Five-a-side TOTW: May 22nd 2017

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

The final day of the Premier League season is always an odd occasion. Whether it be weakened teams, barmy goal fests, emotional farewells or even suspicious devices, there is always something intriguing that occurs, and the last day of this season was certainly no different. Realistically there was only one issue that needed to be resolved; the Champions League places. With only champions Chelsea, and runners up Tottenham assured of qualification to Europe’s premier football competition, there were still two places up for grabs, with Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal vying for those final two spots. City and Liverpool knew that wins against Watford and Middlesbrough respectively would guarantee their places at the high table, while Arsenal knew they had to win at home to Everton and hope that their rivals would slip up.


Goalkeeper – Castro Pereira

Who? Yes that’s right. Manchester United’s Swiss born Portuguese goalkeeper was making only his second United appearance and his first in the Premier League. He was facing a Crystal Palace side that had flirted with relegation throughout much of the season but had recently enjoyed something of resurgence. The twenty-year-old looked confident and assured throughout United’s comfortable 2-0 victory. Standing at over 1.90 metres he certainly looks like he has the physical attributes to become a top class Premier League stopper. His United future will largely depend on where David De Gea ends up plying his trade next season, however he will have done himself no harm with this impressive display.

The Stopper – Vincent Kompany

There can be no doubt at all that Manchester City are a different team when their captain is fit. Had he been fit for the whole season we may well have seen Pep Guardiola’s team mounting a more serious title challenge. The Citizens captain only featured 11 times in the league this season yet still managed to aid his sides cause with three goals. Going into the final round of fixtures City knew that a win would guarantee them third place and as a result automatic qualification to the Champions League group stages. Nevertheless, they faced what could have been a sticky fixture away at Watford who had just confirmed that the game would be Walter Mazzari’s last in charge. Kompany led the City charge and calmed what may have been any jangling nerves with a smart header within five minutes of the kick off. It set the tone for an easy afternoon for the two-time Premier League champions, who ran out 5-0 winners in the end.

The Middleman – Georginio Wijnaldum 

My word does this guy score important goals. Already a scorer of vital goals against Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal, the ex-Feyenord and Newcastle man can now add Middlesbrough to his already impressive repertoire! While the opponents might not be as illustrious, the goal itself was absolutely crucial. Liverpool knew that only a win would guarantee qualification for the Champions League and prior to Wijnaldum’s intervention Liverpool had been struggling. They were extremely fortunate not to have found themselves a man down after Dejan Lovren inexplicably pulled Patrick Bamford down when through on goal. With half time approaching, Wijnaldum grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck and produced a fierce strike to give the Red Men a lead that they would never surrender. Further further goals from Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana sealed an easy 3-0 win.

The Free Role – Josh Harrop 

Again, you may ask “who?” Well this young man had a Manchester United debut to remember as he opened the scoring in United’s 2-0 win at Old Trafford. The Stockport born winger looked lively on his professional debut and capped off an impressive display with a brilliant individual goal. Receiving the ball on the left hand side, the 21 year old cut inside, jinked his way around several Palace defenders before blasting the ball beyond a hapless Wayne Hennessey. United fans love nothing more than a homegrown player and it will be really interesting to see whether Harrop is able to kick on next season.

The Finisher – Harry Kane

Realistically, who else was going to get the nod here? Kane is simply the best striker in the Premier League and one of the best, if not the best, in the world. In a season disrupted by injury, the Tottenham No.10 has still managed a staggering 29 goals in 30 Premier League appearances. His four goals against a desperately poor Leicester side in midweek were followed up by an equally impressive hat-trick against already relegated Hull City. Remarkably, there are still those who seem to be waiting, even hoping, for the wheels to fall off. On this evidence they will be waiting an awfully long time.

Five-a-side TOTW: February 14th 2017

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

It’s time for our TOTW! Chelsea were held at Burnley, while their nearest challengers, Tottenham Hotspur, were beaten 2-0 at Liverpool. Leicester City lost for the fifth time in a row against Paul Clement’s resurgent Swansea City, a result that leaves the champions just one place and one point above the dreaded drop zone. Elsewhere, Anthony Martial scored a fine goal as Mourinho’s side maintained their top-four challenge. Sunderland were comfortably beaten at home by Southampton, and Arsenal recorded a fortuitous win over Hull City at The Emirates. But who impressed us enough to make it into the Internet’s most coveted five-a-side football team?

