28 April, 2008

Gameweek 36 – ‘Heatwave’

Happy Monday then faithful readership, and with just the two games left of the season, things continue to twist and turn both at the top of the pile and also down at the bottom. Chelsea heaped further pressure on Man United by beating them fairly comprehensively actually at Stamford Bridge and moving level on points with the defending champions. United once again looked a little out of sorts, and as with their game at the Nou Camp midweek, struggled to get any extended periods of possession. Goal difference will still carry them to the title should they finish on the same points as Chelsea, but any slip up from the Reds and the title could head back over to West London to make three titles in four years for Mr Abramovich.

With the abyss of relegation on the horizon for plenty of teams, many have started to find some form late in the season, and now it is looking like any two from Fulham, Birmingham, Reading and Bolton will be faced with the glamorous prospect of Championship football next season. Second-bottom Fulham came from two behind to miraculously beat Manchester City with three goals in the last 20 minutes to make next week’s clash with third-bottom Birmingham about as crucial as they get. Bolton and Reading earned themselves draws and may well feel safe, but as Bolton play Chelsea on the final day of the season, truly anything can happen.

Finally, the mini-league for fifth place seems to have been all but settled now with Everton safe by three points, but just below them, Villa, Pompey, Blackburn and Manchester City can certainly take plenty of credit this season for playing some great attacking football. As ever though, consistency is the key and while the other contenders have all experienced form slumps, the Toffees have been perhaps overall the best side throughout the months.

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

Keeper – Marcus Hahemann (several fantastic saves, including a superhuman change of direction to keep out a Michael Brown shot that was deflected)

Defence – Ryan Taylor (solid tackling and couple of vital blocks), Joseph Yobo (great positioning), Ashley Cole (credit where credit’s due), Brett Emerton (decent covering work)

Midfield – Michael Ballack (match-winner), James McFadden (tricky), Jermaine Pennant (excellent again), Steed Malbranque (consistent attacking threat)

Up Top – Diomansy Kamara (saviour), Obafemi Martins (pacey and always dangerous), Michael Chopra (alert and sharp)

Weekly Awards:

Goal of the Week – Sebastien Larsson’s cracking free-kick at St Andrews, a sweet strike from the most accurate free kick taker in the league:

Nutmeg of the Week – Diomansy Kamara bags Fulham’s first comeback goal via a rather large gap between Joe Hart’s legs.

Save of the Week – Hart restored some credibility not long after though, miraculously clawing a point-blank David Healy header over the bar.

Skill of the Week – James McFadden’s sweet juggling over Martin Skrtl’s head (see it at the start of the above Larsson video).

Miss of the Week – The normally lethal Dimitar Berbatov wastes a glorious chance to beat Bolton late on by making a proper mess of a free header from the edge of the six-yard box.

Attempt of the Week – Jimmy Bullard nearly moves his total for the year on another tick with a cracking long range effort that just dipped too late and grazed the cross-bar.

Gaffe of the Week – After a great season overall Ricardo Carvalho was the villain of the piece for a while at Stamford Bridge after blindly gifting the ball to Wayne Rooney with a free run at goal.

UFC Move of the Week – Steven Taylor clearly doesn’t like Freddie Ljundberg’s ambiguous sexuality very much so decided to stamp on his neck and chest for it.

ASBO of the Week – Didier Drogba with a text-book rising knee straight out of Street Fighter into Nemanja Vidic’s face. The Serbian hardman had a mouth-full of blood, and a tooth through his lip, but he still could’ve killed you with a spade if you cussed him.

Broken Jinx of the Week – Fulham gave themselves a further boost for survival by winning back-to-back away games for the first time in four and a half years.

Playground Theatrics of the Week – Drogba and Ballack had a little tiff about who was taking a free-kick that made the former especially look like a teenage girl crying because someone else was wearing the same cardigan as them. Or something equally gay.

Poach of the Week – Greek star Stelios bags a tap-in from about a yard out that even Gary Linekar would be proud of with his first touch on Saturday.

Statistic of the Week – David James missed his first Premier League for more than four years, breaking a chain of 166 consecutive appearances.

Karma of the Week – Radhi Jaidi receives some justice from the universe for his goalkeeper-distracting antics by deflecting a tame Benayoun header into his own net.

Controversy of the Week – Michael Carrick’s handball at Stamford Bridge, a decision which Ferguson called “disgraceful” in the press afterwards. In reality it probably was a fair decision, but as ever consistency is key, and Stylian Petrov was hit in almost exactly the same way yesterday from a Lee Carsley drive and yep you guessed it, no penalty was awarded.

Whinge of the Week – Carlos Queiroz takes his turn to see what it’s like being Arsene Wenger with this quote talking about Ballack’s man-handling of Cristiano Ronaldo in the second-half: “It must be necessary for a player to bring a gun and shoot one of our men in the box for us to get a penalty!” He went on to raise previous ghosts: “We are not in the FA Cup final because of a bad decision when we should have had a penalty against Portsmouth. Against Barcelona in the Champions League on Wednesday, there should have been three penalties but only one was given. Something is wrong with football.”

Hero of the Week – Diomansy Kamara just about pips Michael Ballack this week by somehow inspiring Fulham to another crucial win after the Cottagers were 2 – 0 down early on at the City of Manchester stadium.

Zero of the Week – With no win in three games, this is as close as Man United get to a ‘crisis,’ so I guess it has to be Alex Ferguson. After one frustrating draw against Blackburn, and two games in the last week where they barely had a kick, this week’s Champions League second leg, hosting Barcelona, is basically a make-or-break game for their season. Another loss and all of sudden both the Premier League and the Champions League could be out of their grasp.

Personal Highlight of the Week – A fantastic Old Firm clash which saw Celtic take the plaudits and beat arch-rivals Rangers in a riveting game with end-to-end attacks and a large proportion of local Scottish lads impressing.

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