Eleven-a-side TOTM: August

The Premier League is back & so is our blog! 

We have changed the format a bit this year; instead of providing you with 38 different Five-a-side TOTW’s, we have decided to provide you with an Eleven-a-side Team of the Month (TOTM) as well as our pick for Manager of the Month. Exciting stuff indeed.

Anyway, August is always a tricky month. Fans are on holiday, players are returning from holiday or from various international tournaments, and managers are trying their best to prepare their team for the challenges that lie ahead. 

After three exhilarating weeks of Premier League football, I have compiled a TOTM for August. After much deliberation I have decided to go with a 3-5-2 formation. No fewer than half of the 20 Premier League teams have gone with this formation so far. While it has yielded mixed results it certainly seems to be the in-thing. 

Goalkeeper – Jonas Lössl (Huddersfield Town)

Hands up if you had heard of this guy before the start of the season? I certainly hadn’t. The 28-year old Dane has plied his trade in his homeland for FC Midjtjylland, for Guingamp in France, and most recently Mainz 05 in Germany. 

He joined Huddersfield early this summer on a season long loan and has been an absolute rock as the Terriers have enjoyed an unbeaten start. The shot-stopper has kept three clean sheets and made an average of just under four saves per match. 

Huddersfield fans may have been concerned following the end of Danny Ward’s impressive loan spell last season, and manager David Wagner had been criticised for not investing in a new keeper. However, the ex-US international’s in depth knowledge of German football has clearly paid dividends with this shrewd signing. 

 

Centre-back – Phil Jones (Manchester United)

Since joining the Red Devils from Blackburn Rovers six years ago, the Englishmen has never really entirely convinced. Mourinho himself has shown concern, if anything his signing of Victor Lindelhof this summer for some 40€ million was indicative of his  uncertainty in United’s current defensive options. 

Nevertheless, Jones has taken advantage of Lindelhof’s indifferent pre-season form, and has established a very effective partnership with Eric Bailly at the heart of United’s defence. Their solidity, as well as the protection of United’s new recruit, Nemanja Matic, has provided the foundation for some exhilarating United performances. 

Mourinho’s men have kept three clean sheets and are the only team to have a 100% record in the league. If he stays fit, Jones could well turn out to be a key man for his club and with a World Cup fast approaching, dare I say his country? 

 

Centre-back – Harry Maguire (Leicester City) 

Maguire was outstanding during Hull City’s unsuccessful attempt to stay in the Premier League last season. It was certainly not a surprise to see several top clubs looking to prize the Englishmen away. Leicester City fought off interest from other teams before stumping up £12 million for the ex-Sheffield United defender. 

Since joining, Maguire has excelled next to club captain, Wes Morgan, in the heart of the Foxes defence. He was impressive on debut, providing an assist for Shinji Okazaki, and looked solid despite his team losing 4-3 to Arsenal. 

If his first game was impressive, his second was outstanding. He scored Leicester’s second goal and marshalled the defence in a dominating win against Premier League new-boys, Brighton. 

His form has not gone unnoticed by England manager, Gareth Southgate. Maguire has been rewarded for his excellent performances last season and his strong start to the new season with his maiden international call up. 

 

Centre-back – Ahmed Hegazy (West Brom)

Hegazy looks a real find. Tony Pulis’s sides are always built on a solid defence, and Hegazy certainly seems to fit right in. A goal and clean sheet against Bournemouth on debut endeared him to The Hawthorns faithful. He once again stood strong and tall as West Brom made it two wins out of two with another impressive 1-0 win at Burnley. 

However, his third outing for the Baggies was less successful. He was unfortunately at fault for Stoke’s late equaliser. Nevertheless, the Egypt international has made a bright start to Premier League life and looks to be an astute signing. 

 

Right-wing – Sadio Mané (Liverpool)

The Senegal man has arguably been the standout player in the opening weeks of the season. His pace, skill and eye for goal means that he is a threat to any defence. Indeed, he has scored in each of Liverpool’s opening three games, and has formed an exciting wing partnership with new recruit, Mo Salah. 

