The Reds had an amazing month of March with the only real blemish being a 3-0 loss to a unflappable Manchester United squad. Torres was the biggest reason for Liverpool’s success in March. A total of 7 goals, three of which were gamewinners. A lot of people doubted the effect Torres would have in English football and he has managed to prove the critics wrong and transplant that success in European play as well. Liverpool are now through to the semifinals in the Champions League after beating Arsenal in April and March’s road went through Inter Milan. No easy tasks. After Morientes, after Baros, there comes Torres and 21 goals in the Premiership. Regardless, however, Liverpool sits in fourth and quite a distance from third. Not somewhere 21 goals in the EPL should put you…
Goals: 3 goals vs. West Ham United (3/5), 1 goal vs. Newcastle United (3/8), 1 goal vs. Inter Milan (3/11), 1 goal vs. Reading (3/15), 1 goal vs. Everton (3/30)
Jermain Defoe – Portsmouth (FW)
Take that Tottenham. Take that Martin Jol, Juande Ramos. Defoe gets his starting role back at Fratton Park and has since been very unkind to opposing goalkeepers. The speedy striker has 8 goals in 7 appearances with his new club and 6 goals in 4 games during March. Pompey are in a race for a spot in Europe as they sit 4 points outside of 5th with 5 games to play. Defoe is still an outright idiot for cheating on his popstar girlfriend.
Goals: 1 goal vs. Everton (3/2), 2 goals vs. Birmingham (3/12), 1 goal vs. Aston Villa (3/15), 2 goals vs. Wigan Athletic (3/29)
Claudio Graf – Veracruz (FW)
After wasting away at Lanus in the Argentinian Primera Division, Graf has found a new home with Veracruz of the Mexican Primera. He has struck for 10 goals this year, 7 in March alone. The 32 year old has had a journeyman’s career, playing for 11 teams in almost 15 years of work. His newfound consistency has pleased Veracruz fans and almost caused them to take to calling him San Graf (Saint Graf), a nickname given to him in 2004-2007 stint with Lanus. It started fast and furious with Lanus and then waned in the homestretch, now let us see if he can continue the form that has him beloved in Veracruz in just 12 appearances.
Goals (7): 1 goal vs. Necaxa (3/1 GW), 1 goal vs. Pachuca (3/8), 1 goal vs. Chivas Guadalajara (3/14), 1 goal vs. Atlante (3/23), 3 goals vs. Club America (3/29)
Cristiano Ronaldo – Manchester United (MF)
These stats speak for themselves. In four of out five March matches, Cristiano Ronaldo either scored or assisted EVERY goal. He had a hand in over 90% of the goals scored for Manchester United. Then add to that the intangibles, the stats you don’t see on a scorecard. Against Liverpool, he dictated the run of play, confused defenses, threaded perfect through passes. Still only 23, there’s not much more you can say about this guy without admitting a mancrush. You do have to admit, though, he’s got one hell of a supporting cast. It is Ronaldo’s 2nd selection in 2008 and I think I foresee a couple more.
Goals: 1 goal vs. Lyon (3/4), 1 goal vs. Derby County (3/15), 2 goals vs. Bolton (3/19), 1 goal vs. Liverpool (3/23), 1 goal and 3 assists vs. Aston Villa (3/29)
Alex – Fenerbahce (MF)
After a historic night in Sevilla and a berth into the Champions League quarterfinals, Fenerbahce – led by the artistry of veteran Brazilian Alex – destroyed Turkish Super League competition. Alex provided 3 goals and had his hand in over 3/4 of a 15 goal March. Without Alex, Mateja Kezman, Deivid, and Colin Kazim-Richards would have very little to run on to. The 30 year-old not only creates the plays, but he finishes them too. Over 70 goals for Fenerbahce proves that. Long rumoured to be moving to a bigger league, it looks to actually happen this summer as many are starting to wonder after 4 years at the Turkish club, when does loyalty get in the way of ambition? The highlight of March was a two goal performance that dismantled fellow Turkish giants Besiktas 2-1.
Kader Keita – Olympique Lyonnais (MF/FW)
Lyon exploded for a great March only to be blemished by a loss to Manchester United in the UEFA Champions League. Kader Keita, however, took March as a chance to establish his position at Stade de Gerland. You can’t say that Juninho is fading, but Keita has impressed enough to provoke talk of him being the new playmaker for OL. It is certainly a closer year for Lyon, who is looking for their 7th consecutive Ligue One title, but Keita’s efforts (4 goals, 4 assists) has kept OL with a 6 point lead over 2nd place Bordeaux. Let’s remember not to lose his name in the midst of Karim Benzema and Hatem Ben Arfa.
Aldo Duscher – Racing Santander (MF)
Where is Santander coming from?? The veteran midfielder Duscher has sparked an upstart Racing squad to fight its way into the top 5 and a fight for Europe. He started off March by scoring the lone goal in a 1-0 win over Valladolid and followed it with the game winner over Betis. The Argentinian has acted as the glue between a defense that played much of March without their talisman, Ezequiel Garay, and the offense which has produced over 2 goals a game this past month. Along with Jorge Lopez, Duscher has been a big reason Racing now fights for a place in Europe instead of a place in the Primera.
Edson Braafheid – Twente Enschede (DF)
Last thing anyone was expecting from Twente was a 5 consecutive win streak in April. Braafheid captained a Twente defense that was the strength of a team now fighting for a spot in next year’s European competition. A 4-3 win over Vitesse Arnhem was the lone defensive hiccup. Braafheid – 24 years old – was the toast of the Dutch Under-21 squad and his homeland Suriname but could never secure a spot on a more competitive team, eventually falling off the radar. Is that the next step? The talent and work is there, but where are the suitors?
Jose Bosingwa – FC Porto (DF)
Bosingwa continues to attract interest from the rest of Europe – including Manchester United, Liverpool, Aston Villa, and Tottenham. Understandably so due to his role in an undefeated March for Porto. Every game for the Portuguese giants was remarkably close and if it weren’t for Bosingwa and his backline, each one of those games could have taken a turn for the worse. Plucked from the youth ranks by Jose Mourinho, Bosingwa – Congolese born, now Portuguese – looks poised to lead Porto their second consecutive Portuguese SuperLiga title.
Rio Ferdinand – Manchester United (DF)
Rooney and Ronaldo take care of the offense, Ferdinand’s job is the defense. The combination of both has Manchester United tearing through EPL competition. One stinger will be the loss to Portsmouth in the FA Cup, but the eye has been the EPL crown and it looks like United is on their way to grab it. Ferdinand’s EPL accolades have paid him the ultimate dividend – captaincy of the English national team under Fabio Capello’s new regime.
Manuel Neuer – Schalke 04 (GK)
It certainly wasn’t a bad month for Schalke even as they struggle to hold on to a Champions League spot in the Bundesliga. It could have been a lot worse without the 22-year old, baby-faced Neuer in net. Schalke started off March with 2 straight 1-0 losses, one which still ended favorably however. Porto beat Schalke in the return leg with 31 shots. Neuer put in the performance of his life and miraculously kept the score at 1-0 and gave the Germans a chance in penalties. Schalke won to move on to the UCL quarterfinals.
Bench: Mario Gomez (VfB Stuttgart, 4 goals), Ivan Cvetkov (Sivasspor, 5 goals), Klaas Jan-Huntelaar (Ajax, 6 goals), Daniel Guiza (Mallorca, 6 goals), Marek Hamsik (Napoli), Allan MacGregor (Rangers), Daiki Iwamasa (Kashima Antlers), Marcos Gomes Araujo (Kashima Antlers)