- Team of the Week
Torres the top dog
After hitting eight goals past Aston Villa, it would hardly be surprising to see 11 Chelsea players in the final Team of the Week before Christmas. We've restricted ourselves to three; find out who else makes the cut.
Reading ended the day feeling they had been the victims of an injustice after Gareth Barry scored a contentious late, late winner for champions Manchester City at the Etihad. Few would have felt that more keenly than goalkeeper Adam Federici, who laid the foundations for what was so nearly a successful rearguard action with fine saves from Carlos Tevez and Barry and a succession of solid claims from balls into the box. And he was only beaten when Barry appeared to be fouling defender Nicky Shorey as he headed home deep into injury time.
Swansea also produced a resolute defensive performance as Manchester United inflicted spells of heavy pressure at the Liberty Stadium, and one of the reasons for the hosts emerging with a 1-1 draw was the contribution of Dwight Tiendalli, who not only did his defensive duties well but also found time to meander forward, showing plenty of skill and some nifty footwork as he provided a welcome outlet down the right-hand side.
Newcastle have had a difficult time of late and, as their match against QPR at a sodden St James' Park threatened to drift to a goalless draw - or a breakaway win for Rangers - there was no shortage of nervousness both in the stands and on the pitch. But, not for the first time this season, Fabricio Coloccini was the epitome of calm, in the right place at the right time to snuff out any threats posed by a counter-attacking Rangers and a consistently constructive user of the ball. Shola Ameobi may have scored the goal, but Coloccini was the man steering the Magpies back onto the right track.
Whether or not you like the way Stoke City do things, you have to admire their defensive resolve - and a key part of that is centre-back Robert Huth, who produced another masterclass in the art of no-frills defending as his side claimed a valuable point, and kept another clean sheet, at White Hart Lane. Huth was unshakeable as Spurs grew more and more frustrated, making a particularly good interception to divert a Gareth Bale cross to safety with a host of Spurs players waiting to apply the finishing touch.
Patrice Evra, goalscoring machine. Evra is making something of an unlikely habit of scoring headers from corners, and did it again to put his side into the lead as they dominated the start of the match against Swansea. He was a regular presence in attack, providing Wayne Rooney with a great chance to make it 2-0, and made some key interceptions as Swansea worked their way back into the match and put together some dangerous combinations down their right.
Liverpool fans will tell you it's been a long time coming, but Stewart Downing really looked the business against Fulham at Anfield. Granted, the Londoners weren't exactly providing stern opposition, but Downing appeared to have rediscovered his appetite for wing play: plenty of good runs, a few fizzing shots, a goal and a fine through ball to set up another for Steven Gerrard. And he wasn't even playing on his preferred side, either.
Arsenal didn't convince at Wigan, but they won and went third. Must be a crisis, then. Winning a game in which you haven't played well can only be a good thing, and although plenty of his colleagues had ordinary games, Jack Wilshere didn't. Dynamic from start to finish, he was at the centre of everything for Arsene Wenger's men, dividing his time between trying to get his own team going and disrupting Wigan as they threatened to establish a midfield flow. It was as though he had never been away.
That Rafa Benitez, all negativity and cautious football and failure to be Roberto Di Matteo. No side of his would ever score eight against Aston Villa. Or perhaps they would, and perhaps a Brazilian centre-half converted into a midfielder would have a fine game for them. It was hard to choose between David Luiz and Frank Lampard - both had outstanding afternoons and scored outstanding goals - but Luiz, by virtue of his dazzling free-kick and tendency to roam all over the shop to great effect, just shades it. But only just.
His colleague Victor Moses was almost as good, and his combination of skill, speed and power provided Aston Villa with yet another conundrum that they couldn't answer. Moses revelled in running at defenders time and again, playing astute passes, getting on the end of one-twos and generally having something of a field day. And as Villa tried to counter him, they left space for other runners on an afternoon that left them looking collectively bewildered.
No apologies for including a third player from the team with the most eye-catching result of the weekend by a mile, and this time it's Fernando Torres. Not so long ago, he looked as happy as a man without an umbrella who'd been forced to stand in perpetual drizzle, but the spring is well and truly back in his step now. His intent was clear from the moment he thundered in the glorious header that opened the floodgates, and everything else was back in his game, too: intelligent, selfless running, neat touches, the appetite to continually chase and harry defenders. A tremendous No. 9 performance.
His partner up front is Everton's Victor Anichebe, who did something that his colleagues have found difficult at times this season - converting the chance that turns dominance into a goal. In a game overshadowed by two thoroughly contentious red cards, one for each side, Everton were trailing when the striker glanced in an equaliser: it was a goal his workrate and threat throughout had more than deserved, and one that made up for one of strike partner Nikica Jelavic's more misfiring afternoons.
The man in the dugout this week... well, there can only really be one. Rafa Benitez said the only way he could win Chelsea fans over would be through what happened on the pitch, and steering your team to an 8-0 win in the last match before Christmas has got to make even the most dedicated sceptic have second thoughts. Hasn't it?