Five-a-side TOTW: January 5th 2017

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

Guardiola had a breakdown, Liverpool threw away three points and Chelsea’s defeat at Spurs left us with more questions than answers. At the other end of the table Swansea edged out Crystal Palace and Hull City suffered another unfortunate defeat. Through all of this we’ve picked another five-a-side team and, if we’re honest, this one probably wouldn’t suit the small pitch format. Oh well. Roll on the F.A cup.

Goalkeeper – Lee Grant

We welcome back Lee Grant for a third appearance in TOTW. We really do have our favourites. There’s not a lot we can do when the on-loan Derby County keeper is one of the only goalkeepers to be making crucial saves. Last week he snuck into our team after a string of impressive saves kept a rampant Chelsea at bay for as long as possible. This week, however, his job was much more straightforward with Watford posing little threat throughout. However, Stoke were in desperate need of a clean sheet and at 1-0 up Watford captain Troy Deeney unleashed a good effort to Grant’s left. He responded well to make the save and two minutes later Peter Crouch made it 2-0. Does Grant really lose his place when Jack Butland returns?

The Anchor – Michael Carrick

It’s fair to say Michael Carrick didn’t have a lot of work to do against ten-man West Ham; particularly on the defensive side. Nevertheless, the de facto United captain has been brilliant in his side’s recent run of much improved performances. He has the gift of allowing his more eccentric teammates to play their own games whilst holding the centre of the park and nearly always offering an outlet. He attempted 104 passes on Monday evening with a 94% completion rate. I find it hard to believe a player of Carrick’s age is still the best United have to offer but his ability has obviously impressed Mourinho. Whether or not his old legs would be up for darting around a five-a-side pitch is an altogether different question…

The Playmaker – Robert Snodgrass

Robert Snodgrass makes an overdue debut in TOTW following his seventh league goal of the season for a struggling Hull City side. On paper it’s an odd choice; Hull lost 3-1 away to West Brom and manager Mike Phelan was sacked a day later. But Snodgrass really has been that good and Hull City’s relegation would be nailed-on had it not been for his efforts. He dispatched a finish into the bottom corner to open the scoring and helped his side create a handful of chances as they chased a game that would never come back to them. I can’t stress enough how far the Scotsman’s performances have been ahead of his teammates.  West Brom compatriot Matt Phillips also had a good game in what was a promising 90 minutes for Scotland manager Gordon Strachan.

The Match Winner – Dele Alli

‘We’ve got Alli, Dele Alli!’ rang round White Hart Lane yesterday night as the young Englishman nodded home two perfectly angled headers to sink Antonio Conte’s dominating Chelsea side. The result was due as much to Chelsea’s bizarrely absent performance as it was to Tottenham’s excellence. Alli appears to have it all and has raced to 20 Premier League goals in just 52 games – faster than any of the leading centre midfielders of the last two decades (it took Gerrard 168…). Alli has now scored a brace in each of his last three matches and is the first person to do so since an electric Luis Suarez got ten in four games in 2013 (we think). Alli learnt his trade at MK Dons and carries with him a healthy dose of the physical aspects of lower division football. I remained unconvinced far longer than many others but he’s transitioned into a very intelligent footballer. Expect to hear some over-the-top and premature comparisons in the next few weeks from the one Spurs fan you know; Gerrard, Lampard…. Zidane?

The Finisher – Olivier Giroud

Arsenal were pretty useless on Tuesday night going down 3-0 to a Bournemouth side that now look completely comfortable in the Premier League. However, Arsenal’s winter wobble has been partially saved by the underrated Olivier Giroud. He’s grabbed just five goals this year but at an impressive rate of one every 70 minutes. With Alexis Sanchez on the verge of a sulk, Arsenal are lucky to have a player as determined to succeed as Giroud. The striker was handed a rare start against Bournemouth and though Arsenal collectively were abysmal for an hour, they rallied impressively in the final thirty. Giroud teed up Arsenal’s first two goals before nodding home an equalizer in the second minute of stoppage time. He’s since copped a lot of flak for ‘over-celebrating’ his goal by mimicking his scorpion flick from the previous match. The better option would have been to grab the ball and maximise the remaining minutes but seriously – are people really complaining? Giroud’s been accused of a lack of thought but how about acknowledging his total focus in the last half hour when operating as Arsenal’s biggest threat? He’s been reduced to the subs bench all season and it was game over at 3-0. Arsenal would have happily taken a point at that stage and Giroud was responsible for that happening. Chapeau Olivier!


