Five-a-side TOTW: May 22nd 2017

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

The final day of the Premier League season is always an odd occasion. Whether it be weakened teams, barmy goal fests, emotional farewells or even suspicious devices, there is always something intriguing that occurs, and the last day of this season was certainly no different. Realistically there was only one issue that needed to be resolved; the Champions League places. With only champions Chelsea, and runners up Tottenham assured of qualification to Europe’s premier football competition, there were still two places up for grabs, with Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal vying for those final two spots. City and Liverpool knew that wins against Watford and Middlesbrough respectively would guarantee their places at the high table, while Arsenal knew they had to win at home to Everton and hope that their rivals would slip up.

Goalkeeper – Castro Pereira

Who? Yes that’s right. Manchester United’s Swiss born Portuguese goalkeeper was making only his second United appearance and his first in the Premier League. He was facing a Crystal Palace side that had flirted with relegation throughout much of the season but had recently enjoyed some fairly impressive. The twenty-year-old looked confident and assured throughout United’s comfortable 2-0 victory. Standing at over 1.90 metres he certainly looks like he has the physical attributes to become a top class Premier League stopper. His United future will largely depend on where David De Gea ends up plying his trade next season, however he will have done himself no harm with this impressive display.

The Stopper – Vincent Kompany

There can be no doubt at all that Manchester City are a different team when their captain is fit. Had he been fit for the whole season we may well have seen Pep Guardiola’s team mounting a more serious title challenge. The Citizens captain only featured 11 times in the league this season yet still managed to aid his sides cause with three goals. Going into the final round of fixtures City knew that a win would guarantee them third place and as a result automatic qualification to the Champions League group stages. Nevertheless, they faced what could have been a sticky fixture away at Watford who had just confirmed that the game would be Walter Mazzari’s last in charge. Kompany led the City charge and calmed what may have been any jangling nerves with a smart header within five minutes of the kick off. It set the tone for an easy afternoon for the two-time Premier League champions, who ran out 5-0 winners in the end.

The Middleman – Georginio Wijnaldum 

My word does this guy score important goals. Already a scorer of vital goals against Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal, the ex-Feyenord and Newcastle man can now add Middlesbrough to his already impressive repertoire! While the opponents might not be as illustrious, the goal itself was absolutely crucial. Liverpool knew that only a win would guarantee qualification for the Champions League and prior to Wijnaldum’s intervention Liverpool had been struggling. They were extremely fortunate not to have found themselves a man down after Dejan Lovren inexplicably pulled Patrick Bamford down when through on goal. With half time approaching, Wijnaldum grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck and produced a fierce strike to give the Red Men a lead that they would never surrender. Further further goals from Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana sealed an easy 3-0 win.

The Free Role – Josh Harrop 

Again, you may ask “who?” Well this young man had a Manchester United debut to remember as he opened the scoring in United’s 2-0 win at Old Trafford. The Stockport born winger looked lively on his professional debut and capped off an impressive display with a brilliant individual goal. Receiving the ball on the left hand side, the 21 year old cut inside, jinked his way around several Palace defenders before blasting the ball beyond a hapless Wayne Hennessey. United fans love nothing more than a homegrown player and it will be really interesting to see whether Harrop is able to kick on next season.

The Finisher – Harry Kane

Realistically, who else was going to get the nod here? Kane is simply the best striker in the Premier League and one of the best, if not the best, in the world. In a season disrupted by injury, the Tottenham No.10 has still managed a staggering 29 goals in 30 Premier League appearances. His four goals against a desperately poor Leicester side in midweek were followed up by an equally impressive hat-trick against already relegated Hull City. Remarkably, there are still those who seem to be waiting, even hoping, for the wheels to fall off. On this evidence they will be waiting an awfully long time.

