Premier League Team of the Week: Aguero & Pelle star alongside Oscar & Fabregas

In a bumper week for goals, the stars of wins for Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool take their place in our composite team from the most recent round of matches

While closest challengers Manchester City and Southampton racked up the goals, Chelsea were able to solidify their spot at the top of the Premier League table with victory over Crystal Palace.

In a weekend in which 40 goals were scored, Jose Mourinho’s side hung on for a 2-1 win at Selhurst Park as they coped admirably without Diego Costa, while Manuel Pellegrini’s men beat Tottenham 4-1 and Ronald Koeman’s charges thrashed Sunderland 8-0.

Elsewhere, Arsenal and Manchester United needed late equalisers to claim 2-2 draws with Hull City and West Brom respectively while a remarkable finish at Loftus Road saw Liverpool secure a 3-2 win over QPR.

But with so many thrilling attacking showings, as well as the odd fine defensive performance, who makes it into our line-up?

Starting in goal, Joe Hart (4.5) continued his fine form between the sticks as he pulled off three world-class saves, including one to deny Roberto Soldado from the penalty spot, at the Etihad Stadium.

In front of him sits a back four, with Southampton’s Nathaniel Clyne (4.5) able to build on his first senior England call-up with a fine showing as he got forward with regularity and caused opposing full-back Patrick van Aanholt many problems.

Before hobbling off with an injury late on, Michael Dawson (4) put in a superb showing up against Danny Welbeck as he made a number of recovery tackles, while Phil Jagielka (3.5) made it three goals in five appearances for club and country with the opener against Aston Villa.

Jagielka’s Everton team-mate, Leighton Baines (4), took his assist tally to five for the season at Goodison Park and, having only created four goals last term, he is certainly showing signs of being back to his best.

Despite only coming off the bench for the final 24 minutes, Philippe Coutinho (4) added some real impetus to Liverpool’s play in the capital as his direct running caused a whole host of problems – no more so than ith his 90th-minute goal.

Cheslea’s midfield pair of Oscar (4.5) and Cesc Fabregas (4) form the engine room, with the duo both getting on the scoresheet against Neil Warnock’s side. Despite his fine start to the season, this was Fabregas’s first goal after providing seven assists in as many matches.

Dusan Tadic (5) became only the sixth player to assist four goals in a Premier League match as he also got on the scoresheet at St Mary’s Stadium, with Graziano Pelle (5) able to take advantage with two goals of his own as he took his own tally to six for the season.

The Italy international is partnered by Sergio Aguero (4.5) up front as the he joined Diego Costa on nine goals and in turn became Manchester City’s record Premier League goalscorer with four strikes against Spurs.

Rodgers predicts greatness for Coutinho

The 22-year-old Brazilian has made a big impression in pre-season this summer and his manager expects big things from the former Inter midfielder both at home and in Europe

Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers believes that the “magical” Philippe Coutinho can take the Champions League by storm.

The Brazilian playmaker has regularly shown glimpses of his ability since arriving at Anfield from Inter in January 2013.

He made 33 Premier League appearances as Liverpool went agonisingly close to winning the title last term and was one of their standout players throughout pre-season after missing out on a place in his country’s World Cup squad.

The Reds will return to the Champions League in 2014-15 following a five-year absence and, after watching a virtuoso Coutinho display in his side’s 4-0 demolition of Borussia Dortmund on Sunday, Rodgers tipped the 22-year-old to shine on European club football’s biggest stage.

“He’s so gifted – his ability is magical [and] the weight of his pass is phenomenal,” Rodgers purred to the press.

“He’s come into the country and lit it up with his quality. [The important thing for his development] is sustaining that level of performance.

“He’s got the opportunity to show he’s a top-level player in the Champions League and he’ll do that.

“Over the next four or five years, he’ll be a big talent in world football for Brazil and Liverpool. We’re lucky to have him.”

Coutinho – whom the manager hopes to tie down to a new contract – was among the scorers as Liverpool routed Dortmund at Anfield and Rodgers was thrilled with his team’s performance.

“[I’m] delighted with the result – they [Dortmund] have been one of Europe’s best teams for the last three or four years,” he added. “We were excellent and this brings to an end what has been a very good pre-season.”

Coutinho to be rewarded with new Liverpool deal, reveals Rodgers

The Anfield boss says that the playmaker is “a great asset to the club” and is keen to secure his long-term future, while he hopes for more goals from the Brazilian this season

Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers has revealed that Brazilian playmaker Philippe Coutinho will be offered a new contract before the start of the upcoming season.

