Premier League Team of the Week

What a week it has been in the Barclays Premier League with the festive period proving to be a less cheerful occasion for some of the big teams.

Bellamy hit a double against the Magpies
Marcus Chhan

By Marcus Chhan

Both Manchester clubs tasted defeat over the weekend allowing Tottenham and Arsenal to close the gap and make for an interesting title race in 2012.

Chelsea also suffered defeat - a 3-1 loss to Aston Villa at Stamford Bridge on Saturday to heap more pressure on manager Andre Villas-Boas and his under-performing players (none of them made it to our Team of the Week).

Meanwhile, Liverpool ended 2011 with a morale boosting 3-1 win over Newcastle thanks to two-goal hero Craig Bellamy.

We've gone with a 4-3-3 formation with Sunderland's Lee Cattermole playing the role of the holding midfielder.

There were two round of Premier League fixtures this week and we considered both in the final make-up of our picks.

GK: Wayne Hennessey (Wolves)

When you can stop Robin van Persie from scoring this season then you know you've done a good job as a goalkeeper - and Wolves' Wayne Hennessey did exactly that in midweek.

Wolves held Arsenal to a 1-1 draw on Tuesday with Hennessey make a string of saves late in the game to deny Arsenal a win. In total, Arsenal had 27 shots attempts - only managing to put one past the Welshman - while Van Persie had 12 shots alone.

On Saturday, Hennessey also played a key role for Wolves as they came from behind to draw 1-1 at relegation rival Bolton.

RB: Craig Gardner (Sunderland)

Sunderland have taken 10 points from 5 games under Martin O'Neill which is incredible given that they had only managed 11 points from 14 games before his arrival. The former Aston Villa boss has injected self-belief back into the entire team. Case in point: Craig Gardner.

Gardner is not a natural right-back but was played in that position by O'Neill during Sunday's 1-0 win over current Barclays Premier League leaders Manchester City. His effort to deny Pablo Zabaleta a clear goal-scoring chance summed the magnitude of his performance against City which included also keeping Adam Johnson in check.

LB: Leighton Baines (Everton)

Everton's Leighton Baines has a real chance of displacing Ashley Cole as England's first-choice left-back for Euro 2012 if he keeps performing like he did against Sunderland on Boxing Day and West Brom on Sunday.

Baines completely owned the left-flank and ensured that David Moyes' side collected four points from six during their festive period travels.

CB: Chris Samba (Blackburn)

How Chris Samba remains at Blackburn season after season is beyond me. The hulking defender is one of the best in the Barclays Premier League and was key to Rovers holding Liverpool to a 1-1 draw on Boxing Day and then upsetting Manchester United 3-2 at Old Trafford on Saturday.

It is true Liverpool were wasteful when they played Steve Kean's team but that should not take anything away from Samba's contribution during the game. Just look at what he did to Manchester United - he won a penalty against the Red Devils but might have even had two as his marker struggled to get to grips with the big man's presence in the box.

CB: James Collins (Aston Villa)

James Collins just edges out team-mate Richard Dunne for the last remaining spot in our Premier League Team of the Week defence. Both centre-backs were equally impressive in dealing with the aerial threat of Stoke during their goalless draw on Boxing Day but it was on Saturday against Chelsea where the pair really shone above everyone else.

Aston Villa beat the Blues 3-1 and it was a victory built out of the generally solid Collins-Dunne partnership at the back. So why does Collins get the nod ahead of Dunne? Well, the former Manchester City skipper was certainly guilty of making one silly mistake on Saturday - a clumsy tackle on Didier Drogba in the box which was rightly ruled as a penalty.

DMC: Lee Cattermole (Sunderland)

Players like Lee Cattermole are what make the Barclays Premier League so great. Don't get the wrong idea, I love watching flair players like David Silva light up the pitch but where else can a hard working, tough tackling midfielder with limited technical skills get the credit he deserves than in Britain?

Cattermole was absolutely superb against Manchester City, covering every blade of grass to close down opponents and generally make life a living hell for his more illustrious counterparts. Sunderland beat City 1-0.

RMC: Stephen Ireland (Aston Villa)

Ever since Stephen Ireland made the move to Aston Villa in 2010, the club's fans have been patiently waiting for a glimpse of the talent the midfielder showed at previous side Manchester City. On Saturday against Chelsea, Ireland finally 'showed-up' in a big game to condemn the Blues to a 3-1 defeat at Stamford Bridge.

He scored one and assisted another for Villa and generally made a fool out of David Luiz who must surely be running out of chances to prove himself at Chelsea by now?

LMC: Gareth Bale (Tottenham)

Gareth Bale didn't put in the sort of performance you would have expected from him this season when Swansea held Tottenham to a 1-1 draw on Saturday, but let's give the guy a break. He has been incredible for Spurs for the most part, laying on assists and scoring goals on a consistent basis and helping them climb to third in the table.

Therefore, Bale gets into our Team of the Week for his starring role in Tottenham's 2-0 win over Norwich on Tuesday. Just watch his second goal against Norwich to see why he's so highly rated by manager Harry Redknapp.

ST: Craig Bellamy (Liverpool)

Not all Liverpool fans were happy with Kenny Dalglish's decision to buy British in the summer. However, I am sure they'll agree the Scot has got it spot-on with the Craig Bellamy signing.

On Friday, Bellamy bagged a brace as the Reds cruised to a 3-1 win over Newcastle but it was more than his goals which should be singled out for praise. His work rate was top notch and it appears he revels playing against the Toon as he has now scored in four successive Premier League appearances against Newcastle.

That's now five goals in his last four Premier League games against Newcastle.

ST: Ayegbeni Yakubu (Blackburn)

Blackburn managed only three shots on target but still came away 3-2 winners against Manchester United at Old Trafford on Saturday with Ayegbeni Yakubu helping himself to a brace.

Feed the Yak and he will score.

ST: Dimitar Berbatov (Manchester United)

What an emotional rollercoaster it has been for Manchester United striker Dimitar Berbatov these past six days.

On Boxing Day, the Bulgarian hit a hat-trick to inspire United to a 5-0 win over Wigan (joy), but then conceded a silly penalty against Blackburn on Saturday to help hand Rovers the early lead in that game (sadness). Blackburn would then go ahead 2-0 only for Berbatov to net a brace to put United back on level terms and in with a chance to top the Barclays Premier League table in the New Year (joy again).

Almost cruelly, Rovers snatched all three points from United with a late winner to sink Sir Alex Ferguson on his 70th birthday (sadness again).

And in the midst of Rovers' 3-2 win over United, Berbatov also registered Manchester United's 1500th goal in the Premier League (joy again?).

Bonus Feature

Robin van Persie

The Arsenal striker didn't do quite enough over the festive period to merit a place in our official Premier League Team of the Week XI but he deserves to get a special mention. The Dutchman scored the only goal of the game - he should have scored more - against QPR to bring his tally in 2011 to 35 which is one short of Alan Shearer's record haul.


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