Eleven-a-side TOTM: August

The Premier League is back & so is our blog! 

We have changed the format a bit this year; instead of providing you with 38 different Five-a-side TOTW’s, we have decided to provide you with an Eleven-a-side Team of the Month (TOTM) as well as our pick for Manager of the Month. Exciting stuff indeed.

Anyway, August is always a tricky month. Fans are on holiday, players are returning from holiday or from various international tournaments, and managers are trying their best to prepare their team for the challenges that lie ahead. 

After three exhilarating weeks of Premier League football, I have compiled a TOTM for August. After much deliberation I have decided to go with a 3-5-2 formation. No fewer than half of the 20 Premier League teams have gone with this formation so far. While it has yielded mixed results it certainly seems to be the in-thing. 

Goalkeeper – Jonas Lössl (Huddersfield Town)

Hands up if you had heard of this guy before the start of the season? I certainly hadn’t. The 28-year old Dane has plied his trade in his homeland for FC Midjtjylland, for Guingamp in France, and most recently Mainz 05 in Germany. 

He joined Huddersfield early this summer on a season long loan and has been an absolute rock as the Terriers have enjoyed an unbeaten start. The shot-stopper has kept three clean sheets and made an average of just under four saves per match. 

Huddersfield fans may have been concerned following the end of Danny Ward’s impressive loan spell last season, and manager David Wagner had been criticised for not investing in a new keeper. However, the ex-US international’s in depth knowledge of German football has clearly paid dividends with this shrewd signing. 

 

Centre-back – Phil Jones (Manchester United)

Since joining the Red Devils from Blackburn Rovers six years ago, the Englishmen has never really entirely convinced. Mourinho himself has shown concern, if anything his signing of Victor Lindelhof this summer for some 40€ million was indicative of his  uncertainty in United’s current defensive options. 

Nevertheless, Jones has taken advantage of Lindelhof’s indifferent pre-season form, and has established a very effective partnership with Eric Bailly at the heart of United’s defence. Their solidity, as well as the protection of United’s new recruit, Nemanja Matic, has provided the foundation for some exhilarating United performances. 

Mourinho’s men have kept three clean sheets and are the only team to have a 100% record in the league. If he stays fit, Jones could well turn out to be a key man for his club and with a World Cup fast approaching, dare I say his country? 

 

Centre-back – Harry Maguire (Leicester City) 

Maguire was outstanding during Hull City’s unsuccessful attempt to stay in the Premier League last season. It was certainly not a surprise to see several top clubs looking to prize the Englishmen away. Leicester City fought off interest from other teams before stumping up £12 million for the ex-Sheffield United defender. 

Since joining, Maguire has excelled next to club captain, Wes Morgan, in the heart of the Foxes defence. He was impressive on debut, providing an assist for Shinji Okazaki, and looked solid despite his team losing 4-3 to Arsenal. 

If his first game was impressive, his second was outstanding. He scored Leicester’s second goal and marshalled the defence in a dominating win against Premier League new-boys, Brighton. 

His form has not gone unnoticed by England manager, Gareth Southgate. Maguire has been rewarded for his excellent performances last season and his strong start to the new season with his maiden international call up. 

 

Centre-back – Ahmed Hegazy (West Brom)

Hegazy looks a real find. Tony Pulis’s sides are always built on a solid defence, and Hegazy certainly seems to fit right in. A goal and clean sheet against Bournemouth on debut endeared him to The Hawthorns faithful. He once again stood strong and tall as West Brom made it two wins out of two with another impressive 1-0 win at Burnley. 

However, his third outing for the Baggies was less successful. He was unfortunately at fault for Stoke’s late equaliser. Nevertheless, the Egypt international has made a bright start to Premier League life and looks to be an astute signing. 

 

Right-wing – Sadio Mané (Liverpool)

The Senegal man has arguably been the standout player in the opening weeks of the season. His pace, skill and eye for goal means that he is a threat to any defence. Indeed, he has scored in each of Liverpool’s opening three games, and has formed an exciting wing partnership with new recruit, Mo Salah. 

He scored his teams first league goal of the season in their exciting 3-3 all draw at Watford. He followed this up with the winner in a hard-fought 1-0 win against Crystal Palace. He then made it three in three by scoring Liverpool’s second in their highly polished 4-0 win against a dismal Arsenal side on Sunday.

With the future of Philippe Coutinho still very much up in the air, Mané may well become Liverpool’s key man this season. 

 

Central-midfield – Paul Pogba (Manchester United)

Are we beginning to see the best of the £89 million man? I think we may be if the first three games of the season are anything to go by.

The Frenchmen has been involved in three goals already this season; scoring in both of United’s opening games, and providing an assist. That tally is a third of his total from the whole of last season (five goals and four assists). 

Like Jones, Pogba has benefited greatly from the the signing of Nemanja Matic. Last season he seemed seemed somewhat restricted. He was often played in a deeper role and his influence on games was somewhat restricted. Matic’s arrival has allowed the shackles to be removed. United’s no.6 has been able to join in attacks knowing that he is unlikely to be leaving his teammates exposed. 

This is a big season for the 23 year-old. He was heavily criticised for not reaching the standards his hefty price tag required. He has started well, but all eyes will be on whether he can maintain this level. 

