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: John Ruddy grabs our No. 1 jersey for, among other things, making his manager smile. That is precisely what Paul Mariner thinks Norwich’s Chris Hughton needed after a week in which his job was publicly threatened by chief executive David McNally. As the Canaries crawled toward victory over Tottenham, Ruddy came up big with a huge save from Nacer Chadli -- one that also earned him a nomination from Steve Nicol. Tim Howard -- Gab Marcotti’s choice -- gets a mention in dispatches for his effort at Stamford Bridge.
Right-back: “The way he gets up and down and provides a physical presence is redefining a different way of playing the full-back role.” High praise indeed from Marcotti, but whom is he talking about? Branislav Ivanovic, of course. The Serbian put in another powerhouse display against Everton, marshalling his flank with aplomb and bursting forward whenever the opportunity arose. Mariner is a big fan too, saying Ivanovic’s qualities in both penalty areas are “amazing.” Having seen his spectacular volley blocked by Howard, Ivanovic played his part in the confusion that led to the American letting in the last-gasp effort that was somehow given to John Terry.
Left-back: We have a split at left-back between Southampton’s Luke Shaw and Hull’s Liam Rosenior. As Mariner notes, Shaw was his usual sparkling self in Southampton’s defeat at West Ham, but I’m backing Marcotti’s selection of Rosenior. In a fine Tigers display at Cardiff, the 29-year-old put in the consummate shift, hurtling up and down the left flank and showcasing the quality delivery he possesses time and time again. It was from one of his perfectly sculpted centres that Nikica Jelavic was able to register Hull’s third.
Centre-back: There is a unanimous choice when it comes to our first centre-back -- Mr. Chelsea himself. Our panel is united in declaring that John Terry is back to his best, both in terms of performance and leadership. Mariner saluted a series of crucial tackles he made. Marcotti thinks his late goal (which, in true unassuming fashion, Terry was quick to claim and celebrate) could help them lift the title in May. Nicol thinks the 33-year-old is one of the finest the Premier League has to offer.
Centre-back: Marcotti was keen to put Fabricio Coloccini forward for a clean sheet and composed display on his return for Newcastle, but Nicol and Mariner are adamant Terry’s partner should be another veteran who lined up against him at The Bridge -- Sylvain Distin. Mariner thinks, like Terry, the 36-year-old is playing as well as he ever has while Nicol again states Distin is arguably one of the top three central defenders in the top flight. His 90 minutes was one bursting with experience and pride and one that did not deserve to fall to such a scrappy late winner.
Centre-midfield: Who thought Jordan Henderson would come to be described as “the real deal” when he was toiling in his first season at Liverpool? Mariner is in no doubt as to the midfielder’s class, though, saying his current form means he’s pushing hard to force his way into Roy Hodgson’s World Cup squad. The 23-year-old grabbed two goals against Swansea, the first one as sublime as the second was scrappy. Nicol thinks Henderson was brilliant on both sides of the ball while Marcotti insists he’s enjoying the finest spell of his fledgling career to date.
Centre-midfield: There is no disputing that Yaya Toure is the real deal, even if his Manchester City side has struggled a little of late. The Ivorian proved the difference over Stoke, fashioning a fine finish from Aleksandar Kolarov’s cross just as the natives began to shift nervously in their seats. His all-around performance was class, leading to plaudits from his manager. Marcotti calls Toure “the model of consistency” while Mariner describes him as “the complete box-to-box midfielder.” There are absolutely no complaints from these quarters on either shout.
Centre-midfield: Another man back to his best after a subdued string of performances was Jack Wilshire. The England star has previous experience when it comes to exhibiting tiki-taka technicianship -- remember that goal against Norwich? -- and he was at it again against hapless Sunderland. It was his forceful run and neat layoff that teed up the opener for Olivier Giroud, and Wilshere was also involved in a gorgeous third for Tomas Rosicky. Mariner noted how Wilshere was always instrumental in Arsenal’s threatening manoeuvres, and Nicol has a unique take on his ability to drive forward with the ball at his feet, simply saying: “So old school, so good.”
Centre-forward: Had you floated a theory a month ago that involved Daniel Sturridge overhauling Luis Suarez in the race for the Golden Boot this season, you may well have been kidnapped by a bunch of chaps in white coats. But while Sturridge has 10 goals in his last eight topflight matches, Suarez has just four. Another two followed against Swansea (two more than Suarez) in another dazzling display from the England striker. Nicol calls him a “goal machine” while Marcotti hails his “tremendous consistency.” Answer this honestly: Whom would you rather have in your ESPN Premier Fantasy team at the moment?
Centre-forward: The second of our weekend brace kings is Hull’s Nikica Jelavic. There were Everton fans who sniggered when Hull coughed up a pretty penny to transport the Croatian to Yorkshire, but he has rediscovered his scoring touch and is fast firing the Tigers to safety. Another two goals followed at Cardiff, though he was admittedly assisted by some pitiful defending. Mariner thinks Jelavic is back to his clinical best having formed a potent partnership with Shane Long while Marcotti insists Steve Bruce deserves huge credit for going all out to get his man.
Centre-forward: Completing the lineup is Olivier Giroud, who will be glad the focus of attention is back on the pitch and not his personal life. Marcotti was impressed with the way Giroud was able to park his off-field issues and focus on the job in hand, lavishing the following praise on the Frenchman: “Subtle when he needs to be, strong when he needs to be and always intelligent.” It wasn’t just his clinical edge that had Mariner singing his praises but also the 27-year-old’s linkup play, which has been sketchy in recent weeks. He finished off a superb, flowing move after five minutes for his first then showed great awareness and composure to pounce on a poor back-pass to grab a second.
Manager: It’s a good job all three of our pundits have put Chris Hughton (or to give him his full title: Chris Hughton, the nicest man in football) forward for manager of the weekend because I was going to choose him anyway. After an unseemly broadside from his boss McNally, in which it was suggested Hughton’s gainful employment was hanging by a thread, his team responded with a gritty, hard-fought win over Spurs, who had been exceptional on the road this season. “A gentleman of the game,” says Mariner; “humble and hard-working” imparts Marcotti; “saved his job with a vital win” adds Nicol. The nicest man in football lives to fight another day -- take that nasty men in football.