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: Sterling work in preventing a defeat getting truly ugly, or one potentially pivotal intervention when in pursuit of the ultimate prize? That is the conundrum in front of us this week as Joe Hart and Hugo Lloris vie for our No. 1 spot. Hart's stop of Steven Naismith with City leading 2-1 was a massive moment in their season, but despite that intervention, I'm siding with Gab Marcotti and Paul Mariner and plumping for Lloris. He was magnificent in an otherwise-shoddy Spurs defeat to West Ham, saving superbly from Andy Carroll and Kevin Nolan, and very well from Mo Diame and Matt Taylor. A virtuoso performance.
Right-back: It is a pertinent question put forward by Mariner: Can Arsenal really afford to let Bacary Sagna go? Yes, Arsenal's clash with West Brom felt like it was unfolding in slow motion, but it seemed the Frenchman was one of the few on the show operating at full speed. Marcotti is in no doubt that Sagna deserves a new deal from Arsenal, and the fans don't seem to be, either, if his ovation on the players' lap of appreciation is anything to go by. Sagna might not always be spectacular, but he is rarely found wanting at the back and scarcely wastes possession.
Centre-back: Does everyone at Old Trafford still want Ryan Giggs to get the full-time gig? Sunderland took a pin to the Giggs bubble that has been rapidly expanding this week, a player who spent many a year playing alongside the Welshman ironically harming his chances. That man was John O'Shea, who has been as instrumental as anyone in Sunderland's late-season surge and impressed Marcotti to no end. If there was one of the pair who was found wanting in terms of leadership on Saturday, it sure wasn't O'Shea. Blocks, tackles, interceptions -- you name it, he did it.
Centre-back: Winston Reid was everything Tottenham's defence wasn't on Saturday: reliable, solid and no-nonsense. The Kiwi has missed a large chunk of the season through injury, and it was noticeable how much of a difference his presence made. While Messrs. Kaboul and Dawson were falling over or getting sent off, Reid was keeping his balance and positioning and doing his utmost to lock down a clean sheet. Marcotti says of him: "He's quietly had an outstanding season," and Mariner thinks so, too.
Left-back: It's a straight fight at left-back between Luke Shaw and Erik Pieters. No shock there, but perhaps it is that longtime Shaw champion Marcotti has put forward the Stoke man. Both have equally valid claims for inclusion, for largely similar reasons. Both played their part defensively for their sides, and both offered everything a modern full-back should -- pace and power going forward. In this tight battle of the red-and-whites, I'm plumping for Pieters and not just for alliteration's sake.
Centre midfield: What do you need when you stage your very own cup final against the FA Cup finalists? An early goal is the answer, and that is exactly what Ashley Westwood gave Paul Lambert and Aston Villa. Just 58 seconds had elapsed when Westwood slotted into the bottom corner to ease any lingering nerves around Villa Park. Despite conceding an equaliser, Villa pushed on to get the three points that eliminated those drop fears. Both Marcotti and Steve Nicol admired the shift he put in -- and his range of passing -- giving rise to the notion that he could make that central berth his own next season.
Centre midfield: "The man who scored the goal that kept Sunderland up." Not a bad title to snaffle for yourself, is it? Seb Larsson was the man to give himself a chance and to hand Sunderland their first topflight win at Old Trafford in 44 years as their remarkable run of form toward the end of the season continued. Gab was impressed with the Swede and his alertness as a clutch of red shirts turned into "salt statues," while Nicol also saluted his ice-cool finish -- a neatly controlled volley from Connor Wickham's right-wing cross.
Centre midfield: "He will make me look like the most boring guy in the world," Mario Balotelli saod when Marko Arnautovic landed at Stoke. So far, I have to say, I'm disappointed. There have been no fireworks in bathrooms or eccentric shopping trips, just listless performances for Stoke. But toward the end of the season, the Austrian is starting to find his Premier League feet. He scored a thumper himself, laid on a tap-in for Oussama Assaidi and had a hand in Peter Odemwingie's opener to boot. No wonder he caught the eye of Nicol, who declares him "moody but talented."
Forward: Aston Villa picked a decent time to notch three goals at home for the first time since the end of January, and 66.6 percent of them were provided by Andreas Weimann. As Marcotti points out, when he scores, Villa usually win (Manchester City at home, anyone?), and they duly did again in a clash that had been widely touted as their own cup final. Two wafts of the head did it, as the Austrian pounced on a session of pinball in Hull's box for his first, then glanced a Jordan Bowery centre past Steve Harper for his second and Villa's crucial third. Mariner also trumpeted Weimann for selection.
Forward: "Steps up when it matters, like he has always done." Marcotti is eulogising the contribution of Edin Dzeko to Manchester City's championship cause, and the striker's return of six goals in his past nine Premier League matches would add significant weight to that theory. On what has proved a bogey ground for City, Dzeko came up big with two goals as Manuel Pellegrini's men clambered over the biggest obstacle between them and the title. Nicol thought the Bosnian's second goal was a "true centre forward's header," and he's spot-on.
Forward: Concluding our three-man front line is Arsenal's Olivier Giroud, who has been maligned at times this season, including by our very own Paul Mariner. But never one to hold a grudge, our panellist says: "I have given him some flak this year, but he keeps coming up with vital goals, and worked hard out of possession also." Marcotti was similarly impressed with Giroud, his headed goal and his insistence on harassing West Brom defenders in possession, offering this critique of Giroud's season: "He did his part this year, often on his own, often in tough conditions."
Manager: Had any of our pundits not put Gus Poyet forward for manager of the weekend, an angry email might have been fired off in response. Thankfully, our lads know what is what, and the Uruguayan is a unanimous choice. Quite how he has managed to put together such a stellar run of form at such a nerve-shredding time of the season is quite beyond someone with as small a brain as mine. Nicol was mesmerised by his "third miracle in three weeks," as Sunderland beat Manchester United, while Marcotti says Poyet will surely keep them up against the odds.