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: Shaka Hislop is back in the TOTW ranks for this installment, alongside Craig Burley and Paul Mariner, and though the former West Ham and Newcastle stopper gives an honourable mention to Julian Speroni for his vital save during Crystal Palace’s clash with West Brom, Maarten Stekelenburg is the name dancing on his lips. Fulham’s keeper gave a heroic display at Old Trafford, repelling nine shots as 31 efforts rained in on his goal. Mariner agrees, noting that his display resulted in what could be a huge point for Fulham.
Right-back: The first in a clutch of Liverpool players to feature in TOTW is John Flanagan, who excelled in the Anfield demolition of Arsenal. In truth, nobody in a red shirt put a foot wrong for 20 minutes, but Flanagan’s flank was brimming with potency. He went close to adding to the Gunners’ misery, narrowly missing the target at the end of a flowing move, and played a full part in one of the heaviest beatings dished out this season. Mariner and Burley were suitably impressed.
Left-back: Aly Cissokho was mentioned in dispatches -- but though it means him playing out of position, we had to slot Angel Rangel in. The Swansea full-back is an adopted Jack and showed his true colours in the blood and thunder of Saturday’s South Wales derby. With most of Cardiff’s menace coming down the left, Rangel was rock solid for debutant boss Garry Monk and helped, as ever, to kick-start his fair share of forward forays. Hislop was mightily impressed with the Spaniard, noting how well he linked with Nathan Dyer down the right.
Centre-half: Be honest, if we asked you to pick the person who was most likely to fire Liverpool to a two-goal lead against Arsenal inside 10 minutes, Martin Skrtel might have ranked below Simon Mignolet. But there was the Slovakian, flicking out a leg to divert an early Steven Gerrard free kick past Wojciech Szczesny, nine minutes prior to his perfectly executed header from Gerrard’s corner. Quite apart from that, Skrtel was “faultless” at the back, according to Mariner, and is a unanimous choice for our panel.
Centre-half: Despite a valid claim from Sebastien Bassong, who helped Norwich shut Manchester City out for the second game in a row, Gary Cahill gets to partner Skrtel at the back. The England defender is in the form of his life for Chelsea, and as Mariner points out, “Even without John Terry by his side, he was a rock once again.” Yes, Newcastle were missing their chief goal threat in Loic Remy, but there was still defending to be done and Cahill did it in his own highly efficient fashion, Burley also putting him forward for selection.
Centre midfield: Kevin Nolan knows he has some making up to do, and he’s going about it the right way. Two red cards in four matches had some Hammers fans cursing his name, but a brace of braces in the past week has helped melt a few Iron hearts. Showing he has lost none of his Johnny-on-the-spot tendencies, he grabbed two goals in two minutes to seal his side’s victory at Aston Villa. As Mariner says, captain Nolan stepped up just when his team needed him to. Perhaps this was proof he can prosper without bosom buddy Andy Carroll, who has presumably taken his exasperating quest to get his recent red card overturned to the door of Judge Judy.
Centre midfield: We could have picked any of Liverpool’s midfielders, but our panel plumped for Philippe Coutinho. In an attacking display of the utmost quality, the Brazilian playmaker executed some of the finest passes seen on this or any other Premier League weekend. His through ball for Daniel Sturridge’s goal was so beautiful I almost wanted to ask it out for a steak. Finding pockets of space all over the pitch, Coutinho was at his probing best, and Arsenal simply had no answer.
Attacking midfield: It felt like Valentine’s Day had come early at Stamford Bridge, such was the love being hurled in Eden Hazard’s direction. Jose Mourinho demanded he be retrospectively awarded every single player of the month gong while Alan Pardew said the Belgian was “at the top of his game.” Newcastle certainly had no answer to Hazard, whose hat trick was his first for Chelsea. Two world-class finishes and a penalty completed his treble in a performance that showed his willingness to work tirelessly for the team. Mariner, Burley and Hislop were queuing up to throw delicately scented flowers in his direction.
Left midfield: Among these Premier League stalwarts is a new face -- that of Tom Ince. Ten years to the month from the last of his father Paul's 14 Premier League goals, Tom registered his first, a vital opener against West Brom in Crystal Palace’s third straight home victory. Racing onto a loose ball, he demonstrated composure beyond his years to dink it over Ben Foster. He then delivered the perfect corner for another debutant, Joe Ledley, to make it two. One feels the 22-year-old will have a huge role in Palace’s fight for survival.
Right midfield: The last of four Liverpool players to make our TOTW is Raheem Sterling, who matched Skrtel’s feat in finding the net twice against hapless Arsenal. As Mariner rightly points out, his goal-scoring heroics will have delighted not just Liverpool fans but also England supporters. Hislop and Burley are in agreement, impressed with Sterling's ability to drift into dangerous positions in order to bag a brace.
Striker: “The last time I left the Stadium of Light, I needed a police escort,” said Steve Bruce after his triumphant return to Sunderland with Hull. That he was able to swan out with a swagger was thanks to a supreme display from Shane Long, one of his big January signings. The Irishman’s two goals in three games for the Tigers prove he was an astute acquisition, according to Mariner -- and our other pundits concur. Long was a menace all afternoon, attracting the foul from Wes Brown that led to the defender’s red card, hitting the post with a fine shot and glancing home the opener.
Manager: We offer warm applause in the direction of Rene Meulensteen for emerging from the siege of Old Trafford with a point, but there is no contest for who our gaffer of the weekend is -- Brendan Rodgers. Even allowing for hyperbole, there is significant evidence to prove that Liverpool’s start to their clash with league-leader Arsenal was one of the finest in Premier League history. Four goals in 20 minutes reduced the Gunners to whimpering wrecks as they were completely overwhelmed by a swarm of red shirts. What this result does for their respective campaigns remains to be seen, but this was surely Rodgers’ finest hour at the Anfield helm.