Five-a-side TOTW: May 16th 2017

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

The top and bottom of the Premier League has been decided! Michy Batshuayi ended the title race with his second Premier League goal of the season. At the other end of the table Hull City fell apart against Crystal Palace giving their fans a very disappointing end to a spirited survival fight. A huge win for Liverpool away to West Ham means they are now just one home victory away from a return to Champions League football. Here’s our penultimate five-a-side team of the week. We finally got Sanchez and Coutinho on the same pitch…

Goalkeeper – Lukasz Fabianski

Despite a slump during March and early April, Swansea would be comfortably in the top ten based on their results under Paul Clement. He eventually found a way to remedy their woeful defensive record and Fabianski has upped his game in recent weeks. As dreadful as Sunderland are, they were still able to test the Pole last weekend only to find he had all the answers. Swansea have confirmed their place in the Premier League for another year and Fabianski should keep his job as their number one.

The Anchor – Cesar Azpilicueta

Roll up, roll up, pick your favourite Chelsea defender. Azpilicueta has been very effective this season and a revelation at centre back. He is comfortable on the ball and wonderfully versatile. His key contribution against West Brom on Friday came in the final third when he got round the back to steer a ball into the waiting Batshuayi; a worthy TOTW call-up for one of the league’s best defenders.

The Playmaker – Philippe Coutinho

Liverpool have won ten of the twelve games where Philippe Coutinho has scored or assisted a goal. Simply put, when the Brazilian performs Liverpool usually win. They ran away with it on Sunday dispatching West Ham 4-0 at the Olympic Stadium – a result which will have a huge impact on their pursuit of the top four. The Reds have struggled away to West Ham recently and would have been glad to see the back of the Boelyn Ground. The little Brazilian seemed to benefit from the presence of a recalled Daniel Sturridge and you wonder where Liverpool would be if the two had played together on more occasions this season. If only, if only…

The Talisman – Alexis Sanchez

You can also wonder where Arsenal would be without Alexis Sanchez. The Chilean’s shown himself to be a curious character at times this season but his performances on the pitch have never wavered. My own, unpopular, opinion is that Sanchez is the best footballer in the Premier League. He certainly looked it when dragging Arsenal through back-to-back wins against Stoke (last weekend) and Sunderland (last night). His finishing is electric and he’s now just one behind Lukaku in the race for the Golden Boot. The two will share a pitch this Sunday…

The Finisher – Shinji Okazaki

Last May Leicester were celebrating a miracle. This time around they can at least applaud a stunning goal by the often overlooked Okazaki. They made a game of it against Manchester City proving they really are far too good to go down. The second half was an unpleasant watch for Pep Guardiola after the Japanese international had had fired an acrobatic volley past Claudio Bravo. He rounds off our team this week.


 

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Five-a-side TOTW: February 3rd 2017

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

Of the top six only Manchester City won. At the other end of the table Swansea City and Crystal Palace claimed vital wins. Leicester City’s miserable away record continued, while Watford provided the shock of the week as they won 2-1 at The Emirates. Yet who made it into our five-a-side TOTW?

Goalkeeper – Eldin Jakupović

The Hull City stopper was in imperious form as his side claimed the most unlikely of points at Old Trafford. For long parts of this season Jakupovic has had to play second fiddle to David Marshall, yet since Marco Silva’s arrival he has seen himself elevated to first choice. He certainly did not disappoint on this occasion. A first half save to deny United’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic was impressive, however this was matched, and maybe even surpassed, by his sensational goal-line block from Juan Mata’s shot. It really was an extraordinary save and a very, very good performance by Jakupovic and his Hull City team mates.

The Stopper – David Luiz

Where has he come from? I mean he has always been an excellent footballer, but his spell at Paris St Germain has done him the world of good – he actually looks like he can defend now. On this particular occasion it was his flair as well as his defensive skills that shone. He started the match extremely confidently, intercepting balls, winning headers, and marshalling the Chelsea backline. When Chelsea won a free kick 30 yards from the Liverpool goal there was only going to be one man taking it. Luiz’s strike was inch perfect – it was practically lazor guided. Those in the media were blaming Liverpool keeper for not being ready, yet even if he had been he would not have got close to that free kick. It really was that good.

