Sunday, August 25, 2013
ESPNsoccernet: January 19, 10:05 PM UK
Team of the Weekend
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 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 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.
Goalkeeper: Kieren Westwood didn't play a single minute of Premier League action last season; he might be forgiven for feeling he'd played a whole campaign in 90 minutes at St Mary's on Saturday. The 28-year-old's goal was peppered by Southampton shots as Sunderland desperately tried to cling onto their early lead, and his performance didn't go unnoticed by Gabriele Marcotti. Westwood's save from Rickie Lambert's first-half header was the exquisite pick of a special bunch.
Right-back: Both Marcotti and Steve Nicol threw the name of Glen Johnson into the mix, while Paul Mariner insisted on Pablo Zabaleta, but at the risk of being pelted with rotten tomatoes, I've plumped for Seamus Coleman. Under the leadership of Roberto Martinez, Coleman is operating far higher up the field and was a constant source of danger to West Bromwich Albion, hitting the bar with a looping cross and delivering quality from his wide right station many times.
Centre-back: Nicol plumped for Kolo Toure -- who helped Liverpool to a clean sheet against Aston Villa by keeping Christian Benteke at bay -- but it's Marcotti's selection, James Collins, who makes the cut. The Welshman helped West Ham to their second successive shut-out of the Premier League season and has emerged as the leader of Sam Allardyce's defence. Though that ever-present tinge of turmoil on Tyneside meant Newcastle were far from fluent going forward, Collins was there to mop up whatever came his way.
Centre-back: Mariner thinks Jan Vertonghen is getting better and better with each passing game for Tottenham Hotspur. The Belgian can match Collins' record of clean sheets (not to mention Toure's), with Spurs yet to concede in the top flight. As ever, Vertonghen not only completed his defensive duties with due care and attention but also looked threatening when advancing into the opposition half -- a much-loved preserve of this modern centre-back.
Left-back: The first of our Cardiff City heroes makes as appearance at left-back, with Marcotti deeply impressed with Andrew Taylor's vigilance against Manchester City's array of stars. Taylor didn't have things all his own way at the back -- understandable when faced with Jesus Navas -- but he battled brilliantly and played a large part in Cardiff's counter-attacking. He narrowly gets the nod over Arsenal's Kieran Gibbs, despite both Mariner and Nicol being impressed by his attacking efforts.
Central midfield: Another Bluebird nestles comfortably in our midfield three -- Aron Gunnarsson grabbing a TOTW shirt off the peg after a fine display against Manuel Pellegrini's men. Any defensive midfielder is vital if the minnows are to prosper against the megastars, and quite apart from Gunnarsson demonstrating his predatory instincts with the equalising goal, Marcotti was impressed with the way he shielded his back four and also found time to get forward when the need arose.
Central midfield: Arsenal may be hot in pursuit of Yohan Cabaye, but with Aaron Ramsey in this sort of form, would the Frenchman get a game? The 22-year-old has been much maligned by Gunners fans in recent seasons, somewhat harshly perhaps, but has been the pick of their midfield in the past week. With Jack Wilshere benched, Ramsey was the engine in the centre of the park, and Nicol hailed his maturity while Mariner noted that he set Arsenal off on attack after attack. He edges out Marcotti's Gunner of choice, Santi Cazorla.
Central midfield: At last, unanimity, and Etienne Capoue is the man who has done it. The 25-year-old offered the ultimate protection for Tottenham's centre-backs in Paul Mariner's opinion, limiting the threat Swansea's chief architects -- Michu and substitute Wilfried Bony -- could pose. On this evidence, the Frenchman appears to e an extremely shrewd purchase by Andre Villas-Boas, and Nicol also put forward Capoue's midfield partner, Paulinho, as he considers them a partnership of the highest calibre.
Left forward: It's a close call, but Marcotti is left pining for Olivier Giroud's inclusion as I feel compelled to side with Mariner and Nicol as they opt for Lukas Podolski to slot into the left side of our attacking three. The German's two goals speak for themselves, but all game he demonstrated that he has the nous to thrive at the top level in England. A calm finish from a loose ball eased Arsenal's nerves before his fine, drilled second put the icing on the cake for Arsene Wenger and made it two away victories in four days.
Centre-forward: Delirium ensued at Cardiff City Stadium, as the Bluebirds slayed the Citizens, and Fraizer Campbell was the man of the hour. The former Manchester United man gave Javi Garcia and Joleon Lescott a torrid time and should have got on the scoresheet before half-time. After the break, he filled his boots, setting up Aron Gunnarsson for Cardiff's first when his shot was saved and then outwitting City's rearguard twice to bag a brace and secure a famous day in the club's history.
Right forward: Campbell's heroics relegated Daniel Sturridge to a role on the right of our front three. "Balletic" is the word Marcotti used to describe the 23-year-old, whose match-winning goal was a vignette of pure sporting beauty. Brendan Rodgers heralded Sturridge's composure as his nimble touches helped him slalom round a host of Villa players before stabbing into the net. Who needs Luis Suarez anyway?
Manager: Step forward, Malky Mackay. What a way to introduce Cardiff City to the Premier League and to the world. His plucky unit were unabashed in the way they took the game to Manchester City and found themselves -- to use modern-day parlance -- getting all up in the grill of their legion of stars. From front to back, they were inspired -- and if there is a better atmosphere at the Cardiff City Stadium this season, then its patrons are in for a heck of a treat. Football, flippin' hell.