Good Weekend, Bad Weekend

Three became two in the Premier League title race as Manchester United produced a brilliant performance at the Emirates. Further down the league the race for the final Champions League spot got a little closer. In Europe, Guti produced a moment of football genius in what was a good weekend for players with one name (also Nani and Pedro).

Good Weekend

Manchester United: Sir Alex Ferguson’s side produced a counter-attacking display to evoke memories of their semi-final second leg Champions League win at the Emirates last season. Crucially, the 3-1 win appears to have marked the end of claims that they still miss Cristiano Ronaldo, as Wayne Rooney, Nani and Ji-Sung Park all came to the fore.

Wayne Rooney took many of the plaudits after an outstanding eight days where he claimed six goals against Hull, Manchester City (the winner) and the crucial second at Arsenal. He is now in the form of his life having scored more goals this season than ever before and his 20 in the league is more than last season’s top goal scorer Nicolas Anelka.

(Wayne Rooney is 2/5 to be the league’s top scorer.)

Nani was sensational as he took Gael Clichy to the cleaners. The Portuguese winger can consider himself desperately unlucky not to have been awarded the first goal after a brilliant run down the right. Ji-Sung Park has been almost forgotten but there is a reason why the South Korean plays in the big games and the former PSV workaholic has now scored on his last two visits to the Emirates.

We all expected United to show some form in the second half of the season. The last week has seen the champions motor into gear and a fascinating two-horse title race awaits.

(Manchester United are 11/5 to win the league.)

John Terry: In truth it must have been a pretty horrible weekend for the England captain following the decision on Friday to overturn his super injunction. On the pitch though, Terry did what he knows best, which is guide Chelsea to a crucial away win at Burnley, scoring the winner in Roy of the Rovers style.

There has been much conjecture about whether Fabio Capello will strip Terry of the England armband but his performance at Turf Moor was proof that whatever problems he may have off the field, the Chelsea captain is a strong minded footballer who can be a major player in both penalty boxes.

Chelsea now head to Hull on Tuesday to ensure a four point lead over Manchester United at the top of the table before they face tough fixtures at home to Arsenal and then away at Everton.

(Chelsea are 5/7 to win the league.)

Liverpool: Slowly, slowly Liverpool are coming good. The 2-0 win over Bolton was their second consecutive home victory by the same scoreline and with two away draws since the FA Cup defeat to Reading, it could all be falling into place for Rafa Benitez.

The next two matches, a Merseyside derby against Everton and then a visit to Arsenal should tell us a lot more, but from the evidence of the last couple of weeks, Dirk Kuyt can score and Alberto Aquilani and Sotirios Kyrgiakos may have been useful signings.

(Liverpool are 12/5 to finish in the top four.)

Gabriel Agbonlahor: Despite their cup success, Villa had not scored a Premier League goal since the 1-0 win over Stoke in December. Agbonlahor produced two fine finishes and his second was a real strikers goal as he held off Hangeland and curled into the far corner.

(Aston Villa are 9/4 to finish in the top four.)

Emmanuel Adebayor: The former Arsenal striker endured a life changing experience in Angola and all eyes will be on the Togo forward to see how he reacts in the second half of the season. Adebayor’s goal was one of the few bright spots in Manchester City’s laboured display against Portsmouth.

(Manchester City are 21/20 to finish in the top four.)

Arjen Robben: He may well be made of glass, but when he does play he can be almost impossible to stop. Munich have now won their last nine games in all competitions and are hot on the heels of Bayer Leverkusen who are two points ahead after winning four successive matches in the Bundesliga.

(Bayern are 8/13 to win the Bundesliga.)

Guti: The much-maligned David Beckham copycat produced an assist for the ages to send Real Madrid to a rare win at Deportivo La Coruna. In true style Guti has had an up and down season with his nadir at Alcocron in the Copa del Rey. So impressive have been his recent displays and that back heel, that there is now talk of a spot in Vicente Del Bosque’s World Cup squad.

(Real Madrid are 4/1 to win the Champions League.)

Pedro: What a season Pedro is having. Picked ahead of Theirry Henry at Gijon on Saturday night, the 22-year-old has now scored his last six matches to take his tally to 12 in 24 appearances in 2009/2010.

(Barcelona are 7/2 to win La Liga & Champions League.)

