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Jan 16, 2011

Premier League Team of the Week

In the tempestuous affair that is the Second City derby, Brad Friedel had little to do in a first half that saw the battle unfold in the middle of the park. But when the veteran American goalkeeper was called into action, he remained alert enough to pull off two world class saves - one from David Bentley and another from Matt Derbyshire - as Birmingham's attacks were thwarted by the still outstanding Villa No. 1.

Branislav Ivanovic obviously likes to play against Blackburn. His composed finish and assist for Anelka set Chelsea on their way to a win that kept them in the top four of the Premier League; he also scored the winner against Blackburn in October which kept them top going into November. But it wasn't just Ivanovic's prowess in front of goal, but his commanding display alongside John Terry at the back that reduced Blackburn to feeding off scraps.

Against one of the best attacking teams in the land, Nemanja Vidic personified United's resilience. A man down and, for much of the game against Spurs, swimming against the tide, Vidic was dominant in the air and timed every tackle to perfection, ensuring Peter Crouch was unable to lead the line for Spurs as Harry Redknapp would have liked. Yet another superb performance by arguably the Premier League's finest defender.

While goals for defenders don't necessarily ensure inclusion on this list, it certainly helps and Roger Johnson's ability to score crucial goals for Birmingham has dug them out of many a hole in the past. His strike against Aston Villa could have proved to be the winner but his success in keeping John Carew quiet - never an easy task - separates him from the rest of the pack.

While West Ham's Wayne Bridge may have endured the worst debut since Jonathan Woodgate pulled on the white shirt of Real Madrid, much of his nightmare was down to the outstanding performance of Arsenal's Theo Walcott. Walcott provided the pass for Robin Van Persie's opener, left Bridge on the seat of his pants to score Arsenal's second and won the penalty from the dishevelled defender for their third. A scintillating performance by a player who would be scarily good if he could only establish some consistency.

Although Roy Hodgson will not be remembered as one of Liverpool's great managers, he will at least take the credit for bringing Raul Meireles to the club. When Liverpool are without their captain Steven Gerrard it is painfully obvious, but Meireles helped fill the void with a dynamic display against a strong Everton midfield. The Portuguese linked well with Fernando Torres and Dirk Kuyt and, in addition to scoring his first Liverpool goal, was the spark of imagination in midfield that Liverpool crave without their skipper.

While it may be Gareth Bale and Rafael Van der Vaart that steal the limelight, their achievements at Spurs are almost always orchestrated by the diminutive figure of Luka Modric. Modric had his finger on the pulse for 90 minutes and reduced Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher to spectators as they toiled to get close to him. Such was Modric's influence, Alex Ferguson was forced into bringing on an additional central midfielder, Anderson, to prevent the Croatian running riot as he has throughout Harry Redknapp's reign.

As Stoke quietly march closer and closer to a Europa League place, Matthew Etherington was yet again integral to securing a win against a much-improved Bolton side. Etherington has played on both the right and left wings this season but it was his searing pace down the right that saw him win, and score, the penalty that secured the points for Stoke.

Central to Manchester City's ascent as not only top four regulars, but title-challengers, is Yaya Toure. And, more specifically, his ever-growing understanding with Carlos Tevez. Roberto Mancini is likely to use new signing Edin Dzeko as a central forward, with Tevez and David Silva in support, but tying the team together is Toure, who proved his quality again against Wolves. He started the move for his goal, City's third, in his own half before making up 90 yards to find the net, capping a fine performance that saw him cover every blade of grass.

What more can you say about Carlos Tevez? If he's not happy in England then he's doing a great job of hiding it. The Argentine scored twice against Wolves, including a fine solo effort which saw him beat three defenders before slotting home, upstaging his new strike partner Dzeko. Tevez already has 14 league goals this season and, yet again, proved why he is the first name on Mancini's teamsheet.

While it would be fair to say Peter Odemwingie had a mixed game against Blackpool, scoring twice but missing a handful of chances for his hat-trick, his impact since joining West Brom has been tangible, with his eight Premier League goals this season equating to 11 points. Odemwingie, who signed on transfer deadline day, has proved to be an inspired purchase by Roberto Di Matteo.

Tony Pulis knows Stoke's strengths, and he plays to them. Huth and Shawcross protect, Delap and Etherington provide and Jones and Fuller lead the line in what is always going to be a physical set-up. Huge credit must go to the manager, not just for what he achieved in the 2-0 win against Bolton, but in bringing Stoke up to the Premier League and establishing them as a very respectable force on relatively limited funds.

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