Eleven-a-side TOTM: August

The Premier League is back & so is our blog! 

We have changed the format a bit this year; instead of providing you with 38 different Five-a-side TOTW’s, we have decided to provide you with an Eleven-a-side Team of the Month (TOTM) as well as our pick for Manager of the Month. Exciting stuff indeed.

Anyway, August is always a tricky month. Fans are on holiday, players are returning from holiday or from various international tournaments, and managers are trying their best to prepare their team for the challenges that lie ahead. 

After three exhilarating weeks of Premier League football, I have compiled a TOTM for August. After much deliberation I have decided to go with a 3-5-2 formation. No fewer than half of the 20 Premier League teams have gone with this formation so far. While it has yielded mixed results it certainly seems to be the in-thing. 

Goalkeeper – Jonas Lössl (Huddersfield Town)

Hands up if you had heard of this guy before the start of the season? I certainly hadn’t. The 28-year old Dane has plied his trade in his homeland for FC Midjtjylland, for Guingamp in France, and most recently Mainz 05 in Germany. 

He joined Huddersfield early this summer on a season long loan and has been an absolute rock as the Terriers have enjoyed an unbeaten start. The shot-stopper has kept three clean sheets and made an average of just under four saves per match. 

Huddersfield fans may have been concerned following the end of Danny Ward’s impressive loan spell last season, and manager David Wagner had been criticised for not investing in a new keeper. However, the ex-US international’s in depth knowledge of German football has clearly paid dividends with this shrewd signing. 

 

Centre-back – Phil Jones (Manchester United)

Since joining the Red Devils from Blackburn Rovers six years ago, the Englishmen has never really entirely convinced. Mourinho himself has shown concern, if anything his signing of Victor Lindelhof this summer for some 40€ million was indicative of his  uncertainty in United’s current defensive options. 

Nevertheless, Jones has taken advantage of Lindelhof’s indifferent pre-season form, and has established a very effective partnership with Eric Bailly at the heart of United’s defence. Their solidity, as well as the protection of United’s new recruit, Nemanja Matic, has provided the foundation for some exhilarating United performances. 

Mourinho’s men have kept three clean sheets and are the only team to have a 100% record in the league. If he stays fit, Jones could well turn out to be a key man for his club and with a World Cup fast approaching, dare I say his country? 

 

Centre-back – Harry Maguire (Leicester City) 

Maguire was outstanding during Hull City’s unsuccessful attempt to stay in the Premier League last season. It was certainly not a surprise to see several top clubs looking to prize the Englishmen away. Leicester City fought off interest from other teams before stumping up £12 million for the ex-Sheffield United defender. 

Since joining, Maguire has excelled next to club captain, Wes Morgan, in the heart of the Foxes defence. He was impressive on debut, providing an assist for Shinji Okazaki, and looked solid despite his team losing 4-3 to Arsenal. 

If his first game was impressive, his second was outstanding. He scored Leicester’s second goal and marshalled the defence in a dominating win against Premier League new-boys, Brighton. 

His form has not gone unnoticed by England manager, Gareth Southgate. Maguire has been rewarded for his excellent performances last season and his strong start to the new season with his maiden international call up. 

 

Centre-back – Ahmed Hegazy (West Brom)

Hegazy looks a real find. Tony Pulis’s sides are always built on a solid defence, and Hegazy certainly seems to fit right in. A goal and clean sheet against Bournemouth on debut endeared him to The Hawthorns faithful. He once again stood strong and tall as West Brom made it two wins out of two with another impressive 1-0 win at Burnley. 

However, his third outing for the Baggies was less successful. He was unfortunately at fault for Stoke’s late equaliser. Nevertheless, the Egypt international has made a bright start to Premier League life and looks to be an astute signing. 

 

Right-wing – Sadio Mané (Liverpool)

The Senegal man has arguably been the standout player in the opening weeks of the season. His pace, skill and eye for goal means that he is a threat to any defence. Indeed, he has scored in each of Liverpool’s opening three games, and has formed an exciting wing partnership with new recruit, Mo Salah. 

He scored his teams first league goal of the season in their exciting 3-3 all draw at Watford. He followed this up with the winner in a hard-fought 1-0 win against Crystal Palace. He then made it three in three by scoring Liverpool’s second in their highly polished 4-0 win against a dismal Arsenal side on Sunday.

With the future of Philippe Coutinho still very much up in the air, Mané may well become Liverpool’s key man this season. 

 

Central-midfield – Paul Pogba (Manchester United)

Are we beginning to see the best of the £89 million man? I think we may be if the first three games of the season are anything to go by.

The Frenchmen has been involved in three goals already this season; scoring in both of United’s opening games, and providing an assist. That tally is a third of his total from the whole of last season (five goals and four assists). 

