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.
Goalkeeper: It’s strange how things can change in football. Last season, Lee Grant was Derby’s second-choice goalkeeper behind Scott Carson in the Championship, and when he moved to Stoke City this summer he was their third choice. But with Jack Butland’s injury and Shay Given’s poor form and advancing years, Grant finds himself in the team. Stoke will be glad he is, so good was he in a 1-1 draw against Manchester United Sunday that he earned a unanimous selection to our Team of the Weekend. “Incredible saves!” exclaimed Steve Nicol. “Amazing … without him United could’ve had a hatful,” said Paul Mariner, while Gab Marcotti said: “Not bad for a guy in his third-ever Premier League match.”
Right-back: One of the more low-key and less-heralded players in the Premier League, the adaptable Joel Ward can nevertheless put in a fine display on occasion. And that’s what he did Friday night when tasked with marking his former teammate Yannick Bolasie in Crystal Palace’s 1-1 draw with Everton. He not only managed to do that with some aplomb, he set up Christian Benteke’s equaliser with a fine cross too. Our panel was split on who should fill the right-back slot, but Ward was Mariner’s choice. “An assist, marauding forward and excellent defensively,” said Mariner. The complete full-back performance.
Centre-back: Tottenham will receive plenty of plaudits for their attacking in the superb 2-0 win over Manchester City, but a healthy nod should go to their defence as well, brilliantly marshalled by Toby Alderweireld. The big Belgian received votes across the board from our panel and won gushing praise, too. “Bolts the back door,” said Marcotti, “which is especially important whenever City break the press. Close to flawless.” Nicol was rather more pithy, simply calling him “Mr. Secure,” but the sentiment was the same: He is one of the best defenders in the Premier League and showed it against perhaps the most dynamic attack in the division on Sunday.
Centre-back: Things aren’t exactly peachy at West Ham right now, with teething problems at London Stadium and the team not quite living up to the standards of last term. However, one bright spot came Saturday, as Winston Reid put in a fine showing at the heart of their defence against Middlesbrough. The New Zealander certainly caught the eye of our panel, with Mariner calling him “fantastic,” while Marcotti noted he “mixes it at both ends and bounces back from some difficult performances.”
Left-back: It’s strange how some teams just seem to have a problem position that they can never quite fix, and Liverpool’s appears to be left-back. This season Jurgen Klopp has not felt confident enough in his only specialist, Alberto Moreno, and perhaps with good reason, preferring to play James Milner out of position. Still, you wouldn’t have guessed that this isn’t exactly Milner’s favourite role Saturday against Swansea, as he chugged up and down the left flank and capped things off nicely with the winning goal, a coolly-taken penalty. “Took everything Swansea threw at him,” said Mariner of the Englishman.
Midfield: Tottenham are of course heavily represented after their brilliant success against City, and the next of their men to make our selection is a player who might not have been in many predicted lineups before the game. But Victor Wanyama was superb, snuffing out the obvious danger that City’s attacking bank of brilliance provides, and was another unanimous choice for our team. “He did everything but score,” said Nicol, while Marcotti said he “locked down the middle of the park.” Mariner simply called him a “tower of strength.”
Midfield: Just like his team West Ham, Dimitri Payet has had a slightly slow start to the season, his sluggish beginning perhaps owing to a draining and emotional summer at Euro 2016 in France. But he seems to be back now and announced himself with a phenomenal goal to level things against Boro and earn West Ham a point. “Just watch the goal,” said Marcotti. “You’ll understand.” And little more needs saying than that.
Midfield: Perhaps the most impressive thing about Tottenham’s win over City was that it was achieved without some of their key men, notably Harry Kane and Mousa Dembele. All of which meant it was even more important that the likes of Dele Alli played well, and fortunately for Mauricio Pochettino and his team, they did. “At times unplayable, scoring, drew the pen, appetite for work incredible,” said Mariner of Alli’s performance, while Marcotti praised his “quality and quantity in the final third.”
Forward: One of the few bright spots for Chelsea last season, Willian hasn’t been quite as impressive this time around, as Antonio Conte’s tenure has begun in slightly uneven fashion. However, in the words of Nicol, “he was back” on Saturday, showing much of that running which makes him so very valuable and also popping up with a goal — a beautifully measured finish into the top corner to break down Hull’s resistance.
Forward: In the absence of Kane, there was plenty of speculation as to who would fill the central striking role. Vincent Janssen hasn’t been entirely convincing thus far, and when Son Heung-Min moved into the middle against CSKA Moscow in the Champions League, he scored the winner and provided plenty of danger. Thus he was given that role again against City, and while he didn’t get a goal, he put in a fine display, with his work rate always up to snuff and a key part of Pochettino’s battle plan. “Closing starts at the front,” notes Nicol, of a key factor in Tottenham’s victory.
Forward: Not always the most popular figure, it would be particularly churlish to deny that Diego Costa has been one of the Premier League’s best players in this nascent season so far. The striker lashed a quite brilliant finish into the top corner to seal Chelsea’s win over Hull, his sixth goal in seven Premier League games thus far this term. “A continuous pain in Hull’s rear end,” said Marcotti of the Spain international. “Keeps Chelsea afloat at the attacking end. Conte might want to clone him.”
Manager: The mutual appreciation society between Mauricio Pochettino and Pep Guardiola before their encounter on Sunday was strong, and the Tottenham boss proved Guardiola’s praise by guiding his team to perhaps the most impressive win of the season. As was the case the first time the two met, when Pochettino’s Espanyol met Guardiola’s Barcelona in 2009, the Argentine’s team harassed and pressed and ultimately blew Guardiola’s away. “It’s not just about becoming the first manager to defeat Manchester City and Guardiola,” said Marcotti, “it’s doing it in this way … Masterful.”