Team of the Week
After Birmingham City's 1-0 triumph over champions Chelsea on Saturday, there was only one man who was going to be this team's goalkeeper. Ben Foster was unbeatable at St. Andrew's and, try as they might, Carlo Ancelotti's men could not find a way past the England stopper. After taking the lead and adopting defensive tactics that would have had Roberto Mancini salivating, Birmingham's goal was the subject of a Chelsea siege. Rather than buckling under the pressure, Foster excelled, producing save after save to frustrate the visitors and delight manager Alex McLeish.
Pablo Zabaleta enjoyed one of his finest outings in a Manchester City shirt on Sunday, playing a central role in the Citizens' 4-1 demolition of a hapless Fulham. He hammered home the all-important second goal with a thundering right-foot strike and produced an energetic and committed performance. Instrumental in City's fourth and final goal, his low drive being diverted beyond Mark Schwarzer by Carlos Tevez, he showed good vision and passing ability and his constant bursts forward kept the dangerous Carlos Salcido at bay.
At half time during the north-London derby, no Spurs player stood a chance of making the team of the week. Two goals down at the Emirates, Tottenham had been hopeless prior to their stunning second-half comeback. Clearly fired up by returning to his old stomping ground, newly installed captain William Gallas led by example in the second half and helped his team cut out the defensive lapses that had cost them so dear in the opening 45 minutes. Having miraculously taken the lead inside the last ten minutes, Gallas and company limited the Gunners to optimistic strikes on goal and held out for a memorable victory. His attitude has been called into question in the past, but he certainly showed his ability as a leader this weekend.
Birmingham's rearguard showed incredible determination and desire to secure their win over Chelsea. One man who epitomised their performance was Roger Johnson, the former Cardiff City defender who, along with Scott Dann, was a rock at the heart of the City defence. His tackle to halt Ramires' charge into the penalty area was stunning and his never-say-die attitude was a huge factor in the Blues' most impressive Premier League win to date.
Manchester United toiled in the opening half against Wigan, struggling to break down Roberto Martinez's side. It was Patrice Evra who finally provided Fergie's team with a breakthrough as he stooped to nod home Park's pinpoint cross and the French flyer is a constant menace to every team he plays, tough in the tackle and dangerous in the opposition's half. He is never afraid to go in where it hurts and his vocal cajoling often lifts the performance of his team-mates. If this misfiring United squad is to maintain a title challenge, Evra will be essential to them.
Morten Gamst Pedersen cannot seem to stop scoring for Blackburn Rovers at the moment; his brace in their 2-0 win over Aston Villa continuing his impressive recent form. His opener from a right-wing free kick was either a superb shot on goal or an overhit cross, but all that matters is his left peg set Rovers on their way to victory in a tightly-fought contest. He was 'Jonny on the spot' to tap in his second after the break, making the most of some lacklustre marking from the visitors. With new owners now in place, the Norwegian wideman showed Sam Allardyce he certainly won't need to invest their money in a new left winger.
Rafael van der Vaart continues to make a mockery of players who "need time to adapt" to the Premier League, consistently punishing defences with a flurry of goals and assists. His penalty against Arsenal was the first time he has found the net away from White Hart Lane and it followed a sublime assist for Gareth Bale's earlier goal. It was the Dutchman who delivered the cross for Younes Kaboul to flick home the winner and he is putting teams to the sword with consummate ease. If he continues this form, the reported £8 million Spurs paid for his services is going to look like peanuts.
Bolton's ascent towards the upper echelons of the table may be enough to give some Trotters fans a nosebleed, but Owen Coyle's men thoroughly deserve their lofty perch and they continued their recent run with a 5-1 thumping of Newcastle. Stuart Holden has formed a formidable partnership with Fabrice Muamba in midfield and the American is beginning to look like a real find. The commitment he shows in his performances is symptomatic of Bolton's spirit and, with the club currently in financial trouble, they may have a tough task holding onto their rising star.
Matthew Etherington has been nothing short of excellent since he arrived at Stoke and he was at it again in their 3-0 win over West Brom at the Hawthorns. His second-half penalty broke the deadlock in a tight game and set the Potters on their way to a third-straight win. Everything good about Stoke's play seems to come through him and he has fully justified Tony Pulis' faith in him and, with England wingers struggling to impress for the Three Lions, maybe he could be in line for a call up?
One of the revelations of this season has been that Johan Elmander is not a terrible footballer after all. His £10 million price tag looked bafflingly inaccurate as he struggled through his first season in England, but this season he has hit the ground running. Another two goals against Newcastle put the Swede level with Andy Carroll as the division's top scorer and his partnership with Kevin Davies has been the reason for Bolton's impressive form.
Luke Varney must have to regularly pinch himself. In August he had been frozen out at Championship club Derby, in November he is scoring an absolute beauty to hand Blackpool yet another win in the top flight. His volleyed effort against Wolves was the stuff of dreams, and his upturn in fortunes has more than a hint of fairytale to it. He will be hoping Ian Holloway sees fit to make his loan move permanent in January.
Whatever plans Harry Redknapp made ahead of Spurs' clash with Arsenal did not work. His team were out performed in every area in the opening period on Saturday, so it was clear something needed to change. He decided to introduce Jermain Defoe for the ineffectual Aaron Lennon with stellar consequences, as the added threat of a second striker helped Spurs push forward and eventually overhaul a shell-shocked Arsenal team. A half-time teamtalk to beat all others.