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Garth Crooks' Team of the Week: Pickford, Romero, De Bruyne, Nketiah

Manchester City moved three points clear of Liverpool at the top of the Premier League with a 5-0 win over Newcastle United on Sunday.

Liverpool were held to a 1-1 draw by Tottenham, who are now four points behind Arsenal in the race for fourth place after the Gunners beat relegation threatened Leeds United 2-1.

Third-placed Chelsea are only one point ahead of Arsenal following a 2-2 draw with Wolves, while Manchester United, who lost 4-0 to Brighton, face a battle with West Ham, who won 4-0 against Norwich City, for the final Europa League spot.

Elsewhere, Everton beat Leicester City 2-1 to move out of the bottom three, Watford’s relegation was confirmed in a 1-0 loss to Crystal Palace, Burnley suffered a 3-1 defeat against Aston Villa, and Brentford recorded a 3-0 win over Southampton.

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: For the second consecutive week Jordan Pickford pulled Everton back from the brink of defeat.

The save from Harvey Barnes was quite incredible and the one-handed stop from Nampalys Mendy was almost identical to the save made by Peter Shilton during the England versus Scotland game when Kenny Dalglish hit a scorcher at Wembley.

That was regarded as a world class save at the time and provides some indication of the quality of the save by Pickford against Leicester.

Did you know? Jordan Pickford made seven saves against Leicester, his joint-most in a Premier League match when finishing on the winning side (also against Bournemouth in January 2019).

Defenders – Vitaliy Mykolenko (Everton), Cristian Romero (Tottenham), Conor Coady (Wolves), Marc Cucurella (Brighton)

Mykolenko: When you consider what is taking place in Ukraine at the moment with the Russian invasion, it’s a testament to Mykolenko’s strength, courage and resilience that he’s in any fit mental state to play professional football.

To bring the Ukraine international into the starting line-up at this time must have raised some eyebrows.

Nevertheless, the full-back’s outstanding goal provided the impetus for the Toffees – who have never been relegated from the Premier League – to go on and win the game and take three vital points.

Everton are now back in the driving seat having taken six points from their past two games.

Did you know? Vitaliy Mykolenko is the first Ukrainian to score a Premier League goal for Everton, becoming the 39th different nationality to find the net in the competition for the Toffees – the sixth most of all clubs.

Romero: The tackle was almost as brutal as the look of contempt. Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson felt the weight of Cristian Romero’s boot as the Spurs defender left the Liverpool captain reeling on the touchline.

The referee completely ignored any overtures for a foul and quite rightly so. The tackle was brilliant and set the tone for a proper game of football and not this namby-pamby interpretation of what modernists think the game should be.

Romero won the ball fair and square. Well done Michael Oliver – the game is not gone yet.

Did you know? Cristian Romero made nine ball recoveries against Liverpool – with only Dejan Kulusevski (10) making more for either side in the match.

Coady: It’s very easy when your position in the league is safe and there is no threat of relegation for players to slip into holiday mode. Wolves have played the last four games as if they have had their minds on the Costa del Sol and not winning football matches.

What changed at Stamford Bridge, I’m not entirely sure, but it was a helluva comeback. It might have been the spectacular goal that substitute Francisco Trincao scored with minutes left to play which galvanized them, but to see Wolves flooding the Chelsea penalty area, desperate to get an equaliser, was a world away from where they have been these past few weeks.

Conor Coady got the equaliser – but then with Raul Jimenez off the pitch, who else was going to get the goal in open play when the team was desperate?

Did you know? Conor Coady’s equaliser (96 mins 29 secs) was Wolves’ second-latest ever Premier League goal since exact time data is available (from 2006-07), after Raul Jimenez against Burnley in August 2019. It was also the second latest goal Chelsea have conceded during that period, after Luis Suarez’s strike for Liverpool in April 2013 (96:30).

Cucurella: If anyone was in any doubt why I tend to select goal scorers for my team then you only had to see the reaction of Brighton’s Marc Cucurella to understand why.

His strike was brilliant but the enormity of what it meant to him was clearly visible. Scoring goals has always been the most difficult thing to achieve on a football field but when it’s your first goal, scored in such spectacular fashion, it can be very emotional.

Cucurella will remember his goal against a shocking Manchester United for the rest of his life. United, on the other hand, will want to forget this encounter as quickly as possible.

Did you know? As well as scoring his first goal for Brighton, Marc Cucurella had the most touches (44) and completed the most passes (36) of any player for the Seagulls on Saturday.

Midfielders – Pascal Gross (Brighton), Emiliano Buendia (Aston Villa), Kevin de Bruyne (Man City), Said Benrahma (West Ham)

Gross: There goes any chance of Manchester United qualifying for the Champions League and after a performance like that I’m not surprised. Quite what happens to centre-backs at United I don’t know.

You certainly couldn’t blame Harry Maguire for this defeat (although some would like to) as he wasn’t even on the pitch. Brighton destroyed United and Pascal Gross gave Raphael Varane nightmares.

The German was outstanding and has been all season. The only person who has been better is manager Graham Potter. The Seagulls are currently ninth in the table and look like finishing in their highest ever Premier League position.

Did you know? Pascal Gross scored his fourth Premier League goal against Manchester United – double the amount he’s scored against any other side in the competition.

