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Garth Crooks' Team of the Week: Pickford, Ake, Van Dijk, Rodri, Keita, Jesus, Son

Manchester City and Liverpool both won as they continue to jostle for the Premier League title, while Burnley and Everton also earned victories to boost their hopes of avoiding relegation.

Who made my Team of the Week? Check it out below and then make your own selections at the bottom of the article.

Goalkeeper – Jordan Pickford (Everton)

Pickford kept a clean sheet but I don’t know how he did it. The Everton keeper made two of the most remarkable saves to clinch a vital victory for the Toffees. He was forced to sprint across his goal line before diving to make the most miraculous double handed save I’ve seen since Gordon Banks saved Pele’s header in the 1970 World Cup.

Pickford, now fired up, spread himself in order to block a shot which almost knocked him out and would have put other mere mortals in the Royal Infirmary. This was an inspired performance by the England number one. Everton would have been in a perilous position had they lost to Chelsea and Pickford has given Toffees boss Frank Lampard a lifeline.

Did you know? In the two Premier League meetings between Everton and Chelsea this season, Toffees keeper Pickford has managed 14 saves and conceded just one goal.

Defenders – Nathan Ake (Manchester City), Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool), Cristian Romero (Tottenham)

Ake: It wasn’t Nathan Ake’s goal that impressed me so much as the way the Manchester City defender kept Pascal Struijk at bay with his right arm before finishing with aplomb. Ake refusing to allow the Leeds defender back into the game once he found him on the wrong side.

Ake found the going quite tough against Liverpool in the FA Cup semi-final – especially the first half. However, this was a different City and a different Ake on show against a Leeds side who are going to have to find an extra gear if they are going to survive in the Premier League this season.

Did you know? Since the start of the 2016-17 season, Ake has scored 10 Premier League goals from corners. Only Chris Wood (11) has more such goals in the same time.

Van Dijk: Another clean sheet and another enjoyable day at the office for Van Dijk. I thought this was an extraordinary performance by Liverpool. Having played Villareal in the Champions League semi-final on Wednesday night, travelling to Newcastle for a 12:30pm kick-off at St James Park three days later and coming away with a victory – bearing in mind the form Newcastle have been in – was outstanding.

As for Van Dijk, you can read in ‘Crooks of the Matter’ why I think the Football Writers’ Association have selected the wrong Liverpool player for their prestigious Footballer of the Year award.

Did you know? Among players to have contested 100 or more aerial duels in the Premier League this season, Van Dijk has the best success rate (77%).

Romero: For Spurs’ important second goal against Leicester, the Argentine defender’s first tackle went through Patson Daka like a knife through butter while his second challenge left Caglar Soyuncu reeling on the ground without so much as an ounce of sympathy from referee Jon Moss.

Both tackles by Romero were quite brilliant, totally legitimate and straight out of a 1980s coaching manual. The challenges resulted in Son getting his first goal. The South Korean needed no help at all with his second. Just when you thought the art of tackling was leaving the English game for good, Romero with the help of Moss gave us all hope.

Did you know? Romero is averaging 4.8 combined tackles and interceptions per 90 minutes in the Premier League this term, the most of any Spurs player with 900 minutes played.

Midfielders – Anthony Gordon (Everton), Naby Keita (Liverpool), Rodri (Manchester City), Josh Brownhill (Burnley)

Gordon: This was a massive win for Everton and they just about deserved it. One of their brightest contributors was Anthony Gordon. He was unlucky not to make my team last week against Liverpool but after another impressive performance in the extraordinary win over Chelsea, Gordon couldn’t be overlooked again.

That Everton should find themselves in this position is one thing but if they can win their game in hand and hold their nerve then anything is now possible.

Did you know? Only Richarlison (five) has scored more Premier League goals for Everton at Goodison Park this season than Anthony Gordon (four).

Keita: James Milner’s challenge for the ball with Newcastle defender Fabian Schar led to Naby Keita’s superbly taken goal which took the Reds back to the top of the table for a short while.

There was no doubt in my mind, or Andre Marriner’s mind for that matter, that Milner got to the ball first. It was a crisp tackle and perfectly judged by the referee. Keita has found himself sharing the defensive midfield role with Thiago who has also been playing particularly well lately. Both men it would appear can be relied upon to do what is needed to get a result when it matters.

Did you know? Keita has averaged 3.8 tackles per 90 in the Premier League this season, the most of any Liverpool player with at least 900 minutes played.

Rodri: The ball from Phil Foden into the box for Manchester City’s first goal at Leeds was absolutely delightful. Foden found Rodri, who seems to be finding the net with monotonous regularity these days.

