Crystal Palace 1-4 Chelsea: Player ratings as Kai Havertz shines in commanding win

Chelsea put on a show in London on Saturday afternoon, cruising to an emphatic 4-1 victory over Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park.

The Blues raced into a two-goal lead inside 10 minutes, after Kai Havertz curled a clever shot into the far corner of the net, and Christian Pulisic blasted home from a tight angle. Havertz almost added a third soon after, but Vicente Guaita clawed away his low effort.

The Spanish shot-stopper could do little to deny Kurt Zouma from notching a third on the half-hour mark, as the defender powered home a towering header from a delightful Mason Mount cross. Antonio Rudiger almost scored a header of his own, but his effort was cleared off the line as Palace limped into the dressing room 3-0 down at half-time.

Chelsea were in cruise control at the start of the second half and looked to add more goals, Ben Chilwell firing wide on his weaker right foot. The visitors received a shock on 63 minutes, however, when Christian Benteke leapt to score an excellent header at the back post.

But the result was put beyond any doubt with just over ten minutes remaining when Reece James picked out Pulisic at the far post, and the American tucked away his second of the match to wrap up all three points.

RIght, let’s get on with the player ratings.

Kurt Zouma, Vicente Guaita
Watching them fly in | Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Vicente Guaita (GK) – 5/10 – Could do little as the defence ahead of him parted like the Red Sea, leaving the Spaniard horribly exposed. Who’d want to be a goalkeeper in this team?

Joel Ward (RB) – 5/10 – Couldn’t live with Pulisic’s power and was overrun by Chilwell’s attacking movement. Surrendered possession all too often.

Cheikhou Kouyate (CB) – 5/10 – Booked early on and couldn’t get close to his man when marking on corners. Caught in possession and gave the ball away plenty.

Gary Cahill (CB) – 5/10 – Didn’t frustrate his old employers as he would have hoped. Dazed by Havertz’s movement and technical ability. A tough day at the office.

Patrick van Aanholt (LB) – 6/10 – Stranded on the left-hand side, unable to stop Chelsea doubling up on his flank.

Luka Milivojevic
Hands on head | Pool/Getty Images

Jordan Ayew (RM) – 5/10 – Hardly noticed he was on the pitch. Miles off the pace, and contributed nothing in any third of the pitch.

Luka Milivojevic (CM) – 6/10 – Out-battled and outclassed by Kovacic and Jorginho, who passed the Serb to death. A passenger in the middle.

Jairo Riedewald (CM) – 5/10 – The game completely passed Riedewald by. Second to every ball and never close to winning it back for his teammates.

Ebere Eze (LM) – 5/10 – Set the tone for the match, dallying on the ball just outside his own penalty area and losing possession. He paid the price, and it was uphill from then on. A steep learning curve.

Wilfried Zaha
The face you pull when you have to play in this team | Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Christian Benteke (ST) – 7/10 – Popped up to score a bullet header in the second half, giving the hosts some hope. Not much else to cheer.

Wilfried Zaha (ST) – 5/10 – Rattled from the outset. Looked fed up and like he wanted to be anywhere else but playing in this team and system. Tried to kick off on Mount, one of football’s nice boys.

Jeffrey Schlupp
Off the bench | Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Jeffrey Schlupp (LM) – 7/10

James McCarthy (CM) – 7/10

Andros Townsend (RM) – 6/10

Kurt Zouma, Cesar Azpilicueta
Party time | Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Edouard Mendy (GK) – 6/10 – Could have booked the day off to watch the golf, if he’s into that sort of thing. Not a single shot to save in the first half.

Cesar Azpilicueta (CB) – 7/10 – Very little defensive work to do, and left the attacking malarkey to the young whippersnappers.

Kurt Zouma (CB) – 8/10 – Rose highest to head home Mount’s delicious in-swinging free-kick. No stopping that one. Little to do in the way of defending.

Antonio Rudiger (CB) – 7/10 – Almost joined Zouma on the scoresheet, but his header was repelled off the line. Defended sensibly.

Cheikhou Kouyate, Ben Chilwell
Airborne | Pool/Getty Images

Callum Hudson-Odoi (RWB) – 8/10 – Enjoyed the freedom of the entire right flank. Bombed on, slaloming through tackles and playing neat passes to give and go. Got the assist for the opener.

Jorginho (CM) – 7/10 – In the right place at the right time to intercept passes and get Chelsea moving. Tidy on the ball and also on hand to do the defensive stuff when needed. Cut out many passes on the edge of his own box.

