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Smith: Strikers must step up

Burnley 4 hours ago
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 By Nick Miller
Aug 24, 2014

Team of the Weekend, Aug. 23-24

Former Chelsea midfielder Craig Burley assesses Jose Mourinho's squad after the first two weeks of the season.

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.

Team of the Weekend
ESPN FC's Team of the Weekend

Goalkeeper: In a few months, it will probably seem pretty odd that there was ever any debate about who should be Chelsea's goalkeeper this season. Thibaut Courtois has been awarded the No. 1 jersey after his return from Atletico Madrid, and he has showed exactly why in his two performances so far. Of course, having played against two of last season's promoted clubs, he will have tougher tests to come, but he certainly impressed our panel, Paul Mariner praised his "fantastic saves in one-v-one situations to keep a clean sheet," while Steve Nicol says there's no doubt now who the goalkeeping top dog is at Chelsea. This could be a long season for Petr Cech.

Right-back: Another big debate at Chelsea has been over their full-back options, with Jose Mourinho looking like he will rotate Filipe Luis, Cesar Azpilicueta and Branislav Ivanovic. The Serbia international started on the right against Leicester and performed as admirably as ever, obviously at the back but also going forward, where he shows a surprising ability. "Up and down he goes. A beast defensively and better than you expect offensively," Gab Marcotti said, and the other members of our panel agreed, making him the only unanimous choice in this week's defence, with both Nicol and Mariner praising him lavishly.

Left-back: The signing of Ben Davies in the summer led many to assume that Danny Rose's days were numbered at Spurs, but he is not letting his first-team spot go without a fight. Rose, like many of Mauricio Pochettino's men, was excellent in their demolition of QPR on Sunday, giving their fans hope that a rather more enjoyable season than last term lies ahead. Marcotti noted that Davies "will struggle to displace him if he keeps playing like this," while Nicol enjoyed how Rose looked "tough in defence and dangerous going forward."

Centre-back: It was a good day all around for Spurs, and Jan Vertonghen takes one of our central defensive berths. The acquisition of another left-back means he will spend the majority of his time in his favoured position in the middle, and on this evidence that's good news for Spurs. "So composed on the ball, he needs to stay at centre-back," Nicol noted, while Mariner was equally effusive, saying the Belgian was "fantastic -- his passing and positional sense was superb."

Centre-back: There was less of a consensus about the other central defensive spot, with nominations for Swansea's Jordi Amat ("a rock at the back," according to Mariner), his teammate Ashley Williams and Jose Fonte of Southampton, who will be so important for the sake of the Saints' continuity this season. But the nod goes to Ryan Shawcross. The Stoke man is perhaps the best defender in the country who isn't routinely discussed in relation to the England squad, which is a subject of much consternation with Stoke fans. As a consolation, perhaps, he makes our side this week, with Marcotti saying: "OK, so maybe his goal shouldn't have stood. But it was just reward for the prototypical battling captain."

Gareth Barry put in a fine performance in Everton's 2-2 draw with Arsenal.

Midfield: One of the most understated players in an understated position, Gareth Barry being permanently signed by Everton in the summer might be one of the shrewdest moves this season. Along with James McCarthy, he forms one of the most solid deep central midfield partnerships in the division, and that was in evidence as Everton drew with Arsenal on Saturday. "His sweet pass sets up Seamus Coleman's opener," Marcotti noted, also praising Barry's "calming influence in the middle of the park," while Nicol said his "positional sense and experience shone through."

Midfield: Another excellent free signing in the unspectacular midfield stopper role this summer was Jack Colback, who moved from Sunderland to Newcastle for no fee. And it looks like a superb deal for Alan Pardew's men, Colback is performing brilliantly, in particular in Newcastle's draw with Aston Villa. Mariner called the midfielder "Pardew's best signing to date" and noted that Colback is "fitting in a treat with a cool, calm performance," while Nicol said he is "playing like a veteran" at the heart of the Magpies.

Attacking midfield: Stewart Downing became a punch line during his time at Liverpool, weighed down by an enormous price tag and disappointing performances, but there is clearly a fine player in there somewhere. Downing displayed just that as West Ham beat Crystal Palace with some elan, finishing a fine, flowing team move with a terrific finish. "This is what Liverpool wanted from him two seasons ago," Nicol noted, while Mariner said he provided a "constant threat all afternoon" to go with his "clinical finish."

Attacking midfield: Signed as the most obvious like-for-like Gareth Bale replacement last summer, Erik Lamela's first season in England could barely have gone worse, spoiled by injuries and struggles to adapt to the Premier League. However, the early signs this term are that he will be more like the player Spurs paid upward of 25 million pounds for, and he was at the heart of Tottenham's terrific, flowing display against QPR. "So much for the haters," Marcotti said. "Sets up two goals and displays the free-wheeling skills that prompted the club to spend big last summer." Meanwhile, Nicol asked: "Is this the real Lamela? Spurs fans hope so." They certainly do, and if he provides entertainment like that every week, so do the rest of us.

Attacking midfield: Nacer Chadli wasn't quite as high profile an arrival last summer, but he was also part of the influx of players who disappointed the White Hart Lane faithful. Like Lamela, he looks like a different player under Pochettino. Our panel thinks the manager has plenty to do with the reversal in fortunes, as Marcotti argued Chadli "seems made for Pochettino's brand of football," while Mariner said: "Scoring goals, rotating with teammates in midfield, playing with a smile on his face -- the manager has him and the team flying."

Diego Costa has made an immediate impact at Chelsea.

Striker: Of all the new arrivals this summer, Diego Costa's at Chelsea was perhaps the most inevitable, but it certainly seemed like the one that filled a need most effectively. Jose Mourinho was lacking a proper left-back and a top-class centre-forward. In Costa, he has certainly recruited the latter, and the early evidence suggests the Spain international will be a hit at Stamford Bridge. "No defender wants to play against this throwback of a traditional No. 9," Mariner said. "Movement good, hold-up play good and scored again."

Manager: It all seems to be working out quite nicely for Mauricio Pochettino at Spurs -- so far, that is. Two wins from two, top of the nascent Premier League table, and he's even started giving interviews in English. It was a feature of his time at Southampton that his methods seemed to take hold and succeed pretty quickly, and it seems to be happening at White Hart Lane as well. He was the unanimous choice of our panel to occupy our bench, with Nicol believing Spurs "look a different team already," while Mariner praised how Pochettino has his team "pressing high, passing the ball with a purpose, scoring goals," and Marcotti said he "seems to have regenerated some of last season's performers. And with a lot less drama than the Andre Villas-Boas/Tim Sherwood campaign."

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