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 28th 2016

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

Chelsea maintained their six point lead, whilst Leicester City’s 2-0 loss to Everton left them just three points above the relegation zone. Manchester United won for the fourth time in a row, and Arsenal grabbed a late victory courtesy of Olivier Giroud’s header. Swansea City lost again, leading to the sacking of their manager Bob Bradley. Manchester City won 3-0 away at basement club Hull City, and Crystal Palace could only draw at Watford in Sam Allardyce’s first game as manager.

Goalkeeper – Thibault Courtois

Staggeringly, this is Courtois’s first appearance in our 5TOTW. This really is a truly remarkable statistic considering the Belgian has conceded only two goals in his last 12 Premier League games. His fourth clean sheet in a row came in Chelsea’s 3-0 win over Bournemouth at Stamford Bridge. Although not severely tested, the 24 year old was reliable when called upon.

The Stopper – Daley Blind

Blind has been in and out of the team ever since José Mourinho took over the reins at Old Trafford. Initially he looked to have cemented his place at centre back, however injuries, coupled with unconvincing displays led to him having to settle for a place on the bench in recent weeks. At left back the former Ajax man excelled. He took his goal brilliantly; bursting forward from left back the Dutchman latched on to Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s pass, controlling the ball with his right foot before smashing the ball into the corner with his favoured left.

The Runner – Adam Lallana 

With four goals in his last four games this man really is THE in form player in the Premier League. In reality Lallana has been in good form for quite a long time now, emphatically answering those critics who said the ex-Southampton player lacked the required  end product. During his first two years at Anfield he scored nine, and also assisted his teammates just nine times. This season he already has seven goals and six assists. His goal against Stoke City, although slightly fortuitous, had something of the Frank Lampard about it. He timed his run into the box impeccably, and finished neatly from a very tight angle. It was an important goal as well, as up until that point Liverpool had been struggling to break down a resilient Stoke defence.

The Playmaker – Pedro

The diminutive winger has blown more cold than hot since joining Chelsea 18 months ago. I was particularly excited to see how he would fare after enjoying great success with Barcelona. His first season was certainly not a success, however it is worth pointing out that most of his Chelsea teammates also produced less than impressive displays. This season it has been a different story altogether. Since Antonio Conte changed to a 3-4-3 Pedro has thrived. His two goals against Bournemouth doubled his tally for the season, and set Chelsea on their way to a 12th consecutive victory.

The Finisher – Zlatan Ibrahimovic 

He’s 35, but you really wouldn’t know it. His goal against Sunderland took his Premier League goal tally to 12 for the season. Ibrahimovic’s record really is remarkable. Since the start of 2016 the ex-Sweden international has scored a quite astonishing 50 goals. In the same period only Lionel Messi has scored more. Against Sunderland it wasn’t just his scoring touch which was impressive as he laid on two assists for his teammates. A really impressive display by the veteran striker.