Five-a-side TOTW: April 29th 2017

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

We are almost over the line. This weeks five-a-side TOTW includes just the five matches. Chelsea maintained their four point lead over Tottenham with a 4-2 win over Southampton at Stamford Bridge. Arsenal left it late and needed the help of a Robert Huth own goal in order to seal three important points against Leicester City. Christian Eriksen’s ‘golazo’ was the difference in Tottenham’s match against a resurgent Crystal Palace. Middlesbrough won for the first time 2017 to all but condemn Sunderland to Championship football next season. And on Thursday the Manchester derby ended goalless.

Goalkeeper – Brad Guzan

Very much seen as the back up to Victor Valdés, the ex-Aston Villa keeper has had to accept a bit-part role. In fact, Wednesday’s 1-0 win over fellow strugglers Sunderland was only the 10th time that the American had appeared in a Middlesbrough shirt this season. Guzan looked assured between the sticks, and made an impressive four saves. The win was Boro’s first since in 2017. They had not claimed a Premier League win since the 3-0 hammering of Swansea City way back mid-December. That miserable run has all but confirmed that they will be playing their football in the Championship next season.

The Stopper – Eric Bailly

Injuries have not helped the young Ivorian settle. After starting this season as first choice and appearing in 13 of United’s first 15 matches, it seemed as though United manager, José Mourinho, had found his rock at the back. Since injuring his knee in United’s 4-0 defeat against champions elect Chelsea in late October, the ex-Villareal man has only appeared in 19 out of a possible 42 matches. He has started in United’s last nine games, a run that has seen them keep five clean sheets and only concede four goals. In the 0-0 draw over Manchester rivals, City, Bailly was absolutely superb. His speed, strength and reading of the game really shone through. If he can remain fit and injury free, United will have a serious player on their hands.

The Midfielder – Cesc Fàbregas

He’s in, he’s out. Poor old Cesc Fàbregas. He just can’t seem to get a solid run of games together. It is is true that he is competing for places with the PFA Player of the Year, N’Golo Kanté, and the vastly improved Nemanja Matic. Nonetheless, the ex-Arsenal man must be frustrated with his situation. If he was looking to make a point then his display in Chelsea’s entertaining 4-2 win over Southampton would not have done him any harm. Chelsea manager, Antonio Conte, cannot have helped but been impressed with the Spaniards intelligent use of the ball. Time and time again he picked out teammates with perfectly threaded passes, even assisting Costa for his first. Rumours continue to circulate regarding AC Milan’s interest in taking the ex-Arsenal and Barcelona man over to Italy in the summer. Fàbregas turns 30 next week, and he will no doubt be keen to ensure that he is part of a team that picks him more regularly than every other game.

The Playmaker – Christian Eriksen

I must confess – I have never really been convinced by this guy. I have always felt that he has flattered to deceive. Yes, his set pieces are nearly always on the money, and yes, he scores the odd spectacular goal; however, I have always felt that there has been something lacking from his game. I was astonished to find out earlier this week that the Dane has covered more ground than anybody else in the Premier League this season. Furthermore, he is second only to Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne for Premier League assists, with an impressive 12 to his name. His brilliant match winning goal against Crystal Palace was his eighth of the season, and it kept Tottenham’s unlikely title charge on track. I am going to have to eat my words over the ex-Ajax man and admit that he has turned into a really fine player.

The Finisher – Diego Costa

His form blows as hot and cold as his temperament. He scored 15 goals in his first 19 Premier League games of the season. In the following 12 he has managed just four. Against Southampton the Brazilian born Spain international was back to his best. An assist and two goals ensured that Chelsea kept their distance over Tottenham. His second goal was absolutely brilliant. Exchanging one-twos with two of his Chelsea teammates; Eden hazard first, then Pedro second, before rifling in a low drive past Fraser Forster in the Southampton goal. A brilliant performance overall.

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Five-a-side TOTW: April 18th 2017

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

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

Goalkeeper – Simon Mignolet

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

The Nullifier – Ander Herrera

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

The Ball Player – Kevin De Bruyne

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

The Runner – Xherdan Shaqiri

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

The Finisher – Marcus Rashford

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


Mike Franchetti

Five-a-side TOTW: 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.

 

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