 

Central-midfield – Emre Can (Liverpool)

Jürgen – get this guy a new contract immediately! Somehow, the Liverpool hierarchy have let the 23 year-old enter the final 12 months of his contract. It is certainly not a surprise to see some of Europe’s big guns circling.

The German has made a fabulous start to the season as Liverpool have enjoyed an unbeaten start. Can has impressed as part of a midfield trio alongside Jordan Henderson and Gini Wijnaldum. The three have provided the foundations for some dynamic attacking play.

Can, and Liverpool fans, will be hoping that he can maintain his early season form and can help his team sustain a strong title challenge.

 

Left-wing – Marcos Alonso (Chelsea)

This guy seems to constantly prove me wrong. I still can’t believe this is the same Marcos Alonso who had such an utterly hopeless three year spell at Bolton Wanderers.

The Spaniard scored both goals as his Chelsea side won 2-1 at Tottenham’s new ‘home-ground’, Wembley. The first was a sumptuous free-kick that left Hugo Lloris in the Spurs net with no chance at all. The second came in the 88th minute and sealed Chelsea’s first win of the new season.

Throughout this summer, Chelsea have been heavily linked with an astronomical £60 million bid for Juventus wing-back Alex Sandro. Yet, in my opinion at least, it would be simply throwing money down the drain!

Alonso is so crucial to the way Chelsea play. He provides genuine width and, apart from Thibault Courtois, is the only other left-footer in Chelsea’s regular starting XI. Last season he scored six goals and provided three assists as Chelsea coasted their way to their fifth Premier League title. Alonso will be hoping to be celebrating again in nine months time.

 

Attacking-midfield – Raheem Sterling (Manchester City)

The inclusion of Sterling may turn a few heads, so let me just try and justify it. Sterling has been responsible for winning his side three points in August. His 82nd minute equalising goal against Everton was followed up by a 97th minute winner against Bournemouth. 

Despite these goals, Sterling has not been outstanding. He was a substitute for City’s opening two games and certainly did not look to be at his best after his half-time introduction against Everton. Nevertheless, his goal convinced Guardiola to include the England winger from the start against Bournemouth.

The ex-Liverpool player was brave on the ball but constantly ran into dead-ends, losing the ball in the process. He was booked in the 93rd minute and it seemed his afternoon would end in disappointment. Deep into added time, Sterling reacted quickest to a Danilo cross when he scuffed his shot into the Bournemouth net via a deflection.

The goal prompted raucous celebrations by Sterling, his teammates, and City’s fans. In the ensuing carnage, Sterling was sent off for over-zealously celebrating the goal prompting outrage among Guardiola and his backroom team.

 

Striker – Steve Mounié (Huddersfield Town)

Another brilliant Huddersfield signing. Steve Mounié arrived from Montpellier for some 13€ million. Considering the prices being thrown around in this window it could be argued that David Wagner has once again pulled off a real coup! 

The Benin international hit 14 goals in Ligue 1 as his side narrowly avoided the drop. Quick, strong and good in the air, the 22 year-old seems to have all the attributes for the Premier League.

He scored two excellent goals on debut as Huddersfield thrashed Crystal Palace 3-0 at Selhurst Park. If the Terriers are going to stay up this season then they will be heavily reliant on Mounié’s ability to hit the back of the net.

 

Striker – Romelu Lukaku (Manchester United)

You do expect £75 million to buy you top quality and Romelu Lukaku certainly is that. It is easy to forget sometimes that the big-Belgian is only 24!

Last season, Lukaku was the Premier League’s second highest scorer behind the irrepressible Harry Kane. His 25 goals came for an Everton side that finished seventh.

Following Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s injury at the back-end of last season, Mourinho was in the hunt for a leading striker. Lukaku fit the bill and the United manager was not afraid of spending the big bucks to bring him to Old Trafford.

With three goals in the opening three games of the season, United’s new no.9 has hit the ground running. Don’t be surprised to see him top the Premier League scoring charts come May.

 

Manager – José Mourinho (Manchester United)

Mourinho has been the outstanding Premier League manager this month for two reasons: 1) because he got all his major transfer business done before the start of the season; 2) because he has found a winning team and formation. 

Many of Mourinho’s fellow Premier League managers are still shopping around at this late stage in the window. The Portuguese, however, got all of his business done before August.

While there may be doubts over Lindelhöf, Matic and Lukaku have settled very quickly. Mourinho also looks to have found a system that brings the best out of last summer’s major signings Paul Pogba and Henrikh Mkhitaryan.

As mentioned earlier, United are the only team with a 100% record and Mourinho will be hoping that his side can continue their sparkling early-season form.

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Five-a-side TOTW: May 9th 2017

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

Game week 36, and things are really heating up. Chelsea’s 3-0 win over Middlesbrough, coupled withTottenham’s 1-0 defeat to London rivals West Ham, means that the Blues are now only one win away from claiming the title. The result also meant that Middlesbrough were relegated to British footballs second tier for a joint record fourth time. Manchester City briefly moved up to third following Saturday’s 5-0 thrashing of a dire Crystal Palace side, however Liverpool’s goalless draw with Southampton meant that the Reds regained third place, albeit having played one game more. Arsenal grabbed an important win over Manchester United that ensured that they remained in the hunt for fourth, and all but ended any faint hope their visitors might have had of a finishing in the Champions League places. Elsewhere, Bournemouth and Stoke drew 2-2, while Burnley and West Brom shared the same scoreline in dead rubber fixtures. Finally, it was at the bottom where things really did get tasty. Hull’s defeat and Swansea’s victory meant that the Tigers dropped into the relegation zone with only two games left to play.

