Team of the Week
Though the demons of his clanger in Rustenburg will probably never be exorcised, Rob Green has quietly gone about the business of restoring his damaged reputation this season. Despite his resistance being broken late on against Arsenal, when Alex Song headed home from close-range, Green's succession of excellent saves saw West Ham come tantalisingly close to being rewarded with an unlikely away point. In what was his finest post-World Cup performance, Green kept a side that had scored 12 goals in their previous three games at bay for 88 minutes with a commanding display. An England recall may not be far away.
Branislav Ivanovic has had to fight for his place in the Chelsea defence, with the formidable centre-back partnership of John Terry and Alex keeping five clean sheets from a possible seven this term. And with one eye on the returning Jose Bosingwa, Ivanovic appeared keen to stake his claim to the Blues' right-back berth, topping off an impressive display against Blackburn with the game's winning goal. With Chelsea looking flat-footed and far and away second best at Ewood Park, the Serbian remained full of energy and proved to be Chelsea's key attacking outlet on the right. As Paulo Ferreira was being readied to replace him, Ivanovic's far post header secured a late, if undeserved, win for the Blues.
With the likes of David Silva, Emmanuel Adebayor and Mario Balotelli in town, the likelihood of a towering performance by Wolves' young centre-back Richard Stearman seemed remote. But the 23-year-old defender rightly won the plaudits from his manager, Mick McCarthy, who described his performance as "brilliant". Indeed, Stearman's ability to maintain his composure after conceding a first-half penalty showed maturity beyond his years and, after the game, McCarthy cooed: "You make a mistake and give a penalty away and you could crumble against a team like that. He reacted really well and defended superbly afterwards."
When you wake up and realise you are about to spend 90 minutes defending against the physically-imposing strike partnership of Johan Elmander and Kevin Davies, going back to bed must seem like an appealing option. But Sotirios Kyrgiakos wasn't fazed by Bolton's fearsome front pair, and marshalled them effectively enough to help Liverpool claim a rare clean sheet, at the Reebok Stadium. With two goals in his previous three Premier League matches, Kyrgiakos may have fancied his chances of adding to that total against the Trotters, but his display on this occasion was all about defensive solidity.
Just as Chelsea clinched victory when they weren't at their best, Arsenal were given a run for their money by a West Ham side rooted to the bottom of the table. But Gael Clichy had the key to unlock the Hammers' defence very late on at the Emirates; his inch-perfect cross in the dying minutes found Alex Song's head and prevented Arsenal's title-challenge from stalling before it really started. In another display of defensive discipline and tireless running, Clichy's influence from left-back was evident again and helped the Gunners keep a valuable clean sheet.
Wolves had a number of heroes on the pitch to help inspire their surprise fight back against Manchester City's band of merry millionaires, but Matt Jarvis's performance was particularly eye-catching. Jarvis, signed from Gillingham in 2007, has long been tipped for an England call-up by the Molineux faithful, and they witnessed him play the role of conductor once again as he orchestrated his side's comeback. Wes Brown and then Gary Neville were tormented by Jarvis in the Carling Cup in midweek, and it was Micah Richards who played the role of right-back victim on Saturday. Richards couldn't get close to Jarvis, who had a hand in the two goals that have now dented Manchester City's title-challenge.
Rafael van der Vaart is, at the moment, perhaps the last player any defensive midfielder would want to mark, but Darren Fletcher played an integral role in reducing the Dutchman's influence during United's controversial 2-0 victory over Spurs. Fletcher's industrious display saw him cover almost every blade of grass and the Scot, so often the heartbeat of the United team, was central to many of their attacks. His ability to retain the ball and find the right pass as United burst forward was crucial in dictating the cadence of his side's play.
In a derby game that means so much to the North East, the midfield battle between captains Kevin Nolan and Lee Cattermole was always going to indicate the outcome. All afternoon, Nolan dominated the midfield, with his knack of timing his late runs to perfection causing Sunderland irreparable problems. Ultimately, he was the star of the show as an improvised flick, a calmly taken side foot and a powerful header saw him claim a stunning hat-trick that capped off a fine all-round display.
Clint Dempsey has had some great moments in the Premier League but also some quiet ones, with consistency the biggest enemy of a player who has proven on many occasions his ability at the highest level. Thankfully for Fulham, the Texan forward was in devastating mood for the visit of Wigan, scoring two excellent goals to hand the Cottagers a 2-0 victory. He climbed superbly to power an unstoppable header past Ali Al-Habsi for his first, manoeuvred acrobatically to score a second and could have had a third if not for some superb Al-Habsi saves.
Not many players can run Chelsea ragged, but former Portsmouth and Manchester City striker Benjani did his level best to do just that with a menacing diplay against the reigning champions. Chelsea's experienced defenders were left in his wake time and time again, with the Zimbabwean's darting runs, superb positional sense and aerial presence leaving John Terry and Alex in knots on more than one occasion - a feat that few Premier League forwards will achieve this season.
The excellent early season form of Andy Carroll may have limited Shola Ameobi's appearances to that of substitute, but the St James' Park stalwart made an unmistakable statement of intent in what was only his third league start this season. An expertly taken penalty and a sweet second-half volley further endeared him to the Magpies faithful - who have now been witnessing his goalscoring exploits for more than ten years. Chris Hughton can surely leave Ameobi out of his next starting line-up at his peril.
Mick McCarthy pulled off one heck of a team talk at Molineux on Saturday. After pegging back a side with a multitude of attacking options, Wolves came out for the second half like a side whose lives depended on securing victory. Their fearlessness, spirit and clinical finishing mugged Roberto Mancini of what was expected to be a straightforward three points prior to kick-off. Instead, McCarthy equipped his side to outperform City in every area of the pitch, and they succeeded. Matt Jarvis takes the plaudits for taking the game by the scruff of the neck, but McCarthy wins praise from grabbing victory from the jaws of defeat.