Five-a-side TOTW: May 2nd 2017

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

With ten teams keeping clean sheets this weekend, we had an opportunity to pick a more defensive five-a-side line-up. Chelsea hammered Everton, Tottenham were crowned undisputed kings of north London, and two Manchester slip ups helped Liverpool gain in the race for Champions League football.

Goalkeeper – Tom Heaton.

Big Tom is back between the sticks after helping Burnley produce their first away win of the season, simultaneously guaranteeing their safety and putting to bed any rumours that Joey Barton’s gambling offenses would rock the boat. Another clean sheet came after a busy match for the Englishman with the pick of his stops coming from Damien Delaney’s close range effort.

The Stopper – Gary Cahill

Whilst his goal against Everton was nothing more than a fortunate ricochet, six Premier League goals suggest Gary Cahill is one of the best finishers plying their trade at centre half. Another accomplished display against Everton made me wonder if I’d written off Cahill too soon. Though he’s been solid for most of the campaign, I expected Chelsea to consider replacing him in the summer. Strong end of season form suggests there is no need. He’d probably top score for this five-a-side team.

The Presence – Victor Wanyama

The slightly flashier and more refined Moussa Dembele often draws the plaudits for Tottenham but Victor Wanyama has developed into a wonderful midfielder this season. Tottenham looked better in every department against their eternal rivals Arsenal and Wanyama typified their desire. Surprisingly cool on the ball, the Kenyan came into his own in physical battles and looked exactly the sort of player Arsenal were missing. Although, in fairness, there’s about twenty seven players that Arsenal are missing.

The Acrobat – Emre Can

Emre Can is another centre midfielder who’s bridged across to a new level in recent months. The German looked a great acquisition at the start of the 2015 season but his development stalled amidst much frustration from Anfield.  His character was never in question but silly tackles and hesitance on the ball made for a difficult second season. He’s been much improved in recent months – in the absence of Jordon Henderson – and impressed again this weekend at Watford. Enough waffling… the German makes our team because of his sensational, surprising, top corner, match-winning bicycle kick.

The Runner – Pedro

Pedro’s played football for a lot of great sides and never struck me as anything more than a nuisance. Clearly skilful, the Spaniard wasn’t a roaring success when he first arrived at Stamford Bridge but has edged his way into the first team. In recent games he has looked a much better player than I ever expected. He finally seems settled under Antonio Conte and proved to be the game-changer when lashing in Chelsea’s opening goal against Everton midway through the second half. He’s a tidy finisher and deserves to the lead the line in this week’s team.


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Five-a-side TOTW: April 18th 2017

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

Just over a month to go in Premier League and things are getting lively at both ends of the table. It has, however, become quite a slog to select an interesting five-a-side team every week. We’re in the home straight now so we’ll soldier on. This week Manchester United swept past Chelsea to blow the title race open. We’re being serious this time; Chelsea have reasons to be worried.

Goalkeeper – Simon Mignolet

It finally seems that Mignolet’s transition from Liverpool’s burden to ‘actually quite a good keeper’ is complete. He deserves plaudits for stopping Matt Phillips’ big chance to earn West Brom a point but it was his general command in a very tricky fixture that gets him back into our five-a-side team. Simply put, Reds fans (i.e me) no longer wince in fear every time the ball comes into the box.

The Nullifier – Ander Herrera

The Premier League’s prime pick-pocketer put in another perfectly polished performance to force Eden Hazard into anonymity in Sunday’s big fixture. After Nemanja Matic prodded the ball into Herrera’s loose arm early in the first half, the Spaniard broke and pushed a precise pass round David Luiz and into the arching run of Marcus Rashford (who duly tucked it away). He capped his performance by drilling home United’s second, albeit courtesy of a nasty deflection.

The Ball Player – Kevin De Bruyne

It seems as though everybody has forgotten about Manchester City since they tumbled out of the Champions League and lost to Chelsea. Nevertheless, it seems as though their squad are benefitting from time outside the spotlight. Sergio Aguero is inching back to his best alongside the red hot Leroy Sane, but perhaps Kevin De Bruyne’s recovery in form will be the most pleasing development. At his best he is a joy to watch. He was the puppet-master of City’s lethal counter attack against Southampton before lifting a second assist onto the head of Aguero in the closing moments.

