Good Weekend, Bad Weekend

It was a weekend full of incredible individual performances and some wonderful goals. David Beckham has stolen the headlines today but the likes of Wayne Rooney, Lionel Messi and Gonzalo Higuain all stood out over the past couple of days. At the end of it all though, little changed at the top in England and Spain but in Italy and France, AC Milan and Lille made people sit up and notice.

Good Weekend

Wayne Rooney: Much like season 2007/2008, Wayne Rooney is dominating defences just as Cristiano Ronaldo did. Inevitably talk is now turning to whether the Manchester United striker can equal or better the incredible 42 goal tally claimed by the Portuguese winker.

Rooney’s brace yesterday (goals here and here) took him to 32 for the season and his importance to both England and Manchester United is now sky high. Comparisons with the world’s best players (Messi and Ronaldo) as well as former United legend Bobby Charlton are now common place on a day to day basis.

In the win over the Cottagers Dimitar Berbatov stood out and typically the Bulgarian said he enjoyed his assist for Rooney’s second more than his late header for the third. Crucially United are also getting their solidity back with Edwin van der Sar, Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic all appearing in the three most recent matches which have all ended in clean sheets.

(Manchester United are 2.40 to win the Premier League.)

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Nicklas Bendtner: The much maligned Danish forward has stepped up to the plate in recent weeks to lead the Arsenal title charge and but for a catalogue of misses against Burnley, he would be in red-hot form. Bendtner’s late goal at Hull was a poachers finish and took his tally to six in his last five Arsenal games.

Arsenal have made a habit of scoring late this season and that is a clear sign that they have what it takes to win the title. In their last four Premier League games the Gunners have scored five in injury time of the second half. Next up is West Ham at home, surely Arsene Wenger’s side will have wrapped up a win before they need a late goal to see off the Hammers…

(Arsenal are 3.50 to win the Premier League.)

Chelsea: It was far from vintage Chelsea, but the Blues saw off West Ham with a competent performance with Florent Malouda coming to the fore. The French winger had way too much for Jonathan Spector and his understanding with Didier Drogba is a key facet of Chelsea’s game.

If Malouda stays in this form he could be a key man at the World Cup and Raymond Domenech may be forced to play the Chelsea winger on the left in front of Franck Ribery and Thierry Henry. His battle with Maicon on Tuesday night also promises to be a cracker.

The game tomorrow night against Inter Milan weighed heavily over proceedings and it is easy to place the match against the Nerazzurri as the most important of the season. Lose and slip-ups in the league become more likely, whilst a win over Mourinho (who never loses at Stamford Bridge) and momentum could propel them to the treble.

(Chelsea are 2.50 to win the Premier League & 5.50 to win the Champions League.)

Gareth Bale & Roman Pavlyuchenko: The Russian striker took the plaudits with a brace in Spurs’ 3-1 win over Blackburn but it was the Welsh winger that is the talk of the Premier League after tormenting Michel Salgado.

Whether by luck or design, Harry Redknapp is benefitting from the form of both players who were out of favour at the beginning of the season. And with injuries to key men such as Aaron Lennon and Tom Huddlestone, the form of Bale and Pavlyuchenko will be crucial in the run-in. Next week’s match at Stoke is a major test of their top four ambitions.

(Tottenham are 2.65 to win the without Big Four league.)

Adam Johnson: With so many players on the line, this author was reminded of George Best’s famous goal against Spurs in 1971 on Sunday afternoon. Johnson showed a calmness that is rare in the Premier League and with Beckham now injured, a place in the England World Cup squad does not look far fetched. (See here.)

The Best goal, which is featured on the famous 101 Great Goals video that this website is named after, can be seen here.

(Manchester City are 2.20 to win the without Big Four league.)

Wolves: Mick McCarthy’s side secured a huge win at Turf Moor, at what is usually a happy hunting ground for them. It was just reward after some decent displays in recent weeks had seen them narrowly defeated by Manchester United and Bolton. Next up for Wolves is a trip to Aston Villa and then fellow relegation strugglers West Ham.

Owen Coyle: Bolton march on, recovering from their mauling at Sunderland in midweek, whilst Burnley are looking more like a Championship side every week.

