EPL Team of the Week: Samir Nasri, Eden Hazard, Michu and the Top Performers
It’s been 98 days since Sergio Aguero’s last minute strike concluded the tightest season in Premier League history.
Hard to believe that during that time FIFA have managed to fit in two major international tournaments but after the drama of the Euros and Olympic Games, the eyes of the world are back where they should be; the English Premier League.
26 goals have so far been scored on the opening weekend; and that’s before Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie link up for the first time against Everton tonight.
James Walker has selected a team of 11 performers who impressed him the most over the weekend and assembled their names into a simple 4-4-2 formation.
Feel free to share your thoughts and pick your best eleven in the comments section below.
Club: Swansea City
Swansea beating QPR 5-0 at Loftus Road was an incredible result but the margin of victory should not be used to suggest that the Dutch ‘keeper had little to do between his posts.
Michel Vorm deservedly earned his clean sheet against Mark Hughes’ men.
Rangers targeted 20 shots on Vorm’s goal, 11 of them on target. That’s almost as many shots as Swansea got off in the entire game; the Swans managed 12 shots with eight hitting the target.
Shortly after Rob Green’s calamitous error granted Michu a debut goal, Vorm was called upon to make a fantastic reflex save. A delivery from Adel Taarabt ricocheted into Jamie Mackie’s path leaving the Rangers striker free to strike from close range- you would have put money on the Scot scoring and was only denied by the brilliance of the Dutch ‘keeper.
With the score still at 1-0 Junior Hoilet fired in a threatening shot that brushed wide before a fierce effort from Taarabt, that looked destined for the bottom corner, was pushed away.
Vorm’s efforts ensured that the Swans, under new management with Michael Laudrup in the dugout, went into half time with a slender 1-0 lead. The difference between the two sides at that point was their goalkeepers.
From that point on, Swansea pushed and on deservedly punished some woeful QPR defending, but Vorm had laid the foundations for the second half rout.
After his red card in last weekend’s Community Shield match Branislav Ivanovic started the week not knowing if he would feature in Roberto Di Matteo’s starting 11.
Thankfully, from Chelsea’s part at least, the Serbia international had the red card rescinded by the FA and was able to feature in the opening match of the Blues’ campaign against Wigan.
The 28-year-old defender was a persistent nuisance Wigan’s left flank and was an unlikely menace to the Wigan goal on several occasions.
Ivanovic outpaced a backtracking Maynor Figueroa to receive a sublime through ball from Eden Hazard before slotting a composed finish past Ali Al- Habsi. Perhaps the Oman shot stopper should have done better to block the effort but the Serb’s strike ensured Chelsea took the lead two minutes into the season.
At the back he was composed as Chelsea came under a surprising barrage of Wigan attacks but never looked out of his depth. All in all, a solid performance by the Serbia captain which makes him the best right back of the week.
The departure of Robin van Persie has promoted Belgium international Thomas Vermaelen to club captaincy.
There could not be a better candidate in the Arsenal squad, and I would argue he should have been given the captaincy immediately after Cesc Fabregas left for Barcelona.
There was nothing particularly spectacular in Vermaelen’s performance versus Sunderland, but it’s hard to pick two centre backs that were particularly outstanding in the opening week.
A positive is that he has built up a good partnership alongside Laurent Koscielny, and looks at ease with the added burden of captaincy. There were no mistakes in his game and had his teammates been more clinical in front of goal, Arsenal would have picked up three points.
Vocal, physical and dependable, the Belgian centre back is the full package and used his traits to put in an efficient performance against Sunderland.
If Arsenal want to secure top four football this season, they need this guy to stay fit.
Newcastle may have conceded but a rampant Jermain Defoe was causing all kinds of problems for the Toon’s back four.
For large parts of the game Tottenham were on the front foot and many feel as if they should have done more to win the game; they may have were it not for a resilient performance from Steven Taylor.
The academy graduate led the defence after Fabricio Coloccini was ruled out with an injury and the English centre back never looked burdened by the new responsibility.
The highlight of his game was this backpass to Tim Krul to prevent a Spurs corner.
Surely the 26-year-old is worth a call up from Roy Hodgson?
A solitary goal allowed West Ham to secure victory on their return to Premier League football, but monumental to securing the three points was a solid performance from Winston Reid.
The 24-year-old New Zealand international made a handful of vital interceptions to deny Darren Bent a clear goal scoring opportunity and it never looked like he would make a mistake for the duration of the game.
Signed from Midtjylland three seasons ago, Reid established himself as a regular under Sam Allardyce in last season’s Championship and looks set for another big season at Upton Park.
Hatem Ben Arfa
Newcastle could do with fewer performances like this from Hatem Ben Arfa until the closure of the transfer window.
The 25-year-old France international was the difference between Tottenham and Newcastle in Saturday’s encounter at the Sports Direct Arena. His pace, vision and ball control was a persistent nuisance to the Spurs midfield.