The 22-year-old has shone at Anfield since joining the club in an €11 million move from Inter in January 2013, scoring and assisting 20 goals in 46 Premier League appearances.

Rodgers believes that Coutinho is a player around whom he can build his side, with his best years still ahead of him, and is keen to reward the former Vasco da Gama star with an extension.

“A new contract for Philippe is something we will look to do over the summer,” the Northern Irishman told reporters.

“It’s all in hand. He’s certainly on that list. He’s a valuable player and a great asset to the club. He’s come in here and shown his quality, and really developed as a young player.

“Now he’s moving into the best years of his life as a footballer. He’s 22 and hopefully, by the time the next World Cup comes around, he will be an important part of the Brazil team. I’m sure his best years will be at Liverpool.

“He came back to pre-season with a great level of fitness – right on the limit of his weight. He’s in great condition, clearly worked hard in the off-season and, since he’s come back, we’ve seen in the games how strong and aggressive he is.”

Coutinho bagged just five goals last term, fewer than defender Martin Skrtel, and the Liverpool boss expects the Brazilian to hit the back of the net more often next season – though he refused to set him a target.

“He’s a player I don’t want to put too much pressure on with goals,” Rodgers explained. “When you have that quality and technique you’ll hope to score more goals and I’m sure that’s something he will improve on this season.”

Watch Coutinho strike an unreal volley, Luiz heading for glory and Podolski knock a bottle off the bar

A new video featuring a host of star players has been released to mark the launch of Gatorade’s Unreal around the World contest

It is a once in a lifetime opportunity and the ultimate prize for any young player who dreams of making it in professional football.

Gatorade is offering five footballers the chance to experience some of the best teams in the world, including Barcelona, Liverpool, Arsenal, AC Milan, Boca Juniors and the Brazilian and American national teams.

Prize winners will be handed unprecedented access to the clubs and their facilities, including trips to Camp Nou, Anfield and San Siro, along with the chance to learn from elite players and leading coaches.

As Gatorade’s new video – featuring stars such as Coutinho, David Luiz and Lukas Podolski – demonstrates, ordinary talent is not enough.

The search is on for dedicated individuals with the skill and desire to become Unreal players, the kind who turn every ounce of real work and sweat into unbelievable performance on the pitch.

Do you have what it takes to be Unreal? Can you hit the top corner with every single shot? Can you juggle the ball as though gravity didn’t exist? Can you knock a bottle off the top of the crossbar with deadly accuracy?

If so, and you are aged over 14, click here for more information and show Gatorade you’ve got what it takes to win. #BeUnreal

The Dossier: Where Liverpool – Manchester City was won and lost

The Reds’ widemen were given freedom to roam the City half at Anfield on Sunday, and their incisive runs and clever link-up play inhibited the visitors and proved to be decisive

By Tom Maston

If Liverpool’s previous nine Premier League victories had allowed them to dream of glory, then their 10th on the bounce, against arguably their biggest title rivals, may well have their supporters expecting a first league title for 24 years.

Full of the pacey counterattacks that have become a signature of Brendan Rodgers’ side this season, they tore Manchester City apart for long stages, and if not for a David Silva-inspired comeback from the Citizens they could have secured a fairly routine victory.

As it was, Philippe Coutinho’s fine finish after Vincent Kompany’s error proved enough to secure the points for the Reds, but despite a typically breathtaking start they did not have it all their own way.

Goals, and lots of them, have been a feature of Liverpool’s play this season, with the three on Sunday taking them to 93 for the campaign. They have regularly struck early on in games, finding the net 56 times in the opening 45 minutes of league games so far this term. That stat is made even more impressive by the fact that no other team has scored more than 37 in the opening period of matches.

Against Manchester City, they were set to come up against one of the league’s meanest defences, and one which were yet to concede a goal inside the opening 15 minutes this season.

So for Raheem Sterling to open the scoring in front of the Kop after just six minutes will have sent shockwaves running through the City defence. With Kompany not fully fit and a backline that looked susceptible to any kind of pace, they never recovered.

Though as a team they made 23 interceptions –  with Pablo Zabaleta making 10 on his own at right-back – they were only able to make 65 per cent of their tackles successfully.

The fact that they were unable to keep the ball in their own half also inhibited them; they surrendered possession 20 times in that area, inviting more pressure. Only once this season has their passing accuracy in their own half been lower than the 86% they mustered on Sunday.

