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.

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Six European transfers you might have missed

Mike on six European signings he’s excited to see in action

Forget Hummels, Higuain and Pogba. Let’s take a closer look at the European transfer market. Who’s gone where and for how much?

1. Gianluca Lapadula (Pescara to AC Milan, €9million)
Van Basten. Shevchenko. Ibrahimović. And now… Gianluca Lapadula? You could argue that Milan’s signing of Pescara’s Lapadula says everything you need to know about their fall in the pecking order of both European and Italian football. He’s 26, never scored a goal in Serie A, and will be expected to offer something lacking in the game of Carlos Bacca. In other ways it’s a fantastic signing – or at the very least fantastically Italian. Lapadula was the top goalscorer in Serie B last year with 27 goals. It’s a bit like if Arsenal signed Sylvan Ebanks-Blake to ignite their attack back in 2009. Or if Manchester United sought Jordan Rhodes in the summer of 2015. Lapadula has played in many of Italy’s threadbare lower leagues and his story provides an element of intrigue to the new season. Despite his free scoring last campaign he is comfortable coming deeper to collect the ball and is an asset anywhere across the final third. At 26 he should be approaching his peak – but he’s Italian so he’ll probably peak in around six years’ time. The signing is just crazy enough to work out. Pescara has played developmental host to some fine international footballers in the last decade including Lorenzo Insigne, Ciro Immobile and Marco Verratti.

2. Ganso (Sao Paolo to Sevilla, €9.1 million)
No, this isn’t our list of Six Football Manager signings who never fulfilled their potential’ Paulo ‘Ganso’ Henrique really has arrived in Europe.  Ganso to some, Paolo Henrique to others, the Brazilian playmaker was the one you plucked from Santos on Football Manager 2011 that wasn’t Neymar. Last month Sevilla completed a €9.1 million signing from Sao Paolo and, in a window of dizzying headlines, this transfer borders on shrewd business. Whilst Neymar quickly became the archetypal Brazilian poster-boy, Ganso struggled with media attention and his form dipped soon after. This lead to a number of mediocre seasons and, ultimately, a far more low-key move to Europe than anybody would have previously expected. It’s not all doom and gloom however; Sevilla could be the perfect club for Ganso to make his mark. The club sit behind Spain’s ‘big three’ in almost every department but are proven winners in European football and have a crisp, balanced style. Ganso may find himself sitting deeper than his previous ‘number 10’ role, asked to dictate play rather than produce his trademark final balls. A new look midfield includes Palermo’s Franco Vazquez and the on loan Luciano Vietto.

3. Denis Suarez (Villarreal to Barcelona, €3.5 million)
In a ‘homecoming’ nowhere near as ridiculous as Paul Pogba’s return to Manchester, Barcelona opted to take advantage of their buy back clause and bring 22-year old Denis Suarez back to the Nou Camp. The Spaniard’s had a solid few years since leaving Manchester City with just a handful of cup appearances. He was an integral part of Villarreal’s Europa League semi-final run last season and possesses all the traits of a typical Barcelona winger. Whilst donning the Catalan red and blue can represent the pinnacle of Spanish football, Suarez will face serious competition to even get a game. Lionel Messi and Neymar are certain starters, as is his namesake Luis Suarez. There’s not much room to breathe beneath that trio’s talent but the new man could end up in the role once filled by Chelsea’s Pedro. He’ll have fewer opportunities to make his mark than at Villarreal but could still fit seamlessly into the hierarchy of the La Liga champions.

4. Nicola Sansone (Sassuolo to Villarreal, €13 million)
Denis Suarez out, Nicola Sansone in. Last season Sassuolo built on their previous campaign by upsetting the Serie A apple cart and taking the final Europa League spot. Their success was built on great performances all through the squad but two men – Sansone and Domenico Berardi – stood out as regular scorers and the providers of spark. Sassuolo are no strangers to losing star players and whilst they fought hard to keep Berardi, Sansone left for Spain for €13 million. The Italian’s 24 years old, capped once, and nets goals from wide positions. He should fit nicely into the La Liga ethos and could be upgrading Europa League football for the Champions League should Villarreal progress through their group stage qualifier.  Villarreal have been busy this window recruiting fellow Italian Roberto Soriano and the enigma that is Alexander Pato.

5. Andre Schurrle (Wolfsburg to Borussia Dortmund, €30 million)
For the first time in a while, Bayern Munich may find Dortmund a serious league threat. They’ve always had handfuls of top talent to go with their excellent set-up and wonderful fans but this year they’ve responded to Munich’s movements by flexing some of their own financial muscle. Mario Gotze returns, Raphael Guerreiro and Marc Bartra have been brought into the defence and teenager Ousmane Dembele chose Signal Iduna Park as his new home. On top of these they’ve brought in Andre Schurrle for 30 million. This almost feels like a luxury signing – but it’s about time Dortmund treated themselves. Schurrle is well known in Germany following spells with Leverkusen and Wolfsburg and offers very few surprises. The flip side is that he guarantees a level of performance and can fit into a number of systems. Describing the World Cup winner as a utility forward doesn’t do him justice. He might not bag you twenty goals but Schurrle will combine a boyish eagerness with years of Bundesliga experience. He strikes me as the perfect guy to have on the pitch when you’re trying to upset the giants of Munich.

6. Jeremy Menez (AC Milan to Bordeaux, undisclosed)
When will Jeremy Menez have that one big season? He got close in 2014-15 when scoring 16 goals in a fruitless Milan campaign – but he reversed any progression with a scrappy and injury hit final season. The skilful Frenchman has a succession of good goals – including this one vs. Parma – but exists awkwardly between a central striker and natural winger and his career has never really taken off. A perpetual frustration in his home country, he now finds himself back there having signed for Bordeaux. His glimpses of class remain too good to dismiss and he’ll once again start the season with a weight of expectation. Finishing 11th last time around, Bordeaux need a nudge up the league and a forward to score more than ten league goals – in an ideal world, Menez provides both. The early signs are not good but in no way Menez’s fault; he lost the top of his ear after being accidentally struck by the boot of Lorient’s Didier Ndong. Bordeaux will have to wait before seeing a return on their undisclosed fee.