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Sep 2, 2012

Team of the Week

Brad Friedel's future suddenly wasn't looking rosy when Tottenham wrapped up a deal to bring Hugo Lloris to White Hart Lane. But Friedel's reaction - and his reactions - were utterly exemplary on Saturday: in a spluttering team performance at home to Norwich, the 41-year-old American denied the Canaries a win they could easily have enjoyed, making a stunning one-handed save from Robert Snodgrass and then defying Bradley Johnson in injury-time: a superb performance from a superb professional.

At right-back, Manchester City's Pablo Zabaleta was neat and tidy on the (admittedly few) occasions on which QPR threatened Manchester City as the champions won at the Etihad. He also found time to roam forward, curling an outlandish effort against the underside of the bar at the end of a flowing move that bamboozled the West Londoners.

On the other side of defence, Liam Ridgewell enjoyed an excellent game as West Brom's highly encouraging start continued with a 2-0 home win against Everton. With the Toffees looking below the early season pace they had set with wins against Manchester United and Aston Villa, Ridgewell - who defended solidly whenever he needed to - took the opportunity to get forward, creating problems with his accurate delivery.

Wigan may have conceded twice in an entertaining 2-2 home draw against Stoke, but they handled a lot of the Potters' typical pressure pretty well. Gary Caldwell was central to that, keeping things organised and winning more than his fair share of tackles and headers as the free-kicks and crosses came pouring in. His central defensive partner is happy Hammer Winston Reid, who - in addition to notching a thundering header as Fulham were brushed aside at Upton Park - showed every sign of becoming a fixture in a typically Sam Allardyce-esque robust central defensive pairing with James Collins - who was himself another defender to enjoy a solid weekend.

When the splendid Friedel was finally beaten at White Hart Lane, it was fitting that the man who ended his defiance and earned Norwich a deserved point should have been the East Anglians' best player, Robert Snodgrass. The roving ex-Leeds man is enjoying life in the top flight, where his classy touch and willingness to get forward are already apparent. A tidy low finish gave him his first goal in the Premier League.

Snodgrass's fine performance was mirrored by that of another top-flight newcomer, Adam Lallana, who excelled for Southampton in their agonising 3-2 defeat by Manchester United at St Mary's. Like the Scot, Lallana flits about to excellent effect, and his intelligent running and shrewd use of the ball helped Nigel Adkins' side to enjoy some thoroughly productive spells against Sir Alex Ferguson's side.

In the centre of midfield, Abou Diaby had a high-quality game as Arsene Wenger's Arsenal notched up their first win of the season, producing a comprehensive team performance at Anfield to which he was central. Liverpool struggled to get their passing going, often thanks to Diaby's interventions, while the Frenchman showed more creativity than any of his Merseyside counterparts, with a storming run and subtle pass setting up what could, and should, have been a goal for Olivier Giroud.

He's joined by the indefatigable Yaya Toure who, yet again, was a towering influence for Manchester City, running the midfield against QPR and chipping in with the first goal as his side finally managed to translate their superiority into something you could put on a scoresheet. City have signed zillions of players since they came into money a while back: it would be hard to argue that they have signed a better one.

Martin O'Neill would have been feeling pretty pleased after his Sunderland side's draw at Swansea. Having spent most of the summer pursuing Wolves' Steven Fletcher, O'Neill finally got his man as the transfer window drew towards its close. Many argued that the £15 million or so paid for Fletcher was over the top, but the striker has started repaying the fee immediately. His two goals secured the point and the first of them, steered coolly into the far corner, was a finish of high class.

Robin Van Persie: what a week he's had. Van Persie followed up his first goal for Manchester United against Fulham last weekend with a hat-trick to steer his new team to victory against Saints - and he also found time to miss a penalty. A composed finish, a close-range scrambler and a deft header, the last two registered with time fast running out, underlined what a good addition Sir Alex Ferguson has made to his ranks. Without RVP, Fergie's 1,000th league game in charge of United would probably not have been celebrated with victory.

And given that landmark, who else but Fergie could possibly be this week's manager? It seems like a million years since the Scot took the reins at Old Trafford - but what has happened since is the stuff of legend. It may well be that no other manager will ever again have the kind of career in English football that he has had at United. The fact that his 1,000th game was won in such typical fashion - the late, late show once more - was about as fitting as it could have been.

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