Garth Crooks’ Team of the Week: Raya, Foden, Richarlison, Bradley

After every weekend of the Premier League, BBC football pundit Garth Crooks gathers his thoughts and gives you his Team of the Week.

Here are this week’s choices – taking in the midweek matches from the end of January. And as ever, Garth also discusses the game’s big talking points in the Crooks of the Matter.

Garth Crooks' team of the weekGoalkeeper

David Raya (Arsenal): I was rather surprised by the way Mikel Arteta first introduced Raya into the Arsenal set-up, especially when Aaron Ramsdale appeared to have done nothing wrong. However, things have settled down since the Spanish goalkeeper took the number one spot. His confidence has steadily improved with every game. He looked especially commanding in their 2-1 win at Nottingham Forest and even more secure in their 3-1 victory over Liverpool. Consecutive wins have taken the Gunners within two points of Jurgen Klopp’s Premier League leaders and Raya is starting to look like he’s the real deal.


Conor Bradley (Liverpool): I saw this lad make his Premier League debut at Bournemouth and he caught my eye then. However, what took place against Chelsea 10 days later stopped me in my tracks. First and foremost Bradley can defend, and secondly the goal he scored against Chelsea was of the highest quality. I’ve seen current Liverpool strikers smash balls towards the goal without a great deal of thought. Bradley’s strike in the 4-1 demolition of Chelsea was so precise if the Blues had two keepers in goal they wouldn’t have saved it – it was a fabulous goal. What impressed me most about the full-back’s performance was he played the game as though he belonged in the team.

Gabriel (Arsenal): This has been an amazing week for Arsenal and in particular Gabriel. The defender very much wears his heart on his sleeve and is totally committed to the cause. Against Nottingham Forest he was in the thick of it and played his part in a resolute performance by the Gunners. However, it was his display in defence against Liverpool that really impressed. He never gave Diogo Jota a kick, who looked like he missed the physical presence of Darwin Nunez. Meanwhile, Gabriel’s partnership with William Saliba reduced Liverpool’s chances to a minimum. Liverpool blew Chelsea away in midweek and I was surprised Nunez was left out of their starting line-up. There was a time when Liverpool never changed a winning side. It might be worth returning to that philosophy.

Fabian Schar (Newcastle): No-one could have predicted the outcome of Aston Villa v Newcastle. Newcastle have had the most amazing, if not turbulent, season. A taste of the Champions League left Eddie Howe’s team running on empty at times. Meanwhile, Aston Villa had gone on a 17-match unbeaten run in the Premier League on home soil but succumbed to a 3-1 defeat in devastating performance by the Magpies after the winter break gave them enough time to recover. Schar performed brilliantly in both penalty boxes, scoring two well-taken goals while at the same time defending admirably. He had a much more difficult time however against Luton in a 4-4 thriller at St James’ Park four days later. Newcastle conceded four goals but collected four points from two games and came from behind twice against the Hatters. Newcastle held their nerve and produced a result having been 4-2 down while Luton caved in, the reason I still think they won’t survive.


Phil Foden (Manchester City): Pep Guardiola’s side go second in the table after sweeping Burnley and Brentford away in a matter of five days. What’s more, City are two points behind league leaders Liverpool and with a game in hand, which has probably taken the wind out of Arsenal’s sails after their impressive win over Liverpool on Sunday evening. What must be very worrying for all concerned at the top of the table is that City have won both these fixtures without a great deal of effort. Meanwhile, Foden is looking majestic. He assisted Rodri’s goal against Burnley in their 3-1 win over the Clarets, and helped himself to the most glorious hat-trick at Brentford. If anyone thinks City are suffering from fatigue having won the Treble last season I suggest they think again. They are as formidable now as they have ever been and are still the team to beat.

Eberechi Eze (Crystal Palace): Crystal Palace’s 3-2 win over Sheffield United was a fabulous game of football. Palace were in need of a good performance having lost 5-0 to Arsenal and Sheffield United were in desperate need of points. Both teams went all out for the win but it was the display by Eberechi Eze that not only set Selhurst Park alight, but produced two outstanding goals. His first required the most extraordinary improvisation and his second was just sheer class. It’s not just Eze’s form that is catching the eye but his abilities on the ball. He’s a lovely player to watch and the nearest thing I’ve seen to Tony Currie. Like Currie, Eze handles the ball beautifully, can go either side and can finish. The South Yorkshire club suffered on the night because of Eze’s genius.

