14 April, 2008

Gameweek 34 – ‘Aquarium’

Happy Monday folks and back in the saddle again. Obvious focal point this weekend was at Old Trafford where Manchester United all but sealed the title in a superlative showing against Arsenal, coming from behind to put the final nail in Arsene Wenger’s season. Chelsea play tonight and can stay in touch, but this display of resolve has surely signaled their very real intent to capture another Premier League/Champions league double. Liverpool also continued their excellent form of late, completely dominating a decent Blackburn side with Gerrard and Torres once again on the score-sheet for Rafa’s men.

Down at the bottom things continue to remain interesting as Bolton and Fulham both recorded hard-fought wins, and Birmingham and Sunderland dropped points against much stronger opposition to drag them back into the danger area. It will take a herculian effort for Fulham to rescue themselves, but just two points away from safety now, Bolton will fancy rolling up their sleeves and staying in the top flight for another year.

In the mid-table wastelands, Villa delivered the performance of the weekend to blow Derby away, and Manchester City pinched a somewhat unjustified three points to stay in the top 8. Draws for Pompey, Newcastle, Middlesbrough and Tottenham keep things tight, but with neither European qualification or relegation on the cards, they are all very much winding down now for the season.

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

Keeper – Ali Al Habsi (impressive throughout)

Defence – Patrice Evra (superb as ever at the back and going forward), Joleon Lescott (another big performance and ninth goal this season), Radhi Jaidi (solid), Paul Stalteri (definitely improving at his new club)

Midfield – Steven Gerrard (catalyst), Owen Hargreaves (perfection), Gareth Barry (singled out, but whole Villa midfield was again excellent), Stuart Downing (enterprising all game and sweet strike for the Boro equaliser)

Up Top – Mauro Zarate (another zero added to the young Argentine’s price tag), Kevin Davies (doing what he does best)

Weekly Awards:

Goal of the Week – Stilian Petrov throws his name in the hat for goal of the season with an inch-perfect half-volley from about 40 yards. For footage of all six Villa goals, click here. Any other week though cracking volleys from Roque Santa-Cruz and Dean Whitehead would be in definite contention so it’s worth mentioning them to.

Nutmeg of the Week – Stevie Gerrard masterfully nails walking man-mountain Chris Samba in the build up to his opener at Anfield.

Save of the Week – Mr Al Habsi superbly tipped over Dean Ashton’s audacious bicycle kick.

Skill of the Week – Simply because Arsene Wenger apparently hates showboating so much, Cristiano Ronaldo’s amazing little touchline stepover routine to wind down the clock at Old Trafford takes the biscuit. Check it about 11:40 into this video of the game’s highlights:

Miss of the Week – Liam Ridgewell shows quite an impressive level of inability to fire over from 2 yards out, finding himself in acres of room following McFadden’s corner.

Attempt(s) of the Week – Part-time democracy installer and all round nice guy Brian McBride crashes the Reading crossbar with a sublime volley on the run from outside the box. Never one to be outdone, Jimmy Bullard also found the woodwork a couple of layers of paint too thick from a delightful freekick.

Own-Goal Attempt of the Week – Rio tried his best to beat Edwin van der Sar at his near post but thankfully for United the Dutchmen was familiar with Ferdinand’s desire to humorously merc him.

Unexpected Acrobatics of the Week – Central defender Steven Taylor tries his luck with a scissor kick against Portsmouth. Van Basten eat your heart out. Well, nearly.

Sniper-on-the-roof Moment of the Week – Manchester City substitute Sturridge took one in the kneecap to win a penalty at the Stadium of Light.

Gaffe of the Week – It seems cruel to kick him when he’s down but Roy Carroll had an absolute mare against Villa, kind of at fault for most of their goals.

ASBO of the Week – Martin Skrtel was on fine bruising form, first escaping punishment for an over-the-ball crunch and then simply throwing Jason Roberts to the ground as the Blackburn man sprinted towards goal.

Controversy of the Week – A certain Arsenal player putting his side ahead at Old Trafford with what was quite obviously a hand. And Arsene Wenger’s reaction you might wonder? “What’s a hand? Who’s Adebayor? I’ve never even heard of this ‘football’ you keep going on about!”

Statistic of the Week – Fernando Torres has now scored in his last seven consecutive Anfield appearances so give Ronaldo a serious challenge for Player of the Season.

Jess of the Week – Apparently Philip Senderos’ season is over because he is “mentally shattered.” In a bizarre coincidence, the Swiss word for “mentally shattered” is actually the same as for “shit.”

Hyperbole of the Week – “He wasn't born, he was chiseled out of an oak tree.” The 5Live commentator clearly got Tom Huddlestone’s envelope of cash then. For the record, the only man actually chiseled out of any kind of tree is Jean-Claude Van Damage.

Quote of the Week – “It's not something I've practised, I just thought I'd give it a go.” Radhi Jaidi talking about his somewhat comical star-jump distraction techniques in front of Tim Howard as Zarate lined up the equalizing freekick. He was offside, so how that isn’t interfering will play I will never know.

Honesty of the Week – Harry Redknapp: “I just want to win the FA Cup - that’s all that matters now to be perfectly truthful. If you said to me finish fifth or win the FA Cup, I want to win the Cup.”

Hero of the Week – Brian McBride for inspiring Fulham to a last-grasp push for survival, with Roy Hodgson’s side recording their first success away from home since 2006.

Zero of the Week – Officially out of all competitions in five days, Arsene Wenger is this week’s zero once again. Don’t take this is a personal vendetta though; for a club with aspirations as big as Arsenal’s, this season really has been just another enormous failure, and one that Wenger could’ve avoided had he not been so arrogant and failed to buy anyone in the January transfer window.

Personal Highlight of the Week – Not having to run the London Marathon, but seeing plenty of awesome Mascot suits going the distance. Kudos to the guys dressed as rhinos, the Wombles (obviously), and my personal favourite, the giant Cornish pasty.

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