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Jan 15, 2012

Team of the Week

Wayne Hennessey came to the Premier League with a growing reputation as a promising goalkeeper but initially failed to adjust to the step up in class. This season, however, he has produced his best form yet and played with an authority Wolverhampton Wanderers will desperately rely on if they're to survive relegation for a third consecutive season. In the build-up to their fixture at White Hart Lane, the talk was of Tottenham Hotspur's title ambitions but Hennessey ensured their dominance wasn't taken advantage of, conceding just a single goal despite ten efforts on target.

Swansea City's high tempo brand of football means lots of work for their full-backs. Throughout their 3-2 win over Arsenal, Angel Rangel covered lots of ground and looked for possession wherever possible. In the final stages of the game, he had to contend with the threats of Thierry Henry, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Robin van Persie and Theo Walcott, and though it'd be an overstatement to say he succeeded in keeping them quiet, Rangel ensured real chances were kept to a minimum in an important win for his side.

Much was made of Liverpool's inability to register a shot on target in the first seventy minutes at home to Stoke City, and though the sight of Dirk Kuyt as a lone striker is enough to give any purist sleepless nights, Stoke's defence shouldn't be overlooked. As any good captain should, Ryan Shawcross organised his side throughout and ensured chances were kept to a premium, with his own commitment key to the clean sheet that was kept.

'Ball playing centre-backs' are one of football's great paradoxes and though Laurent Koscielny's comfort on the ball is certainly a major strength, it is his defensive ability that has also impressed this season. Arsenal may have conceded three goals during their 3-2 defeat to Swansea City but the Frenchman was at fault for none and made an array of composed, well-timed challenges throughout to underline his true quality.

Ashley Cole hasn't been at his outstanding best this season but he was one of Chelsea's best performers throughout their 1-0 home win over Sunderland. As usual Cole attacked whenever possible, with his delivery to be admired, but crucially soundly defended from both Sebastien Larsson and Stephane Sessegnon, two players key to Sunderland's improvement under Martin O'Neill.

Antonio Valencia may not excite in the same way that Nani or Ashley Young do on United's wings but he's certainly the most reliable performer of the three. One of the few true modern day wingers whose inclusion doesn't unbalance a midfield, Valencia's energy was as constant a threat to Bolton's defence as his supply of crosses and he played a big role in United's victory. One of the first names on Sir Alex Ferguson's teamsheet.

In every promoted side there's a player that instantly looks comfortable in the Premier League - last season Charlie Adam impressed for Blackpool; in 1998 Barnsley's Neil Redfearn was admired - and Joe Allen has been exactly that for Swansea. As has been the case all season, Allen's ball distribution was superb throughout against Arsenal, ensuring his side continued to pass the ball and producing a sublime assist to play Dyer into space for Swansea's second.

Some players are sometimes admired more elsewhere than in the Premier League and Michael Carrick is one of those, with the midfielder not short of fans on the continent. Carrick has failed to produce on a regular basis since his best season - 2008/2009 - but passed delightfully all afternoon and was in excellent form as he reunited with old midfield partner Paul Scholes to inspire Manchester United to a 3-0 home victory over Bolton Wanderers.

Nathan Dyer's pace was a constant threat to Arsenal. He made sure Ignasi Miquel failed to settle throughout and scored the goal that gave his side the lead. Though his touch can be somewhat uncertain, as it was just before his goal, his energy and determination ensured he remained a threat throughout and was key to Swansea's high tempo game.

In a week bereft of widespread individual brilliance, Leon Best scored a delightful goal to inspire Newcastle United to a 1-0 victory over Queens Park Rangers while reminding his manager, Alan Pardew, that Demba Ba isn't the squad's only match winner. Best showed the level of composure expected of legendary namesake George, showing deft control and producing a delightful turn and finish within a crowded QPR penalty box to win the game.

It's now almost a year since Fernando Torres completed an acrimonious £50 million exit from Liverpool to join Chelsea. Much has been said and written about 'El Nino' in that time, and though many have lost faith, Torres showed his prolific, predatory instincts have yet to desert him with an outstanding volley that would surely have been remembered as one of the season's best goals but for the crossbar. The rebound was scored by Frank Lampard, the only goal in Chelsea's 1-0 win over Sunderland, but Torres was lively throughout and showed a true return to form isn't unthinkable.

If Steve Kean didn't deserve to be 'manager of the week' this week, he'll never do so. His Blackburn Rovers side were reduced to 10 men very early on at home to Fulham with the score at 0-0. The stage seemed set for another embarrassing afternoon for Kean but his side rallied to beat Fulham 3-1 and climb out of the relegation zone. Given demotion to the Championship seemed a foregone conclusion, Blackburn have demonstrated they - if no-one else - believe they can survive.

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