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Sunday, December 18, 2011
Team of the Week

Chris Murphy

John Ruddy was sent out on loan nine times during his five-year stint at Everton and only ever made one appearance for the club, as a substitute back in the 2005-06 season, so his heroic performance for Norwich at Goodison Park will have had extra resonance for the 25-year-old. He made a string of stops as Everton peppered his goal with 29 shots, his saves from Louis Saha, Leon Osman and a late, swerving Royston Drenthe effort the pick of a particularly good bunch. Many expected a rejuvenated Chelsea to turn up to the DW Stadium and hammer Wigan, given the 6-0 win they enjoyed in Lancashire last year, but on Saturday they came up against a much tighter defensive unit, led by Gary Caldwell. The former Celtic man has come in for plenty of stick during his time at the Latics but he was water-tight against Didier Drogba and fully earned his point. In what was a rip-roaring game at the Etihad Stadium, Manchester City's first clean sheet in nine games ensured they took all the spoils against Arsenal. Vincent Kompany, as ever, was excellent but to his left Pablo Zabaleta was rock solid. Looking after Theo Walcott and even rocking the frame of the goal with a vicious drive after an interception, Zabaleta epitomised the spirit City needed to grind out a 1-0 success. Another week, another clean sheet for Swansea, this one at Newcastle just as hard-fought as the one against Fulham last Saturday. Once again, Ashley Williams was the leader of the pack, shackling the lively Demba Ba as best as he could and pushing, pulling and moulding his defensive unit into the appropriate shape to record a seventh shutout of the campaign. It's taken a while for Bryan Ruiz to settle into life in the Premier League but against beleaguered Bolton the Costa Rican proved he can mix it in the hustle and bustle of England's top flight. He helped to banish the Cottagers' memories of late Europa League woe on Thursday by providing Fulham's opener for Clint Dempsey with a precise cross and then sealing the match with a delightful scoop over Jussi Jaaskelainen. In what can only be described as a lacklustre performance at Wigan - and that is being generous - Daniel Sturridge was Chelsea's best player by a country mile. Giving David Jones a torrid time on the right flank, the only criticism of the soon-to-be England regular was that, at times, his final ball was lacking. But his goal made up for that, after a sublime touch and emphatic finish put AVB's charges in front. It was just a shame the manager saw fit to take him off so early. That Everton got any reward for their battering of Norwich was down to substitute Royston Drenthe. After coming up against an inspired John Ruddy and squandering countless chances, it was the energy and direct running of the Dutch midfielder that galvanised the Toffees. Not only did he create the equaliser for Leon Osman but Drenthe almost pinched a winner with a vicious, dipping strike from 30 yards. Given the quality of Michael Carrick's goal for Manchester United at Loftus Road it was with some surprise that it was revealed to be his first in 70 games for the club. His goal, a marauding run and finish after Joey Barton's errant pass, was reward for a fine performance - one in which he seemed to have all the time in the world on one of the smallest playing surfaces in the Premier League. Craig Bellamy has managed to nudge his way into Liverpool's starting XI in recent weeks after proving Kenny Dalglish's decision to re-sign him was astute. Bellamy still has pace to burn and he troubled Aston Villa all day long with his direct running. He was instrumental in the key passage of the game too, as his poacher's finish opened the scoring, before his excellent delivery from a corner allowed Martin Skrtel to nod a second minutes later. It took Wayne Rooney just 53 seconds to open the scoring at Loftus Road and confirm that he is back on one of his hot streaks. After a double against Wolves, his early header took his tally to a very respectable 12 Premier League goals for the season. Quite apart from his potent goal threat, Rooney was back to the sharpness expected of him, spraying passes all over the park and linking between defence and attack. With no striker troubling the net more than once this weekend, we've gone for Grant Holt to partner Rooney up front, for his efforts at both ends of the pitch against Everton. His sublime goal was arguably the best of the weekend (though James Morrison and Peter Odemwingie may have something to say about that) as he turned his man and slid a shot into the net from the narrowest of angles. He almost grabbed a second with a deft header in the second half and helped his defensive colleagues out as Everton bombarded the box as the game wore on. With Roberto Martinez at the helm, our Team of the Week shall not want for an enthusiastic leader. Sniffing that Chelsea were not at their best, and that his counterpart Andre Villas-Boas was winding down to hold on for a 1-0 win, the Wigan boss threw on two strikers, altered his formation and duly procured the point he was seeking thanks to Jordi Gomez's last-gasp equaliser.


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