CHI’s Best XI of March 2008: Newbies Outweigh the Usual Suspects

Fernando Torres – Liverpool (FW)

First Selection

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)

First Selection

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)

First Selection

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)

Second Selection

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)

First Selection

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)

First Selection

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)

First Selection

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)

First Selection

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)

First Selection

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)

Second Selection

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)
First Selection

Manuel Neuer

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)

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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…

CHI’s Best XI of January 2008: Eto’o, Lescott, Casillas, etc.

Well I wanted a new feature this year and, after a long thought process (about a minute or so) I opted for the one that would cause me to get laughed at/yelled at/argued with the most (and guess what? that’s the point). So tell me who I missed, who I should watch out for, and ways to make this more efficient. There is a bit of bias involved and understandably a Thierry Henry could go on there, but let’s just say this is heavily based on statistics for the current month. Winter breaks in Italy/Germany make for a rather England/Spain-centric presence in this month’s rankings.

Samuel Eto’o – Barcelona/Cameroon (F)

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No one can argue against Eto’o as the Barca star made his club and country extremely happy in January. Three goals for the club as he fought to stay a couple days longer in Barcelona so as not to lose more ground to La Liga leaders Real Madrid. In doing so, Eto’o contributed three goals in 2 La Liga wins as Barca managed to close the gap marginally. He then reported for international duty and in the opening (and jarring) loss to Egypt, Eto’o provided a consolation brace. The Indomitable Lions then recovered and dispatched of Zambia (5-1) and the Sudan (3-0), with Eto’o providing three more goals and securing the African Nations Cup All-Time Leading Goalscorer title.

Cristiano Ronaldo – Manchester United (F)

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NINE goals for the 22-year old. It’s hard to believe that only a year and a half ago Ronaldo was almost on his way out of Manchester after a World Cup spat with Wayne Rooney. Not to mention, Ronaldo over the past several years has been oft-criticized for his over-exaggerated play, diving, you name it – he’s been scrutinized for it. January 2008 proved to be the world’s acknowledgment that between him and Kaka there is no one better right now. And 27 goals in 28 games this season proves that…many of them in clutch circumstances. His main victim? Who else but Newcastle…a hat-trick spelled the end for Big Sam but Kevin Keegan hasn’t had much luck either. Goals – 1/5, 1/12 (3), 1/19, 1/27 (2), 1/30 (2)

Emmanuel Adebayor – Arsenal (F)

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The powerful Arsenal striker has had one hell of a January (and a lot of it has do with the fact that he has Cesc and Hleb in the midfield feeding him). Eight goals in total – 5 in EPL play and 3 in the domestic cups. Adebayor’s victim of the month was Newcastle. In the span of three days, Adebayor has scored three times against the down and out Magpies, eliminating them from the FA Cup and pushing them further down the EPL table. Arsenal now sits at the top of the standings and look poised to do more damage as long as the Togan’s form continues. Goals: 1/1, 1/12, 1/19 (2), 1/22, 1/26 (2), 1/29

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