Five-a-side TOTW: December 28th 2016

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

Chelsea maintained their six point lead, whilst Leicester City’s 2-0 loss to Everton left them just three points above the relegation zone. Manchester United won for the fourth time in a row, and Arsenal grabbed a late victory courtesy of Olivier Giroud’s header. Swansea City lost again, leading to the sacking of their manager Bob Bradley. Manchester City won 3-0 away at basement club Hull City, and Crystal Palace could only draw at Watford in Sam Allardyce’s first game as manager.

Goalkeeper – Thibault Courtois

Staggeringly, this is Courtois’s first appearance in our 5TOTW. This really is a truly remarkable statistic considering the Belgian has conceded only two goals in his last 12 Premier League games. His fourth clean sheet in a row came in Chelsea’s 3-0 win over Bournemouth at Stamford Bridge. Although not severely tested, the 24 year old was reliable when called upon.

The Stopper – Daley Blind

Blind has been in and out of the team ever since José Mourinho took over the reins at Old Trafford. Initially he looked to have cemented his place at centre back, however injuries, coupled with unconvincing displays led to him having to settle for a place on the bench in recent weeks. At left back the former Ajax man excelled. He took his goal brilliantly; bursting forward from left back the Dutchman latched on to Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s pass, controlling the ball with his right foot before smashing the ball into the corner with his favoured left.

The Runner – Adam Lallana 

With four goals in his last four games this man really is THE in form player in the Premier League. In reality Lallana has been in good form for quite a long time now, emphatically answering those critics who said the ex-Southampton player lacked the required  end product. During his first two years at Anfield he scored nine, and also assisted his teammates just nine times. This season he already has seven goals and six assists. His goal against Stoke City, although slightly fortuitous, had something of the Frank Lampard about it. He timed his run into the box impeccably, and finished neatly from a very tight angle. It was an important goal as well, as up until that point Liverpool had been struggling to break down a resilient Stoke defence.

The Playmaker – Pedro

The diminutive winger has blown more cold than hot since joining Chelsea 18 months ago. I was particularly excited to see how he would fare after enjoying great success with Barcelona. His first season was certainly not a success, however it is worth pointing out that most of his Chelsea teammates also produced less than impressive displays. This season it has been a different story altogether. Since Antonio Conte changed to a 3-4-3 Pedro has thrived. His two goals against Bournemouth doubled his tally for the season, and set Chelsea on their way to a 12th consecutive victory.

The Finisher – Zlatan Ibrahimovic 

He’s 35, but you really wouldn’t know it. His goal against Sunderland took his Premier League goal tally to 12 for the season. Ibrahimovic’s record really is remarkable. Since the start of 2016 the ex-Sweden international has scored a quite astonishing 50 goals. In the same period only Lionel Messi has scored more. Against Sunderland it wasn’t just his scoring touch which was impressive as he laid on two assists for his teammates. A really impressive display by the veteran striker.

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Five-a-side TOTW: December 15th 2016

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

A full round of mid-week fixtures? It must be nearly Christmas. Chelsea benefitted from Arsenal’s 2-1 loss to Everton at Goodison Park by extending their lead to six points at the top of the Premier League. Manchester City won a league game at home for the first time in three months, and Liverpool halted their mini bad run of form with a resounding win at Middlesbrough. But who has made our five-a-side team of the week?

Goalkeeper – Simon Mignolet

Recalled for the first time in 10 Premier League games, and the Belgian did not disappoint. He looked solid and assured, particularly when he denied Victor Fischer’s rasping drive. The 3-0 win over Middlesbrough saw Liverpool claim their first clean sheet in three games, a welcome relief after conceding six in their previous two league games. Mignolet has been much criticised in the past, yet very few pundits would have found fault with his performance against the relegation candidates.

The Stopper – David Luiz

I have previously voiced concerns about this mans defensive abilities, but boy has he proved me wrong. He’s been a rock since rejoining Chelsea in the summer and has been the lynchpin in a defence that has conceded just two goals in ten Premier League games. Assured in possession and strong in the tackle, the Brazilian centre half really has been a revelation. Antonio Conte has deployed him in the centre of a back three with Cesar Azpilicueta and Gary Cahill either side. Together the trio have provided the foundations for a 10 game winning streak. Chelsea fans will hope that the big-haired Luiz will continue his impressive form.

