Five-a-side TOTW: May 9th 2017

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

Game week 36, and things are really heating up. Chelsea’s 3-0 win over Middlesbrough, coupled withTottenham’s 1-0 defeat to London rivals West Ham, means that the Blues are now only one win away from claiming the title. The result also meant that Middlesbrough were relegated to British footballs second tier for a joint record fourth time. Manchester City briefly moved up to third following Saturday’s 5-0 thrashing of a dire Crystal Palace side, however Liverpool’s goalless draw with Southampton meant that the Reds regained third place, albeit having played one game more. Arsenal grabbed an important win over Manchester United that ensured that they remained in the hunt for fourth, and all but ended any faint hope their visitors might have had of a finishing in the Champions League places. Elsewhere, Bournemouth and Stoke drew 2-2, while Burnley and West Brom shared the same scoreline in dead rubber fixtures. Finally, it was at the bottom where things really did get tasty. Hull’s defeat and Swansea’s victory meant that the Tigers dropped into the relegation zone with only two games left to play.

Goalkeeper – Fraser Forster 

This guy is a class act, but it would be wrong to suggest that his performances have reached the constant heights from which we have come to expect. The Saints stopper has looked slightly uncomfortable at times although he has not been aided by the fact that Virgil Van Dijk has been out for four months. Nevertheless, the ex-Celtic man was in sensational form as Southampton claimed an unlikely point at Anfield. His save from James Milner’s well struck penalty was no doubt the highlight. A really top display by the big man!

The Stopper – Laurent Koscielny 

Arsène Wenger finally ended his Mourinho hoodoo, largely thanks to a really rather brilliant performance by his captain. Koscielny was everywhere and did brilliantly up against the pace of his compatriot, Anthony Martial. The 31 year old reads the game brilliantly.  Time and time again he nipped in ahead of his opponent to win the ball back for his team. Arsenal once again lined up with a back three, with Rob Holding and Nacho Monreal either side of the Frenchmen. There was simply no way through for Mourinho’s men who lost in the league for the first time in 25 games.

The Anchor – Wilfred Ndidi 

Had Leicester signed this guy in the summer they would have been a million miles away from a relegation battle. As it is, their comfortable 3-0 win against Watford elevated them to the dizzy heights of ninth! Ndidi has been nothing short of a revelation since joining the Foxes from Genk in January. Still only 20, he looks like he has all the qualities to be  a real success in the Premier League. His goal against Watford was his third of the season. Not bad for a defensive minded midfielder.

The Playmaker – David Silva

Pardon the pun, but this guy is worth his weight in gold! Staggeringly, this is Silva’s first appearance in our five-a-side TOTW. He was just superb against Crystal Palace as his City side recorded a resounding 5-0 win. Although Silva got the ball rolling with a smart left footed volley, it was really his all round play that impressed. He is so intelligent, he just seems to glide into space and always seems able to pick out a killer pass. Manchester City are fortunate to have him, and we are lucky enough to be able to watch his brilliant playmaking skills every weekend.

The Finisher – Fernando Llorente 

I said at the beginning of the season that he would have to score goals if Swansea were going to stand any chance of staying up. The ex-Bilbao man has not disappointed, bagging an impressive 13 goals from 31 Premier League games. Of those 13, few will have been more important than the one he got against Everton. After Hull City had lost 2-0 at home to already relegated Sunderland, Llorente and his fellow Swans knew that any sort of victory against Everton would lift them out of the drop zone. Llorente’s header, his seventh of the season, means that Swansea now have their safety in their own hands.

Five-a-side TOTW: April 29th 2017

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

We are almost over the line. This weeks five-a-side TOTW includes just the five matches. Chelsea maintained their four point lead over Tottenham with a 4-2 win over Southampton at Stamford Bridge. Arsenal left it late and needed the help of a Robert Huth own goal in order to seal three important points against Leicester City. Christian Eriksen’s ‘golazo’ was the difference in Tottenham’s match against a resurgent Crystal Palace. Middlesbrough won for the first time 2017 to all but condemn Sunderland to Championship football next season. And on Thursday the Manchester derby ended goalless.

Goalkeeper – Brad Guzan

Very much seen as the back up to Victor Valdés, the ex-Aston Villa keeper has had to accept a bit-part role. In fact, Wednesday’s 1-0 win over fellow strugglers Sunderland was only the 10th time that the American had appeared in a Middlesbrough shirt this season. Guzan looked assured between the sticks, and made an impressive four saves. The win was Boro’s first since in 2017. They had not claimed a Premier League win since the 3-0 hammering of Swansea City way back mid-December. That miserable run has all but confirmed that they will be playing their football in the Championship next season.