The confidence of the away side was largely hit by their inability to pick up the runs of Sterling and Coutinho as the wide men ran riot.

To call the Liverpool pair wingers would be to do them a disservice. Rodgers sets them up to start out wide but in truth they are given the freedom to pop up wherever they best see fit.

Coutinho’s touch map clearly shows his starting position on the right-hand side, but the sheer number of times he picked up the ball in a central role shows just how difficult a task Pellegrini’s defenders had in keeping tabs on him. Even when he was moved to the left he continued to probe centrally.

It is impossible to tell from Sterling’s map where exactly the youngster was supposed to be playing, but far from the anarchy it suggests in isolation, as part of this Liverpool system it just seems to work. Like Coutinho, he swapped wings in the second half but continued to drive through the middle in tandem with Suarez.

When you compare those two with those of City’s widemen, Jesus Navas and Samir Nasri, it is clear to see why they failed to have the same impact. Both were glued to their respective touchlines and were largely anonymous because of it.

Rodgers’ tactics of allowing his creative players freedom to express themselves has paid dividends in recent weeks and especially here. It helped swamp City, restricting everybody in their defensive roles and blunted the wingers’ impact.

But the players are not just handed free roles, attacking at will; Coutinho made a season-high total of five successful tackles – more than anyone else in red on the day.

Fortunately for the visitors, they did have one man who was allowed to roam in the guise of the mercurial Silva. A goal and an assist from the Spaniard almost stole the City a point, and though he missed a gilt-edged chance to complete a remarkable comeback and possibly seal the title, his performance cannot be overlooked.

No player attempted more passes than his 65 during the crucial encounter, with his accuracy an impressive 85% in such a high-pressure (and high-pressing) setting. Though he wasn’t able to make as many successful dribbles as he would have liked, with just one run leading to anything of note, he was certainly the pick of the City side as they stretched their number of second-half goals this season to a Premier League high of 49.

He truly thrived following the appearance of James Milner from the bench. The game turned in City’s favour almost as soon as the England man replaced Navas, as he created Silva’s goal and contributed to a number of attacks as well as providing a more workmanlike presence in the middle. Milner is regularly overlooked by club and country in terms of starting on a consistent basis, but his showing at Anfield gave another example of his importance to England with the World Cup on the horizon.

Navas could barely take his eyes off the Kop during the pre-match Hillsborough tributes, and whether he was caught up in the emotion of the day is unclear, but Milner certainly improved his team after his introduction. As an example, he was successful with 79% of his passes in the Liverpool half, a clear improvement on the 64% that Navas managed.

As it was, the showings of both Silva and Milner were not enough to salvage anything from the game for City. The two proved to be the exception rather than the norm. Liverpool were able to call upon a number of individuals at the top of their game as they grabbed a 10th consecutive league victory.

Of all Coutinho’s touches on the day, his sweet strike following Kompany’s hashed clearance proved decisive. The Brazilian was pushed further forward – and over to the left – following Daniel Sturridge’s withdrawal, but he popped up in the middle once again to keep up Liverpool’s fine record against the top teams.

In their five home meetings with top seven sides they have scored 17 goals and conceded just three. If they can maintain that record against Chelsea in their next home match then the title will be almost within their grasp.

If they are to secure that first league trophy since 1990, Liverpool’s performances will have to match the irresistibly high level that they have set since the turn of the year, but if we have learnt anything from Rodgers’ firebrands this season it is that can turn their hand to practically anything.

Stats and graphics provided by Opta

Coutinho: More pressure on Manchester City than Liverpool

The Reds midfielder is keen to take things “one game at a time” but acknowledges that Sunday’s encounter will be a crucial one in determining who wins the championship

Liverpool midfielder Philippe Coutinho says that his side will face Manchester City without pressure as they chase a crucial victory in their Premier League title challenge.

First and third go head-to-head at Anfield with four points separating the two teams, though Manuel Pellegrini’s men have played two fewer games.

Many believe that Sunday’s clash will decide the title with five matches remaining and the Brazilian understands what is at stake.

“There might be more pressure on City but the Liverpool players are not thinking about pressure or external factors in these last five matches,” Coutinho remarked to the media.

“We know that City were considered one of the favourites from the start and that they have a couple of games in hand but we are just trying to focus on one game at a time.

“The players know that these final five matches are very important and will be decisive matches for us. We will fight and do our best on the pitch to achieve the objective of winning the league. Sunday is a very important game.”

