Premier League Team of the Weekend, Oct. 4-5
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 #TOTW. Plus, tune in to Monday's "ESPN FC" (ESPN2, 5:30 p.m. ET) for further reaction.
Goalkeeper: Our esteemed Team of the Weekend always provokes ferocious debate, but surely there won't be any dissenting voices questioning our choice of David De Gea in net this time. The Spaniard was imperious against Everton, and as panelist Steve Nicol rightly points out, Louis van Gaal should bow down in front of him to say thank you for three precious points. Not only did De Gea become the first goalkeeper in Premier League history to keep out a penalty from Leighton Baines, he also made a string of second-half saves that panelist Paul Mariner described as "staggering." A ridiculous reflex stop on Leon Osman was followed by an even better save on Bryan Oviedo's late volley. Brilliant.
Right-back: On the right side of defence is the man panelist Gab Marcotti refers to as "Robocop." Branislav Ivanovic is so versatile he could probably do a job up top alongside Diego Costa, and when confronted with Arsenal's phalanx of nippy, fleet-footed players, the Serbian was rock-solid once again. Not only does he get up and down the pitch in brisk fashion, his delivery is good and he rarely wastes possession. Ivanovic is a veritable snapshot of Chelsea's strength -- power combined with precision -- and Nicol is in full agreement.
Centre-back: "When you take up positions this good, read the game this well and have such an effective unit around you, the quickness of Danny Welbeck and Alexis Sanchez won't trouble you." Marcotti is praising Mr. Chelsea himself, John Terry. The veteran was pretty much flawless at Stamford Bridge as his side denied Arsenal a shot on target in a top-flight match for the first time in 11 years. Mariner and Nicol both laud Terry as a "leader," the former saying he "didn't put a foot wrong in limiting Arsenal's attack." There is clearly life in the old dog yet.
Centre-back: Nathan Baker gets a mention in dispatches from Nicol for a valiant display against Manchester City, but partnering Terry at the back is Hull's Curtis Davies. Marcotti is a longtime champion of the former Aston Villa defender, who excelled as the Tigers finally put one over Crystal Palace after the Eagles did the double over them last season. "Dominant in the air, steady on the ground," says Marcotti, who thinks Davies is back to his fine form of last season. Mariner thinks his display proves that Davies is a "top central defender."
Left-back: West Ham's Aaron Cresswell had a neat and tidy game as QPR were comfortably seen off at Upton Park, as noted by Nicol, but our man this week is Aleksandar Kolarov, put forward by Marcotti. In what was a dominant Manchester City display at Villa Park, Kolarov was a persistent menace down the left side. He rattled the post with a first-half effort and delivered quality balls into the box time and again, as the champions left it late to claim a win they thoroughly deserved. As Marcotti says: "if Kolarov had wheels, he'd be one of the best left-backs in the world."
Right-midfield: No self-respecting TOTW should pass without a dash of controversy, so here is your weekly snippet. In the sky blue corner, Mariner and Nicol both think David Silva deserves a place in the side. In the royal blue corner, I and Marcotti stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Leicester's Riyad Mahrez. Silva's case is stated beautifully, words like "maestro" and "conductor" thrown about willy-nilly by his backers, but we're often accused of shunning the supposedly lesser teams in favour of big names, so Mahrez -- who scored one of the Foxes' goals against Burnley and set up the other -- can add a spot of giant killing to his list of weekend achievements.
Centre-midfield: It's fair to say Liverpool aren't quite firing on all cylinders at present -- some might even suggest they are struggling to light even a single cylinder -- but as long as Jordan Henderson keeps performing like this, they'll have plenty of chances to win games. As Mariner points out, Henderson was the "bright light in a poor Liverpool performance," setting up Adam Lallana for Liverpool's first with a cheeky back-heel before a well-taken goal of his own settled proceedings. Marcotti calls him "the [other] heartbeat" of Liverpool's team, while Nicol, who knows a thing or two about bossing the midfield, calls the 24-year-old "all action."
Centre-midfield: As inevitabilities go, Cesc Fabregas playing an instrumental role in a comfortable Chelsea defeat of Arsenal was right up there. The Spaniard might not have had his best match in a blue shirt, but he was still far more influential than any of those in red. And while the Gunners huffed and puffed, Chelsea never once appeared ruffled. Not even Jose Mourinho when Arsene Wenger indulged his penchant for squaring up to other Premier League gaffers. The game was put to bed via a combination that is proving as potent as they come, Fabregas clipping a delicious ball over the top for Diego Costa, who potted his ninth of the campaign expertly. "Composure, strength, finesse," Nicol says. "Vision, awareness, work rate," says Mariner, rightly pointing out that Arsenal fans must wonder why Wenger eschewed the chance to re-sign Fabregas.
Left-midfield: Chelsea have been irresistible at times this season, and that's without Eden Hazard hitting top gear. The Belgian gave notice that he is beginning to find his rhythm in the 2-0 defeat of Arsenal, providing the spark from which Chelsea would build. Yes, he was allowed far too easy a passage through the heart of the Gunners' defence after embarking on one of those trademark slaloming runs, but as Mariner opines, "his dribbling and close control is a joy to see." After drawing a clumsy foul from Laurent Koscielny, Hazard slotted from the spot with one of those "no-look" penalties. As Nicol says: "Hazard is unstoppable at times."
Forward: First up is the man who, according to Nicol, is keeping Newcastle manager Alan Pardew employed. Were it not for a timely return to form from Papiss Cisse, the Toon would be in even worse straits. The visitors only had four shots on target in the game, and half of those were converted by the Senegalese. Both were deft, the first from an angle, the second an acrobatic effort to polish off an inviting Sammy Ameobi cross. That's four in three games for Cisse since his return from injury, and Pardew must be thanking his lucky stars he is fit and hungry again.
Forward: Our forward line is led by two men who are no strangers to a drought. Steven Fletcher had gone nearly a year without finding the net for Sunderland before a generous Stoke outfit pitched up at the Stadium of Light. The Scot laid on the opener for Connor Wickham with an inch-perfect cross before he got in on the goal-scoring action himself, expertly glancing a Jordi Gomez cross into the far corner. He doubled his tally for the campaign in the second half, firing into an empty net after a mazy run from Wickham. A unanimous choice, and Marcotti adds of Fletcher: "The phrase 'natural finisher' is badly overused, but it defines him as well as anything."
Manager: To quote Marcotti paraphrasing Kid Rock: "It ain't bragging when you say it, then back it up." Not only did Jose Mourinho preserve his undefeated record against archnemesis Arsene Wenger, he also provoked his opposite number into a petulant shove in a heated debate about technical areas. What's not to love about that? Aside from the handbags, Chelsea were far superior at the Bridge, Mariner labelling the Portuguese's selection and tactics "perfect" after a challenging Champions League tie in midweek. Nicol agrees, simply saying "another duel with Wenger, and another win."