Five-a-side TOTW: April 18th 2017

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

Just over a month to go in Premier League and things are getting lively at both ends of the table. It has, however, become quite a slog to select an interesting five-a-side team every week. We’re in the home straight now so we’ll soldier on. This week Manchester United swept past Chelsea to blow the title race open. We’re being serious this time; Chelsea have reasons to be worried.

Goalkeeper – Simon Mignolet

It finally seems that Mignolet’s transition from Liverpool’s burden to ‘actually quite a good keeper’ is complete. He deserves plaudits for stopping Matt Phillips’ big chance to earn West Brom a point but it was his general command in a very tricky fixture that gets him back into our five-a-side team. Simply put, Reds fans (i.e me) no longer wince in fear every time the ball comes into the box.

The Nullifier – Ander Herrera

The Premier League’s prime pick-pocketer put in another perfectly polished performance to force Eden Hazard into anonymity in Sunday’s big fixture. After Nemanja Matic prodded the ball into Herrera’s loose arm early in the first half, the Spaniard broke and pushed a precise pass round David Luiz and into the arching run of Marcus Rashford (who duly tucked it away). He capped his performance by drilling home United’s second, albeit courtesy of a nasty deflection.

The Ball Player – Kevin De Bruyne

It seems as though everybody has forgotten about Manchester City since they tumbled out of the Champions League and lost to Chelsea. Nevertheless, it seems as though their squad are benefitting from time outside the spotlight. Sergio Aguero is inching back to his best alongside the red hot Leroy Sane, but perhaps Kevin De Bruyne’s recovery in form will be the most pleasing development. At his best he is a joy to watch. He was the puppet-master of City’s lethal counter attack against Southampton before lifting a second assist onto the head of Aguero in the closing moments.

The Runner – Xherdan Shaqiri

I’m a huge fan of Xherdan Shaqiri and perhaps only his crippling inconsistencies are stopping him from landing a move to a top club. He blasted in a cracking goal against Hull City and was instrumental in his side ending their woeful run of defeats. He’s a little man full of big moments and is still Stoke City’s most valuable player. The Potters need to overhaul their squad but the Swiss superstar is one who should be retained.

The Finisher – Marcus Rashford

Rashford’s performance against Chelsea did wonders to silence his doubters. Is the Englishman good enough to influence big games? Should he really be considered on equal footing to Zlatan Ibrahimović? Will he carve himself enough goal scoring opportunities? On Sunday’s performance the answer to all three of these questions would be ‘yes’. He beat Asmir Begovic with coolness inside the opening ten minutes and caused Luiz, Gary Cahill and Kurt Zouma plenty of problems alongside Jesse Lingard.


Mike Franchetti

Five-a-side TOTW: April 11th 2017

We’re well into April signalling the start of the “business end” of the season. While no business is actually taking place, teams are beginning to make their final push before the season ends. This weekend saw Sunderland crushed 3-0 at home to Manchester United, a result that all but ended any hopes of another great escape. Leaders Chelsea overcame a tricky looking visit to Bournemouth. Marcos Alonso scored the pick of the goals in a 3-1 victory. Crystal Palace won again at home as they comfortably beat Arsenal 3-0. Tottenham strolled to a 4-0 home win over Watford with Dele Alli adding a couple more million to his name with a delightful curled effort. Southampton recorded an impressive victory at West Brom, while Simon Mignolet excelled in Liverpool’s 2-1 win at Stoke. But who made it into our team?

Goalkeeper – Fraser Forster

Not many teams win at The Hawthorns. In fact before Southampton’s visit only 4 others had come away with all three points this season. The South coast club owed a lot to their man between the sticks as the ex-Celtic stopper made six saves and caught 100% of his crosses. The Saints have had to field a makeshift defence for much of this season following the sale of José Fonte and the injury to Virgil Van Dijk. The defence, and Forster in particular, have had to step up to the plate on numerous occasions throughout the campaign. Something which they did again on Saturday afternoon.

The Stopper – Mamadou Sakho

Him again. Listen, I promise it’s not bias – he just is in brilliant form. Once again the Liverpool loanee was an absolute monster at the heart of the Palace defence. He won tackles, made blocks and was frighteningly strong in the air throughout the 90 minutes. His future remains in doubt, but there is no chance that the Frenchmen will be playing at Selhurst Park next season. A return to Liverpool remains unlikely unless he and Klopp are able to resolve their differences. Whatever happens, he most definitely won’t be short of suitors.