He scored his teams first league goal of the season in their exciting 3-3 all draw at Watford. He followed this up with the winner in a hard-fought 1-0 win against Crystal Palace. He then made it three in three by scoring Liverpool’s second in their highly polished 4-0 win against a dismal Arsenal side on Sunday.

With the future of Philippe Coutinho still very much up in the air, Mané may well become Liverpool’s key man this season. 

 

Central-midfield – Paul Pogba (Manchester United)

Are we beginning to see the best of the £89 million man? I think we may be if the first three games of the season are anything to go by.

The Frenchmen has been involved in three goals already this season; scoring in both of United’s opening games, and providing an assist. That tally is a third of his total from the whole of last season (five goals and four assists). 

Like Jones, Pogba has benefited greatly from the the signing of Nemanja Matic. Last season he seemed seemed somewhat restricted. He was often played in a deeper role and his influence on games was somewhat restricted. Matic’s arrival has allowed the shackles to be removed. United’s no.6 has been able to join in attacks knowing that he is unlikely to be leaving his teammates exposed. 

This is a big season for the 23 year-old. He was heavily criticised for not reaching the standards his hefty price tag required. He has started well, but all eyes will be on whether he can maintain this level. 

 

Central-midfield – Emre Can (Liverpool)

Jürgen – get this guy a new contract immediately! Somehow, the Liverpool hierarchy have let the 23 year-old enter the final 12 months of his contract. It is certainly not a surprise to see some of Europe’s big guns circling.

The German has made a fabulous start to the season as Liverpool have enjoyed an unbeaten start. Can has impressed as part of a midfield trio alongside Jordan Henderson and Gini Wijnaldum. The three have provided the foundations for some dynamic attacking play.

Can, and Liverpool fans, will be hoping that he can maintain his early season form and can help his team sustain a strong title challenge.

 

Left-wing – Marcos Alonso (Chelsea)

This guy seems to constantly prove me wrong. I still can’t believe this is the same Marcos Alonso who had such an utterly hopeless three year spell at Bolton Wanderers.

The Spaniard scored both goals as his Chelsea side won 2-1 at Tottenham’s new ‘home-ground’, Wembley. The first was a sumptuous free-kick that left Hugo Lloris in the Spurs net with no chance at all. The second came in the 88th minute and sealed Chelsea’s first win of the new season.

Throughout this summer, Chelsea have been heavily linked with an astronomical £60 million bid for Juventus wing-back Alex Sandro. Yet, in my opinion at least, it would be simply throwing money down the drain!

Alonso is so crucial to the way Chelsea play. He provides genuine width and, apart from Thibault Courtois, is the only other left-footer in Chelsea’s regular starting XI. Last season he scored six goals and provided three assists as Chelsea coasted their way to their fifth Premier League title. Alonso will be hoping to be celebrating again in nine months time.

 

Attacking-midfield – Raheem Sterling (Manchester City)

The inclusion of Sterling may turn a few heads, so let me just try and justify it. Sterling has been responsible for winning his side three points in August. His 82nd minute equalising goal against Everton was followed up by a 97th minute winner against Bournemouth. 

Despite these goals, Sterling has not been outstanding. He was a substitute for City’s opening two games and certainly did not look to be at his best after his half-time introduction against Everton. Nevertheless, his goal convinced Guardiola to include the England winger from the start against Bournemouth.

The ex-Liverpool player was brave on the ball but constantly ran into dead-ends, losing the ball in the process. He was booked in the 93rd minute and it seemed his afternoon would end in disappointment. Deep into added time, Sterling reacted quickest to a Danilo cross when he scuffed his shot into the Bournemouth net via a deflection.

The goal prompted raucous celebrations by Sterling, his teammates, and City’s fans. In the ensuing carnage, Sterling was sent off for over-zealously celebrating the goal prompting outrage among Guardiola and his backroom team.

