Naismith makes Team of the Weekend after treble for Everton vs. Chelsea
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.
Goalkeeper: How on earth did Arsenal only breach Jack Butland's net twice on Saturday? It's a question Stoke's goalkeeper might well be asking himself. He faced 29 efforts on goal at the Emirates and made phenomenal saves from Theo Walcott, Santi Cazorla and plenty of others. Minus him, it would have been seriously ugly. Paul Mariner says it would have been a "cricket score," if it wasn't for the stopper while Gab Marcotti adds: "Arsenal absolutely walloped them and it could easily have been five or six."
Right Back: We have options at right back -- three in fact. Steve Nicol puts Matteo Darmian forward for selection after his fine afternoon's work in Manchester United's 3-1 victory over Liverpool. Mariner gives his backing to Hector Bellerin but I'm going to side with Marcotti and his selection of Ritchie De Laet. The former United defender scored a goal and set one up as Leicester rallied from 2-0 down after 71 minutes to beat Villa 3-2.
Centre Back: Everton's John Stones was unflappable in Everton's 3-1 win over Chelsea, adding a few zeros to his price tag in the process. The 21-year-old's performance underlined just why Jose Mourinho was desperate to sign the defender in the transfer window and as Marcotti underlines: "It was more than any old game for him. It was a date with what might have been. Thoroughly unruffled and unfazed."
Centre Back: Christian Benteke, a wonder goal apart, got absolutely nothing out of Daley Blind as United thumped Liverpool. In a slightly subdued clash between English football's most successful clubs, the Dutchman was the difference, scoring a fine opener and making two clearances off the line. Nicol trumpets Blind's reading of the game and Marcotti continues: "The finish was superb, but that's not his core business. Defensively, he was close to impeccable."
Left Back: At left back is a promising young Everton defender who was under a fair amount of pressure up against the defending champions; Brendan Galloway. As Mariner points out, filling the shoes of Leighton Baines is a big task but the 19-year-old has excelled. He was supreme on Saturday and as Nicol says, he was "ferocious in defence."
Right Midfield: Surprise, surprise, it's Riyad Mahrez once again. Leicester's talisman is probably the hottest player in the Premier League right now and can add several Aston Villa defenders to his list of casualties for the season, following his super show in Leicester's 3-2 win on Sunday. At one point, he tricked three Villa defenders in a row, who then all collapsed to the ground in confusion. Marcotti says: "If voting for the Player of the Year was held right now, he'd be a serious candidate."
Centre Midfield: The stand-out player at the Stadium of Light, Ryan Mason, gets the nod here. The 24-year-old ran the show for Spurs in their 1-0 win over Sunderland, linking defence and attack and sticking the boot in when necessary -- just ask Fabio Borini. He also finished off a magical team goal. He started the winning move and finished it with a delightful dink over Costel Pantilimon. Nicol says it was the strike of the weekend.
Centre Midfield: Arsenal schemer Santi Cazorla was at his silky best against Stoke, twisting this way and that, threading passes through the eye of a needle and generally being ace. Marcotti says he took the Potters apart "surgically," and goes on to call him "Arsenal's Andrea Pirlo." A bold claim, sure, but who's arguing? Mariner agrees.
Left Midfield: Talk about a super sub. Steven Naismith only played 81 minutes at Goodison Park but that was enough to register a perfect hat trick, inflict a third Premier League defeat on the champions and become only the sixth player in Premier League history to score a treble after coming on as a substitute. "Power, aggression and goals," screams Nicol; Mariner calls him the "ultimate pro," and Marcotti chimes in with: "A perfect hat trick -- and he came off the bench! Not for the first time, he stole the show from bigger name players around him." Scoring a header and goals with both your right and left feet in a match is the easy way to getting yourself picked for TOTW
No.10: Wes Hoolahan could be mightily important for Norwich this season. The Irish playmaker has clear quality and he was clearly in the mood against Bournemouth. Hoolahan teed Cameron Jerome up for the opener before rifling home the second in a 3-1 win for Alex Neil's men. Nicol calls him the "Norwich architect," Mariner credits him with breathing life into their season while Marcotti rounds it off by adding: "A masterclass. Who said players from the British Isles can't play between the lines?"
Striker: The man to lead our line is Watford striker Odion Ighalo. The Hornets have been plucky but wasteful this season, but thanks to a fine defensive display, Igahlo's well-taken goal was enough to beat Swansea 1-0 and claim a first league win. Mariner says he led the line brilliantly while Marcotti says: "He was alert and hard-working."
Manager: As for the boss, we have three options. The first, put forward by Mariner, is Manuel Pellegrini for his tactical tinkering in the wake of Sergio Aguero's injury in Manchester City's 1-0 win at Crystal Palace. Nicol opts for Claudio Ranieri after the Italian inspired a miraculous comeback win for Leicester against Villa. Meanwhile, Marcotti selects Roberto Martinez for exploiting Chelsea's weaknesses mercilessly. All have valid claims, but Martinez clinches it.