By Benjamin Wills.
Big performances are needed in big games, and this weekend was a fine way for the Premier League crop to display them with two derbies on Saturday. Tottenham won the North London battle, thanks to a Harry Kane brace, but Everton and Liverpool finished goalless.
Manchester City stumbled to a home draw against Hull as Chelsea extended their lead at the top of the table to seven with a 2-1 win at Aston Villa, while Manchester United could only manage a 1-1 draw with West Ham.
Goalkeeper: Julian Speroni (Crystal Palace)
In what could be described as the ‘relegation six-pointer’ by those fond of an overused cliché, Crystal Palace were the ones who triumphed.
Julian ‘Mr Crystal Palace’ Speroni was the stand-out performer at the King Power, producing a royal performance which included making five saves – more than any other goalie this weekend.
The finest and most crucial was from Jamie Vardy’s effort just one minute from time to secure the three points for Palace after Joe Ledley’s header ten minutes into the second half put the visitors ahead.
Right-back: Seamus Coleman (Everton)
Everton did not offer anything going forward for 87 minutes of their ill-tempered home derby against Liverpool, but still could have won it right at the death.
Coleman broke free on the right-hand side of the box with three minutes left on the clock and only a superb stop from Simon Mignolet denied him.
The Republic of Ireland wing-back was also impressive in his natural defensive duties, limiting Reds to very little to stretch Everton’s unbeaten run in the league to four matches.
Centre-back: Maya Yoshida (Southampton)
The defender’s fallen out of favour due to the impressive displays of fellow centre-backs Toby Alderweireld and Jose Fonte, but Southampton’s backline was kept in line by the returning Yoshida on Saturday afternoon.
Southampton kept a clean sheet away at QPR as Yoshida provided the assist for Sadio Mane’s 90th-minute winner.
His native Japan had a disappointing Asia Cup, losing to the United Arab Emirates on penalties in the quarter-finals, but a first win since his return will lift his spirits.
Centre-back: Alex Bruce (Hull City)
It takes some performance to outshine two derbies, but Hull did just that with a 1-1 draw away at champions Manchester City.
Alex Bruce was a rock at the back as the Tigers kept City caged at the Etihad, where Bruce produced a solid display that dad and manager Steve would have been proud of.
He was arguably fortunate not to concede a penalty when he shoved Samir Nasri in the box, but nonetheless, kept Hull ahead for the majority of the match. A daft Tom Huddlestone foul led to the decisive free-kick that denied him and his side a famous win.
Left-back: Alberto Moreno (Liverpool)
There is no denying the Merseyside derby on Saturday evening was a damp squib – and that is being kind to Everton and Liverpool’s ‘contest’ – but Moreno was one player who stood out.
Jordon Ibe grabbed the headlines with a surprise start and a shot that hit the post, but Moreno and the rest of his Reds defence limited Toffees to just one shot on target in the 87th minute.
Right midfield: Eden Hazard (Chelsea)
Surprisingly, Jose Mourinho had never won at Villa Park before this weekend, but that came to an end with a little help from Chelsea’s tricky Belgian.
Hazard gave the travelling team a seventh-minute lead with a neat finish into Villa keeper Brad Guzan’s bottom corner to set the league leaders on their way to a 2-1 win. He has now had a hand in eight goals (four goals, four assists) in his last nine league appearances.
Centre midfield: Chris Brunt (West Brom)
‘Boing boing’ is the affectionate phrase West Brom fans attach to their team and you could see why after Sunday’s display at Turf Moor.
The Baggies were 2-0 down to Burnley, but Brunt hit back to make it 2-1 with a header from a Callum McManaman corner. Then scorer turned provider as Brown Ideye equalised with a header of his own so West Brom returned to the Midlands with a share of the spoils.
Centre midfield: Cheikhou Kouyate (West Ham)
Sam Allardyce’s typically resilient side held improved Manchester United at the Boleyn Ground and their aspirations of finishing in a European spot are still very much alive.
Kouyate’s tidy turn and strike inside the six-yard area came close to separating the two sides in East London and the gangly midfielder also impressed at quashing most threats Louis van Gaal’s side posed going forward.
Only a last-gasp goal from Daley Blind denied the Hammers a famous win to burst their bubble.
Left midfield: Sadio Mane (Southampton)
Mane could be considered unfortunate he has to compete at St Mary’s with Dusan Tadic and Eljero Elia, but four goals in his last four starts has given manager Ronald Koeman the kind of selection headache every boss dreams of.
Senegal winger Mane’s latest winner was a last-gasp strike at QPR to keep Southampton in the surprise hunt for a Champions League spot.
Striker: Harry Kane (Tottenham)
Tottenham’s poster boy is already becoming a regular feature in The Offside Rule’s Team of the Week, with four goals in two games making him impossible to leave out.
The former Arsenal kid showed exactly where his loyalties lie. Kane starred as he levelled through a tap-in on 56 minutes, before earning the bragging rights for Spurs with a bullet header with four minutes remaining.
Keeper David Ospina denied him twice but Kane was the one with the final word as Spurs leapfrogged Arsenal in the table.
Striker: Danny Ings (Burnley)
Ings joins Kane in the Team of the Week and may well pair with him up front in an England shirt if he carries on in his current form.
Burnley threw away a two-goal lead at home to West Brom on Sunday and will be frustrated to only pick up one point. But if it wasn’t for Ings, they would have been fortunate to even get that.
Liverpool’s January transfer window target was first provider for Ashley Barnes’s opener for the Clarets, with a neat lofted pass after a chested knock down and then made it 2-0 with an angled header into the bottom corner. That’s four goals in five now for Ings as he waits patiently for a call from Roy Hodgson.