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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 29th 2017

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

We are almost over the line. This weeks five-a-side TOTW includes just the five matches. Chelsea maintained their four point lead over Tottenham with a 4-2 win over Southampton at Stamford Bridge. Arsenal left it late and needed the help of a Robert Huth own goal in order to seal three important points against Leicester City. Christian Eriksen’s ‘golazo’ was the difference in Tottenham’s match against a resurgent Crystal Palace. Middlesbrough won for the first time 2017 to all but condemn Sunderland to Championship football next season. And on Thursday the Manchester derby ended goalless.

Goalkeeper – Brad Guzan

Very much seen as the back up to Victor Valdés, the ex-Aston Villa keeper has had to accept a bit-part role. In fact, Wednesday’s 1-0 win over fellow strugglers Sunderland was only the 10th time that the American had appeared in a Middlesbrough shirt this season. Guzan looked assured between the sticks, and made an impressive four saves. The win was Boro’s first since in 2017. They had not claimed a Premier League win since the 3-0 hammering of Swansea City way back mid-December. That miserable run has all but confirmed that they will be playing their football in the Championship next season.

The Stopper – Eric Bailly

Injuries have not helped the young Ivorian settle. After starting this season as first choice and appearing in 13 of United’s first 15 matches, it seemed as though United manager, José Mourinho, had found his rock at the back. Since injuring his knee in United’s 4-0 defeat against champions elect Chelsea in late October, the ex-Villareal man has only appeared in 19 out of a possible 42 matches. He has started in United’s last nine games, a run that has seen them keep five clean sheets and only concede four goals. In the 0-0 draw over Manchester rivals, City, Bailly was absolutely superb. His speed, strength and reading of the game really shone through. If he can remain fit and injury free, United will have a serious player on their hands.

The Midfielder – Cesc Fàbregas

He’s in, he’s out. Poor old Cesc Fàbregas. He just can’t seem to get a solid run of games together. It is is true that he is competing for places with the PFA Player of the Year, N’Golo Kanté, and the vastly improved Nemanja Matic. Nonetheless, the ex-Arsenal man must be frustrated with his situation. If he was looking to make a point then his display in Chelsea’s entertaining 4-2 win over Southampton would not have done him any harm. Chelsea manager, Antonio Conte, cannot have helped but been impressed with the Spaniards intelligent use of the ball. Time and time again he picked out teammates with perfectly threaded passes, even assisting Costa for his first. Rumours continue to circulate regarding AC Milan’s interest in taking the ex-Arsenal and Barcelona man over to Italy in the summer. Fàbregas turns 30 next week, and he will no doubt be keen to ensure that he is part of a team that picks him more regularly than every other game.

The Playmaker – Christian Eriksen

I must confess – I have never really been convinced by this guy. I have always felt that he has flattered to deceive. Yes, his set pieces are nearly always on the money, and yes, he scores the odd spectacular goal; however, I have always felt that there has been something lacking from his game. I was astonished to find out earlier this week that the Dane has covered more ground than anybody else in the Premier League this season. Furthermore, he is second only to Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne for Premier League assists, with an impressive 12 to his name. His brilliant match winning goal against Crystal Palace was his eighth of the season, and it kept Tottenham’s unlikely title charge on track. I am going to have to eat my words over the ex-Ajax man and admit that he has turned into a really fine player.

The Finisher – Diego Costa

His form blows as hot and cold as his temperament. He scored 15 goals in his first 19 Premier League games of the season. In the following 12 he has managed just four. Against Southampton the Brazilian born Spain international was back to his best. An assist and two goals ensured that Chelsea kept their distance over Tottenham. His second goal was absolutely brilliant. Exchanging one-twos with two of his Chelsea teammates; Eden hazard first, then Pedro second, before rifling in a low drive past Fraser Forster in the Southampton goal. A brilliant performance overall.

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.

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.

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.

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.

 

Why the FA Cup is dying

Football is a game now built on money. For a long time now sentiment and history have ceased in having any influence on the beautiful game. New found riches and the prospect of even greater financial reward has led to the decrease in stature of one of the bastions of the English football calendar; the FA Cup. In this article, Simmo looks at why the FA Cup is dying and why its sister competition, the League Cup, is continuing to go from strength to strength.

