Our Premier League Team of the Week for Matchday 18, following another weekend of thrilling top-flight action.
Goalkeeper: Guglielmo Vicario – Tottenham
Guglielmo Vicaro’s goalkeeping kept out in-form Everton and ensured Spurs will spend Christmas inside the Premier League’s top four. The Italian made a solid stop to deny Dominic Calvert-Lewin inside the opening quarter of an hour, before providing confident presence as Everton upped the pressure after the break.
Two superb saves from Arnaut Danjuma saw Spurs to the three points, in another impressive performance from the 27-year-old. Vicario has been one of the signings of the season so far, with his £16.3million fee a snip compared to some of the fortunes spent elsewhere in the division.
Outrageous from Guglielmo Vicario 🧤 pic.twitter.com/DNJUZFTOBk
— Tottenham Hotspur (@SpursOfficial) December 24, 2023
Right-back: Trent Alexander-Arnold – Liverpool
Trent Alexander-Arnold has been a regular feature in this side in recent weeks, having hit an incredible run of form since October’s international break. It’s now two goals and five assists in eight games since that pause in the season, after another assist in Liverpool’s draw with Arsenal.
Jurgen Klopp called the 25-year-old’s raking pass to Mohamed Salah ‘the best pass I saw in my life’ and while the German might have over-egged it a little, it was another example of a passing range among the best the Premier League has seen.
Alexander-Arnold’s latest was also his 57th assist in the Premier League, a joint-record for a defender in the division alongside teammate Andy Robertson. That’s more than Paul Scholes, Mesut Ozil and Eden Hazard managed in the competition.
Centre-back: Ibrahima Konate – Liverpool
Will have been disappointed with the opening goal in Liverpool’s draw with Arsenal, but grew into the game to produce a monstrous performance at centre-back. The Frenchman crashed into challenges and put in some important defensive blocks, while dominating his duel with Gabriel Martinelli.
The latter will not have a tougher game all season, with Konate’s dominance in their battle – covering the right-hand side as Trent Alexander-Arnold ventured forward into midfield – demoralising the Arsenal winger.
Ibrahima Konate’s game by numbers vs. Arsenal:
100% aerial duels won (2/2)
9x possesion won
7 duels won
1 chance created
0x dribbled past
— Squawka Live (@Squawka_Live) December 23, 2023
Centre-back: William Saliba – Arsenal
Just oozes class. Saliba passed the acid test of a first visit to Anfield with flying colours, offering calm at a venue where Arsenal have struggled in recent campaigns.
The Frenchman won 100% of his aerial duels and dealt with the different threats of Liverpool’s forward line, battling well against the physicality of Cody Gakpo early on, and the sharp movement of Mohamed Salah after the latter’s move into a central role.
Rolls-Royce is an overused term when talking about centre-backs with confidence, but it’s appropriate here. His centre-back partner, Gabriel, was equally impressive.
Centre-back: Jack Robinson – Sheffield United
Jack Robinson was the stand-in captain for Sheffield United as the Blades blunted Aston Villa’s remarkable run at Villa Park. Chris Wilder’s team battled to a point against their high-flying opposition, with only a late Nicolo Zaniolo goal denying the visitors a huge three points.
Robinson was superb as part of Sheffield United’s back three, earning the man-of-the-match honours after making seven clearances and winning 100% (8/8) of his defensive duels in the air and on the ground.
Today’s skipper and Man of the Match, Jack Robinson speaks after United drew 1-1 with Villa. ⚔️👇
— Sheffield United (@SheffieldUnited) December 22, 2023
A continuation of a strong individual campaign for the defender.
Left-back: Dango Ouattara – Bournemouth
There will have been some concerned when the Bournemouth team sheet was announced at Nottingham Forest, with Dango Ouattara named in an unfamiliar position at left-back.
It was a first ever appearance for the 21-year-old in the defensive role, but he excelled as the Cherries claimed a 3-2 win at the City Ground. The Burkina Faso international won seven tackles and 12 duels, while getting back on his own goal-line to make a timely goal-saving clearance.
First-ever appearance at left-back 😬
Makes this vital goal-line clearance 💥
— AFC Bournemouth 🍒 (@afcbournemouth) December 24, 2023
An experiment that worked well for Andoni Iraola.
Midfield: Declan Rice – Arsenal
Another big-game performance from the Arsenal midfielder. Rice covered the ground, snuffed out danger, and stamped his authority on this weekend’s crunch clash with Liverpool at Anfield.
Rice’s role in this side can not be understated and Arsenal look like title contenders with the midfielder marshalling their engine room. The 24-year-old adds real force to Mikel Arteta’s side, winning the ball back prolifically and using it effectively. He could be the difference for Arsenal, after last season’s collapse.
Midfield: Mario Lemina – Wolves
A box-to-box presence in Wolves’ 2-1 win over Chelsea, Mario Lemina appeared everywhere at times during an important win for Gary O’Neil’s side.
The 30-year-old won five tackles in the first half alone, as many as the entire Chelsea team combined.
The Gabonese midfielder opened the scoring with a header from Pablo Sarabia’s corner kick, his third goal in his last five matches at Molineux. It’s already the best-scoring season of Lemina’s Premier League career.
Lemina puts Wolves ahead! 🐺♨️ pic.twitter.com/cw0Hc0wVur
— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) December 24, 2023
Midfield: Ross Barkley – Luton
Luton’s capture of Ross Barkley represented a gamble in the summer, with the career of the 33-cap England international having stalled. Instead, Barkley has been the injection of top-tier quality that the Hatters needed and was the best player on the pitch as Rob Edwards’ side upset Newcastle this weekend.
The 30-year-old – who was named Luton’s Player of the Month for November – was outstanding in the centre of the park, recording an assist for the winning goal with a headed flick-on and crashing a thunderous effort off the underside of the crossbar from distance.
One superb drive forward was vintage Barkley, as he powered forward to play in Elijah Adebayo, who should have done better with the chance.
Ross Barkley’s game by numbers vs. Newcastle:
82% pass accuracy
42/51 passes completed
4 ground duels won
2 key passes
2 big chances created
Wonderful showing. 🔥 pic.twitter.com/iyzEpoI3qb
— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) December 23, 2023
Forward: Lucas Paqueta – West Ham
Offered real quality, in a game that lacked it just about everywhere else. Paqueta has found real form in recent weeks and followed his hat-trick of assists against Wolves with another two this weekend. The Brazilian’s pass for Jarrod Bowen’s opener was exquisite, as he lifted an audacious flick over the Manchester United back four.
West Ham’s front three of Bowen, Mohammed Kudus and Paqueta is a talented one and the trio appear to be developing an exciting understanding. Pacqueta’s first-time pass then sent Kudus racing away to score the second in the 2-0 win at the London Stadium. The Hammers, somewhat under the radar, will be spending Christmas inside the Premier League’s top six.
Forward: Dominic Solanke – Bournemouth
Dominic Solanke’s season continues to get better and better, with the Bournemouth forward scoring his first Premier League hat-trick against Nottingham Forest this weekend.
Solanke’s treble was evidence of his evolving game, scoring a superb header to open the scoring, before pouncing on a loose ball to rifle in a second for the Cherries. The best of the lot came last, as another outstanding header secured the match ball and an important three points for Andoni Iraola’s side.
Words don’t do his performance justice 🤯 pic.twitter.com/9tpEuD1HhG
— AFC Bournemouth 🍒 (@afcbournemouth) December 24, 2023
It’s now 11 Premier League goals for the campaign for the 26-year-old, more than he managed in his first 96 appearances in the top division. The potential that Solanke has long had is beginning to erupt this season.