Garth Crooks’ Team of the Week – w/e 15/04/2012

In the Premier League, Manchester United respond in emphatic fashion against Aston Villa following Manchester City’s goal-glut at Norwich and – despite what Roberto Mancini says – I think the title race is still on.
Meanwhile, in the FA Cup Liverpool return to Wembley again to face Chelsea in a mouth-watering final next month.
So this week I’m combining the two competitions for my team of the week.

What a week he’s had. Liverpool’s third-choice goalkeeper saved a penalty in midweek against Blackburn and played his part in helping Liverpool to the FA Cup final in Pepe Reina’s enforced absence. The Aussie goalkeeper deserves all the plaudits for breaching the gap and performing well against Everton in such pressurised circumstances.

Did you know? The FA Cup semi-final was only Jones’ third start for Liverpool. The two previous occasions had been a 0-0 draw against Utrecht in December 2010 in the Europa League and the 2-2 draw with Northampton in the League Cup in September 2010, where Liverpool were eliminated on penalties.

It looks like the former Gunner has at last found the form that made him a favourite at Arsenal. His assist for Adam Johnson’s goal against Norwich – City’s sixth – was sheer poetry.

Did you know? City have both scored more goals per game (2.54 to 2.40) and conceded fewer (0.75 to 0.9) with Clichy playing in the league this season.

Weeks into the season, many wrote off Ferdinand as a bit-part player in Manchester United’s future. They couldn’t have been further from the truth. Rio produced another classy performance as he strolled through his duties against Aston Villa. Expressing control, confidence and an assurance throughout the backline, he personified the foundation upon which Sir Alex Ferguson builds his teams.

Did you know? Ferdinand has now started 12 consecutive Premier League games for United, only the second time he has done so in a season since 2008-09. He started 13 between October 2010 and January 2011.

It has been tough at times for Liverpool this season but one of their successes has been the consistency of Skrtel. The Slovakian needed to be on top of his game to subdue Everton’s Nikica Jelavic, who started brightly in this semi-final but was then dominated for most of the game by the battling defender. Liverpool have reached their second final in a matter of months but not even another trophy can disguise what we are all thinking. Can Kenny Dalglish really do this job?

Did you know? Skrtel has played 3,519 minutes of football for Liverpool this season, more than any other outfield player.

I have struggled with this player for some time. I don’t think he is good enough to be a Manchester United player nor do I think his performances suggest he has worked out what is required to acquire that status. I do, however, have to accept that Sir Alex Ferguson sees something that I don’t and therefore I am happy to concede. Against Villa, who were not in United’s class, Rafael looked like a full-back that might, just might, in time replace Gary Neville.

Did you know? Rafael won eight tackles against Aston Villa. He is the only player to have won eight tackles in two different Premier League games this season (also doing so versus Chelsea).

This lad has worked his socks off to establish himself at Stamford Bridge. His two assists in the pulsating FA Cup semi-final win over Tottenham were critical to Chelsea’s fortunes. Let’s not talk about the phantom goal, it’s just too painful even for the ardent neutral!
The facts are that Mata was instrumental in turning the game around in the second half for the Blues. No doubt the debate will centre around the second goal, but as a believer in the maxim that a referee can only give what he sees, even if his eyes deceive him, I wish Chelsea well in the final.

Did you know? No player has been involved in more goals (four goals, three assists) in the FA Cup this season than Mata.

This lad’s stock is rising with every goal he scores and each goal seems better than the one before. His finish against Blackburn was superb, his first at home and his seventh since his arrival at Swansea. Just what Brendan Rogers is going to do once his loan period expires is anyone’s guess. I suppose he could buy him but Sigurdsson’s spell with Swansea has been so spectacular I suspect he can’t afford him now.

Did you know? Since making his debut in January, Sigurdsson has either scored (seven) or provided assists for(two) half of Swansea’s league goals.

In December, the Frenchman was playing for Doncaster Rovers. In the last 12 games he has played, the Baggies have won six and drawn one – a total of 19 points out of 36. Against QPR, he was the difference between the two teams. His link-up play with Peter Odemwingie was a feature and he grew in confidence the more the game developed.

Did you know? This season West Brom have scored over twice as many goals per game (1.9) with Fortune starting in the league as without him (0.88).

They say when one door closes another one opens. It would appear that the departure of Mario Balotelli from the scene has hastened the return of Carlos Tevez and energised Sergio Aguero. Aguero could have easily had a hat-trick himself had it not been for Norwich goalkeeper John Ruddy. With City in this form and United still to play, the title race is still on, regardless of what boss Roberto Mancini says.

Did you know? Aguero has scored at least twice in every game in which he has started alongside Tevez in the Premier League this season.

