Sunday, February 12, 2012
Team of the Week
Ali Al Habsi is nothing if not resilient and he demonstrated that again in Wigan Athletic's vital 2-1 victory away at Bolton Wanderers. The Latics hadn't won in 10 games and, though it shouldn't be a surprise given the erratic nature of their form under Roberto Martinez, secured a result just when they needed it. Al Habsi is busier than most goalkeepers as a result of Wigan's defensive vulnerabilities and despite Bolton's eight shots on target, he made sure only one was conceded. Owen Coyle's done little wrong at Bolton but letting Al Habsi go looks to be a mistake.
Rafael impressed when he nullified Stewart Downing's threat during Manchester United's 2-1 victory over Liverpool. Kenny Dalglish's side have been effective playing counter attacking football away from home this season, and much of that has been the result of playing with width, so Rafael could have come under pressure. Jose Enrique was another potential threat but he also failed to impress so the right-back's contribution shouldn't be overlooked. A solid performance from the tenacious Brazilian fullback in a defence that has lacked stability all season.
Aston Villa may have offered little going forward in their 1-0 home defeat to Manchester City but neither did the league leaders, so Joleon Lescott's winner proved decisive. Though he had little to do in defence, Villa's greatest threat was aerial and Lescott was reliable in that respect but given that it was the type of fixture City needed to win in order to win the Premier League - and in acknowledging Villa's late search for an equaliser - his goal and performance was crucial.
Jonas Olsson scored one and created another for West Bromwich Albion in the best result of their season, a 5-1 away victory at Wolverhampton Wanderers. The home side may have been woeful - indeed, they looked to have given up towards the end of the game - but it was 1-1 at half-time and Olsson's defensive contribution was vital as Wolves looked to take the lead. His goal, West Brom's second to give them the lead again, was essentially the winning goal and the result takes them eight points clear of relegation-threatened rivals Wolves. Peter Odemwingie's hat-trick yielding afternoon was made all too easy by Wolves for inclusion here, which must be most disappointing for him.
He spent much of the first-half of the season on Everton's bench but captain Phil Neville has won his place back and was typically dependable during his side's 2-0 victory over under-pressure Chelsea. His challenge on Ashley Cole and subsequent play created Everton's winning goal but his leadership, as always, was equally important as David Moyes' side's professional performance earned them the win. In a squad as low on options as Everton's, Neville's versatility may be more important than ever.
As he has all season, Luka Modric kept Tottenham Hotspur ticking throughout their 5-0 victory over Newcastle United. His adventurous passing meant Danny Guthrie and James Perch were very much out of their depth, while his cross led to Spurs' third goal. Modric consistently remains one of the Premier League's best players and there may again be serious interest in the Croatian international this summer.
Steven Pienaar's return to Everton has added much-needed creativity to their midfield following Mikel Arteta's departure to Arsenal. It had been forgotten how talented Pienaar actually is and it begs the question - why has Aaron Lennon always started over him. The South African, however, reminded everyone of his ability when he inspired Everton against Chelsea, scoring one and linking play throughout. No wonder Sergio Canales is a fan.
Since his return, Paul Scholes' form has been as good as at any time over the last couple of seasons which suggests he just needed a rest and that his ability hasn't declined as much as many had suggested. His last substantial break from the game - from January 2006 until the season's end because of an eye injury - was followed by one of his best ever seasons in 2006/2007, when he scored a famed goal at Aston Villa. A delight to watch, his one-touch football and passing ability has substantially improved United's midfield when it previously reeked of decline. Hopefully Euro 2012 awaits.
His season may not have been as prolific as had been hoped but Emmanuel Adebayor was pivotal as Spurs cruised to victory over Newcastle. The big striker assisted four goals before scoring his side's fifth and was unplayable throughout. Fabricio Coloccini never looked comfortable with him and the reality is the former-Arsenal striker could have scored more had his finishing been more clinical, though with such a commanding lead he could afford to be wasteful.
Louis Saha's transfer to Tottenham was one of the big shocks of transfer deadline day (if any Harry Redknapp signing should be considered a 'shock'), but it seems to have been exactly what he needed. His two goals against Newcastle doubled his tally for the season and proved he can still be a big threat and his aerial ability means Spurs have a genuine, permanent alternative to the on-loan Adebayor.
Luis Suarez may have grabbed all of the attention but Wayne Rooney was superb for United and essentially won them the game. Both of his goals were excellently taken and showed the variety of finishes he's capable of. Energetic as always, it's difficult to avoid the conclusion that - particularly if Javier Hernandez returns to the line-up and revives his partnership with the England forward - Rooney could just inspire United to an unlikely Premier League title.
In potentially his last week as Tottenham manager, Harry Redknapp can't be overlooked as manager of the week. Spurs were outstanding against Newcastle and, given this week's off-field distractions, that shouldn't be underestimated. Saha's performance, meanwhile, proves Redknapp's ability in the transfer market remains undiminished. Those fans now desperate for him to stay may seriously regret their criticisms following last season's Champions League quarter-final defeat to Real Madrid.