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.

Advertisements

Five-a-side TOTW: November 22nd 2016

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

Sunderland claimed back to back victories, and Manchester City claimed a valuable three points at Crystal Palace. But who made it into our five a side team of the week?

Goalkeeper – Jordan Pickford

What a season Jordan Pickford is having! Last season he was on loan at Preston North End, this season he is keeping Sunderland from sitting at the foot of the table. His recent performances have been great to watch and against Hull City he was on top form, again. Five crucial saves and a clean sheet helped Sunderland to their much-needed second win of the season. At the moment, he is one of the best shot-stoppers in the league. A long career ahead.

The Anchor – Virgil van Dijk

Saturday’s fixture at St Mary’s looked set to be a difficult tie for The Saints as they hosted an inform Liverpool team who have scored on average three goals a game this season. However, it was the performances of both van Dijk and José Fonte that stood out at the full time whistle. Though, lucky to not give away a (much debated) penalty, van Dijk was in commanding form epitomised by a superb last ditch sliding tackle on Sadio Mané. There is not doubt that Southampton will need to fend off a few of his suitors come January.

The Middleman – Yaya Toure

Yaya Toure has resurrected from the Manchester City reserve team, much to the demise of Crystal Palace. After a behind the scenes bust up with Guardiola (and a not so behind the scenes rant from his agent) Toure was given a surprise start at Selhurst Park. He was yet to feature in the Premier League the season but you wouldn’t know it. Toure was commanding against Palace. He was a constant threat going forward and ultimately made the difference for City with his brace. It is difficult to say how much he will be involved in City’s title challenge, but he certainly provided the surprise of the weekend.

The Box-to-Box Midfielder – Ander Herrera

This is a player who has come alive under José Mourinho. Since joining in 2013, Herrera has done little to prove he is up to the standard at Old Trafford but this season he has been one of their best players. His work rate and distribution were a joy to behold against Arsenal, keeping United on the front foot and allowing players like Paul Pogba to acquire positions further up the field. If United are going to make it back in to the top four they will need more of their squad to make such improvements.

The Finisher – Victor Anichebe

If you are a Sunderland fan: Victor Anichebe might be the man to save your club this season. Last year Jermaine Defoe saved them from relegation but thus far it is looking like a tall order for the striker to carry the club on his own. Up step Anichebe. The hold up and link up play between Defoe and the Nigerian forward caused Hull City all sorts of problems. He was strong, physical, perhaps at times fortuitous, but most importantly he was clinical with two goals to show for it. His first Premier League brace since 2006. Sunderland will need performances from him to ensure Defoe, and their survival hopes, doesn’t burn out before May.

Jack Parker

Six reasons Juventus might not win Serie A this year

Serie A featured highly in this transfer window with Manchester United capturing Paul Pogba and Gonzalo Higuaín upsetting the entire population of Naples in a move north. Juventus start as overwhelming favourites for the new season. Their squad has tonnes of experience and a winning mentality to rival any side in Europe. Nevertheless, all good things come to an end and could the sale of Pogba disrupt the happy camp? Anything other than a sixth straight title will require a serious dip in form, or the likes of Napoli and Roma to overachieve and amass nearly 90 points. Here’s six reasons it might just happen.

1. Their desire for European success

Juventus have won five straight Serie A titles and have been the main Italian flag-bearers in elite European competition. They’ve not done badly either, making the Champions League final in 2015 and having a pair of wonderful games against Bayern Munich last time out. It’s easy to assume the likes of Gigi Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci will never get bored of winning Scudettos but the squad seemed to suffer from a bout of the ‘lack-of-ambitions’ at the start of last season and were supposedly put back on track by the words of Buffon prior to the Derby della Mole. Napoli had waltzed to the top of the league and a sleeping Juve were rudely awoken. It’s not out of the realms of possibility that Juve will wobble again as they target a return to the latter stages of the Champions League.