I have so much time for Drogba, as a man and as a player. He has been much maligned over the years but no-one can deny he has been Chelsea’s most important player in a decade. Against Spurs, he returned to his battering-ram best. Leading the line with enormous aggression, the goal was Drogba at his best. Clarence Seedorf told me that Chelsea cannot win anything without Drogba. He’s right.

Did you know? Aside from Stamford Bridge, Drogba has scored more goals at Wembley (seven) than at any other stadium with Chelsea. Next highest is the Millennium Stadium (5).

I said some weeks ago that Mancini should wise up and address the Tevez affair, as a title was at stake. To his credit, the manager has done precisely that by reintroducing the mercurial star to the starting line-up. Both parties have made their point having buried the hatchet. The diminutive Argentine was absolutely sensational against Norwich and his performance worthy of the match ball. “Welcome back to Manchester”, Carlos.

Did you know? Tevez has been involved (four goals, two assists) in a goal every 52 minutes in the Premier League this season, the best rate of any player (minimum 100 minutes played).


Garth Crook’s Team of the week w/e 01/04/2012

This weekend’s Premier League action saw extraordinary performances from teams fighting relegation. Wigan, Bolton and QPR all picked up excellent victories to keep alive their survival hopes.

At the top of the table, Sunderland took Manchester City to the wire and Newcastle remain level with Chelsea on points as fans and players alike wished Stiliyan Petrov well in his fight against acute leukaemia.

Take a look my Team of the Week and see if you agree with my picks. Join the debate on Twitter using #BBCFootball 


Bolton’s 3-2 victory over Wolves was a massive game for two teams who have struggled this season. A mixture of great goalkeeping, excellent defending and the woodwork helped produce a great result for Bolton and it was one of Adam Bogdan’s best performances of the season. The Bolton keeper was largely responsible for keeping his team in the game until referee Jon Moss sealed the fate of Wolves by awarding Mark Davies a penalty when the Bolton player had clearly navigated his way around Roger Johnson’s withdrawn leg before going to ground. Bogdan and his team-mates were duly grateful and accepted the gift with open arms.

Did you know? Bogdan has a saves-to-shots ratio of 68.5% in the league this season, higher than Bolton team-mate Jussi Jaaskelainen (62.6%).


As the pressure mounts at Manchester City they are going to need players who can keep their cool under pressure. The spat between Mario Balotelli and Aleksandar Kolarov during the Sunderland game over a free-kick seemed to focus the mind of both players. Ballotelli scored a wonder goal and Kolarov earned the point with a beautiful strike to equalise and get City out of jail. There’s going to be a lot more anxiety between now and the end of the season at City so we are guaranteed more fun and games at the Etihad.

Did you know? Kolarov produced 16 crosses in open play this weekend, only once has a player made more in a Premier League game this season (Matt Jarvis with 17 versus Newcastle in October).


Would you believe it? I said last week that we pundits are having to take the Magpies seriously and they are now just five points shy of a Champions League place. Newcastle’s emergence as a top-six force combines nicely with the consistent performances of Mike Williamson. In the win over Liverpool, he literally played Andy Carroll off the park, with the striker being replaced on the hour mark, much to Carroll’s disgust.

Did you know? Newcastle have won 60% of Premier League games with Williamson playing this season, compared to 38% without him.


The Latics were equally impressive against Stoke as they were the week before against Liverpool. Back-to-back victories have signalled Wigan’s intent to stay in the division. The performances of their back five were particularly impressive in a game where Roberto Martinez’s side were clearly suffering from relegation nerves in the first half. Alcaraz settled those worries when he produced a superb header and set up a well-earned victory. Bolton, QPR and Blackburn beware.

Did you know? Since Alcaraz arrived in the Premier League, Wigan have conceded 1.5 goals per game with him playing, compared to 2.25 without him.


It doesn’t matter where he plays in Chelsea’s back four, Ivanovic’s contribution to the team is often immense. Totally committed to the cause in defence and incredibly dangerous on attacking set plays, his two goals against Aston Villa were a testimony to that fact. If Ivanovic and his team-mates keep playing like this the Chelsea hierarchy will have little choice but to give Roberto di Matteo the manager’s job.

Did you know? Ivanovic is the first player to score two Premier League goals from a full-back position since Chris Baird versus Stoke in December 2010.


It’s official: Wigan have finally replaced Charles N’Zogbia and much of that praise must go to Roberto Martinez who has done a terrific job with Victor Moses. When he arrived from Crystal Palace he was raw. Not anymore. Moses created chances in a game full of missed ones. In the end, he had to fix the problem himself by scoring a superb individual goal and clinching three crucial points. Whether the Latics stay up or not is debatable. I suspect keeping hold of Moses might prove more difficult.

Did you know? Moses has completed more dribbles (75) than any other player in the Premier League this season.


