Garth Crooks Team of the Week: Salah, Gabriel, Willian, Rodriguez


The Premier League season is underway – and Liverpool’s title defense has started with an exciting 4-3 victory against promoted Leeds United.

Leicester enjoyed a 3-0 victory at promoted West Brom, Newcastle drew attention as they beat West Ham 2-0, while Crystal Palace beat Southampton 1-0.

Finally, Chelsea beat Brighton 3-1 and wolves won 2-0 at Sheffield United in Monday’s matches.

Take a look at my team of the week – then try making your own at the foot of this room.

Goalkeeper – Vicente Guaita (Crystal Palace)

Win Guaita

Guaita: A save by Che Adams and another by Danny Ings produced Crystal Palace’s first victory in nine league appearances. Wilfried Zaha may have scored the only goal against Southampton – but Vicente Guaita won the match.

I saw Guaita perform very poorly towards the end of last season. And once the palace was mathematically secure, Zaha’s screens plunged. Fortunately, the two men were in a very different mood against Southampton.

If Palace are to avoid another relegation fight, then Guaita has to be at his best – and Zaha has to score a lot more goals to justify his price.

Did you know? Vicente Guaita made five saves to go with his clean sheet against Southampton. Only once has he made more saves while keeping a clean sheet for Palace (eight against Brighton in February).

Defenders – Timothy Castagne (Leicester), Gabriel (Arsenal), Romain Saiss (Wolves), Tariq Lamptey (Brighton)

Timothy Castagne (Leicester), Gabriel (Arsenal), Romain Saiss (Wolves), Tariq Lamptey (Chelsea)

Chestnuts: Leicester were leading the Hawthorns 3-0 and they had barely broken a sweat. West Brom had spent so much energy trying to contain the visitors, it was only a matter of time before cracks started to appear in their defense.

It was Timothy Castagne who made the breakthrough – and the fact that the defender showed up in Albion’s open-play area says as much as anyone can about how Brendan Rodgers wants his team to play.

It’s always a great sign when players other than forwards want to score goals.

Did you know? Timothy Castagne became the fifth Belgian to score on his Premier League debut, following Luc Nilis, Thomas Vermaelen, Christian Benteke and Leandro Trossard.

Gabriel: I thought Arsenal’s first half performance at Fulham was impressive, especially the contribution from Kieran Tierney. However, it was Gabriel who caught my eye.

The 22-year-old Brazilian looked imposing at the back and comfortable on the ball. Arsenal appear to benefit from Gabriel and Willian’s inspired additions to the setup – and they suddenly look like a team with options.

Fulham, meanwhile, seems hesitant and lacking in quality, especially in the final third. Unless they manage to get Aleksandar Mitrovic in shape and score goals, I think the writing may already be on the wall.

Did you know? As well as becoming the 10th Arsenal player to score on his Premier League debut, Gabriel also completed 108 assists (out of 114 attempts), at least 24 more than any other player in this game.

Saiss: It was an exceptional performance for Wolves – and in particular Romain Saiss – at Sheffield United on Monday.

The Moroccan defender scored a fabulous header and had another flash through the post with Aaron Ramsdale beaten. He then joined a breakaway attack and forced the Sheffield United keeper to push a formidable shot over the post – before coming off the line at the other end to deny the Blades a certain goal.

The Wolves defender had a great game.

Did you know? Scorer Saiss recorded a record 45 joint-team assists in the win at Bramall Lane, completing 89% of them (40).

Lamptey: It was a comfortable win for Chelsea at the end of Monday – although there was a point where I thought they were working hard at Brighton.

I have a feeling Brighton will have another relegation-fighting season but there is a shining spark in their ranks and his name is Tariq Lamptey. I saw him become a Chelsea sub on his Premier League debut against Arsenal last December and he was exceptional. However, in order to get some playing time, he decided to leave Stamford Bridge.

I have no doubt that he made the right decision. And if he continues to play like he did against Chelsea, he won’t be at Brighton for very long.

Did you know? Lamptey provided the assist for Trossard’s goal and launched into a five-dribble game.

Milieu – Jeff Hendrick (Newcastle), James Rodriguez (Everton), Willian (Arsenal)

Jeff Hendrick (Newcastle), James Rodriguez (Everton), Willian (Arsenal)

Hendrick: At West Ham there were a number of impressive exhibits from Newcastle newcomers. The band’s choice was Jeff Hendrick.

