Five-a-side TOTW: April 25th 2017

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

This is the most controversial five-a-side formation I’ve ever picked; however, I am confident that it would work well. There were only six Premier League games this weekend. West Ham and Everton shared the spoils in a disappointing nil-all draw at the London Stadium. Swansea and Hull both claimed vital home wins over Stoke and Watford respectively. Bournemouth’s 4-0 win over Watford was their second biggest win of the season and moved them to within touching distance of Premier League safety. On Sunday, Manchester United continue their top-four charge with an impressive two-nil win at Burnley, while Crystal Palace’s Christian Bentéké came back to haunt his old club, scoring twice in a 2-1 win over Liverpool at Anfield.

Goalkeeper – Eldin Jakupovic

Jakupovic has been outstanding ever since Marco Silva got the Hull City job in early January. Prior to then he had been playing second fiddle to Scotland international David Marshall in the Tigers net. Since displacing him, the ex-Switzerland international has not looked back. Hull’s 2-0 win over Watford was as important as it was impressive. After having Oumar Niasse harshly sent off before half-time, Jakupovic had to be at his best to keep Watford’s strikers at bay. There were sixteen attempts on his goal, and he dealt with 100% of the crosses he came for. It really was a commanding display.

The RWB – Joel Ward

I really like Joel Ward. I think he is as solid as they come. Unspectacular, reliable and someone who you would generally want on your side. This wasn’t necessarily his finest game in a Palace shirt, but his contribution was certainly important as The Eagles won at Anfield for a staggering third year in a row. The win took Ward and his Palace teammates up to 12th in the league and, crucially, seven points above Swansea in 18th.

The LWB – Charlie Daniels

Another player who deserves a game in our five-a-side TOTW. Daniels has been a near ever-present for Bournemouth this season, featuring in 30 of their 34 Premier League games. His goal against Middlesbrough was his fourth of the season, and it sealed a vital win for The Cherries. Daniels and his Bournemouth team mates have endured a miserable 2017 – winning only three of their 15 Premier League games since the turn of the year. Saturday’s comprehensive win over their fellow Premier League strugglers took them up to 38 points – just two away from the magic 40 point mark.

The Middleman – Tom Carroll

I still think Swansea City will go down, however this won’t be down to the lack of effort of their players. They were absolutely brilliant in their 2-0 win of Stoke City at The Liberty, with Tom Carroll being the pick of the bunch. The young midfielder scored the decisive goal, albeit via deflection, to seal three priceless points for the Swans. He has been a revelation since signing from Tottenham for 4.5 million in January. If, as expected, Swansea go down at the end of the season, Carroll certainly won’t be short of suitors.

The Finisher – Christian Bentéké

I am never going to be convinced by Bentéké. He is big, strong and yet deceptively quick, he lacks the finesse to be a really top class striker. Nevertheless, his performance against Liverpool on Sunday afternoon was absolutely first class. Jürgen Klopp’s men could simply not handle his aerial prowess. It was clear via his celebrations that Bentéké enjoyed his return to Anfield. He made a point of running towards another Liverpool outcast, Mamadou Sakho, after scoring the equalising goal; a move that did not sit well with the Liverpool fans.  He now has 14 Premier League goals this season. His best return since his first season in England with Aston Villa.

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Five-a-side TOTW: January 24th 2017

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

Chelsea and Arsenal were the only two sides from the top six to win last weekend with Liverpool’s unbeaten Anfield streak coming to a crashing end against Swansea. It was also the week Wayne Rooney finally broke Sir Bobby Charlton’s Manchester United goalscoring record. I’m not going to lie; this week’s team is pretty strange.

Goalkeeper – Tom Heaton

Tom Heaton wins the ‘Lee Grant, Tom Heaton or Jordan Pickford’ award this week as our struggles to highlight genuinely good goalkeeping continues. Hugo Lloris was good for a while before making two pretty horrendous mistakes against Manchester City, whilst Wayne Hennessey had a reasonable game in the Crystal Palace goal until losing his clean sheet in the dying moments. What more can we say about Heaton? When Burnley visited the Emirates we all knew he would be in for a busy game and he continued to look like a future England goalkeeper. He’s one of the best in the Premier League right now and I’d swap him for either of Liverpool’s keepers. He may be annoyed he couldn’t stop Alexis Sanchez’s dinked penalty.

The Anchor – Darren Fletcher

Two weeks ago we had Michael Carrick, last week Gareth Barry and this week Darren Fletcher; good times for experienced midfielders who probably shouldn’t be playing as well as they are. Fletcher performs a similar role to his more naturally-gifted contemporaries, offering West Brom a wealth of experience in the middle of the park. He helped his side keep a clean sheet against Sunderland on Saturday but that’s not really why he’s made our team. With the ball dropping down from Gareth McAuley’s flicked header, Fletcher channelled his inner-Ronaldo before chesting the ball and hooking it exquisitely over his shoulder into the far corner. Cracking goal.

The Playmaker – Tom Carroll

It’s not hard to pick holes in Liverpool’s defence – but someone still has to do it. In Swansea’s shock 2-3 victory at Anfield on Saturday that man was Tom Carroll. On his debut for Swansea he displayed the sort of confidence his teammates have been lacking throughout their torrid run. Paul Clement has plenty of work to do defensively but will be pleased to have Carroll share playmaking responsibilities with Gylfi Sigurdsson. Swansea had just 26% of the ball and Carroll’s ventures into the Liverpool half gave his teammates a crucial breather. Warning signs were apparent when he struck the post in the first half and his weighted cross to Fernando Llorente helped put the Swans 2-0 up. Arguably his most vital contribution came late in the game. His direct running once again caused the Liverpool defence to panic and a ricochet off Ragnar Klaven lead to Sigurdsson’s surprise winner.

The Big Man – Andy Carroll

From one Carroll to another, everyone’s favourite £35 million Geordie has been in cracking form for West Ham. Last week he scored the goal of the season (yep – it will be) and this week he looked every bit the predator bagging two goals away at Middlesbrough. By all accounts Andy Carroll is a good guy and most of the footballing world will want him to stay fit for the rest of the season. If he does, he could creep towards 15 Premier League goals and re-establish himself as the best ‘big man’ in the country. It’s too easy to tie Dimitri Payet’s sulk to West Ham’s upturn in form, but you can imagine Carroll being one of the most outspoken in the dressing room and it does look to have brought the rest of the group closer together. He might struggle on a five-a-side pitch but he’d be great entertainment.

The Talisman – Wayne Rooney

Over the last few months it looked as though Wayne Rooney’s record-breaking 250th goal would be a scrappy jab, flick or poke against the likes of Reading, Wigan or FC Copenhagen. It looked like a burden that Rooney was itching to get out of the way. It even crossed my mind that the 250th goal would be accompanied by a peaceful transfer request and a move to the MLS (he doesn’t strike me as a China-sorta-guy). It would have been a shame for it to end this way; Rooney has had a brilliant career and has grown into a remarkably selfless footballer. It was therefore fantastic that the record-breaking goal was actually a stunning 94th minute free kick to earn Manchester United a dramatic point away to Stoke. It was a near-perfect moment. United were unbeaten for the best part of three months and their divisive club captain ensured the run would continue. He celebrated like a man who had just got his team out of trouble rather than one who had broken the goal-scoring record at the biggest club in England. I would love him on my five-a-side team and I hope he extends the record by at least 10 more goals.


Mike Franchetti