I’ve said it on a number of occasions already this season but Sessegnon is without doubt Sunderland’s player of the season. At times, he terrorised Manchester City’s back four and produced another imperious display of controlled passing. He set up Sebastian Larsson and opened up the title pretenders on numerous occasions and was largely responsible for his team’s 3-1 lead. Martin O’Neill will do well to hang on to him next season. Sessegnon is a Manchester United player if ever I saw one.

Did you know? Sessegnon has scored (seven) or assisted (nine) half of Sunderland’s last 32 league goals.


Taarabt has to be one of the most skilful players in the Premier League but also the most frustrating. A player with enormous ability but who has struggled among the big boys in the big league. Against Arsenal, however, he scored a goal worthy of his potential. If Adel can keep his feet on the ground, remain focused and become a team player (a big ask) then he might fulfil the potential he craves and save Mark Hughes and his team-mates from a return to the Championship.

Did you know? Taarabt scored for the first time this season with his 69th shot, prior to this he’d had more efforts on goal without scoring than any player in the Premier League.


Four goals in four games tells you all you need to know about the form of the Senegalese striker. He’s proving to be an enormous success at Newcastle. His first goal was a superbly steered header and his second had all the composure of a veteran. When you consider what the Geordies paid for Cisse and the exorbitant fee Liverpool paid for Andy Carroll you have to ask yourself the question: would Kenny Dalglish have paid £35m for Carroll had it been his own money?

Did you know? Cisse became the 13th player to net seven-plus goals in his first seven Premier League games for a club, and the second to do this for Newcastle after Les Ferdinand (eight goals in his seven).


How ironic. Spurs are fighting for third spot with their north London rivals and the man most likely to rob Arsenal of a Champions League place is the man they could not wait to get rid of. Emmanuel Adebayor is looking good again. He went three games without scoring and popped up with two against Swansea. If he keeps this up he could end up having the last laugh.

Did you know? Adebayor has scored (four) or assisted (five) nine of Tottenham’s last 12 Premier League goals.


Rather like City boss Roberto Mancini I can’t help thinking that my selection of Balotelli is inclined to embarrass me at some stage during the season. Since that is a chance we are clearly both prepared to take, the Italian features in my team after another performance which went from the sublime to the ridiculous. The sublime was superbly displayed in his two incredibly well-taken goals. The ridiculous is when he insists on conducting a public disagreement with a team-mate over a free-kick. A flawed genius.

Did you know? Balotelli has scored a goal every 94 minutes this season, the best rate in the Premier League for all players who have played at least 1000 minutes.


Garth Crooks’ Team of the Week w/e 18/03/2012

This weekend’s reduced Premier League programme saw Manchester United extend their lead at the top of the table and Swansea go eighth with an impressive victory at Fulham.

So I’ve decided to introduce the FA Cup into my team for the first time as Liverpool and Chelsea breeze their way into yet another semi-final. It also gives me an opportunity to acknowledge the magnificent work of the emergency services at White Hart Lane in light of such difficult circumstances surrounding Fabrice Muamba. We wish him well.

Take a look my Team of the Week and see if you agree with my picks. Join the debate on Twitter using #BBCFootball 



Shades of Jim Montgomery in the FA Cup final in 1973. Mignolet’s heroic double save against Everton may well prove to be the turning point in this tie and could help them on their way to the semi-final. That, coupled with Andre Marriner’s decision to ignore Craig Gardner’s blatant foul on Royston Drenthe in the box, suggests Sunderland have luck on their side. With Lee Cattermole and Stephane Sessegnon back for the replay, you have to fancy the Black Cats.

Did you know? Sunderland have won 40% of the league games Mignolet has played in this season but just 25% when he has not featured.


Here is a player who, when I saw him play left-back for Argentina in the 2010 World Cup, made me think I was seeing things! Against Norwich he produced another sparkling performance in this unfamiliar role. He provided the cross for Papiss Demba Cisse to convert and was a constant thorn in the side of the Canaries.

Did you know? Has played 2,498 minutes of Premier League action this season, only two other midfielders in the league have notched up more time on the pitch than this.


One has to be concerned about the direction Wolves are going in at the moment. Getting a man sent off when you need all your players on the pitch against the Premier League champions is hardly a ringing endorsement for common sense. That said I don’t think that Wolves would have got much out of Jonny Evans anyway. He played with great assurance and never looked under the slightest bit of pressure.

Did you know? Waited 7,092 minutes for his first Premier League goal, failing to score in his first 84 appearances in the competition.


The Swans have had some memorable defensive displays this season. Against Fulham it was Steven Caulker who held the fort and he was largely responsible for the Swans keeping their third consecutive clean sheet. Against an in-form Pavel Pogrebnyak, the centre-back always looked in control. At times it was like he was shelling peas!