Goalkeeper – Fraser Forster 

This guy is a class act, but it would be wrong to suggest that his performances have reached the constant heights from which we have come to expect. The Saints stopper has looked slightly uncomfortable at times although he has not been aided by the fact that Virgil Van Dijk has been out for four months. Nevertheless, the ex-Celtic man was in sensational form as Southampton claimed an unlikely point at Anfield. His save from James Milner’s well struck penalty was no doubt the highlight. A really top display by the big man!

The Stopper – Laurent Koscielny 

Arsène Wenger finally ended his Mourinho hoodoo, largely thanks to a really rather brilliant performance by his captain. Koscielny was everywhere and did brilliantly up against the pace of his compatriot, Anthony Martial. The 31 year old reads the game brilliantly.  Time and time again he nipped in ahead of his opponent to win the ball back for his team. Arsenal once again lined up with a back three, with Rob Holding and Nacho Monreal either side of the Frenchmen. There was simply no way through for Mourinho’s men who lost in the league for the first time in 25 games.

The Anchor – Wilfred Ndidi 

Had Leicester signed this guy in the summer they would have been a million miles away from a relegation battle. As it is, their comfortable 3-0 win against Watford elevated them to the dizzy heights of ninth! Ndidi has been nothing short of a revelation since joining the Foxes from Genk in January. Still only 20, he looks like he has all the qualities to be  a real success in the Premier League. His goal against Watford was his third of the season. Not bad for a defensive minded midfielder.

The Playmaker – David Silva

Pardon the pun, but this guy is worth his weight in gold! Staggeringly, this is Silva’s first appearance in our five-a-side TOTW. He was just superb against Crystal Palace as his City side recorded a resounding 5-0 win. Although Silva got the ball rolling with a smart left footed volley, it was really his all round play that impressed. He is so intelligent, he just seems to glide into space and always seems able to pick out a killer pass. Manchester City are fortunate to have him, and we are lucky enough to be able to watch his brilliant playmaking skills every weekend.

The Finisher – Fernando Llorente 

I said at the beginning of the season that he would have to score goals if Swansea were going to stand any chance of staying up. The ex-Bilbao man has not disappointed, bagging an impressive 13 goals from 31 Premier League games. Of those 13, few will have been more important than the one he got against Everton. After Hull City had lost 2-0 at home to already relegated Sunderland, Llorente and his fellow Swans knew that any sort of victory against Everton would lift them out of the drop zone. Llorente’s header, his seventh of the season, means that Swansea now have their safety in their own hands.

Five-a-side TOTW: April 25th 2017

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

This is the most controversial five-a-side formation I’ve ever picked; however, I am confident that it would work well. There were only six Premier League games this weekend. West Ham and Everton shared the spoils in a disappointing nil-all draw at the London Stadium. Swansea and Hull both claimed vital home wins over Stoke and Watford respectively. Bournemouth’s 4-0 win over Watford was their second biggest win of the season and moved them to within touching distance of Premier League safety. On Sunday, Manchester United continue their top-four charge with an impressive two-nil win at Burnley, while Crystal Palace’s Christian Bentéké came back to haunt his old club, scoring twice in a 2-1 win over Liverpool at Anfield.

Goalkeeper – Eldin Jakupovic

Jakupovic has been outstanding ever since Marco Silva got the Hull City job in early January. Prior to then he had been playing second fiddle to Scotland international David Marshall in the Tigers net. Since displacing him, the ex-Switzerland international has not looked back. Hull’s 2-0 win over Watford was as important as it was impressive. After having Oumar Niasse harshly sent off before half-time, Jakupovic had to be at his best to keep Watford’s strikers at bay. There were sixteen attempts on his goal, and he dealt with 100% of the crosses he came for. It really was a commanding display.

The RWB – Joel Ward

I really like Joel Ward. I think he is as solid as they come. Unspectacular, reliable and someone who you would generally want on your side. This wasn’t necessarily his finest game in a Palace shirt, but his contribution was certainly important as The Eagles won at Anfield for a staggering third year in a row. The win took Ward and his Palace teammates up to 12th in the league and, crucially, seven points above Swansea in 18th.

The LWB – Charlie Daniels

Another player who deserves a game in our five-a-side TOTW. Daniels has been a near ever-present for Bournemouth this season, featuring in 30 of their 34 Premier League games. His goal against Middlesbrough was his fourth of the season, and it sealed a vital win for The Cherries. Daniels and his Bournemouth team mates have endured a miserable 2017 – winning only three of their 15 Premier League games since the turn of the year. Saturday’s comprehensive win over their fellow Premier League strugglers took them up to 38 points – just two away from the magic 40 point mark.

The Middleman – Tom Carroll

I still think Swansea City will go down, however this won’t be down to the lack of effort of their players. They were absolutely brilliant in their 2-0 win of Stoke City at The Liberty, with Tom Carroll being the pick of the bunch. The young midfielder scored the decisive goal, albeit via deflection, to seal three priceless points for the Swans. He has been a revelation since signing from Tottenham for 4.5 million in January. If, as expected, Swansea go down at the end of the season, Carroll certainly won’t be short of suitors.

