It was a weekend that was at times as smooth as a Guti backheel, as bleak as a cold stare from the lugubrious one and as heroic as a late winner off the head of a man who looks to save face for club and country. There was a relegation 6-pointer and a massive title implication match between old foes, all offering the best of the Barclays Premier League. There were of course quality performances all across England, Jozy Altidore energetically for Hull City setting up a goal and winning a penalty, Dirk Kuyt’s workmanlike performance at Anfield and Steven Fletcher’s fine piece of skill to slot home and equalize for Burnley against Chelsea. Before the second ever Premier League Footballer of the Week is awarded, here are a few more than worthy performances that shouldn’t go unnoticed.
Honorable Mention -
Jamie O’Hara, Portsmouth – His side came out on the short end of a 2-0 scoreline at Eastlands to Manchester City, but the on-loan midfielder from Spurs was beyond solid for Pompey. Portsmouth set up with a 4-3-3 with O’Hara starting on the left side of midfield. What impressed me about O’Hara was his ability to be defensive minded when he needed to be coupled with his ability to think forward when the opportunity presented itself. Pompey were unlucky not to take the lead in the first half as O’Hara’s low, well-struck shot took a deflection and should have found it’s way into Given’s goal. City cleared their line with O’Hara left to rue his luck. O’Hara rarely misplaced a pass the entire day, I counted one failed attempt in the second half to twenty plus successful forward passes. His 54th minute attempt on goal trickled just past the post, but was another low, well struck shot after some nifty 1, 2 passing that could have resulted in a goal.
O’Hara is calm on the ball and takes passes comfortably and with poise. His low shots, whether on target or not are a welcome relief from watching strikers continuously blast delusional shot after shot into row zed. Despite their luck, Portsmouth and specifically O’Hara saw out their shifts in a game that very well could have ended 2-2. O’Hara, the Pompey players and supporters deserve better than their current state of affairs.
Gabriel Agbonlahor, Aston Villa – The England striker scored both of his teams goals in a business as usual performance as Martin O’Neill’s men look to stay in reach of that coveted fourth spot. Villa are now 2 points off Tottenham who have multiple teams breathing down their back, but Villa stay close having played one less match. Agbonlahor was partnered up front with fellow Englishman Emile Heskey as both forward players looked to benefit from some quality service from Villa’s talented midfield. Agbonlahor did just that. In a first half four minute span, Gabby beat out Chris Smalling in the air to head home Villa’s opener. The Manchester United-bound Smalling failed to recognize Agbonlahor’s aerial prowess and was left rooted to the ground as Mark Schwarzer picked the ball out of the Fulham goal. Minutes later, in one of the weekend’s finest moments of individual skill, Agbonlahor spun circles around Brede Hangeland and curled an impressive shot around Schwarzer to claim all three points for Villa.
Premier League Footballer of the Week -
Wayne Rooney, Manchester United – Sharing the plaudits with a certain mysterious number 17 named Nani who played like a man possessed for United against Arsenal, Wayne Rooney was brilliant yet again for the Champions, leaving United fans chuffed at the outcome and wondering where these performances from Nani have been throughout the ’09-’10 season. Rooney’s pace, fitness levels, striking ability, passing ability and all around desire to play football and win make Rooney a manager’s dream and he certainly carries the hopes and dreams of an entire nation on his shoulders for this summer’s World Cup.
In one of the best examples of effective counter-attacking football since Manchester United sliced Arsenal up in last season’s Champions League semi-final 2nd leg, United (Park to Rooney to Nani back to Rooney) produced a stunning, 13 second (36:10 to 36:23) gem of a goal to go up 2-0 on Arsenal. The quality of the goal itself was Rooney’s ability to burst forward to receive Nani’s ball into the box after passing to Nani in the first place.
After Rooney found Nani out wide on United’s right flank to start the counter attack, he then made up the 10-15 yards he was behind Nani. Nani then carried the ball over half the length of the pitch to find a bursting Rooney who was now 5 yards in front of Nani and two steps into Arsenal’s box where he met the ball with a hard, right footed shot into the back of the net. Simply stunning, breathtaking and if you blinked or looked down to sip your coffee, you’d have missed it.
Manchester United will consider a message sent to Chelsea as this season’s title race continues to gain steam. If Wayne Rooney can continue his current form, United will certainly have a say in this year’s race. Anxious eyes now look to the 3rd of April visit of Chelsea to Old Trafford for what could be a title decider as both clubs stay in top form.