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 some fairly impressive. 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.

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Five-a-side TOTW: March 5th 2017

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

Another round of Premier League fixtures – another five-a-side team of the week. Chelsea kept their 10 point lead at the top of the table with a hard-fought win at West Ham. Harry Kane outdid Romelu Lukaku in the battle of the leagues top scorers as Spurs won 3-2 against Everton. Liverpool beat top-four rivals Arsenal at Anfield, while, in a tasty clash, Manchester United could only draw at home to Bournemouth. Swansea scored a last minute winner at home to Burnley, and Leicester won for the second time in a row under caretaker boss Craig Shakespeare.

Goalkeeper – Artur Boruc

It’s not often that an opposition goalkeeper goes to Old Trafford and wins the man of the match award. However, that is exactly what the big Pole did this weekend. He was absolutely fantastic as he repelled numerous efforts on his goal. His fine all round performance was rounded off by an excellent save from Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s penalty. Boruc has found himself heavily criticised at points this season. Having conceded an average of nearly three goals a game in 2017, Boruc and his teammates will have been relieved with this highly spirited defensive performance.

The Stopper – Mamadou Sakho

I actually cannot believe that this man is playing at Crystal Palace. When he was coming through the ranks at PSG he was tipped to be the next mega superstar centre back. His move to Liverpool has been disrupted by injuries, poor form, allegedly inappropriate behaviour and poor attitude. In my opinion he remains Liverpool’s best centre back – what he is doing playing for a team fighting for Premier League survival I will never know.  Manager Sam Allardyce has decided to pair the French defender with summer signing James Tomkins in recent weeks. It certainly looks like the partnership could provide the foundations for Palace to move away from the drop zone. The 2-0 away win against West Brom was the first time that Palace had recored consecutive clean sheets this season.

The Runner – Georginio Wijnaldum

The Dutch international was in absolutely brilliant form during Liverpool’s dominant 3-1 win over Arsenal on Saturday evening. With captain Jordan Henderson injured, the responsibility fell on Wijnaldum and Emre Can to marshall the Liverpool midfield. Both played very well, yet the Dutchman really was the stand out performer. He absolutely ran the midfield – winning tackles, linking the play, and even managing to get on the scoresheet when finishing off an excellent team move. Having now grabbed goals against Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal, the former Feyenord and Newcastle player is proving that he is the man for the big occasion.

Free Role – Andros Townsend

After initially seeming out of favour under new boss Sam Allardyce, the former Tottenham and Newcastle winger has really started to establish himself at the South-London club. His goal against West Brom was as good as it was important. It sealed a valuable three points for The Eagles and ensured that they moved further away from the relegation places. It would be nice to see Townsend go on a real run between now and the end of the season. He deserves the chance to establish himself in the Premier League after frustrating spells at both Spurs and Newcastle. If he continues his recent good performances there is no reason why he can’t become one of the best wide-men in the league. With England’s game against Germany coming up in just two weeks, there is further incentive for him to keep turning in the performances.

The Finisher – Harry Kane

I love this guy. I saw something in Kane on Saturday that made me think that he really has reached the elite level. With the scores at 0-0, both teams struggling to make an impact on the game, the Tottenham striker dropped deep to receive the ball. Thirty yards out and with his back to goal, Kane swiveled, and moved the ball onto his favoured right foot. From there the Tottenham no.10 did exactly what he does best – thumping the ball into the back of the net. The goal was brilliant and provided the turning point in the game. Grabbing the game by the scruff of the neck is really the sort of thing that the best players in the world do. In my opinion, Kane has now reached that level. For someone who has scored nearly 80 goals in the last three seasons, he has an unusually large number of critics. I would love nothing more than for the England man to top the scoring charts once again at the end of the season.

Why the FA Cup is dying

Football is a game now built on money. For a long time now sentiment and history have ceased in having any influence on the beautiful game. New found riches and the prospect of even greater financial reward has led to the decrease in stature of one of the bastions of the English football calendar; the FA Cup. In this article, Simmo looks at why the FA Cup is dying and why its sister competition, the League Cup, is continuing to go from strength to strength.

The FA Cup has always had this magical, mystical, even mythical side to it. It is the only competition in English football where a real battle between David and Goliath ever seems to take place. Right from its very first appearance in the English football calendar, way back in 1871, it has taken on an importance that no other major cup competition is able to replicate across Europe’s premier footballing nations.