The FA Cup has always had this magical, mystical, even mythical side to it. It is the only competition in English football where a real battle between David and Goliath ever seems to take place. Right from its very first appearance in the English football calendar, way back in 1871, it has taken on an importance that no other major cup competition is able to replicate across Europe’s premier footballing nations.

Yet now, in an age where it increasingly seems that money takes precedence over both pride and history, the FA Cup is sadly losing its status as Europe’s most important national cup, and perhaps, even Britain’s.

That final sentence in particular may cause a few gasps from readers, however, there is certainly considerable evidence to suggest that top clubs are now putting a greater emphasis on the League Cup. Whilst it is certainly true that the League Cup lacks the prestige of its sister competition, it has a lot of elements that lie in its favour.

One of elements is something that big teams find especially advantageous. Premier League teams that qualified for a European competition in the previous season are automatically placed in the third round. Unlike the FA Cup, where all Premier League and Championship teams get an automatic pass to the third round, the League Cup usually sees all Championship teams begin their campaign in round one.

 

Number of Games

Either seventy or seventy-two teams enter the first round, with the winners progressing to round two. Here, the Premier League teams not involved in European competitions are added to the pool. When round two is finished the Premier League teams who qualified for Europe are added. It is at this point when the cup really does begin in earnest.

The reason why this is often so favourable for bigger teams is that they are often entering the competition when many of their league rivals have already been eliminated. Let us take the 2014/15 competition as an example. By the beginning of the third round a total of seven Premier League teams had already been eliminated. A quarter of the 16 fourth round ties were all Premier League affairs, with only nine teams from Britain’s top tier progressing.

There are other advantages too; for example, the number of games that have to be played to get to the final. Round three in the League Cup has only 32 teams as opposed to 64 in the FA Cup. Additionally, there are no replays in the League Cup, meaning that up until the semi-final, teams only have to play one game per round. The maximum number of games that a Premier League team playing in Europe has to play to reach Wembley is five.

The replay issue is a contentious one. It has been violently debated by those wearing suits at the FA. Whilst we all love to see a lower league team battle valiantly and earn a replay at a big club, there is a strong argument to suggest that replaying ties has a detrimental impact.

For example, let us take a Premier League team who have qualified for the latter stages of the Champions League. They are drawn against lower league opposition in the fifth round. The match is a dull affair with the minnows frustrating their more illustrious opponents for 90 minutes. The result is a 0-0 draw and all those at the smaller club are delighted that they have secured a replay at one of Britain’s biggest clubs.

For the Premier League team however, this is the nightmare scenario. The replay is sandwiched between several important Premier League games and the first leg of their Champions League knockout round.

Where is the incentive for them? Whilst those at lower league clubs are delighted to secure replays, partly due to the financial windfall that comes with achieving such a feat, the Premier League clubs know that finishing even one place higher in the league could bring about greater financial rewards than winning the FA Cup.

 

Financial Reward

Manchester United, the current FA Cup holders, won £1.8 million for their Wembley triumph. This does not include television money, nor gate receipts. When these have been calculated in, the money received from an FA Cup run increases substantially. Ultimately a run to the final can prove to be extremely profitable, yet like all things in football, it has to be revaluated in comparison to the revenue streams that can be had elsewhere.

All things are relative – £5 million to Huddersfield Town is the equivalent of about £40 million for Manchester United. There is no factual basis for this statement – it is just merely to demonstrate how bigger clubs have a different outlook on the financial side of the game. For Huddersfield Town, winning the FA Cup and receiving that sort of money would constitute a major success. For Manchester United winning the FA Cup would only be success if they had also managed to secure other financial success.

