It’s nearly here! The Africa Cup of Nations 2017 kicks off this weekend and it’s a tournament we love and have covered in detail in the past on Just Football. Ahead of this year’s edition in Gabon here are a selection of promising young African talents that have risen to prominence and could play an essential […]
The games keep coming thick and fast in the Premier League. With the fixtures piling up, fatigue, injuries and suspensions will take their toll, but the best players just keep on impressing. But who has caught our eye and made it into Names of the Premier League for the most recent round of matches?
Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea)
Not the best of games but a hard fought 1-0 win nevertheless for Chelsea. They picked up three crucial points away to Crystal Palace to remain at the top of the table.
While the attacking players were not always on song the defensive players were and Cesar Azpilicueta once again had a superb game as part of the back three. David Luiz is often the one praised when discussing Chelsea’s central defenders but Azpilicueta deserves as much praise. Though usually a full-back, he has settled quickly and looks equally at home in that trio.
— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) December 17, 2016
Against Palace, Azpilicueta and his team mates kept both of Palace’s main threats – Christian Benteke and Wilfried Zaha – quiet for the whole match. Palace only mustered two shots on target. Azpilicueta also managed to provide the game winning assist just before half time with a floated ball from the right to Diego Costa who had a simple headed finish.
Chelsea then controlled the game and made it eleven wins in a row. The foundations for that streak have been from the back. Azpilicueta and co have kept nine clean sheets in those eleven matches.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Manchester United)
The man Jose Mourinho is reluctant to rest stepped up to the plate again for Manchester United. Two goals from Zlatan Ibrahimovic at the weekend gave them a comfortable victory over West Brom in a 2-0 win.
The Swede has had his critics this season, mainly for his lack of energy and pace – but there can be no doubt that he scores goals. Ibrahimovic now only has two less goals than Diego Costa and only one less than Alexis Sanchez. Those two have been considered players of the season so far.
It took just five minutes for Ibra to get his first of the game, guiding a simple header into the back of the net following a superb cross from Jesse Lingard down Manchester United’s right hand side. Ibrahimovic doubled United’s lead and sealed the points early in the second half with a deflected right footed drive after cutting into the box on the left.
Ibrahimovic is in fine form but with home games coming up against Sunderland and Middlesbrough, Mourinho might take the festive period as an opportunity to give him a deserved rest.
SEE ALSO: Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s 22 best quotes
Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City)
Manchester City came from a goal behind to beat Arsenal 2-1 at the Etihad Stadium and jump above the Gunners in the Premier League table.
With Sergio Aguero suspended it was left to Kevin De Bruyne to be the main man for City and the Belgian didn’t disappoint. He produced an energetic display and was involved in most of City’s attacking moves.
Even though City didn’t perform brilliantly in the first half it was still De Bruyne who was looking to get on the ball and make things happen. In the second half both De Bruyne and his teammates stepped up a gear and put more pressure on the Arsenal backline. They equalised within two minutes of the restart and clinched the winner 20 minutes from time. A superb cross-field pass from De Bruyne found Sterling who drove at Monreal before cutting inside and beating Cech at his near post for the winner.
Aguero will return after the Boxing Day trip to Hull and with De Bruyne in this kind of form, City fans will be relishing the prospect of two of them back together.
Alvaro Negredo (Middlesbrough)
Negredo produced the kind of display to match what he produced when Middlesbrough drew with Leicester at the end of November – a game where he also helped himself to two goals. He was a constant threat and looked a danger whenever the ball was played into the box. It was the kind of confident display you usually associate with a player on a great run of scoring form, not someone who had scored just three league goals prior to the game.
His first of the afternoon after 18 minutes was a fine finish as Adam Clayton’s cross from the left found the striker and he powerfully finished first time with his left foot into the left hand corner of the net. He then made it two just before the half hour mark, calmly slotting in a penalty following Jordi Amat’s trip on Adam Forshaw.
Middlesbrough fans will now be hoping that the ex-Man City man can go on a regular scoring streak and help propel the side up the table and get to that all important 40 points mark sooner rather than later.
Jay Rodriguez (Southampton)
Southampton claimed bragging rights on the South coast with a 3-1 away victory over Bournemouth. A double from Jay Rodriguez ultimately proved the difference at the Vitality Stadium.
It was only Rodriguez’s third league start of the season and in the first half it looked like the Saints striker woes may continue. Despite Ryan Bertrand cancelling out Nathan Ake’s opener, there were few real chances for Rodriguez.
However, he was always willing to fight and run even if unsuccessful, and three minutes into the second half he was rewarded. His running saw him get onto the end of Steven Davis’ ball across the goal to finish into an empty net. His second goal in the final ten minutes showed his confidence. It was a great finish, as he hit the bouncing ball on the turn from 20 yards out and found the top corner.
— Southampton FC (@SouthamptonFC) December 18, 2016
In the absence of Charlie Austin Southampton looked short of goals, but if Rodriguez can recapture the form he had during his last real injury free season in 2013/14 then the Saints would have a real threat on their hands.