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: 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: December 22nd 2016

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

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

Goalkeeper – Kasper Schmeichel

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

The Stopper – Cesar Azpilicueta

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

The Runner – Raheem Sterling

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

The Finisher – Jay Rodriguez

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

The Other Finisher – Alvaro Negredo

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

Five-a-side TOTW: December 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: 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

Five-a-side TOTW: August 23rd 2016

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

Manchester claims the top two spots and the promoted sides grab precious victories. Here’s our Five-a-side Team of The Week.

Goalkeeper – Tom Heaton

With Liverpool rolling the ball around and racking up 80% possession, Burnley’s Heaton couldn’t afford to let his guard down.  The Chester born goalkeeper looked comfortable throughout his side’s 2-0 victory, gathering crosses with ease and stopping all the on-target strikes Liverpool could muster. A good season back in the Premier League will almost certainly see Heaton take his place in the England squad and extra motivation comes in the form of Joe Hart’s shaky Euros and recent demotion at Manchester City.

The Ball Winner – Curtis Davies

Ridiculed pre-season for seemingly weakening their squad since promotion, Hull City have collected six points from two games and sit third in the table. A mishmash backline sees midfielder Jake Livermore start alongside Curtis Davies at centre-back yet they’ve resembled a cohesive pair for much of the opening fixtures. Davies has never looked to have the measure of the Premier League but has found consistency at Hull and was great this past Saturday against Swansea. His heading prowess won’t be utilized at five-a-side but he’d act as our defensive rock.

Playmaker – Steven Defour

Nine of Liverpool’s starting XI made more than 50 passes on Saturday whilst just three of Burnley’s attempted over 20 (Heaton made the most!). Instead, Burnley setup with two banks of four and were remarkably disciplined, completely negating their opponent’s threat. Many of Burnley’s squad were well-rehearsed in this department, but new man Steven Defour was asked to slip seamlessly into the system. He worked hard all game and also acted as the main link to the front two, playing through Andre Gray for Burnley’s second.

The Finisher – Christian Stuani

So Jordan Rhodes finally gets a chance to score goals in the Premier League and he finds himself behind an ardent Alvaro Negredo and a brace-grabbing Christian Stuani. Both starred on Saturday lunchtime with Stuani putting Boro ahead with a hammer of a strike inside the first twenty minutes. The former Espanyol striker could easily have found himself the one on the bench following promotion but two goals against rivals Sunderland – and a blossoming relationship with Negredo – will stand him in fine stead.

Free Role – Zlatan Ibrahimović

I’m not sure Ibrahimović has the mindset for five-a-side football but I’m certain he’d score goals. The big man has brought to the Premier League everything he promised and there are no signs of the shortfalls some people predicted.  He keeps scoring for United which will top up his already over-flowing confidence. There have been no signs of his ego causing problems and he looks to have given a boost to each of his teammates. He stuck two away vs. Southampton on Friday and suddenly breaking the 30-goal mark looks ominously possible*.

*I still don’t think he’ll get 20


Five-a-side TOTW: August 16th 2016

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

The Premier League is back and we pick our 5-a-side team from the opening weekend.

Goalkeeper – Maarten Stekelenburg

Everton’s Stekelenburg has struggled for a full season’s football since leaving Roma – and may yet find himself ousted at Goodison Park – but a string of good saves in the closing moments of a 1-1 draw with Tottenham makes him the most acclaimed goalie of the opening fixtures. At 6”6 Stekelenburg would look strange marshalling a five-a-side goal but proved his reflexes were up to scratch when stopping compatriot Vincent Janssen from turning in a late winner.

Anchorman – Etienne Capoue

Yeah, I didn’t see this one coming either. Watford let Southampton rescue a point on Saturday afternoon but saw their undefeated streak in opening league fixtures continue. Capoue scored their only goal – a good finish too – but provided much more to the game both with and without the ball. On paper, Watford’s first team should be nowhere near relegation and Capoue could play an integral part this campaign.

Playmaker – Philippe Coutinho

Our first ever selection contains a player who may, in fact, be better suited to five-a-side than he is the full pitch format. That being said, he wouldn’t have the opportunity to curl exquisite free kicks into the top corner as he did for Liverpool’s crucial first goal in their 3-4 victory over Arsenal. He’s a natural at weaving round the pitch and shimmies past challenges for fun. On Sunday he was instrumental between the lines and made things happen with a variety of flicks and chips.

The Runner – Anthony Martial

Wideman, wing forward, striker – wherever Jose Mourinho utilizes Martial this year he’s guaranteed to run the legs off the opposing fullback. He bagged two assists against Bournemouth and was a constant menace despite not getting on the scoresheet. Linking up well with a resurgent Juan Mata and inevitable goalscorer Zlatan Ibrahimović, Martial will be hard to drop next match despite the talent on the Old Trafford bench. I think I even caught him smiling at one point.

The Finisher – Sadio Mane

Despite a familiar wobble inside the final twenty minutes, Liverpool’s fluid front five had a lot of fun. Mane grew into the game and soon began to cause real problems wherever he popped up. He became a valuable option for Coutinho and company and marked his debut with a wonderful solo goal, cutting inside Nacho Monreal and ripping the ball into the top corner.  He then took the potentially risky move of jumping on Jurgen Klopp’s back – luckily the reds were three goals up at the time at the German was in a fine mood.