Good Weekend, Bad Weekend

With the weekend just gone being almost the only full Premier League weekend of January, with only Portsmouth-Birmingham postponed, it looks like the “Big Three” took a major step away from the chasing pack. Chelsea, United and Arsenal all won whilst the next team to win in the division was Everton, who moved up to tenth. In Europe, Lionel Messi scored his 101st goal for Barcelona but on Sunday Ronaldinho took all the plaudits with a hat-trick that surely even made Dunga sit up and take note.

Good Weekend

Chelsea: The demolition of Sunderland was not only impressive for the quality of football and the players missing (Essien, Drogba etc.) but because Carlo Ancelotti’s side continued to press for goals even when the game was well safe.

When Roman Abramovich bought the West London club this was the type of football he was hoping to watch and although Sunderland were woeful, Florent Malouda impressed and Ashley Cole scored one of the goals of the season. With winnable league matches against Birmingham, Burnley and Hull, the visit of Arsenal in early February looks like a monumental clash.

(Chelsea are 5/6 to win the Premier League)

Arsenal: The Reebok could well have been a banana skin for many teams on Sunday. With Owen Coyle installed as boss and the crowd behind the home team, Arsenal negotiated a tricky away fixture with all the class we have come to expect from Arsene Wenger’s team and are now closing in on first position.

Without midfield linchpins Denilson and Alexandre Song, Cesc Fabregas rose to the fore with a brilliant performance and a fine goal. Fran Merida also produced an impressive finish – control with the left, finish with the right – to put the Gunners on course for another win over Bolton and then a run of games (Aston Villa, Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool) that will tell us if this side can win the league.

(Arsenal are 4/1 to win the Premier League)

Manchester United: In truth United were not great against Burnley on Saturday and the 3-0 scoreline probably flattered the champions. Despite all their injury problems and the fact that Sir Alex Ferguson’s side have not hit top form this season, the Red Devils are right in the mix and with Rio Ferdinand and Owen Hargreaves to return, it still feels too early to write them off.

(Manchester United are 7/2 to win the Premier League)

Everton: David Moyes’ men have shown a steady improvement in recent weeks and could be the side to avoid in the second half of the campaign. The win over City was hugely important to the Everton boss and his players after the transfer shenanigans surrounding Joleon Lescott’s move to Eastlands in the summer.

Marouane Fellaini was immense in the Everton midfield and the Belgium midfielder could well be the transfer target for City and a host of other big spending clubs in the summer. Elsewhere, whilst Steven Pienaar and Tim Cahill have Louis Saha to buzz around, this Everton side will always be a threat.

(Everton are 5/1 to finish in the Top Six)

Blackburn: Under pressure Sam Allardyce needed the win over Fulham which pushed Blackburn up to twelfth. They had not won since a 2-0 victory at Bolton in November and Big Sam will be hoping this inspires them to some heroics at Villa Park on Wednesday in the second leg of the Carling Cup.

(Blackburn are 21/1 outsiders to win the Carling Cup)

Wigan: The Latics had been on a horrible run in the league, picking up just one point out of 15 in their last five Premier League games. This author was among those who felt Roberto Martinez would be an instant success in the top division.

But, defensively the Spaniard has struggled to organise his backline in the first half of the campaign, though there are signs of improvement. Hugo Rodallega and Charles N’Zogbia on the right could be a real threat and if Martinez continues to show faith in the emerging James McCarthy, Wigan could well push up the table in the coming weeks.

(Wigan are 7/1 to be relegated)

Boaz Myhill: A terrific performance at White Hart Lane secured an unexpected point for Hull.

(Hull are 5/7 to be relegated)

Lionel Messi: At 22, “The Flea” became the youngest ever player to score 100 goals for Barcelona. This was just the icing on the cake for the Catalan giants who moved five points clear of Real Madrid and also gained revenge on Sevilla who had knocked them out the Copa del Rey last week.

(Barcelona are 9/5 to win nothing this season)

Sergio Canales: Scored again to add to his burgeoning reputation.

Ronaldinho: The buck-toothed Brazilian rolled back the years and produced a master class against ten man Siena. The third goal in particular showed Dinho at his swashbuckling best.

AC Milan are now six points behind leaders Inter with a game in hand and face their great rivals next Sunday night.

(Ronaldinho is 14/1 to be the Serie A top goalscorer)

Luca Toni: The veteran striker’s brace for Roma on Sunday were his first goals since scoring against Hoffenheim last May. It would be no surprise if Toni bangs in the goals in Rome to secure a World Cup place in the Italy squad.

