Sunday, January 22, 2012
Team of the Week
Norwich City managed to draw 0-0 at home to Chelsea, despite the away side being by far the superior side. John Ruddy, more so than any other player, was responsible for his side keeping a clean sheet after an imperious performance that saw him save nine attempts on goal and defend 11 corners. The goalkeeper had to leave Everton and the Premier League to play first-team football but he's now showing he's good enough for the top flight.
Zak Whitbread was another outstanding performer for Norwich, though it's worth noting teammate Daniel Ayala could just as easily have been included. Paul Lambert's side's defence - indeed, the entire team - are a truly committed outfit and deserve to be in the top-half of the Premier League. Whitbread is one of those not blessed with outstanding natural talent but a spirited performance from him meant Chelsea's dangerous front three failed to score the solitary goal they would have needed.
Sunderland defender Phil Bardsley is another bereft of true natural ability but whose tenacity and commitment more than compensates. A regular for Sunderland under Martin O'Neill, the ex-Manchester United man defended well throughout and minimised the threat of Swansea City's in-form winger Scott Sinclair during Sunderland's impressive 2-0 victory that takes them to 10th in the table. Swansea only managed four shots on target throughout the game and Bardsley's contribution to that should not be overlooked.
He may be a declining force but Patrice Evra again showed the form that built his reputation as one of the world's best left-backs in Manchester United's 2-1 victory away at Arsenal. He was the most experienced of United's back five and showed it with some composed defending. Evra nullified any threat posed by Theo Walcott and linked up well with Nani and Ryan Giggs to expose Johan Djourou in Arsenal's right-back slot, creating several overlaps and goalscoring chances in the final third. He will need to maintain that form if United are to sustain their title challenge.
Gareth Bale wasn't at his best but was still Tottenham's biggest threat against City. Though he looked uncomfortable in an unfamiliar central role, and struggled when one-on-one with Micah Richards, Bale scored Spurs' equaliser with a delightful curling finish and showed the benefits of his impressive stamina by almost creating a late winner for Jermain Defoe.
Fulham midfielder Clint Dempsey is already widely thought of as the greatest American player to play in the Premier League (though fans of Brad Friedel may disagree) and further enhanced his reputation with a hat-trick in his side's 5-2 home victory over Newcastle United. Dempsey put in a typically busy, confident performance and will continue to be crucial if Fulham wish to stave off a potential late season relegation struggle.
This season hasn't quite gone to plan for Samir Nasri, but the Frenchman showed why Manchester City paid £24 million to sign him from Arsenal in their vital 3-2 victory over Tottenham Hotspur. Nasri scored their opener with a superb finish but was involved throughout, linking up play and dragging Spurs' undisciplined midfield out of position wherever possible.
Juan Mata has been one of the best imports to the Premier League in recent years and shows exactly why on a regular basis. Despite Chelsea's inability to score at Norwich, Mata was yet again Chelsea's most creative player, showing great creative ability to set-up several goalscoring chances so he must have been frustrated with his side's failures in front of goal. An outstanding 40-yard, mazy run was a particular highlight.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain made his full Premier League debut for Arsenal and though he didn't play the full 90 minutes, impressed until his departure. The young winger looks like another masterful signing for manager Arsene Wenger and his impact was highlighted by boos from the Arsenal crowd when he was substituted for Andrei Arshavin (though that reaction was also symptomatic of Arshavin's standing). Fleet of foot, flexible and confident, 'The Ox' was Arsenal's biggest threat all afternoon and one can only hope the watching Fabio Capello took note.
On-loan Aston Villa striker Robbie Keane has already made such an impact that manager Alex McLeish wants to sign him permanently. Keane's career has been slowly winding down since leaving Liverpool and, despite a generally quiet performance, finished clinically when given the chance to score twice and secure an important victory for Villa away to former club Wolves. In doing so, the striker scored for a record-equalling sixth Premier League club.
Playing against his former side, Bolton striker David Ngog was the outstanding performer in his side's important 3-1 victory over Liverpool. The Frenchman may lack quality in the final third but his desire was crucial and no doubt had something to do with Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish criticising his side for "not matching the opposition for effort". A defence that has otherwise been one of the league's best this season was unsettled throughout - largely due to Ngog - in an impressive, spirited performance that could inspire Bolton from now until the season's end. Deserved the standing ovation he received when he was subbed.
This season has been one of the most difficult in Owen Coyle's managerial career so it was ironic that perhaps Bolton's greatest result of the season came against the club he was linked to manage during happier times last season - Liverpool. The away side may have been poor, but the result - in the same week their captain and key player Gary Cahill was sold to Chelsea - took Bolton out of the relegation zone and showed that they've been right to keep faith with Coyle.