Gonzalo Higuain: The Champions League exit to Lyon, and Higuain’s catalogue of misses, is now a distant memory following the Argentine’s three-goal haul at Valladolid. The former River Plate striker is a natural goal scorer and could well be a good bet to be top scorer at the World Cup.

(Real Madrid are 1.90 to win La Liga.)

Lionel Messi: The strength of Argentina’s forward players is highlighted by La Liga where Messi and Higuain lead the scoring charts. Messi now has 22 goals in 23 league matches this season, giving him a goal ratio of 0.96 per game, the best for any league in Europe.

(Barcelona are 1.90 to win La Liga.)

AC Milan: Leonardo admitted the late win over Chievo was soured by David Beckham’s injury but the Rossoneri are now one point off Inter Milan and a very real title race is emerging in Serie A.

(AC Milan are 2.62 to win Serie A.)

Alex Del Piero: Scored his 300th and 301st goals for Juventus on Sunday.

Goals in Serie A: 39 goals across the Serie A weekend suggested Calcio is not dead.

Lille: They may have relied on an own goal to get past Grenoble but Lille were the only team to win in the top six in Ligue 1. Take a look at the top of the French table just to see one of the most exciting title races of all time in France: The top six are separated by just three points.

(Lille are MASSIVE 21.00 to win Ligue 1.)

Schalke: Whilst Bayern Munich and Bayer Leverkusen are taking the headlines, Schalke continue to keep pace at the top of the Bundesliga table. A home win over Stuttgart is no mean feat these days and after playing Hamburg next week, Schalke face Bayern Munich in the DFB Pokal followed by back-to-back Bundesliga matches against Leverkusen and Munich again.

(Schalke are 6.50 to win the Bundesliga.)

Bad Weekend

David Beckham: The truth is Goldenballs would probably not have played a major role in South Africa but the fact he would have made his fourth World Cup would have been an achievement in itself.

As PR savvy as Beckham is these days, a fact borne out with his green and yellow scarf stunt last week, there was always a football innocence to the former Manchester United winger and this could be seen in his desire to play for England at every opportunity.

If he does fail to play professionally again, it is somewhat fitting that his penultimate game came at Old Trafford. But, how sad to end with an injury that occurred with no one around him.

Phil Brown: Paid the price for Boaz Myhill’s shocking mistake late on against Arsenal which puts into perspective a curious decision from the Hull board, especially as Brown has been placed on “gardening leave.”

In many ways this is the decision that should have been made around a year ago when Hull couldn’t buy a win in the Premier League, yet still survived on the final day thanks to Newcastle’s incompetence. Brown will lament five defeats since Manchester City were seen off at the beginning of February.

Brian Laws: Has now gone 22 matches with just one victory in charge of both Sheffield Wednesday and Burnley. Laws’ appointment should be a warning to Hull of where mistakes can be made in appointing a manager in mid-season, despite the fact it was forced upon them.

This author, for one, would urge Burnley to sack Laws now to have any chance of staying in the top-flight.

Roberto Mancini: Adam Johnson saved the dapper Italian from an inquisition with his late goal at the Stadium of Light especially as Mark Hughes lost his job after beating Sunderland. It is questionable whether Mancini has added much since the Welshman departed Eastlands and time and games are running out to secure a top four spot.

West Ham: Gianfranco Zola seemed to wave the white flag at Chelsea starting with Alessandro Diamanti and Carlton Cole on the bench. If Hull do put together a revival under a new boss, the Hammers look in most danger, especially with a visit to Arsenal next week.

Fulham: Have won just once away from home all season and that was on the opening day at Portsmouth.

Wigan: Got stuffed again. Roberto Martinez’s team seem liable to concede hatfuls of goals. The Spaniard has pointed to the lack of a leader and the stats, which say they have the worst defence of any team outside the relegated spots, bears this out.

Inter Milan: The 3-1 defeat at Catania opened the league up but the Nerazzurri are in pretty poor shape coming into the massive game at Stamford Bridge.

(Inter Milan are 1.57 to win Serie A.)

PSV: A 4-1 defeat at Ajax has left the Eindhoven giants five points behind Steve McClaren and his FC Twente side at the top of the Eredevisie table.

(PSV are 3.75 to win the Eredivisie, Twente are 1.90 favourites.)

Hertha Berlin: Hooligans shamed the club and one of the best run leagues in Europe.

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