x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Villa's veritable double act

The Aston Villa manager Houllier brings out the best in Heskey, and other best and worst incidents this week in the Premier League.

Best arrival: Van der Vaart - Are any Premier League side more committed to entertaining at the moment than Tottenham Hotspur? OK, so Arsenal have their neat, passing triangles. Dimitar Berbatov is invoking the spirit of Manchester United's finest crowd-pleasers. And Chelsea are easily the most ruthless. But for frolics at either end of the field, it is difficult to look past those boys from White Hart Lane.

It seems as though Harry Redknapp, their manager, sends out his players with the message: "Let them have their goal headstart, we will score more than them anyway." At the heart of it all is Rafael van der Vaart, the transfer deadline day signing from Real Madrid. With two goals against Aston Villa on Saturday, the Dutchman has now scored on each of the three home matches he has played for his new team.

A few days earlier he had scored, missed a penalty, and been sent off for two yellow cards, all within one hour of a Champions League game. 

Worst defending: G Johnson - The Liverpool right-back, has 29 England caps and cost his club £17 million (Dh98.6m), but he has always been better at attacking than defending. Yesterday, Glen Johnson - who earns thousands of pounds a week but was once fined by the police for shoplifing from a hardware store - proved once more that he is not the sharpest tool in the box.

His mistimed tackle on Blackpool's Luke Varney was about an obvious a penalty as you will ever see. A rash moment from a man prone to defensive mishaps. But to compound matters, Johnson then protested like a man possessed to referee Mike Jones - convinced that he had got some of the ball.

Best duo: Heskey and Houllier Emile - Heskey probably feels he owes his Aston Villa manager, who was his coach at Liverpool, a favour. He certainly plays like he does.

When Gerard Houllier suffered a heart attack at half time in a Premier League game against Leeds United in 2001, he had to wait for his centre-forward to vacate the physio's couch before he could get treatment. Heskey, who was signed for Liverpool by Houllier a decade ago, has been trying to pay the Frenchman back ever since. He followed up a brilliant headed goal for the Villains against Wolverhampton Wanderers by setting up the opener for Martin Albrighton, the young winger, against Spurs on Saturday. While Heskey was on the field, there was only one side in it.

All this from a player who looked like he was wearing his shoes on the wrong feet when he underwhelmed for England at the World Cup. 

Worst welcome: Man United - One consequence of the boom in the modern stadiums which have gone up around England in the past 15 years is the likelihood of a more hospitable welcome for away teams. Rarely will Premier League players have to change in the dank, shoebox dressing rooms which went out with grounds like Ayresome Park, Middlesbrough, and the Baseball Ground, Derby. However, United's millionaire stars were treated to a throwback moment on Saturday. Their encounter at Sunderland's Stadium of Light was delayed by 20 because a burst pipe caused part of the visitors' dressing room to collapse. Bring back Roker Park.

Best goal: A Johnson - Quite what Adam Johnson has done to merit spending so much time on the bench at Manchester City of late is anyone's guess. Perhaps he did not cost enough. Whenever he plays, the young English winger is box-office. He used to play for Middlesbrough, and he seems to save his best for his former club's north east rivals, as evidenced by his classic strike against Sunderland last season. This time he fired a decisive goal against Newcastle United yesterday.

Having initially been named among the substitutes for the second league game running, he was given just enough time to show everyone else how it should be done. Imagine what he could do in a whole 90 minutes, Mr Mancini. Oh, and Alex's thundering free-kick against Arsenal was not bad either, was it? Johnson wins it, though, as his won the match. 

pradley@thenational.ae