Premier League Team of the Weekend, Dec. 13-14
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 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 more reaction.
Goalkeeper: It speaks volumes about a goalkeeper's performance when his team wins 3-0 and he snaffles the man of the match award. Such fate befell David De Gea in Manchester United's victory over Liverpool -- time and time again, De Gea repelled seemingly goal-bound efforts, his shackling of Raheem Sterling after an errant backpass equally as good as the reflex save from Mario Balotelli's point-blank effort. "There's a top three of world keepers, and he's in it," says Gab Marcotti. Steve Nicol was similarly glowing.
Right-back: With Arsenal deep in a defensive crisis, Hector Bellerin answered Arsene Wenger's prayers at right-back and could do for years to come, according to Nicol. The youngster was a dynamic presence in the slot usually reserved for Mathieu Debuchy, who was switched inside to partner Per Mertesacker against former club Newcastle. Not only was the Spaniard sound in the majority of his defensive duties, he offered an attacking dynamism, as Marcotti notes: "He has had more than his fair share of criticism but he was rampant down the flank against Newcastle and set up a goal for Olivier Giroud."
Centre-back: Debuchymust have known he'd be asked to play centre-back at some point during his Arsenal career -- every right-back usually is. But such challenges are meat and drink to characters as determined as the Frenchman, and as predicted, he formed a cohesive unit with Mertesacker as they set about shackling the differing threats of Ayoze Perez and Chelsea-slayer Papiss Cisse. As Nicol opines, this may have been an alien position for Debuchy, but he was "excellent."
Centre-back: One of the chief architects in Burnley's 1-0 win over Southampton was Michael Keane, who is impressing at the tender age of 21 during a loan spell from Manchester United. Keane has started the past four matches for Burnley, during which time they've conceded four goals, picking up five points in the process. He was assured beyond his years at Turf Moor on Saturday, marshalling the back line confidently and earning the respect of Marcotti, who explains: "It's not easy going from Manchester United to a team like this. But he showed leadership, confidence and an edge, too."
Left-back: Antonio Valencia (Marcotti) and Ryan Bertrand (Paul Mariner) are in the mix in the other full-back position, but I've gone for another Nicol choice: Filipe Luis. After a five-match run as a substitute, the Brazilian was treated to a full 180 minutes this week and didn't disappoint. He was diligent in his defensive duties for the visit of Hull but was afforded more opportunity to express himself in the opposition half and looked the part. As Nicol surmises, Luis was "cool, calm, confident and composed in all situations," and proved he is more than getting to grips with the demands of the Premier League less than halfway through his first season at the club.
Right midfield: Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez must have delighted to see the attacking workload shared around during the 4-1 win over Newcastle; such is the onus on him to provide it week in, week out. He still provided the opening two goals, though -- standing up an inch-perfect cross for Olivier Giroud's first before a neatly weighted pass allowed Santi Cazorla to grab a delicious second. As ever he was a cocktail of creativity and pace.
Central midfield: Frank Lampard's canny knack of popping up with vital goals is still intact, as another landmark strike on Saturday not only took him level with the prolific Thierry Henry in the Premier League's all-time scoring charts (with 175) but also earned a precious victory for Manchester City at Leicester. It is for this reason Marcotti (probably) gave a roll of the eyes as he wrote: "Come on, guys. He now has as many Premier League goals as one Thierry Henry, and his strike keeps an injury-riddled City hot on Chelsea's heels." Surely City need to extend his loan?
Central midfield: Lampard's central midfield partner is less heralded but just as important to the smooth functioning of his team. James Morrison has quietly become an assured and highly competent Premier League midfielder over his time at West Brom and allies vision to precision in the middle of Alan Irvine's side. His shift in the vital derby victory over Aston Villa was noted by Mariner and praised by Marcotti, who said: "Kieran Richardson's red makes life easier, but he's in the midst of everything, threading passes and dictating play."
Left midfield: Do you reckon Santi Cazorla had a decent 30th birthday? To be honest, even though they'd seen off Chelsea last weekend, the Spaniard couldn't have asked for more generous opponents on Saturday than Newcastle, who may as well have brought their own cake and fizzy drinks. Messrs. Fabricio Coloccini and Mike Williamson proffered gifts almost all game, but Cazorla's wizardry -- which has been overshadowed a little by Sanchez perhaps -- was back on centre stage as his delicious goals capped a fine win.
No. 10: He's been a tad quiet by his own lofty standards of late, but perhaps this was the moment Eden Hazard announced his return as a Premier League force. Yes, it might have been only Hull, but they are an obdurate bunch on the road -- just ask Arsenal, Liverpool and Everton. The Belgian, referred to as a "live wire" by Nicol, was at the heart of everything Chelsea did in an attacking sense. Not only did he grab the opener, heading home crisply after a fine Oscar cross, but he also laid the other goal on a plate for Diego Costa in the absence of his usual supply line, Cesc Fabregas. Marcotti says Hazard was "the perfect key to unlock Bruce's back three," while Mariner simply calls him a "super, super player."
Striker: Considering all the flak Giroud has had to swallow during his Arsenal career, perhaps these words from Nicol will provide some much needed succour: "The Frenchman looked like a proper centre forward on Saturday." He's right, as Giroud proved far too hot to handle for Newcastle's beleaguered back line. Mariner was equally purring, calling Giroud a joy to watch, as his two goals -- one a powerful header, the other an impudent flick -- ensured a comfortable win for Arsenal.
Manager: Nicol throws his hat in the direction of West Brom's Irvine, but our other pundits aren't for turning, insisting Arsene Wenger should be our gaffer of the weekend. After a horror show at Stoke and that much-publicised train station ambush, the Frenchman regrouped in solid fashion, with two thumping victories.
That his troops played with such swagger after being browbeaten at Stoke says a lot for their character. Mariner, who was present, said the top Gunner weathered the storm well and destroyed Newcastle, prompting chants of "There's only one Arsene Wenger" from the Emirates' faithful. Marcotti summarizes the situation neatly: "You have to take the good with the bad. And decide for yourself whether he's worth it. This weekend wasn't just good, it was great. As was the way Arsenal regrouped after Stoke."