The Anchor – N’Golo Kanté

I’ve simply run out of superlatives for this guy. He is just the most wonderfully effective defensive midfielder I have ever seen. His ability to read the game is well known, as is his quite relentless work rate. He made 14 tackles and interceptions on Tuesday evening – 11 more than the next closest in the Chelsea team. His presence is invaluable, and it is certainly no coincidence that Leicester City are struggling without the diminutive Frenchmen in their team. I said at the beginning of the season that if Chelsea were going to do well in the league then this guy would be the difference. Whilst other Chelsea players have impressed, particularly Diego Costa, Eden Hazard, Cesar Azpiliceuta and Luiz, Kanté remains the unsung, yet all important, hero.

The Free Role – Gylfi Sigurðsson

I really did not see this coming. I honestly did not think that Swansea City would be going anywhere other than towards the Championship. However, under Paul Clement Swansea have won back-to-back Premier League games. I still think that they will struggle this season, and if they are going to beat the drop then this man Sigurðsson is going to have to keep up his brilliant form. The Iceland international is such an intelligent footballer, I don’t think he would have any trouble getting into most other teams in the league. He provided the decisive assist for Swansea’s first goal, before finally sealing victory with a beautiful left footed volley.

The Striker – Gabriel Jesus

Is this the second coming? His arrival was eagerly anticipated and was always likely to lead to a large number of biblical references. Judging by his opening three games it is clear that the boy can play – whether he can turn water into wine remains to be seen. The young Brazilian was in wonderful form during Manchester City’s 4-0 drubbing of West Ham. Whilst he scored and laid on an assist for Kevin De Bruyne, it was his all round game play that caught the eye. His movement was so good; he was constantly stretching the West Ham defence with his imaginative runs. It would have to be some player to threaten Sergio Agüero’s place in any team, yet the ex-Palmeiras man looks capable of being that man. It will be fascinating to see how he does throughout the rest of the season.

 

Five-a-side TOTW: December 22nd 2016

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

Another round of fixtures saw Arsenal’s annual slump continue. It wasn’t so much the result – a defeat away to Pep’s Manchester City – but the dire performance that confirms Tuesday’s loss to Everton was more than just a blip. The regularity of their winter wobble is seriously astonishing. Elsewhere Southampton and Liverpool were derby day victors and Middlesbrough dealt more misery to an unfortunate Bob Bradley.

Goalkeeper – Kasper Schmeichel

It wasn’t a weekend of great goalkeeping and short of handing Thibaut Courtois the place in recognition of his tenth clean sheet I was struggling for options. However, watching back the lively Stoke/Leicester draw, it became apparent how important one Schmeichel save turned out to be. Leicester had ten men, six bookings and a two-goal deficit when Mame Diouf swung in a cross in the 57th minute. John Walters rose up over Wes Morgan and turned a header to Schmeichel’s left. The Dane reacted well to make a sprawling save. Leicester rallied in the final half hour to earn an unlikely point.

The Stopper – Cesar Azpilicueta

Azpilicueta is the (almost) forgotten man in this formidable Chelsea outfit.  He established himself as a solid fullback in his first few years but has taken to a new centre-back role with ease. Three at the back means a fair amount of shuffling about and relies heavily on defensive understanding. At times, each centre-back has the freedom to cover other areas of the pitch and that’s exactly what Azpilicueta did when edging forward and dinking a ball onto the head of Diego Costa. Crystal Palace asked questions at times but Azpilicueta’s defending was as smooth and controlled as ever.

The Runner – Raheem Sterling

Make no mistake, Arsenal were poor on Sunday and there was little in the Manchester City performance worthy of concern for league leaders Chelsea. Nevertheless, whilst the rest of the blues continued to crawl back to their best, Sterling injected life into a sluggish opening quarter. The former Liverpool winger is capable of some useless performances but his match-winning potential continues to appear in flashes. He – along with Leroy Sane – gave the Arsenal back line a torrid time and handed Guardiola a crucial three points when cutting in and beating Peter Cech at the near post.