The Runner – Xherdan Shaqiri

I’m a huge fan of Xherdan Shaqiri and perhaps only his crippling inconsistencies are stopping him from landing a move to a top club. He blasted in a cracking goal against Hull City and was instrumental in his side ending their woeful run of defeats. He’s a little man full of big moments and is still Stoke City’s most valuable player. The Potters need to overhaul their squad but the Swiss superstar is one who should be retained.

The Finisher – Marcus Rashford

Rashford’s performance against Chelsea did wonders to silence his doubters. Is the Englishman good enough to influence big games? Should he really be considered on equal footing to Zlatan Ibrahimović? Will he carve himself enough goal scoring opportunities? On Sunday’s performance the answer to all three of these questions would be ‘yes’. He beat Asmir Begovic with coolness inside the opening ten minutes and caused Luiz, Gary Cahill and Kurt Zouma plenty of problems alongside Jesse Lingard.


Mike Franchetti

Five-a-side TOTW: April 4th 2017

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

Great weekend! Crystal Palace rocked up to Stamford Bridge and did the unthinkable. The Blues’ lead was cut to a measly seven points meaning Tottenham could catch them if they, erm, lose their next three games. Elsewhere, Liverpool’s undefeated streak in Merseyside derbies continued with a 3-1 victory, Arsenal fought back to draw 2-2 with Manchester City and Middlesbrough failed to score a goal for the fifth time in six games.

Goalkeeper – Wayne Hennessey

Perhaps it’s the number of substandard performances Hennessey has produced this year that makes his presence in TOTW an absolute certainty when he does eventually turn up. The whole Crystal Palace team played well – Sakho again looked first class– but the league leaders troubled Hennessey on more than one occasion. The Welshman rose to the task stopping strikes from Diego Costa, Nemanja Matic and Cesc Fabregas once The Eagles had grabbed an early lead.

The Force – Wilfred Ndidi

After showing whispers of potential under Claudio Ranieri, Ndidi has come alive during Leicester’s upturn in form. The Nigerian gives The Foxes’ centre midfield a physical boost but, crucially, he hasn’t tried to be Ngolo Kante. Unable to offer Leicester’s back four the same level of unbelievable protection, Ndidi has made the headlines at the other end of the pitch scoring a number of memorable goals. Against Stoke City on Saturday he rattled in a superb strike, arrowing the ball into the top corner of Lee Grant’s net. He’s 20.

The Runner – Kamil Grosicki

With Leicester climbing to safety, Middlesbrough falling off a cliff and Sunderland frozen on five wins, we seem to be gearing up for a relegation battle between Hull City and Swansea. Though Swansea appear to have the upper hand more results such as Hull’s 2-1 victory over West Ham could see Marco Silva’s side pull off an unlikely escape. The talented Grosicki has only shown glimpses of form since joining from France but was a real menace on Saturday. He saw plenty of the ball and provided crosses for both of Hull’s goals. He should feature again in the midweek fixtures.

The Playmaker – Philippe Coutinho

Coutinho’s form over the past few months has been a dismal reflection of his pre-Christmas contribution. It’s no surprise this dip coincided with an injury recovery and no surprise Liverpool’s results took a turn for the worse. Fresh off the back of a fine goal for Brazil, Coutinho was back to his old tricks in Saturday’s Merseyside derby. With Lucas Leiva and Emre Can doing much of the dirty work, he was afforded the space he so loves to exploit. He gave the Everton backline a torrid time and scored the sort of curling effort he attempts nearly every match.

Free Role – Wilfried Zaha

With six goals and seven assists, Zaha is beginning to show the sort of form your mate from Crystal Palace has been telling you about for five years. There’s no denying his ability to trouble defences and Chelsea’s back three were made to work very hard in the opening half hour. Zaha netted Palace’s first before laying on Christian Benteke – who also impressed – for a quick-fire second. The Zaha-Grosicki-Coutinho combination would be a joy to watch on a five-a-side pitch.


