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Dec 29, 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: December 29.
Team of the Weekend: December 29.

Goalkeeper: Given Manchester City's scintillating home form, I wouldn't be surprised if Joe Hart lodged the Saturday crossword down his shorts to kill some time in an expected coronation against Crystal Palace, but things turned out very differently indeed. Forget "one across," Hart was constantly getting himself across goal, earning a shiner to boot as he showed sizeable bravery at the feet of Cameron Jerome. As Paul Mariner and Steve Nicol point out, he made some vital stops, the best of which came from Joel Ward.

Joe Hart gets Cameron Jerome's boot in his face during Man City's hard-fought victory over Crystal Palace.
Joe Hart gets Cameron Jerome's boot in his face during Man City's hard-fought victory over Crystal Palace.

Right-back: With half the season gone, Seamus Coleman is in with a healthy shout of being crowned our TOTW MVP, at the risk of going acronym-crazy. Another fine goal, this time against Southampton, made it five for the season and ensured he caught the eye of our panel. In a game against Saints that could have been renamed "the derby of the full-backs that bomb forward," Coleman emerged as the finest of the flanks, prompting Mariner to describe this as the "season of his life."

Centre-back: A healthy consensus is reached in terms of our first central defender, Nemanja Vidic getting the nod from Mariner and Gab Marcotti. Both trumpet the Serbian's organisational skills, as Vidic helped keep a back four that had looked shaky during the first half intact. His years may be advancing, but there aren't many better at marshalling a back line in the Premier League when Vidic is on song.

Centre-back: A familiar fight has ensued in the battle to be Vidic's partner in crime, with no fewer than four players vying for the crown. Mentioned in dispatches are Hull's Curtis Davies -- arguably as good as any English centre-half this season according to Marcotti -- and Palace's Danny Gabbidon -- championed for his tireless work at the Etihad by Nicol. But in the end it is a toss-up between Chelsea's all-English duo, Mariner's selection of Gary Cahill for the shackling job he did on Luis Suarez getting my vote ahead of John Terry.

Left-back: There a sense of déjà vu when it comes to choosing our left-back, the names of Leighton Baines and Cesar Azpilicueta are thrown into the mix by Mariner and Nicol respectively, but Marcotti is insistent the name of Maynor Figueroa should be steam-pressed on the back of the No. 3 jersey. The Honduran from Hull has a big engine and showcased both sides of his game in the mauling of Rene Meulensteen's Fulham at the KC, helping to plug gaps in the first half before pouring forward as the Tigers ran riot in the second period.

Tom Huddlestone ended his long wait for a goal with a long-range effort against Fulham.
Tom Huddlestone ended his long wait for a goal with a long-range effort against Fulham.

Centre midfield: There is another Tiger on the prowl in midfield, though this one has a significantly reduced mane thanks to his performance on Saturday. After two years of waiting Tom Huddlestone can finally visit the barber thanks to his first goal in two and a half years. Quite apart from his powerful low strike, Huddlestone was majestic in the middle of the park, impressing Nicol with his range of passing. As Marcotti points out: "Bruce said it's the best performance he has ever seen from a central midfielder ... and he played with both Bryan Robson and Roy Keane!"

Centre midfield: Alongside him is a man who bossed a match on the White Hart Lane turf Huddlestone used to patrol. Mousa Dembele exhibited a Huddlestone-esque level of control for Tim Sherwood's Tottenham in their 3-0 victory over Stoke, laying a solid base from which they could spring into attack. Not only did the ball stick to his left foot most of the afternoon, he also used it to power home a fizzing shot from the edge of the box to put the game beyond the Potters in a performance that was applauded to the rafters by Nicol.

Attacking midfield: Shorn of Malky Mackay they may have been, but rudderless Cardiff were not for the first hour of their entertaining encounter with fellow strugglers Sunderland. Chief architect in their enterprising opening 60 minutes was Jordon Mutch, whose prowess didn't escape the attention of Mariner and Nicol. The midfielder finished powerfully to give his side the lead early on then supplied Fraizer Campbell with a delicious ball to make it 2-0 in the second half. Having done so much to put them in a commanding position, he could understandably feel more aggrieved than most after Cardiff's late capitulation.

Attacking midfield: On the opposite flank is Jesus Navas, a chap whose tireless graft spared Manchester City the embarrassment of dropping points against plucky Palace. As Marcotti points out, the Spaniard's injections of pace in wide areas were the one thing that seemed to work against Pulis' barricades, City spreading play time and again. When a cool head was needed, Navas spotted the movement of Edin Dzeko and set him up brilliantly for the crucial winning goal.

Eden Hazard is Chelsea's top scorer in the 2013-14 campaign.
Eden Hazard is Chelsea's top scorer in the 2013-14 campaign.

Attacking midfield: Completing our three-pronged support staff is another wonderfully gifted player who has allied hard work to his attacking verve: Eden Hazard. The Belgian is so on-message it's a wonder Jose Mourinho hasn't made him assistant manager. Our panel purred over his performance against Liverpool as he covered every inch of grass during a hard-fought win. Mariner notes that Hazard capped a sparkling exhibition with a screamer, while Steve Nicol lauded his menace in counterattacking situations.

Striker: Just one berth up top this weekend, with three candidates put forward to bind this TOTW together. Fraizer Campbell's persistence in the lone striking role against Sunderland got Mariner's vote, while Marcotti was impressed with Saido Berahino as he grabbed a point for the Baggies in East London. But not for the first time this season, the nod goes to Everton's Romelu Lukaku who notched his first goal in six games at Goodison with an emphatic finish from James McCarthy's pass. As Nicol is keen to point out, defenders do not like playing against this guy.

Manager: Fortunately, the decision of manager of the weekend is slightly more straightforward. Though Nicol salutes Gus Poyet for installing a never-say-die attitude into his Sunderland side, the gong goes to Steve Bruce for coaxing a six-star display out of Hull. As Mariner pontificates, Bruce has a limited budget to work with but sits comfortably in mid-table. The Tigers' goal frenzy also provoked a confession out of Marcotti, who admits to chuckling at the "Mrs Doubtfire" gags about Bruce, a manager who had never really impressed him. But for playing decent football and assembling a hungry squad with something to prove, Gab reckons if Hull maintain this impressive form Bruce has to at least be in the conversation for manager of the year.

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