Like Jones, Pogba has benefited greatly from the the signing of Nemanja Matic. Last season he seemed seemed somewhat restricted. He was often played in a deeper role and his influence on games was somewhat restricted. Matic’s arrival has allowed the shackles to be removed. United’s no.6 has been able to join in attacks knowing that he is unlikely to be leaving his teammates exposed. 

This is a big season for the 23 year-old. He was heavily criticised for not reaching the standards his hefty price tag required. He has started well, but all eyes will be on whether he can maintain this level. 

 

Central-midfield – Emre Can (Liverpool)

Jürgen – get this guy a new contract immediately! Somehow, the Liverpool hierarchy have let the 23 year-old enter the final 12 months of his contract. It is certainly not a surprise to see some of Europe’s big guns circling.

The German has made a fabulous start to the season as Liverpool have enjoyed an unbeaten start. Can has impressed as part of a midfield trio alongside Jordan Henderson and Gini Wijnaldum. The three have provided the foundations for some dynamic attacking play.

Can, and Liverpool fans, will be hoping that he can maintain his early season form and can help his team sustain a strong title challenge.

 

Left-wing – Marcos Alonso (Chelsea)

This guy seems to constantly prove me wrong. I still can’t believe this is the same Marcos Alonso who had such an utterly hopeless three year spell at Bolton Wanderers.

The Spaniard scored both goals as his Chelsea side won 2-1 at Tottenham’s new ‘home-ground’, Wembley. The first was a sumptuous free-kick that left Hugo Lloris in the Spurs net with no chance at all. The second came in the 88th minute and sealed Chelsea’s first win of the new season.

Throughout this summer, Chelsea have been heavily linked with an astronomical £60 million bid for Juventus wing-back Alex Sandro. Yet, in my opinion at least, it would be simply throwing money down the drain!

Alonso is so crucial to the way Chelsea play. He provides genuine width and, apart from Thibault Courtois, is the only other left-footer in Chelsea’s regular starting XI. Last season he scored six goals and provided three assists as Chelsea coasted their way to their fifth Premier League title. Alonso will be hoping to be celebrating again in nine months time.

 

Attacking-midfield – Raheem Sterling (Manchester City)

The inclusion of Sterling may turn a few heads, so let me just try and justify it. Sterling has been responsible for winning his side three points in August. His 82nd minute equalising goal against Everton was followed up by a 97th minute winner against Bournemouth. 

Despite these goals, Sterling has not been outstanding. He was a substitute for City’s opening two games and certainly did not look to be at his best after his half-time introduction against Everton. Nevertheless, his goal convinced Guardiola to include the England winger from the start against Bournemouth.

The ex-Liverpool player was brave on the ball but constantly ran into dead-ends, losing the ball in the process. He was booked in the 93rd minute and it seemed his afternoon would end in disappointment. Deep into added time, Sterling reacted quickest to a Danilo cross when he scuffed his shot into the Bournemouth net via a deflection.

The goal prompted raucous celebrations by Sterling, his teammates, and City’s fans. In the ensuing carnage, Sterling was sent off for over-zealously celebrating the goal prompting outrage among Guardiola and his backroom team.

 

Striker – Steve Mounié (Huddersfield Town)

Another brilliant Huddersfield signing. Steve Mounié arrived from Montpellier for some 13€ million. Considering the prices being thrown around in this window it could be argued that David Wagner has once again pulled off a real coup! 

The Benin international hit 14 goals in Ligue 1 as his side narrowly avoided the drop. Quick, strong and good in the air, the 22 year-old seems to have all the attributes for the Premier League.

He scored two excellent goals on debut as Huddersfield thrashed Crystal Palace 3-0 at Selhurst Park. If the Terriers are going to stay up this season then they will be heavily reliant on Mounié’s ability to hit the back of the net.

 

Striker – Romelu Lukaku (Manchester United)

You do expect £75 million to buy you top quality and Romelu Lukaku certainly is that. It is easy to forget sometimes that the big-Belgian is only 24!

Last season, Lukaku was the Premier League’s second highest scorer behind the irrepressible Harry Kane. His 25 goals came for an Everton side that finished seventh.

Following Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s injury at the back-end of last season, Mourinho was in the hunt for a leading striker. Lukaku fit the bill and the United manager was not afraid of spending the big bucks to bring him to Old Trafford.

With three goals in the opening three games of the season, United’s new no.9 has hit the ground running. Don’t be surprised to see him top the Premier League scoring charts come May.

 

Manager – José Mourinho (Manchester United)

Mourinho has been the outstanding Premier League manager this month for two reasons: 1) because he got all his major transfer business done before the start of the season; 2) because he has found a winning team and formation. 

Many of Mourinho’s fellow Premier League managers are still shopping around at this late stage in the window. The Portuguese, however, got all of his business done before August.

