Five-a-side TOTW: April 11th 2017

We’re well into April signalling the start of the “business end” of the season. While no business is actually taking place, teams are beginning to make their final push before the season ends. This weekend saw Sunderland crushed 3-0 at home to Manchester United, a result that all but ended any hopes of another great escape. Leaders Chelsea overcame a tricky looking visit to Bournemouth. Marcos Alonso scored the pick of the goals in a 3-1 victory. Crystal Palace won again at home as they comfortably beat Arsenal 3-0. Tottenham strolled to a 4-0 home win over Watford with Dele Alli adding a couple more million to his name with a delightful curled effort. Southampton recorded an impressive victory at West Brom, while Simon Mignolet excelled in Liverpool’s 2-1 win at Stoke. But who made it into our team?

Goalkeeper – Fraser Forster

Not many teams win at The Hawthorns. In fact before Southampton’s visit only 4 others had come away with all three points this season. The South coast club owed a lot to their man between the sticks as the ex-Celtic stopper made six saves and caught 100% of his crosses. The Saints have had to field a makeshift defence for much of this season following the sale of José Fonte and the injury to Virgil Van Dijk. The defence, and Forster in particular, have had to step up to the plate on numerous occasions throughout the campaign. Something which they did again on Saturday afternoon.

The Stopper – Mamadou Sakho

Him again. Listen, I promise it’s not bias – he just is in brilliant form. Once again the Liverpool loanee was an absolute monster at the heart of the Palace defence. He won tackles, made blocks and was frighteningly strong in the air throughout the 90 minutes. His future remains in doubt, but there is no chance that the Frenchmen will be playing at Selhurst Park next season. A return to Liverpool remains unlikely unless he and Klopp are able to resolve their differences. Whatever happens, he most definitely won’t be short of suitors.

The Anchor – Yohan Cabaye

He’s not really imposed himself at all this season. In and out of the team and questions regarding his attitude have hardly helped his cause. Nonetheless the ex-PSG man turned in a first class performance against The Gunners on Monday night. His goal was absolutely brilliant and proved to be the defining moment in the clash. Cabaye will hope to carry his good form into the remaining 7 games of the season and look to ensure that Palace consolidate their Premier League status.

The Playmaker – Philippe Coutinho

He only played the second half but the little maestro changed the whole game. Jürgen Klopp’s experiment had failed in the first half of Liverpool’s visit to Stoke. Trailing 1-0 the German decided to bring on Coutinho and his compatriot Roberto Firmino at half time and the introduction of the two Brazilians completely changed the match. Coutinho’s 70th minute goal sparked Liverpool’s revival. His first time shot was lazor guided into the back of Lee Grant’s net. Two minutes later it was Firmino’s turn, as he expertly guided a powerful strike into the Stoke City goal. The reds held on and in turn moved nine points clear of Arsenal in fifth place.

The Finisher – Son Heung-min

The South Korean has 11 Premier League goals this season. A fantastic return for a player who is still not always a regular in the side. His two goals against a very poor Watford team at White Hart Lane ensured that Spurs maintained their unlikely title challenge. Son has been a revelation this year. For much of last season he flattered to deceive and there were rumours that he would not be a Tottenham player for much longer. Yet the ex-Hamburg and Leverkusen player has turned it all around and established himself as one of the Premier League’s most underrated players.

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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.

Six players who really should’ve been on the Ballon d’Or shortlist

So the Ballon d’Or list was announced with a fair few notable names missing. Here we look at six players who can count themselves a little unlucky to have missed out.

Claudio Bravo

People may be surprised to see him on this list, especially because I’ve been scathing about his performances since he signed for Manchester City in the summer. But the Chilean international certainly does deserve some recognition for his achievements in recent years. Having captained his national team to consecutive Copa América titles, and winning back-to-back La Liga titles with Barcelona, there can be no doubting his pedigree. Whether he will enjoy the same success in the Premier League is a different issue altogether.

José Fonte

This is a left field choice and one that will no doubt cause a bit of bewilderment. Nevertheless, the Southampton centre half has been in imperious form over the last twelve months. It is easy to forget that he was playing League One football just five years ago. Having captained Southampton to their best ever Premier League finish and winning Euro 2016 with Portugal, he more than merits some acknowledgement for his achievements. There are only three other defenders on the original list of 30, including his international centre back partner, Pepe. Fonte had to bide his time initially, having been overlooked in favour of veteran defender Ricardo Carvalho. However, after a 3-3 draw with Hungary, the result that sealed Portugal’s passage through to the knockout stages, he came into the team and formed a formidable partnership with Pepe. When playing alongside each other Portugal conceded only one goal in their remaining four matches.

Marcelo

Whilst there will always be question marks regarding his defensive ability, there can be no doubt that the Brazilian is the best attacking left back in the world. Quick, strong, and technically gifted, the former Fluminese man really does have it all. He is so important to the way that Real Madrid play, offering them that extra width when the wingers choose to come inside. It can be difficult to get the acclaim you deserve when Bale, Benzema, and particularly Ronaldo are your team mates, yet Marcelo quietly and efficiently goes about his business. Despite only being 28, it feels like the Rio de Janeiro native has been around for years. Now in his eleventh season at Real, he will no doubt be looking to help retain the Champions League this season.

N’Golo Kanté

It’s absolutely farcical that this guy isn’t on the list. Quite frankly he was the standout midfielder in Europe last season as Leicester claimed the unlikeliest of Premier League titles. His omission really does go some way to devaluing the whole award. Last season he demonstrated his exceptional energy levels and reading of the game whilst forming a formidable midfield partnership with Danny Drinkwater. His tactical discipline and unselfish work rate enabled flare players like Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy to excel further up the field. Kanté carried his form into Euro 2016, and has started this season with Chelsea in equally excellent form.

Blaise Matuidi

His absence from the list is also baffling. This is a guy who has won eight trophies with PSG in the previous two seasons. Like Kanté, he featured extensively for Les Bleus as they finished runners up to Portugal at Euro 2016. However, many still choose to devalue the achievements of Matuidi and his PSG side, decrying the alleged weakness of Ligue 1. This perception somewhat overlooks the fact that Matuidi himself has been in excellent form for an awfully long time now. Having joined PSG in 2011 shortly after the club had been purchased by Qatari investors, Matuidi remains the only player from that first wave of signings to still be at the club. He, like PSG, has grown, developed, and improved and consequently now really should be considered amongst the world elite.

Harry Kane

He may have endured a miserable Euro 2016, but there can be no devaluing his achievements in the Premier League last season. Kane was simply sensational, scoring 25 league goals as Tottenham recorded their highest league finish in over 25 years. His finishing and link up play is up there with the best in the world; in a Spurs shirt he really does seem to have the Midas touch. Whilst his performances for England have often been below par, there can be no doubting that he has all the credentials to be one of the all time great English centre forwards. Having scored more league goals than Karim Benzema, Paulo Dybala, and Sergio Agüero (all nominated for the award) last season, his omission from the list was certainly surprising. If he continues the form that he has shown during the previous two seasons then he will almost certainly begin to receive the acclaim he so rightly deserves.