Mkhitaryan, Son, Rashford lead Premier League Team of the Weekend
After each round of Premier League fixtures, ESPN FC presents its Team of the Weekend, which is selected by Gab Marcotti, Paul Mariner and Steve Nicol.
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.
Goalkeeper: In a crucial relegation battle with Huddersfield, Swansea were down to 10 men after only 11 minutes. Things didn't look good, but Lukasz Fabianski was on hand. He did brilliantly to tip Steve Mounie's rasping effort onto the bar and his assured handling frustrated the hosts time and again in a 0-0 draw. Not surprisingly, the ex-Arsenal man is a unanimous choice for our panel. "A crucial contribution," says Steve Nicol, while Paul Mariner praises "a big performance" and Gab Marcotti says the keeper "grabbed Swansea a point."
Defender: They don't come much bigger than a clash between Manchester United and Liverpool and, with the two battling it out for second place, Chris Smalling rose to the occasion as United frustrated an attack that has torn other teams to shreds. Smalling's form has been up and down at times but he was at his best here -- calm, commanding and controlled, he dominated in the air and on the ground. "Organised everything well, both around him and in front of him," says Mariner, while Nicol credits Smalling and Co. for "thwarting" Liverpool.
Defender: Newcastle's game against Southampton had been previewed as a nervy scrap between two teams looking over their shoulders. But nobody told that to Rafa Benitez's side, who were thoroughly assured and confident, captain Jamaal Lascelles leading the way with a performance of poise in an excellent defensive display that laid the foundations for a 3-0 win. "Commanding at the back for the Toon," says Mariner, with Marcotti praising "another A-list performance from Benitez's model student."
Defender: Arsenal, said Arsene Wenger after the win over Watford, had endured "a nightmare week." But they woke up at the Emirates on Sunday and there was no shortage of spirit on display. Shkodran Mustafi showed plenty, bouncing back from indifferent personal form to enjoy a fine match. Not only did he give the Gunners the lead with a thumping header, he also shackled Watford's awkward customer Troy Deeney. "Feast or famine with him," says Marcotti, "but he grabs a goal and keeps the back line tight," while Nicol adds that Mustafi "got it right."
Midfield: The storm clouds of the recent past seem a distant memory for Riyad Mahrez, who was all smiles and sparkle as Leicester turned on the style to inflict more misery on hapless West Brom. The Foxes made a slow start but, once Mahrez had decided it was time for things to pick up, they took over. He floated a fine pass for Jamie Vardy to thrash home the equaliser, adding the second with an exquisite lobbed finish, and offered his usual array of tricky runs and stylish passes. "He's got his focus back now," is Nicol's verdict, a view shared by Mariner.
Midfield: When Jonjo Shelvey is knocking the ball around, Newcastle play well, and that was the case on Saturday when their coolness in a pressure game owed much to him. He created two goals, including an early opener for Kenedy to banish the nerves, and ran the midfield, stretching Southampton and winning plenty of challenges. "He needs to bring this level every week if Newcastle are to stay up," says Mariner, while Marcotti adds: "Passes the ball like few others in the league. He's Benitez's beacon in midfield" and Nicol praises "great creativity."
Midfield: On a much more positive day for Arsenal, Henrikh Mkhitaryan provided another plus with a performance that offered plenty to be optimistic about. Mkhitaryan has struggled to make a consistent impact since arriving from Man United but was in the thick of things vs. Watford, providing lovely passes and clever runs, setting up Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's goal and weighing in with a strike of his own. "Back with a bang; he scores one, sets up another and generally wreaks havoc," says Marcotti, who clearly enjoyed that.
Midfield: A spectacular late winner at Crystal Palace one match, a performance of the utmost discipline the next -- there may not have been a glamorous goal for Nemanja Matic but there was a key contribution to Manchester United's success in stopping Liverpool. Matic made a stack of interceptions in the second half, helping to ensure that opposition possession did not translate into chances, while keeping things simple, effective and steady. "Fantastic in front of Smalling and his colleagues," says Mariner, while Nicol adds that Matic denied Liverpool any momentum.
Midfield: He hadn't started for a while, and how Liverpool must have wished Marcus Rashford hadn't lined up against them. He seized the match by the scruff of the neck, cutting inside his marker before lashing home the first goal and doubling the advantage soon afterwards. He didn't give Liverpool a second of respite, chasing everything in an outstanding 70-minute performance. "Those goals were huge; why doesn't he start more often?" wonders Nicol, while Marcotti says Rashford "ran free" and Mariner adds simply: "Made all the difference."
Forward: Son Heung-Min has been in tremendous form, and showed his adaptability when Spurs lost Harry Kane to injury at Bournemouth. Son had caused problems from the left early on, and once Kane departed he inflicted them from a central striking role instead. He put Spurs 2-1 up after the break before slotting his own stylish second; no wonder Spurs fans were airing their "nice one, Son" chant. "A constant thorn in Bournemouth's side," says Mariner; Marcotti notes that Son "can do it as a stand-in centre-forward" and Nicol lauds a player "on top of his game."
Forward: It's been a mixed bag of a season for Chelsea, but twinkle-toed Willian has been one of its outstanding contributors and was in fine fettle in the win over Crystal Palace. After all the talk of negativity that followed the defeat at Manchester City, Willian exuded positivity and was rewarded with his 13th goal of the season, creating a succession of problems as he ran at the Eagles' defence. "Scores a goal and probably should have had more. Peaking at the right time," concludes Marcotti.
Manager: Jose Mourinho came up with the goods in the match of the weekend and saw his Man United side go five points clear of Liverpool as a result. He was without Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial but used the resources at his disposal to perfect effect as a Liverpool side that has flowed so often were simply unable to get going. United took their chances and then saw the job through in what was often a tough second half. "Not pretty but effective, getting the three points in the biggest game," says Mariner.