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.

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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.

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.

Five-a-side TOTW: March 5th 2017

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

Another round of Premier League fixtures – another five-a-side team of the week. Chelsea kept their 10 point lead at the top of the table with a hard-fought win at West Ham. Harry Kane outdid Romelu Lukaku in the battle of the leagues top scorers as Spurs won 3-2 against Everton. Liverpool beat top-four rivals Arsenal at Anfield, while, in a tasty clash, Manchester United could only draw at home to Bournemouth. Swansea scored a last minute winner at home to Burnley, and Leicester won for the second time in a row under caretaker boss Craig Shakespeare.

Goalkeeper – Artur Boruc

It’s not often that an opposition goalkeeper goes to Old Trafford and wins the man of the match award. However, that is exactly what the big Pole did this weekend. He was absolutely fantastic as he repelled numerous efforts on his goal. His fine all round performance was rounded off by an excellent save from Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s penalty. Boruc has found himself heavily criticised at points this season. Having conceded an average of nearly three goals a game in 2017, Boruc and his teammates will have been relieved with this highly spirited defensive performance.

The Stopper – Mamadou Sakho

I actually cannot believe that this man is playing at Crystal Palace. When he was coming through the ranks at PSG he was tipped to be the next mega superstar centre back. His move to Liverpool has been disrupted by injuries, poor form, allegedly inappropriate behaviour and poor attitude. In my opinion he remains Liverpool’s best centre back – what he is doing playing for a team fighting for Premier League survival I will never know.  Manager Sam Allardyce has decided to pair the French defender with summer signing James Tomkins in recent weeks. It certainly looks like the partnership could provide the foundations for Palace to move away from the drop zone. The 2-0 away win against West Brom was the first time that Palace had recored consecutive clean sheets this season.

The Runner – Georginio Wijnaldum

The Dutch international was in absolutely brilliant form during Liverpool’s dominant 3-1 win over Arsenal on Saturday evening. With captain Jordan Henderson injured, the responsibility fell on Wijnaldum and Emre Can to marshall the Liverpool midfield. Both played very well, yet the Dutchman really was the stand out performer. He absolutely ran the midfield – winning tackles, linking the play, and even managing to get on the scoresheet when finishing off an excellent team move. Having now grabbed goals against Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal, the former Feyenord and Newcastle player is proving that he is the man for the big occasion.

Free Role – Andros Townsend

After initially seeming out of favour under new boss Sam Allardyce, the former Tottenham and Newcastle winger has really started to establish himself at the South-London club. His goal against West Brom was as good as it was important. It sealed a valuable three points for The Eagles and ensured that they moved further away from the relegation places. It would be nice to see Townsend go on a real run between now and the end of the season. He deserves the chance to establish himself in the Premier League after frustrating spells at both Spurs and Newcastle. If he continues his recent good performances there is no reason why he can’t become one of the best wide-men in the league. With England’s game against Germany coming up in just two weeks, there is further incentive for him to keep turning in the performances.

The Finisher – Harry Kane

I love this guy. I saw something in Kane on Saturday that made me think that he really has reached the elite level. With the scores at 0-0, both teams struggling to make an impact on the game, the Tottenham striker dropped deep to receive the ball. Thirty yards out and with his back to goal, Kane swiveled, and moved the ball onto his favoured right foot. From there the Tottenham no.10 did exactly what he does best – thumping the ball into the back of the net. The goal was brilliant and provided the turning point in the game. Grabbing the game by the scruff of the neck is really the sort of thing that the best players in the world do. In my opinion, Kane has now reached that level. For someone who has scored nearly 80 goals in the last three seasons, he has an unusually large number of critics. I would love nothing more than for the England man to top the scoring charts once again at the end of the season.

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.

 

Huw Jenkins: The Swansea Slayer

Swansea are bottom of the table and seemingly destined for relegation to The Championship. Simmo looks at why the Swansea chairman, Huw Jenkins, is to blame for the clubs pitiful demise. 

I feel sorry for Bob Bradley – if you were to ask most neutrals then they would probably say the same. The job he took on at Swansea really was a mission impossible.

Looking through that Swansea team it is difficult to see any other outcome other than their relegation to British footballs second tier. I can’t think of a single player, bar the goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski and playmaker Gylfi Sigurðsson, who would get into any other team in the Premier League.

The demise of Swansea City is a sad one. When they were promoted under Brendan Rodgers they were an exciting, dynamic outfit that looked to play good expansive football. Players such as Scott Sinclair and Ashley Williams had excelled in the Championship and took their good form into their debut season’s in the Premier League.

