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Whittaker: Hodgson biased against Stoke

Stoke City about an hour ago
Read
Aug 17, 2014

Team of the Weekend

As the first week of the English Premier League concludes the ESPN FC panel discuss who they feel make up the Team of the Weekend.

After each round of Premier League fixtures, ESPN FC brings you its Team of the Weekend. Our panel of experts carefully selects 11 star performers along with a manager.

Do you agree or disagree? You can have your say on those picked or overlooked in the comments section at the foot of the article or on Twitter using the hashtag #TOTW. Plus, tune in to Monday's "ESPN FC" (5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2) for further reaction.

ESPN FC
ESPN FC's Team of the Weekend

Goalkeeper: New season, same old Hugo Lloris. There he goes, saving Tottenham's bacon yet again. Reduced to 10 men via a rash flash of red from Chris Foy after Kyle Naughton 's audition to replace Lloris in goal, Spurs were always going to be hanging on to an extent. But the Frenchman proved a formidable barrier whenever the Hammers managed to fashion a chance worth noting. Stewart Downing, especially, found Lloris in fine form. As one of his champions Gab Marcotti pointed out: "Lloris kept Spurs in the game long enough for them to go on and nick it at the end." Paul Mariner agreed, while we shouldn't let Steve Nicol's nod to Hull keeper Allan McGregor go unnoticed.

Right-back: The only unanimous choice in our five-man back line (well, it is de rigueur these days, isn't it?) is Tottenham's match-winner Eric Dier. With competent defending at the back keeping out a frankly powder-puff West Ham attack, the new recruit from Sporting Lisbon operated both at centre-back and right-back during his Premier League debut. Diligent and energetic, he wasn't found wanting in his defensive duties and, in the game's final throes, marauded forward to latch on to a Harry Kane pass, round Adrian and slot home for an unlikely winner. Mauricio Pochettino's verdict on his summer signing? "Hero."

Centre-back: The first of our three hard-working, no-nonsense centre-halves is Hull's James Chester. Both he and Curtis Davies, as on plenty of occasions last term, provided a watertight barrier at the back for Hull, who well and truly spoiled QPR's topflight return. That was no mean feat given Loic Remy's potent presence up top, married to the hustle and bustle of Charlie Austin. It was this shackling of Remy, allied to his winner, that got Chester a nomination from Marcotti, which was enough to seal his place in our Team of the Weekend.

Centre-back: Perfectly complementing Chester is another gritty competitor -- Swansea captain Ashley Williams. With all the talk ahead of Manchester United's opener focusing on Louis van Gaal's premium pedigree, the Dutchman's preponderance for a three-man defence and his take-no-prisoners attitude, Garry Monk's men barely got a mention. But it is some feat zapping the bristling enthusiasm out of the league's biggest stadium and transporting them back to the bad old days of David Moyes' reign within 90 minutes. As Mariner noted, Williams was supreme in marshaling the Swans' defence, ensuring United's first opening-day home defeat in Premier League history.

Centre-back: Speaking of shock results, hands up who had Aston Villa to win at Stoke? It shouldn't come as a surprise that a Roy Keane-inspired Villa managed a shutout, given that their rearguard is spearheaded by Ron Vlaar -- a bona fide star of the World Cup for the Netherlands. So much so, in fact, that every mention of his name seems contractually obliged to include the adjunct: "He's still at Villa? Really?" The 29-year-old displayed why he has become so coveted since Brazil, putting in a fine display made even better by the realisation his centre-half partner was an aging Philippe Senderos.

Left-back: I'm going to stick my neck out and say this won't be the last time Leighton Baines grabs our left-back slot this season. In fact, there's a possibility he might do it another 37 times. One of the league's premier wing-backs was his usual self on Saturday as newly promoted Leicester were the latest to feel the force of his defensive steel and attacking prowess. Nicol is a big fan and put the former Wigan stalwart forward after an afternoon in which he made 34 of his 56 passes in the opposition half. If ever a demonstration were needed of Baines' ability to drift into space and pick the right pass, it came with the goal he made for Steven Naismith. A class act.

