Team of the Week
With only one Carling Cup appearance under his belt this season, and only three games of previous Premier League experience, a trip to Anfield should have been a daunting task for the reserve goalkeeper of Blackburn Rovers, the division's worst side. But Mark Bunn appeared wholly unfazed by facing around £60 million of Reds striking talent and proved the scourge of the Merseysiders.
Maxi Rodriguez may have breached Bunn's goal, but the former Northampton and Kettering shot-stopper helped salvage a valuable point for Rovers - his sublime late save to tip Andy Carroll's close-range volley past the post the highlight of an impressive showing. Bunn's relative inexperience was the only factor that saw him pip Wolves No. 1 Wayne Hennessey to the post after the Welshman's display in the 1-1 draw at Arsenal was lauded afterwards as "exceptional" by Arsene Wenger.
Blackburn's goalkeeper was not alone in helping his side hold onto their point - there was plenty of resolute defending from Steve Kean's charges. Teenage debutant Adam Henley deserves a mention for his last-gasp goal-line clearance from Daniel Agger's header but it is centre-back Chris Samba who makes our XI for being a defensive monolith. Liverpool have been among those clubs linked with a move for the 6ft 4in Congolese and his assured performance will certainly not have done his chances of turning out at Anfield on a more regular basis any harm.
The aerial threat of Stoke City has been much discussed in previous Team of the Weeks and any side that leaves the Britannia Stadium having kept the likes of Robert Huth at bay merits a defensive inclusion. It was hardly a Christmas cracker but Aston Villa's goalless draw was a great result for the visitors, Villa probably fearing the worst going into the game having held the unwanted record of having conceded the joint-most goals from set-pieces in the Premier League in 2011-12. Potters boss Tony Pulis admitted that Villa's centre-backs "were very good" - and it's Richard Dunne who just edges his partner James Collins into our selection after a commanding display.
Manchester City have been the Premier League's most potent attacking force this season, but they were unable to add to their 53-goal haul on Boxing Day, thanks in no small part to the twin defensive efforts of West Brom full-backs Billy Jones and Nicky Shorey. With James Milner, Mario Balotelli, Sergio Aguero, David Silva, Samir Nasri and later Adam Johnson all drifting into wide areas at various points in the game, Jones and Shorey had their hands full with some of the league's most talented players. But the understated duo quelled the danger admirably with some excellent positional play and Jones was named Man of the Match at The Hawthorns for his efforts, on what was a first start since November 5. Regular right-back Steven Reid should be quaking in his boots.
Arsenal became the fourth big team to be frustrated when Wolves claimed a 1-1 draw at Emirates Stadium on Tuesday and Christophe Berra did enough to convince us to have a five-man defence this week after a commanding outing in North London. Wolves were helped massively by the exploits of their goalkeeper but Berra was imperious in the air, winning headers time and again as Mick McCarthy's side held on for a valuable point and prevented Robin van Persie from improving on his 2011 goalscoring exploits.
Newcastle were made to huff and puff against Bolton before finally finding a way past Jussi Jaaskelainen and it was substitute Hatem Ben Arfa who offered the decisive intervention. The temperamental Frenchman has found game-time hard to come by of late amid rumours of a rift with Alan Pardew but staked his claim to a starting berth after bringing some much-needed class to the Magpies midfield at the Reebok Stadium. More importantly, he netted Newcastle's opener just nine minutes after coming on as a sub with an expertly-taken finish - setting the Toon on their way to a first win in seven games.
Moussa Dembele may not have proved the most prolific signing Fulham have ever made - just one goal in 26 games this season - but what he has lacked in goals, he has made up for in creativity. It may have been Clint Dempsey who scored the Cottagers' goal in their 1-1 draw at Chelsea, but Dembele was the visitors' most dangerous player, linking up well with Orlando Sa and thriving on playing in the hole instead of his usual position on the wing.
Completing a trio of left-footed, attack-minded midfielders is Tottenham's Gareth Bale, who proved that even when not 100% fit he is still his side's most devastating player. Bale could have opened the scoring against Norwich in the first-half after creating a chance with a delightful dummy but having been denied by goalkeeper John Ruddy on that occasion, the Spurs winger was to have the last laugh. The Welshman snatched two goals after the break - the second a wonderful solo effort as he ran straight from the halfway line past the entire defence and dinked it over Ruddy - to keep Tottenham within touching distance of the Premier League leaders.
A sixth goal of the season was the least that Swansea's Danny Graham deserved after tormenting QPR's defence on Tuesday evening - despite there being a hint of handball as he controlled Wayne Routledge's cross before firing home the game's opening goal. Graham was a menace throughout with his movement and strength troubling the Rs during the 1-1 draw, and the former Watford striker was even denied wat looked a clear penalty when he was felled by armand Traore in the latter stages.
Dimitar Berbatov may not be the first name on Sir Alex Ferguson's teamsheet these days but he's the first on ours this week after his excellent hat-trick against Wigan. The Bulgarian demonstrated some typically exquisite touches for his first and second goals before rounding off his ninth career treble with a languid (hard to believe, we know) penalty. With a New Year's Eve visit to come from Blackburn, who Berbatov scored five against at Old Trafford last season, United's No. 9 could well find himself back in our selection next week.
Steve Kean could have been forgiven for thinking he would add a Manager of the Week accolade to his point at Anfield, but the beleaguered Blackburn boss will have to just be happy chowing down the leftovers of a Venky's Christmas turkey as Roy Hodgson has scooped the festive gong this week. Mick McCarthy was another contender after Wolves' draw at Arsenal, but West Brom gaffer Hodgson has been picked to lead our brave battalion after achieving the pick of the surprise festive results against Manchester City. The Baggies had their tactics spot on as they became only the second side in 28 games this season -Bayern Munich were the others - to stop Roberto Mancini's table-toppers from scoring.