Who is a nailed on selection? Garth Crooks’ Team of the Week


At the end of every round of fixtures, BBC football pundit Garth Crooks is on hand to give you his Team of the Week.

But who has he picked from this weekend’s Premier League and FA Cup action? Take a look and then pick your own team below. As ever, Garth also has his say on the game’s big talking points in the Crooks of the Matter.

Emi Martinez; Ben White, Tyrone Mings, Lisandro Martinez; James Ward-Prowse, Joao Felix, Bruno Fernandes Bukayo Saka; Alexander Isak, Erling Haaland, Jacob Ramsey.Goalkeeper

Emiliano Martinez (Aston Villa)

Martinez’s right-handed stop from a blistering Philip Billing drive when Villa were 1-0 up against Bournemouth was absolutely superb.

However, the art of good goalkeeping is forcing the striker to change his mind, or forcing him to do something he would prefer not to do – which was precisely what Martinez did when Dominic Solanke was clear with only the goalkeeper to beat. The Argentine stayed on his feet before backtracking towards his own goal, all the time continually asking questions of the Bournemouth striker.

Keepers who repeatedly come running out of their goalmouths in an attempt to win the ball are either often easy pickings for any decent striker or invariably give a penalty away. Martinez did neither, but did give Tyrone Mings the opportunity to get a tackle in instead. World-class goalkeeping.


Tyrone Mings (Aston Villa)

It’s been some time since Mings made my team of the week, but since the arrival of Unai Emery at Aston Villa the England defender has looked much more like the player that earned his international call-up. His tackle on Solanke, having chased the player down, was not just excellent – it was in tandem with precisely what his goalkeeper wanted from him at that time.

Bournemouth, meanwhile, are struggling away from home. If the Cherries cannot make the Vitality Stadium their fortress between now and the end of the season, they can kiss goodbye to their status in the Premier League.

Ben White (Arsenal)

This was an outstanding performance. Wilfried Zaha was restricted to one moment, when his effort was pushed onto the post by Aaron Ramsdale, but that was the last we saw of him. The Ivorian spent the rest of the game in White’s pocket. The next thing we knew, Palace were 4-1 down and looking like a side that hadn’t just lost its manager but had lost their way.

Rumours of Roy Hodgson returning to Selhurst Park, if true, would be a gross lack of imagination. To sack a manager who was on 27 points in March having played most of the teams above them, and still to play most of the sides below them, suggests other issues might have played a part in Patrick Vieira’s departure. Whatever the reason, Crystal Palace have displayed appalling timing.

Lisandro Martinez (Manchester United)

I didn’t think I would be picking a Manchester United defender so soon after their mauling at Liverpool. However, United have bounced back from that humiliation and Martinez in particular. The defender hasn’t lost his nerve and against Fulham, when the game was on the verge of spiralling out of control, showed focus and enough constraint to help United turn the game in their favour.

Chris Kavanagh sent Willian off due to a handball that, once anyone saw a decent angle of the video evidence, was undeniable. However, the conduct of Aleksandar Mitrovic was a disgrace and deserves the full weight of any FA disciplinary charge that will almost certainly come his way.

Deliberately barging into the referee, having already pushed him in an act of aggression, is not worthy of a three-match ban but something far more significant. Youngsters are watching and the game has a duty to send the strongest possible message that such behaviour on a football pitch towards a referee will not be tolerated.


James Ward-Prowse (Southampton)

If anyone can save the Saints from relegation, Ward-Prowse can. His converted penalty gave them a valuable point in a 3-3 draw that had appeared way beyond them minutes earlier.

After four defeats on the road for Tottenham, and their latest showing at Southampton, I’m not in the least bit surprised that Antonio Conte has blown his top. In his press conference, the Italian called his players selfish, lacking in spirit, with a poor attitude, and his board lacking in ambition. In fact, it was the most excellent advert for getting the sack I’ve seen for some time, and I will be amazed if he lasts the week.

Joao Felix (Chelsea)

This lad looks like he might provide Chelsea with the goals Chelsea need but also the class required in and around the opposition’s penalty area. The Blues have done well to get this player on loan from Atletico Madrid. He cost the Spanish outfit a ferocious £126m and arrived at Stamford Bridge only having fallen out with Diego Simeone, who is capable of having an argument with himself in a room on his own.

Felix helped Benfica win the league in his first and only season with them and was awarded Primeira Liga’s best young player of the year. His performance against a spirited Everton side was typical of a player growing in stature with every game.

It was also good to see Everton fans cheering their team and celebrating their goals with renewed enthusiasm at Stamford Bridge, instead of waving conflict-ridden banners that only cause disruption to a club and a team who need togetherness now more than ever.

