Injury-Plagued Essien Back in Action for Chelsea

W300

Ghana midfield dynamo Michael Essien ended his latest spell on the sidelines with a late appearance as Chelsea pipped Sunderland to remain in the English Premier League top four at the weekend.

However, his recovery came too late to win him a place in the Black Stars squad for the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations, which kicks off this weekend in Equatorial Guinea with Gabon also hosting matches.

Frequent Blackburn Rovers scorer Ayegbeni Yakubu made headlines for the wrong reason, receiving a first-half red card after a reckless challenge. Rovers overcame Fulham 3-1 with 10 men to stay just above the drop zone.

ENGLAND

MICHAEL ESSIEN (Chelsea)

The Ghana midfielder made his long-awaited return from injury as a second-half substitute in Chelsea's 1-0 win over Sunderland at Stamford Bridge. Essien came on in the 73rd minute as a replacement for match-winner Frank Lampard. It was the 29-year-old's first appearance this season after suffering a serious pre-season knee injury.

EMMANUEL ADEBAYOR (Tottenham)

The Togo striker couldn't get on the scoresheet as Spurs lost ground in the Premier League title race after a 1-1 draw against Wolves at White Hart Lane. Spurs had won 14 of 18 previous league games, but with Adebayor well marshaled by the Wolves' defense, Harry Redknapp's team missed a chance to draw level on points with leaders Manchester City.

AYEGBENI YAKUBU (Blackburn)

The Nigerian striker was sent off in the first half against Fulham, but his struggling side still managed a crucial 3-1 victory at Ewood Park. Yakubu, who has scored 13 times this season, saw red for a reckless high challenge on Fulham midfielder Danny Murphy in the 23rd minute and faces a three-match suspension.

ALEX SONG (Arsenal)

The Cameroon midfielder was unable to prevent Arsenal crashing to a surprise 3-2 defeat at Swansea. Song endured a frustrating afternoon as Swansea's neat passing caused Arsenal all manner of midfield problems. The Gunners have now lost successive league games and remain fifth, four points behind Chelsea.

PETER ODEMWINGIE (West Brom)

The Nigeria striker drew a blank as West Brom crashed to a 2-1 home defeat against Norwich. Odemwingie was hauled off in the 63rd minute by Albion boss Roy Hodgson and has scored just once in his last five appearances.

FRANCE

MOHAMED SISSOKO (Paris Saint-Germain)

Tough-tackling Mali midfielder Sissoko produced one of his most impressive performances since his summer move from Juventus as league leaders Paris Saint-Germain beat Toulouse 3-1 to preserve their three-point lead. The former Liverpool player's physicality and intelligent use of the ball helped PSG assert control in the center of the pitch and he received a standing ovation when substituted in the 85th minute.

NICOLAS N'KOULOU (Marseille)

Cameroon international N'Koulou formed a key part of the Marseille rearguard as OM beat champions Lille 2-0 to climb within two points of the top three. N'Koulou was without his usual partner in central defense, Souleymane Diawara, who is at the Africa Cup of Nations with Senegal, but the 21-year-old played with customary calmness to help Didier Deschamps' side to a fine victory.

FOUSSENI DIAWARA (Ajaccio)

Former Mali international Diawara netted what proved to be the winning goal as nine-man Ajaccio came from behind to overcome Auxerre 2-1 and claim their third consecutive Ligue 1 victory. The 31-year-old met a 33rd-minute corner with a powerful header that hit the crossbar before bouncing behind the line. It was his third goal this season, while Ajaccio, although bottom of the table, are now just a point from safety.

ITALY

KEVIN PRINCE BOATENG (Inter Milan)

The Ghanaian attacking midfielder was in combative mood in the Milan derby as his side lost 1-0 to Inter. He was in the thick of things in the first half, blasting a shot goalwards that hit his own team-mate Urby Emanuelson while guiding another effort from distance just wide. He picked out Zlatan Ibrahimovic with a cross but the big Swede's flicked finish went over. Boateng came close to opening the scoring when his clever run created space in the box to be picked out by Emauelson's corner, only for the Ghanaian's finish to fizz over. He was booked in the second half.

SPAIN

AROUNA KONE (Levante)

Ivorian striker Kone played the full game for Levante in their 3-0 defeat at Athletic Bilbao. A pre-match doubt after a clash of heads saw him substituted at half-time in a 4-0 Spanish Cup victory over Alcorcon last week, he returned to lead the forward line in a disappointing loss.

FREDERIC KANOUTE (Sevilla)

The retired Mali striker came off the bench to replace Spain international Alvaro Negredo at half-time in a goalless game with Espanyol. Kanoute received a yellow card, but was not able to add to his three league goals this season.