Boxing Day brought yet more fascinating Premier League action as top four hopefuls Leicester and Manchester United played out an entertaining draw at the King Power Stadium, whilst Arsenal returned to winning ways at long last after beating Chelsea.
Elsewhere Manchester City and Everton closed the gap on league leaders Liverpool, who were held to a 1-1 draw by struggling West Brom on Sunday following some signature Sam Allardyce shithousery at Anfield.
Following the latest action we’ve compiled our dream XI, here is The Football Faithful’s Premier League Team of the Week for gameweek 15:
Goalkeeper: Illan Meslier – Leeds
After Leeds’ gung-ho approach to the season was criticised following their 6-2 thrashing at Manchester United last week, Marcelo Bielsa’s side proceeded to respond with a dogged defensive display to earn a hard-fought 1-0 win over Burnley.
Leeds were put under plenty of pressure by a Burnley side who presented both a physical and aerial threat, with young goalkeeper Illan Mesleir standing firm to deny the visitors and secure a fifth clean sheet of the season.
Meslier was fortunate not to concede after a shaky moment in which he dropped an aerial ball, a foul somehow being awarded against Ben Mee rather than the goalkeeper who appeared to clatter the Burnley defender in the build-up.
Illian Meslier vs. Burnley:
90 mins played
4 saves from inside the box
1 high claim
1 clean sheet
— LUFCDATA (@LUFCDATA) December 27, 2020
The France U21 international recovered well from that to make six saves – four of those coming inside the box – and whilst not always convincing, the 20-year-old has made notable progress in his first season at this level.
Right-back: Joao Cancelo – Manchester City
Joao Cancelo’s improvement this season has been a huge boost for Pep Guardiola this season, the full-back having been a dependable performer on either flank for a Manchester City side boasting the best defence in the division.
The Portugal international returned to his preferred right-back role in the absence of Kyle Walker and was excellent throughout the 2-0 win over Newcastle, providing a defence-splitting pass in the build-up to Ilkay Gundogan’s opener before creating the second with a surging run forward.
Cancelo thrived amid the freedom provided by a Newcastle side who lacked attacking ambition at the Etihad, providing much-needed dynamism from deep as City looked to break down stubborn opposition.
Centre-back: Semi Ajayi – West Brom
West Brom’s home humbling by Aston Villa last week was the worst possible start to Sam Allardyce’s reign, though the Baggies bounced back this weekend to secure a precious – and unlikely – point at league leaders Liverpool.
It was classic Allarcyde for much of the contest with the first half particularly ugly, West Brom defending deep and having just 18% of the possession as they headed into the interval.
Half-time came, however, with the score at just 1-0 and Sadio Mane’s goal was surprisingly the champion’s only shot on target despite their dominance of the ball at Anfield.
— West Bromwich Albion (@WBA) December 27, 2020
It was Semi Ajayi who switched off in the build-up to Mane’s opener, but the Nigerian responded well in the second half and rose magnificently to head home an equaliser with just minutes remaining, West Brom’s park-the-bus mentality having laid the foundation to snatch a point on Merseyside.
Centre-back: Kortney Hause – Aston Villa
Aston Villa have enjoyed a fine run of form over the festive period and their upturn has coincided with the return of Kortney Hause to the side, the defender having helped Villa to three consecutive clean sheets following a 3-0 win over Crystal Palace on Boxing Day.
Dean Smith’s side secured a comfortable victory despite the first-half dismissal of Tyrone Mings, Hause stepping up in the absence of his centre-back partner with a dominant defensive display.
Kortney Hause this season:
3 clean sheets
— AVFCchats (@AVFCchats) December 26, 2020
The 25-year-old was uncompromising in dealing with Palace’s forward threat and popped up with a vital second goal for the home side, reacting first to a rebound to head home his first-ever Premier League goal.
Hause will retain his place in the side for the trip to Chelsea with Mings suspended, and has stated his case for regular involvement over the past month with a series of impressive performances.
Left-back: Kieran Tierney – Arsenal
Kieran Tierney has been amongst the few bright sparks in a disastrous start to the season for Arsenal, with the full-back having regularly been singled out for praise for his consistency and will-to-win.
The Scotland international was again a stand-out as the Gunners ended a run of seven games without a win against Chelsea, securing a 3-1 victory over their London rivals at the Emirates.
“We needed to give the fans something to be positive about”
Kieran Tierney is happy to end the poor run of games pic.twitter.com/BGuQXsvgeI
— Football Daily (@footballdaily) December 26, 2020
Tierney pushed forward positively from left-back and won a perhaps contentious penalty for the game’s opening goal, whilst remaining strong defensively to deal with the threat of Christian Pulisic.
Arsenal’s youngsters showed signs of promise and Tierney’s partnership with the returning Gabriel Martinelli was encouraging, the 23-year-old a player the north London side can depend upon as they look to recover and rebuild under Mikel Arteta.
Midfield: Youri Tielemans – Leicester
Leicester remain just four points off the league leaders in their pursuit of a top-four finish, Brendan Rodgers’ side securing a 2-2 draw with in-form Manchester United at the King Power Stadium.
Youri Tielemans starred for the Foxes as the deep-lying conductor of Rodgers’ impressive midfield, dominating during the opening 45 minutes and demonstrating his superb awareness and passing range.