Liverpool are within touching distance of their first league title in 24 years but City are still the bookmakers’ favourites to win the title with two games remaining. Nevertheless, Coutinho is counting on the likes of Steven Gerrard, Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge to lead the team to glory.

The 21-year-old continued: “I know that City are a very nice side and they have really good players, especially from the middle going forward, but we have very good players as well.

“It will be very equal match between us and we will be pushing all the time with our fans right behind us.

“Everyone is happy at the club. We are all looking forward to these matches, we are all proud of what we are doing at the moment.”

Sturridge among five Liverpool stars to be offered new deals

Philippe Coutinho, Jordan Henderson, Glen Johnson and Jon Flanagan will also be invited by the Merseyside club to hold talks on improved contracts

By Wayne Veysey

Liverpool are set to reward five star players with new contract offers this summer.

Daniel Sturridge is among the first-team quintet who will be invited to hold talks on improved deals at the end of the season.

Philippe Coutinho, Jordan Henderson, Glen Johnson and Jon Flanagan will also sit down with club chiefs to discuss fresh agreements.

As a general rule, Fenway Sports Group, Liverpool’s America-based owners, do not hold contract talks mid-season although they made an exception in the case of Luis Suarez before Christmas, when the club’s prize asset swiftly committed to a new four-and-a-half-year contract amid concern he would be targeted in the January window.

Brendan Rodgers, whose own contract expires in 2015, has said he will discuss fresh terms with the club at the end of the season and the Anfield manager is keen for his key young players to also be tied down to lengthy agreements.

Sturridge only joined in January 2013 but the February Premier League Player of the Month has been a resounding success on Merseyside, scoring 23 goals in 27 matches this season and an incredible 34 times in 43 games since his €14 million switch from Chelsea.

Liverpool fear the 24-year-old will be targeted by Europe’s elite clubs, particularly if he shines at the World Cup, and are expected to offer him a substantial rise on his current €70,000-a-week deal and extend it beyond 2018.

Like Sturridge, Coutinho, 21, joined on a five-and-a-half-year deal 13 months ago but the Brazilian’s wage is believed to be €47,000-a-week and he is also in line for an improved salary.

Henderson has started all 31 of Liverpool’s league matches this season and his improvement will be reflected in an offer to keep him at Anfield beyond his current agreement, which expires in 2016.

Johnson, 29, will have only a year remaining on his deal by the summer and Rodgers has spoken of his desire to keep the England right-back.

Flanagan, 21, a revelation at left-back in recent months, will also be offered a deal to keep him at Anfield beyond 2015, when his current agreement expires.

“Jon will be given a new contract. Come the summer he’s got another year so he will definitely be given a new deal, no question,” said Rodgers in the wake of Liverpool’s recent 3-0 win at Manchester United.

“He has been outstanding. He reminded me of Steve Nicol against Manchester United – a right-footed player on the left side, steady, aggressive, no fear; he’s been a revelation, and particularly in the big games. It’s great when you see a young player develop like that. You can see the confidence he has now. He has made himself an important member of the squad.”

Liverpool 2-2 Aston Villa

Andreas Weimann and Christian Benteke gave the visitors a shock lead but the England striker’s cool finish and the captain’s spot kick rescued a point for Brendan Rodgers’ men. Steven Gerrard and Daniel Sturridge rescued a point for Liverpool as they came from two goals behind to earn a 2-2 draw with Aston Villa.

Paul Lambert’s side had taken the lead at Anfield as Andreas Weimann netted his third goal of the season after excellent work from Gabriel Agbonlahor.

Agbonlahor was on hand again in the 36th minute to create Villa’s second, his cross evading Simon Mignolet to allow Christian Benteke to head into an open net from six yards out.

However, Sturridge latched onto a Jordan Henderson flick to half the deficit with his 11th league goal of the season and Gerrard levelled the scores from the penalty spot seven minutes after the interval.

Despite failing to win, a point for Villa moves them into 10th place in the Premier League while Liverpool remain fourth.

Sturridge was fit to start his first game since November after recovering from an ankle injury, while the visitors gave a debut to loan signing Ryan Bertrand and recalled Weimann to the starting line-up.

Villa started brightly and wasted chances from Agbonlahor, Ashley Westwood and Ciaran Clark to break the deadlock, but when Weimann was presented his opportunity he made no mistake.

Agbonlahor was released behind the Liverpool defence on the left and delivered a low cross into the six-yard box where Weimann, who nipped in front of Gerrard, was placed to turn the ball home from close range.