The Stopper – Eric Bailly

Injuries have not helped the young Ivorian settle. After starting this season as first choice and appearing in 13 of United’s first 15 matches, it seemed as though United manager, José Mourinho, had found his rock at the back. Since injuring his knee in United’s 4-0 defeat against champions elect Chelsea in late October, the ex-Villareal man has only appeared in 19 out of a possible 42 matches. He has started in United’s last nine games, a run that has seen them keep five clean sheets and only concede four goals. In the 0-0 draw over Manchester rivals, City, Bailly was absolutely superb. His speed, strength and reading of the game really shone through. If he can remain fit and injury free, United will have a serious player on their hands.

The Midfielder – Cesc Fàbregas

He’s in, he’s out. Poor old Cesc Fàbregas. He just can’t seem to get a solid run of games together. It is is true that he is competing for places with the PFA Player of the Year, N’Golo Kanté, and the vastly improved Nemanja Matic. Nonetheless, the ex-Arsenal man must be frustrated with his situation. If he was looking to make a point then his display in Chelsea’s entertaining 4-2 win over Southampton would not have done him any harm. Chelsea manager, Antonio Conte, cannot have helped but been impressed with the Spaniards intelligent use of the ball. Time and time again he picked out teammates with perfectly threaded passes, even assisting Costa for his first. Rumours continue to circulate regarding AC Milan’s interest in taking the ex-Arsenal and Barcelona man over to Italy in the summer. Fàbregas turns 30 next week, and he will no doubt be keen to ensure that he is part of a team that picks him more regularly than every other game.

The Playmaker – Christian Eriksen

I must confess – I have never really been convinced by this guy. I have always felt that he has flattered to deceive. Yes, his set pieces are nearly always on the money, and yes, he scores the odd spectacular goal; however, I have always felt that there has been something lacking from his game. I was astonished to find out earlier this week that the Dane has covered more ground than anybody else in the Premier League this season. Furthermore, he is second only to Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne for Premier League assists, with an impressive 12 to his name. His brilliant match winning goal against Crystal Palace was his eighth of the season, and it kept Tottenham’s unlikely title charge on track. I am going to have to eat my words over the ex-Ajax man and admit that he has turned into a really fine player.

The Finisher – Diego Costa

His form blows as hot and cold as his temperament. He scored 15 goals in his first 19 Premier League games of the season. In the following 12 he has managed just four. Against Southampton the Brazilian born Spain international was back to his best. An assist and two goals ensured that Chelsea kept their distance over Tottenham. His second goal was absolutely brilliant. Exchanging one-twos with two of his Chelsea teammates; Eden hazard first, then Pedro second, before rifling in a low drive past Fraser Forster in the Southampton goal. A brilliant performance overall.

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: April 6th 2017

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

Arsenal maintained their relatively slim top-four hopes with a comfortable 3-0 victory at home to out of form West Ham. There were also home wins for Leicester and Watford against Sunderland and West Brom respectively. Burnley secured an important win at home to Stoke to allay their relegation fears. Liverpool could only manage a 2-2 draw at home to Bournemouth whilst both Southampton and Chelsea won at home; the Saints defeating a resurgent Crystal Palace 3-1, and Chelsea recovering from their brief blip at the weekend to win 2-1 against Manchester City. A defeat that all but ended their visitors already slim title hopes. Hull recorded an important 4-2 win over Middlesbrough in an entertaining game at the KC. Manchester United left it late but recorded yet another home draw against Everton; Zlatan Ibrahimovic saving their blushes with a last minute spot kick. And finally Spurs scored three goals in the final five minutes to come from behind and defeat Swansea 3-1 at The Liberty Stadium. But who made it into our team of the week?

Goalkeeper – Kasper Schmeichel

Before Craig Shakespeare took the job many were expecting last seasons champions to be plying their trade in English football’s second tier next season. The appointment of Shakespeare has led to a drastic turnaround in the Foxes form. The 2-0 win over Sunderland was Leicester’s fifth Premier League win in a row and sixth in all competitions. It was also a second consecutive Premier League clean sheet for Schmeichel, only the second time he has managed this all season. Schmeichel has indisputably been Leicester’s best player this season. He has galvanised him teammates at times where they looked downtrodden and hopelessly out of form. Leicester will stay up this season, and Schmeichel will have more than played his part.