It really was refreshing to see a newly promoted team play football out from the back. This was largely down to the philosophy that Brendan Rodgers instilled in the team. He believed that his teams should play in a particular way. It was brave and certainly admired. Rodgers’s reputation soared to the extent that he took over the reins at Liverpool in the summer of 2012. Huw Jenkins acted quickly and sealed the services of ex Denmark and Barcelona legend Michael Laudrup.

Laudrup’s appointment was seen as a bit of a coup, and indeed he was able to use his substantial connections within the game to convince a host of players to join the Swans during that summer. Players such as Michu, Pablo Hernández and Ki Sung-yueng arrived with burgeoning reputations.

At the beginning of his tenure, Laudrup looked to be building on the good work done by Rodgers. Whilst Rodger’s teams had often been exciting to watch, they lacked the defensive nous to succeed on a weekly basis in the Premier League. Laudrup looked to rectify this, and added steel to the Swansea backline through signings such as Chico Flores. Laudrup had looked to have taken the Swans to the next level. He was establishing them as a Premier League team and was picking up some very impressive results along the way.

Under the Danes stewardship, Swansea won the 2013 League Cup by beating fourth tier Bradford City 5-0 a Wembley Stadium. But even Laudrup’s success was not enough to prevent him from being fired. Poor form and alleged wrangling over contracts and signings led to Jenkins dismissing him in in February 2014.

His replacement Garry Monk was a popular choice amongst fans. Having been with the Swans for a decade, he knew the way in which the club worked, and most importantly, was familiar with the squad of players available to him. As a young English manager, the Premier League can be a daunting place. Indeed, a host of far more established names have fallen victim to the trials and tribulations of England’s top tier. Monk, however, took it like a duck takes to water. He looked assured, tactically astute, and most importantly strong enough to deal with the pressures of the role. What’s more, he made what can sometimes be a difficult transition, from team mate to manager, look effortless.

Monk really did look like he had all the credentials to become a top Premier League manager. That was until Jenkins once again wielded the axe. A poor run of one win in 11 games led to Monk being ‘relieved of his duties.’ Jenkins will look to justify his decision by saying that Monk had accomplished all he had been brought in to do. When he replaced Laudrup there had been an almost instant upturn in form. Monk steered the ship to safety, but as soon as it entered difficult waters Jenkins was more than prepared to make his manager walk the plank.

The appointment of veteran Italian, Francesco Guidolin, was not seen as particularly inspiring. However, the 2015/2016 season proved to be a good one for veteran Italian coaches. Guidolin took Swansea back to basics and led them away from the relegation zone. They sealed Premier League survival with an impressive 3-1 win over Liverpool. Guidolin’s appointment had proved to be a successful one. He won seven of his 15 league games, including impressive wins over Arsenal, Chelsea and West Ham.

Under Guidolin, Swansea started the new season well with a 1-0 win at newly promoted Burnley. However, he had lost the services of his inspirational captain Ashley Williams to Everton in the summer. The signing of Mike van der Hoorn for £2 million From Ajax was not the sort of signing that gave Swansea fans a great deal of confidence. Elsewhere, Andre Ayew joined West Ham in a £20 million deal. A sizeable income, however, nearly £16 million of that money was reinvested in the young Spaniard, Borja Bastón, a player who had made fewer than 40 appearances in Spain’s top tier.

It seemed glaringly obvious that Guidolin’s team lacked the required experience to maintain their Premier League status. After winning only one of their opening seven league games, Jenkins once again decided that enough was enough.

This led to the appointment of Bradley – one that was unsurprisingly met with a great deal of skepticism. Although he had managed both the United States and Egyptian national teams with moderate success, his last job in football had been in the French second tier with Le Havre. It was hardly the ideal pedigree.

However those who were judging Bradley by his past managerial experience were simply being naïve. Many managers have arrived in the Premier League from lesser know leagues and enjoyed great success. Look no further than Arsène Wenger, who was brought in from Japanese football.

Indeed there was a certain level of arrogance amongst pundits and British football aficionados. What could an American possibly know about the English game? Whilst it is true that Bradley’s results were not great, people focused on irrelevant details, such as him referring to a penalty kick as a ‘PK.’ The vocabulary that Bradley used certainly was not the reason that his Swansea team struggled so much. Bradley was brought in to try and help ward off another inevitable fight with relegation – yet he wasn’t even given a transfer window to bring his own players in. What was he supposed to do?

