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: Leicester City’s hard fought 1-0 win against West Ham United went against the form book, eased their relegation worries and arrived thanks to the kind of display from Kasper Schmeichel that was the norm last season. Selected by Paul Mariner and Gabriele Marcotti for his “big saves,” the Dane edged out Steve Nicol’s pick, Stoke City goalkeeper Lee Grant.
Defence: Back in the Tottenham side, it didn’t take Toby Alderweireld long to find his rhythm as the team’s defensive lynchpin. Mauricio Pochettino’s men overran Watford to win 4-1 at Vicarage Road, and Nicol described the Belgian international as “Mr. Consistent.” Mariner followed suit, labelling him “fantastic.”
Defence: Ragnar Klavan, in Liverpool’s team in place of Joel Matip in recent weeks, impressed again as Manchester City were beaten 1-0 to cement the Reds’ place in second spot. Nicol admired the way the Estonian “kept Sergio Aguero quiet on his return,” and Mariner liked what he saw too.
Defence: Gary Cahill made a shaky start to life under Antonio Conte this season, but as part of the three-man defence that has become the bedrock of Chelsea’s surge to the top of the Premier League, he has impressed and starred at both ends in the 4-2 win against Stoke City. “Another solid performance,” noted Nicol, while Marcotti liked the way he handled Peter Crouch.
Midfield: On his first Premier League start of the season Kieran Trippier made sure that Tottenham did not miss the suspended Kyle Walker, providing two assists and also playing a part defensively as Watford were walloped. Unsurprisingly, he gets the nod from everyone on the panel, with Nicol so dazzled he said: “Trippier defined the position with his performance.”
Midfield: Marcotti made a case for Cesc Fabregas to start in central midfield after he became the Premier League’s third all-time assist provider in Chelsea’s win against Stoke, but Georginio Wijnaldum‘s role in Liverpool’s important win against Manchester City got him in just ahead of the Chelsea man. “All-action and the winning goal,” Nicol said.
Midfield: Dele Alli continued his recent goal glut with two against Watford that took him to five in three matches over the festive period. The Tottenham man is a dead cert for Nicol — who described him as “the ghost” after he twice caught the Hornets’ defence by surprise — and Mariner, who added: “Watford could not get near him.”
Midfield: Manchester United carried on their winning streak with a turnaround victory against Middlesbrough, with that man Paul Pogba providing the dramatic late winner to earn him selection across the board. “Scores, hits the woodwork and shows tons of grit and resilience when the going gets tough. What more do the critics want?” Marcotti asked. “Value for money,” Nicol added.
Midfield: After Pedro’s masterclass against Bournemouth on Boxing Day, Willian took it upon himself to shine against Stoke with two goals in eight second-half minutes, as the Potters were beaten at Stamford Bridge. That brace was enough to warrant a place in Mariner’s XI, but Marcotti also liked the Brazilian’s “hard running.”
Striker: Admittedly, Sunderland’s defending was diabolical in their 4-1 loss against Burnley, but as Marcotti rightly pointed out “a hat trick is still a hat trick,” and Andre Gray didn’t miss a beat against the luckless Black Cats. The TOTW panel are in complete agreement about the quality of Gray’s performance, but Nicol put it best: “Gray by name but what a colourful performance!”
Striker: Harry Kane grabbed his 58th and 59th Premier League goals on his 100th appearance and underlined exactly why he is so valuable to Spurs, leading from the front and proving reliable when chances come his way. “Kane was brutally efficient in demolishing Watford,” Marcotti said, while Mariner described his display as “a masterclass that left the Watford defence bamboozled.”
Manager: Antonio Conte’s feat in taking Chelsea to a 13th consecutive Premier League win earned selection from Marcotti, but Mariner and Nicol ensured that Jurgen Klopp edged him out after Liverpool ended 2016 with an impressive victory against City that made them Chelsea’s main challengers in second place. “The result of the weekend,” Mariner enthused. “His players love to play for him.”