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EPL Team of the Week

Week 29

Mingonet

Jagielka      da Costa      Cahill

Duff      Hitzlsperger      Kalou      Jarvis

Kuyt

Defoe     Suarez

GK – Simon Mingonet: The Emirates witnessed one of the best goalkeeping displays we’ve seen all season. And for some it will come as no surprise it was from a member of the opposition. The Sunderland ‘keeper was in inspired form as he repeatedly thwarted Arsenal, particularly Nicholas Bentdner and Samiri Nasiri. His save from Nasiri’s free-kick was world class and Bentdner is probably still wondering how Mingonet stopped his fierce volley that looked destined for the back of the net. Hard to believe he’s just 22.

RB – Phil Jagielka: An impressive performance by the English defender. His match-winning goal was a piece of fine skill to direct Leighton Baines’ in-swinging free-kick in off the crossbar. Not only did he provide the match-winning goal, but he was vital in preventing Newcastle from finding an equalizer in the second half.

CB – Manuel Da Costa: Any defender will tell you that playing Stoke City is anything but a walk in the park. Da Costa did brilliantly to cope with Stoke’s physical prowess and his goal doubled West Ham’s advantage to send them on their way to another important three points.

CB – Gary Cahill: The former Aston Villa defender provided the equalizer moments before the break and his second headed goal of the match with 20 minutes remaining ensured Houllier’s side paid the full price for a penalty miss only minutes earlier.

RM – Damien Duff: It had been almost seven years since the last time Duff scored in consecutive games in the Premier League. Duff’s brace against former club Blackburn finally ended the wait and helped the Cottagers to a 3-2 win. Both goals came off him cutting inside from the right wing onto his left and sending a low and powerful drive past Paul Robinson.

CM – Thomas Hitzlsperger: West Ham supporters will wonder just how much further up the table they could have been had Hitzlsperger not been injured from the start of the season. His midfield play against Stoke was what the Hammers have been missing this season and he linked up effectively with Scott Parker. His fierce bullet put the icing on the cake for the home side and maybe, just maybe, forced Avram Grant to crack a smile.

CM – Salomon Kalou: Days after indicating he might leave Stamford Bridge this summer, Kalou stepped off the bench to help Chelsea beat Blackbool 3-1 on Monday. His introduction completely changed the game for Chelsea, who had allowed Blackpool to gain a foothold in the game. Not only did he earn his side a penalty but he set up Lampard’s second goal of the game to complete an important victory for the Blues. Came close to scoring on several occasions and contained Blackpool’s midfield.

AM – Dirk Kuyt: The Liverpool midfielder’s hat-trick was far from the most stunning of trebles ever seen in the Premier League this season, but it will certainly be one of the most memorable. Two tap-ins sandwiched a simple header and had Liverpool cruising to a big win over rivals Manchester United. It is difficult to decide who contributed to his hat-trick more: Luis Suarez tricky play or United’s defensive errors.

LM – Matt Jarvis: Wolverhampton’s impressive 3-3 draw with Tottenham was arguably their best performance of the season. Much of that had to do with the threat posed by Jarvis. His wing-play was excellent and his delivery of crosses into the box was a danger for Spurs all afternoon. Did well to get to the by-line on several occasions and set up the equalizer with the perfect cross towards Steven Fletcher.

ST – Jermaine Defoe: 323 days had passed since Jermaine Defoe’s previous league goal. Injury has kept him on the sidelines for much of the season but his stunning brace against Wolverhampton was well worth the wait. Both of his goals were powerful and well-placed shots from outside the box, leaving Wayne Hennessey no chance. Defoe was even denied a hat-trick by the post in the second half.

ST – Luis Suarez: The Uruguayan gave United’s defense its most torrid afternoon of the season. Twisting and turning in the box and somehow eluding three United players, Suarez was the architect of Liverpool’s opening goal and his dipping free-kick in the second half was spilled by Van der Sar, allowing Kuyt to secure his hat-trick. Only a few matches into his Liverpool career but he is already proven himself to be in an extremely important signing.