 

Striker – Steve Mounié (Huddersfield Town)

Another brilliant Huddersfield signing. Steve Mounié arrived from Montpellier for some 13€ million. Considering the prices being thrown around in this window it could be argued that David Wagner has once again pulled off a real coup! 

The Benin international hit 14 goals in Ligue 1 as his side narrowly avoided the drop. Quick, strong and good in the air, the 22 year-old seems to have all the attributes for the Premier League.

He scored two excellent goals on debut as Huddersfield thrashed Crystal Palace 3-0 at Selhurst Park. If the Terriers are going to stay up this season then they will be heavily reliant on Mounié’s ability to hit the back of the net.

 

Striker – Romelu Lukaku (Manchester United)

You do expect £75 million to buy you top quality and Romelu Lukaku certainly is that. It is easy to forget sometimes that the big-Belgian is only 24!

Last season, Lukaku was the Premier League’s second highest scorer behind the irrepressible Harry Kane. His 25 goals came for an Everton side that finished seventh.

Following Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s injury at the back-end of last season, Mourinho was in the hunt for a leading striker. Lukaku fit the bill and the United manager was not afraid of spending the big bucks to bring him to Old Trafford.

With three goals in the opening three games of the season, United’s new no.9 has hit the ground running. Don’t be surprised to see him top the Premier League scoring charts come May.

 

Manager – José Mourinho (Manchester United)

Mourinho has been the outstanding Premier League manager this month for two reasons: 1) because he got all his major transfer business done before the start of the season; 2) because he has found a winning team and formation. 

Many of Mourinho’s fellow Premier League managers are still shopping around at this late stage in the window. The Portuguese, however, got all of his business done before August.

While there may be doubts over Lindelhöf, Matic and Lukaku have settled very quickly. Mourinho also looks to have found a system that brings the best out of last summer’s major signings Paul Pogba and Henrikh Mkhitaryan.

As mentioned earlier, United are the only team with a 100% record and Mourinho will be hoping that his side can continue their sparkling early-season form.

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Five-a-side TOTW: April 25th 2017

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

This is the most controversial five-a-side formation I’ve ever picked; however, I am confident that it would work well. There were only six Premier League games this weekend. West Ham and Everton shared the spoils in a disappointing nil-all draw at the London Stadium. Swansea and Hull both claimed vital home wins over Stoke and Watford respectively. Bournemouth’s 4-0 win over Watford was their second biggest win of the season and moved them to within touching distance of Premier League safety. On Sunday, Manchester United continue their top-four charge with an impressive two-nil win at Burnley, while Crystal Palace’s Christian Bentéké came back to haunt his old club, scoring twice in a 2-1 win over Liverpool at Anfield.

Goalkeeper – Eldin Jakupovic

Jakupovic has been outstanding ever since Marco Silva got the Hull City job in early January. Prior to then he had been playing second fiddle to Scotland international David Marshall in the Tigers net. Since displacing him, the ex-Switzerland international has not looked back. Hull’s 2-0 win over Watford was as important as it was impressive. After having Oumar Niasse harshly sent off before half-time, Jakupovic had to be at his best to keep Watford’s strikers at bay. There were sixteen attempts on his goal, and he dealt with 100% of the crosses he came for. It really was a commanding display.

The RWB – Joel Ward

I really like Joel Ward. I think he is as solid as they come. Unspectacular, reliable and someone who you would generally want on your side. This wasn’t necessarily his finest game in a Palace shirt, but his contribution was certainly important as The Eagles won at Anfield for a staggering third year in a row. The win took Ward and his Palace teammates up to 12th in the league and, crucially, seven points above Swansea in 18th.

The LWB – Charlie Daniels

Another player who deserves a game in our five-a-side TOTW. Daniels has been a near ever-present for Bournemouth this season, featuring in 30 of their 34 Premier League games. His goal against Middlesbrough was his fourth of the season, and it sealed a vital win for The Cherries. Daniels and his Bournemouth team mates have endured a miserable 2017 – winning only three of their 15 Premier League games since the turn of the year. Saturday’s comprehensive win over their fellow Premier League strugglers took them up to 38 points – just two away from the magic 40 point mark.