The Belgium international oozed class and was often the hub of Leicester’s best passages of play, the 23-year-old enjoying a superb season and arguably amongst the most underrated midfielders in the league at present.
Youri Tielemans vs Manchester Utd
86% pass accuracy
7 accurate long balls
6/6 successfully dribbles
3 tackles won
1 Aerial won
12/20 dues won
— LeicesterCityExtra (@ExtraLeicester) December 27, 2020
Tielemans – alongside Wilfred Ndidi and James Maddison – provides Leicester with one of the most talented midfield trios in the Premier League and an engine room that could yet deliver Champions League football for the Foxes this season.
Midfield: Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa – Fulham
Fulham’s renaissance continued under Scott Parker with the west London side now difficult to beat, their stalemate with Southampton resulting in a fourth consecutive draw for the Cottagers.
Those draws will need to be turned into victories if Fulham are to escape the bottom three, but there are encouraging signs for the side with their charge having been led by midfielder Zambo Anguissa.
The Cameroon international endured a difficult debut season as the club were relegated in 2018/19, but after enjoying a superb campaign on loan at Villarreal last season he has returned to the Premier League with a point to prove.
The 25-year-old was excellent in his all-action style against Southampton, with no player making more tackles (10), registering more dribbles (6), or firing more shots on target (2).
Anguissa currently ranks second in the Premier League for both tackles and interceptions, the star’s desire to remain and make an impression with Fulham this season a huge boost for Parker and his side.
Midfield: Bruno Fernandes – Manchester United
Is there any player in the Premier League quite as central to their side’s fortunes as Bruno Fernandes and Manchester United?
The Portugal international was once again his side’s inspiration in their 2-2 draw at Leicester, providing an assist for Marcus Rashford’s opening goal before scoring his 10th league goal of the season.
Fernandes was dispossessed in a costly position prior to Harvey Barnes’ equaliser for Leicester, and whilst Ole Gunnar Solskjaer admitted his frustration with the midfielder’s risk-taking style, the 26-year-old’s influence is irreplaceable.
— Bruno Fernandes (@B_Fernandes8) December 26, 2020
It’s now a staggering 31 goal involvements in just 28 appearances for United in the Premier League, a rate of productivity comparable with almost any player in world football.
Right-wing: Bukayo Saka – Arsenal
Arsenal’s injection of youthful energy worked wonders for Mikel Arteta as the Gunners ended their seven-game wait for a Premier League victory against Chelsea, Bukayo Saka – alongside fellow teenager Gabriel Martinelli and 20-year-old Emile Smith Rowe – tormenting the out-of-sorts Blues at the Emirates.
Saka has established himself as a hugely exciting prospect since emerging from Arsenal’s academy ranks and sparkled this weekend, covering more ground than any other player on the pitch and scoring the north Londoner’s third in perhaps fortuitous fashion.
It was a stroke of luck that the 19-year-old’s performance deserved, with a trademark dribble forward having also won the free-kick for Granit Xhaka to thump home a superb second for the home side.
Saw him off his line !pic.twitter.com/wxxyNkSfe9
— Bukayo Saka (@BukayoSaka87) December 26, 2020
Saka’s talent, versatility and maturity mean that he will be a key figure in this side both for now and for the long-term future, Arsenal facing Brighton, West Brom, Crystal Palace and Newcastle in their next four fixtures as they bid to climb out of the bottom half.
Left-wing: Anwar El Ghazi – Aston Villa
It’s incredible what a little confidence can do for a player, Anwar El Ghazi having flourished in recent weeks with the Aston Villa winger having hit a purple patch in front of goal.
El Ghazi has frustrated during his two seasons at Villa Park and began the season out-of-favour, but injuries to both Ross Barkley and Trezeguet have handed the twice-capped Netherlands international a chance he has since seized.
Who scored the Premier League goal of the weekend? pic.twitter.com/qpOsRT0Et9
— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) December 28, 2020
The 25-year-old scored his fourth goal in four games during the 3-0 win over Crystal Palace with an emphatic finish, whilst the winger’s confidence in trying to make things happen handed the Villa forward line an x-factor throughout.
His tendency to try things may result in him losing possession a little too often, but El Ghazi undoubtedly has creative class and his form has staked his claim for a regular starting spot.
Forward: Ollie Watkins – Aston Villa
Ollie Watkins must be amongst the most frustrated players in the Premier League at present, the forward having not quite delivered the goals his performances have deserved in recent weeks.
There have been missed penalties and ridiculously tight VAR decisions for the club-record signing, but his willingness to work hard as the selfless focal point of the Villa attack has never wavered.
Watkins ran himself into the ground during the win over Crystal Palace on Boxing Day, the 24-year-old a physical handful for the opposition backline with his size, strength and determination to run in behind.
“I said at half-time, there is nobody in the Premier League that I would want to go and lead the line when we’re down to ten men, more than Ollie Watkins.”
𝗕𝗜𝗚 praise from the boss. pic.twitter.com/S2ISAJi0mw
— Aston Villa (@AVFCOfficial) December 26, 2020
Watkins had a hand in all three Villa goals and whilst he is without a goal in his past six games, his wait will surely not last much longer given the positions he is getting in and his side’s ability to create chances.
Dean Smith was full of praise for the former Brentford man post-match, a player who has helped transform Villa from relegation candidates to a side pushing for a place in Europe this season.