Mateo Kovacic (CM) – 8/10 – Set the tone with his pressing in the midfield and hunger to win the ball back. Played through the lines to feed Havertz and the other forwards. Didn’t have a proper opponent, in fairness.

Ben Chilwell (LWB) – 7/10 – Another commanding display to follow on from his Champions League heroics. Did excellently going forward, but out-jumped by Benteke for the consolation. Not his fault, really.

Christian Pulisic, Kai Havertz
The boys | Pool/Getty Images

Mason Mount (RW) – 8/10 – Interchanged with his attacking teammates wonderfully, drifting around and popping up in dangerous positions to hurt Palace. Assisted the third with a beautiful cross.

Kai Havertz (ST) – 8/10 – Finally, he has arrived! Produced a neat finish to open the scoring, assisted the second with great awareness and almost scored again with a magical flick over the defender’s head.

Christian Pulisic (LW) – 8/10 – Rifled home from Havertz’s pass to double the lead early on. An angry finish from a man who’s been unable to show his skills of late. Lethal to bag his second of the afternoon, too.

N'Golo Kante
The impact sub | Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

Ngolo Kante (CM) – 6/10

Reece James (RWB) – 7/10

Hakim Ziyech (RW) – 6/10


Trent Alexander-Arnold stunner evidence of striking Gareth Bale similarity

It was a moment which caused every commentator in England to subconsciously utter the phrase, “Who else but Trent Alexander-Arnold?”

The 22-year-old went from zero to hero, hitting a last-minute thunderbolt to hand Liverpool their first win at Anfield in 2021, fire them back into the top four of the Premier League and banish a whole posse of demons.

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The 2-1 victory over Aston Villa was a huge milestone in the Reds’ season, and one which led Jamie Carragher to ask “Are you watching Gary Neville?” in response to the former Manchester United man’s hypothetical decision not to select the full-back in his ideal England XI ahead of Euro 2020.

And while it was a wonderful moment for the player, club and all Liverpool supporters, it didn’t really prove anybody wrong, on this occasion.

In fact, it all but proved Neville’s point.

The pundit’s gripes around Alexander-Arnold is his lack of defensive awareness and killer instinct at the back. Those issues came to the fore in midweek, when the youngster inadvertently assisted Marco Asensio with a headed back-pass, and then fell asleep to allow Vinicius Junior to add a third.

What Neville would agree on, however, is that Alexander-Arnold’s desire to bomb forward and attack is a menacing weapon in the right situation. The defender’s ability in the final third makes him one of the most impressive crossers of the ball in the game, and his quality in possession has led Carragher to draw comparisons with Manchester City magician Kevin De Bruyne.

It was his offensive play which caught the eye against Villa, and ultimately settled the game on Saturday. He was a man possessed down that right-hand side, overlapping beyond Mohamed Salah and whipping in a number of crosses which his teammates couldn’t quite capitalise upon.

His raking ball (which probably should have been intercepted by Matty Cash) found its way to Diogo Jota and ultimately led to the disallowed equaliser – a decision all football fans would probably agree to be quite harsh.

That love for putting defenders under pressure by picking out the difficult cross-field balls or his constant need to be in possession strikes of a man destined to play higher up the pitch in the future.

In fact, his match-winning contribution came from an area he should never have been occupying in his current role.

As Liverpool pushed for the equaliser, Xherdan Shaqiri collected the ball on the right wing, only to find no Alexander-Arnold marauding behind him. He instead blasted a cross into the mixer, which deflected to the edge of the penalty area on the left-hand side.

From there, our protagonist popped up, took the ball in his stride and whipped a delicious curling shot into Emiliano Martinez’s far corner. The question, ‘What is he doing there?!’ sprung to mind, although that wasn’t the only point to ponder.

‘Should he be there more often?’ was equally as intriguing.

We know his strengths, and we are all too aware of his weaknesses. So, would it make sense for him to try and learn another trade on the pitch then, in order to make full use of his attacking qualities?

Juergen Klopp, Trent Alexander-Arnold
A special moment | Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

A freer role in a midfield three must have crossed Klopp’s mind at some point, especially if he had more competition in that right-back spot.

That’s not to rule out his skills as a full-back, though. He has guarded that flank in a side which has won the Champions League and the Premier League, collecting a whole stack of individual accolades in the process.

But it was evident when a certain Gareth Bale burst onto the scene at Southampton and Tottenham as a pacy and blistering left-back that his attacking talents were wasted in the penultimate line of defence, and that feeling is beginning to linger with Liverpool’s current right-back.

