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, along with 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" (5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2) for further reaction.
Goalkeeper: It is testament to the toughness of the task one faces to muscle into our TOTW that Jack Butland’s incredible triple save for Stoke at Palace hasn’t been enough to get him in. Although Gabriele Marcotti plumps for the 20-year-old, Steve Nicol and Paul Mariner opt for experience in the form of Petr Cech. Leaving aside Cech's brief excursion into fancy dribbling within his own six-yard box, both pundits praised his calmness throughout the game along with his early saves from Ashley Young and Danny Welbeck.
Right-back: Once they get out on the pitch, we’ll be fine, but in terms of selecting our back four, we’re all over the place. At right-back, at least there are two votes for Tottenham Hotspur’s Kyle Walker, with Nicol and Mariner praising the amount of work the England defender got through at both ends of the field. Emmanuel Adebayor may have been the Tottenham hero, but it was Walker who created the second goal, his cross forcing the hapless Chico to turn into his own net. Young Callum Chambers gets the nod from Marcotti, but at 18 there are, surely, many TOTW caps to come for him.
Centre-half: I imagine if we asked Norwich boss Chris Hughton who should be the first centre-back in our TOTW that he would have three suggestions -- and they would all be Ryan Bennett. The 23-year-old managed to keep Hull’s record signing Nikica Jelavic relatively quiet and helped secure a clean sheet, but his most telling contribution came in the 87th minute when his header propelled the Canaries to their first home win since Nov. 30. The relief around Carrow Road was tangible, and the goal earned him nominations from Nicol and Marcotti.
Centre-half: John Terry, Laurent Koscielny and Dan Burn will have to wait their turn because Chelsea’s Gary Cahill is partnering Bennett. As Mariner points out, “Some people questioned Cahill’s ability when he was acquired, but he is playing as well as any central defender in the league at present.” Cahill and Terry have formed quite the unit for Jose Mourinho, providing an English core in a very continental side. And Cahill loves a maraud forward, teeing up Samuel Eto’o for his second goal just before the break and his third not long after it.
Left-back: Nicol trumpets Danny Rose for our left-back berth while Mariner makes the case for Cesar Azpilicueta, but to spread the joy around our topflight clubs, I’ve gone for Marcotti’s suggestion of Aleksandar Kolarov. The defender was, as he points out, “completely in his element” after Cardiff surrendered the flanks at the Etihad, supplying dangerous balls into the box all afternoon and managing five shots on goal.
Right midfield: Sunderland’s position in the Premier League is perilous, but imagine how much worse it would be if they didn’t have Adam Johnson to call upon. As Nicol rightly says, he is the man carrying the fight for Gus Poyet at the moment. After his hat-trick heroics at Fulham last week, Johnson hauled the Black Cats back into their clash with Southampton -- a clash that should have been over by the time his cross found Fabio Borini to halve the deficit. When they needed a leveller, it was Johnson who delivered, thumping a rasping shot beyond Artur Boruc.
Centre midfield: Newcastle will be a far poorer side once one of the continent’s top teams comes to pluck Yohan Cabaye from their ranks. The midfielder’s prowess is no secret any more, and it is a measure of how far he has developed that he can now run a Premier League match to such an extent. Nicol is sure he’ll be off to a big club in the summer while Mariner rightly calls him Newcastle’s talisman. To round off a unanimous decision, Marcotti reports that Cabaye’s two goals and all-around excellence gave West Ham “fits all afternoon.”
Centre midfield: Next to Cabaye in the middle of the park is a man who has arguably more finesse than the Frenchman but unquestionably more power. Yaya Toure, recently voted African Footballer of the Year for the fourth time in a row, can rip it up in the Premier League even when he doesn’t look fully fit. Limping around the park, the Ivorian still managed to ooze class, according to Mariner, while Marcotti was unsurprised that he dominated the game. Quite simply, he’s a Premier League monster. Honourable mentions go to Moussa Dembele, Mathieu Flamini and Willian, all nominated but not selected.
Left midfield: Everyone is in agreement that Santi Cazorla should round out our midfield. The maestro was in fine fettle against Fulham, preventing a palpable sense of panic from developing at the Emirates by finally opening the scoring just before the hour mark. A fine goal it was too, as he latched on to Jack Wilshere’s cut-back to fire home, and he doubled the dose with his other foot just five minutes later. Mariner reckons it was his best game for Arsenal in a long time, Marcotti calls him a “two-footed magician,” and Nicol salutes a virtuoso display that kept the Gunners top of the table.
Striker: His English might need some work, but Samuel Eto’o’s finishing clearly doesn’t. The odd sight of John Terry translating for his teammate prior to handing over the man of the match award came about thanks to the Cameroonian’s predatory finishing at Stamford Bridge. “His energy and willingness to defend early against Manchester United’s back four set the platform for a superb team performance,” Mariner says. Marcotti thinks his treble offered further evidence that “class and brains are permanent,” while Nicol poses a simple question: “Who said Eto’o was done?”
Striker: An all-African strike force this week as Togo’s Emmanuel Adebayor partners Eto’o up front. With AVB a distant memory, Tim Sherwood has clutched Tottenham’s outcast to his bosom and been rewarded with goals -- five in the last six Premier League games to be precise. As Mariner notes, Adebayor is “unplayable” in this mood, showcasing his ability to hold the ball up, link play, run the channels and, most importantly, score. Nicol hails his leadership, and Marcotti underlines just how much he is thriving under new management.
Manager: It’s got to be The Special One, hasn’t it? Well, Mariner and Marcotti don’t think so, opting for Tim Sherwood and Paul Lambert, respectively. Though Sherwood’s decision to alter Spurs’ system came up trumps at Swansea and though Lambert out-thought Brendan Rodgers with an astute midfield diamond at Anfield, Jose Mourinho’s win at Stamford Bridge over the defending champions saw him chalk up his 100th Premier League victory in only his 142nd match -- beating Sir Alex Ferguson’s record by 20 games. As Nicol says, he won the battle of the big guns and, for that, gets to gently cajole this XI from the sideline.