Liverpool's Philippe Coutinho leads Feb. 28-March 1 Team Of The Weekend
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. Plus, tune in to Monday's "ESPN FC" (6 p.m. ET, ESPNews) for more Premier League debate.
Goalkeeper: Lukasz Fabianski, Swansea City
Of all the players who have benefitted from a change of scenery this season, Fabianski is perhaps the most notable. From a perennial backup at Arsenal to Swansea's first choice, the Polish stopper has been revitalised after his move to Wales, and he put in a fine performance as his side recorded a 1-0 win over Burnley on Saturday. Gabriele Marcotti reckons Fabianski has "rebooted his career" after his move, while Paul Mariner and Steve Nicol both credited him with making the key saves to secure the points for his side.
"We want to push harder and make this season special," Fabianski said after the game. "We can do that by getting the most points that Swansea has ever had in the Premier League."
Centre-back: Gabriel Paulista, Arsenal
Arsene Wenger's decision not to sign a centre-back over the summer after the departure of Thomas Vermaelen was utterly baffling, but at least the Arsenal manager went some way to correcting that in January with the recruitment of Gabriel from Villarreal. After a slightly shaky early moment against Everton when he gifted a chance to Romelu Lukaku, the Brazilian settled in to make a fine full league debut for Arsenal, redeeming himself for that error with an absolutely brilliant challenge on the big Belgian forward shortly afterward.
"Makes his first Premier League start and looks like he's been there for ages. A rock," said Marcotti of the defender, while Mariner praises him for his "assurance" and Nicol was impressed with a "comfortable debut, showing language is not a barrier."
Centre-back: Fabricio Coloccini, Newcastle United
Amid the traditional uncertainty and flux at St James's Park, there has been one great constant in the Newcastle side, and that is their Argentine captain. Coloccini has been with the club since 2008, and as things crumble and are fraught with uncertainty around him, the Newcastle skipper offers stability and assurance. Caretaker manager John Carver identified Coloccini as the reason his side recorded three points against Aston Villa, something that didn't go unnoticed by Mariner, who praised the "tremendous leadership from the skipper" while Nicol was impressed with the way he "controlled the back line."
Centre-back: Scott Dann, Crystal Palace
Crystal Palace's 3-1 win over West Ham was perhaps an unexpected success, but a big reason for it was the defensive solidity of Alan Pardew's side. Dann not only played a big part in keeping things tight at the back, but he also contributed at the other end of the pitch, his towering header putting Palace two goals to the good in the early stages of the second half, a strike that went a long way to killing off the challenge of Sam Allardyce's team.
Mariner called Dann a "pillar of perfection" in the Palace defence, while Nicol said he was a "big strong presence in both boxes." "Not always the most pleasing the eye," said Marcotti, "but is in his element against West Ham and scores the goal that sends Palace eight points clear of relegation."
Right-midfield: Jason Puncheon, Crystal Palace
Another key man in the win that could prove crucial for Palace's season was wide man Puncheon. There was a chance that, with the form of Yannick Bolasie and the revival of Wilfried Zaha, Puncheon could find himself the odd man out and spending a lot of time on the bench. That won't be the case if he continues to perform as he did against West Ham, providing three assists as they waltzed away with the victory.
"Should he keep the ball?" asks Nicol, while Mariner praised his "tireless work rate" and Marcotti called him the "catalyst to each of Palace's three goals."
Centre-midfield: Jordan Henderson, Liverpool
There is a decent argument to be made that Steven Gerrard's absence with a hamstring injury has not only failed to hurt Liverpool's chances but has actually freed them up for the revival that has put them on the cusp of the Champions League places. Henderson, the man who will surely take over from Gerrard as the Reds' captain next season, was again superb in Liverpool's massive 2-1 win over Manchester City at Anfield, providing the sort of driving force that Gerrard did in his pomp. And of course, a brilliant goal, cutting in from the left and firing an unstoppable shot into the top corner to put his side ahead.
"Apart from a magnificent goal," says Mariner of Henderson, "his game management and appetite for the battle were immaculate." Nicol and Marcotti were also effusive in their praise, with the latter saying: "We've praised his athleticism and his leadership, but he also chips in with goals and assists. A keeper."
