- Team of the Week
Suarez beats Bale to Team of the Week spot
Manchester United owe a huge vote of thanks to David De Gea for sparing them from a second demoralising Old Trafford defeat in less than a week. Everything looked rosy for the home side when they went 2-0 ahead after 11 minutes against Chelsea - but then the wheels fell off as the Blues dominated the second half of their FA Cup quarter-final. As time ticked away, Chelsea's star of the show Juan Mata (more on him later) brilliantly jinked his way into a shooting position only for De Gea to somehow get a foot to his effort to prevent the European champions winning the game. The response of his team-mates said a lot about the quality, and importance, of the save, and he also needed to deny Eden Hazard with a flying stop.
Southampton were adventurous and attacking as the snow swirled around Carrow Road throughout their game against a Norwich side somewhat lacking in both qualities, but the Canaries could nevertheless have snatched the win. Although keeper Artur Boruc took the headlines with his last-ditch penalty save from Grant Holt, Japan international Maya Yoshida, deployed out of position on the right of defence, made two crucial interceptions to deny both Holt and Robert Snodgrass. He was consistently in the right place at the right time in an assured performance and, like most of his team-mates, passed the ball neatly and usefully.
Newcastle's Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa carried on from where he had left off in the Europa League draw at Anzhi Makhachkala, where the Magpies had illustrated plenty of resolve. Against a Stoke side that seems to have reacted to recent adversity by adopting an even more robust approach than usual, he was superb, winning countless headers and challenges and bringing the ball out of defence in a constructive and composed way as the Magpies bounced back from falling behind to Jon Walters' penalty to win the match late on.
What is it about Wigan? Feeble one week, excellent the next, mediocre the next, unstoppable the next. They enjoyed one of their unstoppable days to storm through to the FA Cup semi-finals at Everton's expense, running rings round the leaden-legged Toffees at a peevish Goodison Park. A very good day for Maynor Figueroa underpinned what they did - he was as steady as could be in defence in the face of a diet of muscular Everton directness, and came forward to head the goal that opened the floodgates and turned out to be the first of three goals in four minutes.
Speaking after his side's Loftus Road win over Sunderland had increased their hopes of a dramatic escape from the drop, QPR's 'Arry Redknapp said he had selected an open and attacking team "because we needed to win". That gung-ho attitude was rewarded by a fine comeback from Steven Fletcher's early goal, crowned by some flourishes of real class, with Andros Townsend, who arrived from Spurs on deadline day, providing plenty of those flourishes. Direct, purposeful and unafraid to take risks, he conjured up a stupendous volley - a proper Goal of the Season contender - to put the Rs 2-1 in front.
Aston Villa's problems this season have upset local lad Gabriel Agbonlahor, and the attacker, who has often looked a long way short of his direct, pacey best in recent times, did something about it in their crucial clash at Reading. Villa were the more courageous side on a nervy, error-festooned afternoon at the Madejski, and Agbonlahor, bright and committed, gave their purpose tangible reward when he steered home a cool finish right on half-time to turn a 1-0 deficit into the 2-1 lead that was enough to earn three huge points for the Midlanders and leave the Royals looking increasingly forlorn.
You can't say that Chelsea have often looked particularly fluid or expressive as tetchiness and tension have enveloped Stamford Bridge this season, but when they have it's usually because Juan Mata is pulling the strings. He shone as the Blues showed the character many felt had been recently lacking to come back from 2-0 down at Old Trafford to salvage an FA Cup replay, stretching an increasingly out-of-sorts United with his clever running, crisp passing and constant attacking threat. Had it not been for De Gea, Mata would have crowned his and Chelsea's afternoon by confirming their place in the last four.
Talking of pulling the strings, Philippe Coutinho did plenty of that for Liverpool as they came from 2-1 down to win a thriller at home to Spurs. He hasn't been at Anfield long, but the Brazilian, signed from Inter Milan, already seems to be feeling at home. His passing has added something else to Liverpool's play, with his flick to the advancing Jose Enrique enabling the full-back to play in Luis Suarez for the opening goal, while he gets into the area to augment his team's attack and isn't afraid to have a go at goal, with one well-hit 20-yarder close to putting him on the scoresheet.
Carlos Tevez hadn't been having a great week. Until, that is, Barnsley came to town in the Cup and the Manchester City man responded to his bad headlines with a virtuoso on-pitch performance that saw him notch a hat-trick before 50 minutes had elapsed. The Championship Tykes just couldn't handle Tevez, who was at the centre of pretty much everything good that his side did. His goals were taken ruthlessly (and brought his goalscoring run to six in four games), and he provided a superb pass to set up Aleksandar Kolarov for another.
Wigan's Arouna Kone gave Everton nightmares with his powerful and direct running in that superb FA Cup win. Good at holding the ball up and bringing team-mates into play, Kone is unselfish and has an eye for the right pass, as he showed with his superb work for his side's third. After making rapid ground down the left, he looked up and picked out the advancing Jordi Gomez, who gave the move the finish it deserved with a bending shot into the corner.
Yet again, Liverpool fans must be wondering where exactly their team would be without Luis Suarez. He's the club's Player of the Season by a million miles and could end the season with the national version of that accolade. Suarez opened his box of tricks against the men from White Hart Lane, darting all over the shop and finding a superb flicked finish to round off the top-class build-up by Coutinho and Enrique with his 22nd league goal. Tottenham didn't find him any easier to deal with when he moved out to the left later in the game, and he was barged into by Benoit Assou-Ekotto to win the penalty from which Steven Gerrard scored the decisive goal.
The man in the dugout this week is Paul Lambert, who has never let his positivity dip throughout what has been a tough season for Aston Villa so far and led them to a big three points at Reading. During his time at Norwich, Lambert put unstinting faith in his players and an attacking philosophy at the centre of his approach. At the Madejski, he insisted on taking the game to the hosts even when a farcical own goal increased the pressure. Result: an almost instant equaliser, and a Reading side that could rarely settle into their own attacking momentum.