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Sterling: No excuses for LFC

Liverpool 4 hours ago
Read
Mar 9, 2014

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 experts, 11 of Saturday''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.

ESPN FC's Team of the Weekend.
ESPN FC's Team of the Weekend.

Goalkeeper: Saturday afternoon at the Cardiff City Stadium was not an occasion for the lily livered. Thankfully for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, David Marshall would repel any such accusations in the same authoritative fashion with which he deals with attempts on his goal. Despite being less busy than his counterpart Maarten Stekelenburg, Marshall had to be alert several times, most notably when turning away Lewis Holtby's volley. As Gab Marcotti surmises: “When Cardiff get points, it's often because he makes a difference." Steve Nicol was also a supportive observer.

Right-back: One advantage of these abridged Premier League weekends is that they increase the chances of accordance across our panel. One such case is in the right-back slot, where Rafael is a unanimous choice. The Brazilian was in fine form at The Hawthorns, marauding up and down his flank with trademark gusto, and keeping his preponderance for petulance in check. Steve Nicol goes so far as to say Rafael's display at West Brom was his best in a Manchester United jersey, while Gab Marcotti said his performance epitomised what a modern full-back should bring to the table. He set up Wayne Rooney's goal with a fine cross and was unlucky not to score himself, as Ben Foster pushed his header onto the bar.

Centre-half: “Head up leadership, a goal, Anichebe in his pocket. This is why he's a centre-back." Gab Marcotti is eulogising over Manchester United defender Phil Jones, who was back with a bang against West Brom. Installed in his favoured position as Nemanja Vidic was benched, Jones proved why he is the natural successor to the Serbian. He relished the battle provided by Victor Anichebe, thrived on the responsibility of organising the back line and even bagged a goal, glancing a fine header past Ben Foster from Robin van Persie's pinged free kick. Paul Mariner was also in agreement.

Steven Caulker puts Cardiff in front against Fulham.
Steven Caulker puts Cardiff in front against Fulham.

Centre-half: The third unanimous choice in our back five comes in the form of Steven Caulker. The defender has played every single minute of the Premier League season for Cardiff, and added a goal-scoring touch to his game right when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer needed it most. His two goals were instrumental in pushing the Bluebirds to a vital victory, both of them close range finishes that owed much to his positioning. Gab Marcotti called Caulker “a one-man wrecking crew in both penalty boxes," while Paul Mariner and Steve Nicol both hailed the decisive impact he had on the archetypal top flight six-pointer.

Left-back: On the opposite side is a TOTW regular this season -- Luke Shaw. He united our hat trick of pundits with another eye-catching display at Selhurst Park in Southampton's victory over Crystal Palace. Fresh from his England debut in midweek, Shaw showed precisely why he's making a late charge to the World Cup in Brazil, proving assured in his defensive duties and threatening going forward. One effort of his stung the palms of Julian Speroni -- just one part of his display that had Paul Mariner declaring that Shaw is fast becoming the best left-back in the division. Steve Nicol and Gab Marcotti concur.

Right midfield: It's getting to the stage that I might as well just copy and paste a section about Eden Hazard from week to week. Another berth in our TOTW was secured with a typically classy display for Chelsea in their trouncing of Tottenham. Steve Nicol says he wouldn't swap the Belgian for anyone else in the league, while Paul Mariner remarks on his ever-present status in these pages. His was a showing that oozed quality, probing both with his positioning and his ball-work, and showcased his on-field intelligence. His fine cross for Samuel Eto'o was the event on which the match turned and his penalty was just reward for yet another virtuoso performance.

Centre-midfield: Not even the most hardened tactical brain could have uncoded quite what formation Tim Sherwood was trying to enforce at Stamford Bridge. Luckily for Chelsea, Jose Mourinho is a man who knows what he likes and likes what he knows. The recapturing of Nemanja Matic appears to have been another astute slice of business from the Portuguese, a player Paul Mariner describes as being “far more than a protector in front of the back four." Steve Nicol was also impressed with the Serbian's calmness in the often-harried environment of a London derby between Chelsea and Spurs, while Steve Nicol was glowing in his praise of Matic's partnership with Ramires.

Left-midfield: Cardiff's clash with Fulham was one that was always going to be decided by those who could ally a touch of finesse to their graft, and thankfully for Vincent Tan, Craig Noone was precisely the man for the job. As Steve Nicol rightly points out, the midfielder was “dangerous from start to finish" for the Bluebirds, setting an important tone with his bustling runs from the first whistle. Noone had already threatened Maarten Stekelenburg's goal before he set up the first for Caulker, and by the time his devilish cross led to Sascha Riether's own goal, he'd secured MOM status, and the backing of Nicol and Paul Mariner for a place in TOTW.

Free role: The names of Marouane Fellaini, Robert Snodgrass and Kim Bo-Kyung are all in the mix for our final midfield berth, but they are all elbowed out by England's bright new hope -- Adam Lallana. As his heat map against Crystal Palace suggests, he was everywhere at Selhurst Park, making the most of nearly all of his 75 touches in the game. In the first half almost all his involvement's led to danger, as he regularly pirouetted to find space in which to operate. As Paul Mariner rightly declares, the 25-year-old was at the heart of everything, justifying the considerable hype that surrounds him at present. Lallana is fast becoming not only a certainty to go to Brazil, but a certain starter in Roy Hodgson's side.

Striker: All three of our pundits opted for Wayne Rooney to spearhead our attack. Admittedly, West Brom were as limp as a month-old stick of rhubarb but with both sides low on confidence, it was always going to prove a nervy encounter. Rooney has been relatively quiet since the world went a bit doolally about his new contract, but in the Midlands he started paying back a modest chunk of his 300,000 pounds weekly wage. A well-taken goal and an impressive assist for Danny Welbeck were his two main involvements, but he looked back to his sharpest and, as our panel notes, he delivered when his team needed him to.

Samuel Eto'o mocks suggestions he is older than his 32 years after scoring against Spurs.
Samuel Eto'o mocks suggestions he is older than his 32 years after scoring against Spurs.

Striker: Had Fernando Torres not taken a turn for the worse during the warmup, Samuel Eto'o may not have even taken to the field against Spurs, but once handed his chance, the veteran did not let his manager down. Pouncing on a mistake from Jan Vertonghen, the Cameroonian showed he still retains a clinical streak with the opening goal, and a sense of humour with his celebration. As Gab Marcotti says, Eto'o demonstrated how “intelligence and movement mean more than age and athleticism." It was his run on Younes Kaboul that also forced a disputed red card, and turned the tide firmly in Chelsea's favour. Paul Mariner was on the same page, and noted how Eto'o still thrived despite playing 90 minutes for Cameroon midweek.

Manager: Gab Marcotti wants Jose Mourinho to get the nod as gaffer of the weekend, stating his team provided the killer instinct possessed by their manager by inflicting a late hammering on Spurs, but our other two have plumped for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. The Norwegian has had a humbling introduction to life as a Premier League manager but he finally delivered a second top-flight victory when it mattered most, surely consigning Fulham to the Championship in the process. Both Paul Mariner and Steve Nicol were impressed with the performance his team delivered under what must have been considerable pressure, and they live to fight another day as a result.

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