Douglas Luiz (Aston Villa): Aston Villa’s 5-0 cruise at Sheffield United was an impressive recovery by Unai Emery’s side. Villa suffered at the hands of Newcastle United earlier in the week but took their frustrations out on the Blades and in no uncertain terms. Luiz set up two goals in a matter of minutes with the most exquisite defence-splitting passes. The Brazilian was back to his best against a United side that looks destined to play its football next season in the Championship if they don’t beat Luton at Kenilworth Road at the weekend. Villa meanwhile find themselves back in the top four at the expense of Manchester United and Newcastle – two teams that were playing Champions League football earlier in the season and expect to be in the mix again next season. However, Emery is very comfortable playing in Europe and his record with Sevilla proves it. He will be desperate to retain Villa’s top-four position.

Bukayo Saka (Arsenal): Two massive goals in two crucial fixtures for Arsenal. Bukayo Saka is no stranger to big games but I doubt whether he will score two more important goals in back-to-back fixtures all season. Against Nottingham Forest, Saka got the winner that kept the Gunners in touch with the league leaders followed by Arsenal’s opening goal against Liverpool at home. The game against Forest was a hard-fought affair and saw Arsenal at their resilient best. However, the victory over Liverpool will have the Gunners talking about titles again – and that means Tottenham fans’ favourite other team will be Manchester City.


Elijah Adebayo (Luton): Their 4-0 defeat at Luton was a Brighton horror show. It started badly and got progressively worse for the Seagulls. Elijah Adebayo scored a hat-trick and was Luton’s hero on the night, and retained his goalscoring form against Newcastle in their following fixture. I had consigned Luton to the scrapheap months ago but their season has suddenly become interesting. Tom Lockyer’s return to the club after his cardiac arrest this season certainly galvanised his team-mates against Brighton, and they seemed to carry that momentum into the Newcastle fixture. However, when a team scores four goals away from home they are not just expected to win, they are entitled to win. The mere fact Luton scored four goals and still failed to take all three points raises massive questions about their ability to remain in the league.

Matheus Cunha (Wolves): All credit to Wolves, who recovered brilliantly from their 97th-minute defeat at home to Manchester United to then go and put four goals past Chelsea in a matter of days. That said, Chelsea were woeful against Liverpool but even worse against Wolves. The men that traumatised the home side were Matheus Cunha, who scored the goals, and Pedro Neto who provided them. The Brazilian striker exploited every mistake Chelsea made – and there were plenty. How can Chelsea have a billion-dollar team whose best defender is 39 years of age and no world-class centre-forward? Meanwhile Gary O’Neil’s position at Molineux goes from strength to strength.

Richarlison (Tottenham): Tottenham and Everton fans will know that Richarlison is not one of my favourite players. In the past he has been petulant, complaining and dramatic, bordering on infantile, but since the departure of Son Heung-min to the Asian Cup the Brazilian has shown a side to himself I didn’t think he possessed. His goal, not to mention his performance in the 3-2 win against Brentford, was outstanding while his conduct having scored two goals in the 2-2 draw at Everton four days later was as respectful as I have seen from any footballer towards a former club. Not only did Richarlison recognise the significance of the goals, but the devastating effect it may have on Everton’s future. To put his hands together and bow in an apologetic reverence to the Gwladys Street End was about as respectful as it gets.

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The Crooks of the Matter

The late, great Frank Worthington will always be remembered for scoring the goal of the season for Bolton against Ipswich in 1979. However, towards the end of his career he was asked which were his best clubs and in typical fashion he responded: “Stringfellows, Tramp and the Millionaire.” Footballers drinking and frequenting nightclubs is nothing new and was the norm in the 1970s and ’80s. In fact you were considered rather odd if you didn’t.

So why is Marcus Rashford being vilified and his private life suddenly of national media interest since he was seen in Belfast nightspots before missing training with Manchester United after reporting ill?

Rashford has opted for a much lower profile since the striker dispensed with his successful high-profile campaigns which caused a government U-turn on free school meals during the pandemic. The problem for Rashford is that the striker has stopped scoring goals for the United with any regularity. What is abundantly clear and has never changed, is if you are scoring goals regularly you can do and say almost anything you want.

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