Team of the Weekend, Aug. 30-31
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 #TOTW. Plus, tune in to Monday's "ESPN FC" (5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2) for further reaction.
Goalkeeper: Sorry, Tom Heaton. Despite your first ever top-flight clean sheet, completed against an attacking quartet to strike panic into the hearts of any self-respecting back four, and your championing by Steve Nicol, you never stood a chance at No.1 once Stoke had registered a shutout at Manchester City. Yes, the champions were far from their best, and Asmir Begovic might not have been as busy as in other matches -- but a clean sheet at the Etihad is about much more than shot-stopping. Begovic was resolute when called upon, but his command of his area and organisation of the back four were the standout features on Saturday. Gab Marcotti hit the nail on the head when he said the Bosnian kept his cool as the pressure rose, and Paul Mariner wholeheartedly agreed.
Left-back: What a difference six days makes. Castigated for "not being up to speed with the demands of the Premier League" after a costly spot of dawdling at Manchester City on Monday, Alberto Moreno showed he'd certainly overtaken Andros Townsend by Sunday. The left-back turned in a classy display at White Hart Lane and capped it with a superb breakaway goal, in which he won the ball from the Spurs winger and charged upfield before hammering home a low shot. Both Nicol and Marcotti thought his contributions at both ends of the pitch were very tidy indeed, and they were spot on.
Centre-back: Ryan Shawcross turned warrior at the Etihad and delivered a performance chock-full of blood and guts. Nicol and Marcotti were united in their praise of the England centre-back, who would only have looked more at home hurtling into tackles and organising teammates had he been doing it on a 1970s mudbath of a pitch. Nicol was mightily impressed with the way Shawcross put the shackles on Sergio Aguero, while Marcotti summed his showing up thus: "Unfazed by little, skillful guys (Aguero), creative Balkan types (Jovetic) and Bosnian giants (Dzeko) -- and a leader in every sense."
Centre-back: We have a split when it comes to the central defensive partner for Shawcross. Mariner and Marcotti opted for Dejan Lovren, with the former saying the Croatian is already proving a "great signing for Brendan Rodgers" and the latter pointing to his "channelled aggression, enthusiasm and intelligence." But Nicol and I reckon Leicester's Wes Morgan is a better bet. Yes, he was only up against the might of Yaya Sanogo, but he underlined precisely the grit and determination needed if the Foxes are to stay up this season. How about this as a recommendation from Nicol: "A mean, lean fighting machine. All-comers welcome." On the strength of that alone, he's in.
Right-back: We have a three-way split at right back, with Branislav Ivanovic (Marcotti), Kieran Trippier (Mariner) and Ritchie De Laet (Nicol) all in contention. All have valid claims; Trippier playing a full part as Burnley kept Angel Di Maria, Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie, Juan Mata and Ashley Young (ahem) at bay, De Laet rising to the challenge of sticking tight to whichever one of Mesut Ozil or Alexis Sanchez drifted onto his flank, and Ivanovic, who not only scored inside three minutes but also limited the attacking influence of Leighton Baines. Just to demonstrate how contrary I can be, even though Nicol says De Laet displayed "some of the best full back play I've seen in years," I'm going for Ivanovic just because Marcotti likened him to "a cyborg."
Midfield: At the base of our midfield is another man who played a full part in that nine-goal thriller at Goodison Park -- Nemanja Matic. Not only does he see off the equally valid claims of teammates Eden Hazard and Ramires, but he also puts paid to two-goal Morgan Schneiderlin's chances of an early TOTW inclusion. No wonder, when the Serbian drew such glowing praise from Mariner, who thinks he will rival Yaya Toure as the best holding midfielder in the league. Nicol paid tribute to the 26-year-old's "precise passing," his clever assist for Ramires' goal and his own netbuster, scored during one of the maddest 10 minutes the Premier League has seen.
Midfield: According to Marcotti, Jordan Henderson is "quickly becoming irreplaceable" at Liverpool. Imagine someone saying that back in 2012. He believes that is so not only because the former Sunderland midfielder beavers away to link defence and attack beautifully, but also because of his threat in terms of both goals and assists. His perfectly timed run and slide rule pass led to Liverpool's opening goal at White Hart Lane, and despite all his attributes, the thing Nicol likes most about him is his ability to "run for two people."
Midfield: Did anyone notice Swansea City were top of the Premier League for about two hours on Saturday night? West Brom went the same way as Manchester United and Burnley before them -- swept aside by some slick passing and finishing led by the force of nature that is Nathan Dyer. The winger added another two goals on Saturday, both taken with aplomb after his seemingly telepathic understanding with Gylfi Sigurdsson had been reignited. Marcotti hailed his "super performance," while Nicol was pleased to see him adding goals to his already polished wing play.
Midfield: Perhaps the best stat of the weekend came after 18-year-old Rolando Aarons scored his first senior goal for Newcastle in just his third appearance to ensure he leaped above Gary Ablett atop the Premier League's alphabetical scorers list. The Toon were flagging prior to his introduction as a second half substitute -- within six minutes he'd pulled them level with a neat header, then teed up what looked like a winner with a neat change of direction and a glorious floated chip to the back stick. Mariner and Nicol were both rendered agog by Aarons' fearlessness, and both reckon he is a "star in the making."
Midfield: With the world's media training their eyes on Mario Balotelli ahead of his Liverpool debut, Raheem Sterling reminded everyone why he was the darling of the press pack this time last year. As Mariner opined, it is "impossible" to leave him out of our lineup, such was his menace at White Hart Lane. Apart from his opening goal -- a product of assistant boss Colin Pascoe telling him to get "inside the post" -- he was tireless in his defensive duties. Marcotti thinks Sterling's link play with Daniel Sturridge and Balotelli sounds an ominous warning to the rest of the league. What a shame such a virtuoso display didn't get the imperious goal it deserved after that mazy run into the area, but as his manager remarked: "The run of Ricky Villa, the finish of Ricky Gervais."
Striker: "He plays, he scores. No surprise is it?" No, Steve Nicol, it isn't. Diego Costa has taken to the Premier League like a duck to water, with four goals in his three matches to date, and even a customary hamstring scare wedged in the middle. On Thursday, we were hearing he might be out for six weeks, on Saturday he scored inside 36 seconds at Goodison Park. The Brazil-born striker looks made for the English top flight and able to lead the line powerfully and put in a shift defensively too. The finish for his second epitomised the coolness he has in front of goal, and his afternoon-long battle with Seamus Coleman, while unseemly in patches, added another layer to a barnstorming contest.
Manager: Few could begrudge Mark Hughes his moment of glory back at the Etihad. He might be a hard character to warm to, but his shoddy treatment at the hands of Manchester City -- when he took charge against Sunderland in 2009 knowing he was about to be sacked and his successor was in the stands watching -- will make Stoke's unlikely win all the sweeter. A rigid tactical plan was deployed expertly, as Stoke denied City pockets of space in the final third and took their chance on the counter when it came. He is the unanimous choice of our panel, with Mariner and Nicol highlighting the magnitude of the result and Marcotti adding it was "well-deserved for a guy who doesn't get as much publicity as he should."