Bruno Fernandes (Manchester United)

Big-time players step up to the mark when games get interesting and they didn’t come more interesting that when Fulham had two players sent off. Fernandes came in for an awful lot of criticism after United’s defeat against Liverpool and quite rightly – United, and Fernandes in particular, threw in the towel.

After the FA Cup quarter-final against Fulham, I got the feeling that Fernandes and United have learned an awful lot about how a game can unravel in a matter of minutes through a lack of professionalism. However, Fernandes appears to have put that Anfield debacle well behind him and is back on track. His converted penalty was crisp, and his second goal, which put the tie well beyond Fulham, emphatic.

Fulham have a difficult week ahead after their behaviour at Old Trafford. I wonder if they will learn the same lessons United have had to learn.

Bukayo Saka (Arsenal)

Whoever made the decision to sack Vieira days before Crystal Palace were about to play his former club at the Emirates, and put their under-21 manager in charge, may live to regret it. It only took a matter of minutes for the Gunners to blast Palace off the park.

Two goals and one assists by Saka set the tone for a routine victory. In fact, the league leaders barely got out of second gear. Meanwhile, Palace appear to be up the creek without a paddle. Where they go from here is anyone’s guess, but the Eagles have flirted with relegation before and escaped. However, the sacking of Vieira was not only premature – it may prove to be their downfall.


Alexander Isak (Newcastle)

The adjustment for his first goal was outstanding, while the coolness displayed to convert the winning penalty against Nottingham Forest justified his selection over Callum Wilson.

Isak is starting to produce the goods at exactly the right time for the Magpies. Wilson did well for Newcastle during the early part of the season but has run out of steam since his return from a World Cup that must have been mentally draining. Meanwhile, Isak has taken the strain and is leading the line exceptionally as the Geordies mount a serious assault on a top-four place.

Newcastle are currently fifth, two points behind Tottenham with two games in hand. Is it any wonder Conte has blown a fuse, having seen Spurs squander a two-goal lead at Southampton?

Erling Haaland (Manchester City)

If you score five goals in the Champions League and another three goals in the FA Cup quarter final days later, your chances of featuring in my selection are pretty much nailed on.

Haaland has scored 40 goals this season already for City in all competitions and we are still in March. How is that possible? Of all his goals during a sensational demonstration of finishing, the Norwegian superstar’s first goal against Burnley was my personal favourite.

The power and pace to get on to the through ball, accompanied by the simplest of toe pokes under the oncoming goalkeeper’s body to complete the move, were striking at its best. The most impressive goals scored by genuine strikers tend to be those that comprise of power, pace and the coolest of finishes.

Jacob Ramsey (Aston Villa)

It was an impressive home win for Villa, who have been steadily climbing the table. Unai Emery is quietly going about his work without attracting too much attention to himself, or his team for that matter.

So what’s changed at Villa Park since Steven Gerrard left? If you listen to Ramsey, it would appear an awful lot. The striker is playing considerably higher up the pitch in a role he likes and that plays to his strengths. His confidence is sky high and he’s scoring goals. He blew Bournemouth off the pitch. It would appear Aston Villa now have a grown-up in charge and not a manager who was learning on the job.

Short presentational grey line

The Crooks of the Matter

I retired from the professional game, gently and without a fanfare, in November 1990. I loved and missed the football but hated the racism – the reason I spent 15 years on anti-racism charity Kick it Out, an organisation dedicated to defending verbal or physical abuse towards ethnic groups in football, with relative success.

I’d like to think we played some small part in the delivery of the first banning order of its type issued under the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, which has seen an individual who racially abused Ivan Toney on social media banned from every football ground in the UK for three years. It is a landmark action against a 24-year-old man who admitted sending offensive messages to the Brentford striker and was handed a four-month jail sentence, suspended for two years, and who now cannot go to matches in the UK or travel abroad to watch international friendlies, qualification matches and tournaments.

The legislation was brought in to widen the scope of banning orders for online hate crimes. My question is: why did it take so long? Racial abuse in football has been in existence since before the 1960s and the days of Leeds United’s South African winger Albert Johansson. It gathered pace with the introduction of Clyde Best in the 1970s and came to a crescendo with West Bromwich Albion’s three degrees of Cyrille Regis, Laurie Cunningham and Brendon Batson.

Now is not the time to name and shame clubs who allowed their fans and the occasional player to get away with such vile abuses, but to savour the moment and congratulate all those who have played a part in helping take away the blemishes on the face of an otherwise beautiful game with this unprecedented legal action.

Pick your XI from our list and share with your friends.

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