It has been a dicey midweek in England to mark the end of 2010. Teams have had a lot to deal with in terms of the weather and the fixture pile up and this could just be the turning point of one of the most unpredictable Premier League seasons in a long time.
Let’s begin with the bottom of the table this time. The relegation conundrum continued as Fulham moved into the relegation zone despite their 0-2 win away from home against Stoke while Wolverhampton Wolves pulled off one of their biggest victories in top flight English football when they beat Liverpool at Anfield after 26 years. Liverpool are now shockingly in the 12th spot and even a top four finish seems like a pipe dream. West Ham United were a little more frivolous in their efforts to come out of the relegation zone and could only manage a draw with Everton at Upton Park. They are now at the bottom of the table and it is not a pretty picture for Avram Grant.
Shifting focus to the top performers this season, there were surely some surprising results. Manchester United, after a resounding 2-0 victory over Sunderland on Sunday, failed to open up their lead at the top of the table courtesy a controvertial Lee Bowyer equalizer. Arsenal travelled to Wigan with a chance to snatch the top spot from Manchester United but a 2-2 draw sees them stay put at the third spot.
Chelsea secured their first Premier League win in seven games and the 1-0 home victory against Bolton gave Ancelotti some breathing space as the Blues pushed themselves back into the top 4. Over at the City of Manchester stadium, Mancini’s men ran riot over Aston Villa with a 4-0 victory to keep them abreast with the other title contenders.
Star of the Week: Shooting Star Mario Balotelli
Super Mario started the game for the Citizens on Tuesday night and his selection in place of Carlos Tevez was vindicated as the 20 year old Palermo born striker scored a commendable hat trick to silence his critics. The young Italian got onto the score sheet within seven minutes when he was brought down into the box by Villa defender Eric Lichaj. Balotelli stepped up and converted from the spot calmly. Quite unlikely. However, 20 minutes later the doughty lad struck again when he applied the finishing touch to a David Silva effort which was poorly blocked by Brad Friedel. But the former Internazionale player was not done yet; his hat trick was completed with a well taken penalty in the second half.
Off late, Mario Balotelli has taken a lot of flak from his manager, but apparently that has paid off as he has started to let his football do the talking.
Pass of the Week: Frank Lampard to Didier Drogba (Chelsea against Bolton Wanderers)
The air of trepidation was getting intense at Stamford Bridge as Chelsea fans and players were frantic for a win. Chelsea came out strong in the second half and in the process of gaining momentum, there was one such moment that lifted everybody off their seats. It was a Frank Lampard pass. Chelsea’s lynchpin collected the pass in midfield and made a defence splitting ground pass across two defenders from the left side of defensive midfield to the edge of the box, on the right, where Didier Drogba was to receive it. After a good first touch though, Drogba strike went pass the keeper only to hit the post. Chelsea was going to have to wait a little longer. Nonetheless, Lampard’s pass is again an indication of the player’s class and versatility.
Goal of the Week: Chris Baird (for Fulham against Stoke City)
It was an astonishing 16 months since Fulham had picked up all three points away from home and going by Stoke City’s form, it was always going to be tough to walk away victorious at the Britannia stadium. But defender Chris Baird changed all of that. The Northern Ireland international scored a fabulous goal on the half volley from about 23 yards from goal. The ball struck the inside of the left post and landed in goal. It was Baird’s first goal for Fulham since making his move from Southampton and goal keeper Sorensen had no chance of stopping that bullet.
Save of the Week: Tim Krul (for Newcastle United against Tottenham Hotspurs)
The young Tim Krul was Newcastle’s best player in what was a tough loss for the team against Spurs. Krul is a second choice keeper; however, he proved why he could well usurp Steve Harper’s No. 1 position when he pulled off a close range save coming from Pavyluchenko. The Russian was at the end of the cross by full back Alan Hutton, and the resulting header was fiercely struck but the Dutch keeper exhibited his sharp reflexes by deflecting the ball onto the post, which was then cleared by the Magpies defence.