While there may be doubts over Lindelhöf, Matic and Lukaku have settled very quickly. Mourinho also looks to have found a system that brings the best out of last summer’s major signings Paul Pogba and Henrikh Mkhitaryan.

As mentioned earlier, United are the only team with a 100% record and Mourinho will be hoping that his side can continue their sparkling early-season form.

Advertisements

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 22nd 2016

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

Another round of fixtures saw Arsenal’s annual slump continue. It wasn’t so much the result – a defeat away to Pep’s Manchester City – but the dire performance that confirms Tuesday’s loss to Everton was more than just a blip. The regularity of their winter wobble is seriously astonishing. Elsewhere Southampton and Liverpool were derby day victors and Middlesbrough dealt more misery to an unfortunate Bob Bradley.

Goalkeeper – Kasper Schmeichel

It wasn’t a weekend of great goalkeeping and short of handing Thibaut Courtois the place in recognition of his tenth clean sheet I was struggling for options. However, watching back the lively Stoke/Leicester draw, it became apparent how important one Schmeichel save turned out to be. Leicester had ten men, six bookings and a two-goal deficit when Mame Diouf swung in a cross in the 57th minute. John Walters rose up over Wes Morgan and turned a header to Schmeichel’s left. The Dane reacted well to make a sprawling save. Leicester rallied in the final half hour to earn an unlikely point.

The Stopper – Cesar Azpilicueta

Azpilicueta is the (almost) forgotten man in this formidable Chelsea outfit.  He established himself as a solid fullback in his first few years but has taken to a new centre-back role with ease. Three at the back means a fair amount of shuffling about and relies heavily on defensive understanding. At times, each centre-back has the freedom to cover other areas of the pitch and that’s exactly what Azpilicueta did when edging forward and dinking a ball onto the head of Diego Costa. Crystal Palace asked questions at times but Azpilicueta’s defending was as smooth and controlled as ever.

The Runner – Raheem Sterling

Make no mistake, Arsenal were poor on Sunday and there was little in the Manchester City performance worthy of concern for league leaders Chelsea. Nevertheless, whilst the rest of the blues continued to crawl back to their best, Sterling injected life into a sluggish opening quarter. The former Liverpool winger is capable of some useless performances but his match-winning potential continues to appear in flashes. He – along with Leroy Sane – gave the Arsenal back line a torrid time and handed Guardiola a crucial three points when cutting in and beating Peter Cech at the near post.

The Finisher – Jay Rodriguez

Jay Rodriguez scored twice in Sunday’s derby to briefly turn the clocks back to 2014. On the run up to that year’s World Cup, the young Englishman was bagging plenty of goals and surging towards Roy Hodgson’s England squad. In April he ruptured a knee ligament and missed every minute of the following season. Last year you might have caught one of his 12 appearances but he looked very much a man-in-recovery. Southampton’s patient approach has paid off and when Rodriguez swivelled and dispatched a dipping volley over Arthur Boruc you’d be forgiven for thinking his best days are on the horizon.

The Other Finisher – Alvaro Negredo

We’ve seen this before from Alvaro Negredo. The Spaniard is capable of producing a run of games which convinces us he is one of the deadliest finishers in European football. Unfortunately, it’s usually followed by a prolonged absence from the scoresheet (and perhaps even the first team). He scored 23 goals in his single season at Manchester City – despite netting just nine times in the league and not scoring a single goal from January to May. Middlesbrough will be hoping Negredo avoids a similar baron stretch because it’s obvious they are a better side when he is scoring. His first was a cracker on Saturday, turning in the air to find the bottom corner with a crisp finish. Negredo would be a beast on a five-a-side pitch; he looks the sort of guy who’d ruthlessly smash everything past the goalie from seven yards out.

Five-a-side TOTW: November 29th 2016

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

This weekend saw the Premier League complete its thirteenth round of fixtures,  meaning that we are now a third of the way through what has already been an extraordinary season. Leading the way are Chelsea, however the race for the title looks like it could well go down to the wire, with the gap between them and Arsenal in fourth being a mere four points. Elsewhere, José Mourinho’s Manchester United could only manage a 1-1 draw against West Ham at Old Trafford, leaving them a staggering 11 points off the top. Last seasons champions, Leicester, could only draw 2-2 at home to newly promoted Middlesbrough leaving them way down in 14th place. But who has made it into SOTP’s team of the week?

Goalkeeper – Paul Robinson

It seems like he has been around forever, and how many of us realistically thought we would ever see him keeping in the Premier League again? Indeed this was the first time in over five and a half years that the former England man had appeared in a top flight game. Deputising for the injured Tom Heaton, the 37 year old defied his age and demonstrated great agility and athleticism when producing two quite superb first half saves. The ex-Leeds, Tottenham and Blackburn player really was desperately unlucky to have been beaten twice. He will almost certainly return to the bench once Heaton regains fitness, yet if this was to be his Premier League swansong then he certainly made the most it.

