Five-a-side TOTW: April 6th 2017

Picking an eleven is hard; picking just five is even harder.

Arsenal maintained their relatively slim top-four hopes with a comfortable 3-0 victory at home to out of form West Ham. There were also home wins for Leicester and Watford against Sunderland and West Brom respectively. Burnley secured an important win at home to Stoke to allay their relegation fears. Liverpool could only manage a 2-2 draw at home to Bournemouth whilst both Southampton and Chelsea won at home; the Saints defeating a resurgent Crystal Palace 3-1, and Chelsea recovering from their brief blip at the weekend to win 2-1 against Manchester City. A defeat that all but ended their visitors already slim title hopes. Hull recorded an important 4-2 win over Middlesbrough in an entertaining game at the KC. Manchester United left it late but recorded yet another home draw against Everton; Zlatan Ibrahimovic saving their blushes with a last minute spot kick. And finally Spurs scored three goals in the final five minutes to come from behind and defeat Swansea 3-1 at The Liberty Stadium. But who made it into our team of the week?

Goalkeeper – Kasper Schmeichel

Before Craig Shakespeare took the job many were expecting last seasons champions to be plying their trade in English football’s second tier next season. The appointment of Shakespeare has led to a drastic turnaround in the Foxes form. The 2-0 win over Sunderland was Leicester’s fifth Premier League win in a row and sixth in all competitions. It was also a second consecutive Premier League clean sheet for Schmeichel, only the second time he has managed this all season. Schmeichel has indisputably been Leicester’s best player this season. He has galvanised him teammates at times where they looked downtrodden and hopelessly out of form. Leicester will stay up this season, and Schmeichel will have more than played his part.

The Stopper – Phil Jagielka

This guy is an enigma. I sometimes look at him and think “how on earth can he have won 40 England caps?” Well his performance on Tuesday evening against Manchester United justified those 40 caps and probably silenced many of his critics. He was nothing short of outstanding as he captained Everton to a very deserved point at Old Trafford. The ex-Sheffield United man threw himself in front of shots, made perfectly timed tackles, and managed to silence the Stretford End with a really smart finish. Out of favour under Koeman for much of this season, the veteran centre half demonstrated that he is more than able to compete with the biggest names. Ibrahimovic was kept quiet up until his late penalty earned Manchester United a point they hardly merited.

The Enforcer – Idrissa Gueye

I said at the beginning of this season that this man would be Everton’s key summer signing. He really does look to have been a snip at £7 million. Like Jagielka he was brilliant against United; he controlled the game and won the ball back for his team on countless occasions. The Senegal international has made more tackles and interceptions than any other player in the Premier League this season. If Everton are going to make a late charge for the European places then Gueye will have to maintain his impressive form.

The Free Role – Eden Hazard

When he wants to be he is absolutely brilliant and, more often than not, when he is, so are Chelsea. Against Manchester City was one of those nights that the mercurial Belgian decided he was going to turn it on. His two goals maintained Chelsea’s seven point lead over London rivals Tottenham. He has been involved in 18 Premier League goals this season and looks likely to break his previous best Premier League goals tally which stands at 14 (he’s currently on 13). Chelsea will almost certainly go on to claim their second title in three years, and Hazard will have been one of the key players in the success.

The Finisher – Jamie Vardy

He has got six goals in the six games that Craig Shakespeare has been in charge. Prior to that he had only managed the same number in his previous 38 games. The upturn in Vardy’s form has been a key factor in Leicester’s recent run of results. After scoring an absolutely brilliant goal against Stoke in the previous game, Vardy continued his goalscoring run against the leagues basement club, Sunderland. With the Champions League returning this week and City facing a tricky trip to Atletico Madrid, Shakespeare and Leicester fans will be hoping that the Vardy party will keep going on.

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Five-a-side TOTW: November 8th 2016

Picking an eleven is hard; picking just five is even harder.

Chelsea were the only team to keep a Premier League clean sheet in match week 11, as they romped to a 5-0 win over Everton at Stamford Bridge. Sunderland finally claimed their first league win of the season and Arsenal and Spurs shared the spoils in the North London derby. But who made it into our five-a-side TOTW?

Goalkeeper – Jordan Pickford

This is the third time that Pickford has made it into our 5TOTW. That’s quite some achievement considering he’s playing in a team that sits bottom of the Premier League. Pickford has easily been Sunderland’s stand-out player this season, and he was in imperious form once again on Saturday. His brilliant performance ensured that Sunderland claimed their first league win of the season at the eleventh time of asking. On the numerous occasions that the Sunderland defence was breached, Pickford was there to thwart Bournemouth attacks. Still only 22, he has an enormous future in the game.

The Stopper – Jan Vertonghen

Spurs changed to a back-three for the North London derby, with Vertonghen demonstrating his defensive prowess on numerous occasions. His reading of the game was excellent, and he produced some vital headers to prevent Arsenal snatching victory towards the end. Vertonghen was also at the heart of things when the match threatened to boil over, taking particular exception to Theo Walcott’s reaction to a flailing Victor Wanyama arm. The big Belgian has been without his regular centre-back partner, Toby Alderweireld, in recent weeks, yet he has adapted well and has looked confident in dealing with most things that have been thrown at him.

The Runner – Mousa Dembélé

The North London derby was by no means a classic, yet Dembélé put in a performance of supreme quality. He was the best player on the pitch, controlling the game, winning the ball, and driving forward from midfield. His powerful run earned Spurs the penalty from which Harry Kane equalised. The Belgian midfielder looks unflappable at times, oozing with confidence on the ball, as well as possessing so much strength that opposition players seem to almost bounce off him. Spurs really do miss him when he doesn’t play.

Free Role – Eden Hazard

Yes, that’s right, another Belgian! When Hazard plays like this you can’t help but wonder what went so badly wrong last season? I’ve been critical of him at times in the past, but there can be no denying his natural talent. He ran the show against Everton, running at and taking on defenders at will, as well as chipping in with some truly audacious bits of skill. And oh, he also scored two brilliant goals. It was probably the best individual performance in the Premier League this season. His run of form has coincided with Antonio Conte’s decision to change to a 3-4-3 system; it certainly seems to bring the best out of him and his fellow winger Pedro.

The Finisher – Diego Costa

This was a difficult choice. I was tempted to go with Zlatan Ibrahimovic following his two goals away at Swansea, however, I’ve decided to go with the Chelsea striker who was once again excellent, laying on an assist for Hazard before grabbing a goal himself. Costa has been directly involved in 12 goals this season, two more than anyone else in the Premier League. If I’m being harsh he could have, and perhaps should have, had a hat-trick on Saturday. The Brazil-born Spain international has really been in exceptional form so far this season, proving last seasons doubters very wrong. He also seems to have curbed his notoriously violent temper in recent weeks, having not picked up a yellow card in any of his previous five league games after picking up four in the first six.