The Stopper – Phil Jagielka

This guy is an enigma. I sometimes look at him and think “how on earth can he have won 40 England caps?” Well his performance on Tuesday evening against Manchester United justified those 40 caps and probably silenced many of his critics. He was nothing short of outstanding as he captained Everton to a very deserved point at Old Trafford. The ex-Sheffield United man threw himself in front of shots, made perfectly timed tackles, and managed to silence the Stretford End with a really smart finish. Out of favour under Koeman for much of this season, the veteran centre half demonstrated that he is more than able to compete with the biggest names. Ibrahimovic was kept quiet up until his late penalty earned Manchester United a point they hardly merited.

The Enforcer – Idrissa Gueye

I said at the beginning of this season that this man would be Everton’s key summer signing. He really does look to have been a snip at £7 million. Like Jagielka he was brilliant against United; he controlled the game and won the ball back for his team on countless occasions. The Senegal international has made more tackles and interceptions than any other player in the Premier League this season. If Everton are going to make a late charge for the European places then Gueye will have to maintain his impressive form.

The Free Role – Eden Hazard

When he wants to be he is absolutely brilliant and, more often than not, when he is, so are Chelsea. Against Manchester City was one of those nights that the mercurial Belgian decided he was going to turn it on. His two goals maintained Chelsea’s seven point lead over London rivals Tottenham. He has been involved in 18 Premier League goals this season and looks likely to break his previous best Premier League goals tally which stands at 14 (he’s currently on 13). Chelsea will almost certainly go on to claim their second title in three years, and Hazard will have been one of the key players in the success.

The Finisher – Jamie Vardy

He has got six goals in the six games that Craig Shakespeare has been in charge. Prior to that he had only managed the same number in his previous 38 games. The upturn in Vardy’s form has been a key factor in Leicester’s recent run of results. After scoring an absolutely brilliant goal against Stoke in the previous game, Vardy continued his goalscoring run against the leagues basement club, Sunderland. With the Champions League returning this week and City facing a tricky trip to Atletico Madrid, Shakespeare and Leicester fans will be hoping that the Vardy party will keep going on.

Two Months To Go: Who’s Actually Happy?

For many Premier League clubs this has been a season full of miserable moments. In this era of moaning on the radio and venting on Twitter, I’m willing to bet many sets of fans will be happy to see the back of the 2017 season.

With less than ten games to go in the Premier League season, how many fans are actually happy? The shining example of happy fans – despite recently losing their undefeated home record – comes from the Stamford Bridge faithful. Chelsea collapsed inexplicably to tenth last year but have surged back to the top of the Premier League to the tune of a seven point advantage. They’ve got a manager every bit as passionate at Jurgen Klopp, more tactically shrewd than Pep Guardiola and a far better man manager than the present day Jose Mourinho. However, beneath The Blues, who’s actually had a season to be happy about?

Tottenham are on course to smash their previous points tally and should reach the elusive 80 point milestone. Despite this, fans will likely be left feeling sorry for themselves again. They’ll finish above Arsenal, but could very easily end up trophy-less and with another bout of ‘we won’t be this good next season’. After snatching third in a two horse race last year they won’t be over the moon with a distant second to Chelsea despite playing some of the best football in the league.

Whatever way you wrap it up, Manchester City fans won’t hold this season in high regard. The more sympathetic folk will focus on glimpses on Guardiola’s vision but the Spaniard’s debut season has been full of embarrassing moments. As for Liverpool – how can a team play so well against so many top teams and be so far from the top of the league? Deadly in big games, Klopp has done little to fix Liverpool’s familiar flaws against beatable opponents.

Moving down the league we reach Arsenal. Their fans are fighting eachother. Enough said.

Manchester United have had to put the Mourinho revolution on hold. The Slightly Deranged One’s tried and tested tactics haven’t been a roaring success at United. He may still drag them to fourth but it hasn’t been an easy ride.

Everton are next and the common consensus is that they’ve had a good season under a savvy new manager in Ronald Koeman. But have they really? They’ll finish higher than last year but defeats to Bournemouth, Burnley and Watford plus two Merseyside derbies and a hammering by Chelsea have confirmed their status as ‘just’ a top eight side. They’re hardly banging on the door of the top four. They’ve merely returned to where they were four years ago.

