Picking an eleven is hard; picking just five is even harder.
No matter what Alan Shearer thinks, Alexis Sanchez is World Class. Nevertheless, it takes more than a quickfire hatrick against a despairing West Ham to earn a spot in our five-a-side team. The Chilean misses out on a second straight appearance in TOTW in favour of a deadly Chelsea duo. The Blues came from a goal down to seize all three points in the weekend’s big game at the Etihad.
Goalkeeper – Jordon Pickford
It’s Pickford o’clock! We pick this kid every week because he’s the only goalie who’s obviously adding points to his team’s haul. Another poor show by Leicester saw Sunderland move into a 2-0 lead but the Champions rallied and Pickford was again asked to help out. He got down well to stop a Robert Huth header in the 79th minute but it was a reflex save to deny Wes Morgan in stoppage time (with the score at 2-1) which confirmed another appearance in our five-a-side team. I just hope he reads this one day because a fifth appearance in twelve weeks is really something to be proud of (narrowly better than a first England cap).
The Playmaker – Chris Brunt
We’ve opted for a five-a-side team without an Anchorman this week, allowing us to squeeze in the underrated Chris Brunt. West Brom earned another three points and briefly slid into the top six on Saturday night. The Northern Irishman delivered a fine performance helping the Baggies race to a 2-0 lead. He delivered a dangerous ball into the middle – something he’s been doing for years – to tee up Johnny Evans’ header before dispatching a great strike of his own in 34th minute. His traditional wide-play may not be best suited to the restrictions of five-a-side but I’m sure he’d adapt just fine. It was a good weekend for Tony Pulis – who recently lost a multimillion pound law suit for pulling the wool over the eyes of Steve Parish.
The Energiser – Ryan Fraser
Who? Liverpool fans (*cough* me) saw absolutely no danger when the unassuming Ryan Fraser took to the pitch with Bournemouth two down and half an hour to play. A minute later he had beaten James Milner to a through ball, tangled legs and won a penalty. Callum Wilson netted and momentum swung in an instant. Carefree Liverpool refused to sit back and crumbled as they have done several times before (Palace in 2013, Southampton and Norwich last season). Fraser’s cameo was far from over. Receiving the ball just inside the box, the Scot curled a crisp strike into the bottom corner. He still wasn’t finished and minutes later teed up Steve Cook for Bournemouth’s third. He buzzed around with a real energy and was an obvious choice for TOTW. He was the catalyst for change and by stoppage time Bournemouth’s winner was almost inevitable.
The Talisman – Eden Hazard
He’s back! It’s taken Eden Hazard far longer than anybody expected to affirm his position amongst the world’s elite. When Chelsea won the league he was exceptional but last season (save for one match vs. Tottenham) he was borderline abysmal. He looks happy again and I’d go as far as to say he’s playing the best football of his career. No longer restricted to a wide position, Hazard has carved a free role and has been a real menace in recent weeks. His goal vs. Manchester City was essentially a one-on-one, but the speed at which he took the ball and buried it in the bottom corner made it one of my favourites of the weekend. He’d simply light up a five-a-side pitch and the Belgian is a luxury in this, or any, team.
The Match Winner – Diego Costa
The way in which I avoid praising Diego Costa is nothing short of an art form. No matter how well he plays, I’ll find something to moan about or somebody else to talk about. Costa’s about as far from a footballing angel as they come but we can’t hold grudges forever and he’s not put a foot wrong this season. He’s been the standout striker in the Premier League – more consistent than Sergio Aguero – and must be considered one of the best focal points in world football. Amongst the top teams, Chelsea are the least concerned with playing overwhelming possession football. They aren’t afraid to absorb pressure and Costa is often left with a just a handful of chances per game. It’s lucky, then, that his finishing is clinical. He perfectly controlled Cesc Fabregas’ long pass before shaping round a hapless Nicolas Otamendi and firing home. After Aguero went knee-high on David Luiz you’ll be forgiven for wondering who’s the nicer of the two strikers.