Mike Franchetti

Five-a-side TOTW: February 28th 2017

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

Another round of fixtures saw Leicester bounce back without Ranieri and Liverpool continue their poor 2017 form. Chelsea extended their lead at the top due to Manchester City’s fixture postponement. Finally, Crystal Palace got only their third home win of the season – is Big Sam’s ‘bounce’ about to kick in?

Goalkeeper – Wayne Hennessey

On a weekend when Jordan Pickford made his return, making the highest number of saves (6) for the fixture list, you may be forgiven for thinking the young Sunderland keeper would ease his was into our team. However, the plaudits this week go to Wayne Hennessey. It is fair to say, after a great summer with the Welsh national team, Wayne hasn’t enjoyed his season so far with Palace. Steve Mandanda was acquired in the summer as the team’s new number one and with the Frenchman out injured, Hennessey hasn’t exactly been a safe pair of hands in a struggling Palace side. This weekend, he made four important saves for his team as they got vital points against relegation rivals, Middlesbrough. He’ll be needing to do more of the same in order to keep his side in the league next season.

The Stopper – Michael Keane

This is a young defender who will have a long and successful career ahead of him. This season he has been terrific and a huge factor in Burnley’s fortunes. He experienced a hectic five-minute spell against Hull, giving away a penalty for the opener (albeit a poor refereeing decision) then scoring the equaliser at the other end from a Robbie Brady corner. Keane showed great composure to take the ball on his chest and slot home from close range. A contender for young player of the season?

If John Stones is worth £50 million, Keane should bring in double that!

The Playmaker – Cesc Fabregas

I believe most clubs across Europe look to Chelsea with envy when they see Cesc Fabregas warming the bench for The Blues. When involved, he has been electric for the table toppers with his passing and chance creation. On Saturday, it was Fabregas’ three-hundredth premier league appearance and he marked the occasion with a goal and an assist. This being his 103rd assist in the English top tier. A quite phenomenal statistic, particularly when you consider this total is only behind Wayne Rooney (104) and Ryan Giggs (131) who have both played many more games. Whether he stays in West London next season is yet to be confirmed, but there could only be a few clubs in the world who wouldn’t benefit greatly from his services.

Another Playmaker – Christian Eriksen

One is normally enough, but why have one when you can have two? Eriksen has been in great form for Spurs this season and is seemingly showing his doubters exactly what he can offer on the pitch. After a successful campaign last year, Spurs have been under pressure to continue their momentum and it is arguable that Eriksen has been their most improved player. Two assists on Sunday put him at the top of the charts with ten in total. He often seems to be the driving force as Spurs take possession into the final third and they’ll need to keep him purring if they are going to get any closer to the top of the table.

The Finisher – Harry Kane

Another hattrick for Harry Kane. He expertly finished twice, and once with a stroke of luck, to steal the show against Stoke at White Hate Lane. The England forward is on track to make it back-to-back golden boots. Three hattricks in his last nine appearances would suggest this will be Kane’s year, again. There has been talk of Kane going for Shearer’s all time record but that is still some way off. First he needs to ensure Spurs get Champions League football. Maybe not this season, but his second aim will be to continue them on a path as true title contenders. As time goes on, it seems as though the wait to be domestic champions won’t be long.


Jack B. Parker

Five-a-side TOTW: February 7th 2017

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

Arsenal suffered another painful defeat this week, featuring a mazy Eden Hazard goal and old boy Cesc Fabregas lobbing into an empty net. Liverpool’s poor run also continued as both sides continue to do their best to finish in fifth spot. The relegation battle intensified with wins for Hull, Swansea and Sunderland pulling a pathetic Leicester City side into real danger. Here’s another five-a-side team.

Goalkeeper – Thibaut Courtois

Finally the man with thirteen clean sheets was asked to produce some real goalkeeping. Despite Chelsea’s superior quality, Arsenal managed to keep pushing throughout the game resulting in a handful of chances. With the score at 2-0, Danny Welbeck steered a header low to Courtois’ right. The Belgian fully extended himself to make a stretched save, flicking his right hand to knock the ball to safety. The man Courtois replaced at Chelsea – Petr Cech – was in the opposite goal and there can no longer be any doubt over who the sharper shot-stopper is.

