Paul Pogba, Mohamed Salah and Laurent Koscielny all feature in the Premier League best XI for matchweek 23.
Paul Pogba can barely remember what life with Jose Mourinho was like. Not when he’s enjoying playing for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer this much.
Pogba continued to be the catalyst for Manchester United’s terrific post-Mourinho revival. The midfielder scored from the penalty spot as the Red Devils beat Brighton 2-1 in the Premier League on Saturday, a seventh-straight win in all competitions.
He is joined in the latest team of the week by fellow Frenchman Laurent Koscielny. The Arsenal center-back was sensational during the Gunners’ 2-0 win over Chelsea at the Emirates Stadium.
Both United and Arsenal kept their chances of a top-four finish alive by winning. Yet they aren’t even in touching distance of leaders Liverpool.
The Reds edged past Crystal Palace, 4-3 at Anfield, thanks largely to a brace from attacking talisman Mohamed Salah.
Find out who else makes the team of the week:
Goalkeeper: Tom Heaton, Burnley
Burnley still aren’t safe from the threat of relegation, but the Clarets will welcome a well-earned point away to Watford. The 0-0 draw owed a lot to the performance of Tom Heaton between the sticks.
He made a number of key saves to frustrate the Hornets whenever the hosts turned up the pressure. Heaton’s best stop rebuffed a volley from Tom Cleverley, but he also twice kept Troy Deeney at bay.
This was the kind of performance was becoming the norm for Heaton before injuries and Nick Pope’s form stalled his seemingly inevitable ascent to becoming a regular for England.
Heaton may not force his way back into the international fold at 32. However, he will play a vital role in maintaining Burnley’s recent revival defensively, the club’s best means of beating the drop.
Defender: Sead Kolasinac, Arsenal
Sead Kolasinac’s transformation since Unai Emery took over at Arsenal has been remarkable. He’s gone from injury prone and unconvincing squad player to the Gunners’ most consistent attacking outlet.
Getting more threat from the full-backs is one of the main differences between Emery and predecessor Arsene Wenger. Kolasinac has been the main beneficiary thanks to his pace and direct mentality.
Both qualities were on display against Chelsea as Kolasinac ran Cesar Azpilicueta ragged. The latter is usually steadiness itself, but he had few answers for the raiding tank disguised as Arsenal’s left-back.
Kolasinac isn’t often credited with defensive nous, but he earned some plaudits for the way he slowed down Eden Hazard. His case was helped by Chelsea’s best player looking disinterested with his ill-fitting false 9 role.
Even so, Kolasinac stuck to his defensive duties well. If he can add more assurance at the back to the menace he unleashes going forward, the free-transfer capture in 2017 will soon be considered Wenger’s last great signing.
Defender: Laurent Koscielny, Arsenal
It’s not unreasonable to ask was that really Laurent Koscielny leading the Arsenal defense against Chelsea? Or was it an amalgamation of Paolo Maldini, Laurent Blanc and Tony Adams?
Koscielny was so good his performance almost defied belief. The Frenchman snapped up by Wenger for a bargain fee from Lorient in 2010 hadn’t played this well since Arsenal beat Barcelona 2-1 in the Champions League back in 2011.
Koscielny was a magnet for the ball against Chelsea. No matter how the Blues attempted to play through the midfield lines and a packed defense, they found Koscielny waiting.
He was always on hand to stubbornly block a shot, make a last-ditch tackle or produce a key interception. From a physical standpoint, this was the stuff of miracles for a 33-year-old not long returned from over six months out with a ruptured Achilles.
Koscielny also showed he’s lost none of the anticipation and instinct for reading the game. He knew where Chelsea runners would be and the pattern of the visitors’ passing.
As if his defensive masterclass wasn’t enough, Koscielny scored Arsenal’s second goal. His scrambled finish offered a reminder of the credible goal threat the defender has always offered:
If Koscielny can stay fit he could end the defensive frailty that’s hamstrung Emery’s attempts to return the Gunners to the Champions League.
Defender: Aymeric Laporte, Manchester City
Okay, so Huddersfield didn’t pose much of a threat as the most goal-shy team in England. Even so, Aymeric Laporte deserves to be applauded for his calm, no-nonsense defending and classy distribution during Manchester City’s 3-0 away win on Sunday.
Laporte doesn’t generate the hype of Liverpool’s rock at the back, Virgil van Dijk. Yet he’s still quietly become the talisman City’s defense has lacked since injuries began ravaging Vincent Kompany.
He was outstanding against a Huddersfield side geared to go long and dominate in the air. Laporte won his aerial duels with the minimum of fuss and quickly snuffed out any danger on the deck.
The ex-Athletic Bilbao ace was at his best with the ball at this feet. His thoughtful range of passes, delivered from a wand of a left foot, released runners and added variety to City’s attacking play.
City’s chance of retaining the title will depend just as much on Laporte’s presence as the many match-winners in forward areas.