(Roma are 11/8 to have a top 3 finish)

Lille: Arguably the in-form team in Europe. The victory over PSG on Saturday was their eighth successive win in all competitions.

(Lille are 11/1 to win Ligue 1)

Benfica & Sporting Braga: As Porto continue to stutter, these two are locked on 39 points at the top of the table and look like being the teams that will battle it out for the Portuguese title.

(Benfica are 1/4 to win the league, Braga are 4/1)

Egypt: It seems that in the majority of previews for the Africa Cup of Nations, the Pharaohs were one of the last teams to be mentioned in the list of favourites even though they came to Angola looking for their third successive title.

Comfortable winners over Nigeria and Mozambique, Hassan Shehata’s team appear to be the most organized with the best attacking players in Mohamed Zidane, Emad Metab, Shikabala and Mohamed Nagy Gedo, who scored probably the goal of the tournament on Saturday.

(Egypt are 4/1 to win the African Cup of Nations, 8/5 to reach the final)

Bad Weekend

Liverpool: A woeful game had a disappointing denouement for Rafa Benitez and his side as Robert Huth completed another shocking week in the season from hell for Liverpool. The Merseyside giants barely deserved to win at the Britannia and failed to dominate a Stoke side who are one of the most average in the division,

It has long been said that Liverpool without Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard are as good as Blackburn and with David Ngog leading the line at Stoke on Saturday it is difficult to disagree. Benitez’s only replacement for the young French striker was another youngster in Spaniard Dani Pacheco.

Liverpool look desperately short of quality throughout the squad and now are bereft of confidence. The only positive from the weekend was that their direct rivals for fourth spot, Manchester City, Spurs and Aston Villa, all failed to take advantage.

(Liverpool are 11/4 to have a Top Four finish)

Sunderland: The shockingly bad performance at Stamford Bridge can be blamed on key defenders missing the game, but was in truth symptomatic of Sunderland’s freefall in recent months.

Steve Bruce’s side last tasted victory in the Premier League when they beat Arsenal in mid November and since then have gained three points and conceded 18 goals in eight games. Sunderland had looked like challenging for a European place earlier in the season, now the Mackems are just four points off the relegation zone.

(Sunderland are 21/1 to finish in the Top Six)

Roberto Mancini & Robinho: The dapper Italian tasted defeat in his first difficult match as City were comprehensively outplayed at Goodison Park. Mancini will expect a reaction from his side in the first leg of the Carling Cup semi-final on Tuesday.

The 2-0 defeat at Everton may have been the nadir of Robinho’s time in English football although it may be difficult to say for certain, so bad has this season been for the former Real Madrid forward. Substituting the substitute is seen as one of the biggest humiliations at the top level and the sad fact is that Mancini made the right decision.

(Manchester City are 1/5 to have a Top Four finish)

Tottenham: Yet again Spurs missed the searing pace of Aaron Lennon and saw the declining force that is Robbie Keane fail to capitalise on two chances when Boaz Myhill could only parry. Tottenham have now dropped eight points at home to Stoke, Wolves and Hull which could cost them in the final reckoning.

(Tottenham are 14/5 to have a Top Four finish)

Richard Stearman & Sylvan Ebanks-Blake: An absurd foul on James McCarthy with the ball heading out of play left Wolves with ten men thanks to a rush of blood to the head for Stearman. Ebanks-Blake missed a guilt-edged chance at 0-0 and after banging in goals in the Championship is really struggling with just one goal this season, and that was a penalty.

Clint Dempsey: A knee injury could rule him out the World Cup a huge blow for Dempsey as well as the USA and Fulham who had come to rely on his quality from deep and versatility.

(Fulham are 16/1 to finish in the Top Six)

Real Madrid: Los Blancos lost another tough away assignment after previous defeats at Barcelona and Valencia. Galacticos 2.0 still appears to be based on similar foundations to the first version and Florentino Perez would be advised to splash out on another dominating defender with Pepe out for the season.

(Real Madrid are 12/5 to win La Liga)

Juventus: Another horrible performance from “The Old Lady” saw Chievo secure their first ever win over Juventus. It is now four defeats in five Serie A games for Ciro Ferrara and his beleagured side.

(Juventus are 8/13 to have a top 3 finish)

Grenoble: Lost again at home to Saint Etienne and have gained just seven points in 20 Ligue 1 games this season.