There are differences between the pair’s skillset, of course, but also an awful lot of similarities – for that reason we shouldn’t be too surprised to see a similar shift in Alexander-Arnold’s position, and Liverpool’s recruitment plans, over the next year or so.


Liverpool 2-1 Aston Villa: Player ratings as Alexander-Arnold bags vital late winner

Liverpool climbed into the top four of the Premier League with a last-gasp 2-1 victory over Aston Villa on Saturday afternoon.

The Reds dominated from the off, and Mohamed Salah should have broken the deadlock early on, but he rolled a shot wide of the post when clean through against Emiliano Martinez. The Egyptian missed the target again soon after, and Villa capitalised upon the hosts’ poor finishing when Ollie Watkins blasted under Alisson Becker, who should have done better.

Liverpool thought they’d pulled level through Roberto Firmino on the stroke of half-time, but his dinked strike was ruled out for an offside call against Diogo Jota in the buildup to the goal. Jurgen Klopp’s men did equalise just before the hour-mark however, as Salah was on hand to tap home after Martinez parried Andy Robertson’s shot.

Villa almost regained their advantage on 62 minutes, Trezeguet’s curling effort striking the inside of the post before bouncing away, before the Reds got their reward for long periods of dominance when Trent Alexander-Arnold curled a stunning shot inside the far post to clinch a huge three points.

Focus | MARTIN RICKETT/Getty Images

Alisson Becker (GK) – 6/10 – Had to be alive to pinch the ball ahead of Watkins from a short back-pass. Poor attempt to save Villa’s goal, and should have done better.

Trent Alexander-Arnold (RB) – 7/10 – Curled a dangerous free-kick just over the bar, before firing a brilliant match-winner to save the day. Decent deliveries all afternoon.

Nathaniel Phillips (CB) – 7/10 – Almost played Watkins through on goal but Alisson spared his blushes. Did well enough against the English striker however, and largely kept him quiet.

Ozan Kabak (CB) – 5/10 – Too weak in the initial challenge, then couldn’t get across quick enough to block Watkins’ shot. Not his finest hour.

Andy Robertson (LB) – 8/10 – His misdirected effort fell to Firmino, who did the rest. Alas, offside. Repeated his heroics in the second half, and this time his parried shot fell to Salah, and he did bring the Reds level. On a different planet to his teammates.

James Milner, John McGinn
Using his experience | Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

James Milner (CM) – 6/10 – Tidy on the ball, but couldn’t make any sort of impact in the final third. Dispossessed and almost gifted Villa a second in the second half.

Fabinho (CM) – 7/10 – Played so much of the game on the edge of Villa’s penalty area, moving play from side to side with urgency. Couldn’t protect his backline from the turnover in play which caused Villa’s first-half strike.

Georginio Wijnaldum (CM) – 6/10 – Scurried up and down the pitch, and saw a shot blocked by some stoic defending. Subbed.

Mohamed Salah
Among the goals | Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Mohamed Salah (RW) – 7/10 – Lively from the off, but wasteful in front of goal. Somehow missed a simple one-on-one, but couldn’t fail from a yard out to pull Liverpool level.

Roberto Firmino (ST) – 6/10 – Thought he’d got the Reds on level terms, but his clever finish was all for nothing due to an offside flag.

Diogo Jota (LW) – 7/10 – Headed just over the bar from Robertson’s corner, and caused Cash a few issues with his clever runs in behind. Produced a stunning first-time pass to feed Robertson to level.

Thiago Alcantara
Introduced | Angel Martinez/Getty Images

Thiago Alcantara (CM) – 6/10

Sadio Mane (LW) – 5/10

Xherdan Shaqiri (RW) – 7/10

Got away with one | LAURENCE GRIFFITHS/Getty Images

Emiliano Martinez (GK) – 7/10 – Tested early doors by Salah, but kept out his front-post drive. Produced a good save to deny Robertson, but could only parry into the path of Salah. Unlucky to see his final save cancelled out by Alexander-Arnold.

Matty Cash (RB) – 7/10 – A solid first half against Jota. Was lucky that his missed interception went unpunished, due to an extremely harsh offside call.

Ezri Konsa (CB) – 7/10 – Had Villa’s first shot on target, but headed straight at Alisson. Threw himself in front of the ball on a number of occasions. Booked.

