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Dec 22, 2013

Team of the Weekend

After each round of Premier League fixtures, ESPN FC brings you its Team of the Weekend. Selected by our panel of ESPN FC experts, 11 of Saturday's and Sunday's star performers, including a manager, are carefully chosen. 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" show (5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2) for further reaction.

Team of the Weekend, Dec. 22.
Team of the Weekend, Dec. 22.

Goalkeeper: As it's Christmas, we've a natty, knitted festive No. 1 jumper for our stopper -- and while the returning Joe Hart caught the eye of Paul Mariner, our other two pundits lobbied successfully for Sunderland's Vito Mannone. The Italian made vital saves from Norwich’s Nathan Redmond, Gary Hooper and Ricky Van Wolfswinkel to earn the backing of Gabriele Marcotti and Steve Nicol as he registered a second successive Premier League shutout in a 0-0 draw.

Right-back: Seamus Coleman didn't score at all in the Premier League last season, or the season before that. On Sunday at Swansea, he scored his fourth, and probably best, goal of the current campaign -- a fine, swerving strike from outside the area. Coleman's "goal and excellent general play" saw him selected above Mathieu Debuchy in Mariner's XI, and Nicol was equally gushing about his afternoon's work.

Left-back: We've a three-way split for left-back, a situation to which we've become increasingly accustomed on Sunday nights. This means yours truly has the honour of picking between Nicol's choice of Liverpool's John Flanagan, Marcotti's tip of Hull's Maynor Figueroa and Mariner's selection of Man City's marauding Serbian, Aleksandar Kolarov. There are strong cases for each man, but I'll side this time with Kolarov who, according to Mariner, was rarely out of position and pinpoint with his passing and crossing.

Centre-back: We have an accord as to the first of our central defensive pairing, with Fabricio Coloccini installed by Mariner and Nicol. He's cultured, not to mention curly-haired, and has been a colossus for Newcastle since his return to the side. As Mariner points out, the Toon's back four looks as solid as ever and the Argentine has the ability to make those around him better and more confident -- a vital component of Alan Pardew's outfit.

Centre-back: A flicker of harmony served as only a brief reprieve given that we find ourselves back in lockdown when it comes to Coloccini's partner. A quiet but effective game from Mamadou Sakho had Mariner labeling him "the future of Liverpool's defence," while Nicol saluted the consistency of Everton's Phil Jagielka, a key component of their impressive run. But purely for grabbing a clean sheet back at his former club, I'm with Marcotti and his choice of Norwich's "rock" Michael Turner, a player he says is back to his very best form.

Yohan Cabaye scored Newcastle's first goal at a soggy Crystal Palace.
Yohan Cabaye scored Newcastle's first goal at a soggy Crystal Palace.

Centre-midfield: If Coloccini is Newcastle's defensive stalwart, Yohan Cabaye is their midfield maestro. Much has been made of the Toon's form when they operate in their Brazil-like yellow away kit, winning three times without conceding, and Cabaye is probably one of the few who would look at home in the Selecao's midfield. All three members of our panel were purring over Cabaye, Mariner toasting his vision, Nicol his ability to control games and Marcotti his goal-scoring prowess.

Centre-midfield: Retaining his place after selection last week is Liverpool's Jordan Henderson, who is quietly setting about justifying his hefty transfer fee. As both Nicol and Mariner note, Steven Gerrard's absence has been the making of Henderson, who was diligent in his defensive duties and threatening in attack throughout the victory over Cardiff. Henderson has also struck up a potent understanding with Luis Suarez, setting up both the Uruguayan's goals and setting him free to tee Raheem Sterling up for the other.

Centre-midfield: It's been a while, but isn't it comforting to see Yaya Toure back in TOTW? The Premier League's powerhouse was his usual instrumental self during a rip-roaring game at Craven Cottage in which he got the ball rolling with a sumptuous free kick that had Nicol rejoicing, and no doubt decking his halls with boughs of holly. As Mariner points out, Toure was everywhere as City's two-man midfield outwitted Fulham's three, and fulfilled his duties at both ends of the field "magnificently."

Left-forward: To facilitate a three-pronged attack, we're going to have to push Everton's talisman, Ross Barkley, a little further forward -- but judging by the 20-year-old's performance at Swansea, that'll suit him down to the ground. Barkley bristled with brio every time he got the ball and had a collection of fine players in white running scared. "This is England form," according to Nicol, and I'm sure Roy Hodgson is watching with interest. Barkley's brilliant free kick and general excellence also earned him a nomination from Mariner.

Right-forward: As it is the season of good will to all men, perhaps it is fitting that Tim Sherwood has brought Emmanuel Adebayor back in from the cold. Largely shunned like a plate of cold sprouts during AVB's reign, the Togolese striker now has three goals in two games, demonstrating that he could yet play a big part in Tottenham's season. Adebayor’s display told Nicol that he still has hunger for the game, while Mariner referred to his beautifully taken "hang-time" opener as "especially pretty."

Luis Suarez calebrates with Jordan Henderson after the midfielder's backheel set him up for his second goal.
Luis Suarez calebrates with Jordan Henderson after the midfielder's backheel set him up for his second goal.

Centre-forward: Up front, it's Shola Ameobi. Only kidding -- it is, of course, Luis Suarez. Marcotti owns up to running out of superlatives to describe Suarez, who he says showed an unselfish side of his game when assisting Sterling. Our other two panelists are more succinct, Mariner simply calling him "the king," and Nicol anointing him "the man." Both monikers work for me and for Liverpool, who must be rubbing their hands with glee at having secured him on a new long-term contract. He is, by far, the Premier League's best player at present.

Manager: Malky Mackay, quite rightly, gets a nod from Mariner for the class and dignity he showed in defeat at Liverpool, while Nicol thought Manuel Pellegrini's tactical switches with City and Fulham locked at 2-2 were a "masterstroke." But though he may well be out of a job by the time you read this, I'm with Marcotti and his choice of Tim Sherwood. No stranger to straight talking even in his short stint so far, Sherwood hurled the kitchen sink at Southampton and was rewarded for his bravery with victory. As Marcotti notes, it doesn't solve all Tottenham's ills, but it'll make their turkey taste a little sweeter -- even without lashings of cranberry sauce.

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