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Jan 6, 2013

Team of the Week

Asmir Begovic has arguably been the goalkeeper of the season so far, helping Stoke to their fine record of having only conceded 20 Premier League goals, as well as keeping nine clean sheets. Spare a thought then for poor Thomas Sorensen who has had to bide his time on the bench, only getting the occasional outing in cups. He did, however, play a huge part in securing another clean sheet for the club at Crystal Palace on Saturday, making a string of fine saves to earn Stoke a replay. He might not be in the Potters first team come next weekend but he gets a place here for his efforts.

Many people have derided Wayne Bridge for the way his career has taken a turn for the worse of late and for how, unbelievably some would say, he is still on Manchester City's books. Relatively unsuccessful loan spells at West Ham and Sunderland have been followed by a drop down to Championship side Brighton. So in front of the TV cameras against Newcastle perhaps the man had something to prove. If so, he made that point with a man-of-the-match display that included a superb assist that saw him somehow hook a ball back across the face of goal when everyone in the Amex Stadium, apart from the officials, thought it had already gone out.

If there was a player in the West Ham team that deserved to be on the winning side at Upton Park on Saturday it was James Collins. He probably won't score two better headers in his whole career, with both leaving David de Gea with no chance. However, he also deserves to be playing an FA Cup fourth round tie at the end of the month for his heroic defending. Along with James Tomkins, the pair were fantastic at keeping the United attack at bay during a late siege but they just could not hold on.

Just six minutes into the Fulham-Blackpool tie Alex Baptiste nearly made sure of his starting position in Team of the Weak, turning the ball past his own goalkeeper Matt Gilks. Luckily for the defender the ball rolled the right side of the post and Baptiste recovered to produce a commanding performance at the back. So good was he at limiting Fulham's goal-coring chances that their eventual equaliser had to be a stormer from the edge of box by Giorgos Karagounis.

One player who seems to have made the Team of the Week cut a fair few times this season is Robert Snodgrass. On that basis alone he looks to be a bargain for Norwich, who paid just £3 million for his services in the summer. He put in yet another inspiring performance for his club away to Peterborough - he was a thorn in the side of the Championship club for the entire game. He jinked into the opposition penalty box before setting up Elliott Bennett for the first goal, while making sure of the result himself with a well-taken third. Class act.

If not for Robin van Persie's stunning last-minute equaliser, it would have been a fairytale return to West Ham for Joe Cole. Any doubts over the player's ability to still perform at this level, which were only heightened by Brendan Rodgers' cold shoulder, have gone out the window after this performance. It was like watching the Cole of old as he caused Manchester United's defence problems time and time again with his play inside the final third and his dangerous deliveries into the penalty area. He set up both his side's goals with two peaches of a cross and rightly earned a standing ovation when he was substituted. If he can find some consistency, Roy Hodgson will have to take note.

Brighton's Andrea Orlandi is deserving of a place in this team for his goal against Newcastle alone. Yes, he did put in a top performance generally but his finish to open the scoring against the Magpies was probably the best seen all weekend. He made the brilliant piece of skill he used to collect Wayne Bridge's cross before turning and firing into the back of the net look easy. His manager Gus Poyet said of the goal, it was "worth the value of the ticket".

So often in the Manachester City side James Milner is the one who does all the donkey work for his team, working hard and doing the ugly side of things so that his team-mates get a chance to do the more glamorous bits and take the glory. Against Watford, however, Milner was given a more advanced role on the wing and thus was at the centre of everything City did. He put in a string of enticing crosses throughout, including for Gareth Barry's goal, and but for a top save from Jonathan Bond he could have got on the scoresheet himself.

Up until recently Clint Dempsey has been seen by many as a panic buy from Spurs or just a body to help make up the numbers. Yet lately the American has shown just what got Liverpool's (if not Spurs') tongues wagging in the first place. His display against Coventry only helps in confirming that he really has turned a corner as a proper Spurs player. Two goals and a hand in Spurs' other is not a bad return for 90 minutes, while four goals in his last five games is a record Emmanuel Adebayor would probably not mind having.

Matthew Barnes-Homer is without a doubt the first name on the teamsheet this week, being responsible for the weekend's biggest giantkilling. With Conference outfit Macclesfield 1-0 down to Championship leaders Cardiff - a side a whopping 81 places above them in the league pyramid structure - and five minutes on the clock, the result looked almost a formality. Step up Barnes-Homer who struck twice - including a winning penalty that required balls of steel to take - to write his name into FA Cup folklore.

With Demba Ba the marquee signing of the transfer window so far, there was a fair bit of pressure on the lad's shoulders as he made his Chelsea debut. Is he good enough for the champions of Europe? Will his knee hold up? So what better way than to silence your critics with two goals (yes, the first could not have been any easier) as well as an excellent all-round striker's display that boasted some fantastic link-up play and some good, old-fashioned hard work. Ba said in his post-match interview he is going to learn a lot off Fernando Torres. Judging by this performance, it is going to be the other way around.

There can only be one man in charge of this motley crew this week and that honour goes to Steve King for of course guiding his Macclesfield side to the fourth round of the FA Cup for the first time in their 139-year history. The man, who wears his heart on his sleeve, is what the Cup is all about as he applauded his fans on a lap of honour with his players after the game, with a tear in his eye. An emotional post-match interview followed. Enjoy it Sir, you deserve it.

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