The Finisher – Christian Bentéké

I am never going to be convinced by Bentéké. He is big, strong and yet deceptively quick, he lacks the finesse to be a really top class striker. Nevertheless, his performance against Liverpool on Sunday afternoon was absolutely first class. Jürgen Klopp’s men could simply not handle his aerial prowess. It was clear via his celebrations that Bentéké enjoyed his return to Anfield. He made a point of running towards another Liverpool outcast, Mamadou Sakho, after scoring the equalising goal; a move that did not sit well with the Liverpool fans.  He now has 14 Premier League goals this season. His best return since his first season in England with Aston Villa.

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.

Two Months To Go: Who’s Actually Happy?

For many Premier League clubs this has been a season full of miserable moments. In this era of moaning on the radio and venting on Twitter, I’m willing to bet many sets of fans will be happy to see the back of the 2017 season.

With less than ten games to go in the Premier League season, how many fans are actually happy? The shining example of happy fans – despite recently losing their undefeated home record – comes from the Stamford Bridge faithful. Chelsea collapsed inexplicably to tenth last year but have surged back to the top of the Premier League to the tune of a seven point advantage. They’ve got a manager every bit as passionate at Jurgen Klopp, more tactically shrewd than Pep Guardiola and a far better man manager than the present day Jose Mourinho. However, beneath The Blues, who’s actually had a season to be happy about?

Tottenham are on course to smash their previous points tally and should reach the elusive 80 point milestone. Despite this, fans will likely be left feeling sorry for themselves again. They’ll finish above Arsenal, but could very easily end up trophy-less and with another bout of ‘we won’t be this good next season’. After snatching third in a two horse race last year they won’t be over the moon with a distant second to Chelsea despite playing some of the best football in the league.

Whatever way you wrap it up, Manchester City fans won’t hold this season in high regard. The more sympathetic folk will focus on glimpses on Guardiola’s vision but the Spaniard’s debut season has been full of embarrassing moments. As for Liverpool – how can a team play so well against so many top teams and be so far from the top of the league? Deadly in big games, Klopp has done little to fix Liverpool’s familiar flaws against beatable opponents.

Moving down the league we reach Arsenal. Their fans are fighting eachother. Enough said.

Manchester United have had to put the Mourinho revolution on hold. The Slightly Deranged One’s tried and tested tactics haven’t been a roaring success at United. He may still drag them to fourth but it hasn’t been an easy ride.

Everton are next and the common consensus is that they’ve had a good season under a savvy new manager in Ronald Koeman. But have they really? They’ll finish higher than last year but defeats to Bournemouth, Burnley and Watford plus two Merseyside derbies and a hammering by Chelsea have confirmed their status as ‘just’ a top eight side. They’re hardly banging on the door of the top four. They’ve merely returned to where they were four years ago.

Next come West Brom who, on paper, have had a fine season. Credit to Tony Pulis for delivering everything West Brom could possibly have hoped for, but are the fans happy? You get plenty of Baggies on Talksport speaking of their uninspiring performances and lack of risk-taking football. Pulis has worked hard to get into a position of safety and security, can we see them try something else now?

Southampton have wilted badly since the League Cup final. A good season for James Ward-Prowse and the signing of Manolo Gabbiadini are scarce few high points; the transition from Ronald Koeman to Claude Puel a very obvious low. Recent form has seen a very ordinary Watford side climb to a flattering high. Staying up is an achievement of sorts but I doubt their fans will be particular enamoured with Walter Mazzarri.

With five straight wins and a Champions League quarter-final, Leicester fans will be almost as happy right now as they were last May. Let’s not be blinded though, losing Claudio Ranieri and plummeting to the relegation zone has made this a remarkably sticky campaign.

Stoke City have had somewhat of a classic Premier League campaign. An abysmal start, strong winter form and a recent dwindle see them sit twelfth in the table. Mark Hughes has become a highly divisive character and Stoke have had very little to cheer about. Below them sit Bournemouth and we may finally have found our second set of happy supporters. Bournemouth will now stay up and their Premier League dream will extend to a third season. Shipping 54 goals in the first 28 games was a cause for concern but I doubt they’ll be too many unhappy faces at the Vitality.

What do Burnley do on away days? I will never understand the home/away differential but Sean Dyche’s side have gone winless on the road despite winning ten of sixteen home games. However, with Burnley we might have found our third set of happy supporters! Assuming they stay up, it will be the first time Burnley have avoided the drop in their Premier League history.

West Ham are struggling and Slaven Bilic’s job is hanging by a thread. One of the best teams in the league last year, The Irons have endured a dismal campaign. They aren’t yet safe and neither are Crystal Palace. The Eagles will be ecstatic with their recent form and the long-awaited ‘Allardyce effect’ has finally kicked in. Nevertheless, I’m going to be cruel and say their fans won’t be happy with the 2017 season. Form under Pardew was horribly stuttered and they’ve left it far too late to do anything memorable.

Hull City fans have a handful of reasons to be happy. Marco Silva has turned the club’s form around and – to be fair to Mike Phelan – the club have punched above their dismal expectations all season. Are the fans happy? I’ll put them down as a weak yes due to recent form and renewed hope.

Hull are in a lively scrap with fellow struggles Swansea City. Even the most negative of Swansea fans wouldn’t have expected the side to be this perilously close to the drop with seven games to go. Bad decisions and Bob Bradley have made this is a season to forget.