Villa doubled their lead nine minutes later as Benteke made it two goals in as many games, the striker having the simple task of heading into an empty goal after Mignolet misjudged an Agbonlahor cross from the right.

Sturridge halved the deficit in the closing seconds of the half as he latched on to a neat flick from Jordan Henderson before firing beyond Brad Guzan to give the hosts hope.

With the extra momentum Liverpool levelled soon after the half-time break as Luis Suarez was brought down by Guzan inside the penalty area, referee Jon Moss pointing to the spot.

Gerrard assumed the responsibility and made no mistake for his fifth league goal of the season, and his 12th against Villa – more than he has put past any other side.

Fabian Delph went close to putting Villa back ahead on the hour with a curling effort from 20 yards, while Henderson brought out a fantastic save from Guzan five minutes later from the edge of the penalty area.

Suarez went agonisingly close to sealing all three points for Liverpool in the 77th minute, but his free kick was inches wide of Guzan’s right-hand post.

The Uruguay international was central to Liverpool’s late efforts to snatch a win but they ultimately had to settle for a draw, which leaves them trailing league leaders Arsenal by nine points.

VIEW FROM ANFIELD (By Tom Maston): “If Brendan Rodgers does harbour title aspirations this season, then he needs to learn not to underestimate teams like Aston Villa. The Liverpool manager selected an overly attacking line-up, only to see his side get blown away by the pace and power of Villa’s attacks.”

“A dubious Steven Gerrard penalty may have rescued a point for the hosts, but the first-half showing from the Reds will have left many of their supporters very concerned with just over a week left of the transfer window.”

“For Paul Lambert, he must now concentrate on making performances like this the norm, especially at Villa Park.”

Coutinho keen to improve Liverpool goal return

The Brazilian is celebrating a year at Anfield in January having left Inter during the 2013 winter transfer window, but has netted just twice so far this season

Liverpool midfielder Philippe Coutinho has targeted an improvement to his goal return to help the club clinch a place in the Champions League.

The Brazil international is approaching his one-year anniversary at the club, having made the switch from Inter for a reported €10.25 million in the previous January transfer window.

Coutinho has become a firm favourite among the Anfield faithful for his direct attacking style of play, but the 21-year-old has only scored two league goals this season and is keen to add to his tally in the second half of the campaign.

When asked by the club’s official website where he can improve, he said: “My goalscoring, for sure. Sometimes my positioning is not the best and I need to improve that to score more goals.

“I want to continue improving and look forward to working harder and harder on what I need to do to be considered a great player.

“We are quite confident. Our thought is to win every match and start every match doing our best in this battle, and we have to carry on this way.

“Our aim is to be within the first four places at the end of the season and we will try our best to keep ourselves up there.”

Coutinho also praised his team-mates for making his transition to the Premier League easy.

He added: “It’s a year that went very quickly, and I am living in a very happy moment.

“What surprised me most was the way the players are made to feel at home, and I am grateful to the city, my team-mates and the club for the way I was received.”

Coutinho: It is an honour to play with Suarez

The Brazilian believes his in-form team-mate is capable of firing Liverpool to their first league title of the Premier League era and still hopes to go to the World Cup

Liverpool star Coutinho admits it is an “honour” to be in the same team as Luis Suarez.

Suarez has lit up the Premier League since his return from a 10-game suspension for biting Branislav Ivanovic, topping the Premier League scoring charts with 15 goals in just 10 appearances.

And Coutinho believes the brilliant Uruguayan is capable of firing the Merseysiders to their first league title of the Premier League era.

“Playing alongside Luis is an honour because he is such a fantastic player,” he told the Guardian. “He makes life for someone in my position easier because of how good he is.

“He is always trying to nutmeg you in training. He hasn’t succeeded on me yet. I try my best not to let it happen because he talks about it a lot afterwards!”

“It is our dream to win the title. That is what we are working towards but the competition is still at an early stage. There are a few more games to play before we can make such a statement.”

The Brazilian also spoke of his hope of impressing national team boss Luiz Felipe Scolari before next summer’s World Cup in his homeland, despite not currently being in favour.

“I see football as a bit like a stairway and you have to climb it bit by bit,” he added.

“First you have to play good football so that you get to play for a good team. Then hopefully you achieve such a level that you are invited to play for your national side, in time for a World Cup, if possible.

“Then, obviously, play a good World Cup. That’s my dream.”