x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

The best and worst of the Premier League weekend

Things got a bit hairy at Stoke and Blackburn bent the rules against Wigan. Paul Radley reviews the highs and lows.

Jonathan Walters, left, sports a handlebar moustache but Heidar Helguson only has fluff.
Jonathan Walters, left, sports a handlebar moustache but Heidar Helguson only has fluff.

Worst mo - Helguson

Predictably, given it involved a team managed by Neil Warnock travelling to the Britannia Stadium to play against one coached by Tony Pulis, Stoke City versus Queens Park Rangers was a proper big boys' game of football, where men were men and the women in the stands were pretty scary, too.

It was ironic, then, that one of the toughest players on show, and arguably the most rock-hard in the league, Heidar Helguson, presented the most prepubescent attempt at a moustache.

Men all over the world have been growing facial hair this month for the Movember charity and plenty of footballers have joined in.

While Jonathan Walters and Danny Higginbotham had full handlebars for Stoke, and Danny Gabbidon an impressively manicured effort for QPR, Helguson looked like he had taped two bits of cotton wool to his top lip, just to be in with the gang.

All minor trivialities, of course, when set against the fact Helguson laid the platform for three crucial points by scoring twice for Rangers.

Best noise - Swansea City

For the past few years, it has been difficult to argue with Stoke fans that they are, indeed, always loudest.

However, judging by the arrival of the first Welsh team in the Premier League this season, it seems that the further west you go in the league, the more voluminous the sound.

Brendan Rodgers, the manager, may want his players to play like they are from Barcelona rather than Swansea, but the support they get from the stands is unambiguously Welsh.

The rousing efforts by the Swans players on the field against Manchester United were more than matched off it by the songs at the Liberty Stadium.

Worst airshot - Gervinho

Who says Arsenal are a team of ineffectual fancy dans who eschew tap-ins in favour of overelaboration?

Their recent revival suggests there is more to them than that, but Gervinho, the former Lille forward, at least gave those theorists a little grist to the mill on Saturday.

The Ivory Coast striker botched an early one-on-one against Norwich City at Carrow Road, but he had the perfect chance to redeem himself a few minutes later by chalking up an easy goal.

Instead of stroking a fine cross from Theo Walcott into the net from two yards out, he opted to try a lavish, flying back flick - and swished at a large chunk of fresh air.

Luckily for Arsenal, Robin van Persie, the predator-in-chief, was stood right behind ready to sweep up the mess and score his 31st goal of 2011.

Best subterfuge - Pedersen

When Wayne Rooney and Ryan Giggs first came up with the most deliciously deception corner routine against Chelsea two seasons back, their effort was overruled by the officials.

Even though it was perfectly within the laws of the game, it was just too subtle for everyone to understand. How the worm has turned. Now you do not even need to bother with the clever bit, the imperceptible roll of the ball just out of the corner quadrant, and everyone is blinded by cleverness, and the would-be corner taker can just run away with the ball and do what he likes with it.

Morten Gamst Pedersen and Yakubu Aiyegbeni pulled a fast one in setting up Junior Hoilett's controversial goal for Blackburn Rovers against Wigan Athletic at the DW Stadium.

If they can ever pull that trick again, that really would be clever.

Worst awareness - Aguero

The ambiguous offside rule can catch out even the costliest, canniest and most prolific players.

Sergio Aguero, the Argentine striker, has been a sensation since his summer move to Manchester City from Atletico Madrid, but even he was made to look silly by semantics on Saturday.

A through ball against Newcastle United found Aguero so patently offside that he was retreating as impassively as it was possible to do, all in full view of a linesman with his flag down.

When the Etihad Stadium crowd then started chiming up as if he was home free, he decided to chase the ball instead.

Thus he ruined the chances of Yaya Toure, who had surged forward from miles away, of scoring.

Best illusion - Drogba

Didier Drogba is from the same school of free kick taking as players such as Cristiano Ronaldo.

Whereas a classic set-piece specialist - David Beckham or Gianfranco Zola for example - will finesse his shot with bend and dip, Drogba generally hits the ball with his laces, so that the shot has less height on it and makes its way to goal quicker.

When he pulls it off, it is lethal as a goalkeeper rarely has time to get acoss his goal to get a hand on the ball.

Yesterday, 20 minutes in against Liverpool, he pulled off a trademark free kick to perfection.

The ball passed inches above the defensive wall and was at ground level by the time it reached to goal.

The net rippled, supporters celebrated, television commentators declared "1-0 to Chelsea" and even the scoreboard on the TV screen changed to show the home side in the lead.

Except Drogba had not scored, his shot had gone inches wide, hit a stanchion behind the goal and bounced back into the netting, fooling most of those watching. Red faces all around.