Premier League Team of the Week: Mahrez, De Bruyne and Almiron feature

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 21: Miguel Almiron of Newcastle United (24) celebrates goal during the Premier League match between Newcastle United and Crystal Palace at St. James Park on December 21, 2019 in Newcastle upon Tyne, United Kingdom. (Photo by Serena Taylor/Newcastle United via Getty Images)
NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 21: Miguel Almiron of Newcastle United (24) celebrates goal during the Premier League match between Newcastle United and Crystal Palace at St. James Park on December 21, 2019 in Newcastle upon Tyne, United Kingdom. (Photo by Serena Taylor/Newcastle United via Getty Images) /

Premier League best XI for Week 18 of the 2019/20 season, featuring Riyad Mahrez, Kevin De Bruyne and Miguel Almiron.

The table indicates otherwise, but Manchester City are never out of the Premier League title race while Kevin De Bruyne continues to weave his magic.

De Bruyne was the creative heartbeat for Saturday’s 3-1 win over Leicester that closed the gap on leaders Liverpool to 11 points. The Reds were busy winning the Club World Cup, but Jurgen Klopp would be wise to heed the warning, City aren’t done yet, particularly when Riyad Mahrez is in this kind of form.

Mahrez led the Foxes on a merry dance with his pace, trickery, vision and shooting power. He’s a joy to watch when he’s in the mood to turn on the style.

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The brilliance of Mahrez and De Bruyne is almost being taken for granted, just as Miguel Almiron’s struggles in front of goal appeared to be set in stone. Yet this week was the moment when the former Atlanta United forward finally broke his duck, helping Newcastle beat Crystal Palace and move up to ninth.

Find out who else joins Almiron, Mahrez and De Bruyne in the latest team of the week:

Goalkeeper: Rui Patricio, Wolves

Wolves had a few heroes to thank after Saturday’s 2-1 win away to Norwich, but none was due more credit than Rui Patricio. The gifted goalkeeper helped the visitors repel an intense early onslaught at Carrow Road.

Patricio thwarted in-form Canaries striker Teemu Pukki twice, before producing an exceptional save to push an Alex Tettey shot onto the post. It was the signature moment of a masterclass in stubborn resistance from between the sticks.

Without Patricio, Wolves would have been overwhelmed by the pace, movement and slick passing Norwich displayed throughout. Instead, the 31-year-old stopper proved his class and showed why Wolves have been able to punch above their weight since returning to the top flight in 2018.

Defender: Bukayo Saka, Arsenal

Discussions of Arsenal’s defending this season have usually contained words such as slack, weak and bizarre. Credit where it’s due though, the Gunners defense merited praise for the way it held firm in Saturday’s bore draw away to Everton.

A big reason the game finished 0-0 was the assured performance of Bukayo Saka as Arsenal’s makeshift left-back. The academy graduate is a winger by trade, but he took on the defensive role to help cover injuries to Kieran Tierney and Sead Kolasinac.

Saka brought application, concentration and aggression to the position. He stood firm against the pace and power of Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison.

Whenever Arsenal needed a foot in, Saka usually provided it. There was never any fear from an 18-year-old playing out of position away from home.

New Arsenal chief Mikel Arteta watched from the stands at Goodison Park, and he would surely have identified versatile and committed Saka as a key part of his necessary rebuild.

Defender: Calum Chambers, Arsenal

Arteta will know coaxing more clean sheets from a suspect defense is his first priority. It will help to finally admit Calum Chambers is a center-back.

The utility man is a dreadful right-back and a distinctly average midfielder. Yet Chambers is a more confident and effective player when he’s at the heart of the back line.

Chambers slotted in alongside David Luiz for the trip to the blue half of Merseyside, and he was rarely away from the ball whenever Everton attacked. Neither Calvert-Lewin, Richarlison, Cenk Tosun nor Moise Kean were able to get much change out of the former Southampton man.

Still just 24, Chambers is more mobile than most of Arsenal’s options at the position. He’s also a good tackler and decent on the ball.

In other words, Chambers is the obvious potential linchpin Arteta can build a more solid defense around.

Defender: James Tarkowski, Burnley

Burnley won’t win many style points, but the Clarets will accrue plenty in the win column thanks to their ability to turn matches into wars of attrition. Saturday’s 1-0 win away to Bournemouth was an ugly affair, but the scrappy stuff brought out the best in center-back James Tarkwoski.

He bullied talented Cherries’ frontman Callum Wilson in the air. Tarkowski also stepped out to midfield runners and treated them with scant regard, sending several Bournemouth players sprawling with robust challenges.

Burnley’s ability to remain a nuisance against more illustrious company in the division is built on the partnership between Tarkowski and Ben Mee. Both were uncompromising and miserly at the Vitality Stadium and remain a partnership many other teams would love to have.

Defender: Chris Basham, Sheffield United

Every week a different Sheffield United defender is worthy of praise. This time it’s Chris Basham who earned the plaudits during the Blades’ 1-0 win away to Brighton.

