Team of the Weekend
ESPN FC Extra: Team of the week
After each round of Premier League fixtures, ESPN FC brings you its Team of the Weekend. Selected by our panel of ESPN FC experts, 11 of Saturday's and Sunday's star performers, along with a manager, are carefully chosen. 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. Plus, tune in to Monday's "ESPN FC" (5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2) for further reaction.
Goalkeeper: A mention in dispatches for Vito Mannone’s clean sheet in the North East cauldron that was St James’ Park on Saturday lunchtime -- his performance catching the eye of Gab Marcotti -- but our custodian this weekend is Artur Boruc. The Saints' stopper produced a fine save to repel a Brede Hangeland header as Fulham made the early running before a vital double stop from Darren Bent kept the scores level. As both Steve Nicol and Paul Mariner assert, Boruc laid the platform for Saints’ fourth away win of the campaign.
Right-back: Out in the cold under Sunderland’s previous manager, Phil Bardsley is back with a bang. Immediately welcomed back into the inner sanctum of the dressing room by Gus Poyet, Bardsley is repaying his gaffer. As Mariner says, the former Manchester United defender is playing the best football of his career, winning the penalty for Sunderland’s opening goal at Newcastle and defending stoutly whenever Hatem Ben Arfa or Moussa Sissoko ran at him down the left flank. And Nicol agrees.
Centre-back: Though Newcastle were woeful and the score line suggests an afternoon of comfort, there was still plenty of defending for Wes Brown & Co. to get through on Tyneside. While Newcastle’s final ball was lacking time and again, Brown was diligent and disciplined in his positioning, matching Shola Ameobi and Luuk de Jong for power and strength while marshaling the more technical players Newcastle had on show expertly. Mariner says he was a “rock” for Poyet, and Nicol was also impressed with his distribution.
Centre-back: It is take your pick as to Brown’s partner in defence, with the names of Jose Fonte, Laurent Koscielny, Curtis Davies and James Tomkins thrown around like Premier League confetti. While all have valid claims to make the XI, Marcotti gets the green light with Tomkins, who starred as West Ham grabbed their 11th clean sheet of the season against Swansea -- a joint Premier League high. As he underlines, when Tomkins is fit and on message, he’s as dominant a defender as there is, and his goal-saving tackle on Wilfried Bony as the striker homed in on Adrian’s goal proved just that.
Left-back: A TOTW treble at left-back in terms of the options presented by our panel. Southampton’s Luke Shaw was championed by Marcotti, Leighton Baines put forward by Nicol and Nacho Monreal suggested by Mariner. All turned in fine performances down the left flank for their sides -- all of whom claimed three points -- but for yet another composed performance belying his tender years, Shaw gets the nod. Marcotti is one of his biggest fans, and is entirely correct when he says he is getting better and better.
Centre midfield: Yes, yes, we know Charlie Adam’s opening goal was fortunate, unless he arrowed his shot toward Michael Carrick’s thigh on purpose -- in which case he deserves to be in every TOTW from now until the end of time -- but there was no luck involved in his second (after Marko Arnautovic’s “dummy,” of course). His blistering strike flew into the top corner, giving him a total of seven top-flight goals this season -- more than he managed in the previous two seasons put together. Unsurprisingly, he was a unanimous choice by our panel.
Centre midfield: Next to Adam is perhaps an unusual central midfield face, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. According to Arsene Wenger, we’ll be seeing plenty of The Ox in the centre as his career progresses, and this performance will have done him no harm. Two fine goals, showcasing supreme technical quality, sealed a man of the match display against Crystal Palace and had Mariner and Marcotti purring. “Great drive and dynamism,” says the latter. The former notes: “His blindside run for the opener was timed to perfection, and his movement and finish for the second were superb.”
Attacking midfield: Continuing our two-goal heroes theme is Kevin Nolan. Back after a self-inflicted spell on the sidelines, the Premier League veteran underlined why it sometimes helps playing alongside your best bud. Having played with Andy Carroll at Newcastle, Nolan knows exactly where the beanpole striker will nod the ball, profiting from two expert knock-downs. Theirs is a “telepathic understanding,” according to Marcotti, while Mariner says Nolan’s goal-scoring prowess will be vital if West Ham are to stay up.
Left midfield: Kicking off a brace of Adams is Southampton’s Adam Lallana. The midfielder is pushing hard for a place in Roy Hodgson’s World Cup squad and, with performances like this, his seat on the plane should be assured. As Mariner says, Lallana is hugely influential for Saints and proves “elusive in his role for the team, scoring and creating at will.” Following on from his goal against Arsenal, Lallana secured his seventh of the season at Craven Cottage, and that was no surprise to Nicol, who says his late runs into the box are “impossible to pick up.”
Right midfield: Joining Lallana is another Adam currently in the process of tearing up the Premier League -- Sunderland’s Adam Johnson. Another goal at Newcastle -- he also scored in last season’s 3-0 win at St James’ Park -- means he has now scored seven and assisted two since the turn of the year. Nicol lauds him as the player leading Sunderland’s resurgence and Marcotti puts it neatly when he declares: “Teeth-gnashingly inconsistent, this is him in good form. And when he's switched on like this, he's nearly unplayable.”
Centre forward: Pushed up top due to Romelu Lukaku’s injury, Kevin Mirallas has hit a timely run of goal-scoring form. The Belgian now has three goals in his past four Premier League matches, the two he’s registered at Goodison Park in that run carbon copies of each other -- if he’s taking free kicks ahead of Leighton Baines, you know he’s decent at them. On the back of his blockbuster against Norwich, Mirallas clinched a late win for the Toffees on Saturday with another sumptuous strike against Villa, earning him selection from Marcotti and Nicol. Jay Rodriguez was Mariner’s shout but, sadly for the prospective England striker, he was outvoted.
Manager: Derby hero Poyet earns a nomination from Marcotti after locking down 23 points from 17 games since taking over at Sunderland, but our other two pundits have plumped for Mark Hughes. A typically dogged Stoke performance put a check on Manchester United’s brief momentum, that touch of quality from Charlie Adam and a wonderful save from Asmir Begovic prising three points from David Moyes’ grasp. As Nicol reports, a vital three points shot Stoke up the table, while Mariner trumpets the way Hughes set his team up to try and nullify the potent trio of Mata, Rooney and Van Persie. It was Stoke’s first win over United in the league since 1984 -- and perhaps that Adam winner was worth waiting 30 years for.