2. Improvements lower down the league

One of the biggest factors in the Serie A title race will be the performance of the teams outside last year’s top three. When Napoli were chasing Juventus at the end of last season they found no favours from Inter, AC, Lazio and Fiorentina. In fact, against that quartet of Italian giants Juventus dropped just two points (a draw with Inter in October). Both Milan clubs made hard work of their seasons whilst Lazio were inconsistent and Fiorentina won just twice in the last three months. All four will be expecting better from 2017. Milan are in dire needed of a return to European football and will be hoping the talent packed into their squad can start performing on a regular basis. Lazio would love new man Ciro Immobile to get close to 20 goals having lost star player Antonio Candreva this summer. The Italian international will now ply his trade under new Inter manager Frank De Boer. Whilst none of these sides will likely surface as title challengers, stronger and longer patches of form will make for a tougher division and less chances for Juventus to disappear over the horizon.

3. Hell hath no fury like an ‘Ultra’ scorned

The first of two big summer stories involving Juventus saw last season’s record-breaking goalscorer Gonzalo Higuaín arrive for a staggering fee. The sometimes underrated Argentinian bagged 71 league goals in three seasons at Napoli and (surprise, surprise) scored on his league debut for Juventus. However, when the three-time La Liga winner was prized by league favourites Juventus he caused an uproar of Neapolitan proportions. The stories immediately began to fly out of Naples – a pizzeria offered free food the first time Higuaín gets injured and toilet paper was printed bearing his face. A coach arrived spelling out ‘core ‘ngrato’ (search it) and an exchange was set up for unwanted Higuaín shirts. The lethal finisher has the talent to respond to his haters but perhaps their unrelenting feeling of betrayal – combined with his lofty price tag – is enough to make him buckle.

4. Replacing Paul Pogba and Alvaro Morata

Regardless of whether or not Paul Pogba was worth the money dropped by Manchester United, he will be sorely missed in the Juventus midfield. There is nobody else in the squad – perhaps the world – that can make the same offering as Pogba; fast yet tall, skilful yet strong, equally as likely to rifle the ball home from 30 yards as he is to win possession and dispatch a pass across the pitch. This isn’t to say Juventus can’t replace the sometimes misfiring Frenchman, but their midfield will surely have a different feel. Juve sent another message to the south when pinching Miralem Pjanic from Roma, and the Bosnian looks the likely replacement in their starting XI. Real Madrid further proved Juventus’ transfer dominance is bounded by Italian borders when activating a clause to re-sign Alvaro Morata. The Spaniard settled better than ever away from his home club, striking strong friendships with a number of Italians in the squad. He was Juve’s most willing runner and had an eye for important goals. On the brightside, Juventus made over €100 million sending players back ‘home’.

5. Ridiculously high standards

After a rocky start to last season Juventus lost just one of their last 28 games. Frighteningly, they racked up 26 victories from October to May with a 15 match winning streak across the winter ended by a 0-0 draw against Bologna. Realistically, this form will not be replicated throughout the 2016-17 campaign. Games at the Juventus Stadium will continue to shower the home side with success, but no side has left with so much as a point since last September (respect to Frosinone) and I expect this to change before Christmas. Napoli, Roma and Sassuolo will be visiting Turin in the next few months and won’t want to leave empty handed.

6. Blooding new stars

The Juventus academy has seen plenty of graduates go on to have international careers – Alessandro Del Piero, Claudio Marchiso, Sebastian Giovinco – but ‘The Old Lady’ have often relied on signing established players from other clubs and nurturing them into the next champions of Turin. A prime example is Andrea Barzagli who, despite winning the World Cup in 2006, has seen his best year’s post-Wolfsburg and post-30. He is now 35, the same age as Patrice Evra and a handful of years older than Giorgio Chiellini. This season’s transfers have suggested more of the same with Dani Alves arriving at the age of 33 and €90 million being thrown behind the 28-year old Higuaín. There are a number of hot prospects in the squad but those brought into the first team will need time to adjust to the 3-5-2 formation established by Antonio Conte. Daniele Rugani is Juve’s centre-back heir apparent whilst Marco Pjaca arrives from Zagreb to offer some dynamism to the frontline. ‘Juventus’ translates to ‘youth’ in Latin and the club will hope the passing of the torch goes as smoothly as possible.


Mike Franchetti