17 March, 2008

Gameweek 30 – ‘Masquerade’

Happy Monday faithful readers and hope everyone is feeling nicely rested after the weekend’s activities. Plenty to chew the fat over this week then as with just eight games to go for most teams, the various sub-leagues within the Prem have got tighter and tighter. At the top, battling wins for Manchester United and Chelsea away to relegation-fearing opposition poured enormous pressure on Arsenal to break their jinx of drawing games recently in the league. Boro showed no fear at the Emirates though and it took a late Toure header to earn the Gunners even a point, allowing Man United to leapfrog them to the top of the pile, and Chelsea to close the gap to just three points with a game in hand.

It’s Portsmouth’s turn to occupy the final European spot this week after a great win at home to close rivals Aston Villa, while Manchester City were excellent in the second half against Spurs to drift up to 8th, only two points behind Pompey now. Down at the bottom, great wins for Fulham and Wigan kept their dream of salvation alive, making the relegation fight just as close as the title battle. Newcastle play away at Birmingham tonight, and a win for Alex McLeish’s men will not only give them some well-earned breathing room, but will also confirm Newcastle as serious contenders for Championship football next season.

Finally, just a quick heads up for some midweek action, as all those teams currently with games-in-hand face each other on Wednesday night. Man United play hosts to Bolton in a crucial game for both sides, while Chelsea visit White Hart Lane knowing that a win would put them on equal points with second-placed Arsenal.

Premier League Team of the Week (based on OPTA stats, Fantasypremierleague.com ratings and my own expert eye):

Keeper – Ben Foster (excellent upon finally making his Manchester United debut)

Defence – Robert Huth (snuffed out most of Arsenal’s danger with ease), John Terry (great all round game, topped off with a vital headed goal), Alvaro Arbeloa (rock solid tracking back), Nedum Onuoha (athletic and passionate performance, top class header for the City winner too), Mario Melchiot (they don’t call him Super Mario for nothing)

Midfield – George Boateng (superb once again), Alexander Hleb (probing and creative), Javier Mascherano (inspirational in the middle of the park, and sublime first goal for the Scousers)

Up Top – Jermain Defoe (continuing his fantastic run of form for Pompey), Brian McBride (tireless effort as ever from the American)

Weekly Awards:

Goal of the Week – Marek Matejovsky made sure his first goal for Reading was one to remember, beautifully connecting on the edge of the box to hit the top corner with less than five minutes on the clock:

Nutmeg of the Week – Kolo Toure nails referee Mark Halsey late on at the Emirates.

Save of the Week – David James gave yet another outstanding performance this week, making a couple of world-class saves; first from a John Carew back-header and second from a vicious Ashley Young drive.

Skill of the Week – Dean Ashton turns on the flair with a beautifully weighted back-heel to set up debutante Freddie Sears for the winner at Upton Park.

Gaffe of the Week – No prizes for guessing this one. Scott Carson tore out his area to boot the ball clear but unfortunately succeeded only in cracking it straight into Nigel Reo-Coker and the deflection flew back 20 yards into his own net.

Miss of the Week – On a rare off-day for Villa, Gabriel Agbonlahor summed up the side’s frustration by somehow firing wide from under two yards out after Maloney had put it on a plate for him.

Speculative Effort of the Week – Long range expert Xabi Alonso almost bettered his downtown strike against Luton last season by only narrowly failing to lob Reading keeper Hahnemann from the best part of 70 yards.

ASBO of the Week – Walking McDonalds’ advert Mido was perhaps unlucky to get a red card for his high foot on Gael Clichy, but at the end of the day, a boot full in the face is never good.

Nearest Lampard came to Contributing…er, of the Week – Very nearly connected with a fine Drogba cross, but was otherwise not quite as involved as usual. Frank was probably still tired from his exploits mid-week against Derby, or just wanted to give Sunderland a chance.

Strop of the Week – Robbie Keane was understandably frustrated to be substituted at Eastlands yesterday, stomping his feet and throwing his toys everywhere. However, I think we’d all be pretty pissed off if we were taken off for someone as shite as Darren Bent.

Fashion Statement of the Week – We are all pleased to see Eduardo back on his feet again but seriously, where do you even buy a jacket like his? White with a silver wolf is not a good look for anyone.

Banter of the Week – Celebrating Pompey fans enthusiastically chanting: “If Carson can play for England, so can I!”

Wrestling Move of the Week – Olaf Mellberg resurrects The Million Dollar Man Ted Dibiase’s signature finisher, the Million Dollar Dream, on an unsuspecting Niko Krancjar.

Flirt of the Week – If I was David Dunn, I wouldn’t be pinching Chris Samba’s ass and teasing him on the pitch. The man packs quite a punch, if you know what I mean.

Accent of the Week – Jeremie Aliadiere has probably our favourite non-Owen Hargreaves accent these days. Half strong and cultured French, but then also half saarf-Lundun on occasion too, get me. Peep the laughs here in an old interview:

Scalding of the Week – Steve Coppell’s telling off of Shane Long was as stern as any Headmaster in the country, bringing tears to the young lad's eyes.

Pop-Up Red Card of the Week – With the public calling out for a crackdown on dangerous tackles, referees seem to have got a touch over-enthusiastic recently. Jason Koumas’ harsh third minute sending off yesterday reflected that.

Controversy of the Week – The lack of clarity in the active/passive offside rule once again rears its ugly head, not once but twice at Arsenal this weekend. First Adebayor’s legitimate finish was ruled offside, and then Aliadiere was flagged onside as he calmly converted Tuncay’s cross despite coming from an offside position. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; if you’re not ‘active’ you shouldn’t be on the pitch in the first place (insert your own Frank Lampard joke here).

Quote of the Week – Shane Long appeases fans with some unexpected honesty surrounding his shirt-throwing histrionics: “I didn’t mean any disrespect. I wasn’t fit to wear the shirt.”

Hero of the Week – This one’s a no-brainer so hats off to West Ham match-winner Freddie Sears who scored on his senior team debut. The 18-year-old has bagged a sensational 25 goals in 24 reserve games this year so kudos to the Hammers’ youth set-up for producing what looks like yet another top class player.

Zero of the Week – Gary Megson did not start seven first-team squad members out in Lisbon mid-week for Bolton’s UEFA Cup clash, presumably to save energy levels for yesterday’s 6-pointer with Wigan. This was clearly quite a big mistake as the struggling Trotters lost both matches and are now out of Europe and perilously close to the relegation abyss.

Personal Highlight of the Week – The fight for the title becoming truly a three-horse race with now just three points separating Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea. Next weekend’s SUPER GRAND SLAM SUNDAY (Manchester United vs Liverpool and Chelsea vs Arsenal) is now more crucial than ever for all teams involved…