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: As has often proved the case recently, former Premier League goalkeeper Shaka Hislop has the deciding vote when it comes to the man between the sticks. Steve Nicol liked Jordan Pickford‘s performance for Sunderland and praised “the big saves” he made as the Black Cats moved off the foot of the table with a 1-0 win against Watford. And although Gabriele Marcotti makes a good point about Kasper Schmeichel’s importance for Leicester, Hislop nudged the selection in Pickford’s favour, saying: “Sunderland need him in this form.”
Defender: A three-man defence is leading the Premier League table at the moment, so it makes sense for TOTW to also employ one. Cesar Azpilicueta has been an ever-present for Chelsea this season and also set up the winning goal at Crystal Palace. His form has caught the eye of Hislop, who described the Spaniard as “a tireless worker” and his assist as “gorgeous.” Marcotti is a fan, and said: “Centre-back, right-back, take your pick.”
Defender: Virgil van Dijk‘s exemplary form has been one of the main reasons for Southampton having the third-best defence in the Premier League so far. Nicol summed it up well when he described the Dutchman as “having a cigar for most of the game” as Bournemouth were beaten 3-1.
Defender: We don’t know how Marcos Rojo would cope in a three-man back line, but, given his shining form for Manchester United recently, we’re guessing he would do OK. The Argentina international played a big role again as his side beat West Bromwich Albion to make it three wins in a row. As Nicol pointed out: “He deserves selection for keeping Salomon Rondon quiet.”
Midfielder: There are a few disagreements on who makes the cut in midfield this week. But one player about whom Marcotti and Nicol can agree is Raheem Sterling, who stepped up for Manchester City and scored a winner out of nothing as they overcame Arsenal. “City’s match-winner has got to be in the team,” Nicol said of Sterling’s contribution and Marcotti added: “When things aren’t going right, it certainly helps having talent to make up the gap.”
Midfielder: After starting the season out of favour under Jose Mourinho, Michael Carrick has since let his football do the talking, and it is no coincidence that Man United look a better team and earn more points when he is calling the shots. He got the nod from Hislop, who said: “Maybe not the player he once was, but with the right people around him — such as [Paul] Pogba — Carrick’s intelligence and passing makes him still one of the best midfielders around.”
Midfielder: Ten-man Leicester City showed superb resolve to fight back from two goals down at Stoke and earn a 2-2 draw. It was, above all, a great team performance, but Nicol’s assertion that Daniel Amartey‘s “second-half heroics helped him stand out” are spot on. The 21-year-old Ghanaian stepped up to score a late equaliser.
Midfielder: It is also no fluke that Paul Pogba has begun to show his best form consistently now he has Carrick’s expertise alongside him on a regular basis. “The real deal: strong, intelligent and gifted. Really coming into his own against physical opposition,” Marcotti said of the Frenchman.
Forward: Middlesbrough put distance between themselves and the relegation zone with a 3-0 win against Swansea, and it increasingly looks as if any chance Boro have of avoiding the drop depends on Alvaro Negredo‘s form in front of goal. The two-goal Spaniard has now scored five and set up three of his club’s 16 league goals this season and is selected by Nicol and Marcotti, the latter of whom said: “He has a dainty touch to go with his brawn and, more importantly, he knows where the goal is.”
Forward: Despite the absence of the injured Charlie Austin for several months, Southampton might not be short of attacking options if Jay Rodriguez‘s performance in the 3-1 win against Bournemouth is anything to go by. He scored twice, with one of his goals labelled by Nicol as “the goal of the weekend.” Marcotti and Hislop are in full agreement. “Rodriguez has endured so much misfortune, you can’t help but cheer him on when he bags two goals,” Marcotti said.
Forward: Any preseason doubts about Zlatan Ibrahimovic‘s age or his suitability to English football should be long forgotten after the 35-year-old striker scored two more goals; he now has 16 in all competitions. Nicol is a fan and praised the big forward’s ability to “lead from the front,” while Marcotti added: “Wait — what happened to all those clever clogs who said English football was ‘too demanding?’ But Hislop summed it up best: “Cometh the hour, cometh the man.”
Manager: Claude Puel and Aitor Karanka are among the managerial challengers, but Marcotti’s selection of Pep Guardiola wins out. The Man City manager was praised for his role in the comeback win against Arsenal. “Staring another defeat in the face, stuck in the hole without several key players, up against a pacy side that break well, his troops turn the tide. It’s time he got some love,” Marcotti said.