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50-50: Liverpool vs. Real Madrid

Champions League 8 hours ago
Read
Jan 13, 2008

Team of the Week

Maik Taylor finds himself between the sticks in this edition of Team of the Week for playing a key role in Birmingham's 1-1 draw away to Arsenal.

The Northern Irish stopper put in a fine performance against one of the most fluent attacking sides in the Premier League and without his saves the Blues would surely have lost the game. Although Taylor was beaten by a penalty he did manage to get a hand to Adebayor's spot kick, displaying his agility and reading of the striker. He cements his place through two other saves; one a point blank header from Eduardo and another headed effort from Senderos.

From the same game we have our first of three defenders, Liam Ridgewell. The Birmingham central defender has been enjoying good form all season and his effort typified what was a determined and dogged display against Arsenal. He set the perfect example for his teammates, running tirelessly, reading play well and blocking anything in his path, including a goal-bound shot from Adebayor.

On the left of Ridgewell we find Everton's unlikely match-winner Joleon Lescott. Whether Lescott is a left back or central defender seemed a moot point when he deftly finished with the aplomb of a striker against Man City. After a poor showing in the Carling Cup against Chelsea, when he put through his own goal under pressure from that giant striker Shaun Wright-Phillips (and then fluffed a late chance to rescue a draw), Lescott not only bagged the game's only goal but kept a clean sheet into the bargain.

Filling the final place in our expansive 3-4-3 formation is Chelsea right back Juliano Belletti. Not only was the Brazilian-born defender on target with one of the most audacious shots of the season but he also linked up superbly on the right flank with Joe Cole, an axis of creativity which caused endless problems for Tottenham. Attacking flair is all well and good but as a defender not conceding is just as important, so kudos to Belletti for adding a clean sheet to his report card for the day's efforts.

It would be churlish in the extreme to omit Cristiano Ronaldo from midfield after the supremely gifted Portuguese hit is first hat-trick for Manchester United in the 6-0 demolition of Newcastle United. One incident in particular summed up his game; his and United's outrageous first goal. Instead of going by the book and trying to curl a freekick over and around the wall Ronaldo opted instead to wait for the wall to jump before slotting his shot underneath the defenders who were in mid-air. Invention and execution. Genius.

Shaun Wright-Phillips caps a good week with a place in our side; he will be pleased. Not only did the livewire star score in front of the new England manager midweek but he doubled his tally for the week with the goal that clinched the win over Spurs. He was involved in almost all Chelsea's attacking play, going close late on with a shot and setting up new boy Anelka. Quick, with no shortage of flair SWP is close to a return to his electric best.

Middlesbrough, it is fair to say are not the coolest, nor the most exciting, inspiring or interesting side in the league, but that shouldn't mean we ignore their players when they do well. So, step forward Stewart Downing. He might look silly in those red boots (Stew, you play for Boro) but they put in some brilliant crosses and came about an inch from scoring a great goal. And it was his ball in from the left flank that so unnerved the Liverpool defence and resulted in Boateng's goal.

Mark Noble might not have scored the goal that secured all three points for West Ham in their 2-1 win over Fulham, but without his determined involvement the chance would never had presented itself. In chasing down an over-hit pass/lost cause Noble showed the heart West Ham fans love, that he then managed hook his foot around the ball and deliver the perfect ball for Ferdinand to slot home ensures he will have a special place on Curbishley's team-sheet.

Up front we find Aston Villa's Norwegian man mountain John Carew. His two goal haul provided the foundations for Villa's 3-0 win over Reading on Saturday. Not only did Carew finish his two goals well but he also showed impressive link-up play with both Young and Agbonlahor.

Although Alan Smith was sent off for arguing that Tevez's second goal did not cross the line, unfortunately for Smudge it did and added a nice sheen to a solid display from Carlos Tevez. Here is another fine example of a player who reads the game well, understands the movement of his team-mates and can deliver a pass with pinpoint accuracy. In a bygone era Old Trafford was famed for its 'holy trinity' of Law, Best and Charlton. Few could argue that Rooney, Ronaldo and Tevez are not the modern day equivalent.

Usually it's Steven Gerrard that rescues Liverpool from ignominious defeat. But over the last month or so young Spanish striker Fernando Torres has staked a claim to the mantle of Anfield hero with some match-winning, or in the case of Saturday's game at Boro, match-saving performances. Unlike so many mediocre strikers Torres is blessed with that rare ability to conjure something out of nothing, which he did at the Riverside when he latched onto a loose ball before driving home an unstoppable shot with 19 minutes to spare. Not his best game for Liverpool, but one of his better goals and at an important juncture.

Leading this week's team into battle will be the imperious Alex Ferguson. He must have been rubbing his hands with glee when he saw that Birmingham had nicked a point from Arsenal in the 3pm kick-off, because he knew that when his charges took the pitch at 5.15pm a win would take Manchester United top, albeit on goal difference. He ensured that with six goals United made the most of Arsenal's slip up; the win was almost certain, but the emphatic manner had Fergie's finger prints all over it.

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