Liverpool influence as Skrtel, Coutinho and Klopp make 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 select 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 below the article, or on Twitter using the hashtag #TOTW. Plus, tune in to Monday's ESPN FC show (5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2) for further reaction.
Goalkeeper: Asmir Begovic's decision to leave Stoke for Chelsea was the best thing to happen to Jack Butland. The England hopeful has had to bide his time, but he's now claimed four clean sheets in six matches in all competitions for club and country. The latest came in Saturday's 0-0 draw at Newcastle, where he expertly denied Moussa Sissoko and Jamaal Lascelles, and Paul Mariner labelled it an "incredible" display in goal, while Gab Marcotti said: "He came up big once more." Steve Nicol makes it a full house -- and Butland is one of four players our trio all agreed on this week. What is going on?
Centre-back: A scoring centre-back always stands a chance of catching our panel's eye and so it proved as Nicolas Otamendi powered his way into our XI this weekend. The Argentina international thumped a fine header past John Ruddy in Manchester City's fortunate 2-1 win over Norwich, prevailing against the goalkeeper when his attacking teammates had been frustrated up to that point. Otamendi, excellent in last Sunday's 0-0 draw at Manchester United, is steadily growing at City and Mariner said: "He is looking a good signing -- powerful in the opposing box as well as strong in defence," while Marcotti added: "I was sceptical about his price-tag but it was a frightening header."
Centre-back: Scorer Otamendi is joined by another to get his name on the scoresheet, Arsenal's Laurent Koscielny. While his goal owed much to Lukasz Fabianski's ineptitude in Swansea's 3-0 defeat, Koscielny still had the wherewithal to get up the field and make a nuisance of himself. "It may be getting boring having him in TOTW every week but he's a notch above every other defender in the Premier League," -- high praise indeed from Marcotti -- and Nicol added: "Koscielny is so consistent."
Centre-back: Being strong, reading the game well and organising a defence are all important if a centre-back wants to have a good match yet a lot can also be said for showing restraint. In the face of provocation from an old foe in Diego Costa -- something the Chelsea striker may get punished for -- Martin Skrtel was a picture of calm. Not rising to the bait and continuing to nullify an increasingly spent force in the match, the Slovakian was imperious in Liverpool's fine 3-1 win at Stamford Bridge. "He matched up well with Costa," said Mariner and Nicol was spot on when he said: "'You shall not pass,' was his motto."
Right-midfield: Michael Cox had it right when he said Philippe Coutinho endured a frustrating start to Liverpool's win at Chelsea on Saturday but he grew in influence and with two well-taken finishes, the Brazilian capped his best performance under Jurgen Klopp. Some observers errantly claimed Coutinho was "awarded space," for his first strike, but that is doing him a disservice. He engineered the chance himself, brilliantly snaking his way past Ramires with his right before planting a wonderful effort past Begovic with his left to level things up. He added another to put Liverpool ahead -- "breathing life into Klopp's men," according to Mariner -- while Nicol called him "the difference maker," and Marcotti said: "He was the right man in the right place. His first goal was a stunner."
Centre-midfield: Plenty of debate here, with Mariner impressed by James McCarthy in Everton's 6-2 win over Sunderland on Sunday and Nicol putting Lucas' case forward. Lucas is out, considering he should have been sent off for two bookings at Stamford Bridge. McCarthy, meanwhile, set up one of the six in Everton's fine win and enjoyed an unblemished afternoon. "He covered a tremendous amount of ground," Mariner said.
Centre-midfield: McCarthy's midfield partner is Steven Davis, who set the ball rolling for Southampton in their 2-0 win over Bournemouth on Sunday. Marcotti was the driving force behind this one and he said: "Davis continues to be invaluable in Ronald Koeman's midfield."
Left-midfield: There's an argument to be made that Leicester's Riyad Mahrez is the most skilful player in the Premier League at present. The Algerian sensation has had a memorable start to the 2015-16 season, with his pace and trickery bamboozling defenders on a weekly basis. He grabbed a brace on Saturday, as the Comeback Kings were at it again, coming from behind to defeat West Brom 3-2. "A wizard," according to Nicol, with Mariner and Marcotti in agreement with his pick.
Right-forward: Arouna Kone scored three goals in two years upon joining Everton from Wigan in 2013. On Sunday, he scored three in 45 minutes as Sam Allardyce's shambolic Sunderland came crashing down to earth following their derby joy over Newcastle last week. Kone is curious; looking like a decent striker who works well in Everton's system one minute before fading and trying the fans' patience the next. "Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole ... Kone, Kone!" they sung on Sunday, and our panel are singing from the same hymn sheet on this one too. Predictably, they all went for Kone, Marcotti calling it "an afternoon to remember," while Mariner added: "It was his best performance for a long time," and Nicol said: "It was the perfect afternoon."
Striker: While Jamie Vardy is deservedly in the spotlight and out on his own as the Premier League's leading scorer with 11 goals, it seems rather off that Odion Ighalo's supreme season has slightly gone under the radar. He has either scored or assisted every one of Watford's past nine goals, following his double in their 2-0 win at West Ham. "A deadeye striker," Marcotti said and Mariner agreed: "He showed excellent movement."
Left-forward: Some Arsenal fans seem to be a little too eager to extol the virtues of Mesut Ozil, perhaps a little mindful (hurt?) by warranted criticism regarding his influence in the past. They're giddy at the moment, though, and in all fairness you have to agree with them. Ozil is finally displaying the delicious eye for a pass and exhibiting fluid movement that we all know he is capable of. He grabbed two assists in Arsenal's 3-0 win at Swansea and Marcotti said: "He did his job, as ever, off the ball. Special, in his own way." A favourite for a place in the Team of the Season if this blistering form continues, Ozil is a delight to watch at present.
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Manager: It's all very well being likeable and zany, displaying infectious enthusiasm and celebrating goals like they've won you the lottery, but you need results too. Jurgen Klopp certainly got that on Saturday as his Liverpool side deepened the misery on Jose Mourinho. You get the impression Klopp's reign may have got lift-off, following a rather muted start. He's our boss this weekend, although Marcotti is right to point out Claudio Ranieri deserves his dues: "He's got Leicester third. Third!"
Alex Shaw is General Editor at ESPN FC. Follow on Twitter: @AlexShawESPN.