Alvaro Negredo: What an embarrassment of riches Spain have up front. If David Villa or Fernando Torres are injured in South Africa, Negredo can come in and will likely gobble up any goal scoring opportunities. His two goals for Sevilla saw off Valencia on Saturday night and the second was a chip of huge quality.

Egypt: A third consecutive Africa Cup of Nations title for The Pharaohs was well deserved for the team that showed the best team work and tactics in Angola. Hassan Shehata’s side were well organised, played some excellent football and won all six games to continue their marvelous run in the competition.

It should come as no surprise that Shahata has now been sounded out to take Nigeria to the World Cup at the end of the season and star striker Mohamed Nagi Geddo will be a player in demand. Used solely as a substitute in the tournament, the Al Ittihad hitman finished as top goal scorer with five goals and now has six goals in eight appearances for the national team.

After their dismantling of Algeria in the semi-finals and their total dominance of this competition in the last six years, it is a real shame Egypt will not be appearing in South Africa in the summer.

(Sevilla are 9/5 to finish in the top three.)

Steve McClaren: FC Twente returned to join top of the Dutch Eredevisie thanks to their 2-0 win over Roda JC which means they have the same number of points as PSV (52), nine ahead of third placed Ajax.

(Twente are 11/5 to win the Eredivisie.)

Bad Weekend

Arsene Wenger: The Professor endured another spanking at the Emirates from one of the best teams in England and there was a major sense of déjà vu to the home defeat to Chelsea in the league this season and the Champions League semi-final second leg in 2008/2009.

Wenger has to take a large share of the blame for the defeat to United because a number of his decisions (or lack of them) came home to roost. Manuel Almunia is not good enough for a top team in England, this has been clear for some time and the fact he now has two own goals for the season says a lot about the Spaniard.

The Arsenal defence was a complete shambles, individually there are four good defenders in the Gunners back line but they were caught short by Nani, Rooney and co. Gael Clichy in particular was made to look very average by the Portuguese winger and his non decision for United’s third goal was criminal.

Further forward Denilson had a poor game throughout – is he Liverpool’s Lucas? And the front three just looked too powder puff to make anything happen. Arsenal have hardly strengthened in January and in an open season they could well come to rue this fact.

Suggestions and petitions have begun to circulate over the future of Wenger – clearly madness after all he has done for the club – but Arsenal do look well short and are in a league of their own as comfortably the third best team in the Premier League.

(Arsenal are 13/1 to win the league.)

Fulham: The Cottagers have been on a horrible run since beating Manchester United in December. Roy Hodgson’s side have lost their last five games in the league and were easily brushed aside by a well organised Villa team. A relegation battle seems unlikely but Portsmouth will have to be dispatched on Wednesday night to settle the nerves.

(Fulham are 43/1 to be relegated.)

Portsmouth: Shorn of Younes Kaboul and by the time you read this perhaps Avram Grant, Asmir Begovic and David James as well, Pompey remain rock bottom, five points adrift.

(Portsmouth are 1/4 to be relegated.)

Spurs: Dropped two crucial points at St Andrews as the three other teams in the race for fourth all won. This is a big week for Harry Redknapp’s side who face Leeds in the FA Cup and then Aston Villa on Saturday and just don’t look as threatening without Aaron Lennon.

(Spurs are 8/13 to finish in the top six.)

Wigan: The Latics can’t seem to shake off the fear of relegation and will hope Victor Moses can lead them to the Promised Land of Premier League safety.

(Wigan are 11/2 to be relegated.)

Cristiano Ronaldo: We were told for so long that neither Real Madrid or Manchester United were the same without the Portuguese winker. Both did just fine without him this weekend and certain Los Blancos players (Kaka and Karim Benzema) appeared a little liberated without him.

Atletico Madrid: Progress in the Copa del Rey was tempered by another league defeat, this time to Malaga at home which leaves Atletico Madrid struggling to break away from the bottom of the table.

Ernesto Valverde: Sacked as Villareal coach following the 2-0 home defeat Osasuna.

Juventus: New temporary coach Alberto Zacheronni made little difference as the “Old Lady” could only draw with Lazio. Now in fifth, the draw with Lazio was their first point in five Serie A matches.

(Juventus are 7/5 to finish in the top three.)

Fiorentina: Adrian Mutu’s second positive drugs test has overshadowed a poor run that has seen them fail to win their last three Serie A matches.

Hertha Berlin: Rock bottom in the Bundesliga, Hertha could only draw 0-0 with fellow strugglers Bochum and look doomed.