It was a fairly quiet Premier League gameweek in some respects, and in others it was rather titanic.
Huddersfield leapt out of the bottom three with their 4-1 demolition of Bournemouth, Tottenham showed they run North London these days with a 1-0 win over Arsenal and some cheeky young scamp with a calculator worked out that Manchester City *could* win the Premier League title by beating their Mancunian rivals United on April 7.
So who were this week’s winners and losers?
Winner: Harry Kane
The Englishman continues to confirm himself as a big match player – and that only adds to his value should he one day decide to leave Tottenham for pastures new. After notching the winner in his side’s 1-0 win over bitter local rivals Arsenal, Kane took his goal tally in North London derbies to seven in seven.
In the past month alone, the 24-year-old has netted crucial equalisers against Liverpool and earlier Newport in the FA Cup, and previously had notched a brace against the Reds in the reverse fixture and key goals in the Champions League that assured his team’s passage to the knockout phase of the competition.
In truth, it helps that he plays for a manager that isn’t afraid to throw caution to the wind against big opposition – Mauricio Pochettino even played two strikers at the Bernabeu against Real Madrid – and a supporting cast of Eriksen, Son, Alli and Dembele is always going to create opportunities.
But Kane’s penchant for the big match is just one reason why he is far and away the best striker in the land at present.
Loser: Arsene Wenger
For every hero there has to b a corresponding zero, and for his bizarre team selection Arsene Wenger has to take this billing….and not for the first time this, and indeed in previous, seasons.
After watching his side demolish Everton 5-1 last week with a front four of Iwobi, Mkhitaryan, Ozil and Aubameyang running riot, the Frenchman was seemingly possessed by the spirit of Sven Goran-Ericsson: the grandmaster of hapless team selection.
Taking on his big city rivals who boast a defence containing two obvious defensive weak-points in Davinson Sanchez and Ben Davies, Wenger decided to drop Iwobi and revert to a more conservative 4-3-3 formation; drafting in Mohamed Elneny for just his eighth Premier League start of the campaign and his third since October.
Guess what? The Egyptian was a complete passenger and a wholly peripheral figure as he and midfield colleagues Granit Xhaka and Jack Wilshere were routinely bypassed by Spurs’ enterprising Mousa Dembele and co.
Why on earth Wenger would make such a dramatic team selection in a game as important as this is anybody’s guess, but it did not take a genius to work out the implication. Tottenham triumphed 1-0 but could have won by four or five as the Gunners offered absolutely nothing going forward.
Just how much longer will this out-of-touch manager continue to haunt the Arsenal dugout?
Winner: Wayne Rooney
A week which began with a surprisingly erudite and insightful appearance as a pundit on Sky Sports ended with Wayne Rooney going back to the day job; and producing a phenomenal performance in Everton’s 3-1 win over Crystal Palace.
It is testament to his enduring ability that Rooney has, in the past few weeks alone, played up front as a lone striker and dropped into the number ten role, but here he was asked to play as a sort of midfield quarterback; retaining possession and building moves from a deeper position.
And it worked: England’s record goal scorer linking up very nicely with Tom Davies and Gylfi Sigurdsson as his side proved far too strong for a Palace outfit beleaguered by injuries to key figures.
The real reason that Rooney is a winner, based on these performances, is that a berth in his country’s World Cup squad is a certainty….if he wants it, that is.
Loser: Roy Hodgson
There isn’t an unluckier manager in the country right now than Roy Hodgson. Injuries are part and parcel of the beautiful game of course, and at some point or another all teams suffer with enforced absentees.
Bu it’s hard not to feel a pang of sympathy for Hodgson, a man who routinely appears as if he has the weight of the world on his shoulders. Shorn of the talents of his top goalscorer, his key creative force, a fine young English talent having the season of his career and his defensive lynchpin, along with a number of adequate replacements, the former England boss has resorted to fielding a bits-and-pieces style team that was simply outclassed at Goodison Park on Saturday.
Palace are just a point above the relegation zone, and the concern for Hodgson and his coaching team must be that, despite the wave of positivity they have brought to the club, they aren’t really progressing due to factors that are simply out of their control.
Winner: Kevin de Bruyne
In recent weeks this column has not been short of praise for Swansea boss Carlos Carvahal, who is proving the doubters wrong in Wales by resurrecting the Swans’ campaign. Another win on Saturday has lifted them clear of the dropzone, and so once again the Portuguese supremo is a ‘winner’ by any measure of success.
But we simply could not ignore yet another mesmeric performance from Kevin de Bruyne, English football’s equivalent of Tchaikovsky. His teammates may be playing all the right notes but the Belgian is calling the tune: his breadth of passing and ability to put the ball on a plate is a rare sight to behold.
It’s an unsightly truth in a modern game riddled with tribalism and partisan fans, but it would be a crying shame for English football as a whole if De Bruyne is tempted overseas in the summer. It is a pleasure and a privilege to watch him perform week in, week out as part of this Rolls Royce of a Manchester City side.