The Stopper – Virgil Van Dijk

Van Dijk was imperious as Southampton defeated Everton 1-0 at St Mary’s. The win will have been all the more sweeter considering it was the much anticipated return of Ronald Koeman. The big-Dutchman really is amongst the best in the league in his position; brilliant on the ball, and crucially, for a central defender at least, excellent defensively. Southampton have kept five Premier League clean sheets and hold the joint-second best defensive record in the league, conceding only 12 goals in 13 games. Van Dijk and his central defensive partner have played a big part in that success. The Saints will do well to keep hold of him in January.

The Runner – Leroy Fer

This man has six Premier League goals this season. Yes, you did read correctly, SIX! That’s more than Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho and Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling. Fer is one of the only Swansea players to have come out with any credit this season. The Swans have been on a dire run, and Saturday’s extraordinary 5-4 win over Crystal Palace was only their second win of the season, and their first since the opening day. Fer scored two goals in as many minutes to give Swansea what looked to be a commanding 3-1 lead. However, like so many times this season their defensive let them down and they trailed 4-3 going into injury time. Up stepped super-sub (unlucky to miss out on this weeks 5TOTW) Fernando Llorente, as his late double sealed a win that lifted Swansea off the bottom of the table, for now at least.

Free Role – Pedro

There were a couple of candidate for this role this week, yet the Spain international gets the nod. With Chelsea trailing Spurs 1-0, the former Barcelona man curled in a brilliant effort just before half time. The goal was not just superb in its execution, but also in its timeliness. Chelsea went in at the break with all the momentum and came out after half time with a great deal of momentum. Victor Moses second half goal gave Chelsea their seventh Premier League win on the bounce, but it was Pedro’s contribution that really changed the game.

The Finisher – Alexis Sanchez

Alexis Sanchez leads the line for the third time this season, yet Manchester City’s Sergio Agüero can count himself a little unlucky to have missed out. Sanchez scored Arsenal’s first and third goals as he took his own personal tally to eight for the season. The Chilean is such a handful; is so full of energy and such a willing runner, defenders can never afford to rest on their laurels when he’s on the pitch. If Arsenal going to mount a genuine title challenge, then they have to make sure that they keep this little maestro fit.

Five-a-side TOTW: September 20th 2016

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

Guardiola’s City walked to another three points and two players from the blue half of Manchester feature in our five-a-side team of the week. Jack Parker picks the team.

Goalkeeper – Jordan Pickford

Despite the loss for Sunderland it was a standout performance for Jordan Pickford at White Hart Lane. The young-keeper was kept busy with Spurs in top form. Pickford’s eight saves meant that the score stayed at just 1-0 sparing Sunderland and David Moyes’ blushes. Though the 22 year-old is yet to keep a clean sheet in the Premier League, his presence and shot-stopping ability were on show here in a mature performance. Expect to see more of this lad in the future.

The Anchor – Seamus Coleman

There were a few standout performances from defenders this week. Aleksander Koralov, Christian Fuchs and Sebastian Prodl can consider themselves unlucky not to make our team. Seamus Coleman takes the plaudits with a balanced performance and a goal for the Toffees. Coleman was brilliant both defensively and offensively against Middlesbrough providing both cover and width down the right hand side. His new partnership with Yannick Bolasie is sure to terrify defences.

Playmaker – Kevin De Bruyne

Pretty much all that was good about Manchester City this weekend went through the Belgian. His passing, touch and improvisation were superb looking every inch a world-class player. Being utilised as a No.10 allowed De Bruyne to dictate the play and Bournemouth simply could not handle him. He ran the show in another impressive City performance with a cheeky freekick to boot. Guardiola had plenty of superlatives for De Bruyne after the match and we shouldn’t be surprised if we are hearing them throughout the season.

Free Role – Raheem Sterling

Sterling ran the Bournemouth defence ragged. The winger looks like a completely new player this term, which will be pleasing for Manchester City and England fans alike. His link up play with Iheanacho and De Bruyne was a joy to behold. However, it was his is dribbling that was particularly impressive, epitomised by a mazy run through the box which culminated in the ball unfortunately ricocheting off the post. An assist and a goal capped off another great week for Raheem.

The Finisher – Islam Slimani

Slimming’s first two Leicester City goals ensured that this was a home debut to remember. It was a surprise to see Leicester add another forward to their squad, after already buying Ahmed Musa earlier in the window. Yet the Algerian looks a handful and could well provide much needed assistance to the team as they try to balance domestic and European football. Two clever finishes from the ex-Sporting man, who happened to find himself in the right place at the right time. It will be interesting to see how much he features throughout the season.


Jack Parker