Garth Crooks’ Team of the Week: Saka, Haaland, Rice, Gallagher

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 and, as ever, Garth also discusses the game’s big talking points in the Crooks of the Matter.

Garth's team of the week graphicGoalkeeper

Caoimhin Kelleher (Liverpool): Alisson was out of action due to illness and so Kelleher made a rare appearance for Liverpool and played particularly well. The Republic of Ireland goalkeeper made two excellent saves against Burnley and in Alisson fashion stayed on his feet both times and forced the striker to make a poor decision.

First he denied Zeki Amdouni, who was clean through on goal, and later David Datro Fofana. Both Burnley’s strikers should have scored and would have done had it not been for Kelleher’s reading of the situations. Burnley had enough chances to get something out of this game but blew it.


William Saliba (Arsenal): West Ham never laid a glove on Arsenal. The Gunners were as strong in defence as they were in attack. There was a moment late in the game when every Arsenal player seemed to be defending as though their lives depended on it, even congratulating each other as if they had scored a goal when the danger was eventually cleared. Saliba was at the heart of this impressive defensive display. That said, I don’t think I’ve seen a West Ham side capitulate quite so badly. A defeat of this magnitude – 6-0 at home – will reignite the issue amongst their fans as to whether David Moyes is the right man to take the Hammers forward. I think a little investment in the team might be a better idea.

Harry Maguire (Manchester United): Whatever you may think about Maguire’s football ability, he doesn’t shirk his responsibilities or duck a challenge. His time at Old Trafford recently has been chequered to say the least. He has struggled to hold down a regular first-team place, has been the subject of transfer speculation, and to some extent regarded as surplus to requirements, but none of that has fazed him. When he’s been selected to play, and it’s normally when Manchester United have been struggling or facing an injury crisis, he has stepped up to the mark. His performance in the 2-1 win against Aston Villa was unwavering. It was his assist that created United’s first goal for Rasmus Hojlund to score from close range while he won every header in his vicinity. You can’t argue with that.

Gabriel (Arsenal): I thought he was outstanding the previous week against Liverpool and his performance against West Ham was just as impressive. It was Gabriel’s 150th competitive match for the Gunners and the Brazilian is looking impressively commanding and far less likely to give a penalty away or silly free-kicks on the edge of his own box. He has always been an asset on set-pieces because he attacks the ball so well, which he suitably demonstrated when he scored Arsenal’s third goal of Sunday’s game while protecting an impressive clean sheet. He has forged a formidable defensive partnership with William Saliba, which is not too dissimilar to Kolo Toure and Sol Campbell who were part of the ‘Invincibles’. Although I don’t see Premier League titles on the horizon any time soon.


Conor Gallagher (Chelsea): Chelsea’s FA Cup victory over Aston Villa last midweek was impressive, but I wasn’t convinced they could repeat the same performance against Crystal Palace in the league. For 45 minutes I was right. Chelsea were slow, laborious and altogether dull, and Palace deserved their first-half lead. Suddenly Raheem Sterling comes on and Chelsea find a spark and a rhythm to their game. Gallagher and Cole Palmer start to come alive and you start to ask yourself: why wasn’t Sterling on the park from the start? Gallagher grabs two goals against the club that helped him ignite his career, and he leaves Selhurst Park with Crystal Palace wondering where their next point is coming from. Well, there’s gratitude for you.

Declan Rice (Arsenal): I thought the price tag of £105m for Rice was ludicrous. The fact that Arsenal actually paid it was quite astonishing. After all, those sums of money are normally reserved for strikers scoring 20 goals a season. However, since the arrival of the former West Ham captain at the Emirates, he has looked imperious. Long gone are the extravagancies of Granit Xhaka, in exchange for a far more acceptable and even-tempered Rice, who is a far better footballer anyway. The ball he provided for Gabriel to head home was a peach, while his strike that put Arsenal 6-0 up was as good as they get. What is plain to see is that Rice has grown as a player since his arrival at Arsenal. He’s certainly playing for a better side and with better players, but he has acquired a confidence and authority that comes with it.

