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Sunday, March 17, 2013
Team of the Week

Chris Borg

Aston Villa's thrilling, seesaw win against QPR was the game of the weekend - but it probably wouldn't have been without goalkeeper Brad Guzan. With Villa hesitant and QPR in the ascendancy for much of the first half, the American made two outstanding stops to prevent Rangers from taking command, fingertipping away a looping header towards the top corner from Chris Samba before keeping out the same player's fiercely-struck shot soon afterwards. Without him, the Villans could easily have been well and truly out of the picture. They weren't - cue the tumultuous, chaotic second half that changed the picture completely. Everton produced an outstanding response to their Goodison Park FA Cup humbling by Wigan as they turned in a hugely committed display to see off Manchester City and all but end the title race. Nobody was more impressive for the Merseysiders than right-back Seamus Coleman, who was brilliant at both ends of the pitch and epitomised the home team's relentless work-rate. His lay-off allowed Leon Osman to unleash the swerving thunderbolt that gave Everton the lead, and he made countless overlapping runs while never putting a foot out of place defensively as City's megabucks ensemble were frustrated by old-fashioned endeavour. Manchester United almost sleepwalked their way to a 15-point lead in a strange old game against Reading at Old Trafford, but Rio Ferdinand was wide awake when it mattered most. The recalled England man was more measured in his passing than most of his team-mates, imperiously snuffed out most of Reading's attempts to counter and swept forward from his own interception to set up Wayne Rooney for the deflected shot that put United miles ahead at the top of the table. If you were a betting man or woman, you probably wouldn't have put any money on Arsenal left-back Nacho Monreal to open the scoring in his side's important win over pretty passing rivals Swansea at the Liberty. But that's exactly what the signing from Malaga did, latching on to a loose ball before bobbling a shot home to give Arsene Wenger's men the breakthrough. Not only that, he helped ensure they had the platform for that victory with solid defensive work in what was a tricky opening spell as the Swans attempted to press and prompt down the flanks. Southampton produced some storming football against Liverpool, thoroughly out-Brendaning Brendan and the group with their fluid movement, neat patterns and purposeful attacking. The Merseysiders couldn't get near them at times, and Morgan Schneiderlin takes the plaudits for his all-round contribution, harrying Liverpool to stop them from getting any sort of rhythm going, using the ball intelligently and getting himself on the end of a Jay Rodriguez knockdown to flick the home side into the lead. It takes something to upstage a colleague scoring his 200th goal for Chelsea, but Eden Hazard managed to do that as he produced a virtuoso afternoon to torment West Ham. The Belgian was everywhere against the Hammers, all evasive running and twinkly skills as he spent the entire match in a showman mood. He created Lampard's goal and then scored a goal to remember as well, bringing down Mata's lofted pass, evading two defenders and shooting low into the corner. Big Sam Allardyce and his side had no answer as they were confronted with someone who - and he hasn't always done this - married skill and productiveness to devastating effect. But although Frank Lampard was upstaged, it wasn't by much. Chelsea are a better team when he plays, and he reminded his East London ex-employers of the strengths they helped nurture all those years ago - composed passing, the ability to keep things moving and that almost infallible eye for goal. His Stamford Bridge landmark moment arrived thanks to Hazard's cross, and he could have had another when he fired narrowly over. A typical Lampard performance, doing what he does enormously well and has done for so many seasons. New contract, anyone? Everyone talks (well, a lot of people do, and they're right to) about the neatness of Swansea's football, but the neatest player on display in Wales on Saturday was Arsenal's Santi Cazorla. As Wenger's men found their tempo, Cazorla was the man making them tick - he was at the heart of a fluid move from which Theo Walcott should have scored, set up Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain for an effort that hit the bar, fired in a shot that was saved by Michel Vorm and rarely, if ever, failed to do something constructive. The thunderous ovation the Everton faithful gave to Victor Anichebe when he was substituted in the dying seconds of that blood-and-guts win over City told you everything you needed to know about his splendid contribution to their cause. His was a relentless display of front-running, never giving Kolo Toure a second's peace and helping to stop City building from the back as the Toffees battled away following the dismissal of Steven Pienaar. He never saw a pressure-relieving punt forward as a ball he couldn't potentially win, and he'd have deserved a thoroughly lazy Sunday. And talking of fine front-running, the aforementioned Jay Rodriguez did just that for the stylish Saints. The man who sounds as though he should have some exotic Spanish footballing heritage but in fact arrived from Burnley was another Southampton player Liverpool just couldn't deal with. He caused them problems in the air and on the ground all afternoon and, when the visiting defence meekly backed off, ran and ran to score the goal that secured three valuable, and undisputably deserved, points for the south coast side. In the cauldron of nerves and frenzy at Villa Park, Andreas Weimann typified Aston Villa's courageous approach - he was never afraid to take chances or try something a little risky, and how that paid off. With the game in the balance at 1-1, the Austrian put the home side ahead when he picked up a pass, jinked into space and fired in a low shot before, with QPR having tied the scores up again, he made a dazzling run to the by-line and cut the ball back for Christian Benteke to do the rest. A great contribution to a great game, and one that could provide a defining moment of the season for Paul Lambert's Midlanders. In the dugout this week is Mauricio Pochettino, who was handed a difficult situation not of his own making when he succeeded the sacked Nigel Adkins, a highly popular figure, at Southampton. The dapper Pochettino has said he is pleased with the way the Saints are developing, and his positive approach, with the accent on brisk passing, presented Liverpool with a set of problems they were a long way short of solving.


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