Besides being smart with the ball, Hendrick has an eye for the goal. He organized Callum Wilson’s first arrival before hitting a nice shot in front of Lukasz Fabianski to put the game well beyond the Hammers.

This time last season, Steve Bruce was arguably the most unpopular man in the Northeast. He is now considered a very credible manager, having created a team worthy of the region.

Meanwhile, West Ham continues to make headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Did you know? Jeff Hendrick both scored and assisted against West Ham – it was the first time he had done so in the Premier League in his 123rd appearance in the competition.

Rodriguez: When I heard Carlo Ancelotti lured James Rodriguez to Goodison Park, it was clear Everton’s days of mediocrity were over.

The Colombia international looked extremely comfortable in a new-look midfielder that outclassed Spurs.

With Allan and Abdoulaye Doucoure alongside Rodriguez, the Toffees appear quite capable of finishing at least in the top six.

In contrast, Tottenham’s signings seem less inspiring. Worrying weather for Spurs.

Did you know? James Rodriguez became the first Premier League debutant to create at least five chances since Alexis Sanchez for Arsenal in August 2014.

Willian: Regular readers will know what I think of Willian as a player. I said last season that Chelsea couldn’t afford to lose him. Letting him go to London rival Arsenal, of all teams, was madness and could cost them dearly in the final analysis.

Against a Fulham team who were out of their depth, Willian produced a first performance that must have been a scary watch for his former manager Frank Lampard. The Brazilian was just finding his bearings with a free kick that passed Fulham goalkeeper Marek Rodak and hit the post. He left Craven Cottage with two assists under his belt and a 3-0 victory.

What did Chelsea do?

Did you know? Willian became the first player to score two goals on his Premier League debut for Arsenal since Ray Parlor made it against Liverpool in August 1992.

Forwards – Mohamed Salah (Liverpool), Dominic Calvert-Lewin (Everton), Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Arsenal)

Mohamed Salah (Liverpool), Dominic Calvert-Lewin (Everton), Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Arsenal)

Faux: What a way to reintroduce yourself to the Premier League after 16 years. I’ve never seen a team come out of the league and face Liverpool like Leeds United did on Saturday. It was at Anfield and not at Elland Road, by the way. I thought Leeds was beautiful. The question now is: can they turn performances like this into points? It took another Mohamed Salah-inspired performance to pull out the title holders.

If other teams can take games to Liverpool the same way Leeds do, then we’re in for one hell of a season.

Did you know? Mohamed Salah scored his 50th, 51st and 52nd home goals in the Premier League against Leeds. He reached 50 home goals in 63 appearances – only Alan Shearer (47 apps) made it faster.

Calvert-Lewin: Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s header at Tottenham was worthy of winning any game. In fact, it was so good that any further consideration of including Jamie Vardy or Callum Wilson in my Team of the Week was suddenly out of the question.

Under Carlo Ancelotti, this boy is improving with every game. It could be a defining season for the young Evertonian. He has everything he needs to be a top-notch striker. If he can stay fit, which invariably means taking care of himself, he can be whatever he wants.

Did you know? Dominic Calvert-Lewin is Everton’s top scorer in Premier League games under Carlo Ancelotti with nine goals in 21 appearances.

Aubameyang: I have enormous respect for Scotty Parker, but what does Fulham expect from his manager with little or no money? Create real goal scorers from scratch?

After 57 minutes, Fulham were up 3-0 at home against Arsenal, with the home side having only one serious shot on goal. Meanwhile, Alexandre Lacazette and series star Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang showed Fulham forwards what predatory instincts really look like.

Aubameyang’s goal was in a different class. Come to think of it, Arsenal too.

Did you know? Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang became the first player to score on the first day of consecutive Premier League games for Arsenal since Robert Pires in 2003-04 and 2004-05.

The crooks of matter

It seems that the meaning has finally prevailed. Jon Moss’s decision on Saturday at Crystal Palace to overturn the dismissal of Southampton defender Kyle Walker-Peters after viewing video evidence is, in my opinion, a major step forward. Finally, it looks like the referees have found the courage to take back control of the game and not be dictated by Stockley Park.

Regular readers will know how appalled I was at the position shown last season by so many umpires, who seemed to trust decisions made by others and refused to take matters into their own hands. There were even times when they allowed the game to descend into chaos.

If an official is in any doubt, seeking the support of video evidence is a strength, not a weakness. Of course, the referees will make mistakes – but they must be their own mistakes.

The referee is in charge of the match and his decision is always final. Nothing, but nothing, should ever interfere with this golden rule.

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