Sunday, April 8, 2012
Team of the Week
What a cruel weekend for Wigan and especially for Ali Al Habsi. The Omani 'keeper put in a familiar shift at Stamford Bridge, one that sees him repelling shots left, right and centre as the Latics' leaky defence affords their opposition regular sights of his net. After a string of fine saves, most notably from Didier Drogba, Al Habsi was eventually beaten twice, both times by a man who was a clear yard offside. Given his heroics, it was desperately unfair.
• Premier League: United eight clear
• Sat: Chelsea snatch late win
• Sunday Premier League gallery
It's not Branislav Ivanovic's fault that assistant referee Dave Bryan can't spot an offside when it is staring him in the face. The defender has been excellent in recent weeks and underlined his value at both ends of the pitch within a controversial 90 seconds at Stamford Bridge, turning home Raul Meireles' cross before clearing off his own line shortly after, to preserve Chelsea's precious lead.
No-one was happier to see the back of Steve Bruce than Matthew Kilgallon. He hadn't featured at all this season until Martin O'Neill brought him on against Manchester City in January, and he's grabbed the chance to remind the nation why he was considered a bright young thing not so long ago. As Sunderland erected a wall of defiance against Tottenham, Kilgallon and centre-half partner Michael Turner were immense - repelling any ball that dropped in their box to ensure a clean sheet.
His effort may have come in a losing cause but no-one can deny that Vincent Kompany wasn't the shining light for Manchester City at the Emirates. The Belgian was as solid, committed, determined and professional against Arsenal as he has been all season. If a few of City's more colourful characters adopted his approach to the game, they may well still be in the title race.
Manchester United have dropped just two Premier League points since Paul Scholes returned, and given his form against QPR it isn't hard to see why. The midfield maestro's passing remains as sharp as ever, and even though he faced ten men for most of the game he ran it with all the mastery of someone who can call on bags of experience. His goal, another rocket from range, settled any lingering nerves around Old Trafford.
Speaking of rockets, no shot over the weekend was hit with more venom than the one Mikel Arteta unleashed to finally put an end to Manchester City's title tilt. Much to the delight of the Emirates, Arteta completely outshone Samir Nasri, mopping up in front of his back four and launching wave upon wave of attack, and when his moment duly arrived he hammered a low shot past Joe Hart to hand the Gunners a vital three points.
As soon as Paul Lambert saw fit to draw a comparison between Jonathan Howson and Andres Iniesta, he was a shoo-in for Team of the Week. How could he not be? The Norwich midfielder, recently plucked from Leeds, has performed admirably after being parachuted into a successful side. Against Everton, quite apart from his predatory goal, his passing was a joy to behold, and he looks to have a big Premier League future ahead of him.
He may be playing in a faltering team but Steven Gerrard's quality hasn't diminished in the wake of Liverpool's wretched run of form. Almost everything positive the Reds did in an attacking sense against Aston Villa came from his boot as he teed up a glorious chance for Dirk Kuyt in the first half before switching to the right flank in the second. His delivery provided the equaliser, as Daniel Agger's header was turned home by Suarez, who earlier had hit the post from another Gerrard ball. And even in the final stages, he found Andy Carroll inside the area, who should have won the game.
Even for a striker, a return of 20 goals a season is a notable achievement - for Clint Dempsey, a midfielder, to break that total with six games of the campaign remaining is nothing short of remarkable. To be honest, Bolton were there for the taking but his two goals - a 35-yard free-kick, and a trademark header - are the sort of thing he's been doing year-in year-out for a long time now.
Our final two players have done plenty to disprove the notion that you can't pick up bargains in the January sales. Nikica Jelavic seems a steal at £5 million after racking up four goals in the Premier League already. Both his close-range finishes at Carrow Road demonstrate two things: he can get himself into the right positions and he knows exactly what to do when he gets there.
Papiss Demba Cisse proves the old saying that you get what you pay for; he might have cost twice as much as Jelavic, but then he's scored double the amount of goals. His brace at Swansea took his tally to nine in eight Premier League games, an astonishing record. His first at the Liberty was a smart finish as he powered a shot past Michel Vorm but the second was sublime, a delicate dink over the keeper from about ten yards out.
As for our gaffer, with no glaring candidate this weekend, it has to go to Alan Pardew, whose side chalked up their fourth victory in a row with a smash and grab raid on Swansea. The former West Ham and Reading manager chose to squeeze the middle of the field, forcing the Swans to commit men forward before pinching the ball and launching a counter attack. It worked perfectly, largely due to the clinical nature of Papiss Cisse's finishing.