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Feb 24, 2013

Team of the Week

Fulham manager Martin Jol cut a relieved figure after his side's narrow win at home to Stoke - and he had cause to say a heartfelt thankyou to goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer as well as spectacular goalscorer Dimitar Berbatov. Schwarzer made two key stops to preserve the 1-0 scoreline, keeping out Jonathan Walters' low penalty and denying Peter Crouch after a defensive error had enabled the striker to gangle his way through. In addition, his handling from Stoke's crossing was solid and assured.

Manchester United produced an effective, no-nonsense awayday to take another big step towards the title at QPR, and it was one illuminated by the contribution of Brazilian defender Rafael. Not only did he score the sort of goal of which any attacker would have been proud - a long-distance screamer into the top corner - he also contributed handsomely to his side's clean sheet, clearing off the line when Rangers defender Christopher Samba's header had David de Gea struggling.

Wigan's Maynor Figueroa had an inspired game as his side - the most ludicrously unpredictable in the Premier League - passed their way to a 3-0 win at the Madejski Stadium. Figueroa and his fellow defenders saw off first half pressure from the Royals - but then he cut loose as the Latics started streaming forward in crisp style. His header set up Arouna Kone's first goal and he played a fine one-two with Franco Di Santo before beating Adam Federici to score the Latics' third.

Ask Norwich fans about the impact made by central defender Sebastien Bassong since his arrival from Tottenham and they'll tell you it has been immense. Bassong helped keep the Canaries in the game against Everton at Carrow Road when they were 1-0 down and struggling, winning key headers and challenges and rallying his team-mates for the battle. Not only that, he helped win the ball at the far post to set up Grant Holt for the 94th-minute strike that gave the East Anglians a first win in ten league games.

Newcastle and Southampton were involved in a humdinger at St James' Park, with the French-accented home side coming out on top. Their energy in midfield played a key part in that, and few showed quite so much of it as Cheik Tiote, who was back to his hard-running, hard-tackling best. His ability to just keep on winning the ball, allied with no-frills, constructive passing, dragged Newcastle back into the game after they had been stung by an early Southampton goal and allowed the playmakers to flourish.

Yaya Toure, as so often since his arrival at Manchester City, made the difference as they kept their barely-detectable title hopes alive by beating Chelsea at the Etihad. With Roberto Mancini's men struggling for a breakthrough against the Blues, Toure decided enough was enough, collecting a pass from Silva and steaming past two defenders inside the area before curling the most composed and subtle of finishes low beyond Cech. A tremendous goal - and, as ever, he won a whole heap of challenges and rarely wasted a pass.

Sometimes it's hard to believe that Ryan Giggs has been playing top-flight football since approximately 1927, and he produced another one of his Old Father Time-defying performances at Loftus Road. His constantly intelligent running, simple and effective distribution and ability to find time were all central to a United performance in which things were done simply, well and unspectacularly. Their victory was put beyond doubt by the Welshman, who timed his run to perfection to meet Nani's pass and steer the ball coolly beyond Julio Cesar - not the easiest of 'keepers to beat - ten minutes from the end.

Not for the first time, Arsenal's fans and the club's manager Arsene Wenger were grateful to the splendid Santi Cazorla, a man who can often seem a class above some of the more tentative players around him. Two-goal Cazorla, ably assisted by Jack Wilshere, sparkled for the Gunners and dragged them to victory over Villa with a late strike after (and as seen before) they had allowed their opponents back into the game. But it wasn't only the goals, it was also everything else Cazorla brings - great technique and passing, for a start.

When Chelsea fans wince at the struggles of the increasingly forlorn Fernando Torres, some must wonder why Romelu Lukaku was ever sent on loan to West Bromwich Albion in the first place. Lukaku has enjoyed a superb personal season to help West Brom to a superb collective one, and was again the star as they beat Sunderland at the Hawthorns. His muscular directness was a threat all afternoon, he effortlessly converted a penalty for his first, and he got the luck his work deserved when he chased down a backpass and Simon Mignolet's clearance careered off him and into the net. He's as unstoppable as Torres is currently stoppable.

Arouna Kone was at the cutting edge of Wigan's tip-top afternoon in Berkshire. It's safe to say that Roberto Martinez's don't always translate their good play into the goals it could or should bring, but when Kone is in this sort of form they have a much better chance of doing so. His second goal was wonderful - Jean Beausejour left Reading floundering with a through ball and the striker finished the job in style, lofting it nonchalantly over the advancing Adam Federici.

Papiss Cisse was in the mood for Newcastle, crowning his performance with an authentic goal of the season contender and making a thorough nuisance of himself throughout. His day didn't get off to the most auspicious of starts - he bundled wide from a few yards early on - but then he hit his stride. And when goalkeeper Rob Elliott's long punt downfield dropped into his path more than 30 yards out he didn't hesitate, lashing the most spectacular of first-time shots high over the 'keeper and into the net. "A real special one," said manager Alan Pardew - and you can't argue with that.

After a dispiriting run of league games without a win, manager of the week Chris Hughton deserves plaudits for his bravery in making the uncharacteristically early substitution that transformed what looked a certain Norwich defeat into a dramatic Norwich victory. More than half an hour remained when Hughton opted to replace Luciano Becchio with loanee Kei Kamara - and his decision was rewarded as the striker completely shook up the game, galvanising the Canaries even before his thumping headed equaliser paved the way for Holt's late, late winner.

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