The converted midfielder has seen his career revived since he became a key member of Chris Wilder’s flexible back three. Basham’s experience and comfort on the ball has made him an ideal overlapping center-back, an unusual tactical ploy Wilder has used to catch the rest of the Premier League off guard.

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Basham was useful going forward against the Seagulls, but he thrived in defensive areas. Brighton threw a lot at the visitors, including strikers Neal Maupay, Aaron Connolly and Glenn Murray, yet none were able to find a way past Basham and Co.

Midfielder: Kevin De Bruyne, Manchester City

De Bruyne had Leicester players chasing shadows from the off at the Etihad Stadium. The most active schemer in the division never stopped moving, recycling possession rapidly and intelligently.

It was scary how often De Bruyne passed then hurried to give the new man on the ball a quick target. As much as his work in possession contributed to the win, De Bruyne’s true value came from his movement when he didn’t have the ball.

Rarely has a player found space so often and effortlessly, particularly against a team boasting the Foxes’ formidable defensive record. De Bruyne frequently drifted into threatening pockets between Leicester left-back Ben Chilwell and center-back Caglar Soyuncu.

From there, the Belgian pulled Leicester’s back four out of shape and enjoyed the room to thread passes in behind and pepper Kasper Schmeichel’s goal with shots.

De Bruyne is playing like the 11-point deficit to Liverpool is merely a mirage. It’s still not possible to rule out City winning the title with De Bruyne in this form.

Midfielder: Miguel Almiron, Newcastle

Almiron’s wait to score in a Newcastle shirt had been an interminable one. The moment finally came the Paraguayan’s way against Palace, at least giving him a tangible reward for his consistently industrious performances.

The yellow card shown to the 25-year-old for his celebration hardly fit the spirit of the festive season. Almiron’s unguarded joy was understandable after the way he ran the Eagles ragged with well-timed darts between the midfield and forward lines.

Finding ways to consistently unleash Almiron’s pace, close control and perceptive movement has been a problem for the Magpies since he arrived back in January. Steve Bruce at least has a plan, with Andy Carroll the perfect focal point for a lively Almiron to play off.

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Midfielder: Emiliano Buendia, Norwich

If Mikel Arteta is determined to bring a mix of Wengerball and Pep Guardiola stylistics to his Arsenal team, he’ll do his best to recruit Emiliano Buendia. The Argentinian is a class act whose range of passing, technique and vision are adding a flourish to Norwich’s performances.

Buendia was a cut above in a losing cause against Wolves. The Canaries started well thanks to Buendia’s ability to thread passes between the lines, releasing Kenny McLean, Pukki and Todd Cantwell in behind the Wolves’ back line for early chances.

Those passes were part of a clinic in creativity:

Buendia is an artful 22-year-old tailor-made for a team wanting to play an expressive, entertaining game.

Don’t waste time, Mikel. Buendia is the player to bring flair back to the Arsenal engine room.

Midfielder: Riyad Mahrez, Manchester City

Riyad Mahrez holds no ill will toward Leicester, the club he helped win the title in 2016. Even so, seeing old friends brought out the best in the Algerian wing wizard, who was outstanding in Manchester on Saturday evening.

Mahrez tied Chilwell, a highly-rated defender, in knots. The young full-back never knew whether to get tight to Mahrez or afford him the cushion of a few yards.

Chilwell could never be right because Mahrez turned any move he made against him. In the process, Mahrez constantly wriggled free to get shots off and play defense-splitting passes.

By the time the full-time whistle sounded, he had only been marginally eclipsed by De Bruyne as the best player on the pitch.

Striker: Danny Ings, Southampton

Southampton will spend Christmas above the relegation zone because Danny Ings can’t stop scoring. The smart No. 9 added to his impressive tally with a brace to help the Saints see off Aston Villa 3-1 on Saturday.

Ings’ first goal was the kind of instinctive close-range finish of a classic penalty-box poacher. The 27-year-old is a king among men in the area, showing an innate sense for where and when a loose ball will break his way.

Working better closer in is the chief facet of Ings’ game. His second goal was more of the same, a snap shot on the turn when a poor clearance rolled into his path.

Ings is in career-defining form and keeping him fit is Southampton’s best means of survival.

Striker: Raul Jimenez, Wolves

No top-flight player has redefined his game more completely and successfully than Raul Jimenez since the Mexico international swapped Benfica for Wolves in 2018.

Jimenez is the focal point of a capable team because he’s equally comfortable creating chances as he is converting them. Taking shots on was the order of the day against Norwich.

The cerebral No. 9 rarely let a shooting chance pass him by. He drew a decent save from Tim Krul in the first half, before lifting over from close range in the second.

Natural goalscorers are never fazed by a miss, though, and Jimenez was unerring when Krul parried Matt Doherty’s shot. It was the winning goal for Wolves, something their attacking talisman specialises in:

The giants of the Premier League should be doing all they can to tempt Jimenez away next summer.

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