Centre-midfield: Darren Fletcher, West Brom Albion
Eight points clear of the bottom three with 11 games to go, it would take an extraordinary collapse for West Brom to suffer relegation now. While the majority of the credit for that will quite rightly go to Tony Pulis, performing his second salvage operation in two seasons, a nod must go to Fletcher too. The Scot needed a change after years at Manchester United, while the Baggies required someone to lead their midfield. In short, it was the perfect marriage. Fletcher displayed why he will be so important to them with a fine performance in the win over Southampton. He "ran the game," according to Mariner, and teammate James Morrison's assertion that Fletcher was "born a captain" looks certain to be a huge factor in West Brom's finish to the season.
Left-midfield: Ashley Young, Manchester United
There have been clear problems with Louis van Gaal's tenure as Manchester United manager, but one thing that he can be praised for is reviving Young's stalling career. Van Gaal has even managed to get Young playing well as a wing-back, and while he didn't fill that role this weekend, he was one of the few bright spots as United laboured to a 2-0 victory over Sunderland.
"Not usually a fan of his," said Mariner, "but he looked comfortable in his accustomed wide spot, cutting inside and causing problems for the Sunderland defence." For so long Young flattered to deceive, but under Van Gaal it looks like he is finally living up to the price that United paid Aston Villa a few years ago.
Forward: Philippe Coutinho, Liverpool
It scarcely seems believable that Liverpool paid just 8.5 million pounds to pluck the Brazilian playmaker from the fringes of Internazionale in 2013. "It is frightening to know what he could be worth," said Brendan Rodgers after the Brazilian put in a magnificent performance and scored a brilliant goal to beat Manchester City. "He is a joy to work with and a joy to watch. ... He is a sensational footballer. To beat Joe Hart at that angle and power was a phenomenal shot."
Mariner said Coutinho "looked like a world-beater," Nicol called it "the performance of the weekend," and Marcotti said he offered "another clinic in passing and creativity." There has rarely been a more certain choice for our Team of the Weekend than Liverpool's Brazilian magician.
Forward: Wayne Rooney, Manchester United
Manchester United's forward line has proved problematic this season, with Robin van Persie looking like a shadow of his former self and Radamel Falcao proving a disappointment after his arrival on loan from Monaco. Rooney has found himself in midfield for much of the campaign, but he displayed against Sunderland that he is United's most reliable forward at present. One of his goals may have been that bizarrely awarded penalty and the other a tap-in, but those two strikes were the difference between an unproductive weekend and three scrapped-for points at Old Trafford.
"OK, so United are awful, again," said Marcotti. "But he bags two goals, ends the dry spell and keeps them in the running for a top-four finish." Mariner was even more straightforward than that: "Push him up the field, Van Gaal, and you have your 20-plus goals man."
Forward: Glenn Murray, Crystal Palace
A fan favourite at Selhurst Park, Murray has not quite recovered the form that made him so popular after a terrible knee injury toward the end of their promotion season in 2013. However, he claimed a brace against West Ham, even if one of the goals came with considerable assistance from Aaron Cresswell's sliced clearance past his own goalkeeper. To cap a slightly surreal day for Palace and their centre-forward, Murray was dismissed in the second half for a couple of clumsy bookings, but by that point, his work was done. "Hard to keep him out," said Mariner. "Two goals, a red card and only played 69 minutes -- what a day he had."
Manager: Brendan Rodgers, Liverpool
Another week, another win for Liverpool in this excellent run of form that started with Rodgers fashioning a 3-4-3 system that initially looked rather ambitious but now looks like a stroke of inspiration; it's also one that we have adopted for this edition of Team of the Weekend. "After a tough loss in Turkey, Rodgers prepared his players superbly, incredible energy in the team," said Mariner.
There are wins and there are wins, but Sunday's success, against the defending champion and Chelsea's only realistic challenger for the league title, could prove more important than any of the rest. It might even provide the inspiration for Liverpool to secure a Champions League place for next season.
Nick Miller is a writer for ESPN FC, covering Premier League and European football. Follow him on Twitter @NickMiller79.