Team of the Week – Thibaut Courtois saves Chelsea while Liverpool and Manchester City stars shine
By Rich Laverty.
Both the title and top-four race took more unexpected twists last weekend. Chelsea drew 1-1 against Burnley, while Manchester United slipped to just their 2nd defeat in 20 at the Liberty Stadium. But, elsewhere, normal service resumed as the likes of David Silva and Yaya Toure showed their class over at the blue side of Manchester.
Goalkeeper: Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea)
Despite not being on the winning side for once, Courtois saved his side on several occasions as they failed to deal with the threat a Burnley side with their tails up caused them.
His instinctive reactions thwarted the visitors two or three times and the Belgian could do little about Ben Mee’s late header that salvaged a point for Burnley. But his performance ended up going slightly under the radar given the refereeing of Martin Atkinson.
Right-back: Branislav Ivanovic (Chelsea)
The Serbian defender is fast becoming Chelsea’s key goal threat after Diego Costa. As if a goal against Aston Villa and an important Champions League header against PSG wasn’t enough, it was almost predictable that Ivanovic would pop up with the opener against the Clarets.
He could have added to his tally but we’ll never know where his strike was heading before it hit the arm of a Burnley defender – or ‘Minute 33’ as it has become known as since.
Centre-back: Martin Skrtel (Liverpool)
Undoubtedly the big Slovakian can be a bit erratic at times but he has become a crucial part of a Liverpool defence that is unrecognisable from the one before Christmas. Liverpool are rarely leaking goals and Skrtel was superb against Southampton on Sunday.
They may not have looked as steady as they have in recent games, but Skrtel stood firm and led his fellow defenders through a tough encounter.
Centre-back: Emre Can (Liverpool)
The central midfielder isn’t doing bad in a three-man defence is he? There was a bit of confusion early on, given Dejan Lovren had replaced an injured Mamadou Sakho, but Can soon settled in.
He could easily have given away a penalty and been sent off within a minute but the young German is looking every bit the top player. With Steven Gerrard on his way, Liverpool fans will be eager to see what he can do if he steps into the legend’s spot next season.
Left-back: Aaron Cresswell (West Ham)
Cresswell has proved a snip since joining Hammers for £4million from Ipswich Town, confirming there is still plenty of value in the market. He constantly caused Tottenham plenty of problems at White Hart Lane on Sunday.
His crossing was accurate and he was influential in West Ham taking a 2-0 lead. With internationals on the horizon, Cresswell deserves a spot every bit as much as Danny Ings or Harry Kane; but two things are against him: England are spoiled at left-back and sadly, defenders don’t get the same attention strikers do unless they are at a top club. For that reason, you’d expect Luke Shaw to be in the squad over him next month.
Centre midfield: Yaya Toure (Manchester City)
Boy, were City fans pleased to have the new Africa Cup of Nations champion back against Newcastle. Their form without him in January had been staggering – defeats at home to Middlesbrough and a 1-1 draw against Hull made it look like the title race was over – but Toure was at his brilliant best as they swept past Newcastle on Saturday.
He does things with such ease; he created space and despite Newcastle being woeful, showed his class time and time again. Toure finished the day off with a first-time volleyed pass for international team-mate Wilfried Bony.
Centre midfield: Cheikhou Kouyate (West Ham)
The big midfielder continued the impressive form he showed against Manchester United two weeks ago. In midfield, he was on-song alongside Alex Song and got forward well to put the Hammers ahead with an excellent header.
He controlled the midfield battle and really added a different dimension to Sam Allardyce’s team. If he can continue the form he has shown of late, he’ll become a key part of the West Ham starting line-up.
Centre midfield: Ander Herrera (Manchester United)
Another who continued his impressive form of late. Watching Herrera against Swansea made the notion that he hadn’t started a Premier League game since December all the more unbelievable. Herrera was United’s saviour against Preston last week and finished off a classy move to put his side ahead on Saturday.
It was a goal very similar to his first for the club against QPR back in September and his fifth in total. His passing was slick and the United attack looked better with him in the team, so where’s he been all this time?
Right-wing: Philippe Coutinho (Liverpool)
While it wasn’t Liverpool’s most dominant performance of late, Coutinho’s moment of magic clinched the game early on for the form team of the Premier League.
Southampton spent the opening exchanges going right at Liverpool’s defence, but the Brazilian’s brilliant bending shot within five minutes gave the visitors a lead that the Saints couldn’t peg back. He has really come into his own this season and continues to link well with Raheem Sterling and Adam Lallana.
Left-wing: David Silva (Manchester City)
On his day, the brilliant Spaniard is arguably the best player in the Premier League. You could also make arguments for several of his team-mates but Silva did things on his own on Saturday. Newcastle offered no pressure on the ball and let Silva have the freedom of the Etihad, but he certainly made the most of it.
A mouth-watering pass for Edin Dzeko set up City’s third goal of the evening, before Silva scored two in less than two minutes with two classy finishes in the second half. A wonderful solo performance from the superstar.
Striker: Edin Dzeko (Manchester City)
Regularly outshone by Sergio Aguero up front, Dzeko looks like he’ll be the fall guy once £30m signing Bony settles in but the Bosnian did his best to impress his City boss on Saturday.
He was a handful from the start, and his control and finish for the third goal were excellent. His goalscoring record continues to prove he has a worthy role at the Etihad and Dzeko was certainly a handful on Saturday as the new signing watched on. Manuel Pellegrini has some big decisions to make.
Read more from Rich Laverty here.
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