Perhaps one of the most important weekend of Premier League football bought with it it’s fair share of action, with two games on Sunday alone revealing more about the title race than has been gleaned over the past four months.
Only the top two of the top eight Premier League teams were able to secure all three points while at the bottom Bolton and QPR strolled out of the drop zone with precious wins as Bolton and Wolves were dropped right into the thick of it – in a weekend of movers and shakers GMF is here to pick out the biggest winners, and of course losers.
Alex McLeish would have felt vindicated as he saw Robbie Keane slot two home in Aston Villa’s 3-2 win over Wolves on Saturday. Vindicated after all the needless (if understandable) abuse dolled out by Villa fans wary of the Scot’s Birmingham connections, and vindicated by his side’s excellent performance after a season so far laced with mediocrity.
With Keane and Darren Bent in tandem, Villa sparkled like they haven’t done in some time. He may be a short-term solution to a long term problem but McLeish lobbied for Keane and got his man. Now he must be looking forward to reaping the rewards.
Tough to label a winner after a game in which he lived up to his billing as a magnet for controversy, Mario Balotelli was on hand to cooly slot home the penalty that helped Manchester City retain their status as Premier League leaders, and that alone deserves some praise.
Of course the debate rages over whether he should be on the pitch or not – while his ‘stamp’ on Scott Parker isn’t as clear cut as Harry Redknapp would have you believe it certainly requires another viewing by the F.A.
But Balotelli remains as talented, beguiling and enigmatic as ever, and as he sent Brad Friedel the wrong way while lapping up the applause, few could argue that he is a genuine match winner.
There are few players in the Premier League that Craig Bellamy hasn’t wound up, and Nigel Reo-Coker is certainly one of those to have taken a particular disliking to the Welshman.
Potentially ugly scenes were avoided as the pair squared up at half time and in the tunnel as a remnant of a falling out that dates back to 2007 reared its ugly head.
But it was Reo-Coker who had the last laugh as it was his goal that proved vital in beating a desperately poor Liverpool side as Bolton marched out of the bottom three. The Trotters have a long way to go, but if they can match the passion of their much-maligned skipper they should retain their Premier League status for another year.
A tough week for Harry Redknapp looks like getting no easier as he answers questions from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs about tax fraud and an account set up in his dog’s name - Redknapp’s lowest moment came as he saw what would have been a well earned point evaporate into frustrations and anger as Ledley King gave away a defining penalty in the 94th minute.
Should he have started with King, who had only just recuperated from a groin injury and hadn’t trained in four weeks? Should he have shut up shop by replacing Rafael Van Der Vaart with the more defensively minded Jake Livemore? Either way his side hang in purgatory either side of the title race and the top four battle, and they must pick themselves up for upcoming games against Watford and Wigan.
Their haven’t been many poor weeks for Redknapp this season and it is harsh to label him one of the week’s losers after a valiant effort against City, but without three points its back to dreaming about 'what if’s' for Spurs, something they had hoped to move on from.
A chorus of boos rang out around the Emirates Stadium as an 18-year-old was subbed off to be replaced by an experienced international footballer.
Arsene Wenger was on the receiving end of the jeers, and was forced to explain himself as the exciting Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was replaced by the disinterested Andriy Arshavin, who went on to play a part in Manchester United’s winner in the Gunners telling 2-1 defeat.
Three Premier League defeats in a row have hampered the Gunners resurgence and with some fans starting to turn on Wenger, the race for the top four looks to be getting harder and harder. This is starting to look like a make or break season for the Frenchman.
Another manager rounds off the big losers of the week, and this time it is Kenny Dalglish who faces a mutiny by his own club’s supporters.
There were only a few dissenting voices but they were clear for all to hear. The first real cracks of ‘King Kenny’s’ second time in charge at Anfield have started to appear thanks to some strange tactical choices and an abject performance in their 3—1 defeat against Bolton.
After both he and the club were criticised heavily over their handling of Luis Suarez’s eight game ban for racially abusing Patrice Evra, this is without doubt the toughest time Dalglish has faced since he returned to the fold.