The Stopper – Andrea Ranocchia

It’s often said that Italians have mastered the art of defending but not many mentioned Andrea Ranocchia in the same breath as Bergomi, Cannavaro or Chiellini during his time at Inter Milan. Whilst some Nerazzurri fans weren’t too keen on Ranocchia, I was shocked to see the Premier League’s biggest strugglers attract a centre-half with 21 Italy caps. He was excellent alongside Harry McGuire as the two repelled Liverpool’s best attacks. In only his second appearance, Ranocchia also showed his class by weighting a long ball to Oumar Niasse for Hull’s second goal. Against all odds, Marco Silva and his mixed bag of signings could steer Hull City to Premier League survival.

The Middleman – Didier Ndong

After 45 minutes at Selhurst Park, Sunderland were trouncing Crystal Palace 0-4. It was the most surprising half of football since Leicester put three past Manchester City. The Wearsiders had been in awful form and £13 million record signing Didier Ndong was looking like a careless piece of business. However, Sunderland’s many slumps have hardly been the Gabon international’s fault and David Moyes has kept faith with the 22 year-old. He made major steps forward on Saturday with the sort of dominant and energetic performance they so often lack. Sunderland fans have had plenty of false dawns this season and will need more performances like Saturday’s in order to stay up. Ndong scored the second goal of the match with a fine strike from the edge of the area. It’s fair to say Twitter’s response to his performance was a little over the top…

The Talisman – Gylfi Sigurðsson

Oh look at that – I’ve just picked Gylfi Sigurðsson over Eden Hazard. The Icelander returns for another TOTW appearance. Paul Clement’s much improved Swansea City side visited Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City on Sunday and were always going to be up against it in terms of possession. However, after 80 minutes the home side were just 1-0 up and Sigurðsson took centre stage. He drifted into a dangerous area and his fine 20-yard strike beat Willy Caballero. City’s new golden boy Gabriel Jesus poked home a very late winner but Swansea put in a performance unrecognisable from their dire early season form. Sigurðsson has been part of anything good the club has done this season and has now collected eight goals and seven assists. Only four players have created more Premier League goals and of those only Alexis Sanchez has scored more.

The Goal Machine – Romelu Lukaku

Why isn’t Lukaku the best centre forward in the world? He’s always been an impressive athlete but he’s currently displaying an increased confidence as Everton’s star player. His finishing has been excellent recently to the point where he’s almost looked arrogant. Against Bournemouth on Saturday he bagged four goals to take him to the top of the Premier League goalscoring charts. Bournemouth’s defence was utterly terrible at times but that doesn’t take away from the fact Lukaku delivered a completely accomplished performance. The big man curled, dinked and volleyed his way to a superb hatrick. He seems happy at the moment suggesting he has shelved urgent plans for a big money move to United/Chelsea/PSG. That will all change if he wins the golden boot and Everton finish sixth.


Mike Franchetti

Five-a-side TOTW: January 24th 2017

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

Chelsea and Arsenal were the only two sides from the top six to win last weekend with Liverpool’s unbeaten Anfield streak coming to a crashing end against Swansea. It was also the week Wayne Rooney finally broke Sir Bobby Charlton’s Manchester United goalscoring record. I’m not going to lie; this week’s team is pretty strange.

Goalkeeper – Tom Heaton

Tom Heaton wins the ‘Lee Grant, Tom Heaton or Jordan Pickford’ award this week as our struggles to highlight genuinely good goalkeeping continues. Hugo Lloris was good for a while before making two pretty horrendous mistakes against Manchester City, whilst Wayne Hennessey had a reasonable game in the Crystal Palace goal until losing his clean sheet in the dying moments. What more can we say about Heaton? When Burnley visited the Emirates we all knew he would be in for a busy game and he continued to look like a future England goalkeeper. He’s one of the best in the Premier League right now and I’d swap him for either of Liverpool’s keepers. He may be annoyed he couldn’t stop Alexis Sanchez’s dinked penalty.

