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Sunday, August 26, 2012
Team of the Week

Chris Murphy

Ali Al Habsi's season didn't get off to the best of starts, conceding two goals before it was seven minutes old against Chelsea, but when faced with Southampton the Omani stopper was back to his best. Wigan were under the cosh for large periods of the game and were indebted to Al Habsi for a string of fine saves to keep them in the contest. His flying stop to deny Rickie Lambert was the pick of the bunch. In front of Al Habsi, Ivan Ramis also put to bed the nightmare that was his Premier League debut, when he was responsible for both Chelsea's goals, with a sound defensive display at Southampton. Roberto Martinez has clearly worked Ramis hard in training this week and it showed in his performance as he and the rest of Wigan's back four remained resolute in the face of some intense pressure. Arsenal were hardly at their best going forward against Stoke but they did display a solidity at the back that hasn't always been visible during their trips to the Britannia. The influence of Steve Bould is clearly paying dividends as they looked far more organised in the face of the inevitable array of set-pieces and throw-ins launched into their box. Thomas Vermaelen was prominent in this rearguard action, and takes his place ahead of Per Mertesacker by virtue of the attacking menace he also showed in flashes. With his brother on loan at QPR, the stage is clear for Rafael to establish himself as Manchester United's first-choice right-back, and he's going the right way about it if Saturday's display against Fulham is anything to go by. The Brazilian was tight on his flank and, as ever, needed no second invitation to push forward. He'd already had a goal disallowed for offside by the time he met an Ashley Young cross to register what proved to be the match winner. Everton built on their impressive opening weekend win over Manchester United with a demolition job at Villa Park. The man who kick-started it, and teased the home side with a series of delicate passes, devilish crosses and some sublime interchanges, was Steven Pienaar, who curled home a fine goal in just the third minute of the match. "He's five feet six but in terms of a footballer he's seven feet six. He's absolutely immense." So says Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers of Joe Allen, who was pivotal in a bright display at Anfield. The 22-year-old made 21 passes in the opening half and didn't misplace one of them. Linking play intelligently and always offering an outlet, this was a home debut that underlined his huge talent. Eden Hazard has taken to life in the Premier League like a duck to water. Having created both goals in the win over Wigan, Hazard scored one and set one up as Chelsea brushed aside Newcastle at Stamford Bridge. The Belgian has incredibly quick feet and led the Toon a merry dance during the tea-time kick-off, converting a penalty and setting Fernando Torres up for the second with a neat backheel. Another debutant enjoying life in England's top flight is Shinji Kagawa. After a promising performance in an otherwise lifeless Manchester United performance at Goodison Park, the Japanese midfielder excelled on his introduction to life at Old Trafford, drifting into dangerous positions and linking well with his new team-mates. He grabbed his first goal, too, a tap in after Tom Cleverley's shot had been parried by Mark Schwarzer. Swansea have now bagged eight goals in two games as they start their bid to avoid second season syndrome, their wingers revelling in the freedom afforded them by Michael Laudrup. Nathan Dyer was again outstanding, but so too was Wayne Routledge. He was a constant source of bother for West Ham, interacting potently with Michu, Dyer and Danny Graham, the man he laid on goal number three for. Two goals in two games for Fernando Torres offer signs that he is finally starting to shed his 50m price tag and fulfil the role he was bought for - to find the net regularly. Now the main man after Didier Drogba's departure, Torres' quality proved too hot to handle for Newcastle, the striker drawing Vurnon Anita into a foul that led to Chelsea's opener from the spot before a delicious toe-poked finish from Hazard's back flick. Ominous for Premier League defences everywhere. Robin van Persie will now know all about the pressure that comes with a high-profile, big-money move and he responded in the perfect way by notching a goal on his full Manchester United debut. Relegating Wayne Rooney to the bench, the Dutchman looked at ease in his new surroundings and produced a fine finish to open his account at Old Trafford to give the club hope that he can reproduce last season's spectacular goalscoring form. Three wins in six days means Chelsea are sitting atop the Premier League, and they look a formidable unit under Roberto Di Matteo. Attack seems to be their best form of defence as Di Matteo makes the most of the wealth of offensive talent at his disposal. Eden Hazard has proved a revelation, Oscar looks a hot prospect and Fernando Torres is on the scoring trail. Regulation victories over Wigan and Reading were expected but they breezed past Newcastle, who finished above them last season, to suggest their top four ambitions are well on track.

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