Heroes & Villains: Super Mario's warm embrace & Berba's missed opportunity

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As City return to winning ways, United make their first slip and Arsenal actually win a football match, Mark Booth runs through the weekend's Premier League goodies and baddies...


Alan Pardew
It can't be easy starting a new job to a cacophony of unrest from people who preferred your predecessor, then having the fixtures and fittings sold from around you. Such has been Alan Pardew's first 10 months on Tyneside: backed by only 5% of fans upon his appointment, seeing Andy Carroll sold on January's deadline day and not replaced in summer despite the additional noisy exits of Kevin Nolan, Jose Enrique and Joey Barton. No wonder the club is so often accused of being its own worst enemy.
All things considered, it's astonishing that Saturday's convincing 3-1 home win over Blackburn leaves the Magpies occupying a Champions League berth. Newcastle owe much of this unexpected wave of optimism to their manager, who continues to leap over the obstacles Mike Ashley leaves in his ample wake. Demba Ba has yet to prove he can produce the goods on a consistent basis at this level but a well-taken hat-trick and the continued good form of strike partner Leon Best could save their fortunate owner a cool £35m.

Mario Balotelli and Roberto Mancini
Bench-bound for all but 18 minutes of this Premier League season, Balotelli seized his chance after replacing Edin Dzeko in the 60th minute. With Everton's excellent defence squeezing City till the pips squeaked, the home side were running out of ideas – but the Italian usually introduces the unpredictable and scored within eight minutes, sprinting to warmly embrace Mancini.
The manager hinted after the game that the seemingly stroppy striker has reacted maturely to his place in the pecking order: "Mario didn't start for three or four games but he has worked well, did not say anything and he was waiting for this moment."
So, a manager juggles a squad of considerable talent to overcome doggedly defensive visitors and gain three points despite the team being far from its best. The stuff of champions?

Andre Villas-Boas
When AVB was named as Chelsea manager in June, hacks licked their lips and sharpened their pencils. Tediously (and falsely) touted as Mou II, the 33-year-old is a completely different character but has gone about his business at Stamford Bridge with impressive shrewdness given the instant results expected from the trigger-happy Abramovich and the size of the rebuilding job required.
He might not provide the red-tops with soundbites and headlines, but he deserves credit for Chelsea's effective start to the campaign. With Juan Mata adding a shot of well-timed and much-needed cunning to complement the muscle, the Blues lie just three points from the Manchester pacesetters. When you consider they could count themselves unlucky to leave Old Trafford empty-handed last Sunday, things don't look as gloomy for Andre Villas-Boas as some would have you believe.

Stoke City
After a weary Europa League hangover last Sunday at Sunderland, this was more like the Stoke City we've come to expect. Their fans will be heartened by the way in which the Potters rallied to recover from a goal down in a spirited second half showing against the reigning champions. A deserved point in what is normally a miserable fixture for Stoke could have been three but for a David De Gea 'worldy' from an Andy Wilkinson rasper. With Peter Crouch starting to get among the goals, Stoke could be set for a top-six challenge.

David De Gea
One way to describe a truly world-class save is that you couldn't pick fault with the goalkeeper had he not saved it. De Gea made at least two such saves to preserve a point as Manchester United started to buckle under a Stoke onslaught. The save from Andy Wilkinson was particularly eye-catching such was the speed the shot was travelling at. This wonderful performance should finish what Fergie has suggested is a media conspiracy to “destroy” the Spaniard – and perhaps the rest of the Premier League will think again before peppering the United goal with speculative efforts from range.

Robin van Persie
A brace for the Dutchman brought up a century of goals for Arsenal and showed why he's so crucial to Arsenal's hopes of getting back on track this season. At times this season Van Persie could have been forgiven for wondering what he was still doing in N5, but the manner in which he has carried himself is a credit to Arsene Wenger, thriving with the increased responsibility the Arsenal captaincy brings. What a lift a contract extension would bring to a club that enjoyed their most comfortable 90 minutes of the season so far at Bolton's expense.


Dimitar Berbatov
If being a striker is largely about taking your chances, this was a huge fail for the Bulgarian. With the hamstrung Rooney ruled out, Manchester United's fallen star had a great opportunity to stake a claim for regular inclusion in a (previously) rampant side – but Berbatov offered Fergie precious little.
There are easier places to shine than the Britannia but for much of this United wing-clipping last season's Premier League top scorer was anonymous – as he has largely been since his surprise exclusion for last year's Champions League final.
Some of United's more reactionary fans are even suggesting Owen and Macheda should relegate the Bulgarian to fifth choice. While that may be a bit much, Berbatov must take his chances when they come.

David Moyes
You can hardly blame Moyes for the manner in which his side set up against City's galaxy of stars; it wasn't pretty but it was effective. Shame, then, about the Scot's vapid post-match bleating about a so-called Vincent Kompany stamp that saw Tim Cahill limp out of the match. It was an inexplicable interpretation of an incident that looked more like Cahill sliding through the back of an unaware Kompany to pick up a deserved yellow card.
Fans and journalists should place a premium on any post-match conference that isn't packed with anodyne platitudes, but fabricating controversy to divert attention from a fruitless afternoon's frustration is damaging to the game and grossly unfair on Howard Webb. Moyes continues to do a remarkable job at Goodison Park with next to no resources but it's spoiled somewhat by his occasional gracelessness in defeat.

Bolton Wanderers
Wanderers sunk to the bottom of the table after Arsenal consigned them to a fifth consecutive Premier League defeat – a 10th in 11 games if you include the soggy fag-end of last season. Owen Coyle seems to know his honeymoon period is over, given his groundbreaking dabble with 4-2-3-1 in place of the usual 4-4-2, with long-time key man Kevin Davies even dropped to the bench (though the skipper was back on 20 minutes in, replacing the groggy Ngog).
Granted, The Trotters might have fancied pulling the plug on the fixture computer that dealt them the Manchester clubs, Arsenal and Liverpool in their first six games, but with Chelsea up next Bolton will require all their manager's renowned positivity to stay chirpy.

Michael Oliver
The Premier League's youngest ever referee has acquitted himself well in his fledgling top-flight career thus far, though he incurred the wrath of Neil Warnock on Sunday afternoon for a head-scratching penalty decision. Armand Traore was adjudged to have impeded Gabby Agbonlahor on the back-post and in spite of not one protest from Villa player or supporter, a spot-kick was given. It was a bizarre moment in a game that at least seemed to spark into some semblance of life after Barry Bannan converted the fortuitous penalty. Oliver got most of his decisions right in the end but will hope for a more straightforward assignment next weekend. Though preferably not one that features Warnock.

Fernando Torres
Oh, Nando...There's no doubt the extra yard of pace and spatial awareness are at least in the post back to Chelsea's record signing. Torres buzzed around Swansea's back four with real menace, taking down Juan Mata's curled through ball before instinctively drilling the ball across Michel Vorm into the far corner to put Chelsea 1-0 up. The unfortunate thing is that Torres will miss his side's next three league matches after a wild lunge on Swans midfielder Mark Gower earned him a deserved red card. Sadly, that's just the way it's going for poor El Niño right now and he spends his second consecutive week among the villains.

Bad Boys
Five red cards and forty two yellow cards in nine games. If only those inconsiderate Premier League stars would spare a thought for those long-suffering refs who'll have endured some late nights with all that extra paperwork...