Manager – Kenny Dalglish: Just after his 60th birthday, the Liverpool hero could not have asked for a better birthday present. Took a big risk in fielding such an attacking side but reaped the benefits as he saw his side tear apart Sir Alex Ferguson’s men. The victory will only enhance his reputation with the Liverpool supporters.

Written by: Jeff Harbert

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Feb. 28th – March 6th: Drugs, Knives and Guns

A round-up of all the latest headline-grabbing stories from this past  week…

Drugs, knives, record breakers, referee abuse, flying elbows and even flying bullets. This week had everything you could imagine. The beginning of the week consisted of the media using up column inch after column inch bashing Wayne Rooney for intentionally elbowing James McCarthy during Manchester United’s 4-0 win over Wigan. Referee Mark Clattenburg witnessed the incident but let Rooney off with a warning. By now the rest of the world has seen the incident and berated the Football Association for failing to ban the United striker, who later went on to score that game as well as against Chelsea three days later. By no coincidence, the infamous elbow was still being talked about in the press even after the defeat to Chelsea.

Staying on topic, Sir Alex Ferguson was not so lucky to escape punishment from the FA this week. His comments to MUTV about referee Martin Atkinson after his side’s 2-1 loss at Stamford Bridge gave the FA the opportunity to give him a fifth impoper conduct charge in as many years. Ferguson is no stranger to this type of controversy, however, and it is somewhat of a surprise that the newspapers chose to focus more on his punishment than Chelsea’s victory.

As for Chelsea, they too ended up in the headlines for the wrong reasons. Or at least a certain Ashley Cole did (not for the first time either). Reports surfaced early Saturday morning claiming that Cole shot and injured a club intern with an air rifle. And considering who the culprit was, who could really be surprised? Plenty of media outlets focused heavily on the incident and a few days later plenty of fans at Stamford Bridge were sarcastically yelling “Shoooooot” every time Cole had possession.

As if that hadn’t given us enough to talk about, Manchester City defender Kolo Toure went and got himself suspended by his club for testing positive for a “specified substance”. The length of his ban remains to be seen, although former manager Arsene Wenger has defended the Ivory Coast defender and claimed he took his wife’s dietary pills. Regardless of what the truth may be, Toure has probably forced his name into more newspapers than anyone else this week.

Over in Spain, Jose Mourinho managed to escape a knife attack that saw his body guard stabbed in an effort to attack the ‘special one’. Apparently this man has a huge adhorrence for the Real Madrid boss… either that or he just wanted Spain to grab a few headlines of its own this week too.

Controversy aside, plenty of media focused on Ryan Giggs, who on Wednesday marked his 20th season playing for the Manchester United first team. The night before also saw him equal Bobby Charlton’s club record of 606 league appearances. Lastly, Birmingham City stole the headlines with their unlikely 2-1 triumph over Arsenal in the League Cup final.

So… quite an uneventful week, eh? One can only wonder what the upcoming week can possibly have in store for us!

Written by: Jeff Harbert

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David Luiz: Abramovich Gets It Right This Time

Roman Abramovich is anything but shy when it comes to the transfer market. After all, here’s a man who paid a combined 48.43 pounds for Didier Drogba and Michael Essien and most recently splashed 50 million pounds for the purchase of Fernando Torres from Liverpool. Drogba and Essien have been integral figures in Chelsea’s recent success, and despite his stuttering start, few will be betting against Torres to have a similar impact.

Abramovich’s money has not always been well spent, however. In May 2006, Chelsea bought Andriy Shevchenko from AC Milan for 30.8 million pounds. Soon later Shaun Wright-Phillips arrived from Manchester City for 21 million pounds. Both players failed to live up to their price tags and both players returned to their previous clubs with a sense of disappointment hanging over their heads, as well as that of the Chelsea owner. Who could blame him though, especially after great things had been promised, particularly for the Ukraine forward.