Mike Franchetti

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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.

Five-a-side TOTW: December 13th 2016

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

There were 29 goals in the six Saturday games, but only 7 in the four games played on Sunday. Chelsea returned to the top of the league after briefly vacating their place to London rivals, Arsenal. A Fernando Llorente doubled helped Swansea record back-to-back home wins for the first time this season against fellow strugglers, Sunderland, and Manchester United won at home in the league for the first time since August the 19th. Elsewhere, Manchester City lost 4-2 at reigning champions Leicester, and Burnley beat Bournemouth 3-2 at Turf Moor after suffering three successive defeats.

Goalkeeper – Lukasz Fabianksi

Fabianski makes his first appearance in our 5-a-side team of the week. It is hardly surprising that it has taken this long; the Pole has let in 31 goals in his 15 games this season, the most of any keeper in the league. Saturday’s 3-0 win against Sunderland was only their third clean sheet of the season. Fabianski was in good form and will be happy to have kept out his relegation rivals.

The Stopper – Phil Jones

For an awfully long time now Phil Jones has failed to live up to expectations. When he burst on to the scene at Blackburn Rovers he looked to be one of the finest prospects in the game. He did enough to convince Sir Alex Ferguson to pay almost £17 million for him when he was just 19. Unfortunately, he has never kicked on. Still only 24, this is really his make or break season. Mourinho seems to have given him confidence, and he has enjoyed a decent run in the side in recent weeks. United have a wealth of options at centre back already, and are constantly being linked with new additions to their backline. However, if Jones continues to demonstrate the form he showed against Tottenham this weekend then Mourinho may think twice before dipping into his transfer kitty.

The Enforcer – Ander Herrera

This man has enjoyed something of a renaissance in recent months. Signed by Louis Van Gaal two summers ago, the former Bilbao player has often looked to lack the steel required to succeed in the Premier League. However, United’s poor form, and an inability to find a balance in midfield let to Mourinho moving Herrera into more of a sitting role. He has excelled, and has been one of the most consistent midfielders in the league this season. Excellent on Sunday against Tottenham, he kept Mousa Dembélé and Dele Alli relatively quiet. Herrera’s discipline allows Paul Pogba to have that little bit more freedom further up the field, something which United fans have been crying out for ever since he joined for a world record fee in the summer.

The Playmaker – Mesut Özil

The German was in brilliant form at the weekend, and capped his impressive display off with a deft headed lob over Lee Grant in the Stoke City goal. Özil does occasionally look to be uninterested and can sometimes look to be a bit lazy. However, when he wants to turn up he is an absolute joy to watch. Not many players would have made the run he made, let alone had the audacity to lob the keeper in that fashion. It really was an excellent goal, and an important one too, as it gave Arsenal a lead that they were not to relinquish.

The Finisher – Jamie Vardy

It took 12 games, but Vardy finally broke his goal scoring duck for Leicester. His hat trick was his first since scoring one for Fleetwood Town against Ebbsfleet way back in February 2012. All his goals were very much vintage Vardy. He timed his run impeccably for the first goal and finished superbly beyond Claudio Bravo. His second was a wonderful team goal. Christian Fuchs’ searching pass picked out Riyad Mahrez who laid the ball perfectly into the on rushing Vardy’s path. He rounded Bravo before finishing well. The third was just pure opportunism. Manchester City had been aimlessly passing the ball around their defence all match, and Vardy used his intuition to read a predictable back pass from his England colleague, John Stones. Once again, Leicester’s No.9 rounded Bravo before finishing brilliantly from an acute angle. Leicester have been struggling in the league this season, however the performance against City will certainly give them some much needed confidence. Vardy’s hat trick was also a timely reminder to all those who had been saying he was just a one season wonder.