Premier League Team of the Week
Sunday was a day for derbies. A manager can win himself plaudits and credits aplenty should he pull off a win against hated rivals. So, Martin O'Neill is our boss of the week by some distance.His Villa side are playing tremendous football and scoring goals freely. In taking apart Birmingham, any of his team could have been added to this week's TOTW. But two is enough so let's give a big hand to Ashley Young and John Carew, who both bagged a brace in a 5-1 stuffing of Blues. Young must have impressed the watching Fabio Capello while Carew's size and pace made him unplayable. Villa are mounting a late charge for Europe. Another man in derby day form was resurgent Newcastle United's Michael Owen, unrecognisable against Sunderland from the man who tottered round in a seemingly uninterested fashion for much of this season. But a fine header and a well-struck penalty, if poorly directed showed his form, and luck in the case of the latter, is coming back. And that's in his new, withdrawn striking role. Two graduates from Mark Hughes' Blackburn finishing school join our elite XI this week. Manchester United were made to work like dogs to pull out a draw at Ewood Park and, despite a second-half onslaught, it had seemed they were about to concede title advantage. And that was partly thanks to the redoubtable efforts of Ryan Nelsen in blocking everything that moved. Though even the hard-bitten Kiwi would doff his hat to Brad Friedel who was truly herculean in nets as United peppered his goal as desperation set in. And the All-American hero could do nothing about Carlos Tevez's eventual equaliser. Talking of defensive efforts, then Bolton's win over Middlesbrough can lay its foundations to just that type of thing. Joey O'Brien and Gary Cahill were rock-like as the talents of Stewart Downing and Afonso Alves made them put in a very hard shift indeed. Cahill's header led to Gavin McCann's winner as the Trotters lifted themselves out of the bottom three for the first time in a while. Freddie Ljungberg has not had a good first season at West Ham. He would admit that. And rumours of his heavy wages have met with some disquiet among the Boleyn faithful. Yet, and OK it was only Derby, he showed on Saturday why Alan Curbishley felt he had something left in the tank last summer. Whether he, or his boss, will get to show more next season is by no means certain. Another man for whom pastures new beckon this summer is surely Gilberto Silva. Yet the Brazilian, back in the Arsenal side after being kept out by younger Gunners for much of the season, showed his ability to dominate a game's tempo against Reading and showed why many a continental club will fancy adding his services. He also scored. Which helps. So too Jermaine Pennant? The Liverpool winger is way down the pecking order for Rafa Benitez but showed his worth against Fulham, scoring a goal of impudence and awareness and generally making a nuisance of himself to a Fulham side who really would rather have been doing some attacking. Michael Essien is in our TOTW. Maybe you'd forgotten that Chelsea had to play two games in a week and that their match for this round of fixtures came on Thursday against Everton. Avram Grant certainly made quite fuss over it. Amid the Israeli Stan Ogden (google image if you're confused here) and his post-match hissy fit, it was hard also to remember that Chelsea got a vital away win, mostly as a result of the hard work of Essien, who with Joe Cole seems to be keeping the Chelsea fires burning in their rather oddly stilted title challenge. He'll be missed at Anfield on Tuesday. Right, well done, all.