Team of the Weekend, Sept. 27-28
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" (ESPN2, 5:30 p.m. ET) for further reaction.
Goalkeeper: Saturday was a day for fine goals, but it was also one for the men whose job it is to prevent those goals from happening. There were a few standout performances from the men between the sticks, notably Hugo Lloris, who proved that he's more than just a sweeper-keeper who spends his time rushing out of his penalty area by making a series of fine saves against Arsenal. It was he, as much as goalscorer Nacer Chadli, who was responsible for Tottenham's point in the North London derby. However, it's another fine performance in a derby that caught the eye of our panel, with Everton's Tim Howard winning the No. 1 shirt for his fine display at Anfield. "The save from Mario Balotelli was a huge morale booster and kept Everton in the game," said Gabriele Marcotti, while Steve Nicol called the American's performance "huge."
Right-back: There's dissent in the ranks for the right-back slot, with three different selections from our three panelists. Paul Mariner opted for Branislav Ivanovic, praising his "boundless energy going forward" and how he "defended very well." Marcotti chose the "invaluable" Pablo Zabaleta, on the basis that he put in his "usual hard work defensively" but also helped "set up two goals at the other end." Nicol picked Southampton's Nathaniel Clyne as his man, saying the Saints defender "deserves an England cap." While it's hard to disagree on that assessment of Clyne, and Ivanovic is indeed a muscular force in Chelsea's defence, any team is improved greatly by Zabaleta, so your judge opted for the Argentine as the best choice.
Centre-back: Central defenders should usually be celebrated for their defending, which admittedly is a fairly obvious point to make. However, sometimes their contribution at the other end of the pitch is such that it's impossible not to salute that as well. Of course, the man to which we refer is Phil Jagielka, whose implausible rocketed shot nicked a draw for Everton and denied their rivals a win that could really have jump-started their season. "Broke my heart with that late equaliser," said former Liverpool man Nicol through the tears, while Marcotti described the stunning goal as a "frighteningly vicious finish." Enough said, there.
Centre-back: We turn to the other derby on Saturday, and a man for whom the captaincy of his club has clearly proved something of an inspiration. Younes Kaboul was perhaps a surprise choice for the Spurs armband, given the disruption that injuries have caused to his form over the past couple of years, but the Frenchman was superb at the Emirates, shackling Danny Welbeck and the Gunners' myriad of other attacking threats brilliantly. "Organised the back four, picked up great spots to nullify Arsenal," reckoned Mariner, while Nicol called the defender a "rock" in Mauricio Pochettino's backline.
Left-back: "That's how you defend from full-back," exclaimed Nicol about Danny Rose, but it's not the Tottenham man who gets the nod in our team this week. That's because our other two panelists chose another English left-back building a decent reputation for himself, high-flying Southampton loanee Ryan Bertrand. The man who moved on a temporary basis from Chelsea in the summer has made sure Luke Shaw hasn't been too keenly missed at St Mary's, and chipped in superbly with a goal and some terrific all-round play as the Saints beat QPR 2-1. "Scores a goal and provides an endless supply of crosses," said Marcotti. "Soon, Saints fans might be saying "Luke who?" Quite so Gab, quite so.
Right-midfield: It's easy to forget that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is still only 21, given the amount of time he seems to have been around. Nevertheless, his career to date has been a stalling one, injuries hampering his development since signing for Arsenal back in 2011. But if he manages many more performances like he put in against Spurs at the weekend, then we could be about to see him flourish. The winger was excellent in the North London derby, and of course forced home the vital goal to salvage a point for his team. "Worked very hard on both sides of the ball in the London derby -- pace, skill and an eye for a goal," said Mariner, while Marcotti reckoned this performance "proves why Wenger believes," lamenting, "if only he could stay fit..."
Centre-midfield: There's a case to be made for Mile Jedinak to be the most underrated player in the Premier League. Not by our panel, though, who pick him for the central midfield slot in our Team of the Weekend, spotting the talents that the Australian, playing in an unglamorous position for an unglamorous club, brings to Crystal Palace. The Eagles' skipper scored his second goal in as many games as Palace beat a Leicester side high on confidence, leading Nicol to call him "Mr Crystal Palace." Marcotti summed up his value thus: "Managers come and go at Selhurst Park, but the big man is always there."
Centre-midfield: Not for the first time in his career, doubts have been raised about the form of Steven Gerrard in recent weeks, and about how much he contributes to the Liverpool team. Some believe he is past his best, and that Liverpool need a genuine defensive midfielder if they are to cure some of the problems that have dogged them over the last two seasons. However, he answered at least some of those questions this weekend, with not only a brilliant free-kick to put his team in the lead, but also a fine all-round performance against one of the better midfields in the division. Nicol reckoned he "shut up a few" with his showing at Anfield, while Marcotti said: "Concerns about mobility? Not on this day. And his free kick breaks the ice for the men in red."
Left-midfield: Arguably the performance of the weekend came in one of the least-heralded games, as West Brom made short work of Burnley on Sunday, beating the struggling Clarets 4-0. Saido Berahino can count himself unlucky not to find a spot in the side due to some other excellent forward showings, so instead the Baggies are represented by midfielder Graham Dorrans, their key man at The Hawthorns. "Sets up two goals and opens up Burnley with ease," says Marcotti. "Then finishes a neat move with pinpoint accuracy."
Forward: One of the few unanimous choices in our Team of the Weekend, but Edin Dzeko deservedly took that honour after his goals helped Manchester City overcome a sticky test at Hull. The big Bosnian bagged a pair in his side's 4-2 win, and as Mariner said "he is in top form at the moment," having helped himself to another brace against Sheffield Wednesday in the Capital One Cup. "Goals, power and finesse," was Nicol's simple assessment, while Marcotti said: "With Aguero limping, Nasri injured and Yaya forgettable, he and David Silva are carrying City right now."
Forward: Graziano Pelle was regarded as something of a joke in his homeland of Italy until relatively recently. His goals in the Netherlands started to change a few minds, but if he continues to produce strikes of the outrageous quality of the one that took everyone's breath away on Saturday, then he'll be taken much more seriously -- and in a hurry. Pelle's extraordinary flick up and acrobatic volley was an utter joy to behold, and once again reinforced the idea that the portents of doom about Southampton's summer clear-out were unfounded. Nicol speculated that Pelle's strike could be goal of the season already, while Marcotti called it "Zlatanesque." And there is no higher praise than that.
Manager: Again, a unanimous choice, and there really couldn't be anyone other than Ronald Koeman occupying the bench of our team. Koeman "has the magic touch at the moment" according to Nicol, while Mariner reckons he has done an "astonishing job." The final word goes to Marcotti, who noted: "QPR may not be much in terms of opposition, but the fact that they're maintaining intensity and grabbing low-hanging fruit could be invaluable come the end of the season. Not to avoid relegation -- they ain't going down -- but to get into Europe."