Good Weekend, Bad Weekend

The final weekend of November established the two-horse title race in the Premier League and may have also witnessed the return of Liverpool to winning ways. While on Sunday night all eyes were on the Nou Camp where, although there was only one goal, the match suggested a great battle ahead this season between Barcelona and Real Madrid.

Good Weekend

Chelsea

Carlo Ancelotti’s side produced a champions’ performance at the Emirates to continue their excellent start to the season and put a further marker down as the best team in the Premier League.

Whilst Chelsea were defensively sound and rarely looked troubled despite Arsenal’s possession, the main difference between the two sides was Didier Drogba (revised 3/1 favourite for the golden boot), who has still never lost to Arsenal. The Ivorian striker was a bulldozer up front and exposed many of the weaknesses the Gunners have at the back.

Two impressive finishes added to Drogba’s fine display and if he continues in this form he could well scoop up many of the individual awards at the end of the season. Special mention should also be made for Ashley Cole who may be the most hated footballer at the Emirates but rose above the boos to set up both the goals late in the first half.

The game at Eastlands next Saturday now takes on great importance for the Blues and Manchester United. If Chelsea can win at City they’ll be wel poised to exploit a run of very winnable games, and on their current momentum the Pensioners could gain a healthy lead at the top of the table.

(Chelsea are 9/2 to win the Premier League & FA Cup)

Ryan Giggs

What a legend. It has almost become passé to describe the qualities of the Welsh Wizard but as a result Giggs can get lost in all the chat about great players in the modern game.

The bottom line is that Ryan Giggs will go down as one of the greatest players in English football and the only question now is how much longer can he continue terrorising defences and picking up winners’ medals.

A day before his 36th birthday, Giggs was at his best in a free role at Fratton Park where he made all the difference for United. He was responsible for two assists and also scored his 100th league goal.

It isn’t only Giggs’ fitness, technique, pace and guile on the ball that should be admired but also his mentality. Early in the second half it was Giggs who fed Rooney twice, with the second inch-perfect pass leading to United’s second goal.

There are a whole lot of pretenders to the throne at Old Trafford, but there will only be one Ryan Giggs.

(Manchester United are 5/2 to win the Premier League)

Liverpool

After enduring some wretched form in recent weeks, Liverpool fans will be clinging on to the Merseyside derby victory as the turning point in their season. Rafa Benitez’s team hadn’t won in the league since beating Manchester United last month at Anfield and coming just days after their Champions League exit, this was an impressive result.

It is often said that Liverpool only have a few world class players and the rest of Benitez’s squad is just not good enough. Pepe Reina should undoubtedly be included alongside the likes of Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard – the Spaniard’s double save from Cahill and Fellaini was probably the best seen this season and was a major reason behind the win.

With Arsenal, Spurs, Aston Villa and Manchester City failing to win, these three points, in a game where they struggled, could be massive.

(Liverpool are 1/7 to win nothing this season)

Wigan

The feeling around the DW Stadium is likely to be very different this week after the Latics saw off Sunderland just six days after their mauling at White Hart Lane. Hugo Rodallega produced a fine winner to deny Steve Bruce on his return to the club and Roberto Martinez’s side look likely to be fighting for a Europa League spot rather than battling relegation.

(Wigan are 11/2 to be relegated)

Jimmy Bullard

Jimmy “the wig” has taken all the plaudits for his highly amusing celebration but it has been forgotten just how easily Bullard dispatched the spot kick. With ten minutes remaining, and against an impressive keeper in Shay Given, Bullard was full of confidence as he earned Hull a point.

Since returning from injury Bullard has played four games and played a major part in the comebacks against West Ham and City and the win against Stoke. Hull and Phil Brown have a talisman who can keep them up.

(Hull are 8/13 second favourites to be relegated)

Lee Bowyer

Bowyer, 32, is in the midst of a Premier League renaissance and has now earned Birmingham two successive 1-0 wins that have pushed Alex McLeish’s side up to eleventh.

(Birmingham are 7/2 to be relegated)

West Ham

Burnley’s three late goals put a slight dampener on the Hammers’ win on Saturday but it lifted Gianfranco Zola’s side out the relegation zone. The West Ham Academy continues to churn out youngsters like Jack Collison and Junior Stanislas who can score in the Premier League and if Scott Parker can produce the form he showed against Owen Coyle’s side, West Ham will stay up despite Carlton Cole’s likely injury absence.

(West Ham are 6/1 to be relegated)

Pep Guardiola, Zlatan Ibrahimovic & Carlos Puyol

Barcelona didn’t produce the most impressive performance to see off Real Madrid, but the Catalan giants did just enough to open up a two point lead at the top of La Liga.

Any coach that sees a substitute score five minutes after coming on should be congratulated and many who doubt Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s “big-game mentality” will have been surprised at just what a calm finish he produced at the back post.

There is of course one fall guy from Guardiola’s decision and Ibrahimovic’s winner: Thierry Henry. The Frenchman currently looks like a shadow of the striker that lit up English football and the denouement of “Le Hand of Henry” may be that it was the beginning of the end for the French captain who appears to have lost a yard of pace.

