Premier League Team of the Week
A split weekend of five games on each day with the big one brought forward so as not to clash with the Ryder Cup singles. These 11 men brave and true and one pint-sized gaffer have achieved the entry qualifications to enter this most exalted of selections.
Paul Robinson has had a tough couple of years, having been shown the door by both England and Tottenham Hotspur. He's now at Blackburn with Paul Ince and the 'Guvnor' himself levelled high praise at the rotund custodian after Robbo kept his first clean sheet for Rovers. Fulham's in-form attack was blunted by a man who had conceded eight goals in his previous two matches. Balding sharpshooter Andy Johnson was twice denied by a man who may well be relishing life back near his northern roots.
Stoke City really are enjoying themselves in the Premier League at the moment. They're not pretty to watch and are about as aesthetically pleasing as boss Tony Pulis' mechanic's cap. But they denied Liverpool a win that would have given them a clear lead at the top of the Premier League. And Abdoulaye Faye was the rock at the centre of the Potters backline as Liverpool huffed, puffed but failed to score.
Aston Villa have a real captain marvel in Martin Laursen. The Midlands derby with West Brom may have been won by some quick-fire scoring by his team's strikers but Laursen manned the rearguard with typical vim and vigour. After a slow start to his Villa career, Laursen is now a real favourite at Villa Park.
Manchester United's trip to Stamford Bridge was always going to be the game we all wanted to see and United nearly escaped London with a win. They didn't get it but will have been happy with their point. A real factor in this was Jonny Evans, a young man with a bright future if Sunday is any guide. Standing in for Nemanja Vidic, he looked assured when playing alongside Rio Ferdinand and, while Nicolas Anelka seemed to be playing in clown shoes, Evans was unfazed by the arrival of pony-tailed actor Didier Drogba, whose physical presence failed to unsettle Evans. It is clear why Roy Keane was er, keen to get Evans on a permanent deal after his loan at Sunderland.
Ji-Sung Park scored the goal that kept United in the lead for 62 minutes and he was able to put a bit of the disappointment of being left out of the Champions League Final in Moscow with a determined and enterprising display. When Park left the field, United soon conceded. Cristiano Ronaldo was not selected to start and was below par when he came on so his relatively unsung team-mate (though he has his own terrace anthem) took his chance to shine.
Michael Ballack has suffered a fitful start to the season and wasn't even supposed to be starting the match for Chelsea. But then Deco pulled a thigh muscle and the German stroller was called into action at short notice. While United were the better team for the first 30 minutes, it was the craft of Ballack that pulled Chelsea into shape. He wasn't as spectacular as he was in last season's equivalent fixture and was not on the field when Salomon Kalou levelled matters yet he had an influential game even while not fully match-fit.
Across Manchester and no longer with Chelsea, Shaun Wright-Phillips is back home at City. And he's enjoying himself rather a lot. He could have joined Portsmouth but chose to go back to Eastlands. And he was the architect of a City thumping of Portsmouth with a goal and an assist.
Playing alongside him is none other than Robinho - the Brazilian star who is the symbol of the new City. Just like SWP he grabbed a goal and an assist and with two goals in two matches he's already silencing those who wondered about his ability to live up to his hefty pricetag and reputation for being flakey. He and Michael Ballack may not get on well in our virtual TOTW dressing room after the German questioned his choice of City over Chelsea but Robinho seems happy to let his football do the talking.
Another man with a reputation is Michael Chopra. After suffering some personal problems that include gambling addiction and a failing marriage, Chopra has not been available to Roy Keane at Sunderland. But, on his return from a spell in Tony Adams' Sporting Chance clinic, 'Chops' grabbed a brace of goals to win what had been a close match with Middlesbrough. A decent finish and a tap-in eased Mackem nerves and were Sunderland's first goals at the Stadium of Light this season.
Sitting top of the Premier League are Arsenal who overcame the visit to Bolton that they have loathed for the last six years or so. Arsenal passed the Trotters to death and Denilson was the key man. A goal and an assist for him too. The young Brazilian has begun to show why Arsene Wenger was happy to let a raft of midfielders leave in the summer and not replace them.
Gianfranco Zola is back in the Premier League. Sadly, it is not as a player. However, his first real match in charge was a 4-1 win. OK, it was the cartoon army that is Newcastle but a win is a win and West Ham played entertaining football, which has always been a pre-requisite for any Hammers boss.
Zola's compatriot Daniele Di Michele sneaked into the back door of the transfer window but arrived with a decent enough reputation as a player of genuine talent. He's had a few issues with gambling in the past - having been found guilty of illegal betting back in Serie A - but he was a real problem for Newcastle's defence, grabbing two goals and having the chance to grab a couple more as West Ham overran the Magpies.
Well done him and well done, all. Maybe see you next week.