Did you know? Of players to have made 10-plus appearances in the Premier League this season, only the Manchester City trio of Pablo Zabaleta, Vincent Kompany and Joe Hart have a higher clean-sheet ratio than Caulker (44% – eight from 18 games).


If you have to wait a year to score a goal, then an FA Cup quarter-final away at Goodison Park is not a bad way to end the drought. Protecting the goal has to be the major priority of any defender but when you can strike a ball in the way Bardsley did to give Sunderland the lead you have every right to get forward and try to influence the game.

Did you know? Has played 480 minutes in the FA Cup this season – no player to reach the quarter-finals has played more minutes in this year’s competition.


At last I’ve found a place in my team for a player who is having a superb season with the Swans. Against Fulham he combined beautifully with Gylfi Sigurdsson and Leon Britton, who together collectively ripped the Cottagers to shreds with their controlled possession. Allen took his goal with the same relaxed manner in which he played the game. He has a touch of Barcelona’s Andres Iniesta about him and the bottle to go with it.

Did you know? Allen is one of just four players in the Premier League this season to have made over 1,500 passes and maintained a passing accuracy rate of at least 90%.


What a find by Brendan Rodgers. Rodgers worked with him at Reading and the Icelander looks like he’s played for the Swans all his life. His first goal against Fulham was simplicity itself and it was only a matter of time before his runs into the opposition box were going to pay off. His second was brilliantly taken and was his fourth goal in three matches. Not bad for a midfield player on loan!

Did you know? All five of his Premier League goals for Swansea have come away from home, while his last two Bundesliga goals for Hoffenheim were also on the road.


Everton are often at their best when they have Tim Cahill firing on all cylinders. His goal against Sunderland gave the Toffees a lifeline as the game seemed to be slipping from their grasp. Once they were level it looked like Cahill might be the difference and it took some fine saves from Simon Mignolet to stop Everton from progressing to the semi-final. It will take another inspired performance by Cahill in the replay, otherwise I don’t fancy them.

Did you know? Has scored five goals in the FA Cup for Everton (never more than one a season) with all five coming at Goodison.


For me, Stewart Downing’s display against Stoke was his best game for Liverpool since his big-money move from Aston Villa in the summer. He looked assured, composed and not overawed by the Anfield stage.

Against Stoke he looked like the player capable of forging a formidable partnership with Steven Gerrard in Liverpool’s midfield, while his goal was crafted and taken brilliantly. I have to say, though, that this performance was not before time!

Did you know? Has had 36 shots without scoring in the league this season, only two players (Shaun Wright-Phillips and Adel Taarabt) have had more without finding the back of the net.


We saw the shoots of recovery on Wednesday night against Napoli. Against Leicester he continued to make the runs and hunt the ball with a hunger I’ve not seen since his best Liverpool days. His two goals were fitting reward for his two further assists and the perseverance and hard work he has put in over the past two games. OK, Leicester were Championship opposition but he is starting to look like a top-class centre-forward again.

Did you know? Had exactly 50 shots (including blocked attempts) during his goal drought for Chelsea in all competitions.


Whenever this lad plays well for United the team look capable of scoring goals in abundance. That’s precisely what they did against a Wolves side completely overwhelmed by the champions. To be fair, once Ronald Zubar was sent off the game was over. With the United treatment room starting to clear and their big-name players returning, is it any wonder that they have stretched their lead at the top of the table and thrown the gauntlet down to rivals Manchester City? It’s hardly surprising City fans are biting their fingernails!

Did you know? Only David Silva (12) has provided more Premier League assists than Valencia (11) this season. Prior to this campaign he had recorded nine assists in 44 Premier League games for Manchester United.


Garth Crooks’ Team of the Week w/e 26/02/2012

It proved to be another exciting and pulsating weekend of Premier League football.

The stand-out result was at the Sports Direct Arena where congratulations must go to Terry Connor’s Wolves, who came from two goals down to salvage a point against Newcastle.

The Manchester clubs continue to battle it out at the top while Spurs saw their title dreams disappear, as they were outplayed by their north London rivals, Arsenal.

Have a look at my Team of the Week to see if your XI matches mine. Join the debate on Twitter using #BBCFootball 


The young goalkeeper was instrumental in keeping Manchester United in the title race. A series of outstanding saves, especially from Anthony Pilkington and Grant Holt, denied Norwich a share of the spoils and keeps United in the hunt. I think Sir Alex Ferguson might be proved right in the end about this keeper.

Did you know? Only Joe Hart (79%) has a higher-saves-to-shots ratio in the Premier League this season of regular keepers (75.6%).