Yet now, in an age where it increasingly seems that money takes precedence over both pride and history, the FA Cup is sadly losing its status as Europe’s most important national cup, and perhaps, even Britain’s.

That final sentence in particular may cause a few gasps from readers, however, there is certainly considerable evidence to suggest that top clubs are now putting a greater emphasis on the League Cup. Whilst it is certainly true that the League Cup lacks the prestige of its sister competition, it has a lot of elements that lie in its favour.

One of elements is something that big teams find especially advantageous. Premier League teams that qualified for a European competition in the previous season are automatically placed in the third round. Unlike the FA Cup, where all Premier League and Championship teams get an automatic pass to the third round, the League Cup usually sees all Championship teams begin their campaign in round one.

 

Number of Games

Either seventy or seventy-two teams enter the first round, with the winners progressing to round two. Here, the Premier League teams not involved in European competitions are added to the pool. When round two is finished the Premier League teams who qualified for Europe are added. It is at this point when the cup really does begin in earnest.

The reason why this is often so favourable for bigger teams is that they are often entering the competition when many of their league rivals have already been eliminated. Let us take the 2014/15 competition as an example. By the beginning of the third round a total of seven Premier League teams had already been eliminated. A quarter of the 16 fourth round ties were all Premier League affairs, with only nine teams from Britain’s top tier progressing.

There are other advantages too; for example, the number of games that have to be played to get to the final. Round three in the League Cup has only 32 teams as opposed to 64 in the FA Cup. Additionally, there are no replays in the League Cup, meaning that up until the semi-final, teams only have to play one game per round. The maximum number of games that a Premier League team playing in Europe has to play to reach Wembley is five.

The replay issue is a contentious one. It has been violently debated by those wearing suits at the FA. Whilst we all love to see a lower league team battle valiantly and earn a replay at a big club, there is a strong argument to suggest that replaying ties has a detrimental impact.

For example, let us take a Premier League team who have qualified for the latter stages of the Champions League. They are drawn against lower league opposition in the fifth round. The match is a dull affair with the minnows frustrating their more illustrious opponents for 90 minutes. The result is a 0-0 draw and all those at the smaller club are delighted that they have secured a replay at one of Britain’s biggest clubs.

For the Premier League team however, this is the nightmare scenario. The replay is sandwiched between several important Premier League games and the first leg of their Champions League knockout round.

Where is the incentive for them? Whilst those at lower league clubs are delighted to secure replays, partly due to the financial windfall that comes with achieving such a feat, the Premier League clubs know that finishing even one place higher in the league could bring about greater financial rewards than winning the FA Cup.

 

Financial Reward

Manchester United, the current FA Cup holders, won £1.8 million for their Wembley triumph. This does not include television money, nor gate receipts. When these have been calculated in, the money received from an FA Cup run increases substantially. Ultimately a run to the final can prove to be extremely profitable, yet like all things in football, it has to be revaluated in comparison to the revenue streams that can be had elsewhere.

All things are relative – £5 million to Huddersfield Town is the equivalent of about £40 million for Manchester United. There is no factual basis for this statement – it is just merely to demonstrate how bigger clubs have a different outlook on the financial side of the game. For Huddersfield Town, winning the FA Cup and receiving that sort of money would constitute a major success. For Manchester United winning the FA Cup would only be success if they had also managed to secure other financial success.

We will continue with Manchester United because it is a good example. The 2014/15 season had seen them qualify for the Champions League after a two-year absence. Although they were eliminated in the group stages they made almost 10 times more in that competition than they did for winning the FA Cup. That is even before the TV revenue is added to the total.

Then there is the Premier League. Despite finishing fifth Manchester United were able to rake in a staggering £19.8 million in prize money. Once again, this is before the TV revenue is counted. When it is you can multiply the money received by five.

Now, before we go further it is important for us to talk about the finances involved with the League Cup. The winners of the competition only receive £100,000 – an almost irrelevant sum when placed in the grandeur that is the world of football.

 

Not just financial

It would seem then that there is a bigger reason as to why the League Cup has taken on an increased importance in recent years. It clearly is not down to financial reward – there is obviously something else that sways teams to take the competition seriously. Whilst winning the League Cup is worth substantially less than lifting the FA Cup trophy, there is no difference in the actual footballing reward.