The Runner – Adam Lallana 

In his first season at Liverpool he scored five league goals all season. In his second he could not even match that as he found the net just four times. This season, and bearing in mind we’re not even half way through, he has already six Premier League goals to his name. The goals he scored in Liverpool’s 3-0 win were testament to how he has improved as a player. The first was a bullet of a header from an impeccably timed the run. The second was a calm finish after he once again checked his run at the back post. He is fast becoming a key player for both club and country.

The Playmaker – Christian Eriksen

It took a while for the Dane to join the party – but after five goals in his last four Premier League games it would seem that Tottenham’s little maestro is back to his best. His double against Hull City was his second in as many games at White Hart Lane. Pochettino altered Tottenham’s formation slightly, choosing to go with a back three and two wing backs. This enabled Eriksen to play a little more centrally – a role that undoubtedly suits him better.

The Finisher – Salomón Rondón 

A hat-trick of headers! I honestly don’t think I’ve ever seen that before. The Venezuelan usually goes under the radar, but he is certainly one of the most underrated centre forwards in the Premier League. The West Brom No.9 certainly benefitted from some hopeless Swansea marking for his first two goals. On both occasions the Swans defence just simply seemed to switch off. However his third goal of the evening was a thing of beauty. Towering above two defenders, Rondon flicked the ball over the despairing Lukasz Fabianski. Rondon’s eight league goals this season have propelled West Brom up to the dizzy heights of seventh.

Five-a-side TOTW: November 22nd 2016

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

Sunderland claimed back to back victories, and Manchester City claimed a valuable three points at Crystal Palace. But who made it into our five a side team of the week?

Goalkeeper – Jordan Pickford

What a season Jordan Pickford is having! Last season he was on loan at Preston North End, this season he is keeping Sunderland from sitting at the foot of the table. His recent performances have been great to watch and against Hull City he was on top form, again. Five crucial saves and a clean sheet helped Sunderland to their much-needed second win of the season. At the moment, he is one of the best shot-stoppers in the league. A long career ahead.

The Anchor – Virgil van Dijk

Saturday’s fixture at St Mary’s looked set to be a difficult tie for The Saints as they hosted an inform Liverpool team who have scored on average three goals a game this season. However, it was the performances of both van Dijk and José Fonte that stood out at the full time whistle. Though, lucky to not give away a (much debated) penalty, van Dijk was in commanding form epitomised by a superb last ditch sliding tackle on Sadio Mané. There is not doubt that Southampton will need to fend off a few of his suitors come January.

The Middleman – Yaya Toure

Yaya Toure has resurrected from the Manchester City reserve team, much to the demise of Crystal Palace. After a behind the scenes bust up with Guardiola (and a not so behind the scenes rant from his agent) Toure was given a surprise start at Selhurst Park. He was yet to feature in the Premier League the season but you wouldn’t know it. Toure was commanding against Palace. He was a constant threat going forward and ultimately made the difference for City with his brace. It is difficult to say how much he will be involved in City’s title challenge, but he certainly provided the surprise of the weekend.

The Box-to-Box Midfielder – Ander Herrera

This is a player who has come alive under José Mourinho. Since joining in 2013, Herrera has done little to prove he is up to the standard at Old Trafford but this season he has been one of their best players. His work rate and distribution were a joy to behold against Arsenal, keeping United on the front foot and allowing players like Paul Pogba to acquire positions further up the field. If United are going to make it back in to the top four they will need more of their squad to make such improvements.

The Finisher – Victor Anichebe

If you are a Sunderland fan: Victor Anichebe might be the man to save your club this season. Last year Jermaine Defoe saved them from relegation but thus far it is looking like a tall order for the striker to carry the club on his own. Up step Anichebe. The hold up and link up play between Defoe and the Nigerian forward caused Hull City all sorts of problems. He was strong, physical, perhaps at times fortuitous, but most importantly he was clinical with two goals to show for it. His first Premier League brace since 2006. Sunderland will need performances from him to ensure Defoe, and their survival hopes, doesn’t burn out before May.

Jack Parker

Your Premier League team’s key signing

Simmo takes a look at who your club has signed this summer.

