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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Juande Ramos vs. Avram Grant – Ramos and Tottenham take the League Cup!

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I had to lead with something a bit uplifting this Sunday in the wake of Eduardo’s career-threatening injury on Saturday. Tottenham’s 2-1 stunner over Chelsea in the final of the League Cup provided a small window to forget about not only Eduardo’s injury though…also I was able to forget that both Reading and Fulham moved closer to certain relegation with time running out, Heerenveen giving up a two goal lead after an ejection left them a man down for 70 minutes, and let’s not forget Houston’s terrible 6-1 drubbing at the hands of Bare and Gamba Osaka. Yikes.

Back to the good stuff though. Juande Ramos has really turned this Hotspur team around. The Spurs have always threatened the Big Four in terms of reputation and the ability to draw young talent, but never have they been able to match the pace and consistency of the Big Four ON the pitch. Tottenham’s 2-1 extra time win today was just what they needed to maybe push them over the threshold.

It was an up and down day for the Hotspur as the match started well, but it was Chelsea who found the net first heading into the end of the half. Didier Drogba – trying to rekindle his pre-African Nations Cup form – hit a free kick that confused the hell out of Tottenham’s Paul Robinson. The Spurs and Ramos felt a bit hard done by that as they held strong the whole half with Ledley King and Jonathan Woodgate looking like a Vidic/Ferdinand pairing. The second half – both teams cooled down a bit, but Tottenham came alive late with Aaron Lennon patrolling the wings. His efforts paid off in the 70th minute when Wayne Bridge handled one of Lennon’s attempted crosses with his hands and Berbatov stepped up to coolly finish the penalty.

Regulation-time ended in a draw and changes were made, but the same suspects stood out. Woodgate quarterbacked an efficient defensive corps, while Lennon and Berbatov sparked the offense. The consistent play paid off for the Spurs when Woodgate found Jermaine Jenas’ free-kick with his head (well, it sort of found him) and beat Petr Cech in the 94th minute. They then snapped back to tactical form and denied Chelsea an equalizer for the last 26 minutes. Not even the long awaited return of John Terry and a healthier Frank Lampard could inspire the uninspired. Tottenham’s victory was their first League Cup since 1999.

EPL Daily 1.29: Woody with Spurs, Sissoko, Baros, Guzan, coming down to the wire

JONATHAN WOODGATE: The former Real Madrid central defender has been stuck in the mediocrity of Middlesbrough. After a transfer bidding war between Newcastle and Tottenham, the Spurs have come out on top – addressing a big issue within their line-up. Michael Dawson can’t be trusted and who knows when Ledley King is ever going to be fully fit again. Only Pascal Chimbonda can say he’s doing anything worthwhile. Woodgate went to Real Madrid as a young 24 year old, but with one major problem, huge injury issues. He solidified himself as a first team central defender but then the injuries hit, limiting him to 9 games over 3 seasons. Tottenham apparently picked Woody up for $16 million, but guess what? – a hamstring injury should keep him from joining their starting line-up for another 2-3 weeks. The Hotspur also look to finish up a deal for Scottish international and Rangers fullback Alan Hutton soon. The figure seems to be around $18 million. Clearly, Juande Ramos is addressing their major weaknesses and not afraid to spend the cash for true talent…less so potential.

MO SISSOKO: The Mali international got his wish and hell of a wish come true at that. 22-year old Sissoko was pissed at not getting the chances he deserved at Anfield and wanted more playing time. Can’t really blame the kid as he was asked to wait behind the likes of Steven Gerrard, Javier Mascherano, and Xabi Alonso. His time looks to increase two-fold at Juve with an aging Pavel Nedved, Cristiano Zanetti, and inexperienced Antonio Nocerino leading the way. Juventus’ midfield has provided only 7 of the 46 goals scored this year. Sissoko is generally considered a defensive midfielder but don’t count out the possibility of him getting a little more free reign at the Delle Alpi. The proceeds from Sissoko’s transfer looks to be the money Liverpool needs to pay for a permanent capture of Javier Mascherano.

MILAN BAROS: …………..is back!! The underperforming former Liverpool and Aston Villa striker has returned to the EPL from French juggernauts Olympique Lyonnais and this time with his scoring touch, hopefully, intact. This one flew under the radar as Baros will be moving on loan. His reasoning? What else but lack of playing time. Milan – if you scored more and bitched less, you’d be starting in Lyon. Regardless, he will get the playing time needed at Pompey under Redknapp cause they’re dealing with Kanu and Utaka gone at the AFC and David Nugent just picking up an injury. We’ll give him props for at least a year over at Stade de Gerland.

BRAD GUZAN: No need to recap this. You all read it on Soccer by ives.

RUMORS: Barcelona’s Eidur Gudjohnsen back to the EPL, this time with Bolton (still need that Anelka replacement); Afonso Alves to Middlesbrough is still in the works, getting closer apparently; Joleon Lescott to either Manchester United or Arsenal

OTHER COMPLETED MOVES: Dennis Wise (head coach at Leeds United) to Newcastle in the position of Executive Director (whatever that means); Aston Villa’s Olof Mellberg to Juventus (Bosman ruling, Summer 2008); Manchester City’s Giorgios Samaras to Celtic on loan; Racing Lens’ Jimmy Kebe to Reading