With both finals being played at Wembley, and winners of both competitions are automatically entered into the Europa League, Europe’s second tier competition, there is little to distinguish the two competitions. One way this could be done is by introducing a Champions League qualification spot for the winners of the FA Cup. The financial rewards on offer there would encourage teams to take the competition more seriously.

Another major problem with the FA Cup is its timing. It is something that particularly affects the bigger clubs. The third round of the League Cup typically kicks off in late September, just one month into the Premier League season. In comparison, the FA Cup third round begins in early January – just after an extremely busy festive period. By the time the fourth round has started the two League Cup finalists have already been confirmed.

Essentially, a run in the League Cup comes at a better time than the equivalent run in the FA Cup. Players are fresher, and perhaps most importantly, the fixture list is less congested.

 

The Shocks

Yet there will always be the purists. The people who say, “well the FA Cup is the FA Cup, and nothing will ever beat it.” In many ways they are right. People, particularly those of older generations, have a real affinity with the FA Cup.

It was the Cup of the people. The one every young boy or girl watching football wanted to win. It was a Saturday not long after Christmas, a Saturday when the best teams came to play the smaller teams. The most famous players in the country were being tested in uncomfortable surroundings. It was the perfect recipe for a shock.

Shock is very much the operative word associated with FA Cup. There have always been shocks. Hereford vs Newcastle springs to mind, along with Wimbledon vs Liverpool. Games where the favourites were stunned, where the minnows triumphed against the odds. That was the magic of the FA Cup.

Nowadays they are less common. Indeed, Bradford were the last team to really cause an FA Cup shock when they won 4-2 at the Premier League leaders, Chelsea, after being 2-0 down. Even when surprising results do occur there are question marks regarding whether they can be truly classified as a shock result.

West Ham United, a Premier League club, lost 5-0 at Nottingham Forest, a team in the second tier, two years ago. In most normal situations people would describe this as a shock. Yet on the day West Ham had rested a number of first team players and had clearly set their sights elsewhere. Bournemouth did the same earlier this month, fielding a weakened team at League One Millwall, and in turn losing 3-0. Again, it went to prove that the FA Cup was not a priority.

Indeed, the League Cup has provided more shocks in recent seasons. Seasoned cup team, Bradford City, a club from the fourth tier of English football, enjoyed a miracle run to the final after competition four years ago. They knocked out no fewer than three Premier League teams en route to Wembley. Although they lost 5-0 to Swansea City in the final, their run had inspired many. It had brought a bit of magic to the competition.

Non-Premier League finalists are rare occurrences. In fact, since 2000 only four teams from outside the Premier League have reached the League Cup final. You have to go back a further 19 years to reach the same number in the FA Cup. Prior to that there had been six finalists from outside the top division, with three even going on to claim the trophy.

It could be argued that the League Cup has provided more memorable moments in recent years than the FA Cup. Whether it will ever overtake its rival as English footballs premier cup competition remains unlikely. Yet whilst the football rewards remain the same and the money in other competitions continues to rise, clubs will continue to treat it as an important trophy, and one that is worth competing for.

French flop five-a-side

Only 20 miles separates Britain and France at their closest points, and apart from the Republic of Ireland, no other foreign country has been more represented in the Premier League. Whilst you could count on two hands the number of British players to have crossed the Channel, the number of French players to have made the reverse trip is well into three figures. Since the Premier League’s creation in the early 90’s, some of France’s greatest ever players have graced its grounds. Players like Ginola, Vieira, Petit, Desailly, Deschamps, and Henry to name just a few have had huge impacts. However, not all those who have arrived on these shores have had quite the same level of success. Here is our list of five French flops who failed to live up to expectations.

Goalkeeper – Fabien Barthez

Apart from Iker Casillas, Barthez probably has the best CV of any other goalkeeper in the last 25 years. A Champions League winner with Marseille, twice a Ligue 1 Champion with Monaco and of course a World and European Cup winner with France, there really were great hopes for him when Manchester United snapped him up for just shy of £8 million in 2000.

In many ways Barthez’s stay in Manchester was not as unsuccessful as is often made out. He did win two Premier League titles and even made it into the PFA Team of the Year at the end of the 2000-01 season. Yet despite these successes Barthez is often remembered for high profile errors and an inability to dominate his area. His diminutive frame was perhaps not cut out for the weekly rigours of the Premier League. Despite his undoubted talent, Barthez’s three year stay in Manchester will always be considered a disappointment.

