Team of the Weekend
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: Julian Speroni must feel like he's waiting for a London bus, and let me explain why. He looks all season for a spot in our Team of the Weekend, then two come along almost at once. Last week's heroics at Newcastle came in a losing cause; this shift at Selhurst Park came in Palace's red letter day of this season, as they toppled league-leader Chelsea. The Eagles veteran was outstanding all afternoon, the pick of his saves a point-blank parry from Eden Hazard. As Steve Nicol records, "Reaction saves, positional saves, you name it, he did it." Paul Mariner, quite rightly, says that without Speroni, Palace would have been the losing side.
Centre-half: In a lionhearted display for Palace, Damien Delaney was immense for Tony Pulis. The centre-half caught the eye of both Nicol and Shaka Hislop -- guesting for the absent Gab Marcotti this week. As Nicol declared about the Irishman, "Throw it in the box and he will win it" -- evidence of which came time and time again in south London. In an incredible display of determination and work rate, Delaney stood out as not only a fine defender but also a leader, as Chelsea laid a late siege to Palace's net.
Centre-half: As is quite often the case with our Team of the Weekend, there is an early split in the selection panel. Our final slot at the heart of defence is a tough one to decide between Hislop's choice of Martin Demichelis, Nicol's option of Sylvain Distin and Mariner's shout for Vincent Kompany. All had fine games for their respective clubs, but I'm siding with Mariner, as Manchester City's captain led from the front against an Arsenal team that knew it was the last-chance saloon for their dwindling title aspirations. In a dogged second-half showing, Kompany marshaled his men in the manner we have come to expect, helping to resist late Gunners pressure.
Centre-half: In order to shoehorn another Palace hero into our back line, Joel Ward is going to have to revert to his favoured central position after being deployed mainly as a right-back by Pulis. Underlining his versatility, the 24-year-old has taken to the switch comfortably, putting in another superb shift against Jose Mourinho's men. Stout in defence, even when repeatedly tested by Eden Hazard and his teammates, Ward also provided the centre that John Terry nodded into his own net. It was his second assist of the season, the other one coming at Stamford Bridge earlier this season. Chelsea must be sick of the sight of him.
Midfield: At the base of our midfield is Arsenal's French warrior Mathieu Flamini, who has been described in some quarters as their player of the season. In Nicol's words, Flamini "dragged Arsenal back into a game which looked out of their reach by the scruff of the neck." It was he who registered their equaliser too -- his second since returning to the club. Hislop was in agreement with Nicol and was impressed with Flamini's battling qualities against the powerhouse pairing of Fernandinho and Yaya Toure.
Midfield: Within 38 minutes of Swansea's hammering of Norwich, Jonathan De Guzman had doubled his goal tally for the campaign. The first was neat enough, as his smart volley from the edge of the box found a way past John Ruddy, but the second was a delightful finish to end an equally delightful move -- the sort we've become accustomed to from the Swans. Skipping onto a gorgeous backheel from Wilfried Bony, the Canadian-born midfielder delicately lifted the ball into the net. "Excellent work rate and goals," Mariner declared of De Guzman's day.
Midfield: "He must start for England in Brazil," says Nicol of Southampton's superstar skipper Adam Lallana. A screamer and an assist was scant reward for a performance that wouldn't have been out of place in a Selecao shirt. (There is a slight caveat, in that Newcastle were so completely useless that the Brazil team of 1970 could have rolled them over had they regrouped for old times' sake.) Lallana smashed home a screamer from the edge of the box not long after he had set up a goal for another World Cup hopeful, Rickie Lambert. "Class" was how Mariner described his display.
Midfield: For this midfield berth, I have gone rogue and am overruling our panel, as Steven Naismith's 45-minute cameo at Craven Cottage was one of the best I've seen in the top flight this season. Fulham took charge of the opening 45 minutes of their do-or-die clash with Everton, but the Scot changed all that within five minutes of appearing after halftime -- his volley forcing David Stockdale to turn into his own net. Always available to receive the ball, Naismith probed in the final third, grabbing the clinching third goal and even hitting the post late on. Get your money on him to start Everton's next match as they rev up for a tilt at fourth place.
Midfield: The final midfield berth is quite literally anyone's. The names of Raheem Sterling, Philippe Coutinho, David Silva, Mile Jedinak and Steve Gerrard were all offered up for selection by our panel, and all have valid claims for the TOTW throne. The three Liverpool players sparkled in the win against Spurs, and Jedinak's performance was a beautiful illustration of how he executes the ugly parts of the game with aplomb. But, for another silky performance in a difficult game for Manchester City, Hislop's choice of Silva gets the nod. The Spaniard was at his creative best, starting and finishing the move that led to City's goal.
Striker: When your club is down in the dumps, it's not unreasonable to look to your most exorbitantly paid player to help lift the mood. That's exactly what Wayne Rooney did for Manchester United at Old Trafford on Saturday -- a place that has been more welcoming than Santa's grotto of late. After going a goal down, and after the much-hyped plane had passed, Rooney took charge, nodding home when afforded the freedom of the area before slamming a penalty into the net to double his tally. Nicol thinks Rooney is carrying his teammates at the moment, and it's hard to disagree.
Striker: It's a measure of Luis Suarez's exceptional form that he will no doubt be disappointed to emerge from Liverpool's latest rout with only a single goal to his name. Spurs were so utterly woeful that he could have scored a treble hat trick, and only a miraculous Hugo Lloris save prevented him from bagging a brace. The Uruguayan had to be content with Liverpool's second, a precise, angled finish after yet another defensive mistake; it was his 29th of the campaign, more than any other Reds striker has managed in the Premier League era. Mariner says simply, "You can't leave him out," while Nicol thinks Suarez would get a start in any team in the world right now.
Manager: Playing it cool is Brendan Rodgers, but don't think he didn't go home on Sunday night and weep tears of joy while staring at the Premier League table. Let's be blunt: Their eighth straight top flight victory was a walk in the park against a Spurs side that they have beaten 9-0 over two matches, but this victory was earned with a fair amount of pressure on their shoulders. Talk of the title is swirling around Anfield, but Rodgers has dealt with it expertly, his coolness under the pump impressing Nicol and Mariner. Now that they have hit the top, we'll get to see if he really is the cool customer he wants us all to think he is.