Defender: Fabian Schar, Newcastle
Like Burnley, Newcastle are another team needing to lean on defensive solidity to help beat the drop. Fortunately, Fabian Schar is giving the Magpies mettle at the back, along with an unexpected threat going forward.
The Switzerland international left more than a few observers doubting their eyes after he scored Newcastle’s first against Cardiff in spectacular fashion:
Schar doubled his tally in a scrappier way when he was in the right place to get a touch on Salomon Rondon’s flick inside the box. Ayoze Perez added the third and final goal in stoppage time, but it was Schar who had lifted Newcastle above the Bluebirds and out of the bottom three.
The Magpies’ chances of staying there will hinge on the defensive strategies of manager Rafa Benitez and bargain signings like Schar.
Midfielder: Leroy Sane, Manchester City
Pep Guardiola has brought the necessary discipline to Leroy Sane’s riff-with-it approach. Yet he’s done it without stifling the gifted winger’s free spirit altogether.
The result is a player every giant of the European game will covet within two years.
Sane showed off the ruthless efficiency he’s added to his core flair by scoring one goal and assisting another against the Terriers.
Those goals continued the remarkable production in the final third from a precocious talent still nowhere close to his full potential:
Sane’s development is a big reason why City are the most free-scoring force in England’s top flight. The 23-year-old is also why you should believe Liverpool are still far from a lock to take the title away from Manchester.
Midfielder: Joao Moutinho, Wolves
Nobody made a better value signing during last summer’s transfer window than the £5 million Wolves paid to acquire Joao Moutinho from Monaco.
The newly promoted team got one of the most cultured playmakers in the game for a pittance. Veteran schemer Moutinho has been the hub of the eye-catching soccer Wolves have produced in the Premier League.
He was brilliant during Saturday’s dramatic 4-3 win over Leicester. The 32-year-old assisted the first two goals, picking out Diogo Jota then Ryan Bennett with precise crosses.
While the numbers are solid, Moutinho’s impact and influence extends far beyond them. His ability to knit passing together and even chip in with a goal or two is why Wolves are defying expectations.
Midfielder: Paul Pogba, Manchester United
Pogba hasn’t finally hit his stride since United shoved Mourinho through the exit door. Instead, the midfielder has simply hit the reset button to rediscover the form that made him the world’s most-expensive player in 2016.
The Red Devils are now getting what they hoped their £89 million would buy. Pogba is scoring the goals and supplying the assists a playmaker with his rare mix of power and technique should come by easily.
Winning and tucking away the penalty to put United in front against Brighton showed off the scoring touch he’d forgotten but teams should fear again:
Pogba’s form means United now look the strongest of the fallen three, along with Chelsea and Arsenal, to eventually secure fourth place.
Midfielder: Dele Alli, Tottenham
Dele Alli limping off with a suspected hamstring injury, per Sky Sports, is almost enough to dull the lustre of Tottenham’s last-gasp 2-1 win away to Fulham on Sunday.
Harry Winks headed in the late, late winner, but it was Alli who had given Spurs a chance. He got the visitors back in it by meeting Christian Eriksen’s brilliant cross with an emphatic header six minutes after the break.
The decisive finish cancelled out the unfortunate Fernando Llorente own goal that had given the Cottagers a first-half lead. Llorente was out of sorts at both ends of the pitch as he struggled to replace Harry Kane’s impact in attack.
Fortunately, Alli’s clever runs beyond the front meant Spurs still carried a significant threat in forward areas.
Don’t be surprised if Tottenham end up missing Alli more than Kane.
Striker: Diogo Jota, Wolves
Jota’s development from winger to central striker has given Wolves the cutting edge they sometimes lacked earlier in the season. His pace and perceptive movement are providing a roving target for the many skilled passers in the ranks, including Moutinho, Ruben Neves and Raul Jimenez.
The latter pair helped make two goals for Jota’s hat-trick against Leicester. His second goal was a thing of beauty as he met Neves’ pinpoint diagonal pass with a deft first touch.
After setting himself, Jota slotted in a cool finish to showcase his growing assurance in front of goal. The assurance was also there when Jota finished a slick exchange of passes to settle this seven-goal epic in stoppage time:
It was no coincidence the 22-year-old was in the right place for a third time. His runs off the ball and between gaps showed the intelligent sense of timing all modern forwards must possess.
Jota, who has five league goals and an assist to his credit, should have big clubs looking his way this summer.
Striker: Mohamed Salah, Liverpool
Salah merits his place as the top scorer in the division because of the many ways he finds the net. It’s no longer all about pace and angled runs from out to in for the versatile Egypt international.
Salah now has the instincts for where and when chances will develop in the box. He was on hand to get a touch from close range to prod James Milner’s cross over the line.
Liverpool’s main man in attack had already scored earlier when he flicked in a cute finish after the ball deflected his way in the box.
Two goals from inside the area showed how Salah has refined his game to become a complete striker for the league leaders. His nuance and goals just might be enough to finally yield the Reds’ first top-flight title since 1990.