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TEAMtalk’s Top Men (4-4-2): Adrian; Bellerin, Terry, Stones, Azpilicueta; Willian, Sanchez, McCarthy, Montero; N’Doye, Pelle
West Ham keeper Adrian has now kept out his last three consecutive penalties, with QPR’s Charlie Austin his latest victim. Sam Allardyce was full of praise for his shot-stopper after his 7th clean sheet of the season, and it’s easy to see why. The Spaniard has endured some tough times this campaign, but he certainly ranks as one of the best keepers in the league.
Along with Francis Coquelin, the emergence of Spanish full-back Bellerin provides plenty of hope for Arsenal fans heading into next season. In the latest performance belying his 20 years, Bellerin handled the threat posed by Player of the Year Eden Hazard admirably, making one clearance off the line and providing a potent threat in attack. None of his team-mates made more tackles (3) in the stalemate against Chelsea.
“I was telling John in the dressing room out of all the performances he’s given me in six years that was the best performance I’ve ever seen from a defensive point of view.” Jose Mourinho was certainly effusive in his praise towards his captain, and rightly so. The 34-year-old rolled back the years with a brilliant performance, leading his defence with an assured head. Criticism will be thrown at his side, but for Terry, he remains the best central defender in England.
He may have expected a busier afternoon when put up against Wayne Rooney and a confident Manchester United side, but Stones proved more than capable on Sunday. His well-taken header was the icing on the cake of a performance which included five clearances, four tackles and two interceptions. Team-mate Leighton Baines feels that the 20-year-old has a “huge future”, and it’s difficult to argue.
Is he the best one-on-one defender in the Premier League? It’s the question everyone seems to be asking, and the answer appears to be very clear. ‘Dave’ made at least seven more tackles than anyone else on the Emirates pitch with his tally of 10, and he played a key role in securing another clean sheet. “There should have been more Chelsea players,” said Jose Mourinho of the PFA Team of the Year. Azpilicueta may have been the most glaring omission.
It may be surprising to see one of the more forward-minded players make the cut after a much-maligned 0-0 draw, but it’s testament to Willian’s ability. The Brazilian put in a typically balanced performance, winning the ball back 10 times within the first 45 minutes against Arsenal as he harried the hosts in possession. That Chelsea’s best chance fell at the feet of Ramires after Willian’s sumptuous ball exemplifies just how important but underplayed his role under Jose Mourinho is.
He’s endured his share of criticism after struggling to acclimatise to the Premier League upon his summer move, but Sanchez provided a glimpse of his capabilities against Manchester City. A game-high four tackles and three interceptions helped him outshine the likes of midfield rival Yaya Toure, while his first goal in Villa colours showed he is just as adept going forward.
Not a player renowned for his abilities going forward, McCarthy proved surprisingly incisive against Man United, displaying tenacity in scoring the opening goal. Gareth Barry’s fine performance in a deeper-lying role freed McCarthy from the shackles somewhat, as the 24-year-old provided the link between defence and attack with continued efficiency. The midfielder branded his side “magnificent” after their 3-0 win, but he himself played the biggest role.
You wouldn’t have guessed it was only his second start since Boxing Day. The Ecuadorian benefited from Garry Monk reverting to a 4-2-3-1 formation, granting him freedom to terrorise Newcastle defenders down the wing. The 3-2 win over Newcastle, in which he grabbed an assist, marks Swansea’s record points tally, but it should also provide renewed hope that Montero has a future at the Liberty Stadium.
Eyebrows were raised back on the winter transfer deadline day when Hull shelled out £3million on 30-year-old Lokomotiv Moscow striker Dame N’Doye. Steve Bruce’s side were struggling to stay afloat in the Premier League battle for survival, and drafting in an untested striker was a risk to say the least. Two goals in the crucial victory over Crystal Palace means the Senegalese is producing the goods as the Tigers’ second top goalscorer, and his confident finishing and razor-sharp movement at the weekend has given his side a fighting chance.
Ravanelli, Baiano, Di Canio, Vialli, Zola, Balotelli. Southampton striker Pelle joins them as the 7th Italian to score 10 or more goals in a Premier League season. He burst out of the traps early on but endured a torrid time in front of goal thereafter, going 14 Premier League games without a goal after Christmas. He was back to his best against Spurs, bagging two and proving a handful all afternoon. The 29-year-old’s importance to Southampton’s record breaking season should not be forgotten.