While other leagues around the world are taking a festive break the Premier League is just heating up. Matchday 18 saw Chelsea, Liverpool, United and City all continue their winning runs, Henrikh Mkhitaryan score a stunning backheel goal and the demise of Swansea City manager Bob Bradley. This is The Mastermind‘s Team of the Week for Gameweek 18 in the English Premier League.
Goalkeeper: Ben Foster
33-year old goalkeeper Ben Foster was excellent yet again this weekend, calling into question why he is no longer one of England’s first choice keepers. Foster’s standout performance of the season so far was against Tottenham Hotspur back in October when he helped secure his side a 1-1 draw; and he nearly kept Spurs’ North London rivals out as well this Boxing Day. Foster did all that he could do to help Bromwich win the match, making 7 saves! He also claimed 100% of the crosses that came his way and had more touches and passes than any other West Bromwich player. Ben Foster hasn’t had a lot of big games or team of the week appearances so far this season but was almost unstoppable on Monday against Arsenal and fully deserves to make his second Team of the Week appearance of the season. Rating: 9/10.
Right Back: James Milner
As has been the case more than once this season, there was no standout right back this week so the versatile James Milner fills the void instead. James Milner has been one of Liverpool’s most exceptional players this season despite playing well-out of position. The 30-year old is always on the move and always looking for the ball while he also has a tremendous amount of ability at both ends of the pitch. He illustrated that perfectly on Tuesday night with his fantastic performance in Liverpool’s 4-1 win over the Potters. Milner grabbed his second assist of the season when he found Roberto Firmino at the top of the box for Liverpool’s second goal of the night and was always a present part of the Reds’ attacks during the game. Among his 111 touches on the ball which was more than any other player on the pitch, he created 3 chances, took 3 shots, won 3 duels in the air and made 3 clearances. He was also incredibly defensively sound, always breaking down Stoke City attacks, never allowing Mame Biram Diouf to get into the match and completing 9 tackles, more than any other player this week! James Milner is an excellent player, can play anywhere on the pitch and has arguably been the best left back in the league so far this season despite not even ever playing there before the season began. Rating: 9.5/10.
Centre Back: Winston Reid
Winston Reid is one of many West Ham United players who has a bit of a topsy-turvy start to the 2016-17 season but at the same time he has arguably been their most consistent performer. The New Zealander has already made two Team of the Week appearances so far this season and is about to add a third to his name for his fantastic performance against Swansea City. Reid was great in both boxes on Monday night, winning 3 duels in the air and scoring a goal at one end, while making 4 interceptions and 12 clearances at the other. His ability to always be in the right place at the right time for the Hammers was exceptional and his defensive work ethic and leadership ensured that Swansea never had a route back into the match. On his day, Winston Reid is one of the best centre-halves in the Premier League and earns himself a third team of the week appearance of the season thanks to his excellent display against Bob Bradley’s Swansea City. Rating: 9/10.
Left Back: Danny Rose
What a rise Danny Rose has had in the last two seasons. The English defender has quickly turned from a slightly above average Premier League fullback into easily the best left-back in the league. The Tottenham defender is having an excellent season so far in 2016-17 and this week earns himself his third Team of the Week appearance of the season. Rose was awesome against Southampton, defensively and offensively. In attack, the British fullback was Spurs’ most creative outlet and was always heavily involved in what they were doing. He created 2 chances, delivered 3 crosses and had 2 shots himself which didn’t find the target but did demonstrate his fantastic willingness to get forward and then run all the way back shortly after. In defense, he hardly missed a beat and in the process made 2 tackles, 2 interceptions and won 2 duels in the air. Two seasons ago, Danny Rose was nowhere near this level but after a superb 2015-16 campaign in which he was selected to the PFA Team of the Year and was one of England’s best players at Euro 2016 he is now earning a reputation as one of the best left-backs in the world. Rating: 9/10.
Centre Midfield: Paul Pogba
Paul Pogba was outstanding yet again for Manchester United, continuing to quietly go about his business and help to dig out results for the Red Devils. Paul Pogba has been outstanding this season and hasn’t received nearly enough credit for it. The French midfielder has been the main player controlling all of United’s games this season yet has still received a fair amount of criticism for his failures to find the back of the net on a regular basis. Nobody will be criticizing Paul Pogba this weekend however as the midfielder was exceptional in helping Jose Mourinho’s side cruise to victory against Sunderland. The 23-year old midfielder had 101 touches, made 70 passes, completed 3-take on’s, had 3 shots on target and created 2 chances for his side. He was also crucial in helping out in defense, completing more tackles, 3, and more interceptions, 5, than any other player on the pitch. On top of all of this, he also assisted Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s goal that put the game beyond reach for Sunderland, contributing to the scoring without being the one to score himself. Paul Pogba has been outstanding for United this season and definitely does not deserve all the criticism that has been coming his way these past few months. Rating: 9.5/10.
