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.

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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: 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.

 

Huw Jenkins: The Swansea Slayer

Swansea are bottom of the table and seemingly destined for relegation to The Championship. Simmo looks at why the Swansea chairman, Huw Jenkins, is to blame for the clubs pitiful demise. 

I feel sorry for Bob Bradley – if you were to ask most neutrals then they would probably say the same. The job he took on at Swansea really was a mission impossible.

Looking through that Swansea team it is difficult to see any other outcome other than their relegation to British footballs second tier. I can’t think of a single player, bar the goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski and playmaker Gylfi Sigurðsson, who would get into any other team in the Premier League.

The demise of Swansea City is a sad one. When they were promoted under Brendan Rodgers they were an exciting, dynamic outfit that looked to play good expansive football. Players such as Scott Sinclair and Ashley Williams had excelled in the Championship and took their good form into their debut season’s in the Premier League.

It really was refreshing to see a newly promoted team play football out from the back. This was largely down to the philosophy that Brendan Rodgers instilled in the team. He believed that his teams should play in a particular way. It was brave and certainly admired. Rodgers’s reputation soared to the extent that he took over the reins at Liverpool in the summer of 2012. Huw Jenkins acted quickly and sealed the services of ex Denmark and Barcelona legend Michael Laudrup.

Laudrup’s appointment was seen as a bit of a coup, and indeed he was able to use his substantial connections within the game to convince a host of players to join the Swans during that summer. Players such as Michu, Pablo Hernández and Ki Sung-yueng arrived with burgeoning reputations.

At the beginning of his tenure, Laudrup looked to be building on the good work done by Rodgers. Whilst Rodger’s teams had often been exciting to watch, they lacked the defensive nous to succeed on a weekly basis in the Premier League. Laudrup looked to rectify this, and added steel to the Swansea backline through signings such as Chico Flores. Laudrup had looked to have taken the Swans to the next level. He was establishing them as a Premier League team and was picking up some very impressive results along the way.

Under the Danes stewardship, Swansea won the 2013 League Cup by beating fourth tier Bradford City 5-0 a Wembley Stadium. But even Laudrup’s success was not enough to prevent him from being fired. Poor form and alleged wrangling over contracts and signings led to Jenkins dismissing him in in February 2014.

His replacement Garry Monk was a popular choice amongst fans. Having been with the Swans for a decade, he knew the way in which the club worked, and most importantly, was familiar with the squad of players available to him. As a young English manager, the Premier League can be a daunting place. Indeed, a host of far more established names have fallen victim to the trials and tribulations of England’s top tier. Monk, however, took it like a duck takes to water. He looked assured, tactically astute, and most importantly strong enough to deal with the pressures of the role. What’s more, he made what can sometimes be a difficult transition, from team mate to manager, look effortless.

Monk really did look like he had all the credentials to become a top Premier League manager. That was until Jenkins once again wielded the axe. A poor run of one win in 11 games led to Monk being ‘relieved of his duties.’ Jenkins will look to justify his decision by saying that Monk had accomplished all he had been brought in to do. When he replaced Laudrup there had been an almost instant upturn in form. Monk steered the ship to safety, but as soon as it entered difficult waters Jenkins was more than prepared to make his manager walk the plank.

The appointment of veteran Italian, Francesco Guidolin, was not seen as particularly inspiring. However, the 2015/2016 season proved to be a good one for veteran Italian coaches. Guidolin took Swansea back to basics and led them away from the relegation zone. They sealed Premier League survival with an impressive 3-1 win over Liverpool. Guidolin’s appointment had proved to be a successful one. He won seven of his 15 league games, including impressive wins over Arsenal, Chelsea and West Ham.

Under Guidolin, Swansea started the new season well with a 1-0 win at newly promoted Burnley. However, he had lost the services of his inspirational captain Ashley Williams to Everton in the summer. The signing of Mike van der Hoorn for £2 million From Ajax was not the sort of signing that gave Swansea fans a great deal of confidence. Elsewhere, Andre Ayew joined West Ham in a £20 million deal. A sizeable income, however, nearly £16 million of that money was reinvested in the young Spaniard, Borja Bastón, a player who had made fewer than 40 appearances in Spain’s top tier.

It seemed glaringly obvious that Guidolin’s team lacked the required experience to maintain their Premier League status. After winning only one of their opening seven league games, Jenkins once again decided that enough was enough.

This led to the appointment of Bradley – one that was unsurprisingly met with a great deal of skepticism. Although he had managed both the United States and Egyptian national teams with moderate success, his last job in football had been in the French second tier with Le Havre. It was hardly the ideal pedigree.

However those who were judging Bradley by his past managerial experience were simply being naïve. Many managers have arrived in the Premier League from lesser know leagues and enjoyed great success. Look no further than Arsène Wenger, who was brought in from Japanese football.

Indeed there was a certain level of arrogance amongst pundits and British football aficionados. What could an American possibly know about the English game? Whilst it is true that Bradley’s results were not great, people focused on irrelevant details, such as him referring to a penalty kick as a ‘PK.’ The vocabulary that Bradley used certainly was not the reason that his Swansea team struggled so much. Bradley was brought in to try and help ward off another inevitable fight with relegation – yet he wasn’t even given a transfer window to bring his own players in. What was he supposed to do?

People will point to the fact that the Swans leaked goals under the American. Yes, this was certainly true. However Bradley would almost certainly not have sanctioned the sale of Williams had he been in charge.

Therefore the problems at Swansea seem to all lead back to one man – Huw Jenkins. He is the man that has now sacked four managers in the last three seasons. He is the man who let Wilfried Bony go, sold Ben Davies to Tottenham, and of course let Williams join Everton. He is the man that seemed to crave rapid Premier League success over a long term and clearly defined project.

His latest appointment, that of Bayern Munich assistant, Paul Clement is again an odd one. Whilst Clement is widely regarded as one of the finest British coaches around, having held positions with Paris Saint Germain, Real Madrid, and of course Bayern, he has only had one very brief experience in first team management, a partially successful half season with Derby County. Once again it is hardly the sort of appointment that gives you much hope of ensuring Premier League survival.

In my opinion Swansea’s six year stay in the Premier League will be over come May. Either way, whoever is in charge when this Swansea side goes down must be given the chance to rebuild. Not since Rodgers has a Swansea manager been in charge for two consecutive seasons. This lack of stability is an inherent problem, and breeds uncertainty right the way through the club. Sustained long term success is only ever really achieved when people are given a chance in the short term. Jenkins has so far been unwilling to do that.