The Anchor – Darren Fletcher

Two weeks ago we had Michael Carrick, last week Gareth Barry and this week Darren Fletcher; good times for experienced midfielders who probably shouldn’t be playing as well as they are. Fletcher performs a similar role to his more naturally-gifted contemporaries, offering West Brom a wealth of experience in the middle of the park. He helped his side keep a clean sheet against Sunderland on Saturday but that’s not really why he’s made our team. With the ball dropping down from Gareth McAuley’s flicked header, Fletcher channelled his inner-Ronaldo before chesting the ball and hooking it exquisitely over his shoulder into the far corner. Cracking goal.

The Playmaker – Tom Carroll

It’s not hard to pick holes in Liverpool’s defence – but someone still has to do it. In Swansea’s shock 2-3 victory at Anfield on Saturday that man was Tom Carroll. On his debut for Swansea he displayed the sort of confidence his teammates have been lacking throughout their torrid run. Paul Clement has plenty of work to do defensively but will be pleased to have Carroll share playmaking responsibilities with Gylfi Sigurdsson. Swansea had just 26% of the ball and Carroll’s ventures into the Liverpool half gave his teammates a crucial breather. Warning signs were apparent when he struck the post in the first half and his weighted cross to Fernando Llorente helped put the Swans 2-0 up. Arguably his most vital contribution came late in the game. His direct running once again caused the Liverpool defence to panic and a ricochet off Ragnar Klaven lead to Sigurdsson’s surprise winner.

The Big Man – Andy Carroll

From one Carroll to another, everyone’s favourite £35 million Geordie has been in cracking form for West Ham. Last week he scored the goal of the season (yep – it will be) and this week he looked every bit the predator bagging two goals away at Middlesbrough. By all accounts Andy Carroll is a good guy and most of the footballing world will want him to stay fit for the rest of the season. If he does, he could creep towards 15 Premier League goals and re-establish himself as the best ‘big man’ in the country. It’s too easy to tie Dimitri Payet’s sulk to West Ham’s upturn in form, but you can imagine Carroll being one of the most outspoken in the dressing room and it does look to have brought the rest of the group closer together. He might struggle on a five-a-side pitch but he’d be great entertainment.

The Talisman – Wayne Rooney

Over the last few months it looked as though Wayne Rooney’s record-breaking 250th goal would be a scrappy jab, flick or poke against the likes of Reading, Wigan or FC Copenhagen. It looked like a burden that Rooney was itching to get out of the way. It even crossed my mind that the 250th goal would be accompanied by a peaceful transfer request and a move to the MLS (he doesn’t strike me as a China-sorta-guy). It would have been a shame for it to end this way; Rooney has had a brilliant career and has grown into a remarkably selfless footballer. It was therefore fantastic that the record-breaking goal was actually a stunning 94th minute free kick to earn Manchester United a dramatic point away to Stoke. It was a near-perfect moment. United were unbeaten for the best part of three months and their divisive club captain ensured the run would continue. He celebrated like a man who had just got his team out of trouble rather than one who had broken the goal-scoring record at the biggest club in England. I would love him on my five-a-side team and I hope he extends the record by at least 10 more goals.


Mike Franchetti

Five-a-side TOTW: January 5th 2017

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

Guardiola had a breakdown, Liverpool threw away three points and Chelsea’s defeat at Spurs left us with more questions than answers. At the other end of the table Swansea edged out Crystal Palace and Hull City suffered another unfortunate defeat. Through all of this we’ve picked another five-a-side team and, if we’re honest, this one probably wouldn’t suit the small pitch format. Oh well. Roll on the F.A cup.

Goalkeeper – Lee Grant

We welcome back Lee Grant for a third appearance in TOTW. We really do have our favourites. There’s not a lot we can do when the on-loan Derby County keeper is one of the only goalkeepers to be making crucial saves. Last week he snuck into our team after a string of impressive saves kept a rampant Chelsea at bay for as long as possible. This week, however, his job was much more straightforward with Watford posing little threat throughout. However, Stoke were in desperate need of a clean sheet and at 1-0 up Watford captain Troy Deeney unleashed a good effort to Grant’s left. He responded well to make the save and two minutes later Peter Crouch made it 2-0. Does Grant really lose his place when Jack Butland returns?

