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: September 13th 2016

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

Plenty of goals and just three clean sheets this gameweek – and somehow we leave out Romelu Lukaku.

Goalkeeper – Steve Mandanda

Though making just his second start for Crystal Palace, Mandanda now looks a certain starter in The Eagles’ goal. A Daniel Ayala header prevented the Frenchman from claiming his first clean sheet but a string of memorable saves earns him a place in our five-a-side selection (which is a far greater accolade). With his side a goal to the good, he prevented two attempts at a Middlesbrough equalizer – the first a Ben Gibson strike, the second a late drive by Gaston Ramirez.

The Anchor – Eric Dier

SOTP favourite Etienne Capoue put in another sterling display to help Watford topple West Ham, but in an effort to keep things fresh we turn to Tottenham’s Mr. Consistency Eric Dier. The England international saw a lot of the ball in Tottenham’s 4-0 hammering at Stoke and helped dominate a Stoke midfield far better on paper than on pitch as of late. It wouldn’t have been Dier’s hardest day’s work – but there was plenty to admire about his game.

Playmaker – Kevin De Bruyne

Manchester City were briefly rattled following a mistake from Claudio Bravo but don’t let that take away from the wonderful performance of their attacking players – particularly Kevin De Bruyne. Mourinho’s United are a good side but struggled to contain the interplay of De Bruyne, Nolito and David Silva. It was in the first 45 that De Bruyne really shone – he was constantly a menace and got himself on the scoresheet with a classy finish past David De Gea.

The Runner – Heung-Min Son

Murmurings from White Hart Lane suggested Son could be on his way to Germany or Italy at the end of the transfer window. Talented but only sometimes effective, Son’s first year at Spurs was pretty ordinary. However, he was anything but ordinary on Saturday and grabbed two goals in the demolition of Stoke City. His second goal wasn’t too shabby, rifling the ball into the top of the net from the edge of the box.

The Finisher – Roberto Firmino

Hatrick hero Lukaku helped Everton to three points at flailing Sunderland – but we couldn’t resist including Roberto Firmino alongside De Bruyne and Son. Liverpool put in one of their good performances at home to Leicester – their first game at a spruced up Anfield. All of Sturridge, Mane and Lallana caught the eye but Firmino’s brace gives him the edge this week. The Brazilian has discovered his best form in a more advanced role and has been involved in plenty of Liverpool’s recent goals.


Mike Franchetti

Changing of the Guard

Conte, Guardiola, Mourinho. There can be no doubt the Premier League has the best managers in the world. But who will adjust quickest to their new club? And how will the players fare?


Chelsea

Manager: Antonio Conte

Favoured Formation: 3-5-2 or 4-3-3

Philosophy: Dogged and direct

Antonio Conte will demand plenty of passion and grit from his players. So far, Chelsea have been in full swing this season with three wins out of three. Perhaps more importantly, Conte has restored confidence to team who are a contrast to the calamitous side of last season. Dynamic and sharp, Chelsea fans may be forgiven for thinking they are title-challengers once again. They’ll be hoping that Conte’s touchline celebrations become a regular occurrence.

Who will thrive?

The signing of N’golo Kante has given a balance to the Chelsea team who lacked consistency last season. Eden Hazard and Willian have been allowed to prioritise attack over defence which will come as a relief to the wide-men who often had to track back under Jose Mourinho. Nemanja Matic and Oscar are preferred to complete the midfield engine. Activity on deadline day may suggest that Marcos Alonso and David Luiz will freshen up a back four. However, it remains to be seen whether they will become mainstays or additional personnel. There is a lot of buzz at Stamford Bridge around new signing Michy Batshuayi, though he won’t be a starter for the blues, he can play a key role as a substitute for Conte who has so far utilised his bench to great effect.

Who will struggle?