Worst Referee of the Week: Lee Probert (Wigan Athletic v Arsenal)
Bill Shankly once quoted: “The referees know the rules, but they don’t know the game.” Well it couldn’t be more true could it? Premier League referees are constantly criticized by players, managers and fans week in week out. Well this week Lee Probert hogs the limelight. Following are his decisions that need a little more introspection:
1)Nzogbia’s penalty claim: The French winger went down just inside the box on the premise of Laurent Koscielny’s trailing leg. Well, so it seems. On a closer look, the contact could, by no means, be deemed as an intentional foul.
2)Fabianski’s charge on Rodallega: Wigan were on the counter when Hugo Rodallega collected the ball and was on the run. Koscielny soon caught up but at the same moment Fabianski came charging out of goal to make the block. However, Koscielny had already made contact with the ball to deflect it and so Fabianski clearly ran into Rodallega. It was a penalty for taking but Lee Probert thought otherwise.
The game ended in a draw but Lee Probert is the one on the losing side. Club captain Cesc Fabregas also showed his disposition towards the game.
The Race for the Golden Boot Award:
1)Dimitar Berbatov [Manchester United] – 14
2)Carlos Tevez [Manchester City] – 12
3)Andy Caroll [Newcastle United] – 11
Berbatov scored against Birmingham in the midweek fixture to take his tally to 14. The Bulgarian has been a revelation this season and has proved why he is worth 30 million pounds.
Flop of the Week: Team Liverpool
Liverpool is one of the four teams not to have completed half the games as yet, the others being Manchester United, Blackpool and Birmingham. Prior to their game against Wolves, the Reds were just 17 games into the season and it was the perfect place to start picking up wins and get back into the race for the top 4. But a poor squad selection and a thoughtless formation was nothing but recipe for disaster. The Reds went a fortnight without Premier League football and what should’ve been a strong comeback turned out to be one of the poorest performances by Hodgson’s team. Something is clearly wrong at Anfield and things have got to change soon.
TheHardTackle’s Team of the Week:
Attack: Mario Balotelli, Dimitar Berbatov.
Balotelli and Berbatov can be best looked at as opposites. The cool headed Berba and hot headed Super Mario prove to be a fearful strike force and they have rightfully earned their spots on TheHardTackle’s team of the week. Berbatov continued his good run of form, scoring Manchester United’s only goal at St. Andrews while Balotelli scored a superb hat trick to plant a brainwave into Mancini’s mind.
Midfield: Gareth Bale, Charles N’Zogbia, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard
Gareth Bale’s rise to stardom doesn’t seem to cease and the young Welshman conjured yet another menacing run and a top class goal against Newcastle United. N’Zogbia, before being sent off, had a great game against Arsenal, constantly proving to be a threat to the full backs and was also instrumental in earning Wigan a penalty. Frank Lampard made his return to the starting lineup and brought some order in Chelsea’s game against Bolton on Wednesday night. Steven Gerrard was again Liverpool’s silver lining in what was a horrendous team display. The captain made his return from an injury he picked up on international duty but it never looked like he was away from the scene.
Defense: John Terry, Andy Caldwell, Chris Baird, Joleon Lescott
It is never easy coming up against a side like Bolton who are quite physical in their game but John Terry stood up to the task as always and lead the defence to make sure the Blues picked up their win. Wigan captain Andy Caldwell made sure Arsenal would not have it easy at the DW again and was there at the right place at the right time to stop incoming attacks, even from the flanks. Caldwell was the one up against Sebastian Squillaci when the French defender headed the ball into his own net.
Chris Baird had a great game, from defence to attack, as he scored not one but two goals for Fulham against Stoke. Both finishes were top notch and Baird single handedly took the game away from Tony Pulis’ team. Joleon Lescott is working hard to make his comeback into the starting lineup at Eastlands and was successful in helping Hart keep a clean sheet. In addition, the England international also got his name on the score-sheets..
Goalkeeper: Petr Cech
The Czech Republic keeper had a tough task at hand against Bolton, but rose to the occasion and prevented another team from taking points off Chelsea.