Sunday, November 20, 2011
ESPNsoccernet: January 15, 10:08 PM UK
Team of the Week
All great sides have a great goalkeeper and Joe Hart is certainly becoming exactly that for Manchester City. It was a big call for Roberto Mancini to drop Shay Given for Hart at the start of last season but Hart hasn't looked back and continues to improve. The biggest challenge for a 'keeper at a team like City is to maintain concentration even if they're not busy and against Newcastle, Hart pulled off several impressive, crucial saves when it was required of him, despite having little else to do. The game remained finely balanced at the point of some of those saves and conceding could have changed everything.
In a game crying out for a moment of individual brilliance to make the crucial difference, all eyes were on Luis Suarez and Juan Mata yet it was Glen Johnson who was Liverpool's hero in their 2-1 win away at Chelsea. His defensive vulnerabilities remain, as several Florent Malouda crosses testify, but Johnson was key going forward and showed great control and composure to net his side's late winner at one of his former clubs.
Per Mertesacker's error almost cost Arsenal dearly but another summer defensive target of Wenger's, Phil Jagielka, scored an important goal and again impressed for Everton in a vital 2-1 win over Wolves. It didn't make for great viewing, and it reiterated the Toffees' need for an injury-free quality striker, but Jagielka's leadership should ensure his side remain clear of any relegation battle.
Micah Richards is again showing the form that made him an England regular in 2007. Regardless of the reservations Fabio Capello has - and he has managed Paolo Maldini, Franco Baresi and Fabio Cannavaro during his career - Richards should again be an England regular. Richards is still better going forward than he is at defending, but after scoring one and winning a penalty, club manager Mancini won't be concerned. "I'd like it if he plays always like he did today," Mancini said, and rightly so.
Leighton Baines is another to have failed to sufficiently impress Capello in the past but he's been excellent time and again for Everton and scored their winner with a late penalty against Wolves when the pressure was on. Good going forward, reliable and disciplined, Baines' consistency is vital for David Moyes who knows he can be relied upon until the season's end.
Plenty of people continue to doubt Theo Walcott's ability, but he's now beginning to impress more regularly. His final ball continues to improve, and he was a constant threat as Arsenal came from behind to beat Norwich City 2-1. He was very unfortunate not to have scored as a masterful goal-line clearance from Russell Martin spared Norwich, but it didn't stop him crossing for Robin van Persie's equaliser. Finally showing the end product he has always threatened.
He's the holding midfielder who wants to attack. Alex Song still needs to learn some tactical discipline, but whenever he breaks his passing can't be questioned. Always looked to receive and re-distribute the ball, he was the starting point of several attacks and assisted Van Persie by showing great intelligence to pick out the Dutchman, ignoring the more obvious option provided by Gervinho, and leave Arsenal's captain with little more to do beyond the finish.
Ryan Giggs returned to Manchester United's central midfield alongside Michael Carrick with Sir Alex Ferguson's focus clearly being on ball retention. While the match was a rather uninspiring affair, United won the three points that keeps Manchester City within reach. Giggs showed his resourcefulness by capitalising on Angel Rangel's error to create the game's only goal for Javier Hernandez while ensuring his side continued to spread possession and nullify Swansea City's passing game.
Robin van Persie again gets the nod for the two goals he scored to secure Arsenal's victory away at Norwich. With 31 strikes to his name in the Premier League so far in 2011, Van Persie is unquestionably enjoying the most prolific spell of his career, even if his performance was far from clinical. Despite wasting several good chances, the forward kept his composure and continued to back himself - like any good captain should - and finished other chances to make amends. His link-up play with Aaron Ramsey, Walcott and Gervinho also shouldn't be overlooked - it was Arsenal's flexibility and movement that helped them create so many chances.
It's been some time since Yakubu, once Everton's club record £11.25 million signing, was a regular hero but his goals could be crucial if Blackburn Rovers are to stand any chance of survival. He scored twice - falling one short of a 'Yak-trick' - the second of which was a penalty deep into stoppage time at the end of a game already mired in controversy. The talent remains even if his hunger, ironically, has been questioned, but Yakubu's signing could yet be a one-off managerial masterstroke by Blackburn's Steve Kean.
Heidar Helguson first played in the Premier League for Watford in January 2000 but he was clinical for QPR yesterday, scoring twice away at Stoke City to secure a 3-2 victory few had predicted. His goals were QPR's equaliser and winner, while he also showed admirable bravery after playing with a substantial swelling suffered on his cheek early on in the game. A good performance from the striker in a game that could do much to decide the Rs' Premier League status.
It's difficult to look beyond Kenny Dalglish as manager of the week. Liverpool were outplayed for much of the second-half but their counter-attacking tactics proved to be exactly what was required to win at Chelsea. Dalglish made some big calls in keeping Martin Kelly out of the side and dropping Stewart Downing, and starting Maxi Rodriguez and Craig Bellamy, but he was vindicated as his decisions paid off and Liverpool continued their impressive away record this season.