The Anchor – Yohan Cabaye

He’s not really imposed himself at all this season. In and out of the team and questions regarding his attitude have hardly helped his cause. Nonetheless the ex-PSG man turned in a first class performance against The Gunners on Monday night. His goal was absolutely brilliant and proved to be the defining moment in the clash. Cabaye will hope to carry his good form into the remaining 7 games of the season and look to ensure that Palace consolidate their Premier League status.

The Playmaker – Philippe Coutinho

He only played the second half but the little maestro changed the whole game. Jürgen Klopp’s experiment had failed in the first half of Liverpool’s visit to Stoke. Trailing 1-0 the German decided to bring on Coutinho and his compatriot Roberto Firmino at half time and the introduction of the two Brazilians completely changed the match. Coutinho’s 70th minute goal sparked Liverpool’s revival. His first time shot was lazor guided into the back of Lee Grant’s net. Two minutes later it was Firmino’s turn, as he expertly guided a powerful strike into the Stoke City goal. The reds held on and in turn moved nine points clear of Arsenal in fifth place.

The Finisher – Son Heung-min

The South Korean has 11 Premier League goals this season. A fantastic return for a player who is still not always a regular in the side. His two goals against a very poor Watford team at White Hart Lane ensured that Spurs maintained their unlikely title challenge. Son has been a revelation this year. For much of last season he flattered to deceive and there were rumours that he would not be a Tottenham player for much longer. Yet the ex-Hamburg and Leverkusen player has turned it all around and established himself as one of the Premier League’s most underrated players.

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.

 

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.

Five-a-side TOTW: December 15th 2016

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

A full round of mid-week fixtures? It must be nearly Christmas. Chelsea benefitted from Arsenal’s 2-1 loss to Everton at Goodison Park by extending their lead to six points at the top of the Premier League. Manchester City won a league game at home for the first time in three months, and Liverpool halted their mini bad run of form with a resounding win at Middlesbrough. But who has made our five-a-side team of the week?

Goalkeeper – Simon Mignolet

Recalled for the first time in 10 Premier League games, and the Belgian did not disappoint. He looked solid and assured, particularly when he denied Victor Fischer’s rasping drive. The 3-0 win over Middlesbrough saw Liverpool claim their first clean sheet in three games, a welcome relief after conceding six in their previous two league games. Mignolet has been much criticised in the past, yet very few pundits would have found fault with his performance against the relegation candidates.

The Stopper – David Luiz

I have previously voiced concerns about this mans defensive abilities, but boy has he proved me wrong. He’s been a rock since rejoining Chelsea in the summer and has been the lynchpin in a defence that has conceded just two goals in ten Premier League games. Assured in possession and strong in the tackle, the Brazilian centre half really has been a revelation. Antonio Conte has deployed him in the centre of a back three with Cesar Azpilicueta and Gary Cahill either side. Together the trio have provided the foundations for a 10 game winning streak. Chelsea fans will hope that the big-haired Luiz will continue his impressive form.

The Runner – Adam Lallana 

In his first season at Liverpool he scored five league goals all season. In his second he could not even match that as he found the net just four times. This season, and bearing in mind we’re not even half way through, he has already six Premier League goals to his name. The goals he scored in Liverpool’s 3-0 win were testament to how he has improved as a player. The first was a bullet of a header from an impeccably timed the run. The second was a calm finish after he once again checked his run at the back post. He is fast becoming a key player for both club and country.

The Playmaker – Christian Eriksen

It took a while for the Dane to join the party – but after five goals in his last four Premier League games it would seem that Tottenham’s little maestro is back to his best. His double against Hull City was his second in as many games at White Hart Lane. Pochettino altered Tottenham’s formation slightly, choosing to go with a back three and two wing backs. This enabled Eriksen to play a little more centrally – a role that undoubtedly suits him better.

The Finisher – Salomón Rondón 

A hat-trick of headers! I honestly don’t think I’ve ever seen that before. The Venezuelan usually goes under the radar, but he is certainly one of the most underrated centre forwards in the Premier League. The West Brom No.9 certainly benefitted from some hopeless Swansea marking for his first two goals. On both occasions the Swans defence just simply seemed to switch off. However his third goal of the evening was a thing of beauty. Towering above two defenders, Rondon flicked the ball over the despairing Lukasz Fabianski. Rondon’s eight league goals this season have propelled West Brom up to the dizzy heights of seventh.