Tyrone Mings (CB) – 6/10 –
Got away with a proper clanger, allowing the ball to roll under his foot and through to Salah. Lucky for him, the striker misfired. Recovered to lead the backline against a barrage of crosses and balls into the penalty area.

Matt Targett (LB) – 7/10 – Lost Salah a few times on that flank, but got back in to block crosses and reduce the danger from his wing. Did a decent job on the whole.

John McGinn, Fabinho
Getting stuck in | Pool/Getty Images

John McGinn (CM) – 7/10 – Slotted a superb ball through for Watkins to break the deadlock. Harassed the Liverpool midfield and gave them so little time on the ball.

Douglas Luiz (CM – 6/10 – Struggled to help his side get a foothold in the game, and then picked up a head injury just before the half-hour mark. Carded, not for the first time. Broke up Liverpool’s attacks efficiently.

Marvelous Nakamba (CM) – 6/10 – Surrendered possession far too easily on a couple of occasions, landing his teammates in danger. Dashed around, putting his endless energy to good use.

Ollie Watkins
Celebrations all round | Pool/Getty Images

Bertrand Traore (RW) – 5/10 – Dragged a shot wide from the edge of the box, and was generally poor throughout.

Ollie Watkins (ST) – 8/10 – Very isolated early on and was forced to invent chances from next to nothing. Got his chance just before half-time and rifled it home.

Trezeguet (LW) – 7/10 – Buzzed around the final third trying to press the Liverpool backline into a mistake. So unlucky to hit the post with a brilliant effort under pressure. Left the field in tears through injury.

Ross Barkley
Subbed on | Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images

Ross Barkley (CM) – 5/10

Anwar El Ghazi (RW) – 6/10

Jacob Ramsey (CM) – 6/10


Leeds’ display at Man City proves they aren’t suffering from Bielsa-burnout

Sometimes in life you’ve just got to put both hands in the air and admit you were wrong.

A few months ago, we predicted that Leeds could be on the verge of a calamitous collapse having been lauded for their high-octane, aggressive, energetic style of play throughout the first half of their maiden campaign back in the Premier League.

Marcelo Bielsa's side were superb at Manchester City
Marcelo Bielsa’s side were superb at Manchester City | Pool/Getty Images

To give a bit of perspective; Marcelo Bielsa’s side had recently been thrashed by League Two side Crawley Town in the FA Cup, a result sandwiched between two Premier League defeats in which the Whites failed to score a goal.

Of course, losing three games on the bounce should hardly be reason to suggest a team is in dire need of a result or they could dramatically slip down the table – even if one of said results was at a side three divisions below them in the footballing pyramid – but there was more substance to the prediction than just the black and white of their recent results.

Bielsa is renowned for being a tough taskmaster and demanding constant energy and drive from his sides – even in training sessions.

This ethos has seen he come unstuck at times, with some of his previous sides racing out of the blocks before falling apart at the latter end of the campaign as fatigue begins to become a factor.

Leeds had fallen foul of this exact problem during the Argentine tactician’s first season at Elland Road. Having looked destined for promotion from the Championship in 2018/19, the Whites went on to win none of their final four games of regular season and subsequently missed out on a place in the top two, before bottling a first-leg semi-final lead against Derby in the play-offs.

So, it’s not like the claims were just plucked out of thin air then. However, this is the part where we hold our hands up.

Having predicted ‘Bielsa-burnout’ could be set to undo all the hard work they’d done in the first half of the season, their display at Premier League champions elect Manchester City on Saturday afternoon was more akin to a team who’d just guzzled a tin of Popeye’s spinach than one that was crawling towards the season’s conclusion.

Having taken an early lead through Stuart Dallas, Bielsa’s side were reduced to ten men shortly after following Liam Cooper’s dangerous challenge on Raheem Sterling.

Naturally, the red card may as well have been a matador’s cape as far as the City team were concerned, because as soon as Cooper left the field it just became a constant onslaught of City pressure.

Pep Guardiola’s men pulled the two banks of Leeds players round the field like a ragdoll, switching play and keeping the ball moving for the remainder of the contest – something which would undoubtedly have proved to be tiring both physically and mentally for the visitors.

Try as they might, Leeds’ stubborn resistance was eventually broken as an individual piece of quality from Bernardo Silva afforded Ferran Torres the chance to confidentially dispatch the equaliser.

With 15 minutes remaining, it just became a case of will Man City take one point or three from the clash, there wasn’t a chance Leeds would even have the energy – never mind the quality – to muster one final attack of their own.

Well, that’s what we thought anyway.