Not only are Middlesbrough doomed for relegation but they’ve scored just 22 goals all campaign. Four wins and many miserable outings have confirmed their fans’ despair.

Sunderland? Give me a break.

Final Score: Unhappy Fans 16 – 4 Happy Fans

Mike Franchetti

Five-a-side TOTW: March 21st 2017

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

Chelsea continued their march towards the title with an impressive win over Stoke City. West Brom shocked Arsenal at The Hawthorns, and Manchester United won at Middlesbrough. The best viewing was at The Etihad as Manchester City and Liverpool played out a very entertaining one-all draw. Elsewhere there were wins for Crystsal Palace, Everton, Bournemouth, Leicester, and Spurs. But who did enough to earn a place in Someone On the Post’s coveted five-a-side TOTW?

Goalkeeper – Tom Heaton

The Burnley stopper has excelled this season, and this has been evident by the fact that he has been included in our five-a-side TOTW no fewer than 5 times. Burnley’s trip to relegation favourites Sunderland was always likely to be a tricky affair. The Clarets had picked up just one point on their travels prior to Saturday’s dour 0-0 draw at the Stadium of Light. Although both teams were impotent in front of goal, Heaton always looked assured when called upon. It makes such a difference knowing you have a top keeper between the sticks.

Stopper – Mamadou Sakho

People accuse me of bias, and they probably do have a point – but I don’t really care. I love this guy and I am not ashamed to admit it. Since his introduction to the team in late February, the Eagles have won three consecutive games, all while keeping clean sheets. The big-Frenchmen is not solely responsible for this of course, however his strength, power, pace and reading of the game has certainly contributed to Palace’s upturn in form. How Liverpool could do with a central defender of his calibre…

The Anchor – Craig Dawson

I know this makes this team very defensive, but how can you leave out a defender who scores two goals? The simple answer is that you can’t! Dawson’s brace came from corners – it was almost as if West Brom had done their homework and decided to target Arsenal’s vulnerability in the air. Arsenal certainly had not done theirs, and it was evident as feeble marking allowed the ex-Rochdale man to treble his goal tally for the season in one afternoon.

The Playmaker – Jesse Lingard

I have been a fierce critic of his, and I must admit I continue to be unconvinced by his ability to hack it at both Manchester United or at international level with England. Yet even my cynicism cannot deny that Lingard’s performance, albeit against a woeful Middlesbrough side, was absolutely outstanding. He caused havoc amongst the Boro defence – taking them on at will and looking to run in behind. His goal was absolutely superb too. Receiving the ball just inside the Middlesbrough half, he ran at the retreating defenders before unleashing a ferocious shot into the top corner. It really was a sensational goal, and it capped off a very impressive individual performance.

The Finisher – Romelu Lukaku

If he is going to leave Everton in the summer he looks determined to do so as the leagues top scorer. His two goals on Saturday were typical strikers goals; what’s more they took his tally beyond 20 goals for the season – the first Everton player to do that since one Gary Lineker. Lukaku is a brilliant striker – big, strong, and deceivingly quick. The Belgian really does tick all the boxes. It is no surprise that some of Europe’s biggest clubs are sniffing around the ex-Chelsea striker. Still only 23, his best years are almost certainly ahead of him. Everton don’t want him to leave, and the fans sang his name throughout the 4-0 win over Hull. It will be interesting to see how his future plays out in the next few months.

Five-a-side TOTW: March 5th 2017

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

Another round of Premier League fixtures – another five-a-side team of the week. Chelsea kept their 10 point lead at the top of the table with a hard-fought win at West Ham. Harry Kane outdid Romelu Lukaku in the battle of the leagues top scorers as Spurs won 3-2 against Everton. Liverpool beat top-four rivals Arsenal at Anfield, while, in a tasty clash, Manchester United could only draw at home to Bournemouth. Swansea scored a last minute winner at home to Burnley, and Leicester won for the second time in a row under caretaker boss Craig Shakespeare.

Goalkeeper – Artur Boruc

It’s not often that an opposition goalkeeper goes to Old Trafford and wins the man of the match award. However, that is exactly what the big Pole did this weekend. He was absolutely fantastic as he repelled numerous efforts on his goal. His fine all round performance was rounded off by an excellent save from Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s penalty. Boruc has found himself heavily criticised at points this season. Having conceded an average of nearly three goals a game in 2017, Boruc and his teammates will have been relieved with this highly spirited defensive performance.

The Stopper – Mamadou Sakho

I actually cannot believe that this man is playing at Crystal Palace. When he was coming through the ranks at PSG he was tipped to be the next mega superstar centre back. His move to Liverpool has been disrupted by injuries, poor form, allegedly inappropriate behaviour and poor attitude. In my opinion he remains Liverpool’s best centre back – what he is doing playing for a team fighting for Premier League survival I will never know.  Manager Sam Allardyce has decided to pair the French defender with summer signing James Tomkins in recent weeks. It certainly looks like the partnership could provide the foundations for Palace to move away from the drop zone. The 2-0 away win against West Brom was the first time that Palace had recored consecutive clean sheets this season.

