Heroes & Villains: Slick Swans, slipping Spurs and critic-correcting Carrick


Manchester CityThe DW stadium is hardly a fortress, but there’s no such thing as an easy three points when you’re without two of your most important players, as City were in the absence of Vincent Kompany and Yaya Toure on Monday evening. Stefan Savic and Joleon Lescott settled well at the back after a scratchy opening 10 minutes, and look likely to continue their partnership against Tottenham on Sunday. Micah Richards should return for that fixture, though one would think he’d slot back in at right back rather than in the middle, especially given the threat of Gareth Bale from wide.However, Roberto Mancini’s biggest worry will be in midfield rather than at the back. City missed the drive and ball-retention of the younger Toure in the middle of the park. Samir Nasri was better than of late, but still not at his best, and with Nigel de Jong short of match-time it could prove fatal to start the Dutchman ahead of the former Gooner in what will be a frenetic encounter. As big as Sunday will be (title rivals Manchester United will also face Arsenal), City’s 1-0 win over Wigan took them to 51 points after 21 games. Opta data shows that all four sides to have taken over 50 points from their first 21 games of a Premier League season have ended it as winners.

Swansea CityIn a meeting of two of the Premier League’s slickest short-pass specialists, Brendan Rogers’ men came out in top in a thoroughly enjoyable game at the Liberty Stadium. Last week we were treated to an exhilarating Manchester derby that left us breathless – on Sunday we were left satisfied by some classy caressing of a football. And credit to Swansea for giving it to us; very few established Premier League sides would have the confidence to try and beat Arsenal at their own game.

Steven FletcherAs an impressive youngster at Hibs, Fletcher was once said to have grabbed the attention of Real Madrid. Not enough to elicit a formal enquiry from the Spanish giants, but they did compile a DVD of the Scot after some impressive displays. However it is only really now, thanks to the loss of Kevin Doyle to injury, that Fletcher is starting to blossom into an accomplished footballer at the highest level. While he lacks Doyle’s industry, his touch and invention is superior to the Irishman, as is his goal threat; his opener against Tottenham was his ninth in the league this season, compared to Doyle’s two.

Blackburn RoversRelegation strugglers don’t usually pull off accomplished wins with only ten men, even at home. But for all Blackburn’s faults, they do know where the goal is – they are the joint sixth highest scorers in the league (with 32 goals), and goals keep you up; just ask Birmingham fans… While they have issues at the back to sort out – starting with the future of Chris Samba – the loss of Yakubu through suspension for games against Everton, Blackburn and Arsenal is a blow. But as they proved in the 70-odd minutes without the rotund Nigerian, they have the means to cope. Whisper it, but does anyone else get the impression the Blackburn players actually quite like Steve Kean? They certainly seemed to play that way…

Michael CarrickA returning – and scoring - Scholes grabbed the headlines, but Carrick was superb against Bolton. Despite a couple of error-strewn performances in the last month, Carrick has been United’s best midfielder since THAT defeat to Manchester City (and one of those displays was at centre-back). He’ll never win over all his critics, but Carrick has seemingly convinced Sir Alex and the rest of the coaching staff at Old Trafford that he is a key part of Manchester United and their run-in for number “20”.


Chris FoyAt the end of a week in which every tackle had been scrutinised interminably, it was perhaps fitting that the man who started it all off by dismissing Vincent Kompany in the Manchester derby ended the week with a much, much worse decision. QPR's Shaun Derry flew into a challenge on Newcastle's Yohan Cabaye right under the referee's nose, and was only booked for his trouble. Derry was off the ground, reckless and could easily have broken the Frenchman’s ankle had he made contact (though the former Lille man probably caused further damage by jumping up to remonstrate with the QPR midfielder). It would have been interesting to see if Alan Pardew would have still accepted Foy’s awarding of a yellow card had Newcastle not taken all three points. 

Tottenham HotspurA draw at home to Wolves hardly signals the end of Spurs’ title charge, but it is a blow, especially given how City and United had floundered over the Christmas period. The novelty of a three-horse race means Spurs wouldn’t necessarily have to beat both Manchester clubs in order to win the title. But with that comes the added pressure of having to be near-faultless for the remaining 34 games - that includes beating lower-table opposition at home.

Kenny DalglishSince his return, King Kenny has impressed with his tactical dexterity, but against Stoke he perhaps tried to be too clever by adopting three at the back, which served Liverpool well at the Britannia last season. His decision to then bring on Andy Carroll, only to sacrifice width with the withdrawal of Downing seemed equally perplexing. In the absence of Suarez, Dalglish would probably be better advised to go back to basics, especially given the limitations of the Uruguayan’s under-studies.  Yes Liverpool are unbeaten at home, but they have dropped 14 points - almost five games’ worth - in 11 games at Anfield.

West Brom    Only five points off the relegation zone, West Brom have been quietly slipping down the table; one point in the last four games – three of which have been at home – represents a worrying slip for a side few predicted for the drop. Their performances have not been particularly bad, but a few more defeats could see Roy Hodgson’s men knee-deep in the mire at the bottom of the table.