ARSENAL – Granit Xhaka – £35 million from Borussia Monchengladbach

Granit Xhaka is the big new signing at The Emirates. The Switzerland international comes with a burgeoning reputation, but also a questionable disciplinary record. Having been sent off 3 times last season for Borussia Monchengladbach, the ex-Basel man will have to watch his step. Nevertheless, with a venomous left-foot, and an eye for a pass, the 23 year old has all the credentials to be a real success in the Premier League.

BOURNEMOUTH – Jordon Ibe – £15 million from Liverpool

There were a few eyebrows raised when Eddie Howe parted with £15 million for the ex-Wycombe youth. The young winger has flattered to deceive for much of his career to date, yet the Cherries clearly saw enough to warrant smashing their transfer record. At only 20 years of age his best years are ahead of him – it could be a big year for both Ibe and Bournemouth.

BURNLEY – Jóhann Berg Guðmundsson – £2.5 million from Charlton Athletic

Fresh from Iceland’s extraordinary run to the quarter-finals of Euro 2016, Guðmundsson will look to make an impact in the top flight. He impressed last year in a Charlton side that was eventually relegated to the third tier. This will be a big step up, but if he can replicate the form he showed during the summer, then Guðmundsson could turn out to be a shrewd acquisition.

CHELSEA – N’Golo Kanté – £32 million from Leicester City

At £32 million this guy is a snip. The outstanding midfielder in the league last season. He covers every blade of grass, wins tackles and keeps things simple. Will be perfect for Conte’s new-look Chelsea, and will act as a foil for the likes of Willian and Hazard further up the pitch. If Chelsea do lift the trophy in nine months’ time, then Kanté will no doubt have played his part.

CRYSTAL PALACE – Steve Mandanda – Free Transfer from Marseille

Possibly the best value signing made thus far. The Zaire born French stopper is a class act. After 9 years and nearly 450 games on the French Riviera with Marseille, the France international decided that it was time for a clean break. With 22 caps for Les Bleus, (he would’ve had many more it weren’t for Hugo Lloris), Mandanda brings a wealth of experience. Will oust Wayne Hennessey from the No.1 spot, and is a must for your fantasy team. An inspired signing by Pardew.

EVERTON – Idrissa Gana Gueye – £7 million from Aston Villa

One of the few bright sparks in a Villa team that was relegated from the top division for the first time since 1987. Gueye has few supporters back at Villa Park, but new manager Ronald Koeman thinks that the Senegal international can add some steel to an Everton team that has massively underperformed for the last two seasons.

HULL CITY – No signings made

It’s been a summer of upheaval at the KC. The Tigers are currently without a manager since Steve Bruce left, citing differences between himself and owner/chairman, Assem Allam. There are only 9 outfield players fit at the point of writing with the future looking pretty bleak for last seasons playoff winners. With under a week to go until the start of the season Hull need to invest in a squad that is desperately short on not only numbers, but also quality.

LEICESTER CITY – Nampalys Mendy – £13 million from OCG Nice

The French midfielder has a nigh on impossible task on his hands – replace N’Golo Kanté. Mendy is not a like-for-like replacement; he’s less dynamic, and his reading of the game is not as good. Having said that, he’s a better passer of the ball than his fellow Frenchmen, and may even be a better defensive shield for the back four. With Danny Drinkwater alongside him to guide him through difficult periods in games, Leicester will recover from the blow of losing Kanté. Mendy will need to have a big season if Leicester are to once again upset the apple cart.

LIVERPOOL – Sadio Mané – £34 million from Southampton

Another player Liverpool have pinched from Southampton. Mané joins no fewer than three of his ex- St Mary’s teammates at Anfield. At £34 million big things are expected, but there are signs in pre-season that he has what it takes to manage the expectation. Places in the Liverpool frontline will be hotly contested, yet Mané offers pace and a natural width that few else do in the current squad. It could be a big year for the red half of Merseyside, and the 24 year old could well play an important role.

MANCHESTER CITY – Leroy Sané – £37 million from Schalke 04

The initial fee is £37 million, but this could rise by another £9.5 million depending on trophies and appearances. It’s a huge fee to pay for someone with fewer than 50 league games under their belt. Nevertheless, Guardiola clearly saw enough in his final year in the Bundesliga to convince the City board to fork out the cash. In doing so, Sané became the most expensive German player of all time. This season he will be competing with Kevin de Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, and fellow newcomer Nolito for a place on the City flanks. Much is expected from the young German, and he will have to contribute a lot in order to justify his huge transfer fee.