The Runner – Georginio Wijnaldum

The Dutch international was in absolutely brilliant form during Liverpool’s dominant 3-1 win over Arsenal on Saturday evening. With captain Jordan Henderson injured, the responsibility fell on Wijnaldum and Emre Can to marshall the Liverpool midfield. Both played very well, yet the Dutchman really was the stand out performer. He absolutely ran the midfield – winning tackles, linking the play, and even managing to get on the scoresheet when finishing off an excellent team move. Having now grabbed goals against Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal, the former Feyenord and Newcastle player is proving that he is the man for the big occasion.

Free Role – Andros Townsend

After initially seeming out of favour under new boss Sam Allardyce, the former Tottenham and Newcastle winger has really started to establish himself at the South-London club. His goal against West Brom was as good as it was important. It sealed a valuable three points for The Eagles and ensured that they moved further away from the relegation places. It would be nice to see Townsend go on a real run between now and the end of the season. He deserves the chance to establish himself in the Premier League after frustrating spells at both Spurs and Newcastle. If he continues his recent good performances there is no reason why he can’t become one of the best wide-men in the league. With England’s game against Germany coming up in just two weeks, there is further incentive for him to keep turning in the performances.

The Finisher – Harry Kane

I love this guy. I saw something in Kane on Saturday that made me think that he really has reached the elite level. With the scores at 0-0, both teams struggling to make an impact on the game, the Tottenham striker dropped deep to receive the ball. Thirty yards out and with his back to goal, Kane swiveled, and moved the ball onto his favoured right foot. From there the Tottenham no.10 did exactly what he does best – thumping the ball into the back of the net. The goal was brilliant and provided the turning point in the game. Grabbing the game by the scruff of the neck is really the sort of thing that the best players in the world do. In my opinion, Kane has now reached that level. For someone who has scored nearly 80 goals in the last three seasons, he has an unusually large number of critics. I would love nothing more than for the England man to top the scoring charts once again at the end of the season.

Five-a-side TOTW: February 14th 2017

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

It’s time for our TOTW! Chelsea were held at Burnley, while their nearest challengers, Tottenham Hotspur, were beaten 2-0 at Liverpool. Leicester City lost for the fifth time in a row against Paul Clement’s resurgent Swansea City, a result that leaves the champions just one place and one point above the dreaded drop zone. Elsewhere, Anthony Martial scored a fine goal as Mourinho’s side maintained their top-four challenge. Sunderland were comfortably beaten at home by Southampton, and Arsenal recorded a fortuitous win over Hull City at The Emirates. But who impressed us enough to make it into the Internet’s most coveted five-a-side football team?

Keeper – Willy Caballero

This was not an easy choice – I can’t recall any keeper being particularly outstanding this weekend. I’ve gone with Willy Caballero because I think he has an unenviable task as a Manchester City keeper playing under Pep Guardiola. The City boss is desperately keen for his keepers to play out from the back – something that I don’t think comes particularly naturally to Big Willy. Despite starting the season as City’s first choice between the sticks, he knew that he was going to be likely replaced by a keeper that Guardiola considered to be better suited to the style of play that he wanted to implement. The subsequent signing of Claudio Bravo has proven to be a disastrous piece of business and Caballero has found himself back in the side for each of the last four games, keeping three clean sheets in the process. He deserves a place in this team merely for his patience, fortitude, and the fact that his name is Willy!

The Stopper – Alfie Mawson

I really thought that Swansea would go down. I even wrote an article about how Paul Clement was not the right man for the job and how chairman Huw Jenkins should be referred to as the Swansea Slayer. How wrong have I been proven? Clement, the Premier League’s choice of January Manager of the Month, has masterminded Swansea victories at Selhurst Park, Anfield, and now at home to the reigning champions. They are one of the in form teams in the league and now lie in fifteenth place and four points above the relegation places. Mawson, and his fellow defender Martin Olsson were the scorers as Swansea comfortably won at home for only the fourth time this season. The Swans have been heavily reliant on their Icelandic talisman Gylfi Sigurðsson in recent weeks, so it would have been a welcome surprise to see two defenders chip in with goals. Mawson’s was a sweetly struck volley that left Kasper Schmeichel in the Leicester goal flapping at thin air. The ex-Barnsley man more than merits his five-a-side TOTW debut.

The Ball Winner – Joey Barton

I don’t care what anybody says – Joey Barton can play. He and his fellow midfielder Ashley Westwood were up against N’Golo Kanté (and his twin brother), yet more than matched their more illustrious opponent. Burnley’s performance was industrious, and was built on the solid foundations of hard work, discipline and concentration. Nobody exemplified those traits more than Barton. Burnley are a different team at home and have picked up a staggering 29 of their 30 points at Turf Moor this season. Three more victories should see them secure their survival – a feat few of us thought possible at the beginning of the season. As for Barton, this performance completes a remarkable turnaround. Just three months ago he was deemed surplus to requirements at Rangers and was under investigation by the FA for some fairly ill-advised betting offences. He really did look like he was destined for the football scrapheap. Nevertheless, that well known football adage “bounce-back-ability” is one that can very much be attributed to Barton. Whenever people think he has well and truly messed it up, he seems to some how find a way to prove them wrong.

