did you know? Among all Manchester City players, only Kevin De Bruyne (24) has made more successful crosses from open play than Mendy (21) in the Premier League this season.

Midfielders – Kevin de Bruyne (Man City), Bruno Fernandes (Man Utd), Willian (Chelsea), Leander Dendoncker (Wolves)

De Bruyne: There are very few players who when they step up to take a penalty you’re almost certain of the outcome. Kevin de Bruyne is one of those players. Once he converted the spot-kick against Newcastle the cup tie was only heading in one direction. The same was true against Liverpool. The champions simply couldn’t cope with De Bruyne’s artistry. I have probably picked De Bruyne in my team of the week more than any other Premier League player. That’s because he is the best player in the country. However, my Footballer of the Year goes to a very different player. Read the Crooks of the Matter below to find out why.

Did you know? De Bruyne has been directly involved in more goals (26) than any other player in the Premier League this season (10 goals and 16 assists).

Fernandes: This was another sparkling display by the Portugal international. Bruno Fernandes was only on the park for 64 minutes and that was all he needed to cut Brighton to pieces. Now Paul Pogba has a new partner in crime the pressure is off him to some extent and the Frenchman is playing with a certain freedom again. It was Pogba who set up Fernandes’ first chance, which struck the post, before setting up his second chance, from which Fernandes scored. There’s no doubt about it – United have found a performer who loves the big stage.

Did you know? Fernandes has been directly involved in eight goals in his first eight Premier League appearances for Manchester United – only Robin van Persie had more involvements for the club at this stage of his Premier League career (nine).

Willian: Ross Barkley may have got the goal that put Chelsea through to the FA Cup semi-finals but the Blues were going nowhere without the guile and craft of Willian. A few days later Willian almost masterminded an impressive comeback against West Ham and would have done so had Chelsea defended better. The Blues are one match away from a Wembley final and chasing a Champions League spot. However, neither of those issues will pose Frank Lampard the same headache as what to do about Willian’s future. The 31-year-old looks in tremendous condition, is linked with a number of clubs and his contract runs out at the end of the season.

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Did you know? Upon scoring against West Ham, Willian became the first player to score in a Premier League game in every month of the year.

Dendoncker: I don’t care how good your attitude is but when you’ve played four games in 11 days the chances are you will run out of steam. Especially if you’re already lacking firepower up front. Aston Villa would have benefitted from a decent period of rest between matches and, to some extent, they have been thrown under the fixture congestion bus. Wolves, on the other hand, get better with every game. Nuno Espirito Santo must not want the season to end. Leander Dendoncker’s excellently taken goal and impressive performance may have sealed Villa’s fate. I have some sympathy with manager Dean Smith’s post-match comments, where he seemed to suggest his team had been fed to the Wolves.

Did you know? Dendoncker has played in 49 games in all competitions this season, the joint-most of any Premier League player alongside team-mates Joao Moutinho and Conor Coady.

Forwards – Raheem Sterling (Man City), Danny Ings (Southampton), Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Arsenal)

Sterling: If ever you wanted to know what has transformed Raheem Sterling into a top-class player then you needed to do no more than observe his goal that put Newcastle United out of the FA Cup. Manchester City may have lost their grip on the Premier League title but against Liverpool they looked like champions. City can still retain the FA Cup and win the Champions League. Players like Sterling and De Bruyne need to be competing for the highest honours and winning both trophies is not out of the question.

Did you know? Sterling has scored 22 goals in all competitions this season; among Premier League players, only Raul Jimenez has netted more (24).

Ings: Watching Ralph Hasenhuttl jumping for joy was the giveaway. Southampton haven’t had a 20-goal striker in their ranks since 2012. Danny Ings was surrounded by Watford defenders when he got his first goal and took complete advantage of a Ben Foster mistake when he got his second. Ings is in blistering form and in the same league as Arsenal’s Aubameyang and Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah in the goals chart this season. It was unfortunate for Ings to suffer a major injury while playing for Liverpool. However, what a stroke of luck for the Saints that his former club couldn’t give him the game time, hence his departure from Anfield and his arrival at St Mary’s.

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Did you know? Ings has scored 18 of Southampton’s 41 Premier League goals this season (44%).

Aubameyang: I have compared Nicolas Pepe’s left foot to the likes of Liam Brady in the past. Well, perhaps he’s not in that class but he did show the same composure as the former Republic of Ireland legend to convert Arsenal’s penalty against Sheffield United and send the Gunners on their way to yet another FA Cup semi-final. Nevertheless I have had to replace Pepe with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang after he destroyed a beleaguered Norwich City will some great finishing at Emirates Stadium. I’ve made my position clear about the importance of Mesut Ozil and his relevance but if Arsenal were to lose Aubameyang as well they can consign themselves to mid-table mediocrity.

Did you know? Aubameyang scored his 50th Premier League goal in his 79th appearance. He became the quickest Arsenal player to 50 PL goals and the sixth fastest player overall.

The Crooks of the Matter:

Once Jurgen Klopp took over as Liverpool manager, it was only a matter of time before they won their first Premier League title. Liverpool have been winning the title for as long as I can remember. It might be a different trophy but it’s certainly the same title. Who would dare regard Kenny Dalglish or Ian Rush as lesser mortals than Mohamed Salah or Sadio Mane, for example? There is no distinction between the winners of the old First Division title and the Premier League title as far as I am concerned. Neither would I consider the latter somehow better than the former – just a different name.

Nevertheless congratulations are due to Liverpool, who have had the most magnificent season.

I also believe that special merit should be given to James Milner and Jordan Henderson. Both have proven to be superb professionals over the years and a credit to the game. It’s for this reason I would like to see James Milner win the PFA Player of the Year award and Jordan Henderson Footballer of the Year. It would be the perfect tribute to acknowledge two outstanding professionals in a season that has been about far more than just football.

Liverpool were the first team to take the knee, while Milner and Henderson were the architects behind the Premier League players making a significant donation to the NHS and key worker charities. These things do not happen in football by accident; it takes a special kind of leadership and that is precisely what Jurgen Klopp has given his players and brought to Liverpool.



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