“I think Shevchenko is the type of player we would like. At the end of the day to improve what we have got, it has to be a great player and Shevchenko certainly comes into that class.” These were the words of Peter Kenyon, Chelsea’s Chief Executive.

Fast forward to January, 2011 and similar things were being promised for another mega signing by Abramovich.

“He is one of the great defensive prospects in world football,” Chelsea chief executive Ron Gourlay said. “I am sure he will prove a valuable addition to the Chelsea squad.”

Also adding to the hype was Chelsea Chairman Bruce Buck, who claimed: “It is a delight to have completed this transfer for a fantastic young footballer who we have admired for some time and will hopefully serve us well for the rest of this season and going forward.”

This time, however, Chelsea appears like being spot on in their assessment of their latest acquisition: David Luiz Moreira Marinho.

The 23-year-old Brazilian international, purchased for 21 million pounds from Benfica, already looks like being a bargain buy for Chelsea. His performances for the reigning champions have already caught the eye and few players have managed to justify their price tag as quickly as Luiz has. In the short span of a month he has proven that not only can he handle the demands of the Premier League, but he can excel as a strong defender who is a big danger going forward. Simply ask Manchester United.

Luiz has demonstrated an admirable work rate and impressive ability and composure with the ball at his feet. It has quickly become apparent how much the former Benfica centre-back enjoys bringing the ball forward from the back and setting up attacks for his side. Luiz may have only scored four goals in 72 appearances for the Lisbon club, but he is more than willing to get forward and is fairly capable in front of goal, especially for a defender.

Judging by his three performances so far, Luiz may be exactly what Chelsea need to finally turn the corner. His debut consisted of a half-hour substitute cameo in a 1-0 loss to Liverpool and although he conceded a last minute penalty in his next match against Fulham, Luiz was still awarded with the Barclays Man of the Match award. His performance against Manchester United, which included the equalizing goal, was worthy of a second Man of the Match – although some will argue he was slightly fortunate not to be sent off for a second yellow card for a foul on Wayne Rooney.

Luiz’ performances certainly haven’t been flawless, but they have been more than enough to prove his quality. With the more games he plays, the more experience he’ll gain and learn how to cut out the mistakes in his game, such as an over eagerness to dive right in and a tendency to stick too close to his man. Overall, Chelsea has found themselves a top notch defender and a real difference maker, not just on the defensive end.

Written by: Jeff Harbert

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Chelsea Comeback Halts Manchester United

Another Chelsea and Manchester United match at Stamford Bridge, another big occasion between these two sides marred in controversy. Wayne Rooney fired United ahead midway through the first half, but a first Chelsea goal by David Luiz and a Frank Lampard penalty, courtesy of a questionable decision by referee Martin Atkinson, gave the home side a 2-1 win to propel Chelsea into fourth place ahead of Tottenham and leave United four points clear of Arsenal with an extra game played.

United will feel hard done by the result after an impressive first half display which saw Rooney score in his third successive league game. The Reds dominated much of the half’s proceedings and could have been 2-0 up had John Terry not gone unpunished for what appeared to be a hand ball in his own penalty box off a rasping shot by Nani.

United failed to build on their lead, however, and Chelsea started the second half determined to level proceedings. They did just that on 53 minutes when Luiz volleyed home at the far post. Buoyed by the equaliser, the home side continued to threaten and with 13 minutes remaining Stamford Bridge was in ecstasy. Martin Atkinson pointed to the spot after Chelsea substitute Yuri Zhirkov went down under a seemingly soft Chris Smalling challenge, leaving Lampard to step up and smash Chelsea into the lead from 12 yards out. United provided little response and from then on only one team looked like being a winner.

To make matters worse for United, Nemanja Vidic was sent off for a second yellow card in the dying minutes and will now miss United’s next big match against Liverpool on Sunday. His suspension, and particularly the loss, will come as a big blow for Sir Alex Ferguson – who was adamant Luiz should have also been sent to the showers for an off the ball foul on Rooney with the score still locked at 1-1.