The Anchor – Michael Carrick

It’s fair to say Michael Carrick didn’t have a lot of work to do against ten-man West Ham; particularly on the defensive side. Nevertheless, the de facto United captain has been brilliant in his side’s recent run of much improved performances. He has the gift of allowing his more eccentric teammates to play their own games whilst holding the centre of the park and nearly always offering an outlet. He attempted 104 passes on Monday evening with a 94% completion rate. I find it hard to believe a player of Carrick’s age is still the best United have to offer but his ability has obviously impressed Mourinho. Whether or not his old legs would be up for darting around a five-a-side pitch is an altogether different question…

The Playmaker – Robert Snodgrass

Robert Snodgrass makes an overdue debut in TOTW following his seventh league goal of the season for a struggling Hull City side. On paper it’s an odd choice; Hull lost 3-1 away to West Brom and manager Mike Phelan was sacked a day later. But Snodgrass really has been that good and Hull City’s relegation would be nailed-on had it not been for his efforts. He dispatched a finish into the bottom corner to open the scoring and helped his side create a handful of chances as they chased a game that would never come back to them. I can’t stress enough how far the Scotsman’s performances have been ahead of his teammates.  West Brom compatriot Matt Phillips also had a good game in what was a promising 90 minutes for Scotland manager Gordon Strachan.

The Match Winner – Dele Alli

‘We’ve got Alli, Dele Alli!’ rang round White Hart Lane yesterday night as the young Englishman nodded home two perfectly angled headers to sink Antonio Conte’s dominating Chelsea side. The result was due as much to Chelsea’s bizarrely absent performance as it was to Tottenham’s excellence. Alli appears to have it all and has raced to 20 Premier League goals in just 52 games – faster than any of the leading centre midfielders of the last two decades (it took Gerrard 168…). Alli has now scored a brace in each of his last three matches and is the first person to do so since an electric Luis Suarez got ten in four games in 2013 (we think). Alli learnt his trade at MK Dons and carries with him a healthy dose of the physical aspects of lower division football. I remained unconvinced far longer than many others but he’s transitioned into a very intelligent footballer. Expect to hear some over-the-top and premature comparisons in the next few weeks from the one Spurs fan you know; Gerrard, Lampard…. Zidane?

The Finisher – Olivier Giroud

Arsenal were pretty useless on Tuesday night going down 3-0 to a Bournemouth side that now look completely comfortable in the Premier League. However, Arsenal’s winter wobble has been partially saved by the underrated Olivier Giroud. He’s grabbed just five goals this year but at an impressive rate of one every 70 minutes. With Alexis Sanchez on the verge of a sulk, Arsenal are lucky to have a player as determined to succeed as Giroud. The striker was handed a rare start against Bournemouth and though Arsenal collectively were abysmal for an hour, they rallied impressively in the final thirty. Giroud teed up Arsenal’s first two goals before nodding home an equalizer in the second minute of stoppage time. He’s since copped a lot of flak for ‘over-celebrating’ his goal by mimicking his scorpion flick from the previous match. The better option would have been to grab the ball and maximise the remaining minutes but seriously – are people really complaining? Giroud’s been accused of a lack of thought but how about acknowledging his total focus in the last half hour when operating as Arsenal’s biggest threat? He’s been reduced to the subs bench all season and it was game over at 3-0. Arsenal would have happily taken a point at that stage and Giroud was responsible for that happening. Chapeau Olivier!


Mike Franchetti

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: October 4th 2016

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

Less than twenty goals in the Premier League this week but we did see a couple of crackers. Pochettino’s Tottenham sussed out Manchester City – but we resist the urge to pick Heung-Min Son for a third time in four weeks.

Goalkeeper – Lee Grant

Lee Grant starting a Premier League game in 2016 doesn’t quite sound right. Grant has recently made the short journey up the A50 to join Stoke City from Derby County in an emergency loan move. In his second game for the club, Grant kept a surging Manchester United at bay with a string of genuinely impressive saves. The Potters went on to earn a point and Grant deserves a large share of the credit.

