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Zenit sign Bart Simpson

The Toe Poke 5 hours ago
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Sep 30, 2012

Team of the Week

Sunderland manager Martin O'Neill has seen his long-running pursuit of Wolves striker Steven Fletcher pay instant dividends - but he was just as keen to focus on events at the other end of the pitch after a narrow win against Wigan. That's because goalkeeper Simon Mignolet made a crucial difference in the first half, denying James McCarthy and Arouna Kone in fine style and paving the way for Fletcher's second-half winner. O'Neill was effusive, praising his 'keeper for "two incredibly good saves".

Things really clicked for Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool at Carrow Road, where a ragged, demoralised Norwich spent much of the afternoon chasing the ball and Premier League debutant Andre Wisdom enjoyed an assured game for the Reds. The teenager was solid in defence when he needed to be, and also found time to augment what was a precise but relentless attacking performance from Rodgers' zestful team.

On the other side, Tottenham's Belgium international Jan Vertonghen had an evening to remember as Tottenham - true to AVB's word - went to Old Trafford with an attacking intent that was rewarded with a first away win over United since the days when Gary Lineker was still out there scoring goals. Vertonghen linked well with Gareth Bale to open the scoring and played a full part in repelling the frenzied United comeback that nearly, but not quite, brought them a point.

He has often been vilified in a career that has had its fair share of difficult moments, but Titus Bramble, says O'Neill, can still become "a colossus". He was solid, reliable and no-nonsense throughout the Wigan game, helping to keep the visitors at bay in a first half they dominated, and - along with Mignolet - takes the plaudits for the all-important clean sheet.

In a similar vein, Phil Jagielka bossed things at the back for Everton as they recovered from the shock of going a goal down against Southampton at Goodison to continue their fine start to the season with a 3-1 victory, keeping tabs on the dangerous Rickie Lambert and distributing the ball well from the back as David Moyes and his team enjoyed another productive outing.

Gareth Bale was integral to Tottenham's dream afternoon at Old Trafford. It was his neat touch that freed Vertonghen to open the scoring for the Londoners and, not content with that, he chipped in with a goal of his own, whizzing past a bemused Rio Ferdinand and planting a fine finish across Anders Lindegaard. And it was his shot which led to a tap-in for Clint Dempsey. All that was in the middle of a typical Bale performance: strong runs, endless industry and some fine defensive work to boot.

Paul Scholes: how is he so impervious to the march of the years? While fellow veteran Ryan Giggs had a day to forget, Scholes was as superb as ever for United: prompting, cajoling, constantly making things happen and rarely, if ever, wasting the ball. He was at the centre of their second-half revival, and his undimmed brilliance is as crucial to Fergie's team as it ever has been.

It was hard to pick one of Joe Allen and Nuri Sahin in Liverpool's plucking of the Canaries, but Sahin - who made such a difference at West Brom in the Capital One Cup - just about edges it by virtue of crowning his performance with a goal as Norwich's defence did a fine impression of the chaos theory. He set up the third goal in Luis Suarez's hat-trick and kept things moving sweetly as Liverpool put together the sort of passing display that Rodgers has been craving.

There's lots of artiness in the midfield this week, and Chelsea fans must have been dazzled by what the rested and relaxed Juan Mata did as they punctured Arsenal's early optimism with victory at the Emirates. The Spaniard seemed to be everywhere, a blur of deft movement and touches, and his free-kick, deflected in off a hapless Laurent Koscielny, turned out to be the winner for the Premier League leaders. There may be lots of talk about Oscar and Hazard, but Mata playing like this is a joy to watch.

In a weekend of goalscoring performances, the strike berths are the focus of intense competition. It's impossible, though, not to include Luis Suarez, whose second hat-trick in successive appearances at Carrow Road included brilliant finishing to augment the dismal home defending that had enabled him to open his account after less than two minutes. His third, curled in from an angle, was beautifully taken, and he also found time to set up Sahin's goal. Few players divide opinion quite as much as Suarez, but it's tough not to acknowledge the extent of his ability on days such as this.

Peter Crouch once plied his trade as a Carrow Road loanee during a difficult spell at Aston Villa, and he's now doing for Stoke what he's done for pretty much everyone else, including England: scoring goals and being a hard-working, selfless but consistently under-sung team player. Stoke hadn't won a league game before they took on Swansea at home on Saturday, but Crouch, in the right place at the right time twice, did what he does so well to end that run.

The manager of the week plaudits have to go to Andre Villas-Boas, a man who took a ridiculous amount of media flak after a ridiculously small number of games. He said he'd go to Old Trafford to attack, and he did - and his reaction at the end showed how much the victory won by that approach had meant to him. Some papers had claimed that Spurs were in crisis. Actually, they're fifth.

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