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Aug 17, 2008

Premier League Team of the Week

And now the moment you've all been waiting for ... Soccernet's first Team of the Week in season 2008/09! Be honest, ten dramatic and action packed Premier League games were just the hors d'oeuvres to this, the main event. What do you mean no?! Anyway, first to adorn the hallowed No.1 jersey in the new campaign is Newcastle stopper Shay Given. Usually the Irishman is smuggled out of Old Trafford's back door having shipped a good five or six goals; tonight, Given can stride out with his head held high after a string of fine saves - including a point blank one with his bonce - only one goal conceded, and a thoroughly deserved Toon point to boot.

Chelsea's array of attacking stars and Big Phil's unabashed fist-pumping will attract the headlines after their 4-0 flogging of Pompey, but negotiating his way through an assured debut was Jose Boswinga, who gleefully galloped up and down the right flank in keeping with Scolari's tried and trusted formation. He registered an opening day clean sheet, and even provided a devilish cross to allow Nicolas Anelka to grab a rare goal. Boswinga's importance was underlined by his far inferior replacement, Paulo Ferriera, who may find himself conducting a magical mystery tour of Premier League benches this season.

Unperturbed by the unbridled joy engulfing the KC Stadium in Hull on Saturday, was Anthony Gardner. Many don't rate the former Spurs defender, but then City have no Ledley King to compare him with. Against Fulham Gardner calmed the back-line's nerves after Fulham were gifted an opening goal inside ten minutes by turning organiser and chief communicator for the remaining 80. Imperious in the air, consistently in the right place at the right time, and embracing an ability to sniff out danger like a youthful Lassie meant Gardner celebrated his home debut with a euphoria-inducing three points.

Andre Ooijer doesn't attract many column inches, being one of those distinguished professionals who are rarely seen netting 40 yard screamers, bedding seven glamour models at once or chucking a week's wages around the local casino but he deserves all the attention he gets after securing Paul Ince's first Premier League win at the first time of asking. Reliably unflappable at the back, Ooijer then popped up in the 94th minute to tap home from close range and give the Guvnor a smile as broad as the Mersey.

David Wheater completes our sturdy back line after starting season 08/09 like he finished the last. Few strikers outwit him, fewer outmuscle him, and every now and again he'll pop up with a goal just when you need one. With all the hype surrounding Spurs and their menagerie of new stars one almost forgot Middlesbro' were playing at the Riverside too. But play they did, and win comfortably they did too, largely thanks to Wheater's smart reactions after Afonso Alves had rattled the crossbar. He could even afford to score at the other end and still run out a winner against Juande's boys. Champions League at The Lane? You're having a laugh.

Two more Premier League debutants nestle their way into our TOTW's midfield, namely Jonas Gutierrez and Deco. At Old Trafford Gutierrez, and his pony tail, was everywhere. Unlike previously revered wingers on Tyneside, Ginola and Robert, the Spiderman looks just as happy digging in at the back as he is galloping forward. Showing neat close control, a willingness to take on and beat players, as well as a cracking work ethic and defensive-mind when needed Kevin Keegan may just have unearthed the next Geordie folk hero.

As for the diminutive Deco, many questioned whether he'd be able to cut it in England. Well, he can. Pretty well actually. On the ball from the start he rarely wasted it, and linked instantly with Messrs Cole, Lampard, Ballack et al. Oh, what's that you say? Didn't he cap a man-of-the-match display with a screamer from 35 yards into the top corner? Why yes, he certainly did.

Added to the grit and determination of Anthony Gardner was the oft-mercurial flair of Geovanni. Released by Manchester City after a disappointing year at Eastlands, he has much to prove, and a pretty small pond in which to prove it. He started like he means it though, sparking Hull's first everPremier League campaign into life with a marauding run and a devastating left-footed punt into the bottom corner. He should have doubled his tally minutes later but somehow managed to slice a Nick Barmby cross wide. Much of City's incision must come through him, and if he can cope with that burden and produce performances like this, they may well live to fight another day come May.

Will he, won't he, who bloomin' cares anymore? Just when the chat around Gareth Barry's proposed move to Liverpool had quietened once Premier League hostilities had been resumed, he goes and turns in a glittering performance against Manchester City, setting up two goals for Gabby Agbonlahor, one a wicked cross the other a perfectly weighted through ball, to render Aston Villa fans officially more confused than at any other time during the summer.

As for Agbonlahor, he potted the Premier League's first hat-trick, in just seven second half minutes at Villa Park, and it were only a perfect one too wasn't it? Capitalising on some very generous defending he hooked home a right-footed volley after a John Carew nod across goal, headed his second when gifted Grand Canyon-style space in the box, and then slotted the third with his left after racing clear of a muddled City rearguard. A big season, for both club and country, ahead for the young chap I feel.

Darn you Dean Ashton! How dare you net two goals in ten minutes after my fateful decision to bench you when selecting my soccernet.com fantasy league team for the weekend! I had a sneaky feeling he may begin the season with a bang after having knocked his penchant for cakes and pies on the head in pre-season and so it proved. His first was a belter; a cute spin away from his marker and a thunderous shot into the roof of the net, the second a much simpler affair from three yards out but still requiring a couple of nice touches. I may be wrong but I'm sure I saw the watching Fabio Capello raise an eyebrow in salute of dodgy Dean's dazzling display.

As for the Guvnor of this rabble, well, it's the Guvnor innit? Phil Brown narrowly misses out, despite marshalling his troops to a superb three points, albeit against a meek Fulham side. Paul Ince gets the nod on account of Blackburn's game with Everton being the first time a British black manager has taken charge of a Premier League team, but also because of the scurrilous rumours suggesting a possible mutiny at Ewood Park that have dogged his preparations to become a history maker. The best way to shut the critics up is by delivering drama, a committed performance and three points courtesy of a winner deep, deep, deep into injury time. Job done.

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