Ki Sung-yueng fires Swansea in front at Man United.

Midfield: It's a wonder Monk ever considered letting Ki Sung-yueng depart Swansea, and perhaps his display at Old Trafford on Saturday will persuade the gaffer to ensure the South Korean stays put. In many ways, Ki was the perfect player to exploit the shortcomings of Manchester United's new-look tactical approach, such is his nous at making himself available and finding his intended targets with unerring accuracy. Ki carries a goal threat too, but that's perhaps the one area of his game that could do with improvement. If his finish for Swansea's opener was anything to go by, he could improve on the three goals he bagged on loan at Sunderland last season. Marcotti called Ki's display "a hard-running, high-work rate performance with good quality."

Midfield: "Eighteen months ago, he was a zero; now he is a hero." So says Nicol of Arsenal's Aaron Ramsey, a man who has become so influential for the Gunners that his absence after Christmas last season was pinpointed as a key reason for their slide out of the title reckoning. By his own admission, Ramsey was far from his best on Saturday, but mediocre performances can be elevated to pivotal ones in the blink of an injury-time eye. That was the case against Crystal Palace, which battled harder than predicted after the loss of Tony Pulis until Rambo's last-gasp raid proved their ultimate downfall. As Marcotti surmised, he took "ownership" of the situation.

Midfield: Manchester City's decision to hand David Silva a new five-year contract might be one of the best signings they have made for some time. No wonder Nicol refers to Spaniard Silva as "the little maestro." Silva missed 12 games for City last season; had he been fit the entire time, they may have had the title wrapped up earlier than the final day. In what was a tricky opening test away at a revamped Newcastle, City accomplished precisely what they had in their last five visits to St James' Park, winning the game by showing a touch more composure in front of goal. That was Marcotti's buzzword for Silva, who was skillful and probing throughout, topping his afternoon off with a superb run and finish for the opener.

Raheem Sterling celebrates his opening goal at Anfield.

Forward: This time last year, you could pick Raheem Sterling up for a bargain 5 million pounds or so in fantasy league terms. His inflated price this time around tells you what a year he has had -- helping to lead an ultimately doomed title bid with his club before being afforded the chance to shine on the biggest stage of them all at the World Cup in Brazil. After the departure of Luis Suarez, the onus will be on the 19-year-old and Daniel Sturridge to provide much of Liverpool's attacking menace. That won't be a problem on this evidence, as highlighted by all three of our panelists. Marcotti thought Sterling was Liverpool's chief threat for long stretches, Mariner marvelled at his pace, and Nicol was impressed by the way he took his goal and set up Sturridge for the winner.

Striker: Edin Dzeko, Steven Naismith, Wayne Rooney and Sergio Aguero were all under consideration for our coveted lone striker spot, but there is only one No. 9 in our eyes this week -- Saido Berahino. In a weekend where no team scored more than two goals, the 21-year-old managed a brace for Alan Irvine's West Brom. Mariner was full of praise for the "gifted youngster," who converted a penalty and then slammed home a fine volley to turn the Baggies' deficit into a lead they nearly held. Marcotti said Berahino's second goal showcased his "predatory instincts" and reckons this could be a big season for him.

Manager: Louis who's in the news? Garry Monk is obviously no respecter of reputations, such was the epic party-pooping nature of Swansea's win on Saturday. The ginger ninja slayed his illustrious counterpart by exploiting the uncertainties Manchester United's legion of stars felt at employing a tweaked tactical formation, leading the Swans to victory at Old Trafford seven months after they had triumphed there in the FA Cup. Nicol toasted Monk's ability to keep his side "cool and composed," while Mariner said his game plan was "perfection itself." But the final word should go to Marcotti, who nailed it when he said: "Monk doesn't have a pedigree. He's not a big name. He's just a clever guy who has the backing of his club and his supporters and who works his rear end off." Hear, hear.

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