Garth Crooks' Team of the Week: Pickford, Van Dijk, Mount, Son, Mane

by Steven Smith
11 minutes read

Liverpool twice came from behind to earn a 2-2 draw at Premier League leaders Manchester City to remain one point behind their title rivals with seven games remaining.

Elsewhere, third-placed Chelsea thrashed Southampton 6-0, while Tottenham took control of the race for fourth with a 4-0 win over Aston Villa.

Fellow Champions League hopefuls West Ham were beaten 2-0 by Brentford on Sunday, after Arsenal lost 2-1 to Brighton and Manchester United fell to a 1-0 defeat at struggling Everton.

Leicester City leapfrogged Crystal Palace into ninth with a 2-1 victory, while Norwich City kept their Premier League survival hopes alive with a 2-0 victory against relegation rivals Burnley.

Newcastle’s 1-0 win over Wolves and Leeds United’s 3-0 win at Watford saw both clubs move further away from the bottom three.

But what you want to know is, 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)

Jordan Pickford: When you lose seven of the nine games you are in charge of, you’re entitled to be concerned. Frank Lampard would have been a nervous wreck against Manchester United but he somehow kept it together – and so did Jordan Pickford.

It was unfortunate for Marcus Rashford that Pickford was in such good form. On any other occasion the United striker might have scored two goals, had it not been for two outstanding saves from the Everton keeper.

The save from Rashford’s bullet header was without doubt the save of the match. It’s now abundantly clear that Ralf Rangnick’s appointment at United has not worked and neither has Cristiano Ronaldo’s return. United have good players but the problem is they don’t have a manager who can get the best out of them.

Did you know? Jordan Pickford kept only his second clean sheet in his past 18 Premier League matches – and his second ever against Manchester United.

Defenders – Antonio Rudiger (Chelsea), Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool), Ben Gibson (Norwich City)

Antonio Rudiger: The most impressive feature about this Chelsea performance was their clean sheet. Any defence that has conceded seven goals in two matches will have had their confidence badly shaken.

Antonio Rudiger hasn’t flinched for Chelsea since Thomas Tuchel brought him back into the side on his arrival at the club.

Rudiger played in the defeats against Brentford and Real Madrid but returned against Southampton fearless and unconcerned about what had taken place days before. Southampton never got a sniff.

Did you know? No player completed more passes in Chelsea’s 6-0 win over Southampton than Rudiger (97), while he gained possession 10 times – the outright most of any player.

Virgil van Dijk: I don’t often select a defender whose team concedes two goals away from home but this is one of those occasions when I am prepared to make an exception.

The Manchester City match wasn’t a game for the faint-hearted. You need focus and nerves of steel to get through this sort of fixture and Virgil van Dijk has plenty of both.

There was a moment in the second half when Raheem Sterling was one on one with Van Dijk and Sterling couldn’t out run him, wrong foot him, or out-power him. In the end Van Dijk dispossessed Sterling and brushed him to one side. This was an outstanding football match with outstanding players and Van Dijk was the pick of the bunch.

Did you know? Virgil van Dijk had more touches and made more passes than any Liverpool team-mate at Etihad Stadium. He has made 2,236 passes in total this season – behind only Manchester City’s Joao Cancelo (2,380), Aymeric Laporte (2,362) and Rodri (2,277) in the Premier League.

Ben Gibson: The game against Burnley wasn’t a classic by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, it was two very ordinary sides desperately trying to secure another season in the Premier League.

Winners Norwich are on borrowed time. I said on the first day of the season they would go down and I have not changed my opinion. What they are doing is making a fight of it.

Ben Gibson was pivotal for Norwich at the back, along with Grant Hanley. Burnley, meanwhile, looked a completely different team from the one that beat Everton three days earlier. They couldn’t buy a goal.

Did you know? Only defensive partner Grant Hanley (12) made more clearances than Gibson (eight) in Norwich’s 2-0 win over Burnley.

Midfielders – Enock Mwepu (Brighton), Mason Mount (Chelsea), Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall (Leicester City), Dejan Kulusevski (Tottenham)

Enock Mwepu: Mikel Arteta said it had been a tough week for Arsenal. I’ll say – disastrous more like. Hammered at Crystal Palace and comprehensively beaten at home by Brighton – two results I never expected.

Brighton continue to unearth quality players quietly and with minimum fuss. I can’t remember Enock Mwepu having such a profound effect on Brighton’s performance before or scoring such a brilliant goal for that matter. Brighton have had a shocking time of it lately and needed this victory.

The win has, to an extent, restored some of the credibility Brighton had gained earlier in the season when they were playing well and winning matches. The south coast club now sit above Aston Villa, Southampton, Leeds and Everton. They were fighting to stay in the league two seasons ago.

Did you know? Enock Mwepu has been involved in five goals in his past five Premier League games, with this the first time he’s scored and assisted in the same game in the competition.

Mason Mount: The flick over the shoulder by Mason Mount for Marco Alonso to score was matched only by the two superbly taken goals he scored himself.

What a performance this was by Chelsea after two appalling defeats against Brentford and Real Madrid. For Southampton to receive the backlash from these two embarrassing performances by Chelsea was unfortunate.

Mount is the nearest thing I’ve seen to Frank Lampard in a Chelsea shirt since the club-record goalscorer hung up his boots and went into management. I don’t think Mount will ever threaten Lampard’s record but he might have a go.