The Free Role – Sadio Mané

Liverpool are a different team when he is playing. People will go on about the Firmino, Coutinho and Lallana, but Mané really is the main man. When he was away on African Cup of Nations duty Liverpool looked static, one dimensional and void of any pace. He is so direct, so strong, and so unpredictable that defenders simply don’t know what he is going to do next. Tottenham certainly couldn’t handle him on Saturday, as his two goals sealed a first league win of 2017. His first was an excellent finish after he had managed to outpace the hapless Ben Davies. His second was more of a poachers goal but it really did finish off a Spurs side that were well below par. The win keeps the Anfield side in the hunt for a Champions League place and reignites a season that, after recent results, looked to be crumbling apart.

The Finisher – Manolo Gabbiadini 

I once signed this guy on one of my Football Manager games – he was a great signing for me then and he looks like a great signing for Southampton too! His two goals helped his new side to a resounding 4-0 away win at Sunderland and took his own personal tally to three in just two games. His first was a smart near post header from a lovely Ryan Bertrand cross and his second came after a wonderful turn that left Sunderland defender Lamine Koné completely bamboozled. With the League Cup Final against Manchester United coming up in less than two weeks, Southampton fans will be hoping that the Italian can maintain his good form until then at least.

Huw Jenkins: The Swansea Slayer

Swansea are bottom of the table and seemingly destined for relegation to The Championship. Simmo looks at why the Swansea chairman, Huw Jenkins, is to blame for the clubs pitiful demise. 

I feel sorry for Bob Bradley – if you were to ask most neutrals then they would probably say the same. The job he took on at Swansea really was a mission impossible.

Looking through that Swansea team it is difficult to see any other outcome other than their relegation to British footballs second tier. I can’t think of a single player, bar the goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski and playmaker Gylfi Sigurðsson, who would get into any other team in the Premier League.

The demise of Swansea City is a sad one. When they were promoted under Brendan Rodgers they were an exciting, dynamic outfit that looked to play good expansive football. Players such as Scott Sinclair and Ashley Williams had excelled in the Championship and took their good form into their debut season’s in the Premier League.

It really was refreshing to see a newly promoted team play football out from the back. This was largely down to the philosophy that Brendan Rodgers instilled in the team. He believed that his teams should play in a particular way. It was brave and certainly admired. Rodgers’s reputation soared to the extent that he took over the reins at Liverpool in the summer of 2012. Huw Jenkins acted quickly and sealed the services of ex Denmark and Barcelona legend Michael Laudrup.

Laudrup’s appointment was seen as a bit of a coup, and indeed he was able to use his substantial connections within the game to convince a host of players to join the Swans during that summer. Players such as Michu, Pablo Hernández and Ki Sung-yueng arrived with burgeoning reputations.

At the beginning of his tenure, Laudrup looked to be building on the good work done by Rodgers. Whilst Rodger’s teams had often been exciting to watch, they lacked the defensive nous to succeed on a weekly basis in the Premier League. Laudrup looked to rectify this, and added steel to the Swansea backline through signings such as Chico Flores. Laudrup had looked to have taken the Swans to the next level. He was establishing them as a Premier League team and was picking up some very impressive results along the way.

Under the Danes stewardship, Swansea won the 2013 League Cup by beating fourth tier Bradford City 5-0 a Wembley Stadium. But even Laudrup’s success was not enough to prevent him from being fired. Poor form and alleged wrangling over contracts and signings led to Jenkins dismissing him in in February 2014.

His replacement Garry Monk was a popular choice amongst fans. Having been with the Swans for a decade, he knew the way in which the club worked, and most importantly, was familiar with the squad of players available to him. As a young English manager, the Premier League can be a daunting place. Indeed, a host of far more established names have fallen victim to the trials and tribulations of England’s top tier. Monk, however, took it like a duck takes to water. He looked assured, tactically astute, and most importantly strong enough to deal with the pressures of the role. What’s more, he made what can sometimes be a difficult transition, from team mate to manager, look effortless.

Monk really did look like he had all the credentials to become a top Premier League manager. That was until Jenkins once again wielded the axe. A poor run of one win in 11 games led to Monk being ‘relieved of his duties.’ Jenkins will look to justify his decision by saying that Monk had accomplished all he had been brought in to do. When he replaced Laudrup there had been an almost instant upturn in form. Monk steered the ship to safety, but as soon as it entered difficult waters Jenkins was more than prepared to make his manager walk the plank.

The appointment of veteran Italian, Francesco Guidolin, was not seen as particularly inspiring. However, the 2015/2016 season proved to be a good one for veteran Italian coaches. Guidolin took Swansea back to basics and led them away from the relegation zone. They sealed Premier League survival with an impressive 3-1 win over Liverpool. Guidolin’s appointment had proved to be a successful one. He won seven of his 15 league games, including impressive wins over Arsenal, Chelsea and West Ham.

Under Guidolin, Swansea started the new season well with a 1-0 win at newly promoted Burnley. However, he had lost the services of his inspirational captain Ashley Williams to Everton in the summer. The signing of Mike van der Hoorn for £2 million From Ajax was not the sort of signing that gave Swansea fans a great deal of confidence. Elsewhere, Andre Ayew joined West Ham in a £20 million deal. A sizeable income, however, nearly £16 million of that money was reinvested in the young Spaniard, Borja Bastón, a player who had made fewer than 40 appearances in Spain’s top tier.

It seemed glaringly obvious that Guidolin’s team lacked the required experience to maintain their Premier League status. After winning only one of their opening seven league games, Jenkins once again decided that enough was enough.

