Five-a-side TOTW: January 17th 2017

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

Arsenal, Chelsea, Everton and Spurs all enjoyed big victories, whilst at the other end of the table Crystal Palace lost heavily to leave them sitting perilously close to the danger zone. Elsewhere there were good wins for Burnley, Hull and Stoke. But who impressed us enough to make it into this weeks five-a-side TOTW?

Goalkeeper – Simon Mignolet

Mignolet has been enjoying something of a renaissance in recent weeks. So much so that he is featuring in his second five-a-side TOTW in five weeks. It’s been quite a turnaround for the Belgian stopper. His early season jitters saw him replaced by new signing Loris Karius who proved to be just as, if not more, jittery. Since returning to the side Mignolet has impressed. He’s looked more confident, he’s been braver, and crucially he’s been more commanding. He was solid against United; denying several United players what would have been equalising goals. When the inevitable equaliser did come he certainly wasn’t to blame.

The Right Wingback – Antonio Valencia

He won’t have made everyone’s team, nevertheless I thought the Manchester United man had a fine game. He bombed up and down the right channel, and kept Adam Lallana and Roberto Firmino quiet when they came up against him. To cap off a thoroughly decent display, he found himself in the penalty area to provide a cute assist for Zlatan Ibrahimovic to head United level. A draw was not the result that either team would have wanted or indeed needed, however it was probably a fair one.

The Anchor – Gareth Barry

I would have to disagree with those who would say that the young Tom Davies outshone the veteran Gareth Barry in Everton’s 4-0 drubbing of Manchester City. It really was a quite superb performance by the former England midfielder. He bossed his old Manchester City team mates with such ease that you were made to wonder why exactly they got rid of him. Barry has never been renowned for his pace, but his reading of the game is a match for anyone in the league. Time after time he nipped in ahead of a City player, winning back possession before using the ball intelligently. It seems quite incredible that he is still ONLY 35 – it certainly feels like he’s been around for ever. This was Premier League appearance No.614; he will surely go on to break Ryan Giggs’ all time Premier League record within the next 12 months.

The Left Wingback – Marcos Alonso

Chelsea fans could have been forgiven for worrying about where the goals were going to come from in this match. Diego Costa’s ‘injury’ had meant that the Stamford Bridge outfit were without their star striker and the league’s top scorer. They needn’t have worried though – as up stepped Marco Alonso. There were many questions asked when Chelsea boss Antonio Conte parted with £24 million for the former Bolton Wanderers man. However, Alonso has turned out to be something of a revelation. He has made the left wingback position his own, and chipped in with two goals against Leicester City. He so nearly had a hat-trick to his name when his sumptuous left foot volley narrowly missed the far post.

The Finisher – Harry Kane

Who else could have got the nod here? The Spurs man was in quite superb form, taking his Premier League goals tally to 13 for the season. Spurs have been on fire in recent weeks, but it’s been Kane’s Spurs team mate, Dele Alli, stealing all the limelight. On Saturday it was the Tottenham No.10 who stole the show. His first goal was an emphatic finish that rattled in off the crossbar. The second was vintage Kane – taking advantage of some sloppy defending, before finishing smartly past the despairing dive of Ben Foster in the West Brom goal. The hat-trick was sealed after yet more good build up play, as Kane latched on to a deft lobbed pass by Alli and smashed the ball into the back of the net. Spurs are currently seven points behind leaders Chelsea, and on this weeks’ evidence, they look like the only team capable of catching them.

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Gareth Barry: 600 Not Out

As Gareth Barry reaches an extraordinary 600 Premier League appearances, SOTP has a look at his remarkable career to date.

Like much of his career, this astonishing achievement will likely be overlooked by many this weekend. Gareth Barry will become only the third player, and the youngest to do so, to reach 600 Premier League appearances.

Scholes (499), Gerrard (504), Lampard (609), and Giggs (632) have all had stellar careers, yet Gareth Barry’s name is rarely uttered in the same sentence as those Premier League legends. However, Barry has surpassed the number of appearances of the former two, and is fast catching up with Lampard’s haul. It seems silly, especially considering the success he has had, but Barry has never really been appreciated; in fact, he’s often been maligned.

The reasons behind this are puzzling. Unlike the aforementioned he has seldom been a scorer of spectacular goals, nor has he been one for jinking wing play. In other words – he has rarely been a headline writer. Nevertheless, Barry’s contribution to Aston Villa, Manchester City and now Everton, has been immeasurable.

