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.
Goalkeeper: Chelsea had a whole 79 minutes in which to turn around a 2-1 deficit at home to Crystal Palace on Saturday, but try as they might, they just couldn’t find a way through. Wayne Hennessey deserves more credit than most for this, with the keeper pulling off a string of top stops at key moments to deny Diego Costa, Nemanja Matic and Eden Hazard to name a few. “Chelsea batter his goal and he stands tall. And when he comes up short, some limb of his gets in the way,” Gabriele Marcotti says of Hennessey’s performance, with Paul Mariner putting it simply: “He had the game of his life.”
Right-back: The plaudits will be reserved for elsewhere given the calibre of the two strikes on show in Leicester’s win against Stoke City, but Danny Simpson takes his place in our side after assisting both of the goals at the King Power Stadium on Saturday. His cross for the second was pinpoint, and he generally didn’t put a foot wrong all game. As Marcotti puts it: “Not everybody’s cup of tea perhaps, but he sets up two of the goals that dispatch Stoke and send the Foxes flying once again.”
Centre-back: What a signing Mamadou Sakho is proving to be for Crystal Palace. Four matches into his Eagles career and he has four victories to his name, not to mention three clean sheets. He may not have secured a fourth clean sheet against Chelsea, but he was absolutely vital to his team picking up the three points at Stamford Bridge, making a certain Diego Costa look decidedly average. “A great addition to the Palace backline,” Mariner notes, with Marcotti adding: “Now he’s dominant again.”
Centre-back: Partnering Sakho in the heart of our defence is Hull City’s Andrea Ranocchia, who picked a great time to get his first goal for the Premier League strugglers — five minutes from the end on Saturday to secure an important victory over West Ham. The Italian’s unstoppable late header perfectly capped off a composed and solid display all round. “The big man is re-launching his career in Yorkshire, distributing uncannily accurate passes from the back and, on this occasion, notching the winner, as well,” Marcotti says.
Left-back: And completing our defence is Ranocchia’s Hull teammate Andrew Robertson, who was a “constant threat throughout” against West Ham at the KCOM Stadium, according to Mariner. Robertson notched his first ever Premier League goal with a finish a striker would have been proud of, while elsewhere on the pitch he was as energetic as ever. “He runs all day and does it with quality,” Marcotti adds.
Midfielder: He may have only been on the pitch for an hour before an injury prematurely curtailed his Merseyside derby on Saturday, but Sadio Mane had more than made his mark by then. The Liverpool man needed just eight minutes to make an impact, scoring a cracking opener that saw him get the better of three shirts in blue before leaving Joel Robles stranded in the Everton goal. “Liverpool with Mane in the team are the fast-break masters,” Mariner states. Now Liverpool will be praying his injury isn’t too serious.
Midfielder: Philippe Coutinho had seemed to be struggling for form following his injury over the winter, but on the evidence of his latest display against Everton on Saturday, he’s back. A typically fabulous strike was followed by a defence-splitting assist for Divock Origi to score Liverpool’s third, leading Marcotti to purr: “Scores one, sets up another — dispenses magic in the Merseyside derby,” with Mariner adding: “He’s simply a little wizard on the ball.”
Midfielder: So impressive was Wilfred Ndidi’s wonder strike against Stoke on Saturday that that alone would probably have been enough to edge him into this side. But given the Leicester man also happened to turn out a display of real dominance in the middle of the park, then there can be no arguments against his inclusion. Mariner certainly has no complaints, noting: “Not only did he work hard in midfield, but he also scored a stunner.”
Midfielder: “When he’s on, he’s on. No ifs or buts,” is how Marcotti sums up Wilfried Zaha’s performance against Chelsea. A player who has always had the potential seems to have now added consistency to his game, and against the Blues on Saturday, he was the standout player on the pitch. “Scores the opener single-handedly, puts one on a platter for Christian Benteke and then works his rear-end off for the rest of the game,” Marcotti adds. England must be regretting Zaha’s decision to switch international allegiances to Ivory Coast with every passing day.
Forward: With five wins from their past five games over all competitions, Leicester are looking just like the Leicester of old once again — and the same can be said of Jamie Vardy. A truly thumping strike in the victory against Stoke on Saturday took his tally to five goals from his past six games for the Foxes. And that strike aside, he was typically a nuisance to the Potters defence throughout. “What a goal, what a performance from the Leicester striker,” says Mariner.
Forward: And partnering Vardy up front, Mariner and Marcotti are in full agreement on Sergio Aguero, who played his part as Manchester City took a point away from Arsenal on Sunday with an excellent finish. “Some like to find fault with him, but he returns from the international break and scores from a seemingly unreal angle. Not for the first time, either,” Marcotti says of a player who has now scored 25 goals in all competitions this season. “No arguing, he’s the top striker in the league,” Mariner adds.
Manager: While Mariner has plumped for Hull boss Marco Silva to man the touchline, there’s no looking past Marcotti’s choice of Sam Allardyce following his Crystal Palace side’s heroics against Chelsea. Palace managed to inflict a first defeat on Chelsea since Jan. 4 to make it four victories on the bounce and move them four points clear of the drop zone. “Palace were smart, canny and an acquired taste on Saturday,” Marcotti notes. “Much like their manager.” At this rate, Allardyce’s proud record of never having been relegated looks very much like staying intact.
Tom is a freelance sports journalist. Follow him @Tom_Sweetman