The Stopper – Sébastien Squillaci 

Squillaci was 30 when he joined Arsenal for £4 million in the summer of 2010, and was seen by many as an impulsive signing. Indeed Squillaci’s time at The Emirates was pretty much a disaster from start to finish. Despite being a regular in his first season, playing in 32 of Arsenal’s 58 games, his poor form forced Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger, to once again dip into the transfer market. The signing of Per Mertesacker, coupled with the emergence of Laurent Koscielny, meant that Squillaci’s first team opportunities were greatly restricted, and he appeared only seven more times for the Gunners over the following two years.

Widely regarded as one of Wenger’s worse ever signings, Squillaci left Arsenal on a free transfer in 2013 to join Bastia in his native country.

The Ball Winner  – Jean-Alain Boumsong 

This guy is perhaps one of the most famous failed Frenchmen in English football history. Outside of football Boumsong holds a degree in financial control and has forged a career as a respected pundit on French TV. Yet on the pitch at Newcastle United the defender could hardly have looked more out of place.

Newcastle United manager, Graeme Souness, the man behind the worst signing in Premier League history, Ali Dia, spent £8 million in order to bring Boumsong from Rangers. Boumsong’s career in the North-East was not far short of a catastrophe. He only lasted 18 months in the Premier League before Juventus, yes JUVENTUS, decided to try and make a success of the 27 time France international. Newcastle made a £5 million loss on Boumsong and his transfer was later part of Lord Stevens’ inquiry into corruption in football. An unsavoury episode all round.

The Playmaker – Florian Thauvin

The most recent addition to the team. Although Thauvin’s career to date has failed to live up to expectations, at still only 23 he has time to recover. When he joined Marseille for €15 million in 2013 there was a feeling that the winger could be one of the great French players. His two years at the Vélodrome were a success, he scored 15 goals in just shy of 80 games and looked to be developing into a decent player.

His performances prompted Steve McClaren, the then Newcastle United manager, to fork out £15 million in the summer of 2015. His displays in a struggling Newcastle side were underwhelming to say the least and he featured only 13 times and scored just once before rejoining Marseille on loan after half a season on Tyneside.

The Finisher – Stéphane Guivarc’h

Who do you think Stéphane Guivarc’h turned out for in the Premier League? Yep, you guessed it, Newcastle United. It seems the North East of England is a graveyard for French footballers – perhaps it is just that little bit too far from home? Anyway, Guivarc’h is one of those players that will constantly appear in football trivia questions. You will almost certainly come across questions such as who started up front for France in the 1998 World Cup final? or who wore France’s No.9 shirt during the 1998 World Cup? For those of you who did not know the answer already, you do now!

Guivarc’h is very much the forgotten member of that victorious French team. He started four matches in the tournament, but failed to score in any. Despite this disappointment, his performances had clearly done enough to convince Newcastle United to splash out something in the region of £4 million later on that summer. His arrival from Auxerre was seen as a major coup and many believed that he could go on to form a formidable partnership with Alan Shearer. However, it was not meant to be. Although he scored on his league debut he did not find the net again for the St James’ Park outfit and after just six further appearances, he crossed the border to join Rangers.

Six of the worst Joey Barton misdemeanours

Joey Barton has had a chequered career to say the least. In fact, it was difficult whittling down his list of indiscretions to just six. The much travelled midfielder has been caught up in rows, fights, and Twitter arguments with many of his peers. Now plying his trade in Scotland with Rangers, Barton has, surprise surprise, yet again managed to find controversy. Here’s six times that Joey Barton got it wrong.

 

1. Chill out, have a cigar!

To kick off we thought we’d go back to Barton’s Manchester City days. Work Christmas parties always have some form of controversy; who kissed who, so-and-so cried, Jamie Tandy got a cigar stubbed in the eye. Hang on – what? Yes that last point did indeed happen during City’s 2004 festivities.

Barton stubbed a cigar in Tandy’s eye after taking offence at the youth team player’s attempt to set fire to his shirt. Tandy’s indiscretion was daft, if not dangerous, yet Barton, the more ‘grown-up’ of the two, should have known better.

An eye for an eye is rarely justifiable, and neither is an eye for a failed attempt to set fire to a shirt.