The Middleman – Tom Carroll

I still think Swansea City will go down, however this won’t be down to the lack of effort of their players. They were absolutely brilliant in their 2-0 win of Stoke City at The Liberty, with Tom Carroll being the pick of the bunch. The young midfielder scored the decisive goal, albeit via deflection, to seal three priceless points for the Swans. He has been a revelation since signing from Tottenham for 4.5 million in January. If, as expected, Swansea go down at the end of the season, Carroll certainly won’t be short of suitors.

The Finisher – Christian Bentéké

I am never going to be convinced by Bentéké. He is big, strong and yet deceptively quick, he lacks the finesse to be a really top class striker. Nevertheless, his performance against Liverpool on Sunday afternoon was absolutely first class. Jürgen Klopp’s men could simply not handle his aerial prowess. It was clear via his celebrations that Bentéké enjoyed his return to Anfield. He made a point of running towards another Liverpool outcast, Mamadou Sakho, after scoring the equalising goal; a move that did not sit well with the Liverpool fans.  He now has 14 Premier League goals this season. His best return since his first season in England with Aston Villa.

Five-a-side TOTW: April 11th 2017

We’re well into April signalling the start of the “business end” of the season. While no business is actually taking place, teams are beginning to make their final push before the season ends. This weekend saw Sunderland crushed 3-0 at home to Manchester United, a result that all but ended any hopes of another great escape. Leaders Chelsea overcame a tricky looking visit to Bournemouth. Marcos Alonso scored the pick of the goals in a 3-1 victory. Crystal Palace won again at home as they comfortably beat Arsenal 3-0. Tottenham strolled to a 4-0 home win over Watford with Dele Alli adding a couple more million to his name with a delightful curled effort. Southampton recorded an impressive victory at West Brom, while Simon Mignolet excelled in Liverpool’s 2-1 win at Stoke. But who made it into our team?

Goalkeeper – Fraser Forster

Not many teams win at The Hawthorns. In fact before Southampton’s visit only 4 others had come away with all three points this season. The South coast club owed a lot to their man between the sticks as the ex-Celtic stopper made six saves and caught 100% of his crosses. The Saints have had to field a makeshift defence for much of this season following the sale of José Fonte and the injury to Virgil Van Dijk. The defence, and Forster in particular, have had to step up to the plate on numerous occasions throughout the campaign. Something which they did again on Saturday afternoon.

The Stopper – Mamadou Sakho

Him again. Listen, I promise it’s not bias – he just is in brilliant form. Once again the Liverpool loanee was an absolute monster at the heart of the Palace defence. He won tackles, made blocks and was frighteningly strong in the air throughout the 90 minutes. His future remains in doubt, but there is no chance that the Frenchmen will be playing at Selhurst Park next season. A return to Liverpool remains unlikely unless he and Klopp are able to resolve their differences. Whatever happens, he most definitely won’t be short of suitors.

The Anchor – Yohan Cabaye

He’s not really imposed himself at all this season. In and out of the team and questions regarding his attitude have hardly helped his cause. Nonetheless the ex-PSG man turned in a first class performance against The Gunners on Monday night. His goal was absolutely brilliant and proved to be the defining moment in the clash. Cabaye will hope to carry his good form into the remaining 7 games of the season and look to ensure that Palace consolidate their Premier League status.

The Playmaker – Philippe Coutinho

He only played the second half but the little maestro changed the whole game. Jürgen Klopp’s experiment had failed in the first half of Liverpool’s visit to Stoke. Trailing 1-0 the German decided to bring on Coutinho and his compatriot Roberto Firmino at half time and the introduction of the two Brazilians completely changed the match. Coutinho’s 70th minute goal sparked Liverpool’s revival. His first time shot was lazor guided into the back of Lee Grant’s net. Two minutes later it was Firmino’s turn, as he expertly guided a powerful strike into the Stoke City goal. The reds held on and in turn moved nine points clear of Arsenal in fifth place.

