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.

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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: January 17th 2017

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

Arsenal, Chelsea, Everton and Spurs all enjoyed big victories, whilst at the other end of the table Crystal Palace lost heavily to leave them sitting perilously close to the danger zone. Elsewhere there were good wins for Burnley, Hull and Stoke. But who impressed us enough to make it into this weeks five-a-side TOTW?

Goalkeeper – Simon Mignolet

Mignolet has been enjoying something of a renaissance in recent weeks. So much so that he is featuring in his second five-a-side TOTW in five weeks. It’s been quite a turnaround for the Belgian stopper. His early season jitters saw him replaced by new signing Loris Karius who proved to be just as, if not more, jittery. Since returning to the side Mignolet has impressed. He’s looked more confident, he’s been braver, and crucially he’s been more commanding. He was solid against United; denying several United players what would have been equalising goals. When the inevitable equaliser did come he certainly wasn’t to blame.

The Right Wingback – Antonio Valencia

He won’t have made everyone’s team, nevertheless I thought the Manchester United man had a fine game. He bombed up and down the right channel, and kept Adam Lallana and Roberto Firmino quiet when they came up against him. To cap off a thoroughly decent display, he found himself in the penalty area to provide a cute assist for Zlatan Ibrahimovic to head United level. A draw was not the result that either team would have wanted or indeed needed, however it was probably a fair one.

The Anchor – Gareth Barry

I would have to disagree with those who would say that the young Tom Davies outshone the veteran Gareth Barry in Everton’s 4-0 drubbing of Manchester City. It really was a quite superb performance by the former England midfielder. He bossed his old Manchester City team mates with such ease that you were made to wonder why exactly they got rid of him. Barry has never been renowned for his pace, but his reading of the game is a match for anyone in the league. Time after time he nipped in ahead of a City player, winning back possession before using the ball intelligently. It seems quite incredible that he is still ONLY 35 – it certainly feels like he’s been around for ever. This was Premier League appearance No.614; he will surely go on to break Ryan Giggs’ all time Premier League record within the next 12 months.

The Left Wingback – Marcos Alonso

Chelsea fans could have been forgiven for worrying about where the goals were going to come from in this match. Diego Costa’s ‘injury’ had meant that the Stamford Bridge outfit were without their star striker and the league’s top scorer. They needn’t have worried though – as up stepped Marco Alonso. There were many questions asked when Chelsea boss Antonio Conte parted with £24 million for the former Bolton Wanderers man. However, Alonso has turned out to be something of a revelation. He has made the left wingback position his own, and chipped in with two goals against Leicester City. He so nearly had a hat-trick to his name when his sumptuous left foot volley narrowly missed the far post.

The Finisher – Harry Kane

Who else could have got the nod here? The Spurs man was in quite superb form, taking his Premier League goals tally to 13 for the season. Spurs have been on fire in recent weeks, but it’s been Kane’s Spurs team mate, Dele Alli, stealing all the limelight. On Saturday it was the Tottenham No.10 who stole the show. His first goal was an emphatic finish that rattled in off the crossbar. The second was vintage Kane – taking advantage of some sloppy defending, before finishing smartly past the despairing dive of Ben Foster in the West Brom goal. The hat-trick was sealed after yet more good build up play, as Kane latched on to a deft lobbed pass by Alli and smashed the ball into the back of the net. Spurs are currently seven points behind leaders Chelsea, and on this weeks’ evidence, they look like the only team capable of catching them.

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.

Five-a-side TOTW: December 6th 2016

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

No matter what Alan Shearer thinks, Alexis Sanchez is World Class. Nevertheless, it takes more than a quickfire hatrick against a despairing West Ham to earn a spot in our five-a-side team. The Chilean misses out on a second straight appearance in TOTW in favour of a deadly Chelsea duo. The Blues came from a goal down to seize all three points in the weekend’s big game at the Etihad.

Goalkeeper – Jordon Pickford

It’s Pickford o’clock!  We pick this kid every week because he’s the only goalie who’s obviously adding points to his team’s haul.  Another poor show by Leicester saw Sunderland move into a 2-0 lead but the Champions rallied and Pickford was again asked to help out.  He got down well to stop a Robert Huth header in the 79th minute but it was a reflex save to deny Wes Morgan in stoppage time (with the score at 2-1) which confirmed another appearance in our five-a-side team. I just hope he reads this one day because a fifth appearance in twelve weeks is really something to be proud of (narrowly better than a first England cap).

The Playmaker – Chris Brunt

We’ve opted for a five-a-side team without an Anchorman this week, allowing us to squeeze in the underrated Chris Brunt. West Brom earned another three points and briefly slid into the top six on Saturday night. The Northern Irishman delivered a fine performance helping the Baggies race to a 2-0 lead. He delivered a dangerous ball into the middle – something he’s been doing for years – to tee up Johnny Evans’ header before dispatching a great strike of his own in 34th minute. His traditional wide-play may not be best suited to the restrictions of five-a-side but I’m sure he’d adapt just fine. It was a good weekend for Tony Pulis – who recently lost a multimillion pound law suit for pulling the wool over the eyes of Steve Parish.

The Energiser – Ryan Fraser

Who? Liverpool fans (*cough* me) saw absolutely no danger when the unassuming Ryan Fraser took to the pitch with Bournemouth two down and half an hour to play. A minute later he had beaten James Milner to a through ball, tangled legs and won a penalty. Callum Wilson netted and momentum swung in an instant. Carefree Liverpool refused to sit back and crumbled as they have done several times before (Palace in 2013, Southampton and Norwich last season). Fraser’s cameo was far from over. Receiving the ball just inside the box, the Scot curled a crisp strike into the bottom corner. He still wasn’t finished and minutes later teed up Steve Cook for Bournemouth’s third. He buzzed around with a real energy and was an obvious choice for TOTW. He was the catalyst for change and by stoppage time Bournemouth’s winner was almost inevitable.

The Talisman – Eden Hazard

He’s back! It’s taken Eden Hazard far longer than anybody expected to affirm his position amongst the world’s elite. When Chelsea won the league he was exceptional but last season (save for one match vs. Tottenham) he was borderline abysmal. He looks happy again and I’d go as far as to say he’s playing the best football of his career. No longer restricted to a wide position, Hazard has carved a free role and has been a real menace in recent weeks. His goal vs. Manchester City was essentially a one-on-one, but the speed at which he took the ball and buried it in the bottom corner made it one of my favourites of the weekend. He’d simply light up a five-a-side pitch and the Belgian is a luxury in this, or any, team.

The Match Winner – Diego Costa

The way in which I avoid praising Diego Costa is nothing short of an art form. No matter how well he plays, I’ll find something to moan about or somebody else to talk about. Costa’s about as far from a footballing angel as they come but we can’t hold grudges forever and he’s not put a foot wrong this season. He’s been the standout striker in the Premier League – more consistent than Sergio Aguero – and must be considered one of the best focal points in world football. Amongst the top teams, Chelsea are the least concerned with playing overwhelming possession football. They aren’t afraid to absorb pressure and Costa is often left with a just a handful of chances per game. It’s lucky, then, that his finishing is clinical. He perfectly controlled Cesc Fabregas’ long pass before shaping round a hapless Nicolas Otamendi and firing home. After Aguero went knee-high on David Luiz you’ll be forgiven for wondering who’s the nicer of the two strikers.


Mike Franchetti

Five-a-side TOTW: November 8th 2016

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

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

Goalkeeper – Jordan Pickford

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

The Stopper – Jan Vertonghen

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

The Runner – Mousa Dembélé

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

Free Role – Eden Hazard

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

The Finisher – Diego Costa

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