The Finisher – Jay Rodriguez

Jay Rodriguez scored twice in Sunday’s derby to briefly turn the clocks back to 2014. On the run up to that year’s World Cup, the young Englishman was bagging plenty of goals and surging towards Roy Hodgson’s England squad. In April he ruptured a knee ligament and missed every minute of the following season. Last year you might have caught one of his 12 appearances but he looked very much a man-in-recovery. Southampton’s patient approach has paid off and when Rodriguez swivelled and dispatched a dipping volley over Arthur Boruc you’d be forgiven for thinking his best days are on the horizon.

The Other Finisher – Alvaro Negredo

We’ve seen this before from Alvaro Negredo. The Spaniard is capable of producing a run of games which convinces us he is one of the deadliest finishers in European football. Unfortunately, it’s usually followed by a prolonged absence from the scoresheet (and perhaps even the first team). He scored 23 goals in his single season at Manchester City – despite netting just nine times in the league and not scoring a single goal from January to May. Middlesbrough will be hoping Negredo avoids a similar baron stretch because it’s obvious they are a better side when he is scoring. His first was a cracker on Saturday, turning in the air to find the bottom corner with a crisp finish. Negredo would be a beast on a five-a-side pitch; he looks the sort of guy who’d ruthlessly smash everything past the goalie from seven yards out.

Five-a-side TOTW: December 15th 2016

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

A full round of mid-week fixtures? It must be nearly Christmas. Chelsea benefitted from Arsenal’s 2-1 loss to Everton at Goodison Park by extending their lead to six points at the top of the Premier League. Manchester City won a league game at home for the first time in three months, and Liverpool halted their mini bad run of form with a resounding win at Middlesbrough. But who has made our five-a-side team of the week?

Goalkeeper – Simon Mignolet

Recalled for the first time in 10 Premier League games, and the Belgian did not disappoint. He looked solid and assured, particularly when he denied Victor Fischer’s rasping drive. The 3-0 win over Middlesbrough saw Liverpool claim their first clean sheet in three games, a welcome relief after conceding six in their previous two league games. Mignolet has been much criticised in the past, yet very few pundits would have found fault with his performance against the relegation candidates.

The Stopper – David Luiz

I have previously voiced concerns about this mans defensive abilities, but boy has he proved me wrong. He’s been a rock since rejoining Chelsea in the summer and has been the lynchpin in a defence that has conceded just two goals in ten Premier League games. Assured in possession and strong in the tackle, the Brazilian centre half really has been a revelation. Antonio Conte has deployed him in the centre of a back three with Cesar Azpilicueta and Gary Cahill either side. Together the trio have provided the foundations for a 10 game winning streak. Chelsea fans will hope that the big-haired Luiz will continue his impressive form.

The Runner – Adam Lallana 

In his first season at Liverpool he scored five league goals all season. In his second he could not even match that as he found the net just four times. This season, and bearing in mind we’re not even half way through, he has already six Premier League goals to his name. The goals he scored in Liverpool’s 3-0 win were testament to how he has improved as a player. The first was a bullet of a header from an impeccably timed the run. The second was a calm finish after he once again checked his run at the back post. He is fast becoming a key player for both club and country.

The Playmaker – Christian Eriksen

It took a while for the Dane to join the party – but after five goals in his last four Premier League games it would seem that Tottenham’s little maestro is back to his best. His double against Hull City was his second in as many games at White Hart Lane. Pochettino altered Tottenham’s formation slightly, choosing to go with a back three and two wing backs. This enabled Eriksen to play a little more centrally – a role that undoubtedly suits him better.

The Finisher – Salomón Rondón 

A hat-trick of headers! I honestly don’t think I’ve ever seen that before. The Venezuelan usually goes under the radar, but he is certainly one of the most underrated centre forwards in the Premier League. The West Brom No.9 certainly benefitted from some hopeless Swansea marking for his first two goals. On both occasions the Swans defence just simply seemed to switch off. However his third goal of the evening was a thing of beauty. Towering above two defenders, Rondon flicked the ball over the despairing Lukasz Fabianski. Rondon’s eight league goals this season have propelled West Brom up to the dizzy heights of seventh.