Jake Livermore, Sandro and Rafael van der Vaart in particular had problems with the Frenchman with the latter of the trio conceding a penalty to him in the 79th minute.
Despite starting slowly Ben Arfa was heads-over-shoulders the best player on the pitch once he got a foothold in the game- and one of the weekend’s standout performers.
David Silva was rusty, Jack Rodwell nervy and Yaya Toure a little complacent in City’s midfield. Had Samir Nasri not stepped up there is every possibility the Citizens would have been humbled by a lively Southampton side.
A precision chip from the France international landed perfectly in front of Carlos Tevez, who did well to beat the offside trap- or at least convince the linesman that he had.
Shortly afterwards Nasri did well to wrestle his way around three Saints defenders close to the corner spot and delivered an exquisite ball which Edin Dzeko should have converted.
Nasri did well with his defensive duties and spared Roberto Mancini’s men a nervous conclusion to game by emphatically dispatching the ball after being on the receiving end of a Gael Clichy corner.
As the £32 million price tag suggests, Eden Hazard’s quality was known before he made his Premier League debut- but that doesn’t mean he didn’t have to prove himself.
It did not take the Belgian long to win the support of the travelling Chelsea fans. After two minutes a well-timed pass was met by Branislav Ivanovic who calmly buried the Blues’ first goal of the season.
Less than five minutes later Hazard was reaping havoc against the Wigan back four again, this time winning a penalty after a woeful challenge from Ivan Ramis left the referee with the easiest of decisions.
The 22-year-old continued to look menacing for the rest of shift before being replaced by fellow debutant Oscar on the one hour mark.
There were concerns about whether the Belgian could cope with the physicality of the Premier League but those questions have gone some way towards being answered following his impressive showing.
Club: Swansea City
Swansea fans were upset when former loanee Gylfi Sigurdsson opted for a move to White Hart Lane over the Liberty Stadium, but that frustration has been neutralised thank to an impressive debut showing from Miguel Michu.
The Spaniard caught the eye of coach Michael Laudrup after amassing a tally of 15 goals in last season’s La Liga.
Arriving from Rayo Vallecano for a fee of £2 million the 26-year-old took less than 8 minutes to announce his Premier League arrival. A reasonably tame effort from range was misjudged by Rob Green who was forced to watch the ball trickle over his goal line.
If there was a hint of fortune about his first goal, his second was incredible. Michu expertly guided the ball into the top corner to put the Swans 2-0 up against a disappointing QPR.
Martin Jol’s time at Hamburg may have failed to bring the club any major honours, but it did introduce him to a Croatian striker named Mladen Petric.
The 31-year-old has been a consistent performer in the Bundesliga for the past five seasons and has come to Fulham for a Premier League swansong.
He impressed in front of the Craven Cottage faithful by scoring a fine brace on his Premier League debut.
His two goals emphasise the variety in his game, the first coming from a corner before firing home Fulham’s third from range.
Although he is not one for the future, any fears Fulham had about the goals drying up should Clint Dempsey leave should be put at ease.
Demba Ba started last season’s campaign in prolific form before handing over goal scoring duties to Papiss Cisse.
The Senegalese striker had not scored in the Premier League since February but he picked the right moment to break the duck.
A poor headed clearance from Kyle Walker found the feet of Ba who placed his shot into the top corner of Brad Friedel’s net with expert precision.
Ba’s goal allowed Newcastle to take the lead against the run of play and laid the foundations for an eventual 2-1 win.
Manager of the Week: Nigel Adkins
Michael Laudrup and Martin Jol both impressed with their team selections this week, a statistic that is reflected in the unexpected scorelines their respective clubs achieved.
For the opening week of the season however the manager of the week award goes to a man whose side were defeated. In most cases this would seem absurd, but hear me out.
A season opener against Manchester City, at the Etihad, in your return to Premier League football after a decade in exile is a daunting prospect.
You would not have thought that from the decisions Adkins made, and the way his team played superbly as a collective unit.
Prior to kick off he made the huge call of dropping star striker Ricky Lambert, the club’s top scorer from last season. It was a decision that naturally raised a few eye brows but is now hard to find fault with.
Further to that, he handed a league debut to 17-year-old James Ward- Prowse, a graduate of Southampton’s reputable youth academy.
All of these big decisions were made before the game was even played.
On the pitch Southampton were calm and composed. They saw little of the ball but when they did they were not wasteful; a fact reflected by the fact they scored two second half goals despite having 11% of possession at the time.
When his men were 1-0 Adkins made the right calls to get his team get back in the game, firstly by bringing on Ricky Lambert and secondly by allowing a debut appearance from the bench for Steven Davis. Both players rewarded the manager’s judgement by scoring within minutes of coming on.
Although the Saints were unable to hold onto the lead, or even a draw, Southampton played with a confidence that is not often seen in newly promoted teams; especially Manchester City at the Etihad.
If Adkins continues in this vein, his side should steer clear of relegation.