What’s sexy, and what’s unsexy, in football this week…
John Stones’ balls
Not his cross-field floated balls to Raheem Sterling, or the long balls into the mixer he has failed to adequately defend, but his actual testicles, which have received the highest of commendations from Pep Guardiola. “John Stones has more balls than anyone here, guys,” the Manchester City manager declared in his press conference after the much-maligned 22-year-old produced an assured display in a thrilling 1-1 draw against Liverpool. “Even with all his huge amount of mistakes, I love him,” Pep added. Which must have been nice for Stones to hear after a tough first season at the Etihad. It would perhaps have been even nicer if Guardiola had commended his defending skills, but his balls are a good place to start.
It’s taken a long time for Kasper to step out of his father’s 6ft 3in shadow. He didn’t even receive his first cap for Denmark until 2013, aged 26, at which point he was viewed very much as a Championship-level goalkeeper. Last season changed all that. But even amid Leicester’s troubles this season, Schmeichel is one of the few Foxes players who continues to grow in stature. His imposing performance against West Ham – including a couple of save-of-the-season contenders to deny Andy Carroll – was likely the difference between three points and zero points for the increasingly-less-relegation-threatened champions.
— Filbert Street Goals (@Filbert_Street) March 19, 2017
Contract rebel Romelu Lukaku stole the headlines with a two-goal display in the Toffees’ 4-0 win against Hull, but the attacking trio playing behind him illustrated why no player – not even the free-scoring Belgian – is bigger than the club. Ross Barkley, 23, Tom Davies, 18, and Dominic Calvert-Lewin, 20 – two homegrown Scousers and a recently acquired Yorkshireman – repaid manager Ronald Koeman’s continued trust in youth with their incisive displays. All three combined – Barkley’s pass, Davies’ first-time cross, Calvert-Lewin’s first-time finish – to score Everton’s opening goal. The first time a player with a double-barrelled surname has scored for Everton for 129 years, apparently. (Joe-Max Moore doesn’t count.)
“We are in a unique position that we haven’t been in before.” Arsene Wenger’s assessment following a harrowing 3-1 defeat at West Brom was about as close as you could get to an admittance that even he doesn’t think the Gunners will acquire their cherished fourth place this term. The manager’s post-match call for “togetherness” sounded especially feeble after a match in which two opposing aeroplanes (one calling for him to be sacked, the other supporting him – although not actually demanding that he stays, interestingly) literally flew over the stadium. Arsenal are in a mess, and it increasingly appears that Wenger will be sticking around to clear it up.
The right-back’s positioning/marking for West Brom’s third goal was the worst example of defensive play at a set piece this season. Absolutely no contest.
— Joe Prince-Wright (@JPW_NBCSports) March 18, 2017
You’re Manchester United’s wing-back, part of an injury-time rearguard action to protect a precarious one-goal advantage in an uber-defensive Jose Mourinho performance at Middlesbrough, and you decide to sprint the entire the length of the field to charge down the opposition goalkeeper? Are you a complete idiot? This would have been the question posed to Valencia by Mourinho if his gung-ho approach had backfired. As it turned out, the Ecuadorian was in exactly the right place to take advantage of a hopeless Victor Valdes slip and tap into an empty net for first United goal in three years. But he surely couldn’t have known that would happen.
Another win for Bournemouth; another game on the bench for their most famous (and many would have assumed at the start of the season, best) player. In fact, the Cherries’ resurgence has corresponded exactly with the on-loan Arsenal midfielder’s omission from the team. After appearing in four straight defeats, Wilshere was dropped for the corner-turning draw at Old Trafford, and has remained among the substitutes as Eddie Howe’s revitalised side chalked up back-to-back wins for the first time in a year – the latest a vital 2-0 triumph against fellow strugglers Swansea. A man frequently described as England’s most talented midfielder is now bench-warming at Bournemouth. Where does Wilshere go from here? Back to Arsenal by the look of things.