Keeper – Willy Caballero

This was not an easy choice – I can’t recall any keeper being particularly outstanding this weekend. I’ve gone with Willy Caballero because I think he has an unenviable task as a Manchester City keeper playing under Pep Guardiola. The City boss is desperately keen for his keepers to play out from the back – something that I don’t think comes particularly naturally to Big Willy. Despite starting the season as City’s first choice between the sticks, he knew that he was going to be likely replaced by a keeper that Guardiola considered to be better suited to the style of play that he wanted to implement. The subsequent signing of Claudio Bravo has proven to be a disastrous piece of business and Caballero has found himself back in the side for each of the last four games, keeping three clean sheets in the process. He deserves a place in this team merely for his patience, fortitude, and the fact that his name is Willy!

The Stopper – Alfie Mawson

I really thought that Swansea would go down. I even wrote an article about how Paul Clement was not the right man for the job and how chairman Huw Jenkins should be referred to as the Swansea Slayer. How wrong have I been proven? Clement, the Premier League’s choice of January Manager of the Month, has masterminded Swansea victories at Selhurst Park, Anfield, and now at home to the reigning champions. They are one of the in form teams in the league and now lie in fifteenth place and four points above the relegation places. Mawson, and his fellow defender Martin Olsson were the scorers as Swansea comfortably won at home for only the fourth time this season. The Swans have been heavily reliant on their Icelandic talisman Gylfi Sigurðsson in recent weeks, so it would have been a welcome surprise to see two defenders chip in with goals. Mawson’s was a sweetly struck volley that left Kasper Schmeichel in the Leicester goal flapping at thin air. The ex-Barnsley man more than merits his five-a-side TOTW debut.

The Ball Winner – Joey Barton

I don’t care what anybody says – Joey Barton can play. He and his fellow midfielder Ashley Westwood were up against N’Golo Kanté (and his twin brother), yet more than matched their more illustrious opponent. Burnley’s performance was industrious, and was built on the solid foundations of hard work, discipline and concentration. Nobody exemplified those traits more than Barton. Burnley are a different team at home and have picked up a staggering 29 of their 30 points at Turf Moor this season. Three more victories should see them secure their survival – a feat few of us thought possible at the beginning of the season. As for Barton, this performance completes a remarkable turnaround. Just three months ago he was deemed surplus to requirements at Rangers and was under investigation by the FA for some fairly ill-advised betting offences. He really did look like he was destined for the football scrapheap. Nevertheless, that well known football adage “bounce-back-ability” is one that can very much be attributed to Barton. Whenever people think he has well and truly messed it up, he seems to some how find a way to prove them wrong.

The Free Role – Sadio Mané

Liverpool are a different team when he is playing. People will go on about the Firmino, Coutinho and Lallana, but Mané really is the main man. When he was away on African Cup of Nations duty Liverpool looked static, one dimensional and void of any pace. He is so direct, so strong, and so unpredictable that defenders simply don’t know what he is going to do next. Tottenham certainly couldn’t handle him on Saturday, as his two goals sealed a first league win of 2017. His first was an excellent finish after he had managed to outpace the hapless Ben Davies. His second was more of a poachers goal but it really did finish off a Spurs side that were well below par. The win keeps the Anfield side in the hunt for a Champions League place and reignites a season that, after recent results, looked to be crumbling apart.

The Finisher – Manolo Gabbiadini 

I once signed this guy on one of my Football Manager games – he was a great signing for me then and he looks like a great signing for Southampton too! His two goals helped his new side to a resounding 4-0 away win at Sunderland and took his own personal tally to three in just two games. His first was a smart near post header from a lovely Ryan Bertrand cross and his second came after a wonderful turn that left Sunderland defender Lamine Koné completely bamboozled. With the League Cup Final against Manchester United coming up in less than two weeks, Southampton fans will be hoping that the Italian can maintain his good form until then at least.

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

Mourinho: Myth Busted

Simmo on José Mourinho and his alleged preference for experience over youth.

Mourinho is a winner. He’s won just about everything worth winning in club football. The majority of football supporters would long for a manager of his stature at their clubs. With eight league titles won in four different countries, two Champions Leagues and countless domestic trophies, there are not many managers who can measure up to Senhor Mourinho.

However, the reality is not quite so black and white. While Mourinho guarantees success there is a fair amount of evidence to suggest that this success is destined purely for the short-term. For all of the trophies that Mourinho’s won he’s never stayed longer than 4 years at a single club. The man works for now, not for later.