The Ball Winner – Victor Wanyama

Wanyama was superb against Manchester City adding diligence to his obvious physical presence. The Kenyan put in a complete performance, guarding his back four whilst often nipping ahead of City shirts to win possession. In the absence of Eric Dier, he was also responsible for kick-starting many of Tottenham’s attacks. Spurs fans will be hoping for more of the same.

The Talisman – Dimitri Payet

West Ham have looked lost this campaign and the sooner their star Frenchman hits top form the better. There were a few signs of recovery at the weekend but it was a wonderful Payet goal, rather than an accomplished team performance, which prevented yet another defeat. Dipping inside from the left wing, Payet danced across Middlesbrough’s back line feinting a number of shots. He eventually did pull the trigger, squeezing an equalizer into the bottom corner.

The Playmaker – Dele Alli

The ease in which Dele Alli spins on the ball doesn’t quite fit his slender, 6 foot build. He was a constant menace to Manchester City whether floating between the lines or carrying the ball into space. He’s striking up a fine relationship with Son and the absence of Harry Kane has hardly been felt. He looks to finally be reaching the level he played at for most of last term.

The Runner – Willian

Chelsea made small steps back to form in their 0-2 victory over Hull but were left relying on good performances by Willian and Diego Costa to secure three points. We’ve gone for Willian over Costa because not playing a true centre forward is cool these days. At times this season Willian’s best days looked to have been behind him but the always-willing runner reminded us of his goalscoring ability with a cracking strike.

Five-a-side TOTW: September 20th 2016

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

Guardiola’s City walked to another three points and two players from the blue half of Manchester feature in our five-a-side team of the week. Jack Parker picks the team.

Goalkeeper – Jordan Pickford

Despite the loss for Sunderland it was a standout performance for Jordan Pickford at White Hart Lane. The young-keeper was kept busy with Spurs in top form. Pickford’s eight saves meant that the score stayed at just 1-0 sparing Sunderland and David Moyes’ blushes. Though the 22 year-old is yet to keep a clean sheet in the Premier League, his presence and shot-stopping ability were on show here in a mature performance. Expect to see more of this lad in the future.

The Anchor – Seamus Coleman

There were a few standout performances from defenders this week. Aleksander Koralov, Christian Fuchs and Sebastian Prodl can consider themselves unlucky not to make our team. Seamus Coleman takes the plaudits with a balanced performance and a goal for the Toffees. Coleman was brilliant both defensively and offensively against Middlesbrough providing both cover and width down the right hand side. His new partnership with Yannick Bolasie is sure to terrify defences.

Playmaker – Kevin De Bruyne

Pretty much all that was good about Manchester City this weekend went through the Belgian. His passing, touch and improvisation were superb looking every inch a world-class player. Being utilised as a No.10 allowed De Bruyne to dictate the play and Bournemouth simply could not handle him. He ran the show in another impressive City performance with a cheeky freekick to boot. Guardiola had plenty of superlatives for De Bruyne after the match and we shouldn’t be surprised if we are hearing them throughout the season.

Free Role – Raheem Sterling

Sterling ran the Bournemouth defence ragged. The winger looks like a completely new player this term, which will be pleasing for Manchester City and England fans alike. His link up play with Iheanacho and De Bruyne was a joy to behold. However, it was his is dribbling that was particularly impressive, epitomised by a mazy run through the box which culminated in the ball unfortunately ricocheting off the post. An assist and a goal capped off another great week for Raheem.

The Finisher – Islam Slimani

Slimming’s first two Leicester City goals ensured that this was a home debut to remember. It was a surprise to see Leicester add another forward to their squad, after already buying Ahmed Musa earlier in the window. Yet the Algerian looks a handful and could well provide much needed assistance to the team as they try to balance domestic and European football. Two clever finishes from the ex-Sporting man, who happened to find himself in the right place at the right time. It will be interesting to see how much he features throughout the season.


Jack Parker