- Premier League
Team of the Weekend
After each round of Premier League fixtures, ESPN FC brings you its Team of the Weekend. Eleven of Saturday and Sunday's star performers, plus a manager, are selected by our panel of experts - Steve Nicol and Paul Mariner. 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.
There's a slightly-reduced Team of the Weekend roster this weekend, with Gab Marcotti on World Cup draw duty in Brazil - so Steve Nicol and Paul Mariner have the floor to themselves. And they've quickly had their work cut out, with a few candidates for our No. 1 shirt to consider. John Ruddy gets Mariner's vote, with his saves helping Norwich keep a clean sheet as they earned a crucial win at West Brom. Nicol opts for Tim Howard who, despite shaving off his beard, made some crucial saves in Everton's 1-1 draw with Arsenal and was as responsible for their hard-earned point as Gerard Deulofeu was with his excellent late strike. Tim Krul also deserves credit for a fine individual display in a fine team display for Newcastle at Manchester United - but on balance, Ruddy deservedly takes his place in goal for our XI.
As Newcastle have returned to form in recent weeks, so has Mathieu Debuchy. The Frenchman was excellent in the recent wins against Tottenham and Chelsea, and his performance was again strong as Alan Pardew's men picked up a deserved win at Old Trafford. He offered everything that a full-back is supposed to, as Mariner points out, with "crucial blocks plus attacking threat" contributing to a superb result.
If a player as talented as Luke Shaw played in any other position, he would probably be a fixture in the England side by now despite his tender years. As it is, Shaw has both Ashley Cole and Leighton Baines in front of him in the left-back pecking order, but his time will come. And that time might be soon if he puts in performances of the calibre of that against Manchester City. Mariner was impressed with his "calm in defence", calling him "a young modern-day full-back with the world at his feet", while Nicol praised his all-round ability. Southampton have a gem on their hands, and will do well to keep him.
As one might imagine after such a terrific result, Newcastle players feature quite heavily in our XI this week. It looked as though Fabricio Coloccini would be leaving Newcastle to return home to Argentina earlier this year, but he has remained at St James' Park - and Toon fans should be extremely grateful. His was one of a number of fine performances at Old Trafford, but he stood out for our panel thanks to his impeccable decision-making. How he has shored up the Toon defence since his return from injury.
There was a little more debate about the other central defensive position, with several excellent showings across the division but perhaps no absolute standouts. Everton's Phil Jagielka and Sylvain Distin were typically excellent, while a case could be made for Mike Williamson, making this a rather Toon-heavy back line. Danny Gabbidon received some praise from our panel after his strong showing in Crystal Palace's win over Cardiff, but it's Southampton's Dejan Lovren - already looking like one of the signings of the season - who slots into our side after dealing with Manchester City's strikers with the aplomb we've come to expect.
Last season was a tough one for Cheik Tiote. Playing in a Newcastle side that often struggled, he was sub-par for much of the campaign and many wondered whether he would recover the form he showed during his early days at the club. However, he looked back to his best at Old Trafford, with some fearsome challenges and excellent passing as United's midfield pair of Tom Cleverley and Phil Jones were largely overrun. Newcastle fans will hope Tiote really is back, and this is not just a one-off.
Steven Nzonzi often personified Stoke's style of play in the eyes of many observers in recent years - a physical approach that could go too far and become overly aggressive. However, he is not just in the team to be an enforcer, as his terrific performance in Stoke's win over Chelsea showed. He forms an intimidating midfield duo with Tiote, with Mariner labeling him the "fulcrum" for the Potters, while Nicol called him a "creative destroyer."
A player who not only couldn't get into the Everton team last season but was also sent back from a loan at Leeds because Neil Warnock apparently couldn't find a place for him in his side, Ross Barkley is now being talked about as a potential call-up for England's World Cup squad. And it's fully deserved, too - Barkley was man of the match against Arsenal, and it takes a special talent and performance to stand out as a creative midfielder when the likes of Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Ozil and Jack Wilshere are on the pitch. "He was the one that shone the brightest," Mariner said. Indeed he did.
It is no coincidence that some of Liverpool's flattest games of the season have come when their Brazilian maestro has been out injured. Against West Ham, Philippe Coutinho was "back to his best", according to Mariner, pulling the strings as Liverpool won 4-1 to further bolster their goal difference after the 5-1 demolition of Norwich on Wednesday evening.
In a week in which his commitment to the Fulham cause has been questioned, largely thanks to some potentially ill-advised comments from his agent, Dimitar Berbatov reminded everyone why he might be an excellent January signing for someone should he end up leaving Craven Cottage. Rene Meulensteen praised the Bulgarian striker after Fulham's much-needed win against Aston Villa, and it's easy to see why. There is little more that can sum up a player more accurately than Berbatov's nonchalantly rolled-in penalty - if he is to go, Fulham should enjoy him while they can.
"Impossible to leave out," Mariner said. "Nothing more to add," was Nicol's assessment. Indeed, Luis Suarez is rapidly reaching the level of performance that transcends language, and soon enough every superlative will have been used about the Liverpool forward. His goals against West Ham might not have been of the same incredibly high standard as the four he claimed against Norwich in midweek, but he was still superb as Brendan Rodgers' side took advantage of Chelsea's slip-up and moved into second place.
"Amazing job during the week on the training ground and during the game - his players were organised and played with verve and skill," Mariner said after Rene Meulensteen claimed his first win as Fulham boss. It may not have (officially) been the plan when he first arrived at the club, as his role was theoretically to help out Martin Jol, but if Meulensteen can turn Fulham's season around, then the decision to make him manager will have been a wise one.
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