If you’re a defender and want to join in the attacks you need to have the quality of passing to do it. Kolarov produced some of the best crosses for his strikers I have seen from a full-back for some time in City’s victory over Blackburn. Two of his crosses resulted in two goals. Not bad if you can do that sort of thing. It’s no wonder Gael Clichy can’t get a look in.

Did you know? Assisted two goals this weekend – he had only assisted one in 33 Premier League games before this.


Thank goodness Chelsea have a centre-back, particularly in the absence of John Terry, who can defend. The former Bolton player handled the occasion exceptionally well when you consider the media’s interest in Chelsea’s negative result against Napoli in the Champions League in midweek. Chelsea do not get many clean sheets these days but this one provided the Blues and their boss, Andre Villas-Boas, with an important result and buys their beleaguered manager a little breathing space.

Did you know? After two draws and a defeat, the game against Bolton was the first time Cahill had won in a Chelsea shirt.


Out for three months with a broken leg suffered in the corresponding fixture, Sagna looked back to his best. Cool, calm and collected in the north London derby, the Arsenal full-back put the Gunners back on the road to recovery with a beautifully-controlled header. I just wish he’d do something about his hair…

Did you know? Prior to Sunday, Sagna had not scored or assisted a Premier League goal since February last year – he did both against Spurs.


At last Match of the Day pundit Alan Hansen has woken up and seen what the rest of us have been taking about for the best part of the season. Box-to-box, great touch, lovely vision and the mastermind of another wonderful City performance. If the Ivorian does decide to give up international football  it is a coup for Mancini as there can be no doubt that he was sorely missed during the Africa Cup of Nations.

Did you know? Toure completed 101 passes this weekend, just 46 fewer than the whole of the Blackburn team combined managed (147).


Two weeks ago we saw Morrison put his former team-mates and manager Mick McCarthy to the sword. This week it was Martin O’Neill’s Sunderland who felt the cutting edge of the Baggies’ midfield maestro. He scored one and was involved in the other three. The best player on the park.

Did you know? Only Peter Odemwingie (54) has had more shots for West Brom in the Premier League this season (52), though just 11 of these have come from inside the box.


He’s done it. The first man to score double figures in his ninth consecutive Premier League season. John Motson summed it up perfectly when he referred to the Chelsea midfielder as ‘Honest Frank’. He stays on his feet when others go down, Darren Pratley being one – the Bolton player getting booked for diving and quite rightly. He needs to take stock of a player who kept his feet when trying to score and ‘Honest Frank’ got his rewards once again with a well-taken volley.

Did you know? Lampard has now netted 10 or more goals in nine different Premier League seasons. Only Alan Shearer (11) has reached double figures in more campaigns.


It’s been a long time coming but Rosicky once again looks something like the player we knew when he first burst on to the British scene. Full of inventiveness and ingenuity. The movement for his goal against Tottenham was brilliant. His general play and creativity was responsible for cutting Spurs to ribbons.

Did you know? Sunday was Rosicky’s 50th Premier League game since his last goal (January 2010 against Bolton).


Five goals in two games simply highlights a man bang in form. His first goal against a Sunderland side, who before the fixture looked unbeatable, epitomised his movement and improvisation. His second showed the Nigerians predatory instincts. The Super Eagle is flying high.

Did you know? His third-minute opener was his 23rd Premier League goal, but his first with his head.


He could have had a first-half hat-trick yet Newcastle did not heed the warnings. New caretaker boss Terry Connor never really divulged the secret to his team’s excellent second-half performance. It might have centred around providing Doyle with the support his first-half efforts deserved. The Irish international played like a man who had found belief in himself again. The new manager clearly had belief in his rejuvenated striker.

Did you know? Doyle has both scored and assisted a goal in three Premier League matches this season. Each time Wolves have come from behind to snatch points (2-2 home to Swansea, 2-1 at QPR and 2-2 against Newcastle).


If anyone was going to get his team back into a match having been 2-0 down it was going to be Robin van Persie. He’s scored some beauties this season but the goal against Spurs in the north London clash, under the circumstances, was probably the best. I stood up and applauded.

Did you know? Arsenal have only won two Premier League games in which van Persie has not scored this season – at Sunderland and at home to Swansea.


Garth Crook’s Team of the Week w/e 12/02/2012

This was a week where the very best Premier League strikers made their mark.

Players such as Grant Holt, Danny Graham, Louis Saha, Yakubu and Jamie Mackie all hit the back of the net and had very impressive performances but which of them made my team? Not many. Take a look at my selection and see if you agree.


Some are saying he might be the best goalkeeper in the world at the moment. I’ll wait until he’s got a few championships under his belt before I join in the chorus. What is indisputable is that he is England’s number one and he proved it against Aston Villa. He does very little for 70 minutes and then makes a match-winning save from Darren Bent before taking Richard Dunne out in a critical goalmouth clearance. Now that’s goalkeeping.

