After each round of Premier League fixtures, ESPN FC brings you its Team of the Weekend. Our panel of experts carefully selects 11 star performers along with a manager.
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 #ESPNFCTOTW.
GK: Victor Valdes came face to face with Pep Guardiola, the man with whom he won two Champions Leagues at Barcelona, and produced a display that recaptured the days when he was part of the best team in European football. Middlesbrough’s achievement in snatching a late draw against Guardiola’s Man City side was largely because Valdes kept them in the game, something our panel are only too happy to note. Steve Nicol hailed his “important saves early on” while Paul Mariner added that “Valdes made crucial saves to help Boro earn a valuable point.”
RB: Since a 3-0 defeat against Arsenal on Sept. 24, Chelsea’s defence has been nothing short of phenomenal, keeping five consecutive clean sheets as part of a run that has seen them storm to within a point of the division’s summit. In an unorthodox right-back role, Victor Moses has been a key cog of their new team unit. He is voted in by Mariner and Nicol, with the former noting: “A revelation defensively and going forward,” while Nicol said, “I’m shocked by how good he’s been.”
CB: This week’s first unanimous pick, David Luiz, is another member of the Chelsea team that hasn’t conceded in five games. He is rightly praised for sticking it to some of the critics who wrote him off on his return to the Premier League. Gabriele Marcotti pointed out that Luiz has “picked up [Antonio] Conte’s system in double-quick time,” highlighting the Brazilian’s “steadfast defending and intelligent covering of space.” Nicol labelled him “Franz Beckenbauer in disguise,” and Mariner said, “his passing out of the back was superb.”
CB: Michael Dawson gets the nod from Marcotti for his role in Hull’s backs-to-the-wall win against Southampton, but Dawson is outvoted with Mariner and Nicol, both of whom opted for John Stones. Manchester City dropped two points against Middlesbrough by conceding an added-time equaliser, but Nicol was still impressed and pointed to Stones’ “cool and calm” mentality. Mariner agreed, adding: “with the ball at his feet, he was excellent.”
LB: Everyone is in agreement that Middlesbrough’s George Friend is in at left-back. As Marcotti rightly said, the 29-year-old “had the lucidity and the talent to deliver the perfect cross for that last-ditch equaliser.” That act, which helped ‘Boro go a third game without defeat and take an unlikely point, is behind Mariner and Nicol’s selection, too.
DM: Tottenham were unlucky to take just one point from Arsenal in the North London derby on Sunday, and the performance of one man in particular stood out to the panel. Mousa Dembele, as Marcotti pointed out, “won a penalty, drove the midfield and was totally unfazed by Arsenal’s passing. Good thing he wasn’t fully fit!” Nicol was also impressed, describing the Belgian as “strong with a nice touch,” while Mariner added: “Outstanding! Powerful and worked hard.”
DM: Paul Pogba caught the eye of both Mariner and Marcotti with his display as Manchester United sealed a 3-1 victory against Swansea. Marcotti labelled his opening goal “terrifying,” and Mariner added that the world’s most expensive footballer “scored a screamer and dominated the game from start to finish.” Nicol, though, liked the look of his teammate, Michael Carrick, whom he said “oozed class.”
AM: Liverpool’s relentless title charge continued with possibly their best performance of the season. They thrashed Watford 6-1, and as usual, Philippe Coutinho was at the centre of it. The Brazilian, who set up Sadio Mane for the opener before scoring the second himself, earns a glowing review from Nicol: “Coutinho is an artist on the field.” Mariner also speaks highly of the Brazilian, calling him “the creator and catalyst for this exciting Liverpool side going forward.”
AM: Liverpool’s attacking quality is excellent, but it’s hard to praise individuals without fear of overlooking other star performers. Coutinho’s countryman Roberto Firmino also makes the XI thanks to Marcotti and Mariner — Nicol’s choice of Sadio Mane missed out. Firmino showed “exceptional movement and awareness,” said Mariner, who added that the Brazilian was “a nightmare for defenders.” Marcotti’s praise is high, too: “Deadly, again. Sets up two goals, scores another and makes it look maddeningly easy.”
AM: Eden Hazard looks to be in the kind of form that saw him named Player of the Year in 2014-15, when Chelsea won the Premier League. This weekend, Everton lost 5-0 in a rampant display from the Belgian, who was “buzzing” and “unplayable,” according to Nicol and Mariner. Marcotti also selects him, adding: “Two gorgeous goals and possibly the best individual performance of the season.”
ST: Nicol and Marcotti are in agreement that Zlatan Ibrahimovic‘s two-goal haul in Manchester United’s 3-1 win against Swansea warrants a place in the XI. “A real centre-forward” is Nicol’s assessment, and Marcotti backs the veteran “to score more than 20 league goals this season.”
Manager: Antonio Conte’s role in leading Chelsea to a 5-0 win against Everton gets Marcotti’s vote, but Mariner and Nicol both come out in favour of David Moyes, who eased the pressure on himself and oversaw Sunderland’s first win of the Premier League campaign. Mariner liked his courage, noting that the Scot was “under massive pressure, but he played two strikers away from home and it paid off.”