CHI’s Best XI of February 2008: Toni, Heitinga, Howard, and Gerrard.

Luca Toni – Bayern Munich (FW)

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First Selection

Toni’s February had its’ ups and downs, but his goals came at the right moments. Four in all as Bayern overcame a crowded month and got the results they needed to stay within the UEFA Cup as well as the Bundesliga race. The tall Italian striker hit for a hat-trick against Hannover 96 mid-month, but his only other league goal in was a bit more decisive – the eventual game-winner versus a tough and more organized Hansa Rostock. He also found the time to strike for the first goal in a 3-1 win over Portugal for the Italian national team. Toni has found his niche in Munich, but none of that would be possible without the service of Ribery, Schweinsteiger, and Klose. Goals: (2/1) vs. Hansa Rostock, (2/6) vs. Portugal, 3 vs. Hannover 96 (2/17)

Fernando Cavenaghi – Bordeaux (FW)

First Selection

A relative unknown (unless of course you have played Football Manager at some point), Cavenaghi is back to his pre-Russia form. The Argentine stuck it out in the cold at Spartak Moscow until a Bordeaux forked over the cash for the striker. His start in Ligue One was slow, but he has since found sizzling form and February was an extension of that. Although Bordeaux crashed out of the UEFA Cup with a 3-2 aggregate loss to Anderlecht, their form within Ligue One has Lyon sweating bullets. Cavenaghi made sure of that by hitting for two important braces against Metz and Monaco (a 6-0 blitz). With 13 goals overall this season, Cavenaghi along with David Bellion have Bordeaux only three points away from the French giants. Goals: 2 vs. Metz (2/9), 2 goals vs. Monaco (2/17), 1 goal vs. Anderlecht (UEFA Cup, 2/21)

Marco Borriello – Genoa (FW)

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First Selection

Genoa could not have had the February it did without the 5 goals an Borriello is the definition of Serie A’s journeyman, having been cast aside by AC Milan on many occasions in the form of loans to Triestina, Torino, etc. Genoa, in fact, co-owns Borriello and have really reaped the rewards of giving the AC Milan striker a shot as they now sit in 8th after being promoted just this season. He has hit for 16 league goals and sits at the top of the Serie A scoring charts. Marco’s February followed suit with his second hat-trick versus Udinese this season and a couple noteworthy penalty conversions. The abundance of goals comes from Borriello making up for lost time and it doesn’t look to stop any time soon.

Xavi – Barcelona (MF)

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First Selection

Even a team of stars needs that overshadowed player to decide a game for them every once in a while. February was a month in which Barcelona needed Xavi most and he delivered with a couple timely goals as Barca tries to keep pace with Real Madrid. The first was an 88th minute strike that broke a frustrating deadlock versus Osasuna. His second came about a week later against Sevilla away from home Xavi overcame Diego Capel’s early strike in the 76th minute to give Barca a hard-earned point. He was also instrumental in Barca’s 5-1 romp over Levante adding a goal and having a hand in two others, but a lot of Xavi’s play goes unnoticed organizing the midfield, winning challenges, and breaking defenses. One thing is for sure, if there was no Xavi – Barca would be up to 4 points further behind Real at the top.

Marcelinho – VfL Wolfsburg (MF)

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First Selection

Between Marcelinho and Grafite creating up front and Alexander Madlung patrolling in the back, Wolfsburg could not have asked for a better February. Marcelinho was the driving force in pushing a sluggish Wolfsburg back into Bundesliga’s mid-table. The aging Brazilian regained his form that saw him called up several times for the Brazilian national team, providing several game-winning assists (to Grafite no less) and an important goal in the process. The most important being an extra-time winner versus Hamburg in the quarterfinals of the DfB Pokal.

Steven Gerrard – Liverpool (MF)

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First Selection

Okay, okay, okay…we all know that Barnsley upset Liverpool to push through in the FA Cup, but if there was one Red that wasn’t going to let that ruin their month it would be Gerrard. If you take a step back and look at it, Liverpool didn’t have that bad of a month. Save the loss to Barnsley, Liverpool blanked Inter Milan 2-0 in Champions League action, (with return leg tomorrow) deadlocked Chelsea, and beat both Sunderland and Middlesbrough. Gerrard was the foundation, along with Javier Mascherano. The midfielder also scored the crucial second goal against Inter, fed Fernando Torres on several of his February goals, and inspired his team to keep in the hunt for a Champions League spot next year.