Next come West Brom who, on paper, have had a fine season. Credit to Tony Pulis for delivering everything West Brom could possibly have hoped for, but are the fans happy? You get plenty of Baggies on Talksport speaking of their uninspiring performances and lack of risk-taking football. Pulis has worked hard to get into a position of safety and security, can we see them try something else now?

Southampton have wilted badly since the League Cup final. A good season for James Ward-Prowse and the signing of Manolo Gabbiadini are scarce few high points; the transition from Ronald Koeman to Claude Puel a very obvious low. Recent form has seen a very ordinary Watford side climb to a flattering high. Staying up is an achievement of sorts but I doubt their fans will be particular enamoured with Walter Mazzarri.

With five straight wins and a Champions League quarter-final, Leicester fans will be almost as happy right now as they were last May. Let’s not be blinded though, losing Claudio Ranieri and plummeting to the relegation zone has made this a remarkably sticky campaign.

Stoke City have had somewhat of a classic Premier League campaign. An abysmal start, strong winter form and a recent dwindle see them sit twelfth in the table. Mark Hughes has become a highly divisive character and Stoke have had very little to cheer about. Below them sit Bournemouth and we may finally have found our second set of happy supporters. Bournemouth will now stay up and their Premier League dream will extend to a third season. Shipping 54 goals in the first 28 games was a cause for concern but I doubt they’ll be too many unhappy faces at the Vitality.

What do Burnley do on away days? I will never understand the home/away differential but Sean Dyche’s side have gone winless on the road despite winning ten of sixteen home games. However, with Burnley we might have found our third set of happy supporters! Assuming they stay up, it will be the first time Burnley have avoided the drop in their Premier League history.

West Ham are struggling and Slaven Bilic’s job is hanging by a thread. One of the best teams in the league last year, The Irons have endured a dismal campaign. They aren’t yet safe and neither are Crystal Palace. The Eagles will be ecstatic with their recent form and the long-awaited ‘Allardyce effect’ has finally kicked in. Nevertheless, I’m going to be cruel and say their fans won’t be happy with the 2017 season. Form under Pardew was horribly stuttered and they’ve left it far too late to do anything memorable.

Hull City fans have a handful of reasons to be happy. Marco Silva has turned the club’s form around and – to be fair to Mike Phelan – the club have punched above their dismal expectations all season. Are the fans happy? I’ll put them down as a weak yes due to recent form and renewed hope.

Hull are in a lively scrap with fellow struggles Swansea City. Even the most negative of Swansea fans wouldn’t have expected the side to be this perilously close to the drop with seven games to go. Bad decisions and Bob Bradley have made this is a season to forget.

Not only are Middlesbrough doomed for relegation but they’ve scored just 22 goals all campaign. Four wins and many miserable outings have confirmed their fans’ despair.

Sunderland? Give me a break.

Final Score: Unhappy Fans 16 – 4 Happy Fans

Mike Franchetti

Five-a-side TOTW: March 21st 2017

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

Chelsea continued their march towards the title with an impressive win over Stoke City. West Brom shocked Arsenal at The Hawthorns, and Manchester United won at Middlesbrough. The best viewing was at The Etihad as Manchester City and Liverpool played out a very entertaining one-all draw. Elsewhere there were wins for Crystsal Palace, Everton, Bournemouth, Leicester, and Spurs. But who did enough to earn a place in Someone On the Post’s coveted five-a-side TOTW?

Goalkeeper – Tom Heaton

The Burnley stopper has excelled this season, and this has been evident by the fact that he has been included in our five-a-side TOTW no fewer than 5 times. Burnley’s trip to relegation favourites Sunderland was always likely to be a tricky affair. The Clarets had picked up just one point on their travels prior to Saturday’s dour 0-0 draw at the Stadium of Light. Although both teams were impotent in front of goal, Heaton always looked assured when called upon. It makes such a difference knowing you have a top keeper between the sticks.

Stopper – Mamadou Sakho

People accuse me of bias, and they probably do have a point – but I don’t really care. I love this guy and I am not ashamed to admit it. Since his introduction to the team in late February, the Eagles have won three consecutive games, all while keeping clean sheets. The big-Frenchmen is not solely responsible for this of course, however his strength, power, pace and reading of the game has certainly contributed to Palace’s upturn in form. How Liverpool could do with a central defender of his calibre…

The Anchor – Craig Dawson

I know this makes this team very defensive, but how can you leave out a defender who scores two goals? The simple answer is that you can’t! Dawson’s brace came from corners – it was almost as if West Brom had done their homework and decided to target Arsenal’s vulnerability in the air. Arsenal certainly had not done theirs, and it was evident as feeble marking allowed the ex-Rochdale man to treble his goal tally for the season in one afternoon.

