21 April, 2008

Gameweek 35 – ‘Touching Distance’

Happy Monday folks, and as May approaches things are all still pretty tight both at the top and bottom of the table. Manchester United left it very late at Ewood Park to save a point against a decent Blackburn side, while Arsenal and Chelsea stayed just about in touch with relatively easy wins over Reading and Everton respectively. Obviously next Saturday’s clash between the top two is huge now, but realistically Manchester United can afford to lose and still take the title based on superior goal difference.

The main stories though took place at the two local derbies yesterday. Newcastle secured the bragging rights for another 6 months or so after they eased past an uninspired Sunderland side in what was honestly an appalling match. Owen and Martins provided the only signs of life, but with two goals within half an hour, the game was over before it really got started. Elsewhere in Birmingham, Villa seem back to their early season best, flowing forward with pace and intent against a Blues side who looked scared in the headlights. Young, Agbonlahor and Carew have been an immense forward three all year, but the whole team can take credit for a dominating display that should boost their confidence going into next season where a top-4 finish will be the priority.

Down around the drop-zone, things took another twist as Bolton recorded back to back wins to move out of the third relegation spot. Fulham are perhaps rightly doomed, but one from Bolton, Birmingham and Reading look set to join them with three games to play…

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

Keeper – Brad Friedel (superhuman)

Defence – Ricardo Carvalho (superb positioning and tackling), Habib Beye (enterprising), Gary Cahill (huge), Kolo Toure (impressive going forward)

Midfield – Gavin McCann (inspirational graft), Jermaine Pennant (tricky), Ashley Young (basically perfect performance)

Up Top – Michael Owen (outstanding in a far from exciting derby), John Carew (unplayable), Benjani (back to his early season best)

Weekly Awards:

Goal of the Week – Compromising a touch of journalistic integrity, sympathy encourages me to throw Derby a bone so congratulations to Tyrone Mears for his sweet strike to give Derby a glimmer of hope at Upton Park.

Nutmeg of the Week – Peter Crouch nails Kasey Keller in the Fulham goal with a precise strike through the gate.

Save of the Week – Well take your pick from Brad Friedel’s whole performance. His saves from a Tevez snapshot, that stopped on the line, and an O’Shea poke from a corner, were absolutely incredible.

Skill of the Week – No real heroics this week but Arsenal’s corner routines between Fabregas and van Persie were pretty special, and Michael Owen’s little chip over Higginbotham to win Newcastle’s penalty was deft.

Miss of the Week – It seems harsh to criticize him, but having beautifully controlled a spinning ball 5 yards out, how Benjani managed to blast over is a mystery.

Attempt of the Week – Arsenal Dutch star Robin van Persie crashed the crossbar with a pearler of a freekick.

ASBO of the Week – Wayne Rooney vents his frustration on man-mountain Christopher Samba by producing a jumping scissors tackle.

Sniper-on-the-roof Moment of the Week – Jason Koumas took a bizarre shot in the leg to drop completely unchallenged at the JJB on Saturday; he appeared to trip over a packet of crisps somehow. STT suggests this was a case of assault and vinegar, and then immediately apologises.

Gaffe of the Week – Poor David James had a flashback to his calamity days on his return to the City of Manchester Stadium, charging out of his area for some reason and then spectacularly failing to clear the ball.

Wrestling Move of the Week – Herman Hreidesson pulls out the classic clothesline to floor Darius Vassell.

Limp-wrists of the Week – Alexander Hleb was lucky to not get a red card for catching Murty in the face, but it was a truly pathetic slap. I’d back a teenage girl in a fight with him.

Class of the Week – It’s always nice to see players having the respect to not celebrate scoring against their formative clubs, so kudos to walking-cartoon Benjani: “I’ll always respect them, I had a nice time there, the fans were really good to me even if I wasn’t scoring.”

Controversy of the Week – A couple of strange handball decisions this weekend: one clear penalty not given against McCann, but one suspect one given against Danny Higginbotham.

Statistic of the Week – Manchester United have scored 73 league goals this year, of which 52 have been netted by Ronaldo, Rooney and Tevez.

Lifeline of the Week – Gavin McCann’s goal which might just be enough to keep Bolton in the top flight for another year. With Birmingham losing this weekend, it’s now theirs to throw away.

Whinge of the Week – Arsene Wenger just doesn’t let up does he? “It’s part of life to swallow…undeserved disappointments.”

Hero of the Week – Carlos Tevez for once again rescuing a point for the defending Champions. This was the 16th time this season they have scored in the last ten minutes of a match.

Zero of the Week – Neil Warnock for suggesting that Rafa Benitez deliberately weakens his teams against Fulham every year. Get over it mate, Sheffield United were just rubbish last year.

Personal Highlight of the Week – Ian Wright standing up for himself and walking out of the BBC after being forced into the mould of court jester. We’ll miss you Wrighty, terrestrial football coverage really is getting too stuffy and less fan-orientated. Shame Lawrenson and Motson couldn’t have gone with him though.

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