The Chelsea youth stars? Over the last ten years, Chelsea’s youth academy has seen very little first team action aside from the odd League Cup cameo. The club have thirty-three players out on loan which shows they have a long way to go if they want to build an academy which will develop future stars. Looking at the first team, Cesc Fabregas is Chelsea’s big name casualty thus far. The Spanish international has only played eighteen league minutes for the blues in a very effective cameo against Watford. He will remain at The Bridge for now to fight for his place but he may well not be a Chelsea player next season. The back four could have a shake up in personnel and formation; rumours suggest Conte may integrate his favoured 3-5-2 which he previously utilised with Juventus and the Azzurri after his last minute signings. Ageing defenders Gary Cahill and Branislav Ivanovic may be under threat. However, early signs would suggest that Captain John Terry will continue to play a pivotal role for Antonio Conte both on and off the pitch.

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Manchester City

Manager: Pep Guardiola

Favoured Formation: 4-3-3 or 3-4-3

Philosophy: No deviation from the beautiful game

When Pep Guardiola was announced in February as the next Manchester City manager the City fans were ecstatic to say the least. This is not surprising considering the forty-five-year-old boasts fourteen major trophies making him one of the most successful managers of all time. The Spaniard hasn’t disappointed in his opening three games. City look like a team fizzing with finesse and quality. Guardiola will expect nothing less. He will want his side to win his way which may impact results in such a competitive league. There is no doubt that this will be Guardiola’s toughest test.

 Who will thrive?

So far Raheem Sterling has been thriving at the Etihad under the new boss proving that confidence is the key to his form. More good news for England is that John Stones will see plenty of game time. The twenty-two year old is a technically gifted centre-half and Guardiola will be looking for him to carry the ball out of defence to initiate play. When Vincent Kompany is back and fit this could be a formidable partnership. Evidence from the opening few games would also suggest that Fernandinho has a large role to play for City this season. Marshalling the midfield and dropping into a back three, will test the defensive midfielder but his character looks well suited to the role.

Who will struggle?

Joe Hart’s departure has shown us that under Guardiola no one is safe if you don’t suit his style of play. Yaya Toure’s time with City is now at an end which suggests the squad will see some young blood enter the fold. Interestingly, the fullbacks are being asked a lot of in a new system that sees them cut into the midfield. They’ll need to show neat footwork and strong passing, otherwise they could be on the block. In the past, Guardiola has used Philipp Lahm, David Alaba, Dani Alves and Jordi Alba in these positions. Needless to say expectations will be high.

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Manchester United

Manager: Jose Mourinho

Favoured Formation: 4-2-3-1

Philosophy: Win at all costs

Jose Mourinho is a Manager who has won wherever he has gone. He has Manchester United ticking again and probably looking their best since Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure in 2013 (albeit we are only four competitive matches into his tenure). Mourinho will want to win at all costs, particularly when he is in competition with arch-rival Guardiola which promises to be a fascinating battle. What does Jose have over Pep? His Premier League experience is likely to give him an edge over the course of the season. Mourinho is a winner. The question is whether he has a team of winners with him.

 Who will thrive?

It has been a summer of high profile signings at Manchester United. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Paul Pogba and Eric Bailly now form the new spine of the team. With the talent surrounding him, it looks as though Wayne Rooney will enjoy life under Mourinho more than Louis Van Gaal. Acting again as a number ten he will be expected to be United’s chief provider. Perhaps most surprisingly, Marouane Fellaini has played every minute of the first three games. His time with United so far has been unspectacular to say the least but the tall Belgian could be a key figure for Mourinho if he can maintain his work rate.

Who will struggle?

For lots of football fans you will either love or hate Jose Mourinho. For the United squad it could very well be the same. Bastian Schweinsteiger has been banished to the reserves and Italian right-back Matteo Darmian is also out of favour to the resourceful Antonio Valencia. As expected, Mata looks set to be a fringe player. New signing Henrikh Mkhitaryan will have to play his way into the side after starting each game on the bench. Chris Smalling will also have to prove his worth to upset Daley Blind and Eric Bailly’s current partnership, though this seems more likely than a return for Phil Jones whose time at Old Trafford looks limited.


Jack Parker