MANCHESTER UNITED – Zlatan Ibrahimovic – Free Transfer from Paris Saint Germain

He’s finally in the Premier League. United and Ibrahimovic are a perfect fit. At 34 years old, age is no longer on Zlatan’s side. However, a career best 50 goals in 51 games (including 38 in Ligue 1) last season for PSG, goes to show that age is merely just a number. Early signs are that he will make a big impression; he scored the winner in the Community Shield on his competitive debut. Having worked under Mourinho before, both will know what to expect from one another. Don’t be surprised to see him with the golden boot at the end of the campaign.

MIDDLESBROUGH – Victor Valdés – Free Transfer from Manchester United

This is a man who has won 3 Champions Leagues, 6 La Liga titles, 2 Copa del Rey’s, and countless other trophies, not to mention a World Cup and a European Championship. Since leaving Barcelona two years ago Valdés has only played 10 games. It has been a bizarre decline for a goalkeeper with such pedigree. Usually used to challenging for titles, this season will be the reverse. He will be kept very busy and could well be the difference between Middlesbrough staying up or going down.

SOUTHAMPTON – Pierre-Emile Højbjerg – £13 million from Bayern Munich

The young Danish international said he needed to move in order to gain first team football. If he wants to re-join one of Europe’s elite clubs then Southampton is the perfect stepping stone. The ex-Bayern man is a really clever player; good on the ball, and not afraid of a tackle. Could be one of the surprises this season.

STOKE CITY – Joe Allen – £12 million from Liverpool

Outstanding in Wales’ run to the semi-finals at Euro 2016. Mark Hughes has changed Stoke’s long ball approach since taking over from Tony Pulis three years ago. Allen ticks all the boxes for Hughes. An intelligent ball playing midfielder; he will form an exciting midfield partnership with Gianelli Imbula.

SUNDERLAND – Papy Djilobodji – £8 million from Chelsea

Djilobodji is Sunderland’s only signing in what has been an incredibly disrupted summer. Losing manager Sam Allardyce to the England manager’s job meant that little in the way of transfer activity took place. Djilobodji was one of José Mourinho’s last signings at Chelsea. He made one cameo appearance in the League Cup before leaving in January to join Werder Bremen on loan. In Germany he impressed, and new manager David Moyes was quick to make his move upon his appointment last month.

SWANSEA CITY – Fernando Llorente – Free Transfer from Sevilla

The Navarrese native has pedigree. A 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012 winner – there aren’t many of them in the Premier League. Nevertheless, at 31 years of age his best years are behind him. Swansea will struggle this season, and the ex-Juventus striker will do well to reach double figures. If Swansea are going to stay up then Llorente’s goals could be vital.

TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR – Victor Wanyama – £12 million from Southampton

The Kenya international re-joins Pochettino after two years apart. The ex-Celtic man scored against Barcelona in the Champions League and can look forward to more European nights with Spurs this season. With Moussa Dembélé suspended for the opening 5 games of the season, Wanyama will have to be at his creative best. Disciplinary issues have previously been a problem, and he will have to watch out when coming up against Europe’s stricter referees.

WATFORD – Jerome Sinclair – £4 million from Liverpool

Sinclair moved at the end of his contract, but due to being under 24, Watford and Liverpool had to agree a compensation package. A £4 million fee was agreed, and this could well turn out to be a bargain. Sick of not getting a chance at Liverpool, Sinclair will have to settle for a place on the bench initially. With Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo in front of him, Sinclair will have to bide his time, yet, should an injury occur then Sinclair will be ready to make his mark.

WEST BROMWICH ALBION – Matt Phillips – £5 million from Queens Park Rangers

I don’t know why more weren’t chasing the Scotland international. He’s quick, tricky, and hard-working. Pulis has shown a penchant for speedy wingers at West Brom, and Phillips certainly fits the role. Could be a real player to watch this season.

WEST HAM UNITED – Sofiane Feghouli – Free Transfer from Valencia

The French born Algerian international has managed to gain a bit of a bad boy reputation. Under Slaven Bilić any nonsense will not be tolerated. If Bilić can extract some of the Algerian’s potential then he could well turn out to be a smart piece of business.