This led to the appointment of Bradley – one that was unsurprisingly met with a great deal of skepticism. Although he had managed both the United States and Egyptian national teams with moderate success, his last job in football had been in the French second tier with Le Havre. It was hardly the ideal pedigree.

However those who were judging Bradley by his past managerial experience were simply being naïve. Many managers have arrived in the Premier League from lesser know leagues and enjoyed great success. Look no further than Arsène Wenger, who was brought in from Japanese football.

Indeed there was a certain level of arrogance amongst pundits and British football aficionados. What could an American possibly know about the English game? Whilst it is true that Bradley’s results were not great, people focused on irrelevant details, such as him referring to a penalty kick as a ‘PK.’ The vocabulary that Bradley used certainly was not the reason that his Swansea team struggled so much. Bradley was brought in to try and help ward off another inevitable fight with relegation – yet he wasn’t even given a transfer window to bring his own players in. What was he supposed to do?

People will point to the fact that the Swans leaked goals under the American. Yes, this was certainly true. However Bradley would almost certainly not have sanctioned the sale of Williams had he been in charge.

Therefore the problems at Swansea seem to all lead back to one man – Huw Jenkins. He is the man that has now sacked four managers in the last three seasons. He is the man who let Wilfried Bony go, sold Ben Davies to Tottenham, and of course let Williams join Everton. He is the man that seemed to crave rapid Premier League success over a long term and clearly defined project.

His latest appointment, that of Bayern Munich assistant, Paul Clement is again an odd one. Whilst Clement is widely regarded as one of the finest British coaches around, having held positions with Paris Saint Germain, Real Madrid, and of course Bayern, he has only had one very brief experience in first team management, a partially successful half season with Derby County. Once again it is hardly the sort of appointment that gives you much hope of ensuring Premier League survival.

In my opinion Swansea’s six year stay in the Premier League will be over come May. Either way, whoever is in charge when this Swansea side goes down must be given the chance to rebuild. Not since Rodgers has a Swansea manager been in charge for two consecutive seasons. This lack of stability is an inherent problem, and breeds uncertainty right the way through the club. Sustained long term success is only ever really achieved when people are given a chance in the short term. Jenkins has so far been unwilling to do that.

Five-a-side TOTW: January 1st 2017

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

The first five-a-side TOTW of 2017. We really were treated to a footballing feast over the weekend. At Stamford Bridge there was to be no unlucky 13 for Chelsea as they sealed a win that tied them level with Arsenal’s winning streak that they achieved during the 2001/02 season. Tottenham scored four goals away from home for the second time in four days. Manchester United left it late to seal victory at home to Middlesbrough, and Olivier Giroud’s wonderful goal helped Arsenal to a home win over Crystal Palace. Leicester won for the first time in four games, and Sunderland and Swansea both suffered heavy defeats. But who made it in to our five-a-side TOTW?

Goalkeeper – Lee Grant

Not many keepers concede four goals and still make it into our team. Grant had a wonderful game and prevented the result resembling something more akin to a cricket score. He made a number of brilliant saves, the most memorable being a sensational double save to first deny Diego Costa then Eden Hazard’s follow up. There is much speculation that Stoke will look to make his loan move a permanent one, and with Jack Butland looking to return within the next few weeks the Potters will certainly be blessed with goalkeeping options.

The Stopper – Laurent Koscielny

This was a close call. It was essentially a toss up between the Arsenal centre half and Bournemouth’s Nathan Aké. I’ve decided to go with Koscielny purely because he was facing a tougher opponent. Crystal Palace’s Christian Benteke is nearly always a handful; big, strong and powerful, he has bullied Premier League defenders ever since he arrived in England in 2012. Arsenal’s captain was resilient in defence and kept Benteke quiet as the Gunners cruised to a 2-0 home win. Arsenal have now kept consecutive Premier League clean sheets for the first time since April.

The Runner – James Milner 

I still can’t believe that James Milner hasn’t been found out at left back this season. When Klopp first moved the utility man to that position I thought, perhaps naively, that this was just a temporary stop-gap. How wrong I was. Milner looks as if he has been playing there his whole career. Against Manchester City he was his usual dependable self and marshalled City’s Raheem Sterling with consummate ease. Many have been speculating whether Klopp will dip into the transfer market and sign a more orthodox defender. On this evidence at least, it would simply be money down the drain.

The Playmaker – Dele Alli

After reading our last 5TOTW, Alli was clearly on a personal crusade to make it in this time around. And who can blame him? It’s a coveted position. The Spurs man was once again excellent, scoring twice and proving a constant menace to the Watford defence. With half the season remaining Alli already has eight Premier League goals, only two fewer than the total he achieved last season. Although Spurs lie 10 points behind Chelsea, Conte’s men visit White Hart Lane midweek, with Alli and his Spurs teammates keen to try and close the gap on the runaway leaders.

The Finisher – Andre Gray

Although Gray’s first Premier League hat-trick was against a woeful Sunderland side – we should not take anything away from the Burnley hitman. The ex-Brentford striker has struggled at times this season, and was not aided by a four match suspension he was forced to serve in September. During his absence from the side, Ashley Barnes and particularly Sam Vokes excelled in the forward roles. Gray had to bide his time before making it back into the Burnley starting XI. Burnley have got a real chance of staying up this season, and Gray could redeem himself for his early season struggles by firing the Clarets to Premier League safety in the second half of the campaign.