Garth Crooks’ team of the week: Zouma, Hojbjerg, Pogba, Kane


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Garth team of the week

Tottenham returned to the top of the Premier League with victory over derby rivals Arsenal on Sunday – but they remain above Liverpool on goal difference after the champions responded by beating Wolves.

The home wins for Spurs (2-0) and Liverpool (4-0) moved the pair above Chelsea, who went top on Saturday with a 3-1 win over Leeds United.

Leicester beat winless Sheffield United 2-1 to end the weekend in fourth, while Manchester United produced another fightback to beat West Ham 3-1 and Manchester City cruised to a 2-0 win over Fulham to remain close behind.

Elsewhere, Crystal Palace thrashed 10-man West Brom 5-1 and Burnley and Everton shared the points in a 1-1 draw at Turf Moor.

But who impressed me in the Premier League this week? Here’s my team. Read about why I selected them below and choose your best XI at the bottom.

Garth's team of the week: Pope, Fabinho, Zouma, Dier, De Bruyne, Hojbjerg, Pogba, Wijnaldum, Son, Kane, Zaha

Goalkeeper – Nick Pope (Burnley)

Burnley goalkeeper Nick Pope

Nick Pope: The first save from Everton striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin was quite brilliant, although I’m not too sure how much Nick Pope knew about it.

However, it was the England keeper’s second and third saves from James Rodriguez and a sensational save from Gylfi Sigurdsson that provided a valuable point for Burnley.

If you are going to have a good game then it might as well be in front of the England manager, even if your team are struggling in the league.

Did you know? Since the start of last season, only Sheffield United’s Aaron Ramsdale (172) has made more saves in the Premier League than Pope (152), who made five in Burnley’s draw with Everton.

Defenders – Fabinho (Liverpool), Kurt Zouma (Chelsea), Eric Dier (Tottenham)

Fabinho (Liverpool), Kurt Zouma (Chelsea), Eric Dier (Tottenham)

Fabinho: This was the second time Liverpool have scored four goals at home this season. The last time was the first game of the season, when Leeds took the champions to task in a 4-3 thriller.

This time Liverpool kept a clean sheet against a Wolves side who struck me as being a team who looked a little sorry for themselves having to play without their injured striker Raul Jimenez, who is currently recovering from a fractured skull.

Nevertheless, I thought Wolves were poor against Liverpool. One player I was impressed with however, was Liverpool’s Fabinho. The Brazilian can play anywhere. Currently he’s playing at centre-back and the way he’s playing, Virgil van Dijk can take as long as he likes to recover from his knee injury.

Did you know? In the absence of injured defender Van Dijk, Liverpool have conceded just six goals in 11 games in all competitions and have kept six clean sheets in the process.

Kurt Zouma: He’s done it again. Kurt Zouma loves popping up in the opposition penalty area on set-plays and getting on the scoresheet. I’m not sure who is better at it at the moment, Zouma or his senior partner Thiago Silva.

There is no doubt in my mind that the arrival of the former Brazil captain has had an enormous effect on the confidence of Zouma in the same way Marcel Desailly had quite a telling impact on John Terry’s game during six years together at Stamford Bridge.

If Zouma turns out to be anything like the defender Terry was for Chelsea then success is only just around the corner.

Did you know? Zouma has four Premier League goals in 10 appearances this season – as many as in 141 appearances in the competition before the 2020-21 campaign.

Eric Dier: The first ball into the box by Arsenal was a real tester but the header from Eric Dier was emphatic and so was the rest of his performance.

This is the third consecutive week the Tottenham defender has made my team of the week and each time his selection comes with a clean sheet. This defender is tailor-made for Jose Mourinho. No frills, no fuss and always ready for the battle.

The England international has come a long way since the night in March that Spurs lost at home to Norwich in the FA Cup and Dier was walking up steps to get to a fan who had upset his brother. Let’s hope the next time he’s walking up steps it’s to collect the Premier League title.

Did you know? Dier won 75% of his duels against Arsenal. He also made eight clearances – only Toby Alderweireld (11) made more for Spurs.

Midfielders – Kevin de Bruyne (Manchester City), Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg (Tottenham), Paul Pogba (Manchester United), Georginio Wijnaldum (Liverpool)

Kevin de Bruyne (Manchester City), Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg (Tottenham), Paul Pogba (Manchester United), Georginio Wijnaldum (Liverpool)

Kevin de Bruyne: It was just another day at the office for Kevin de Bruyne. The midfield maestro tormented Fulham. He laid on a number of chances for Raheem Sterling, scored a penalty and then hit the bar with a thunderous effort.

We are told that City have had a deplorable start to the season but they are only six points behind Premier League leaders Tottenham and have a game in hand.

Their game against Fulham – and last week’s fixture against Burnley – was barely a training session for City and just about keeps them ticking over. Make no mistake, City are making every effort not to attract any attention to themselves but they are looking ominously dangerous.

Did you know? Since joining Manchester City in 2015, De Bruyne has both scored and assisted a goal in 16 different Premier League games. No player has done so more in that time (level with Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah).

Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg: I didn’t think much of the signing of Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg in the first place, to be perfectly honest, and I wasn’t even sure he was a Tottenham player.

What has become increasingly obvious is that here is another Mourinho player. Hojbjerg is looking like the real deal in a side that is more interested in being solid than pretty football.

To be fair, Tottenham’s style of play at home against Arsenal wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be under Mourinho. In fact, Hojbjerg had Willian in his pocket for much of the game. If these performances continue like this, I might get to like Mourinho.

Did you know? Hojbjerg completed more passes (35) and made more interceptions (three) than any team-mate against Arsenal.

Paul Pogba: I felt somewhat compelled to put Paul Pogba in my TOTW on the basis that if I had left him out readers would have said that I have a problem with him.

Well, that’s because I do. The France international is irritating beyond belief. For an hour his performance was awful and then, out of nothing, he produces the most wonderful finish.

I would have brought him and Greenwood off at half-time. Which rather explains why I’m not the manager of Manchester United. After a dismal first half, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer showed calmness and courage when it seemed all around him were in a mild state of panic. Solskjaer certainly believes in this group of players.

Did you know? Pogba made more touches (121) and completed more passes (91) than any other player in Manchester United’s win at West Ham.

Georginio Wijnaldum: Spurs might be top of the table but if they think Liverpool are going to hand them the title without one hell of a fight, they can think again.

The champions were formidable against Wolves and Georginio Wijnaldum was once again at the heart of the victory. His goal, his first of the season, was fabulous and his performance impeccable.

The Dutch international’s contract runs out at the end of the season and I am convinced he’s destined for Barcelona. In the meantime, he’s going nowhere.

Did you know? Of Wijnaldum’s 26 Premier League goals, 23 have come at home (88.5%). That’s the highest ratio scored at home of any player with at least 20 goals in the competition’s history.

Forwards – Son Heung-min (Tottenham), Harry Kane (Tottenham), Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace)

Son Heung-min (Tottenham), Harry Kane (Tottenham), Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace)

Son Heung-min: I don’t think I’ve seen Tottenham have a better start in a north London derby and I’ve been in a few. The strike by Son Heung-min was just magical and his assist for Harry Kane’s thunderbolt wasn’t far behind. However, this is also a very different Spurs side to the ones I have witnessed in the past.

To see Hojbjerg, Moussa Sissoko and Steven Bergwijn all prepared to hoof the ball aimlessly to relieve the pressure with time to play is something of a culture shock. But if it’s been good enough for other teams to win the title playing that way in the past, why not Spurs?

From the reaction of the players, Tottenham think they can win the title playing like this and I’m starting to ask myself the same question.

Did you know? Tottenham pair Son and Harry Kane have now combined for 31 Premier League goals. That’s the second most of any duo in the competition, after Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard (36).

Harry Kane: I just can’t leave him out. As good as Marcus Rashford’s second-half performance was against West Ham, I have to find a place for Kane and it comes at the expense of Rashford.

Kane was brilliant in every department against Arsenal. His link-up play with Son is outstanding, while his defending from set-plays in his own penalty area is second to none.

The England captain maintains that Tottenham’s players are in their prime and that now is their time. He could be right, you know.

Did you know? Tottenham skipper Kane has now scored 11 goals in north London derbies. That’s the most of any player in the fixture’s history, overtaking Emmanuel Adebayor and Bobby Smith.

Wilfried Zaha: When you score two goals and get an assist away from home, it suggests you’ve caused the opposition a problem.

Wilfried Zaha didn’t just give West Brom something to think about – he’s put West Brom manager Slaven Bilic back under enormous pressure.

It’s not the first time one of Bilic’s players has needlessly been sent off through sheer petulance and it’s threatening their Premier League survival. Any suggestion that referee Paul Tierney could have done anything other than send Matheus Pereira off, once it was clear the offence was for violent conduct, is pure folly.

Did you know? Zaha has scored seven goals in nine Premier League games for Crystal Palace this season. His previous seven goals arrived over a period of 49 appearances.

The Crooks of the Matter

Thank goodness the fans are on their way back. They can be the bane of any player’s existence but, oh, how they have been missed.

When they are with you, they are magnificent, and when they are not, they can be the very devil. Arsenal must have thought Christmas had come early to have their fans giving them a helping hand against Rapid Vienna in the Europa League on Thursday, bearing in mind their form so far this season.

Chelsea also felt the impact of just 2,000 supporters in Stamford Bridge, coming from behind to beat Leeds to go top of the table – if only for a short while.

But there is also a dark side. It might be only a few supporters, as some have correctly pointed out, but it would be remiss not to mention an ugly stain on the game’s reputation. Sadly the ‘haters’ are still there. Booing players who dare to take the knee or to collectively voice ‘their opinion’ about social injustice.

The players have done a marvellous job and have made their point and strangely enough the lockdown has helped them do it without any interference.

The fans now have a wonderful opportunity to play their part and support their teams and not the haters.

And it’s good to have them back.

Pick your team of the week

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

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

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