Shortened Matchweek? It must mean the return of the FA Cup.
But whilst the semi-finals of football’s oldest cup competition meant that we were reduced to just six games, rather than the usual ten, plenty of entertainment was afoot outside of Wembley as the Premier League continued at pace.
The headlines of Matchweek 33 were once again spawned from the ever-chaotic top four race, with both Arsenal and Tottenham suffering surprise defeats at the hands of South Coast clubs Southampton and Brighton. At Old Trafford, Manchester United claimed a narrow victory over Norwich City to keep their own top four hopes alive, and both Newcastle and Brentford claimed dramatic late victories to maintain their impressive runs of form, with both sides now virtually safe and able to enjoy the remainder of their season.
Six matches, five standouts – here are our latest Stars of the Week.
Stars of the Week: Matchweek 33
Goalkeeper: Fraser Forster (Southampton)
Things are suddenly much brighter again at Southampton. Having been on a dreadful run of form that reached its nadir with a 6-0 home defeat to Chelsea last week, this narrow, hard-fought victory over Arsenal was just what the doctor ordered.
It was a victory that simply wouldn’t have been possible without the exceptional contribution of goalkeeper Fraser Forster. The Saints ‘keeper made six saves throughout the game, including a miraculous stop to deny Bukayo Saka in the first half. With his side in front, Forster later denied Emile Smith Rowe, Granit Xhaka and another Saka effort to help Southampton squeeze over the finish line and claim a much-needed win.
With the goalkeeping situation seemingly still up in the air at Southampton, this was the clearest indicator yet that Forster is ready to re-assert himself as the undisputed number one.
Defender: Jan Bednarek (Southampton)
From zero to hero.
We’ve mentioned the contribution of Fraser Forster in Southampton’s fantastic win against Arsenal on the weekend, but Saints defender Jan Bednarek will walk away from St Mary’s with similar plaudits following a strong display.
As culpable as anyone in last week’s dreadful capitulation against Chelsea, Bednarek was one of the few players to retain his place in the backline, and made amends brilliantly on the left-hand side of a back three. Aside from his match-winning goal, which was lashed home brilliantly on his left foot, Bednarek looked much more assured at the back as well, the Poland international making one tackle, five interceptions and seven clearances to successfully repel wave after wave of Arsenal attacks.
It’s trickier sometimes for defenders to answer their critics than forward players, but this was a fantastic example of how to do so from Bednarek.
Midfielder: Bruno Guimaraes (Newcastle United)
The second half of the season just seems to get better and better for Newcastle, a trend that continued in style on Sunday as the Magpies snatched victory over Leicester City with a dramatic late winner.
In a hotly contested game, it was Newcastle’s January signing Bruno Guimaraes who made the decisive contribution, scoring both of his side’s goals. The central midfielder took advantage of some typically poor set piece defending from Leicester to poke the ball through Kasper Schmeichel’s legs and pull his side level, a goal that was quickly confirmed as legitimate by VAR.
In the fifth minute of second half stoppage time, Guimaraes burst forward again on a counter attack and managed to get on the end of Joe Willock’s deflected cross, powering home a header to send St James’ Park into raptures.
It would seem Newcastle has a new Brazilian hero.
Forward: Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United)
Who else could it have been for Manchester United?
In a shaky home display against bottom-placed Norwich City, of course it would be Cristiano Ronaldo to dig his side out of a hole. The Portugal star put his side in front early with a simple tap-in following a Norwich error at the back, and later leapt tremendously to glance home a header to double the Red Devils’ lead. Despite this, the hosts would soon let the lead slip, but Ronaldo had the last word with a terrific late free kick that flew in off the post via Tim Krul’s gloves to give United the win.
That’s his second hat-trick of 2022 already – where would United be without his goals?
Manager: Graham Potter (Brighton and Hove Albion)
What a difference a week makes.
Having been on a terrible run of form for several weeks, Graham Potter’s Brighton have now claimed back-to-back scalps in North London following victories over Arsenal and now Tottenham, with Potter deservedly scooping the Star Manager award for the second Matchweek running.
This victory was arguably even more impressive than last week’s, with the Seagulls blunting a Tottenham front three that had been on a white-hot run of form for several matches. Brighton did have to pull off the occasional piece of last-ditch defending, but generally remained untroubled by Spurs throughout the game, growing into the contest gradually and snatching a late victory through Leandro Trossard’s goal.
Brighton’s brilliant display was another indicator of Potter’s tactical nous, in what is developing into an excellent season for the South Coast side. Could a first top half finish be on the cards?
Manchester City and England fan. Writer of opinion and features on all things Premier League and beyond.