The Playmaker – Jesse Lingard

I have been a fierce critic of his, and I must admit I continue to be unconvinced by his ability to hack it at both Manchester United or at international level with England. Yet even my cynicism cannot deny that Lingard’s performance, albeit against a woeful Middlesbrough side, was absolutely outstanding. He caused havoc amongst the Boro defence – taking them on at will and looking to run in behind. His goal was absolutely superb too. Receiving the ball just inside the Middlesbrough half, he ran at the retreating defenders before unleashing a ferocious shot into the top corner. It really was a sensational goal, and it capped off a very impressive individual performance.

The Finisher – Romelu Lukaku

If he is going to leave Everton in the summer he looks determined to do so as the leagues top scorer. His two goals on Saturday were typical strikers goals; what’s more they took his tally beyond 20 goals for the season – the first Everton player to do that since one Gary Lineker. Lukaku is a brilliant striker – big, strong, and deceivingly quick. The Belgian really does tick all the boxes. It is no surprise that some of Europe’s biggest clubs are sniffing around the ex-Chelsea striker. Still only 23, his best years are almost certainly ahead of him. Everton don’t want him to leave, and the fans sang his name throughout the 4-0 win over Hull. It will be interesting to see how his future plays out in the next few months.

Five-a-side TOTW: February 14th 2017

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

It’s time for our TOTW! Chelsea were held at Burnley, while their nearest challengers, Tottenham Hotspur, were beaten 2-0 at Liverpool. Leicester City lost for the fifth time in a row against Paul Clement’s resurgent Swansea City, a result that leaves the champions just one place and one point above the dreaded drop zone. Elsewhere, Anthony Martial scored a fine goal as Mourinho’s side maintained their top-four challenge. Sunderland were comfortably beaten at home by Southampton, and Arsenal recorded a fortuitous win over Hull City at The Emirates. But who impressed us enough to make it into the Internet’s most coveted five-a-side football team?

Keeper – Willy Caballero

This was not an easy choice – I can’t recall any keeper being particularly outstanding this weekend. I’ve gone with Willy Caballero because I think he has an unenviable task as a Manchester City keeper playing under Pep Guardiola. The City boss is desperately keen for his keepers to play out from the back – something that I don’t think comes particularly naturally to Big Willy. Despite starting the season as City’s first choice between the sticks, he knew that he was going to be likely replaced by a keeper that Guardiola considered to be better suited to the style of play that he wanted to implement. The subsequent signing of Claudio Bravo has proven to be a disastrous piece of business and Caballero has found himself back in the side for each of the last four games, keeping three clean sheets in the process. He deserves a place in this team merely for his patience, fortitude, and the fact that his name is Willy!

The Stopper – Alfie Mawson

I really thought that Swansea would go down. I even wrote an article about how Paul Clement was not the right man for the job and how chairman Huw Jenkins should be referred to as the Swansea Slayer. How wrong have I been proven? Clement, the Premier League’s choice of January Manager of the Month, has masterminded Swansea victories at Selhurst Park, Anfield, and now at home to the reigning champions. They are one of the in form teams in the league and now lie in fifteenth place and four points above the relegation places. Mawson, and his fellow defender Martin Olsson were the scorers as Swansea comfortably won at home for only the fourth time this season. The Swans have been heavily reliant on their Icelandic talisman Gylfi Sigurðsson in recent weeks, so it would have been a welcome surprise to see two defenders chip in with goals. Mawson’s was a sweetly struck volley that left Kasper Schmeichel in the Leicester goal flapping at thin air. The ex-Barnsley man more than merits his five-a-side TOTW debut.

The Ball Winner – Joey Barton

I don’t care what anybody says – Joey Barton can play. He and his fellow midfielder Ashley Westwood were up against N’Golo Kanté (and his twin brother), yet more than matched their more illustrious opponent. Burnley’s performance was industrious, and was built on the solid foundations of hard work, discipline and concentration. Nobody exemplified those traits more than Barton. Burnley are a different team at home and have picked up a staggering 29 of their 30 points at Turf Moor this season. Three more victories should see them secure their survival – a feat few of us thought possible at the beginning of the season. As for Barton, this performance completes a remarkable turnaround. Just three months ago he was deemed surplus to requirements at Rangers and was under investigation by the FA for some fairly ill-advised betting offences. He really did look like he was destined for the football scrapheap. Nevertheless, that well known football adage “bounce-back-ability” is one that can very much be attributed to Barton. Whenever people think he has well and truly messed it up, he seems to some how find a way to prove them wrong.

