Heroes & Villains: Toxic plunges and the Church of Harry Redknapp

RESULTS (click team name for web-wide club news feed) Sat 11 Feb Manchester United 2-1 Liverpool; Blackburn Rovers 3-2 Queens Park Rangers; Bolton Wanderers 1-2 Wigan Athletic; Everton 2-0 Chelsea; Fulham 2-1 Stoke City; Sunderland 1-2 Arsenal; Swansea City 2-3 Norwich City; Tottenham Hotspur 5-0 Newcastle United Sun 12 Feb Wolverhampton Wanderers 1-5 West Bromwich Albion; Aston Villa 0-1 Manchester City

HEROES

Harry RedknappWhite Hart Lane seemed to transform into the Church of Harry Redknapp for the late kick-off on Saturday. The impassioned hymns did the trick; there was something of the divine on the pitch too as Tottenham took Newcastle United apart. The message from Harry’s players was clear: don’t go.

Harry Redknapp’s occasional over-familiarity with the media doesn’t invite much sympathy from people outside the club, but you couldn’t begrudge him his first stress-free night since the charges were brought against him last year. Louis Saha looks to be yet another smart acquisition, but the night belonged to Emmanuel Adebayor, who set up the first four Spurs goals before getting one himself.

They remain outsiders to finish top, and though the pull of his country might be too much for Harry to resist, it’s looking like he’ll leave a Champions League outfit behind him – remarkable when you consider the state the club was in when he took over in 2008. Something about two points from eight games, wasn't it?

Thierry HenryMission complete for Henry, who signed off from his second Premier League stint in typically memorable style. A last-minute winner at in-form Sunderland will leave Gunners fans wishing his loan from New York Red Bulls could be extended, just to silence any remaining pundits who thought Henry could only damage his legacy by going back.

Arsene Wenger refused to rule out a third spell at the club for the Frenchman, who proved he still has plenty to offer at the highest level.

Manchester UnitedThe Red Devils gave the perfect demonstration of how to play a football match rather than get distracted by events off the pitch. Manchester United took the sting out of Liverpool to deliver three points that keep the pressure on neighbours Manchester City at the Premier League summit.

Paul Scholes seems to grow in stature with every game back, and he was the best player on the park on Saturday, with his passing range and tactical awareness still very much intact.

Peter OdemwingieWest Brom’s hat-trick hero set his sights on a top-ten finish with the Baggies after they recorded a 5-1 away win at Midland rivals Wolves. It was one of the more surprising scorelines of the weekend, and Odemwingie, who looked to be struggling with second-season syndrome before now, was back to his clinical best in this humiliation of Wolves.

"I hope we can change our home performances, and then there's nothing that can stop us finishing in the top 10,” enthused the striker, whose side moved to within 11 points of the magic 40 mark, said to be the target to hit to avoid relegation.

EvertonDavid Moyes’ men repeated the job they did on Manchester City last week, with a shock 2-0 win over Chelsea at Goodison Park. Steven Pienaar would have been wondering why he left in the first place, after putting Everton into an early lead with an excellent drive and finish.

An onslaught was expected from Andre Villas-Boas’ men but it never really arrived, and Everton were able to add to their tally courtesy of Denis Stracqualursi's first Premier League goal, after more good work from Landon Donovan in his farewell fixture.

Grant HoltWith a regime change underway, the 'Holt for England' campaign is gathering momentum. The burly frontman has now notched nine Premier League goals in his maiden top-flight season, and his staggering ascent from League Two in just three years continues apace, after he inspired Norwich to three vital points at erstwhile Fortress Liberty.

VILLAINS

Kenny DalglishAnyone who had paid attention to Luis Suarez before he arrived in England would have come to expect moments of transgression from the Uruguayan, but Kenny Dalglish’s behaviour in the Affair That Need Not Be Named has been surprising and genuinely disappointing.

What seems most astonishing to anyone outside Liverpool has been this blind defence of Suarez in the face of all evidence and reason. Rational Liverpool supporters, of which there are many, were badly let down by their manager in Saturday's post-match interview. It would have been easier for Dalglish to simply refuse to answer questions on the handshake, but instead he came out on the offensive and only served to prolong the scrutiny and pressure on his striker.

Sunday’s numerous apologies should finally put the whole depressing episode to bed, but not without Liverpool’s worldwide reputation taking a toxic plunge.

ChelseaAndre Villas-Boas called it "one of the worst displays of the season" and it’s difficult to argue with him. The Portuguese manager accepted the blame for the defeat, citing a shortcoming in his side’s preparation for the match.

Chelsea certainly lacked fluidity in the final third of the pitch, and their £50m striker yet again failed to shine in this, the final game before Didier Drogba returns from the Africa Cup of Nations. Torres looks destined to return to the bench after missing the opportunity to stake his claim for a regular start, and one wonders if the Spaniard will ever return to the form that made him one of Europe’s most feared strikers.

In this feature alone we’ve been through a veritable smorgasbord of excuses for his dramatic loss of form. Perhaps it was a question of fitness; of Drogba's overbearing presence; or maybe he just needed a run of games.Now the explanations are at an end, and it should bring no joy from any neutral football-lover to see this shadow of Torres meander listlessly from cul-de-sac to cul-de-sac.

If Villas-Boas is given another summer to turn Chelsea around, one of his most important decisions will be what to do about Torres. It might just be the act that defines his spell at Stamford Bridge.

QPRThe Rs have taken just one point from winnable fixtures against under-pressure teams Aston Villa, Wolves and now Blackburn since Mark Hughes took over at Loftus Road, and look set for a springtime relegation battle. Conceding seven goals against three of the league's lowest scorers is no basis for the recovery expected after January dealings. QPR did stage something of a fight-back from 3-0 down, but substitute Jamie Mackie’s goals weren’t enough to spare Hughes successive defeats.

The problem with a January transfer splurge is that you are denied a pre-season for players to gel together and be drilled on their responsibilities in a manager’s system. Hughes will have more money to spend in the summer thanks to owner Tony Fernandes’ deep pockets, but the question is whether he’ll be strengthening for the Premier League or for promotion back to the top flight. Too many more of these off-days and it’s likely to be the latter.

Alex McLeishMcLeish had clearly paid some attention to the Moyes and O’Neill model that had taken maximum points from the league leaders, as the philosophy was much the same: keep it tight and hope to steal a goal on the counter attack. Where McLeish’s setup differed, however, was the lack of intensity in Villa’s pressing. Manchester City were allowed to stroke the ball around the midfield and cultivate a degree of comfort in possession that only served to settle their nerves in their first away game since that miserable night at Goodison Park.

Villa weren’t helped in their quest for a first home win since Bonfire Night by the resigned indifference of the support, which radiated onto the pitch from the stands. It seemed a matter of time before City found a way through and when they did, Villa took 15 minutes to force a meaningful save from Joe Hart. The frustration for Villa fans and players will be that when they did work through the gears, City hardly looked watertight at the back.

As Martin Tyler put it: McLeish’s Villa died without knowing.

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