Right Attacking Midfield: Pedro
After a disappointing first season with the Blues in 2015-16, nobody would have expected Pedro Rodriguez to have such a positive impact on Antonio Conte’s Chelsea this season. The Spanish winger has been key to the Blues and despite tough opposition from other players has managed to keep his place in the side putting up some very impressive displays this season. One of the most impressive of all of Pedro’s displays this season came this past Monday against AFC Bournemouth. The 29-year old was instrumental in leading Chelsea to a 3-0 victory as he scored the first goal of the game and made the third happen with his incisive bit of footwork that forced Steve Cook to concede an own goal. Pedro also won 5 dribbles, made 2 clearances and 2 interceptions to help Chelsea cruise to victory. Although very few people in the world would make the argument that Pedro is a better footballer than Willian at this moment in time, the Spaniard is having no difficulty at all keeping the Brazilian out of the side and if he continues on like this could be one of Chelsea’s most important players in their surge towards the Premier League title. Rating: 9/10.
Attacking Midfield: Dele Alli
Dele Alli is back! After a disappointing run of form from mid-November to mid-December the 20-year old midfielder is back to his best again and was absolutely superb on Wednesday night against Southamtpon. The attacking midfielder was everywhere on the pitch during the match and like Danny Rose was heavily involved in practically everything Spurs created. Alli was a constant thorn in Southampton’s side, forcing 3 fouls and scoring from two of his three shots in the match. He also made 3 tackles and was fantastic in possession of the ball, pulling off some dazzling bit of footwork towards the end of the match, which 2 completed take-on’s doesn’t really do justice do. Still though, Alli is one of the best young talents that the world has to offer and now that he is back amongst the goals again nobody will be denying that for a very long time. Rating: 9.5/10.
Left Attacking Midfield: Roberto Firmino
Roberto Firmino was insanely good on Tuesday night against Stoke City, helping Liverpool earn a deserved 4-1 victory. The Brazilian forward had been lacklustre by his incredibly high standards in the previous two matches but came out to play in this match, giving it all he had, scoring a goal and being a mainstay in all of the Reds’ attacks. Firmino was Liverpool’s liveliest player in the match, creating 4 chances and taking 5 shots, 3 of which were on target. He also completed 3 dribbles, won 3 duels in the air and was just a constant thorn in Stoke City’s side. Glen Johnson and Ryan Shawcross just could not cope with him as he ran circles around Stoke’s defense. The 25-year old Brazilian is having a wonderful 2016-17 campaign so far and will certainly be one of Liverpool’s most important players in their push towards the top of the table. Rating: 9/10.
Striker: Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Zlatan Ibrahimovic was arguably the week’s standout performer as he led Manchester United to a third straight victory with a goal and 2 assists. Three of Ibrahimovic’s four shots in the match were on target but what was most impressive about the Swede’s play against Sunderland was his chance creation and impressive involvement in every single attack Manchester United. Zlatan created 5 chances for his teammates to score and his two assists allowed both Daley Blind and Henrikh Mkhitaryan to pick up very good goals. Ibra also did his defensive work with 2 tackles and 2 clearances and really just terrorized Sunderland’s defense, giving them no breathing room the entire night. Zlatan Ibrahimovic should not be this good at this age but somehow still manages to do it for Manchester United on a regular basis. Rating: 10/10.
Striker: Andy Carroll
It was only a month ago when West Ham were being talked about as serious relegation contenders but Slavan Bilic has turned things around again and has now gone four games unbeaten. One of the main reasons why West Ham have managed to survive defeat the past four games has undoubtedly been the return of Andy Carroll, arguably West Ham’s most crucial player. Carroll is a beast and a bully in the air and is so hard for any opposing defender to come up against, proving that to a tee on Monday night once again. Carroll gave Swansea pair Mike Van der Hoorn and Alife Mawson all kinds of trouble, winning a substantial seventeen duels in the air! Swansea’s entire squad won just sixteen duels in the air during the match, proving how incredibly difficult it is to defend against Carroll when he is on top of his game like he was against Bob Bradley’s side. On top of his stunningly good aerial prowess, Carroll also had 40 touches, made 4 clearances and got his name on the score sheet for the second time this season. Andy Carroll is just so hard to defend against and on Monday night, Swansea City just could not do anything to stop him. Rating: 9.5/10.
