Sunday, April 15, 2012
Team of the Week
Sunderland goalkeeper Simon Mignolet has made a big impact at the Stadium of Light, and on Saturday delivered a further demonstration of his abilities against an ineffective Wolves side. The opposition may have been disjointed, but it still took some excellent interventions from the Belgian shot-stopper to maintain the deadlock. The 23-year-old showed impressive qualities in his all-round game, too, marshalling his defence well throughout and taking charge of set-piece situations when they arose. A deserved inclusion for a rising star.
Brazilian full-back Rafael has come on strong in recent weeks, linking well in tandem with winger Antonio Valencia on the United right, and Sunday's clash with Aston Villa was possibly his best performance so far. While Jonny Evans was once more outstanding in the centre of defence, Rafael combined his defensive work with an attacking threat that often left Villa short of numbers in the left-back position. Rafael showed strength and work-rate to deal with his opponents and will feel unlucky not to have come away with at least one assist to his name as strikers squandered three opportunities he presented on a plate from the flank.
The Liverpool derby clash at Wembley for a place in the FA Cup final was far from a defensive classic, but victorious defender Martin Skrtel still managed to turn in a performance representative of his excellent season as a whole. Whilst the likes of Jamie Carragher and Daniel Agger alongside him were wilting under the pressure of the occasion, Skrtel stood firm and in general dealt superbly with the danger posed by in-form Everton striker Nikica Jelavic. The Slovakian dealt with Everton's expected aerial threat with little bother and almost got himself among the scorers with an effort early in the match.
On loan from Tottenham, Steven Caulker has enjoyed a fine season at Swansea, cementing his reputation as one of England's brightest young defensive talents. Saturday's game at home to Blackburn was no different as Caulker showed great strength and composure throughout to deal with the threats of Yakubu and Junior Hoilett. For a player of his age, it is Caulker's calm under pressure that is most notable and, despite the ease of his side's eventual victory, Caulker was still able to show these abilities from defence. One to watch.
After a slow start to the game, Chelsea midfield magician Juan Mata was majestic in the second half to see the Blues home to a convincing win. The midfielder will of course be credited with a goal that should never have been, with his 49th-minute shot failing to cross the line, but it was his two assists later in the encounter that truly showed the Spaniard's class. First, Mata laid the ball on a plate for Ramires to loft home with a delightful chipped ball into the Brazilian's path, and he then repeated the trick just moments from the end to play in Florent Malouda. A delightful display.
Paul Scholes delivered a midfield master-class for Manchester United on Sunday, completely dominating the midfield areas in tandem with Michael Carrick. It was the 'Ginger Prince' at his best, spraying the ball across the park with pinpoint accuracy to dictate the game for United and allow the forwards and wide-men to do their damage further up the pitch. Scholes almost got on the score-sheet to cap his fine display, too, with Aston Villa failing to read a familiar Manchester United corner routine, which this time saw Scholes smash a wonderfully pure volley inches wide of the post. The Red Devils continued their record of having won every Premier League game in which Scholes has featured since his return.
Swansea midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson has been a regular in the Team of the Week since his January arrival from Hoffenheim and, following another goal-scoring display of midfield excellence, the Iceland international is back once more. While Swansea have at times lacked the attacking impetus to complement the undoubted quality of their play, the arrival of the former Reading man has given them a much more direct force. A curling strike, this time with his left foot, into the far corner saw the midfielder grab his seventh goal in Swansea colours, but beyond that, Sigurdsson has also fitted beautifully into Swansea's slick midfield operation. Bigger sides are already taking notice.
West Brom were forced to work incredibly hard for their 1-0 win over QPR at the Hawthorns on Saturday, with the West London side no doubt feeling a bit hard done by in defeat. Graham Dorrans bagged the decisive goal with a fine strike from range and the Scotland international has really upped his game in recent encounters following a lengthy injury absence. Dorrans was a figure of calm in the Baggies midfield and his link-up play was key to West Brom's attacking threat. Following a run of just one win in six games, Dorrans' intervention will have felt all the more enjoyable for Roy Hodgson's side.
Chelsea marched into the FA Cup final with a 5-1 victory over Tottenham at Wembley on Sunday and should thank Ivorian centre-forward Didier Drogba for his vital contribution to the win. The marksman was supreme for his side, working hard in both attack and defence to great effect. The opening goal will of course be his defining contribution to the game, with Drogba making the experienced William Gallas look helpless with an excellent turn and shot that harked back to his glory years. Later in the game, Drogba also proved his worth with several key defensive headers before making way for Fernando Torres late on.
When want-away Argentine Carlos Tevez was recalled to the Manchester City set-up recently, it was somewhat predictable that he would at some point in the season make Roberto Mancini live to regret his six-month golf holiday in Argentina. That moment came quicker than expected, as a well-rested Tevez tore apart Norwich at Carrow Road, notching a hat-trick in City's 6-1 canter. The Argentine was at his dynamic best, linking up to devastating effect with compatriot Aguero to leave Norwich's defence shell-shocked. The duo's pace and technical ability was too much for their opponents all day and Tevez goes home with the match-ball to show for his fine strikes.
Tevez may have scored three times, but the victory owed as much to the brilliance of strike partner Sergio Aguero. With the two interchangeable and dropping deep to interact with the midfield, Norwich were at a loss as to how to deal with them, and Aguero rounded off a fine performance with two top-drawer finishes. His first was a sumptuous drive on the half-volley that shook the back of the net, his second a delicate swing of his right foot to curl the ball into the far corner of the goal. Two strikes that show the range of technical abilities Aguero offers.
For Chelsea boss Roberto Di Matteo, the return to management as interim manager of the Blues could not have gone much better. The club may still be facing a scrap for fourth place in the Premier League, but following his side's 5-1 drubbing of Tottenham on Sunday, an FA Cup final awaits to complement this week's Champions League semi-final with Barcelona. Di Matteo got his key selection decisions right, with his midfield balanced and Didier Drogba wreaking havoc up front in place of Fernando Torres. The two-time FA Cup winner is managing his way into a permanent job.