A special mention must also be made for Carlos Puyol who was immense at the back for Barca as Kaka and Ronaldo probed in front of him. The Barcelona captain is a symbol of the club and compares favourably with John Terry at Chelsea and Steven Gerrard at Liverpool. Like Ryan Giggs, Puyol is often forgotten but the number of winners’ medals in his collection is a true indicator of his worth.

(Barcelona are 2/5 favourites to win La Liga)

Laurent Blanc

After comfortably topping their tough Champions League group, Bordeaux followed up their win over Juventus by returning to the top of Ligue 1 thanks to a 3-0 win at Nancy. Blanc currently looks like the most likely candidate to take over from Sir Alex Ferguson if he ever abdicates at Old Trafford.

(Bordeaux are 11/8 second favourites to win Ligue 1)

Klaas-Jan Huntelaar

It has been a difficult year for the Dutch hitman, but his super-sub heroics for AC Milan at Catania last night may have tipped the balance in his favour. Two goals in injury time won the match for the Rossoneri and by scoring his first goals for the club (one with the left, the second with his right) Huntelaar has surely secured his stay at the San Siro past January.

(AC Milan are 5/1 to win Serie A)

Genoa

A derby win over high flying Sampdoria is just reward for a club that is steadily progressing and is in with a shout of reaching the Champions League this season.

(Genoa are 5/1 to win Serie A)

Stefan Keissling

The hat-trick hero as Bayer Leverkusen returned to the top of the Bundesliga.

(Bayer Leverkusen are 5/2 second favourites for the Bundesliga)

Bad Weekend

Arsenal

Arsene Wenger’s bizarre post-match comments, which included “everything went against us” and Didier Drogba isn’t a striker that does very much, underlines just what a bitter blow Chelsea’s easy 3-0 win was for “The Professor.”

Chelsea’s key performers were well known to Wenger which may be why defeat was so hard to stomach. Didier Drogba was recommended to the Arsenal boss in 2000 according to a report in L’Equipe today, and the fact that Ashley Cole assisted the two killer goals at the end of the first half may also have been difficult to take.

The Arsenal boss had backed his team before the London derby but on reflection it is likely that the Gunners would have fared little better had Robin van Persie, Nicklas Bendtner, Gael Clichy and Abou Diaby been available.

Against a side packed with powerful players Arsenal were brushed aside and for all their possession, the Gunners barely tested Petr Cech. Thomas Vermaelen, billed as the answer to Arsenal’s defensive problems, was bullied by Drogba and the fact the two Chelsea goals late in the first half underlined the deficiencies of a defence with no real leader.

Arsenal fans should be glad to see the back of November, traditionally a month where they struggle. Injuries and poor form have left them all but out of the title race and in the mix with the also-rans chasing a Champions League spot.

(Arsenal are 1/4 to win nothing this season)

Everton

David Moyes’ side languish just three points off the relegation zone after their third successive Premier League defeat. Everton were unlucky not to get anything out the Merseyside derby but the lack of a new stadium and galling losses to Hull and Liverpool within four days have left the Toffees staring down the barrel.

Relief may come in the Europa League with a decent result at AEK Athens on Wednesday night but the suspicion remains that without some massive players (Neville, Jagielka and Arteta) Everton will continue to struggle.

(Everton are 16/1 to be relegated)

Manchester City

Seven successive draws in the Premier League has set a new record and question marks remain over Mark Hughes and the City defence. The clash with Chelsea next Saturday is turning into a very tasty fixture.

(Manchester City are EVS to win the ‘Without Big Four’ league)

Burnley

Owen Coyle’s team have conceded 25 goals in away matches in the Premier League and have looked naive in all their encounters away from Turf Moor. Burnley have even let in more goals away from home than Wigan who famously conceded nine in one match.

Stoke proved last season that it is possible to stay up thanks to good home form, Burnley should be able to produce better defensive performances than they did at Upton Park against a relegation rival.

(Burnley are 13/8 to be relegated)

Wolves

If Wolves don’t sack Mick McCarthy now they will go down without a fight.

(Wolves are 4/6 to be relegated)

Avram Grant

The true test of Avram Grant’s managerial skills comes now with a group of players far worse than the one he inherited at Chelsea.

(Portsmouth are 1/2 favourites to be relegated)

Valencia & Sevilla

Both wannabe title challengers failed to take advantage of El Classico with tame home draws against Mallorca and Malaga respectively.

Juventus

Ciro Ferrara and “The Old Lady” have had a pretty disastrous week, losing to Bordeaux and then Cagliari. AC Milan have nicked in to take second spot in Serie A as Inter Milan run away with another scudetto.

(Juventus are 6/1 to win Serie A)

Gregory Coupet

The veteran keeper picked up a nasty looking injury in PSG’s 1-0 win over Auxerre and this might be the last time we see Coupet playing professional football.

The incident can be seen here.

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