We will continue with Manchester United because it is a good example. The 2014/15 season had seen them qualify for the Champions League after a two-year absence. Although they were eliminated in the group stages they made almost 10 times more in that competition than they did for winning the FA Cup. That is even before the TV revenue is added to the total.

Then there is the Premier League. Despite finishing fifth Manchester United were able to rake in a staggering £19.8 million in prize money. Once again, this is before the TV revenue is counted. When it is you can multiply the money received by five.

Now, before we go further it is important for us to talk about the finances involved with the League Cup. The winners of the competition only receive £100,000 – an almost irrelevant sum when placed in the grandeur that is the world of football.

 

Not just financial

It would seem then that there is a bigger reason as to why the League Cup has taken on an increased importance in recent years. It clearly is not down to financial reward – there is obviously something else that sways teams to take the competition seriously. Whilst winning the League Cup is worth substantially less than lifting the FA Cup trophy, there is no difference in the actual footballing reward.

With both finals being played at Wembley, and winners of both competitions are automatically entered into the Europa League, Europe’s second tier competition, there is little to distinguish the two competitions. One way this could be done is by introducing a Champions League qualification spot for the winners of the FA Cup. The financial rewards on offer there would encourage teams to take the competition more seriously.

Another major problem with the FA Cup is its timing. It is something that particularly affects the bigger clubs. The third round of the League Cup typically kicks off in late September, just one month into the Premier League season. In comparison, the FA Cup third round begins in early January – just after an extremely busy festive period. By the time the fourth round has started the two League Cup finalists have already been confirmed.

Essentially, a run in the League Cup comes at a better time than the equivalent run in the FA Cup. Players are fresher, and perhaps most importantly, the fixture list is less congested.

 

The Shocks

Yet there will always be the purists. The people who say, “well the FA Cup is the FA Cup, and nothing will ever beat it.” In many ways they are right. People, particularly those of older generations, have a real affinity with the FA Cup.

It was the Cup of the people. The one every young boy or girl watching football wanted to win. It was a Saturday not long after Christmas, a Saturday when the best teams came to play the smaller teams. The most famous players in the country were being tested in uncomfortable surroundings. It was the perfect recipe for a shock.

Shock is very much the operative word associated with FA Cup. There have always been shocks. Hereford vs Newcastle springs to mind, along with Wimbledon vs Liverpool. Games where the favourites were stunned, where the minnows triumphed against the odds. That was the magic of the FA Cup.

Nowadays they are less common. Indeed, Bradford were the last team to really cause an FA Cup shock when they won 4-2 at the Premier League leaders, Chelsea, after being 2-0 down. Even when surprising results do occur there are question marks regarding whether they can be truly classified as a shock result.

West Ham United, a Premier League club, lost 5-0 at Nottingham Forest, a team in the second tier, two years ago. In most normal situations people would describe this as a shock. Yet on the day West Ham had rested a number of first team players and had clearly set their sights elsewhere. Bournemouth did the same earlier this month, fielding a weakened team at League One Millwall, and in turn losing 3-0. Again, it went to prove that the FA Cup was not a priority.

Indeed, the League Cup has provided more shocks in recent seasons. Seasoned cup team, Bradford City, a club from the fourth tier of English football, enjoyed a miracle run to the final after competition four years ago. They knocked out no fewer than three Premier League teams en route to Wembley. Although they lost 5-0 to Swansea City in the final, their run had inspired many. It had brought a bit of magic to the competition.

Non-Premier League finalists are rare occurrences. In fact, since 2000 only four teams from outside the Premier League have reached the League Cup final. You have to go back a further 19 years to reach the same number in the FA Cup. Prior to that there had been six finalists from outside the top division, with three even going on to claim the trophy.

It could be argued that the League Cup has provided more memorable moments in recent years than the FA Cup. Whether it will ever overtake its rival as English footballs premier cup competition remains unlikely. Yet whilst the football rewards remain the same and the money in other competitions continues to rise, clubs will continue to treat it as an important trophy, and one that is worth competing for.