Controversy aside, it was a thrilling match that involved plenty of end-to-end football. All too often big matches fail to live up to the hype but the latest crunch meeting between these two sides was a pulsating match and a spectacle that even the neutrals could appreciate. Despite the controversy, United only have themselves to blame for not building on their solid first half performance and instead allowing the reigning champions back into the game. Sir Alex Ferguson’s team still sit on top of the table and you can be assured that the fiery scot will be the last one to press the panic button. United played well for large portions of the match but will need to translate that over 90 minutes it they hope to keep Arsenal at bay. Chelsea, meanwhile, will be confident of building on this result and earning a top-four finish after leapfrogging Spurs in the standings.

Man of the Match: David Luiz

Big time stats:

  • Chelsea extended their unbeaten record against United at Stamford Bridge to nine games (6 wins, 3 draws).
  • Seven of Chelsea’s league goals this season have been scored by defenders (3rd highest in EPL)
  • Wayne Rooney became the first United player – barring Nani – to score from outside the box in 23 league games.
  • The loss snaps a 33 game streak in which Manchester United have won every time Rooney has scored.
  • Ryan Giggs equaled Bobby Chalrton’s record of 606 league appearances for Manchester United when he came on as a substitute in the second half. Ironically, Giggs surpassed Charlton’s record of overall appearances for Manchester United in the 2008 Champions League Final against Chelsea.
  • Sir Alex Ferguson fielded an unchanged side in consecutive games
  • Martin Atkinson has awarded the most penalties in the Premier League this season (11) and given out the most red cards (10)

Written by: Jeff Harbert

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Chelsea vs. Man United: Five Things to Watch for

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fernando Torres vs. Nemanja Vidic

Following his £50 million transfer from Liverpool, Fernando Torres has yet to find greener pastures at Stamford Bridge. The Spaniard has misfired so far for the reigning champions but still finds himself ahead of Didier Drogba in Carlo Ancelotti’s pecking order. Due to his successful history against Nemanja Vidic – and his manager’s determination to justify his price tag – it will come as no surprise if the Ivorian finds himself on the bench once again on Tuesday. Torres will hope he can conjure up some of the same magic that has caused the United captain to be sent off twice when pitted against each other. Vidic has been outstanding at the heart of United’s defense this season, however, and will look to ensure Torres’ disappointing start to life in London continues.

Ashley Cole

Undoubtedly one of the best left-backs in the world, Ashley Cole has struggled to keep himself out of the headlines for the wrong reasons. His latest incident saw him injure an intern by shooting him with an air rifle. Cole has escaped punishment for the training ground incident but all eyes will be focused on how he performs in his first game since the incident took place.

Wayne Rooney

Also grabbing the headlines this week for the wrong reasons – and for large portions of this season – was Wayne Rooney. Despite scoring in United’s 4-0 win at Wigan on Saturday, most of the media fixated its attention on the forward’s intentional elbow on James McCarthy in the opening minutes of the match. Rooney has escaped punishment from the FA and will therefore be available for selection against the reigning champions, but his lack of goals this season may spell a start for Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez following his brace against Wigan. If selected, however, Rooney will need to stay out of trouble and exact the same type of influence for his side as he had against City a few weeks ago.

Chelsea’s Defense

Despite sitting in fifth place in the league, Chelsea boast the best defensive record in the top flight with a total of 22 conceded. United, meanwhile, are the league’s top scorers with 61 goals thus far. Chelsea have invariably conceded more goals in the last five minutes of each half at any other time in matches and face a side notorious for snatching late goals. Chelsea have won just two of its last five home games but will take heart from United’s poor away form this season (4 wins from 13). Chelsea’s defense, which have found themselves unlocked much too casually at home this season at times, will have to be at their best to contain the threat of Berbatov and Nani – coincidently the league’s leading goal scorer and assist earner.

Martin Atkinson

Both of last season’s fixtures between these two clubs were marred in controversy as United particularly felt hard-done by a John Terry goal at Stamford Bridge that was allowed to stand despite numerous infringements on the play. Martin Atkinson takes charge on Tuesday after originally being set to referee the game in December and will be looking to ensure this match steers clear of controversy. Interestingly, Atkinson has awarded the most penalties (10) and red cards (nine) out of any Premier League officials this season.