Did you know? Hart has kept more clean sheets than any other goalkeeper this season (11), while the one against Aston Villa was the 53rd in his Premier League career.


You know your team’s in trouble when the opposing full-back ventures into your six-yard box five minutes into the start of the match. To add insult to injury he provided an excellent one-touch finish from an acute angle to open the floodgates for Spurs and begin the nightmare for Newcastle. Pity his hair looks like someone who’s just had a thousand volts sent through his boots!

Did you know? Assou-Ekotto has played more minutes (2,178) than any other Spurs outfield player this season.


The big Swede was wreaking havoc again in the opposition’s box against Wolves. He scored one and made another for Peter Odemwingie with a deft back-heel reminiscent of former Baggies favourite Len Cantello. For those of you too young to remember, Len was a top-class midfield player which rather tells you how highly I rate the improvisation by the Swedish defender for the Odemwingie assist.

Did you know? Three of the five Premier League goals Olsson has scored have come in derby games.


I never thought that Evans was a Manchester United player. That said, I have watched him steadily mature into a calm, dependable centre-half under Sir Alex Ferguson and he was outstanding in defence against Liverpool – particularly in the early exchanges when tensions were running high.

Did you know? Manchester United have won 83% of the 18 games Evans has appeared in this season and just 43% of the seven he has missed.


Phil Neville’s tackle on Chelsea’s Ashley Cole was straight out of the old school manual for tacklers – in hard, win the ball and make sure it counts. Everton’s second goal came as a direct result of Neville’s uncompromising intervention. If you’re going to play your part in making the goal, you might as well add into the bargain a piece of the full-back who is most likely to cause your team problems!

Did you know? Neville is yet to provide an assist for a league goal this season. The last campaign in which he failed to register a single assist was back in 2005-06 (his first with Everton).


The Frenchman has caught my eye on a number of occasions but, for various reasons, never made it into my team of the week. Against QPR, not only did he score a fabulous goal but kept his side going when panic was beginning to set in during a spirited comeback by Rangers. He can cover the ground, puts his foot in and likes to get in the opposition box. He is another young player Steve Kean is going to have to rely on if Rovers are to survive in the Premier League this season.

Did you know? Nzonzi has provided five goal assists this season having not made one in his 54 appearances prior to this campaign.


In his second spell at the club, the French-Guyana striker is playing like a man happy to be back in the West Midlands. He terrorised Wolves in West Brom’s well deserved 5-1 victory over their rivals. He worked tirelessly throughout the match and was involved in everything the Baggies did.

Did you know? Fortune has played more Premier League games for West Brom (48) without ever receiving a booking than any other player.


What a contribution the South American has made to Manchester United this season. He’s unrecognisable from the Wigan player he was a few years ago. He doesn’t score the goals Cristiano Ronaldo used to, but I’m convinced he’s a better team player and far less aggravation.

Did you know? Valencia has provided nine assists this season (three for Wayne Rooney), more than he has ever previously managed in a Premier League season.


In his side’s biggest win since 1962, West Brom’s Super Eagle is back doing what he does best and scoring goals. His first finish provided Wolves with all the warning signs but they failed to heed those warnings. By the end of the afternoon, the Nigeria international had ripped the heart out of Mick McCarthy’s side, who were outclassed in every department by a rejuvenated West Brom and a striker back in form.

Did you know? Odemwingie has netted five goals against Wolves, more than against any other Premier League opponent he has faced. The goals have come in 287 minutes of action, so one every 57.4 minutes.


What a performance by the on-loan striker. You have to ask yourself how Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini caused Emmanuel Adebayor and Carlos Tevez, two world-class strikers, to walk away from a club under his management, disgusted by the way they have been treated. The Togolese striker is playing the best football of his career and ripped Newcastle to shreds in a display of imperious link-up play and unselfish football.

Did you know? Adebayor was the first player to provide assists for four goals in a Premier League game since Cesc Fabregas for Arsenal v Blackburn in October 2009.


What a shame – two magnificent strikes by the England striker but no headlines and all because of a handshake that never took place. Quite apart from the goals against Liverpool, he crowned his 500th league appearance with a display that epitomised his insatiable appetite for getting on with the game.

Did you know? Rooney has had more shots on target from outside the box (24) than any other player this season.


Garth Crook’s Team of The Week w/e 06/02/2012

This weekend’s Premier League action saw Manchester City extend their lead  at the top as they beat Fulham, while Manchester United had to battle back from a 3-0 deficit to take a point at Stamford Bridge  and keep in touch with their noisy neighbours.

Meanwhile Arsenal  ran riot and Wolves  , who also took advantage of a dismissal, managed a first Premier League win since the beginning of December. Take a look to see whether one of your players has made my Team of the Week.

