Premier League Performance Awards for January
The Premier League went off with a bang at the beginning of 2013 with 40 games played, 88 points earned, 110 goals scored and £120million spent on transfers in just 31 days.
There have been twists and turns at either end of the table and plenty of headlines made across two cup competitions.
But among the many events there were a number of games, goals and performances which deserve further recognition.
I take a look at the standout showings across the month, so please be upstanding for the John Baines Premier League January awards ceremony.
Player: Julio Cesar
Honorable mentions must go to Reading super sub Adam Le Fondre whose vital late goals rescued his side plenty of points during January, while David Silva has sparkled his magic dust onto Manchester City's performances of late.
However, even Silva's ingenuity could not forge a way past Queens Park Rangers brilliant Brazilian Goalkeeper Julio Cesar on Tuesday night as the former Inter Milan ace produced another sterling display to keep his side's survival hopes alive.
The Hoops have been revitalised since the turn of the year, remaining unbeaten in four matches and conceding just one goal across those games.
Of course football is a team game and Harry Redknapp has added organisation and steel to a previously porous defence, but even still, Cesar has been on hand to repeatedly come to the rescue once those in front of him have been breached.
The 33-year-old has rolled back the years in recent weeks and was outstanding in a trio of London derbies against Chelsea, Tottenham and West Ham.
But the best performance of the lot came against the champions at Loftus Road this week as he repelled repeated efforts from the visitors to clinch another vital result.
Manager: Harry Redknapp
January really must be Harry Redknapp's favourite month of the year.
The opening of the transfer window means the Queens Park Rangers boss gets to hang out of his car window while reeling off a load of players he wishes to sign, and indeed Redknapp has already put the finishing touches to a couple of deals he hopes will keep his team in the Premier League.
Yet Redknapp really has had the midas touch in 2013 by reshaping and revitalising a side which looked destined for the drop just a month ago.
The memories of QPR being torn apart at home by Liverpool have been diminished with some obdurate displays which have seen the Hoops go four games unbeaten to pick up six vital points in their quest to avoid relegation.
A snatch and grab 1-0 win at Chelsea was the highlight but goalless draws against top four sides Tottenham and Manchester City prove that Harry Houdini is working his magic and instilling some belief into a squad who looked well out of their depth.
The 65-year-old has had to stray from his usual blueprint of open and attacking football, but that just goes to prove there's more than one string to his bow.
A shock home loss to MK Dons in the FA Cup tarnished his record slightly, but these awards are for the Premier League only, hence why Swansea boss Michael Laudrup missed the cut.
Goal: Leighton Baines vs Newcastle
As per usual there have been a plethora of great goals this month in the Premier League—some brilliant individual strikes and some slick team maneuvers.
Chelsea winger Eden Hazard showed more class with his 25-yard drive against Stoke than he did in kicking a ball boy, and Christian Benteke's brutal drive for Aston Villa away to West Brom was another fine solo hit.
On the collective front there were few better team contributions than four of Arsenal's five goals against West Ham which came from free flowing passing moves that ripped the Hammers' beleaguered defence to bits.
But my pick of the bunch was most definitely a finish all of one man's doing. Leighton Baines' scorching 30-yard free-kick against Newcastle flew past the helpless Tim Krul—one of the finest goalkeepers in the league.
The Everton left-back took aim from way out to the right of the penalty box and drove an unstoppable shot past the wall with swerve which faded away from Krul's despairing grasp and into the net to set up an impressive away victory at Newcastle.
Take a bow son.
Game: Arsenal 2-2 Liverpool
Without a doubt the best 90 minutes of football this month came on Wednesday night between Arsenal and Liverpool.
There's a reason the Premier League is the most widely watched and revered league around the world and spectacles like this will only continue to swell the interest.
This game had everything. Great players, good goals and two teams who never ceased in their aims to play open and attractive football in an attempt to win.
Liverpool burst into an early lead courtesy of Luis Suarez and there were plenty of chances at both ends as the game swayed back and forth.
Jordan Henderson doubled the visitors' advantage on the hour but the Gunners rallied to score two quick goals to draw level with over 20 minutes to play.
Neither side were content with the draw and they each continued to push forward in search of a winner which never came. A final goal would have been fitting for the neutrals but would have been harsh on two teams who contributed equally to a fine evening's football.
More of the same please.
Performance: Lukas Podolski (Arsenal 5-1 West Ham)
Unquestionably my toughest call as I simply cannot watch enough football to give the credit for performances which fall off the radar.
But of all the many games I have seen, I had to give the honour of Performance of the Month to Arsenal's Lukas Podolski for his starring role in a 5-1 home hammering of West Ham.
The German international was a constant menace for his side, scoring one and setting up three more as the Gunners came roaring back from a goal down to flatten their London rivals.
The visitors had led through Jack Collison's early rocket before Podolski squared the game with a fine strike from the edge of the box.
After Olivier Giroud edged the Gunners ahead, Podolski went on the rampage to assist a further three goals for his teammates as they cruised to victory.
However, the casting vote could just as easily have gone to a number of other candidates which included "Player of the Month" Julio Cesar against Manchester City, Romelu Lukaku for his one man show in vain against Reading or David Silva for a mesmeric display at home to Fulham.
I will quite happily be corrected if you can suggest a better alternative.
GK: Julio Cesar—Only one goal conceded in four unbeaten games for QPR and much of that is to do with the form of their Brazilian keeper.
RB: Pablo Zabaleta—Manchester City haven't conceded a goal in six games this year with Zabaleta imperious at right-back. The Argentinian has also popped up with a couple of goals for good measure.
CB: Ashley Williams—The Swansea skipper is one of the many reasons his side are unbeaten in seven games in the league and he was immense in the two Capital One Cup games against Chelsea.
CB: Ryan Nelsen—Along with Julio Cesar, the veteran Kiwi has been a rock at the back for QPR and it was no coincidence that duo were missing for the MK Dons FA Cup humbling.
LB: Leighton Baines—Followed up his screamer against Newcastle with another in the FA Cup and two against West Brom as Everton ended the month with four wins and two draws. No better left-back around.
CM: Jonathan De Guzman—Swansea are unbeaten in the league this year and De Guzman has shown his class and composure in the heart of midfield. He scored two against Stoke and excelled against Chelsea.
CM: Jordan Henderson—Finally looking the part in a Liverpool shirt and has been the main man in the Reds' midfield this month. Goals against Norwich and Arsenal will boost confidence further.
CM: David Silva—Yaya Toure's absence has barely been felt for Manchester City with Silva orchestrating games. His performance and two goals against Fulham was effortlessly brilliant.
RW: Luis Suarez—It's six goals in seven games for the Uruguayan star who continues to find the back of the net and relentlessly create chances for himself and others. Unstoppable.
LW: Theo Walcott—The newly contracted Arsenal winger has scored in his last four outings and adds pace and penetration to the Gunners' attack.
ST: Adam Le Fondre—The Reading hitman has come off the bench to score vital goals against West Brom, Newcastle and Chelsea to breathe life into the Royals' relegation fight.
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