 

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EPL: Shaping Lives Everywhere

Deep in the heart of poverty-stricken countries in Africa, the crest of some of England’s biggest clubs can be seen on worn, tattered and faded t-shirts and jerseys. For some, the shirt on their back is worth more to them than any amount of money they could earn by selling their shirt in the second-hand market.

Even in places where people would do almost anything to earn enough money to be able to afford one meal a day, the crest of clubs like Manchester United, Arsenal, and Chelsea are valued as much as the food necessary for survival.

The crest of clubs like Manchester United, Arsenal, and Chelsea represent a hope and optimism that nothing else can even come close to matching. It goes to show just how much the English Premier League has grown and the impact it has had and continues to have in our world.

In war torn countries such as the Ivory Coast, seeing their countryman Didier Drogba playing for one of the world’s biggest clubs in some of the world’s most prestigious competitions provides people with a renewed hope and inspiration needed to continue with their lives.

Thousands gather every week around a small television in a bar or house to catch a glimpse of their favorite heroes. Players like Didier Drogba, Obafemi Martins, and Yakabu Ayegbeni are what keep the dream alive in their countries. Little kids with absolutely nothing for footwear run around the dusty streets of town kicking a football ball made out of plastic bags, hoping they can one day follow in their hero’s footsteps.

And for people like this, it is their idols in the world’s biggest league that keep their dream alive. Without players like Kolo Toure, Didier Drogba, or Michael Essien flourishing in the English Premier League, some people would have nothing to cling on to in life.

It’s a sad truth, but a large portion of the continent of Africa is overwhelmed with poverty. After being born and living in Kenya for fourteen out of the first eighteen years of my life, I have witnessed such poverty first hand.

I can still recall walking through the streets of the town I lived in and hearing homeless people yell at me, “Man United!” Being one of the few white people in my town in a large town in Kenya, I was known by most people for two things: Being white and being a Manchester United supporter.

Even when I wasn’t sporting a Manchester United jersey or shirt, people who knew I was a United fan would still shout things at me about the club. Sometimes their remarks were affirmative and sometimes they were negative, but no matter what they were always said in a friendly manner.

And whenever I was seen donning a United jersey I would lose track of the vast amount of comments I received from people, most of who I didn’t even know. Even homeless kids on the side of the street without a shirt of their own chimed in with their own comments at times. My little brother, a die-hard Chelsea supporter, experienced much of the same whenever he wore his Chelsea jersey in public.

I learned that, even in the midst of despair and hopelessness, people were still able to find hope in the English Premier League. It may be hard to grasp if you haven’t actually experienced it first hand, but England’s biggest clubs have, in a sense, become a shining light in a dark world.

People’s hopes stretch far beyond their own countries’ football stars in England, but even in some of the big club’s star players in England’s top flight.

Wayne Rooney, John Terry, Fernando Torres and Cesc Fabregas are some of the most popular players in Africa, and they too are able to inspire anyone, from the poor man who struggles to earn enough money to be able to go to a bar and watch his favorite team to the rich business man who sits comfortably in the luxury of his home as he cheers on his beloved club.

Football and specifically the English Premier League give a lot of people something to live for. After all, when your job generates less than a dollar a day and you live in a hut made out of mud, sometimes the only happiness you get is from watching your favorite football club win.

The English Premier League is the world’s biggest and most popular league but its thriving popularity is seen in many places besides Africa. But after living in Africa for 14 years, I have discovered first hand just how big of an influence the English Premier League has across the world.

Whether it’s in the heart of big cities or the fringes of mid-size towns, the English Premier League is undoubtedly making a difference. And whether it’s in the center of small villages or the borders of the poorest of slums, England’s top flight is clearly having an influence.

The most important part of all is the fact that this influence is a positive one and one that will continue to shape and inspire our world in a beneficial way.

Written by: Jeff Harbert

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