Closer analysis of Mourinho’s successful teams reveals one stark similarity; nearly all of them have been relatively experienced. For example, when arriving at Chelsea, Mourinho was quick to build the team around a certain Claude Makélélé. At Inter Milan he used Javier Zanetti in a similar role and relied heavily on the experience of Marco Materazzi, Christian Chivu, Walter Samuel and Lucio. At Real Madrid he re-signed Ricardo Carvalho and used him extensively during his first season in charge. All those players have one crucial aspect in common – experience.

Indeed, it has long been assumed that Mourinho has a penchant for the games  older statesmen. But do the facts really back this up?

The answer is really quite surprising. Staggeringly, the title-winning Chelsea team during the 2004–5 season was the youngest in Premier League history. The average age of that team was just 24.3 years. Fergie’s Fledglings won the 1995–6 title at the ripe old average age of 25.

In fact, at Real Madrid the average age of Mourinho’s signings was just a fraction over 24. During the same period, Arsène Wenger’s signings at Arsenal (a club famed for its trust in young players) had an average age of over 26.

Further study shows that Mourinho has often been brave enough to give responsibility to young players. Upon arriving Chelsea, Mourinho was faced with a team lacking any experienced leaders. The previous captain, Marcel Desailly, had just left the club and there was no obvious replacement. Mourinho eventually plumped for John Terry. Terry had come up from Chelsea’s academy, through the youth teams and into the starting XI. Mourinho clearly saw potential leadership qualities in the Barking-born defender. While Terry had made over 150 Chelsea appearances by the time Mourinho arrived, he was still only 23 – a comparatively young age for an established central defender and even younger for a captain.

Mourinho’s decision was vindicated. Terry would go on to lift the Premier League trophy at the end of Mourinho’s first two seasons in charge, and was selected for the PFA Team of the Year for both seasons.

Mourinho also showed an interest in developing young defenders at Real Madrid. He added the 18-year-old Frenchman Raphael Varane, from Lens to his squad of ‘Galácticos’. Although Varane was by no means a regular, Mourinho trusted him enough to throw him into some big games.

During his second spell at Chelsea, Mourinho decided to splash £12 million on another young French defender, Kurt Zouma. He had so much confidence in Zouma that when Nemanja Matic was suspended for the 2015 League Cup final against Tottenham, he thrust Zouma into the unfamiliar role of holding midfielder.

It also seems that Mourinho has a penchant for young goalkeepers. During his first spell in charge of Chelsea he picked the relatively young and inexperienced Petr Cech over the reliable, well-established veteran, Carlo Cudicini. Cech went on to become a club legend and break the all-time clean sheet record in the Premier League. Whilst Cech now plies his trade for Chelsea’s London rivals Arsenal, his contribution to Chelsea during his 11 year stay in South West London was immeasurable.

During his second spell in charge at Chelsea, Mourinho decided to promote Thibault Courtois above Cech. The Belgian had been out on loan at Atletico Madrid and had already won a La Liga title and played in a Champions League Final by the age of 22.

So, does this dispel the theory? Is Mourinho in fact a big believer in young talent?

Well, the answer isn’t really that simple. Now managing Manchester United, a club that has always prided itself on promoting young players, Mourinho has decided that he needs to cut some deadwood from the vast squad he took over from Louis van Gaal.

Since joining he has allegedly told no fewer than 7 players who are 23 old or younger that their futures lie away from Old Trafford. Timothy Fosu Mensah, Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, Will Keane, James Wilson, Adnan Januzaj, Andreas Pereira and Tyler Blackett have all been told that they are surplus to requirements, for the meantime at least.

It’s true that there are question marks over the ability of several of the aforementioned youngsters, yet they’ve all played for the Red Devils and were deemed good enough by previous managers. This time, José’s transfer dealings indicate a preference for age over youth; he has signed 3 players with an average age of just under 28.

Is this a change in stance by Mourinho? Has he decided that he needs to sign players with more experience and sell those youngsters trying to break in?

Difficult to say. We are only two months into Mourinho’s Old Trafford reign and he hasn’t yet managed United in a competitive match. If José is around this time next year then we may get a better understanding of his transfer strategy and whether or not he has indeed abandoned his former willingness to embrace youth.

So where would Mourinho sit on the now infamous (and highly inaccurate) “You won’t win anything with kids” saying coined by Alan Hansen back in the mid-90s?

He’d almost certainly disagree. The fact is that Mourinho seems likely to pick players who are good enough to make an instant contribution to the team and not let others down. If a player does not reach that standard, he will be banished to the youth teams or, worst case scenario, shipped out somewhere else. For Mourinho’s players there is a steep learning curve. However, if you prove you are good enough, then, for Mourinho, you’re almost certainly old enough.