WATCH: Premier League team of 2017
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."
It has been a year of two halves in the Premier League, with Chelsea and Manchester City dominating either side of the summer break. Manchester United have become title challengers again, with Tottenham, Liverpool and Arsenal also showing signs of progress. So who makes the Premier League Best XI of 2017?
Goalkeeper: David De Gea
The Man United goalkeeper has established himself as the best and most consistent in the Premier League, with his match-winning performance at Arsenal at the beginning of December showcasing his value to Jose Mourinho's team. At some point, United are likely to face renewed interest from Real Madrid in the Spain No. 1, but the longer De Gea remains at Old Trafford, the more important he becomes. The 27-year-old edges out Thibaut Courtois as the year's best keeper.
Right-back: Kyle Walker
Walker faced an uncertain future at Tottenham last season when he lost his place to Kieran Trippier, but has now re-established himself as the Premier League's top right-back following his £50 million move to Manchester City. Walker's pace, strength and power have given City a new dimension down the right and his presence is crucial to Pep Guardiola's game plan. Only Manchester United's Antonio Valencia came close to the level reached by Walker in 2017.
Centre-back: Toby Alderweireld
The Belgian centre-half has been troubled by injuries in recent months but, when fit, is arguably the best and most reliable defender in the Premier League. The 28-year-old is strong in the air, physically commanding, quick and reads the game well. His partnership with Jan Vertonghen is the best in the division and the true measure of Alderweireld's importance to Mauricio Pochettino's team is how much Spurs miss him when he isn't there, as has been the case in recent weeks.
Centre-back: John Stones
The Manchester City defender endured a difficult first season at the Etihad last year following his £47.5m transfer from Everton, but Stones has developed into one of the outstanding centre-halves in the Premier League under Pep Guardiola. A recent hamstring injury has checked his progress, but Stones has established himself as regular starter and become a key figure in England's World Cup plans.
Left-back: Marcos Alonso
It has not been a great year for left-backs, with no outstanding candidate in this position. Danny Rose has been in and out of the Tottenham team, while Benjamin Mendy was struck down by injury at Man City and Liverpool's Alberto Moreno remains a defensive liability. As for Luke Shaw at Man United, he has had another awful year but, at Chelsea, Marcos Alonso played a key role in the club's title success. This season has been tougher but he is still Antonio Conte's first choice.
The Brazilian midfielder often goes unnoticed at Man City due to the attacking talent in front of him, but Fernandinho is central to the success currently being enjoyed by Pep Guardiola's team. The former Shakhtar Donetsk player is almost the perfect holding midfielder: Neat in possession, tough in the tackle, full of energy, but also capable of getting forward and contributing goals.
Midfielder: Paul Pogba
The Manchester United midfielder continues to divide opinion as to his true quality -- many observers are uncertain as to what he does best -- yet his recent absence has exposed just how much Jose Mourinho's team rely on him. Pogba's boundless energy and ability to stretch the game, swiftly turning defence into attack, is crucial. He has also added goals and assists to his game this year and is growing into the player many believe he can become.
Forward: Kevin De Bruyne
Man City possess arguably the best midfielder in the league in De Bruyne, who has taken his game to another level this season. At 26, he is approaching his peak and his performances have been key to City's surge to the top of the table. If he continues to produce at his current level, De Bruyne has the credentials to claim a place alongside the likes of Roy Keane, Steven Gerrard, Paul Scholes and Patrick Vieira in the Premier League's midfield Hall of Fame.
Forward: Eden Hazard
Chelsea No. 10 Hazard just edges out Man City's David Silva in the playmaker role because he scores more goals and, as in his club's title success last season, produces match-winning performances when they matter most. Silva is a magician among superstars at City, but Hazard is now head and shoulders above his Stamford Bridge teammates, who rely on him far more. But it is a close call and both are world-class.
Forward: Leroy Sane
The Germany winger spent the summer recovering from an operation to resolve a nasal problem that affected his breathing and the surgery has clearly done the trick, with the Man City player enjoying a stunning start to the campaign. Sane just edges out his City teammate Raheem Sterling due to his greater quality and awareness; his pace and power down the left have earned comparisons to a young Gareth Bale.
Striker: Harry Kane
Even when the Tottenham and England centre-forward goes through a dry spell in front of goal, he contributes for his team with work rate and movement. Plus, such is Kane's consistency that barren runs do not last long. At 24, he is three years on from being billed a "one-season wonder" and has produced in the Champions League as well as at home. England will be desperately hoping he can take his game to another level during the World Cup in Russia next summer.
Manager: Antonio Conte
Pep Guardiola may be on course to create history following Man City's sensational start to the 2017-18 season but, over the calendar year, he cannot compete with Conte. The Italian won the Premier League in his first campaign and also reached the FA Cup Final, two milestones Guardiola would love to have achieved in his first year at City. Jose Mourinho deserves an honourable mention for winning the EFL Cup and Europa League with Manchester United, but 2017 has to be Conte's year.
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_