Premier League Team of the Weekend, Nov. 29-30
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 more reaction.
Goalkeeper: There's trouble right off the bat this week, in the form of three goalkeeping choices from our panel. Gab Marcotti plumps for Costel Pantilimon, who helped Sunderland shut out Chelsea for the first time this season, while Steve Nicol opts for the custodian at the other end in that clash, Thibaut Courtois. Paul Mariner reckons neither of them can hold a candle to QPR's Rob Green in terms of volume of work, as 19 attempts rained down on the former England stopper's net at Loftus Road. A string of fine saves ensured a vital win for Rangers and secures his TOTW place.
Right-back: "Glen Johnson's brave header could be a turning point for Liverpool," says Nicol, and that is almost entirely the reason why the right-back takes his place in TOTW. He didn't have the most scintillating game for Liverpool -- nobody did -- but who's to say we won't be reflecting on it in a month and slapping Johnson on the back for igniting their season after the Reds win five in a row? As Marcotti rightly opines, "He's had some very tough times recently, but he shows professionalism and commitment and is rewarded with that late winner (as well as a boot to the head)."
Centre-back: Chris Smalling is clearly a strong man. Lambasted after his rash red card in the Manchester derby, he has come back better and has even added a credible goal threat to his armoury. He kick-started a thrashing of Hull City (though the dubious goal panel might insist on taking a look), yet another occasion in which Steve Bruce failed to register a win over his old club as a manager. As Marcotti points out, the England defender has had "nightmares" this season, but both he and Mariner were impressed with the character and leadership Smalling showed all afternoon long.
Centre-back: There are three options for Smalling's partner: Steven Caulker (Mariner), Kolo Toure (Nicol) and Ciaran Clark (Marcotti). As ever, all have valid claims: Toure for an assured performance in a vital clean sheet for Liverpool, Clark in a hard-fought 1-1 draw at Turf Moor, and Caulker for providing an assist and keeping his head in a classic Premier League encounter that averaged more than one attempt on goal every two minutes. In lieu of our stalemate, an extra opinion is useful, so thanks to QPR coach Glenn Hoddle for conveying that this was Caulker's best display of the season. He's in.
Left-back: Newcastle's winning run came to an abrupt end at Upton Park thanks to a match-deciding goal that was the football equivalent of beauty and the beast. While most fans inside the stadium were chuckling at Cheikhou Kouyate's shank from outside the area, Aaron Cresswell was charging into the box, alert to the possibilities. The left-back, who was tidy in everything he did during the game, gleefully galloped into the area and turned home his first topflight goal. Marcotti hailed his "sheer belief and bloody mindedness" for the winner but also his all-round display, while Mariner labels him a "great signing" by Big Sam.
Midfield: A tabloid headline writer's dream, Leroy Fer finally makes his way into our TOTW after a tireless display in the undisputed match of the weekend at Loftus Road. The Dutchman was involved in a fair few of those 51 goal attempts -- the most since Opta records began in 2006-07 -- and had a hand in Charlie Austin's winner in an action-packed 90 minutes. Fer also grabbed his first goal for the club. Mariner hails Fer's "prodigious appetite" for the midfield scrap, while Marcotti pays tribute to the 24-year-old's "brains and brawn."
Midfield: The visit of Chelsea was the perfect storm for Lee Cattermole: the champions elect and their legion of stars in town, under the lights, on the television, on a nippy northeast evening. Unsurprisingly, the tenacious midfielder threw himself into his work with gusto. Nicol and Marcotti are qualified in their praise of the former Middlesbrough man, the former calling Cattermole "an acquired taste" and the latter stating that at times he is "downright dirty and dangerous," but both were united in praise for his guts. Marcotti trumpets his appetite for the fight against Nemanja Matic and Cesc Fabregas, while Nicol says his disrupting job in the centre of the park was "effective."
Midfield: When the conditions are right, there are few better technicians in the Premier League than Santi Cazorla. The Spaniard's slice of the limelight may be limited, given the star-studded names that surround him, but as West Brom found out to their cost on Saturday lunchtime, when you allow him space, he'll hurt you. An excellent all-round performance was capped by his role in Arsenal's winner as a jinking run down the left was followed with a delicious cross for Danny Welbeck. Marcotti says Cazorla can do "what he wants" when given time, while Mariner lauds his diligence when executing his defensive duties.
Midfield: After a relatively straightforward sojourn through our midfield, the usual fight rears its head in the end. So, should we go for Michael Carrick (Mariner), Mile Jedinak (Marcotti, of course) or Kevin Mirallas (Nicol)? All have their merits, but there is one compelling reason why the Australian gets the nod. I'll let Gab explain: "OK, I promise I won't have him in my team every week. And this time, it was just a penalty that he scored. But the emotion of the cricket bat (in tribute to Australian batsman Phil Hughes) and the calm intensity with which he patrolled the midfield -- so important."
Forward: It is a rare thing for Sergio Aguero to bag a place in our TOTW without having found the net during the weekend. But there are myriad reasons for his inclusion: his 100th Premier League start for Manchester City (64 goals), his outrageous treatment at the hands of referee Mike Jones, who booked him for diving when he was hacked down, and his two fine assists for teammates. "Valuable even when he's not scoring (which isn't that often)," says Marcotti. "A staggering game as the leader of the line. You name it, he can do it," adds Mariner. Enough said, right?
Forward: An injury to Angel Di Maria aside, it was a near-perfect afternoon for Manchester United and Louis van Gaal, and his captain Wayne Rooney was right at the heart of the 3-0 win over Hull. Often maligned but always missed, the England striker is "flying at present" according to Nicol, and proved so with a beautifully taken goal in the rout. But Rooney's afternoon was about much more than just his goal, as he pulled many of United's attacking strings in the absence of their Argentine ace. As Mariner explains, Rooney is in a "rich vein of form at present and is playing like the true captain his manager needs."
Manager: The race to be crowned our coach of the weekend was so tight that I asked Twitter to help. Sadly, Twitter was found wanting, as I didn't get a single vote. Maybe I just have lazy followers. Anyway, with my shifty ploy to avoid blame by canvassing opinion on social media failing miserably, I'll have to go through the options all by myself. Marcotti elects Van Gaal, noting that, three months in -- the time when the Dutchman asked to be judged -- Manchester United turned in their best display of the season. Mariner goes for Harry Redknapp for pulling off a "colossal" three points, while Nicol has chosen Gus Poyet for "stopping the Chelsea juggernaut." One final check of Twitter ... nope, still nothing. Redknapp, then. Not happy? Well, you should have voted.