Premier League Team of the Weekend: Week 21
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: When we focus on Manchester City these days, we tend to talk about their attacking stars. Not this weekend, because there were no goals and no win for the leaders, who instead seemed set to suffer defeat when Crystal Palace were awarded a late penalty at Selhurst Park. Step forward City keeper Ederson, who kept out Luka Milivojevic, ensuring that his side remain unbeaten in the league, and dealt well with crosses. "He didn't have that much to do -- but it's thanks to him that City can still be invincibles this season," says Steve Nicol.
Right-back: Nobody has been more dangerous for rejuvenated Palace than Wilfried Zaha, but he had a rare quiet afternoon against City. That was down to right-back Kyle Walker, who used his pace and strength to ensure that the winger was unable to make headway and also found time to augment attacks. "Kept Palace's danger man quiet all day," says Paul Mariner, while Nicol reckons Walker "was better than anyone I've seen against Zaha all season."
Centre-back: The early-season days when Palace were a byword for leakiness seem a long way away, with the Eagles' vastly improved organisation helping them away from danger. Against the most potent of attacks, that organisation was to the fore and centre-back James Tomkins was dominant. Injury robbed him of defensive partner Scott Dann but he remained unruffled, making several important interceptions. "Stood tall at the back," is Mark Ogden's assessment.
Centre-back: The battle of the promoted two, Newcastle and Brighton, always seemed likely to be one of those games in which the fear of losing was overwhelming, but defender Lewis Dunk ensured that the Seagulls didn't have much to worry about. He didn't put a foot wrong at St James' Park, snuffing out danger both in the air and on the ground and coming close to scoring with a powerful header. "A tower of strength and a threat in the opposition box," says Mariner.
Left-back: Bournemouth rediscovered that winning feeling against Everton, and defender Adam Smith's fine contribution at both ends of the pitch was key. When the Cherries click, as they did here, the full-backs hurtle forward -- and Smith did plenty of that as well as setting the tone for a measured defensive performance with an immaculately timed challenge in his own area early on. "Had a stormer," is Mariner's succinct summary, while Nicol seconds that admiration.
Right midfield: No Eden Hazard? No problem for Chelsea, who rested the Belgium international and instead unleashed Willian to wreak havoc against suffering Stoke City at Stamford Bridge. The Brazilian was brilliant, all twinkling footwork and subtle touches in a non-stop display that saw him create a glut of chances as well as adding his name to the scoresheet with a penalty in a 5-0 romp. "Unplayable," says Mariner, while Ogden acclaims "the star of the show."
Central midfield: Southampton travelled to Manchester United having suffered a heavy loss on the road at Tottenham over the festive period. But they more than deserved their point and clean sheet at Old Trafford, where Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg had a splendid afternoon. Hojbjerg's passing was simple and accurate, while his interceptions frustrated United attempts to build momentum. "The former Bayern Munich midfielder dominated the central third against a misfiring United," says Ogden.
Central midfield: It was just like the old Leicester days at Chelsea on Saturday, with former King Power Stadium duo Danny Drinkwater and N'Golo Kante teaming up to fine effect and Drinkwater having a particularly effective game. This was an all-round display of high class, combining the sort of solid passing that keeps a team ticking along nicely, well-judged attacking forays -- he lashed in from 25 yards early on -- and well-timed defensive interventions. Both Nicol and Mariner select Drinkwater, with the latter saying: "He dominated midfield."
Left midfield: Things haven't gone to plan for Bournemouth in recent weeks, with the Cherries in need of a tonic. Step forward Ryan Fraser, whose two-goal contribution brought three vital points. First he slotted home to round off a fine team move and then, after Everton had equalised, another crisp strike -- helped by a slight deflection -- brought victory two minutes from time. "The match-winner," says Mariner, and Ogden says the winger "helped ease relegation fears."
Forward: We're beginning to run out of superlatives for Liverpool's Mohamed Salah, who propelled his team to victory over Leicester at Anfield after they had fallen behind early on. Salah just can't stop scoring goals, grabbing both to foil the Foxes, for whom he caused endless problems in another display of shimmering skill. "His usual self -- and he could even have had four or five," says Nicol, while Ogden notes that Salah "inspires Liverpool" and Mariner purrs: "He's playing amazing football." You can't really argue with that.
Forward: Jordan Ayew can blow hot and cold for Swansea, but he was key as the strugglers produced a dramatic turnaround to take three points at Watford and climb, for a while, off the foot of the Premier League. Ayew always tried to make things happen and, after hitting the bar in the first half, was in the right place to turn in the late equaliser that started the comeback. Nicol praises his "crucial contribution," and Mariner says he "kept going, kept his concentration and was rewarded."
Manager: What do Roy Hodgson and Ronald Koeman have in common? They're the only two bosses to have prevented Manchester City from taking maximum points in the Premier League this season, and Hodgson's Palace could have had all three had they scored that late penalty. The Eagles are a million miles from the sorry side they seemed earlier in the season and evergreen Hodgson is the reason why. "He's improved them no end," is Nicol's verdict. "They deserved their point." Ogden adds: "Hodgson found a way to stop City's incredible winning run."