Barton did apologise, but the damage was already done. He was fined £60,000, equivalent to six weeks’ wages.

2. Blue Moon to Full Moon

On September 30th 2006, Barton and his Manchester City teammates visited Goodison Park. Barton, an Everton fan, managed to rile the Everton faithful by unceremoniously pulling his shorts down to reveal a rather pale backside.

Whilst Barton would have been familiar with Blue Moon ringing around The City of Manchester Stadium (as it was then called), the midfielder decided he would treat Everton fans to a full moon.

Barton’s bottom landed him with a hefty £2,000 fine, a police investigation, and he was warned over his future conduct. A warning he sadly did not heed.

3. The Dabo incident

Just nine months after ‘bumgate’ Barton once again found himself at the centre of controversy. Ousmane Dabo, a teammate at City, felt the full swing of Barton’s now notorious temper.

Instead of giving Dabo a light dab, he decided to go full-whack. Dabo was allegedly knocked unconscious and had to go to hospital after injuring his head in the fracas.

The Frenchmen decided to press charges, and Barton eventually pleaded guilty to the assault.

Barton was fined £100,000 by City, given a six game ban and £25,000 fine by the FA, a four-month suspended prison sentence, and 200 hours of community service. This sorry incident paved the way for his exit from City.

4. McPrison

Seven months after the Dabo incident Barton again found himself in trouble. Now playing for Newcastle United, Barton went on a post-Christmas night out in his hometown of Liverpool. In the early hours of December 27th he became embroiled in a fight outside McDonalds.

CCTV showed him punching his victim 20 times, before also attacking a teenager. This time there would be no reprieve and no suspended sentence. Barton served 77 days in prison before being released and being allowed to resume his career.

5. In for a penny, in for a pound

Barton now found himself playing for Queens Park Rangers. His former club, Manchester City, were on the verge of claiming their first title in 44 years.

Barton and his QPR team visited The Etihad on the final day of the 2011/12 Premier League season. This game will be remembered for many things, including Barton’s outrageous sending off.

City needed to win in order to prevent their Manchester rivals, United, from claiming yet another title, whilst QPR needed at least a draw and results elsewhere to go their way in order to avoid relegation. With the score finely balanced at 1-1, Barton saw red – literally. First he elbowed Carlos Tevez in the face. A red card was promptly shown. Not content with this, the ex-City man kicked Sergio Agüero, attempted to head-butt Vincent Kompany, and finally tried to square off with Mario Balotelli.

Thankfully for Barton, QPR avoided relegating despite conceding two last-minute goals. Barton tried to justify his actions by saying that after elbowing Tevez he wanted to provoke a City player into reacting and also being sent off. His ingenious little plot failed quite spectacularly, and once the dust had settled, Barton was hit with a mammoth 12 match ban and a £75,000 fine by the FA.

QPR also punished him; stripping him of the captaincy and fining him six weeks’ wages totalling an eye-watering £600,000.

6. Complete Nonsense

After his Etihad meltdown, the following four years were relatively quiet for Barton. Bar the odd Twitter dispute (something that is obviously inevitable), and a couple of red cards, Barton’s behaviour had looked to have drastically improved.

Playing for Burnley in the Championship, the 2015/16 season was a successful one for both him and his team. Promotion to the Premier League was achieved, and Barton received the Player of the Year trophy.

Despite this Barton chose to head north and sign for newly-promoted Rangers in Scotland. As soon as he arrived in Glasgow he was up to his old tricks. He deliberately tried to antagonise Celtic captain, Scott Brown, and accused Celtic’s manager, Brendan Rodgers, of going through a midlife crisis.

All of this preceded the first Old Firm game of the season. When Rangers arrived at Celtic Park many neutrals were relishing the Barton vs Brown midfield battle. On the day Barton was useless; slow, off the pace, and poor with the ball. His Celtic counterpart completely outplayed him in a 5-1 win for The Hoops.

The fallout from this defeat was a throwback to Barton from years gone by. After having a heated discussion with Rangers teammate Andy Halliday, Barton was banned from the club for 3 weeks. At the same time, he was publicising his new book, No Nonsense.

It remains to be seen whether this episode will spell the end of Barton’s Rangers career. Whatever happens, we can be almost certain that this won’t be the last we hear from Joey.


Sam Simmons