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.

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Five-a-side TOTW: February 7th 2017

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

Arsenal suffered another painful defeat this week, featuring a mazy Eden Hazard goal and old boy Cesc Fabregas lobbing into an empty net. Liverpool’s poor run also continued as both sides continue to do their best to finish in fifth spot. The relegation battle intensified with wins for Hull, Swansea and Sunderland pulling a pathetic Leicester City side into real danger. Here’s another five-a-side team.

Goalkeeper – Thibaut Courtois

Finally the man with thirteen clean sheets was asked to produce some real goalkeeping. Despite Chelsea’s superior quality, Arsenal managed to keep pushing throughout the game resulting in a handful of chances. With the score at 2-0, Danny Welbeck steered a header low to Courtois’ right. The Belgian fully extended himself to make a stretched save, flicking his right hand to knock the ball to safety. The man Courtois replaced at Chelsea – Petr Cech – was in the opposite goal and there can no longer be any doubt over who the sharper shot-stopper is.

The Stopper – Andrea Ranocchia

It’s often said that Italians have mastered the art of defending but not many mentioned Andrea Ranocchia in the same breath as Bergomi, Cannavaro or Chiellini during his time at Inter Milan. Whilst some Nerazzurri fans weren’t too keen on Ranocchia, I was shocked to see the Premier League’s biggest strugglers attract a centre-half with 21 Italy caps. He was excellent alongside Harry McGuire as the two repelled Liverpool’s best attacks. In only his second appearance, Ranocchia also showed his class by weighting a long ball to Oumar Niasse for Hull’s second goal. Against all odds, Marco Silva and his mixed bag of signings could steer Hull City to Premier League survival.

The Middleman – Didier Ndong

After 45 minutes at Selhurst Park, Sunderland were trouncing Crystal Palace 0-4. It was the most surprising half of football since Leicester put three past Manchester City. The Wearsiders had been in awful form and £13 million record signing Didier Ndong was looking like a careless piece of business. However, Sunderland’s many slumps have hardly been the Gabon international’s fault and David Moyes has kept faith with the 22 year-old. He made major steps forward on Saturday with the sort of dominant and energetic performance they so often lack. Sunderland fans have had plenty of false dawns this season and will need more performances like Saturday’s in order to stay up. Ndong scored the second goal of the match with a fine strike from the edge of the area. It’s fair to say Twitter’s response to his performance was a little over the top…

The Talisman – Gylfi Sigurðsson

Oh look at that – I’ve just picked Gylfi Sigurðsson over Eden Hazard. The Icelander returns for another TOTW appearance. Paul Clement’s much improved Swansea City side visited Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City on Sunday and were always going to be up against it in terms of possession. However, after 80 minutes the home side were just 1-0 up and Sigurðsson took centre stage. He drifted into a dangerous area and his fine 20-yard strike beat Willy Caballero. City’s new golden boy Gabriel Jesus poked home a very late winner but Swansea put in a performance unrecognisable from their dire early season form. Sigurðsson has been part of anything good the club has done this season and has now collected eight goals and seven assists. Only four players have created more Premier League goals and of those only Alexis Sanchez has scored more.

The Goal Machine – Romelu Lukaku

Why isn’t Lukaku the best centre forward in the world? He’s always been an impressive athlete but he’s currently displaying an increased confidence as Everton’s star player. His finishing has been excellent recently to the point where he’s almost looked arrogant. Against Bournemouth on Saturday he bagged four goals to take him to the top of the Premier League goalscoring charts. Bournemouth’s defence was utterly terrible at times but that doesn’t take away from the fact Lukaku delivered a completely accomplished performance. The big man curled, dinked and volleyed his way to a superb hatrick. He seems happy at the moment suggesting he has shelved urgent plans for a big money move to United/Chelsea/PSG. That will all change if he wins the golden boot and Everton finish sixth.


Mike Franchetti

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.