Diego Capel – Sevilla (MF)

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First Selection

Anyone could have picked Luis Fabiano, but that’s only if they forgot Diego Capel’s early February performance (2/9) versus Barcelona. He turned on, twisted, and borderline embarrassed a normally organized Barca defense. The young Capel along with Luis Fabiano led a small resurgence of Sevilla within La Liga and their only real hiccup of the month was a 3-2 away loss to Fenerbahce in the first leg of the UEFA Champions League Round of 16. Capel’s play even prompted a personal acknowledgement to the media stating that he is happy to be Rojiblanco and agreed that he was, in fact, ‘on fire’. Between Dani Alves and the 20-year old Capel, they account for over half of Sevilla’s service. Therefore – Luis Fabiano? Kanoute? You now know who you have to thank…

Phil Jagielka – Everton (MF/DF)

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First Selection

David Moyes is quickly becoming a guru at picking up lower league talent and turning it into Premiership quality. Jagielka, formerly of Sheffield United, is one of those finds and has somehow found his way into the already crowded Everton midfield of Arteta, Carsley, Cahill, Fernandes, and Osman. He is versatile, can switch back to defense and can score goals on occasion. Toffees faithful enjoyed a better February than January and Jagielka owes that to their focus on defense in winning these EPL games. It’s always easy to say let’s just worry about defense when you know you have Yakubu and Andy Johnson up front. Regardless, Jagielka thrives as Everton pushes onward in the UEFA Cup and up the EPL tables. His game-winning goal against Reading didn’t hurt either.

Johnny Heitinga – Ajax Amsterdam (DF)

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First Selection

The 24-year old Heitinga has had a career month for Ajax as they try and keep pace with a reeling PSV Eindhoven. A nine-point deficit is going to make that pretty difficult. Heitinga has kept them in it, straying from general expectations to do so. In other words, Ajax’s defense has been awful, so Heitinga has taken it upon himself to score. Two goals in a six goal romp over Sparta Rotterdam, the game-winner in a 3-2 victory over NAC Breda, and the first goal in a 3-0 shutout of rivals Feyenoord.

Jonathan Woodgate – Tottenham (DF)

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First Selection

Pretty arguable selection but his haphazard goal – a Carling Cup winner versus Chelsea no less – and the resurgence of a Hotspur backline justifies his selection. A little more than a month ago, Woodgate was wallowing in the mediocrity of Middlesbrough (much like Stewart Downing just signed up to do for 4-5 more years). Fast forward a month and he’s playing for a much respected (unless you’re a Sevilla faithful) manager, on a team with a huge upside, and a Carling Cup champion. Plus, we now know what Tottenham looks like WITHOUT Jonathan Woodgate…see March 1st 4-1 beating at the hands of Birmingham.

Tim Howard – Everton (GK)

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First Selection (1 Bench Selection)

Howard could have been penciled in as Best XI goalkeeper for January but Iker Casillas got the nod last month instead. Howard continues to consistently turn out results for Everton pushing his team into Champions League contention for next year, a UEFA Cup Round of 16 appearance (so far), and a position for him at the top of EPL goalkeepers . Do you think Sir Alex Ferguson ever wishes he still had Howard or is that just wishful thinking? Howard is responsible for helping the Toffees to a 4-0-1 February with 4 of those 5 games clean sheets. Only goal scored against him was in Everton’s UEFA Cup rout of SK Brann. Shutouts: (4), 2/2 vs. Blackburn, 2/9 vs. Reading, 2/13 vs SK Brann, 2/25 vs. Manchester City

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BENCH: Brad Friedel (GK-Blackburn), Fernando Torres (FW-Liverpool), Joseph Yobo (DF-Everton), Kevin Kuranyi (FW-Schalke 04), Salvador Cabanas – (MF/FW-Club America), Roger (MF/FW-Gremio), Lionel Messi (MF-Barcelona), Dani Alves (DF-Sevilla), Mohamed Aboutraika (MF-Al Ahly), Grafite (FW-VfL Wolfsburg), Hakan Suker (FW-Galatasaray)

See who made the Best XI last month…

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