Did you know? Mason Mount scored and assisted in a single Premier League game for the fifth time this season – the joint-most in 2021-22, alongside Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah.

Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall: If you are going to score your first goal in the Premier League it might as well be a memorable one.

Dewsbury-Hall (which sounds more like an English stately home than a footballer) provided the assist for Leicester’s first goal and then scored a beauty himself. This was another important win for Leicester, who seem to be making good progress after a number of indifferent results in mid-season.

They suddenly look like a team who might be on the verge of putting a run together. Dewsbury-Hall looks like he can handle the ball and, with James Maddison and Youri Tielemans still on the books, next season is starting to look quite promising.

Did you know? In his 20th Premier League appearance, Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall netted his first top-flight goal and also assisted Ademola Lookman’s goal.

Dejan Kulusevski: What Antonio Conte is doing at Spurs is nothing short of remarkable. He is bringing players to the club who have a different mentality to those who have been there previously.

One such player is Dejan Kulusevski. He is currently on loan from Juventus but the quicker they make his position at Tottenham permanent the better.

Kulusevski has been a revelation since his arrival from Italy and brings a certain quality to the side and a healthy competition for places. Suddenly there is an air of ruthlessness about Tottenham’s performances – and not before time.

Did you know? Since Dejan Kulusevski’s first Premier League start on 19 February, no player has more assists than him (six, level with team-mate Harry Kane).

Forwards – Son Heung-min (Tottenham), Sadio Mane (Liverpool), Timo Werner (Chelsea)

Son Heung-min: This was a super show by Spurs and in particular Son Heung-min. The South Korea international is looking lethal in front of goal again. .

It is also noticeable that when Son scores, Harry Kane tends to be the provider. Both players appear to be constantly looking for each other in and around the box these days and it is a feature that has transformed Tottenham’s fortunes.

Fourth spot now looks achievable and that will be crucial in determining the futures of Kane and Conte at the club. Don’t think for one minute Conte is a permanent fixture at Spurs. One wrong move from the chairman, or should the team’s performance dip, and this serial winner will be out the door.

Did you know? Excluding penalties, Son Heung-min has scored more goals in the Premier League this season than any other player (17).

Sadio Mane: We didn’t see an awful lot of Sadio Mane in the first half but he was everywhere for Liverpool in the second half against Manchester City. You don’t get a lot of fuss from Mane. He just gets on with it.

These sort of games are so intense that they can often result in rash decisions being made by players and referees, resulting in a player being sent off. However, here was a game played in the right spirit, with tremendous commitment from both teams, and a referee who could handle the occasion.

I can’t wait for the FA Cup semi-final between these two teams next week. More of the same, gentlemen, please. Read what I have to say about referees who have struggled with the big occasion in the Crooks of the Matter below.

Did you know? Liverpool’s Sadio Mane became only the second player in Premier League history to score on his birthday against a team starting the day top of the table, after Wayne Rooney against Arsenal on his 19th birthday in 2004.

Timo Werner: I don’t think I have ever seen a striker who has hit the woodwork as often as Timo Werner. I’ve seen him do it on numerous occasions in previous matches and he hit the frame of the goals three times against Southampton before he helped himself to a calmly taken double.

Werner hasn’t had an easy time since joining Chelsea but he has persevered and got his rewards as a consequence.

Whether this performance can inspire the same sort of victory against Real Madrid in the return leg of their Champions League quarter-final remains to be seen. A performance like the one in Barcelona with 10 men would do very nicely.

Did you know? Timo Werner scored his second and third Premier League goals of the season, all of which have come against Southampton. Indeed, 56% of his goals in the competition overall have come against the Saints, who are the only opponent he has scored against more than once.

Pick your team of the week

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

The Crooks of the Matter

It was announced this week that, after 22 years, Premier League referee Mike Dean will hang up his whistle.

I would like to say thanks for the memories but I can’t. One manager was of the view when he heard the news that Dean should have retired 10 years ago. Well, I wouldn’t go quite that far but the referee does have a habit of bringing those emotions out in people.

He has been at the centre of too many controversial decisions over the years. His pompous manner and flamboyant behaviour on the pitch have left many confused and angry when all we wanted to do was enjoy the game.

There was a moment I completely lost it with Dean on Final Score. Arsenal were playing Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and it was by far the game of the day. The match was finely balanced with the battle between Arsenal centre-back Gabriel and Chelsea striker Diego Costa very much the feature of the match.

A meaningless tussle ensued between the two players resulting in Dean giving Gabriel his marching orders. It is a habit Dean has repeated more than any other Premier League referee but, more importantly, it destroyed what was an excellent football match and the spectacle the fans had come to see in a crass moment of total self-indulgence. I went ballistic.

I admit I come from an era where the best referees were highly respected but they had earned it. Greats such as Jack Taylor, Pat Partridge, Keith Hackett and arguably the greatest of them all, the Italian Pierluigi Collina, were extraordinary officials.

Players always knew where they stood with them. Then there were the showmen – Roger Kirkpatrick with his handlebar moustache. Clive Thomas was an excellent referee and famous for outlawing the tackle from behind, when many of his generation would bottle it, but boy did he enjoy the limelight.

Mike Dean fits nicely into that category. Sadly, on too many occasions, Dean has allowed the big moments to cloud his judgement. Staying calm and objective under extreme pressure is what defines a great referee. I just wish Dean had possessed both those qualities when it mattered.

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