The Free Role – Sadio Mané

Liverpool are a different team when he is playing. People will go on about the Firmino, Coutinho and Lallana, but Mané really is the main man. When he was away on African Cup of Nations duty Liverpool looked static, one dimensional and void of any pace. He is so direct, so strong, and so unpredictable that defenders simply don’t know what he is going to do next. Tottenham certainly couldn’t handle him on Saturday, as his two goals sealed a first league win of 2017. His first was an excellent finish after he had managed to outpace the hapless Ben Davies. His second was more of a poachers goal but it really did finish off a Spurs side that were well below par. The win keeps the Anfield side in the hunt for a Champions League place and reignites a season that, after recent results, looked to be crumbling apart.

The Finisher – Manolo Gabbiadini 

I once signed this guy on one of my Football Manager games – he was a great signing for me then and he looks like a great signing for Southampton too! His two goals helped his new side to a resounding 4-0 away win at Sunderland and took his own personal tally to three in just two games. His first was a smart near post header from a lovely Ryan Bertrand cross and his second came after a wonderful turn that left Sunderland defender Lamine Koné completely bamboozled. With the League Cup Final against Manchester United coming up in less than two weeks, Southampton fans will be hoping that the Italian can maintain his good form until then at least.

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 28th 2016

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

Chelsea maintained their six point lead, whilst Leicester City’s 2-0 loss to Everton left them just three points above the relegation zone. Manchester United won for the fourth time in a row, and Arsenal grabbed a late victory courtesy of Olivier Giroud’s header. Swansea City lost again, leading to the sacking of their manager Bob Bradley. Manchester City won 3-0 away at basement club Hull City, and Crystal Palace could only draw at Watford in Sam Allardyce’s first game as manager.

Goalkeeper – Thibault Courtois

Staggeringly, this is Courtois’s first appearance in our 5TOTW. This really is a truly remarkable statistic considering the Belgian has conceded only two goals in his last 12 Premier League games. His fourth clean sheet in a row came in Chelsea’s 3-0 win over Bournemouth at Stamford Bridge. Although not severely tested, the 24 year old was reliable when called upon.

The Stopper – Daley Blind

Blind has been in and out of the team ever since José Mourinho took over the reins at Old Trafford. Initially he looked to have cemented his place at centre back, however injuries, coupled with unconvincing displays led to him having to settle for a place on the bench in recent weeks. At left back the former Ajax man excelled. He took his goal brilliantly; bursting forward from left back the Dutchman latched on to Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s pass, controlling the ball with his right foot before smashing the ball into the corner with his favoured left.

The Runner – Adam Lallana 

With four goals in his last four games this man really is THE in form player in the Premier League. In reality Lallana has been in good form for quite a long time now, emphatically answering those critics who said the ex-Southampton player lacked the required  end product. During his first two years at Anfield he scored nine, and also assisted his teammates just nine times. This season he already has seven goals and six assists. His goal against Stoke City, although slightly fortuitous, had something of the Frank Lampard about it. He timed his run into the box impeccably, and finished neatly from a very tight angle. It was an important goal as well, as up until that point Liverpool had been struggling to break down a resilient Stoke defence.

The Playmaker – Pedro

The diminutive winger has blown more cold than hot since joining Chelsea 18 months ago. I was particularly excited to see how he would fare after enjoying great success with Barcelona. His first season was certainly not a success, however it is worth pointing out that most of his Chelsea teammates also produced less than impressive displays. This season it has been a different story altogether. Since Antonio Conte changed to a 3-4-3 Pedro has thrived. His two goals against Bournemouth doubled his tally for the season, and set Chelsea on their way to a 12th consecutive victory.

The Finisher – Zlatan Ibrahimovic 

He’s 35, but you really wouldn’t know it. His goal against Sunderland took his Premier League goal tally to 12 for the season. Ibrahimovic’s record really is remarkable. Since the start of 2016 the ex-Sweden international has scored a quite astonishing 50 goals. In the same period only Lionel Messi has scored more. Against Sunderland it wasn’t just his scoring touch which was impressive as he laid on two assists for his teammates. A really impressive display by the veteran striker.

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.