Stuart Dallas produced an unlikely brace to secure the three points for Leeds
Stuart Dallas produced an unlikely brace to secure the three points for Leeds | MICHAEL REGAN/Getty Images

With just two minutes of stoppage time left to play, Dallas somehow mustered the energy to burst into the City half, leaving John Stones in his wake running like a World’s Strongest Man competitor trying to pull a lorry behind him, before coolly slotting past Ederson to hand his side an unlikely win.

They may well have been completely drained, but the full Leeds team even had it in them to sprint the length of the field and celebrate as a group, as they moved to within two points of Champions League chasing Everton.

With three consecutive 2-1 wins under their belt, the Whites are genuinely in the a shout of a place in Europe next season and on current form you wouldn’t back against them doing it.

Bielsa-burnout, eh? Maybe not.


Bayern Munich 1-1 Union Berlin: Player ratings as Die Roten and Die Eisernen share spoils in borefest

Bayern Munich and Union Berlin played out an uneventful draw on Saturday afternoon, as the Bavarians’ lead at the top of the Bundesliga was cut down to five points.

Goal-scoring opportunities proved very sparse throughout and it took Bayern until the 69th minute to break the deadlock. Thomas Muller poked the ball into the path of Jamal Musiala after a scramble in the box, before the 18-year old produced some wonderful footwork to weave space for himself and slot the ball past Andreas Luthe.

The visitors pressed for an equaliser and eventually got their reward in the 86th minute. Robert Andrich pulled the ball back as Manuel Neuer rushed out to close him down, before Marcus Ingvartsen scuffed his shot into an empty net to earn his side a draw.

The draw sees Bayern’s lead at the Bundesliga summit closed down to five points after RB Leipzig’s win at Werder Bremen. Now, let’s get into some ratings.

Manuel Neuer (GK) – 6/10 – Faced two shots on target – dealt with the first comfortably but couldn’t do anything about the second which rolled into his empty net.

Bouna Sarr (RB) – 6/10 – Got up the pitch very well and linked up with colleagues nicely in advanced areas but couldn’t quite find the final ball to make his efforts count. Left a lot of space in behind when surging forward and was caught out occasionally.

Jerome Boateng (CB) – 7/10 –
Provided calmness at the back, spraying the ball out nicely and reading the game well to make three ball recoveries.

Javi Martinez (CB) – 7/10 –
Another mature head at the back and was important in maintaining the composure, making a couple of vital interceptions and clearances.

Josip Stanisic (LB) – 6/10 – Did well on his senior debut. Was strong and calm, more often than not finding himself the right side of his man and made five interventions. Might have done better when marking Ingvartsen for the equaliser, though.

Joshua Kimmich, Grischa Proemel
Joshua Kimmich didn’t have his usual impact on the game | Pool/Getty Images

Joshua Kimmich (DM) – 6/10 – Was isolated at times and just didn’t have the same freedom without Leon Goretzka by his side. Managed to influence and make two key passes when he got himself forward, but that was too sporadic to make a proper impact.

Tiago Dantas (CM) – 5/10 – Very energetic and tenacious, constantly scurrying around but didn’t really make anything happen. Might have been better sitting deep at times and letting Kimmich venture forward more.

Thomas Muller (CM) – 6/10 – Picked out space all over the field, even spending a few minutes as a right back. Looked tired and slow when he had possession though, and was very sloppy on the ball. One little poke, however, got him the assist for Bayern’s goal.

Jamal Musiala (RW) – 8/10 – Bayern’s biggest threat by a country mile. Incredibly bright throughout and battled hard down the right to surge into the box both on and off the ball. It required a moment of magic from the youngster to open the scoring.

Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting (ST) – 5/10 – Once again linked up well with teammates when he dropped a bit deeper, but those moments were few and far between. Hooked off without making a key pass or having a single shot on target.

Kingsley Coman (LW) – 5/10 – Had a couple of nice touches down the left but had very little of the limelight before coming off with a niggle at half time.

Leroy Sane (LW) – 6/10 – Showed great feet at times and threatened the goal on a couple of occasions, but couldn’t provide the penetrative edge expected of him.

David Alaba (CM) – 6/10 – Injected a lot of energy into the centre of the field but couldn’t quite be clinical when he had the ball.

Benjamin Pavard (CB) – 5/10 –
Caught sleeping when Andrich managed to run clean through from a throw in.

Christopher Scott (CM) – 5/10

Tanguy Nianzou (DM) – N/A