All goalkeepers have their off-days and Wolverhampton’s keeper has had his fair share this season. However, against QPR,  he had made a series of excellent stops and the save he made from Adel Taarabt in the dying minutes of the game was nothing short of sensational.

It guaranteed Wolves three points.

Did you know? Hennessey has made 124 saves in the Premier League this season, 35 more than any other goalkeeper.

It was Evra who broke into the Chelsea box and caused Daniel Sturridge to panic, resulting in referee Howard Webb awarding United their first penalty of the afternoon.

Whatever you think of Evra, he has never been afraid to get amongst the action.

Did you know? Evra has started 23 Premier League games for Manchester United this season, three more than any other player.

Your are 3-0 down, the crowd on your back and you still have 35 minutes to play.  At no stage did Ferdinand let the scoreline or the crowd get to him.

In a week where he turned down any opportunity to lead England again in the future, he can take great satisfaction from the fact that he played a major part in a memorable comeback and one that might have a say in the title challenge.

Did you know? Over the last two seasons, United have conceded 0.86 goals per game in the Premier League when Ferdinand has played, compared with 1.15 without him.

Why, oh why have not more ambitious sides invested in the Tottenham centre-back?
All credit to Mick McCarthy for taking him to Molineux. Bassong was another reason for Wolves turning what looked certain defeat, prior to the departure of Cisse, into victory.  I can’t help feeling that QPR boss Mark Hughes may have missed a trick there!

Did you know? Bassong misplaced just two of his 42 passes within his own half this weekend.

If I had left my selection to Match of the Day footage, I would have missed the contribution made by Kevin Foley. The Wolves full-back was the instigator of the majority of their attacks down the right-hand side.
In defence he showed a coolness and a calm certainty that was crucial in the game’s dying moments.

Did you know? Only three outfield players (Bolton’s Paul Robinson, Liverpool’s Jamie Carragher and Swansea’s Garry Monk) have played in more Premier League games this season without having a single shot.

The game at Chelsea should have been dead and buried. But when you have played in as many games and won as many trophies as Ryan Giggs, the word ‘panic’ does not feature in your vocabulary.

There cannot be a better or more experienced individual in the Premier League or a player more capable of inspiring such a major comeback at Stamford Bridge.  He is still a credit to the game.

Did you know? Only Manchester City’s David Silva, on 12, has more than Giggs’s eight assists in the Premier League this season.

If I ever wanted to manage a player of the next generation, he is the one. Mark Lawrenson put it brilliantly when he said that “he has a bit of everything”.

What l most admire about this young man is that he has the football intelligence of a player considerably older. This kid could be our next David Beckham.

Did you know? Oxlade-Chamberlain has completed 4.6 dribbles per 90 minutes in the Premier League this season, more than any other player.

This lad has found it tough to make the transition from the Spanish League to the English Premier League. The one thing he has never lacked, however, is the ability to work hard.

Against Manchester United, he had that and more.  Not only has he made my Team of the Week for his sheer endeavour, but also for the goal of the week. He will never score a better goal as long has he lives.

Did you know? Mata has created 71 chances this season the most in the Premier League.

Two penalties, two goals. The big players tend to handle the big moments better than anyone else, especially when you’re facing one of the best goalkeepers in the world in Petr Cech.

At no stage was he fazed and on both spot-kicks he gave the Chelsea captain no chance of saving his team. A masterclass of coolness under pressure.

Did you know? Rooney’s two goals from the spot made United the first side in Premier League history to score four consecutive goals from penalties without scoring from open play in between, having notched two in their previous game against Stoke.

Another day, another hat-trick. It all started one minute 19 seconds into the match against Blackburn  and having sailed past the great Dennis Bergkamp’s Arsenal goals tally of 120, he now has scored 28 goals in 33 games.
You get the feeling that the mantle of highest scoring Dutchman in the club’s history has passed from one Arsenal legend to another.

Did you know? Van Persie has played 41 Premier League games since the start of 2011, only twice going successive matches without scoring. Should he continue at his present rate of 0.92 goals per game, he will set a new Premier League record of 35 goals in a season.

He made two and scored the other against Fulham  and Maradona’s son-in-law has the same cool demeanour in front of goal as the Argentine legend. Whether he make them or scores them, he looks every bit the part.

Along with David Silva and Yaya Toure, when he returns from the Africa Cup of Nations, Aguero will form part of the trio that will make the difference between winning and losing the Premier League title.

Did you know? Aguero has been substituted 17 times in the Premier League this season, more often than any other player.