Striker: Eden Hazard
There is no player in the Premier League, perhaps in the history of the Premier League that is better with the ball at his feet than Eden Hazard. The Belgian international is so hard to stop when he gets possession of the ball as you just never know which way he is going to go, twisting and turning defenders inside and out, left, right and centre. Hazard completed an incredible 13 dribbles on Monday night against the Cherries, which was unsurprisingly far and away more than any other player this gameweek. His 87 touches on the ball were also more than any other Chelsea man, as were his 4 chances created and total of 5 shots in the match. Hazard also scored Chelsea’s second goal of the night, forced four fouls, completed nearly 85% of his passes and every single long ball he attempted found the foot of a teammate. Eden Hazard has been incredibly impressive so far this season and is currently on his way to leading Chelsea to a second Premier League title in three years. Rating: 10/10.
A 3-4-3 like this might not ever work but we don’t mind. It’s been a week of stellar attacking play and although the team might be a little short in defensive midfield, the surprisingly defensively capable Pogba will have no trouble picking up the pieces.
Substitutes: Darren Randolph, Ashley Williams, Daley Blind, Yaya Toure, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Dimitri Payet, Christian Eriksen
Daley Blind got Manchester United off and running on Monday with his first goal of the season but it was Henrikh Mkhitaryan who stole the show late on. After coming on in the 62nd minute Mkitaryan started to run the show for United going forward, creating 3 chances in less than half an hour and scored an absolutely incredible backheel goal to seal the deal for the Red Devils. 29-year old playmaker Dimitri Payet was everywhere from a West Ham standpoint in attack, delivering 9 crosses, creating 6 chances, touching the ball 76 times and assisting 1 goal. Christian Eriksen was also heavily involved this week for his team against Southampton, officially assisting one goal but unofficially assisting another while also hitting the crossbar in a seperate instance. Defender Ashley Williams was very sound in stopping Leicester from attacking while Yaya Toure looked as calm and composed as ever in helping City cruise to victory against Hull. Golakeeper Darren Randolph rounds out the bench for the second week in a row for his dominating display against Swansea in which he made 6 saves! These seven players were excellent on Matchday 18 but couldn’t force their way into the best XI.
Player of the Week: Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Zlatan Ibrahimovic had a hand in all three of Manchester United’s goals as he led them to a very good victory over Sunderland. His goal was classic Ibrahimovic movement, running power and finishing while his two assists were both delightful passes that just invited the goals to be scored. With 5 chances created and 4 shots in the match, the Swedish striker gave Sunderland a massive headache and with him in the team David Moyes’ side never had a chance at winning this match. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is this week’s Player of the Week narrowly beating out Eden Hazard and Dimitri Payet to the accolade.
Manager of the Week: Slavan Bilic
After earning himself an honourable mention last week, Slavan Bilic just could not be overlooked this week. The Croatian manager has completely turned things around for West Ham since the start of the month and they have now gone five games unbeaten! The best of these five results came this past Monday against Swansea City where Bilic’s team were so good that it cost Bob Bradley his job. Bilic’s team were excellent on Monday, playing classic counter attacking football and playing to their strengths, Dimitri Payet and Andy Carroll. Bringing Carroll back into the side as soon as he could was completely the right call and has probably been the main reason why the Hammers have been able to recapture their form of last season when they finished in 7th place. It was also smart from the Hammers boss to re-introduce Andre Ayew to the side, the former Swansea player who spent the last three months out injured. Ayew didn’t take long at all to re-establish himself back in Slavan’s plans, scoring within fifteen minutes. Darren Randolph also continues to impress in goal after replacing Adrian just over two months ago and Bilic’s change from a 3-4-3 to a 4-2-3-1 to go more direct for this match was yet again exactly the right call to make. Slavan Bilic has turned things around again and a man that seemed slightly close to losing his job has now gone five games unbeaten as West Ham now sit just 2 points off of 8th place.
So there it is! The Premier League Team of the Week for Gameweek 18. Like what you read? Comment below to share your thoughts and can’t wait to see you again next week!