Bruno Guimaraes (Newcastle): He scored two of the best goals I’ve seen all season in the 3-2 win at Nottingham Forest. The skill and technique required to produce such a high-quality finish on the volley against Forest was sensational, while his second goal was worthy of winning any match. Guimaraes has been an inspiration ever since he arrived at St James’ Park. The Geordie fans have always loved their midfield ball players, especially those who wear their heart on their sleeve and show them that they care, and Guimaraes is one of those. Newcastle had a little bit too much for Forest on the day, but the hosts were unlucky not to be awarded a penalty when Taiwo Awoniyi appeared to be brought down by Martin Dubravka. Referee Anthony Taylor was having none of it.

Kevin de Bruyne (Manchester City): The quality of player Pep Guardiola left out of his starting line-up seemed to suggest City saw Everton as easy pickings. It took 65 minutes for the Manchester City manager to change his tune by bringing on De Bruyne. Guardiola clearly wanted the luxury of keeping a number of players fresh for the Champions League fixture against FC Copenhagen on Tuesday night, but he had to revert to Plan B. Once De Bruyne established his presence, passes that were going sideways were now going forward. The through ball by De Bruyne for Erling Haaland to score his second goal of the game was a defender’s nightmare, compounded by the quality of the finish.


Erling Haaland (Manchester City): Everton made Manchester City work for the points, yet it was mistakes by arguably their two best defenders on the day, James Tarkowski and Jarrad Branthwaite, that cost them the game. Haaland accepted the gifts and put Everton to the sword on both occasions. The win by City, who have a game in hand, keeps the pressure on league leaders Liverpool, but Guardiola’s team will not want to drop any points prior to going to Anfield on 10 March. City have to tackle local rivals Manchester United before they meet Liverpool and it is imperative they keep Haaland and De Bruyne fit if they intend to lift the title this season. If anything were to happen to either player and Liverpool were to extend their lead to five points – it’s over.

Ivan Toney (Brentford): What a fabulous finish we saw from Toney. The Brentford striker is back in action after his eight-month suspension and scoring goals like he’s never been away. When players have been out of action for as long as Toney was, you’re entitled to be a little rusty, especially in front of goal. However, Toney has been as sharp as a razor since his return to first-team duty and boy did the Bees need him. Brentford had lost seven out of eight league games before Saturday, but they played well against Wolves and deserved the 2-0 win. It would seem, with only one year left to run on Toney’s contract, Brentford will want to cash in. The England striker wasn’t prepared to be drawn on the issue in his post-match interview. Arsenal should have snapped him up the moment he had been suspended and he would have cost half of what he would cost now. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if he ends up at Chelsea. They are desperately in need of a top striker.

Bukayo Saka (Arsenal): He’s come a long way since he missed his penalty in the Euro 2020 final shootout. However, the way the England international put his spot-kick past Alphonse Areola in the West Ham goal to put Arsenal 2-0 up seemed to suggest Saka hasn’t lost a wink of sleep about taking penalties since that fateful evening. I said then that the experience would make a player out of him and it has. He’s not only become one of the best players in the country, he’s Arsenal’s most consistent goalscorer. Meanwhile, as emphatic as their win was against the Hammers, Arsenal cannot win the title without a top-class natural finisher at centre-forward and they don’t have one.

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The Crooks of the Matter

Ange Postecoglou made the point of condemning the game’s lawmakers last week about Ifab’s insistence on introducing ‘blue cards’, where players will be sent off for 10 minutes for dissent or cynical fouls. The Spurs boss has made some very astute remarks recently about how the faceless bureaucrats are unnecessarily interfering in the professional game and I couldn’t agree more. The introduction of sin-bins will simply provide officials with the opportunity to inflict the game with more badly judged decisions and provide enough time for it to have a detrimental effect on the quality of the contest. Any team worth its salt would simply park the bus in front of the goal until the dismissed player returns. I’d also be less concerned with the proposal if I thought the majority of referees could actually tell the difference between a genuine attempt to win the ball back and one that is not.

What’s worse, the rule-changers want to trial the new system in the professional game. Haven’t they learnt their lesson? The Premier League is not the place to be running pilot schemes.

They did this with the video assistant referee when they used top-class fixtures to test the competence of the technology and what a catastrophe that turned out to be, especially in its early days. If they are going to introduce new laws into the game then players and managers and, most of all, the fans deserve the right for those laws to benefit the game or improve the contest, not disrupt it.

Uefa president Aleksander Ceferin will have nothing to do with the idea, stating this is not footballexternal-link – and he’s right.

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