The Spain international’s movement was superb, especially the way he attacked the ball leaving Kalvin Philips totally exposed. Leeds, on the other hand, are in a relegation scrap with Burnley and Everton. They no longer have that fearlessness they had under previous manager Marcelo Bielsa, when they first burst onto the Premier League scene and gave the then-champions a huge fright at Anfield on the opening day of the season.

This is a Leeds United who are having to play with their heads and not their hearts and it is proving difficult.

Did you know? Rodri has scored five goals in 29 Premier League appearances for City this season, as many as he had netted across his first two campaigns in the competition (five in 69 games).

Brownhill: The way Burnley midfielder Brownhill took his goal in the dying minutes of the match against Watford – and with so much at stake – was breathtaking. I haven’t seen Burnley play like this since they arrived in the Premier league.

I really don’t want to rain on Sean Dyche’s parade but something has happened to the Clarets since his departure. There is a freshness to their game and a belief amongst their players I haven’t seen before. Burnley now have momentum. The way Burnley are playing they could survive this flirt with relegation.

Did you know? Brownhill has been directly involved in three goals in his last three Premier League games – one goal and two assists – as many as in his first 71 appearances in the competition combined.

Forwards – Son Heung-min (Tottenham), Gabriel Jesus (Manchester City), Ollie Watkins (Aston Villa)

Son: Two goals by Son Heung-min may have put Spurs momentarily back into the top four but if they don’t stay there, speculation will inevitably return over the future of Antonio Conte and Harry Kane.

Tottenham’s refusal in the summer to ‘take the money and run’ is starting to look like bad business. Son is quite capable of taking over Kane’s mantle, the question is how long can Spurs keep Conte when he is constantly being linked with some of the biggest clubs in Europe. Top four is vital if Spurs are to keep the Italian. As for Son, he is going nowhere.

Did you know? Spurs forward Son Heung-min has scored 11 goals with his left foot this season in the Premier League; the only player to score more goals in a single season in the competition with their weaker foot is Robin van Persie (12 right-footed goals in 2011-12).

Jesus: I regard Pep Guardiola as one of the best coaches in the world but he must see that he has to continue to play Gabriel Jesus for the remainder of the season and not persist with this awful false number nine formation.

Apart from anything else, Jesus is the only genuine striker in the club. Since the manager has put the centre forward back into his starting line-up, and given him a more central role, he has been scoring goals for fun.

Jesus’s first touch, not to mention the finish against Leeds, was emphatic. Everyone can see the player is happy again and it is crucial that Guardiola doesn’t sacrifice the striker again for even more creativity in the team. Surely he has enough of that.

Did you know? Jesus has scored in three consecutive appearances for Manchester City for the first time since November 2020, while the Brazilian has netted six goals across these last three games.

Watkins: The way the Aston Villa striker manipulated the ball, created the space and then smashed it past Norwich keeper Tim Krul was just top class.

Watkins has stuck to his task for Villa all season. I can never fault Watkins’ work rate – occasional his finishing may need a little fine-tuning but certainly not on this occasion. It was Watkins’ sliding tackled on Brandon Williams in Norwich’s own half that created the goal for Danny Ings. It sealed the points for Villa and ensured Norwich’s return to the championship.

Did you know? Watkins scored his 25th goal for Aston Villa in all competitions, at least 11 more than any other player for the club since his debut for them in September 2020.

Pick your team of the week

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

The Crooks of the Matter

It’s not often I disagree with the choice of the esteemed Football Writers’ Association but I was rather taken aback by their decision to award Mohamed Salah this year’s honour of Footballer of the Year. The Liverpool striker is a superstar – of that there is no doubt – and he has had an impressive goalscoring season.

However, Liverpool’s best player and, in my view the Reds’ player of the season, is Virgil van Dijk. He should have won the award. Regular readers will not be surprised by my choice as the Liverpool defender features in my team almost on a weekly basis.

That’s because Van Dijk is unquestionably the best defender in the world but he does not attract the same attention as Salah because it’s the Egyptian who scores the goals. I appreciate goal scorers better than anyone – my team of the week is often full of them. However this year the Football Writers’ Association has gone for the popular vote but not the right one.

Defenders seldom lift this prestigious award. The last time a Liverpool defender won it was Emlyn Hughes. He was not so much a great defender, but an incredible competitor. However, he wasn’t in Van Dijk’s class.

Another Liverpool great who the football writers let slip through their fingers was Alan Hansen who was the closest player I have seen to the Netherlands captain in pace, quality and vision.

Salah is very capable of winning the Champions League title for Liverpool but he will need Van Dijk to be in the team.

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