x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Premier League best and worst: Brad Friedel has still got it

The Tottenham Hotspur goalkeeper continues to impress, while the good days are back at Everton, writes Paul Radley.

Lee Probert, the referee, centre, was knocked down during the clash between Wigan Athletic and Fulham.
Lee Probert, the referee, centre, was knocked down during the clash between Wigan Athletic and Fulham.

Worst spatial awareness

With their matching buzz-cuts, red hair, pale skin and athletic physiques, Lee Probert probably thought he was experiencing double vision when Ben Watson and Steve Sidwell were hurtling towards him on Saturday.

When the senses blur like that, the best option is to make a move one way or the other, then hope for the best.

The referee just stood frozen to the spot, however, and was the meat in the sandwich between the respective midfield dynamos of Wigan Athletic and Fulham.

While prone on the grass after the double whammy, Probert still managed to blow his whistle to bring play to a halt.

And while getting treatment from two fawning physios, he pretended to show red cards to both players.

Best retro chant

Children of the satellite television generation might not believe it, but Everton used to be one of the Big Five clubs, back in the day.

In 1984/85 and 1986/87 they even won the league.

Crazy, hey?

So there was a fragrant whiff of nostalgia on Saturday when, as they went 3-0 up at Swansea City on Saturday, their travelling supporters sang deliriously: "We're gonna win the league."

Between them, Everton's irrepressible forward line managed a monstrous 30 attempts on goal against the Welsh side.

In Leighton Baines, they have the form English player in the division. Marouane Fellaini is the leader of the Premier League's Belgian revolution. And Steven Pienaar is clearly a better player for that gap year he had at Tottenham Hotspur.

If David Moyes's side can marry their customary strong second-half of the campaign to their unseasonably fine start, they may even have an outside shout of proving their fans' outlandish aspirations correct.

Worst acting

Saturday was a pun-tastic day in the Premier League. Southampton were Puncheon above their weight when they came from behind to beat Aston Villa, with a goal contributed by Jason Puncheon, their forward.

And when Ashley Cole fired a rare goal to stoke Chelsea's win over Stoke City, it meant another open-goal of a pun was relegated to a down-page sub-header.

Before Cole scored in a nervy finish at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea's new playmaker was nominated for an Oscar for worst acting when he was booked for diving.

Oscar's wooden fall when he was clipped by the shadow of the defender, Ryan Shawcross, would have won the Brazilian forward a Razzie, had Branislav Ivanovic not come over all Keanu in the first half to seal that prize.

Worst subterfuge

In a league in which personnel are drawn from all over the world, and a good interpreter can be as valuable as a good centre-half, it is sometimes best to draw a picture to explain tactics.

It is a bit odd, though, that a Northern Irish manager felt the need to send on a message in note form through an English substitute, first to his English captain then on to his Welsh midfielder in the second half at Anfield yesterday.

Brendan Rodgers, the Liverpool manager, must have drawn the plan he envisaged and sent on with Jordan Henderson. Either that, or Steven Gerrard and Joe Allen are speed-readers.

The master plan all fell down, though, when Allen just threw the note on the grass once he had looked at it, for any old Manchester United player to pick up.

He should have eaten it: United must have cracked the code as they scored shortly after.

Best veteran

There was a theory when Andre Villas-Boas was the Chelsea manager that he was fearful of the senior players who were part of the furniture at the club.

When the Portuguese manager took over at Tottenham Hotspur at the start of this season, he might have mistaken Brad Friedel for an antique armchair in the directors' box.

The American goalkeeper is so long in the tooth, it is eight years since he retired from international football. His new manager was only 26 back then, and had just been given a chance with Porto's youth team, after a spell with the British Virgin Isles.

Everyone in France, including Fabian Barthez and Arsene Wenger, reckons Villas-Boas is mad for favouring the 41 year old goalkeeper over Hugo Lloris.

But Friedel proved his manager right again yesterday, with three brilliant first-half saves to keep Spurs in their game against Queens Park Rangers.


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