Five-a-side TOTW: February 3rd 2017

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

Of the top six only Manchester City won. At the other end of the table Swansea City and Crystal Palace claimed vital wins. Leicester City’s miserable away record continued, while Watford provided the shock of the week as they won 2-1 at The Emirates. Yet who made it into our five-a-side TOTW?

Goalkeeper – Eldin Jakupović

The Hull City stopper was in imperious form as his side claimed the most unlikely of points at Old Trafford. For long parts of this season Jakupovic has had to play second fiddle to David Marshall, yet since Marco Silva’s arrival he has seen himself elevated to first choice. He certainly did not disappoint on this occasion. A first half save to deny United’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic was impressive, however this was matched, and maybe even surpassed, by his sensational goal-line block from Juan Mata’s shot. It really was an extraordinary save and a very, very good performance by Jakupovic and his Hull City team mates.

The Stopper – David Luiz

Where has he come from? I mean he has always been an excellent footballer, but his spell at Paris St Germain has done him the world of good – he actually looks like he can defend now. On this particular occasion it was his flair as well as his defensive skills that shone. He started the match extremely confidently, intercepting balls, winning headers, and marshalling the Chelsea backline. When Chelsea won a free kick 30 yards from the Liverpool goal there was only going to be one man taking it. Luiz’s strike was inch perfect – it was practically lazor guided. Those in the media were blaming Liverpool keeper for not being ready, yet even if he had been he would not have got close to that free kick. It really was that good.

The Anchor – N’Golo Kanté

I’ve simply run out of superlatives for this guy. He is just the most wonderfully effective defensive midfielder I have ever seen. His ability to read the game is well known, as is his quite relentless work rate. He made 14 tackles and interceptions on Tuesday evening – 11 more than the next closest in the Chelsea team. His presence is invaluable, and it is certainly no coincidence that Leicester City are struggling without the diminutive Frenchmen in their team. I said at the beginning of the season that if Chelsea were going to do well in the league then this guy would be the difference. Whilst other Chelsea players have impressed, particularly Diego Costa, Eden Hazard, Cesar Azpiliceuta and Luiz, Kanté remains the unsung, yet all important, hero.

The Free Role – Gylfi Sigurðsson

I really did not see this coming. I honestly did not think that Swansea City would be going anywhere other than towards the Championship. However, under Paul Clement Swansea have won back-to-back Premier League games. I still think that they will struggle this season, and if they are going to beat the drop then this man Sigurðsson is going to have to keep up his brilliant form. The Iceland international is such an intelligent footballer, I don’t think he would have any trouble getting into most other teams in the league. He provided the decisive assist for Swansea’s first goal, before finally sealing victory with a beautiful left footed volley.

The Striker – Gabriel Jesus

Is this the second coming? His arrival was eagerly anticipated and was always likely to lead to a large number of biblical references. Judging by his opening three games it is clear that the boy can play – whether he can turn water into wine remains to be seen. The young Brazilian was in wonderful form during Manchester City’s 4-0 drubbing of West Ham. Whilst he scored and laid on an assist for Kevin De Bruyne, it was his all round game play that caught the eye. His movement was so good; he was constantly stretching the West Ham defence with his imaginative runs. It would have to be some player to threaten Sergio Agüero’s place in any team, yet the ex-Palmeiras man looks capable of being that man. It will be fascinating to see how he does throughout the rest of the season.

 

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Five-a-side TOTW: November 1st 2016

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

With Arsenal, Manchester City and Liverpool hitting four away from home we had plenty of firepower to choose from this week. Chelsea also turned in another impressive performance as they fill the last Champions League spot in a formidable top four. This week’s team would make for a pretty entertaining game of five-a-side.

Goalkeeper – Tom Heaton

An obvious choice in goal, Burnley’s Heaton made 11 saves in his side’s vital draw at Old Trafford. The former United youth is having a fantastic season and would be unlucky to remain on just one England cap for much longer. His string of saves contributed to a frustrating afternoon for the Red Devils resulting in both Jose Mourinho and Ander Herrera losing their cool. Arguably his best save came after an hour’s play when he denied Zlatan Ibrahimovic from close range – it’s worth a watch.

The Sweeper – David Luiz

Many believe David Luiz is an accident waiting to happen but the Brazilian has slotted nicely into Antonio Conte’s back three. He forms part of a Blues backline that haven’t conceded in four league games and deserves credit for the way he’s fulfilled his defensive duties. Nevertheless, his strengths remain in carrying the ball from the back and he can now afford to do so with the cover offered by Gary Cahill and Cesar Azpilacueta.

The Anchor – Jordan Henderson

Liverpool’s midfield is so packed with match-winners that captain Henderson has had to tweak his role. With no genuine defensive midfielder, he often finds himself dropping deep to collect the ball. Henderson doesn’t offer too much protection to Liverpool’s shaky backline but he’s vital in kick-starting attacks. Increasingly confident on the ball, Henderson was a calming influence in an otherwise chaotic away game at Crystal Palace. He slid through Roberto Firminho for Liverpool’s fourth to end the Eagles’ hopes of a third equalizer.

The Talisman – Sergio Aguero

Alan Shearer recently lauded Aguero as the ‘only world class Premier League player’ and whilst many were quick to throw others into the mix, nobody disagreed on the Argentinian. Usually the most prolific of strikers, Aguero had failed to score in eight games for club and country before Saturday’s fixture against West Brom. It took less than 20 minutes for him to end this streak and two deadly finishes put City on their way to a comfortable and much needed victory.

The Finisher – Romelu Lukaku

When Lukaku visits the London Stadium in April he’ll be aiming to score in his eighth straight game against West Ham – equalling Robin Van Persie’s record (vs. Stoke) for streaks against one club. Everton marched onwards at home to the Hammers with Lukaku nodding in the first and floating the ball to Ross Barkley for the second. The performances of the big Belgian will be crucial to Everton’s European hopes and more games like Saturday’s could see him land some personal honours too.

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