The Finisher – Son Heung-min

The South Korean has 11 Premier League goals this season. A fantastic return for a player who is still not always a regular in the side. His two goals against a very poor Watford team at White Hart Lane ensured that Spurs maintained their unlikely title challenge. Son has been a revelation this year. For much of last season he flattered to deceive and there were rumours that he would not be a Tottenham player for much longer. Yet the ex-Hamburg and Leverkusen player has turned it all around and established himself as one of the Premier League’s most underrated players.

Five-a-side TOTW: January 1st 2017

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

The first five-a-side TOTW of 2017. We really were treated to a footballing feast over the weekend. At Stamford Bridge there was to be no unlucky 13 for Chelsea as they sealed a win that tied them level with Arsenal’s winning streak that they achieved during the 2001/02 season. Tottenham scored four goals away from home for the second time in four days. Manchester United left it late to seal victory at home to Middlesbrough, and Olivier Giroud’s wonderful goal helped Arsenal to a home win over Crystal Palace. Leicester won for the first time in four games, and Sunderland and Swansea both suffered heavy defeats. But who made it in to our five-a-side TOTW?

Goalkeeper – Lee Grant

Not many keepers concede four goals and still make it into our team. Grant had a wonderful game and prevented the result resembling something more akin to a cricket score. He made a number of brilliant saves, the most memorable being a sensational double save to first deny Diego Costa then Eden Hazard’s follow up. There is much speculation that Stoke will look to make his loan move a permanent one, and with Jack Butland looking to return within the next few weeks the Potters will certainly be blessed with goalkeeping options.

The Stopper – Laurent Koscielny

This was a close call. It was essentially a toss up between the Arsenal centre half and Bournemouth’s Nathan Aké. I’ve decided to go with Koscielny purely because he was facing a tougher opponent. Crystal Palace’s Christian Benteke is nearly always a handful; big, strong and powerful, he has bullied Premier League defenders ever since he arrived in England in 2012. Arsenal’s captain was resilient in defence and kept Benteke quiet as the Gunners cruised to a 2-0 home win. Arsenal have now kept consecutive Premier League clean sheets for the first time since April.

The Runner – James Milner 

I still can’t believe that James Milner hasn’t been found out at left back this season. When Klopp first moved the utility man to that position I thought, perhaps naively, that this was just a temporary stop-gap. How wrong I was. Milner looks as if he has been playing there his whole career. Against Manchester City he was his usual dependable self and marshalled City’s Raheem Sterling with consummate ease. Many have been speculating whether Klopp will dip into the transfer market and sign a more orthodox defender. On this evidence at least, it would simply be money down the drain.

The Playmaker – Dele Alli

After reading our last 5TOTW, Alli was clearly on a personal crusade to make it in this time around. And who can blame him? It’s a coveted position. The Spurs man was once again excellent, scoring twice and proving a constant menace to the Watford defence. With half the season remaining Alli already has eight Premier League goals, only two fewer than the total he achieved last season. Although Spurs lie 10 points behind Chelsea, Conte’s men visit White Hart Lane midweek, with Alli and his Spurs teammates keen to try and close the gap on the runaway leaders.

The Finisher – Andre Gray

Although Gray’s first Premier League hat-trick was against a woeful Sunderland side – we should not take anything away from the Burnley hitman. The ex-Brentford striker has struggled at times this season, and was not aided by a four match suspension he was forced to serve in September. During his absence from the side, Ashley Barnes and particularly Sam Vokes excelled in the forward roles. Gray had to bide his time before making it back into the Burnley starting XI. Burnley have got a real chance of staying up this season, and Gray could redeem himself for his early season struggles by firing the Clarets to Premier League safety in the second half of the campaign.