Garth Crooks’ Team of the week w/e 15 January 2012

After a week of FA Cup exploits, we return to the Premier League with Manchester United, Swansea and Blackburn all putting three goals past their opponents.
But Liverpool and Spurs failed to take advantage of home fixtures as they lost ground on the other sides at the top.
This is my team of the week. Do you agree? Join the debate on Twitter using #BBCFootball

The former England number one pulled off a save from Brede Hangeland that was nothing short of world class. He went on to make a string of other important stops and was the difference between Blackburn winning and losing against Fulham.
On that performance, if he were interested in coming out of retirement, England manager Fabio Capello should take him to the Euros.

Did you know? Damien Duff’s goal for Fulham marked the 200th goal that Paul Robinson has conceded in the Premier League in a Blackburn shirt.


Yet another professional display from the Manchester United left-back. While Spurs and Liverpool struggled at home, United continued to put the squeeze on leaders Manchester City as they moved level on points with Roberto Mancini’s men, building on their FA Cup win over their city rivals.

Evra, who captained United on Saturday, is once again emerging as a leader of men after his nightmare at the 2010 World Cup with France. He clearly has both eyes still fixed on that Premier League title.

Did you know? Evra has helped Manchester United keep 10 clean sheets this season. No other player in the league has been involved in as many.

I can’t remember the last time Stoke went to Anfield and got a result. It’s partly due to the development of an emerging team and partly down to a certain Robert Huth at the heart of their defence.

He is just the kind of centre-half the Stoke fans like. Tough and uncompromising, he is prepared to wrestle with the likes of Andy Carroll. He reminds me of the old Potters favourite Denis Smith.

Did you know? In 10 Premier League games against Liverpool, Huth has helped his side keep a clean sheet five times (three times with Stoke and twice with Middlesbrough).

Another clean sheet for the Magpies and another comfortable performance for the Argentine. He positively strolled through the game against QPR.

Newcastle’s defence looks a much better outfit with this top-class defender at its heart.

Did you know? Coloccini has made more clearances (111) than any other Newcastle player this season.

Two seasons ago Wayne Rooney scored a bucketload of goals thanks to Valencia’s assists.

Although he did not set up a goal against Bolton, Rooney should have tucked in one of the Ecuadorian’s deliveries and there were signs he is returning to top form.

Did you know? Valencia has played a total of 810 minutes of Premier League football against Bolton, more than against any other side in the division.

The diminutive winger makes a mockery of the remark “he’s too small”. Against Arsenal he was the best player on the pitch. Perhaps the best things do come in small packages.

Did you know? In the 11 games in all competitions in which Dyer has scored for Swansea, they have never lost, winning eight (including the last six) and drawing three.

Another stellar performance by Carrick. He plays the game in a way reminiscent of another former United favourite, Ray Wilkins, who thought it was a crime if you gave the ball away.

That said, I’m not sure that even “Butch” Wilkins at his best could have produced that sensational ball for Danny Welbeck in the first half against Bolton.

Did you know? Carrick has made an interception once every 23 minutes this season, more regularly than anyone who has played over 1,000 minutes in this Premier League campaign.

If Spurs have any chance of winning the title then this man has to feature in all of Tottenham’s remaining games. I hear through the grapevine that he is already complaining about the number of matches he is having to play in the Premier League.
If true, Spurs had better come up with a plan because without him they are doomed.

Did you know? The Croatian has received an average of 68 passes per game this season. Only two players (Yaya Toure and Mikel Arteta) have a higher average than this.

At last Fernando has stopped expecting his Chelsea team-mates to adapt their game to him and he has started to adapt his game to them.

He is beginning to work hard for the team again in the same way he did when he first signed for Liverpool.
Against Sunderland he looked a threat again, had two penalty appeals turned down and saw a tremendous volley hit the bar.
He did everything but score and led the line like a proper centre-forward.

Did you know? Torres managed 12 touches in the opposition box against Sunderland, more than any other player from any club over the weekend in the Premier League. This season he has touched the ball in the opposition box once every 6.88 minutes, more regularly than any other Chelsea player (8th overall in the Premier League).

It is no coincidence that Fletcher is Wolves’ top scorer. His runs into the opposition penalty box are as good as anyone in the Premer League.
Everyone knew that he was always going to be the player most likely to score against Tottenham. What I do not understand is why the Spurs defence could not work that one out.

Did you know? Steven Fletcher has netted 11 headed goals since the start of the 2010/11 Premier League season, more than any other player in this period.
This lad has become another Paul Lambert success story. He seldom misses a game and gets his fair share of goals as well.
I asked Robbie Savage to name one player for my Team of the Week and he went for Morison. For once I agree with him!

Did you know? Steve Morison is one of just five players in the league to have provided at least four assists and scored eight goals this season. The others are Tottenham’s Emmanuel Adebayor, Arsenal’s Robin van Persie, Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero and Chelsea’s Frank Lampard.

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