Buendia: I’m a huge Philippe Coutinho fan but the arrival of Emiliano Buendia in the Aston Villa team certainly gave them a spark that may in the end finish off Burnley’s chances of staying in the Premier League.

The Clarets have staged a mini revival under Mike Jackson’s new regime but Burnley seem to have run out of steam – or at least that’s what it look like against Aston Villa.

Buendia ran them ragged. The one player who has held Burnley together limped off and if they don’t get James Tarkowski fit and back in the starting XI quickly then they can kiss goodbye to any chance they have of staying in the league.

Did you know? Emiliano Buendia scored and assisted in a Premier League game for the first time, in his 67th appearance in the competition.

De Bruyne: Manchester City were back in cruise control against Newcastle after their painful experience in Madrid in midweek. Their departure from the Champions League didn’t seem to have the slightest effect on their attempt to secure the points – and the Premier league title – against the Geordies.

Kevin de Bruyne was the architect of this commanding performance by City, as cries of ‘campione, campione’ rang out around the Etihad from their supporters.

Liverpool fans will hope that presumptuousness backfires but somehow I don’t think it will. The title is over. Read about what I think City have to do to win the Champions League in the Crooks of the Matter below.

Did you know? Kevin de Bruyne created six chances against Newcastle, taking his total Premier League tally to 77 for the season. Per 90 minutes, the Belgian has created the most chances of any player this season (3.6).

Benrahma: This match was over within 45 minutes of the game commencing. Said Benrahma didn’t simply just run the show for West Ham – he was putting further nails in an already sealed coffin.

Playing the season out having already been relegated must be very difficult for the Norwich players but they did have a go in the second half. It is important that they do so and start to prepare for next season now if they intend to return to the Premier League immediately.

As for the Hammers, they recovered well after a difficult Europa League exit in Frankfurt in midweek. Teams that reach European football finals don’t just have to play their best football, they have to keep their heads – including their manager.

Did you know? Said Benrahma scored his eighth and ninth Premier League goals to register 21 goal involvements in the competition. Only Jarrod Bowen (30) and Michail Antonio (28) have also registered 20+ goal involvements in the Premier League for the Hammers since Benrahma’s debut in October 2020.

Forwards – Romelu Lukaku (Chelsea), Eddie Nketiah (Arsenal)

Lukaku: The reaction from his team-mates to Lukaku’s successfully converted penalty said all you need to know about his popularity in the dressing room.

But it was the way he stuck away his second goal with such confidence and composure that suggests Thomas Tuchel must be very careful with how he handles Lukaku’s future at Stamford Bridge.

The Chelsea striker has had a difficult season at Chelsea and could return to Italy in a heartbeat. Meanwhile, there is an element of uncertainty surrounding the club at the moment.

It looks like Antonio Rudiger and Cesar Azpilicueta are already off and they would be wise to stem the flow of departures until the new owners get their feet under the table.

Did you know? Following his brace against Wolves (separated by 138 seconds), Romelu Lukaku is now Chelsea’s outright top scorer in all competitions this season with 14 goals.

Nketiah: It looks like Arsenal have finally found a striker to replace Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. I find it extraordinary that a 22-year-old English forward, who finds himself at a club like Arsenal and playing the football of his life, hasn’t had his future nailed down by the club.

He clearly has all the attributes that make a top player. Even if Arsenal were to buy a renowned goal scorer they would be crazy to let Nketiah go.

As for Leeds, they only have themselves to blame. Asking goalkeepers to manipulate the ball with their feet in situations that would have given Maradona problems is madness.

I can only imagine how mindbogglingly stupid Luke Ayling must feel having left his team to play the rest of the game with 10 men after just 27 minutes. He stays on the field, Leeds come away with a result.

Did you know? Eddie Nketiah put Arsenal 2-0 up after 10 minutes, becoming just the second Arsenal player to score twice in the opening 10 minutes of a Premier League game after Kanu (against Sunderland in October 2002).

Pick your team of the week

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

The Crooks of the Matter

Manchester City are better than Liverpool and they destroyed Real Madrid over two legs – but Liverpool are in the final of the Champions League and so are Real.

As another season comes to a close, Manchester City have been rocked so much by their Champions League semi-final exit that there have even been calls for Pep Guardiola to be sacked.

City fans are entitled to be angry. They have unceremoniously blown two excellent chances at lifting this trophy.

Football fans, when hurt, allow their frustrations to get the better of them but no serious Manchester City fan could possibly contemplate anything so hysterical as showing Guardiola the door and expect to be taken seriously.

City still have a Premier League title to win and the way they brushed Newcastle United aside in pursuit of yet another trophy suggests what took place in Madrid last Wednesday night was merely part of the suffering that must form part of the winning.

Ian Wright painstakingly told me over lunch this week that City hadn’t ‘suffered enough’ to win the Champions League.

Liverpool suffered terribly in the 2018 final when a dubious challenge by Sergio Ramos saw Mohamed Salah carried off. The situation was soon compounded by the disastrous goalkeeping errors made by Loris Karius.

The Reds have since returned in the 2019 and 2022 finals, and with a vengeance. Manchester City haven’t suffered enough to win the Champions League. However, when they have, they will.

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