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Premier League Team of the Week - Virgil van Dijk, Phil Foden, Jarrod Bowen

Sports Mole selects its Premier League Team of the Week for gameweek 26, including Virgil van Dijk, Phil Foden and Jarrod Bowen.

With Liverpool and Chelsea serving up a 120-minute spectacle in the EFL Cup final, 16 Premier League teams fought for priceless points in the final weekend of February, although the Reds had already cemented first place in the table with a 4-1 midweek crushing of Luton Town.

Manchester City and Arsenal both kept pace with the EFL Cup winners, though, as the reigning champions edged past Bournemouth 1-0 to reduce the gap to the league leaders to just one point, while the Gunners are just one more worse off thanks to their 4-1 success over Newcastle United.

Aston Villa's Champions League charge remains on track owing to their 4-2 beating of Nottingham Forest, but Manchester United's momentum took a damaging hit in a late 2-1 home loss to Fulham.

Brighton & Hove Albion are still clinging onto a European qualification spot, having rescued a point in a 1-1 draw versus Everton, but West Ham United are now on their coat-tails thanks to a 4-2 Monday night success over London rivals Brentford.

Elsewhere in the capital, Oliver Glasner's first game as Crystal Palace manager ended in a 3-0 rout of Burnley, while Wolverhampton Wanderers prolonged Sheffield United's misery by overcoming the Blades 1-0 at Molineux.

Here, Sports Mole selects its Premier League Team of the Week for the latest round of fixtures.


DEFENCE

Liverpool captain Virgil van Dijk on February 25, 2024© Reuters

It was a day for the ex-Arsenal boys at Old Trafford over the weekend, as while Alex Iwobi broke Red Devils hearts deep into stoppage time, his number one goalkeeper Bernd Leno stood incredibly tall at the other end of the field, making seven saves to thwart a hitherto irrepressible - albeit Rasmus Hojlund-less - Man United attack.

Immediately reaping the rewards of Glasner's preferred three-at-the-back system, Crystal Palace made extremely light work of Burnley at Selhurst Park, where Chris Richards netted his first goal for the Eagles on his 31st appearance - directing an excellent header into the far corner - while also completing 92% of his passes and winning all four ground duels.

Before playing the role of Wembley hero in the EFL Cup final with the trophy-winning header, Liverpool skipper Virgil van Dijk came up trumps aerially in the Luton box, heading in the Reds' equaliser to become their highest-scoring Premier League defender at Anfield - leaving Sami Hyypia in his wake - and the towering Dutchman also hoofed the ball clear seven times to deny the Hatters a famous win.

Another Merseyside-based centre-back to come good in opposition territory, Everton's rearguard jewel Jarrad Branthwaite ostensibly set the Toffees on their way to another eye-catching success on Brighton's soil with a phenomenal strike into the top corner, while also contributing three blocks and seven clearances to the defensive effort, only for Lewis Dunk to deny the visitors maximum points right at the death.

As laudable as Branthwaite's effort was, though, the England Under-21 international must accept second place in the defenders' goal of the week competition to West Ham left-back Emerson Palmieri. After supplying Jarrod Bowen with a perfect cutback to open the scoring against Brentford on Monday, the ex-Chelsea man notched the Irons' fourth with a 25-yard thunderbolt into the top corner, and a total of five interceptions, four tackles and one goal-line clearance also helped to nullify the Bees' sting in a near-flawless all-around display.


MIDFIELD

Manchester City's Phil Foden celebrates scoring against Bournemouth on February 24, 2024© Reuters

Van Dijk was not the only red-clad man to write his name into the history books during Liverpool's thrashing of Luton, where Harvey Elliott deputised magnificently for the stricken Mohamed Salah. By picking out the top corner with aplomb after a masterful creative performance, the 20-year-old became the youngest Premier League player on record to score, create at least five chances, fire at least five shots, make at least 25 passes into the final third and have at least 10 touches in the opponent's penalty area in a single game.

Speaking of players finding the corner of the net with aplomb, Aston Villa's Douglas Luiz did exactly that to double the Lions' lead in their six-goal spectacular with Nottingham Forest, and the 25-year-old notched his ninth strike of the Premier League season just 10 minutes later, leaving Matz Sels rooted to the spot with a pinpoint header.

Sharing Luiz's nine-goal haul in the 2023-24 Premier League campaign, Man City's Phil Foden was in the right place at the right time to tap home from Erling Haaland's parried shot against Bournemouth, and had the Norwegian not fluffed another golden opportunity at the Vitality, the Englishman would have also departed with an assist next to his name.


ATTACK

West Ham United's Jarrod Bowen celebrates scoring against Manchester United on December 23, 2023© Reuters

As Michael Olise and Eberechi Eze continue their recoveries from injury, Jordan Ayew - the most fouled player in the current Premier League campaign - provided Palace with their attacking spark in the crushing of Burnley, providing a sumptuous delivery for Richards to nod in the opener before arriving at the back post to score his second goal in as many Premier League matchweeks.

Also ending the weekend with a goal and assist on his notebook, Aston Villa's Leon Bailey produced a seldom-seen double nutmeg to set up Ollie Watkins in the win over Forest - slipping the ball through both Murillo and Felipe's open legs - before earning a fortunate break of the ball to extinguish any hope of an improbable Tricky Trees fightback once and for all.

Few out-and-out strikers truly stood out over the weekend, but during Monday's London derby between West Ham and Brentford, Jarrod Bowen stole the spotlight in the centre-forward position. Finding a gap at Mark Flekken's near post, delicately guiding the ball into the bottom corner and meeting Mohammed Kudus's cross with a deft header, the Englishman recorded the first Premier League hat-trick of his career at the London Stadium, also becoming the first Irons player to net a top-flight treble at their new home.


SPORTS MOLE'S PREMIER LEAGUE TEAM OF THE WEEK

PL TOTW GW26

Sports Mole's Premier League Team of the Week (4-3-3): Leno; Richards, Van Dijk, Branthwaite, Emerson; Elliott, Luiz, Foden; Ayew, Bowen, Bailey


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Tables header RHS
TeamPWDLFAGDPTS
1Manchester CityMan City32227376324473
2Arsenal32225575264971
3Liverpool32218372314171
4Aston Villa33196868491963
5Tottenham HotspurSpurs32186865491660
6Newcastle UnitedNewcastle321551269521750
7Manchester UnitedMan Utd32155124748-150
8West Ham UnitedWest Ham33139115258-648
9Chelsea31138106152947
10Brighton & Hove AlbionBrighton321111105250244
11Wolverhampton WanderersWolves32127134651-543
12Fulham33126154951-242
13Bournemouth32119124757-1042
14Crystal Palace3289153754-1733
15Brentford3388174758-1132
16Everton3298153248-1627
17Nottingham ForestNott'm Forest3379174258-1626
18Luton TownLuton3367204670-2425
19Burnley3348213368-3520
20Sheffield UnitedSheff Utd3237223084-5416


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