Team of the Week: Manchester United stars shine on opening day, West Ham unearth new midfield star
This week’s standout performers from the opening weekend of the new Premier League season. There were some surprise stars as new boys shone at Old Trafford, plus Leicester and Palace impressed.
Goalkeeper: Sergio Romero (Manchester United)
There was a lot of doubt surrounding Manchester United’s new No1 on Saturday. With David de Gea out, Romero played a rare club game among his international duties with Argentina but helped his side massively towards three points.
Romero claimed every cross into the box against Spurs with ease and made two or three vital saves to maintain United’s 1-0 lead. David who?
Right-back: Matteo Darmian (Manchester United)
Like Romero, United’s other Serie A import was superb on his own Premier League debut. A mere snip at £12.7million, the former Torino and current Italy right-back offered Juan Mata support going forward and solidity at the back.
That’s a rare trait in a world now dominated by the attacking full-back, but Darmian regularly made tackles, interceptions and clearances, offering a more stable performance than United fans have been used to in that position during recent seasons.
Centre-back: Chris Smalling (Manchester United)
Given rumours Phil Jones would start after being preferred over Smalling all pre-season, it was the latter that was paired with Daley Blind to good effect. The England international ended last season in superb form and slotted back in perfectly with a commanding performance.
For the second match in a row, Smalling didn’t give Harry Kane a sniff of an opportunity and made an excellent tackle on Nacer Chadli in the dying embers of the game.
Centre-back: Angelo Ogbonna (West Ham)
Either West Ham centre-back would have been a good choice to partner Smalling, but given it was his Premier League bow Ogbonna is a worthy shout. After struggling for games in Serie A with Juventus, West Ham decided to partner him with Winston Reid against Arsenal.
After he made a rash challenge early on and received a booking, he recovered and got in the way of everything that came towards him. If they can develop that partnership it will be a big plus for West Ham this season.
Left-back: Pape Souare (Crystal Palace)
A signing that went right under the radar last January, left-back Souare came in after falling out of favour with Lille in Ligue 1 and instantly impressed under Alan Pardew at Selhurst Park.
Against Norwich on Saturday the 25-year-old was constantly threatening and linking up with Wilfried Zaha at left-back; and his late run into the box set up Palace’s second goal for fellow defender Damien Delaney. Souare might not have the profile of other Palace players but he’s been a shrewd addition nonetheless.
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Centre midfield: Dimitri Payet (West Ham)
The West Ham new boy wasted no time in making a big impression on the Premier League. The French international commanded a big fee after leaving Marseille but proved to Hammers fans he was worth every penny, showing an array of silky touches in a 2-0 win away at Arsenal.
A deadly set-piece led to the opening goal and, in general, Payet was a constant threat to the Gunners defence, showing pace and trickery to cause no end of issues. “More of the same” will be the shouts coming from the away supporters.
Centre midfield: Reece Oxford (West Ham)
You could make several arguments for what was the most impressive aspect of Reece Oxford’s Premier League debut. The fact he’s 16 and marked Mesut Ozil out of the game when his friends were probably at home doing their homework stands out the most, but shining in midfield as a defender is equally impressive.
Oxford was superb from the off and, without wanting to pile too much pressure on him, we are sure to see much more of this boy over the coming years.
Centre midfield: Marc Albrighton (Leicester City)
Albrighton didn’t necessarily settle into life too quickly at Leicester City last term. As the Foxes struggled for the most part of the season he wasn’t in the team too much, before becoming one of the stars as Nigel Pearson’s men went on a superb run to safety.
The midfielder clearly did enough to impress Claudio Ranieri in pre-season and repaid that faith with a goal and a couple of assists in a 4-2 win over Sunderland. If he can continue that form, he’ll go a long way to prove the hype surrounding him as a youngster at Aston Villa was justified.
Winger: Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace)
Manchester United may regret not giving Zaha more of a chance, given how he has settled back into life at Selhurst Park. Growing in confidence all the time, the young winger really evolved during the second part of last season, culminating with a goal at Anfield.
Against Norwich City, Zaha was a constant threat down the left, linking up with Souare and putting Palace ahead with a difficult finish in the first half. While all attention is on Yannick Bolasie, Zaha is going about his business nicely.
Striker: Arouna Kone (Everton)
Not the striker anybody would have expected to shine on the opening day of the campaign, but that’s the Premier League for you. Kone experienced a difficult first season with Everton, suffering an injury that kept him out for the entire campaign.
Stuck behind Romelu Lukaku in the pecking order, the Ivorian came on against Watford and set Ross Barkley’s equaliser up, before bagging one himself late on to secure a point and only his second league goal for the Toffees.
Winger: Riyad Mahrez (Leicester City)
At £400,000, Mahrez is already proving to be one of the great bargain buys. In three seasons at Le Havre the attacker managed an uninspiring six league goals, but is already on nine at Leicester in just 18 months.
Incredibly, a superb six-month spell with the Foxes in the Championship led to him being picked by Algeria for the 2014 World Cup and the winger terrorised Sunderland on Saturday afternoon. Mahrez scored two goals, hit the post and was a constant threat against a mesmerised Mackems defence.
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