When John Gregory gave him his Aston Villa debut in early May 1998, few would have expected that Barry would go on to reach 600 Premier League appearances. On that day at Hillsborough he lined up as part of back three in a 3-1 win. Whilst his debut was at centre back, in his early days at Aston Villa he was considered to be primed for the left back role. Indeed, much of his early career, both at club and international level, was spent there. However, there was a feeling amongst many that Barry’s talents were being wasted. A move forward to left wing saw Barry add more goals to his game, yet there was a sense that his footballing intelligence, discipline, and reading of the game were still being underutilised.

It was not until Martin O’Neill’s arrival at Villa Park in the summer of 2006 that Barry was given a consistent role in his favoured central midfield position.

O’Neill’s appointment gave Barry a new lease of life. Appointed captain that summer, Barry thrived, and led the team brilliantly during his two-year spell as captain; scoring 17 Premier League goals in the process.

His performances were beginning to get the recognition they deserved and England manager Steve McClaren brought Barry back into the England fold after 4 years in the international wilderness. Barry’s assured performances during England’s ill-fated Euro 2008 qualifying campaign were one of the few plus points in McClaren’s otherwise dire England reign.

All looked to be going so well until the summer of 2008. Amid a dispute with the Villa hierarchy regarding a prospective move to Liverpool, Barry was fined two weeks’ wages, banned from training with the first team, and had the club captaincy taken from him. When Barry’s move to Liverpool never materialised, there were those who thought that he may sit and sulk. Indeed, Villa fans were fervent and vociferous in their disapproval of their former captain, booing him heavily during a pre-season game against Walsall.

Yet, unlike many other players, Barry did not let his own personal disappointments get the better of him. That season he started all 38 Premier League games, and chipped in with 5 goals in the process.

By the following summer it was clear that Barry’s ambitions no longer matched those of Aston Villa. He craved Champions League football and when newly rich Manchester City came calling in June 2009, Barry left Villa Park after 12 years’ service which had yielded 441 appearances, and 52 goals.

Barry’s move to City was an unprecedented success. An FA Cup win in 2011 was followed by a Premier League winners medal the following year. A key player in both triumphs, Barry was enjoying the pinnacle of his career.

Barry’s England career continued to prosper under McClaren’s successor, Fabio Capello, and he was handed the England captaincy on several occasions. Such was Barry’s importance to England that when he suffered an injury playing for City towards the backend of the 2010 season, England’s World Cup plans were thrown into disarray. Capello himself was concerned and went as far as to describe Barry as “really important.” This was particularly high praise from the notoriously unemotional Italian.

Although selected for the tournament Barry was never fully fit. When England were unceremoniously dumped out by a rampant German team in Bloemfontein, Barry became the scapegoat and unfairly bore much of the blame. Thankfully those within the England management team continued to value Barry’s influence on the team, and he remained a mainstay in the England team during the following qualifying campaign.

When Capello quit England after falling out with the FA, Roy Hodgson, his replacement, included Barry in his squad for Euro 2012. During a pre-tournament friendly against Norway, Barry injured his lower abdomen and was subsequently ruled out of the tournament. This would turn out to be his last England appearance.

Back at City and ready for the new season, Barry once again found himself as the linchpin of the Manchester City midfield. By City’s new high standards, the season was a disappointing one; missing out on the Premier League title to their Manchester rivals, and losing to Wigan Athletic in the last minute of the FA Cup final.

City manager, Roberto Mancini, was sacked and replaced by Manuel Pellegrini. The Chilean failed to see what others had seen in Barry. Facing a season on the bench, Barry secured a last minute loan move to Everton. The loan move was made permanent the following summer.

As one of the few older statesmen in an otherwise very inexperienced Everton side, Barry continued in his role as a defensive minded central midfielder. Roberto Martinez, the then Everton manager, described Barry as “one of England’s greats!”

Yet Barry is consistently undervalued by many football fans. However, those who have managed and played alongside him have never wavered in their praise. Indeed, whilst there are a few impressive statistics that separates Barry from many of his peers (namely the fact that he has 110 Premier League yellow cards, 11 more than anyone else!), there is one startling stat that stands out from all the rest. In the 18 seasons since Barry made his Premier League debut, he has only failed to appear in fewer than 30 games once (2001/02). In fact, since the start of the 1998/99 season, Barry has played in 594 out of a possible 684 Premier League matches.

His longevity, consistency, adaptability as well his ability to remain injury free are testament to how he has handled his life both on and off the pitch.

Whilst he may not enjoy the same acclaim as many of his peers, Barry has gone on to become a Premier League stalwart. He will probably never be considered amongst the very elite that this country has seen, yet his achievements to date have been remarkable. Barry will no doubt go on to break Giggs’ record and will set a new high that will probably never be broken.