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Garth Crooks’ Team of the Week: Pope, Robertson, Odegaard, Kulusevski, Toney, Nunez

Garth Crooks

At the end of every Premier League weekend BBC football pundit Garth Crooks will be on hand to give you his Team of the Week.

Who has he picked this time? Take a look then pick your own team. As ever, Garth will have his say on the game’s big talking points in The Crooks of the Matter.

Garth Crooks' team of the week
Garth Crooks’ team of the week

Goalkeeper

Nick Pope (Newcastle)

The save by Nick Pope from Chelsea’s Conor Gallagher was impressive but nothing less than what I expected from an international goalkeeper.

The question is, when is Pope going to replace Jordan Pickford for England? Everton are languishing in 17th place while Pope, 30, has helped Newcastle into the top four, keeping clean sheets, and his confidence is sky high.

Gareth Southgate must not lose the self-assurance Pope has gained from playing so well for the Magpies these past few months. I very much doubt Southgate will remove Pickford from the number one spot but based on form he should for their first game in Qatar against Iran.

Defenders

Andy Robertson (Liverpool)

This lad has been out of sorts for a while now – for some reason he’s certainly not been himself.

Against a Southampton side who seemed to respond to the arrival of new boss Nathan Jones, Andy Robertson looked like his confidence had returned. When Robertson is on his game there isn’t a better left-back in the country.

He produced two excellent assists, his first for Roberto Firmino and his second for Darwin Nunez. With Scotland out of the World Cup, I’m not entirely sure Robertson will relish twiddling his thumbs for a month having got his form back.

Wout Faes (Leicester)

I wasn’t sure about this defender when I first saw him play for Leicester and thought he might struggle in the hustle and bustle of the Premier League. Well, Wout Faes looks like the real deal and might prove to be a real star at the club.

Faes has helped the Foxes keep six clean sheets in seven games and played a major part in the renaissance at the King Power Stadium. He looked as solid as a rock against West Ham.

It was interesting to see James Maddison walk off the pitch after feeling a slight twinge in his knee prior to joining the England World Cup squad. Read my thoughts on the players’ schedules and whether they play too much football as they enter the World Cup in The Crooks of the Matter below.

Gabriel (Arsenal)

Last week it was William Saliba who received the plaudits for an excellent performance against Chelsea. However, against Wolves, the Frenchman looked a little vulnerable and needed Gabriel to get him out of one or two rather tricky situations.

It’s always a good sign that, when one player is having a difficult time, his partner can raise his game and fill the void. Quite apart from Gabriel’s performance, Arsenal’s defensive line-up is the real strength behind their success.

Two consecutive clean sheets away from home tells its own story, and if you think Mikel Arteta isn’t serious about this title challenge one look at his team selection against Brighton in the Carabao Cup in midweek should tell you all you need to know about his priorities.

Kieran Trippier (Newcastle)

The inclusion of Kieran Trippier in England’s World Cup squad is not just indicative of how well he’s playing but also the impact his captaincy is having on Newcastle United.

The full-back has been outstanding for much of the season and instrumental in the Geordies sitting proudly among the Premier League elite.

Chelsea, however, seem to be struggling with the demands of playing three games a week. Graham Potter is new to this level of management and must learn to manage his resources better if he’s to survive at Stamford Bridge. The Blues have got used to winning and currently sit eighth in the table. Any lower and there will be murmurings.

Midfielders

Martin Odegaard (Arsenal)

The more I see this player the more I like him. Cool under pressure, never over-celebrates and, dare I say it, brings a touch of elegance to an Arsenal side that is showing more class than I’m used to seeing from the Gunners.

It would seem goals, clean sheets and a touch of sophistication in midfield from Martin Odegaard are combining to keep Arsenal top of the table.

I must say I’m finding all this success on this side of north London excruciatingly painful but that will only add to the joy of Arsenal fans. My only hope is that not all teams top of the table at Christmas go on to win the title.

Harvey Barnes (Leicester)

This kid was unlucky to miss out on being called up to the England World Cup squad and if anything had happened to Bukayo Saka or Raheem Sterling over the weekend, Harvey Barnes would have been an ideal replacement.

The player is looking back to his best again after some difficulty with injuries. He’s quick, likes to take players on and has developed a keen eye for goal.

Meanwhile, West Ham looked jaded against Leicester – they are another club struggling with their schedule and may benefit from the break. Perhaps the World Cup has come at a good time for the club and especially for David Moyes.

Dejan Kulusevski (Tottenham)

Leeds United cannot be expected to score four goals to get a point away from home and five to win a match. They were the demands imposed by their defence on their strikers against a Tottenham side full of errors.

Spurs have not played well since their defeat at the Emirates against Arsenal, although they have been picking up points.

However, the return of Dejan Kulusevski to the starting line-up after injury has given the team a touch of quality in the most important areas. The 22-year-old Swedish international set up two superb goals as he continues to prove to be an invaluable addition to a very unconvincing Tottenham team at the moment.

Forwards

Ivan Toney (Brentford)

To be left out of a World Cup squad, particularly when you’re having a good season, can have a devastating effect on a player – just ask Paul Gascoigne.

It’s alleged that the former Tottenham Hotspur superstar was so angry having been left out of France ’98 by Glenn Hoddle that he trashed his bedroom in the England team hotel in La Manga.

Ivan Toney, having heard of his snub, took his frustrations out on Manchester City. The Brentford striker answered Gareth Southgate’s refusal to include Toney in his 26-man squad heading for Qatar with two goals and a performance that said almost as much about the player’s character as it does about his ability to score goals.

Danny Ings (Aston Villa)

This was an impressive performance by Aston Villa away at Brighton. With minutes left to play they defended like a Serie A team with 10 players behind the ball, such was their determination to win this match.

In fact I saw Villa in this mood for a short period under Dean Smith and again under Steven Gerrard. Playing like this and with this energy, will and determination, Villa are a hard team to beat.

Smith and Gerrard couldn’t maintain this form and it will be interesting to see if Unai Emery can. Bring a fit Ollie Watkins back into the fold alongside the in-form Danny Ings and it might all get very interesting at Villa Park again.

Darwin Nunez (Liverpool)

The young Darwin Nunez is starting to find his rhythm at Anfield and, as a consequence, the goals are beginning to come naturally as he doesn’t seem to be trying so hard to impress any more.

The 23-year-old Uruguay international undoubtedly has all the elements to become a top-class striker and might one day even fill the role left by Sadio Mane – although that is a big ask.

Southampton did have a go, but didn’t have the class or firepower to really trouble the former European champions. Nunez, on the other hand, desperately wants to get on the end of things which is a nightmare for any defence.

Short presentational grey line

The Crooks of the Matter

Apparently, footballers are being “pushed past acceptable limits” by a “saturated” schedule to allow for a mid-season World Cup, says players’ union Fifpro. Poor darlings!

The players have complained before about the amount of football they are asked to play but I fail to see their argument. The modern game offers the professional player the most exceptional facilities imaginable. Pitches are in pristine condition all year round while the tackle from behind has become totally outlawed.

Clubs have, as part of their backroom staff, nutritionists, the best sports science and medical teams, while individuals get access to all the necessary data and analysis possible in order to make the most informed decisions. Squads are bigger than they have ever been, each club can play as many as five substitutes in any first-class fixture, and due to technology know exactly when to play a player and when they need to rest.

Most importantly, players are not forced to play football – they do so of their own accord, in line with their contracts and in exchange for astronomical sums of money. The union is there to protect them not pamper them. The honest truth is players have never had it so good.

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