People will point to the fact that the Swans leaked goals under the American. Yes, this was certainly true. However Bradley would almost certainly not have sanctioned the sale of Williams had he been in charge.

Therefore the problems at Swansea seem to all lead back to one man – Huw Jenkins. He is the man that has now sacked four managers in the last three seasons. He is the man who let Wilfried Bony go, sold Ben Davies to Tottenham, and of course let Williams join Everton. He is the man that seemed to crave rapid Premier League success over a long term and clearly defined project.

His latest appointment, that of Bayern Munich assistant, Paul Clement is again an odd one. Whilst Clement is widely regarded as one of the finest British coaches around, having held positions with Paris Saint Germain, Real Madrid, and of course Bayern, he has only had one very brief experience in first team management, a partially successful half season with Derby County. Once again it is hardly the sort of appointment that gives you much hope of ensuring Premier League survival.

In my opinion Swansea’s six year stay in the Premier League will be over come May. Either way, whoever is in charge when this Swansea side goes down must be given the chance to rebuild. Not since Rodgers has a Swansea manager been in charge for two consecutive seasons. This lack of stability is an inherent problem, and breeds uncertainty right the way through the club. Sustained long term success is only ever really achieved when people are given a chance in the short term. Jenkins has so far been unwilling to do that.

Five-a-side TOTW: October 25th 2016

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

Just 19 goals in the Premier League this weekend. Best viewing was at Stamford Bridge as Jose Mourinho endured a dismal Chelsea return as his Manchester United side slumped to a four-nil defeat. Chelsea’s win means that the top five teams are now separated by just one solitary point.

Goalkeeper – Tom Heaton

He didn’t keep a clean sheet, but the ex-Manchester United youth had a fine game as Burnley claimed their third win of the season. Heaton made a couple of excellent saves to keep his team in it during the early exchanges, and again when the scores were tied at one-all. If Burnley are going to stay up this season then Heaton will have to turn in many similarly high class performances.

The Stopper – Winston Reid

West Ham boss Slaven Bilic has changed to a back three in recent weeks, and Reid looks to be thriving at the heart of the defence. Last week he made it into our 5TOTW due to his rock solid performance as West Ham won at Crystal Palace. This week he was once again imperious defensively, but also the match winner at the other end. However, his brilliant stoppage time turn and shot had more than a hint of fortune about it as Manuel Lanzini looked to be standing offside and within Jordan Pickford’s line of vision when the ball was struck. Nevertheless, Reid won’t care one bit, as his goal helped West Ham record back-to-back victories for the first time this season.

The Ball Winner – N’Golo Kanté

Once again the diminutive Frenchmen was absolutely sensational. He, like Reid, makes our team for the second week in a row. Last week we accused him of missing a guilt edged opportunity; this time around he would make no mistake. His goal was the final nail in the Manchester United coffin, and didn’t he just take it brilliantly? Ghosting past the Manchester United midfield, he then effortlessly turned United defender Chris Smalling inside-out before drilling a smart finish beyond the despairing David De Gea. Clearly a popular scorer, his goal was wildly celebrated by Chelsea players and fans alike.

Free Role – Xherdan Shaqiri

This man has got a penchant for spectacular goals. Whilst neither of his two goals at Hull City quite lived up to the outrageous overhead kick he scored at Euro 2016, they are both more than likely to feature on October’s goal of the month shortlist. The first was a sensational strike from the edge of the area, the second, a sumptuous free-kick, wasn’t too bad either. Stoke have made a poor start to the season, with Shaqiri looking somewhat subdued and off the pace. However, if he can find some consistent form and turn in further high quality performances, they will almost certainly continue to climb the table.

The Runner – Shinji Okazaki

Leicester’s title success was always likely to mean they would invest heavily in their squad. Okazaki has sadly been a victim of this increased expenditure, seemingly falling behind club record signing, Islam Slimani, in the pecking order. Nevertheless, the Japan international is a fine player, and the archetypal team man. He should have capitalised on an early mistake by Crystal Palace goalkeeper Steve Mandanda, however his attempted chip flew well wide of the target. His goal did eventually come just after the hour mark as he seized on Damien Delaney’s clearance to drive home from just inside the area.

Five-a-side TOTW: October 18th 2016

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

A more defensive approach taken this week, yet there is still an awful lot of flare, pace and goals in our 5TOTW!

Goalkeeper – Maarten Stekelenburg

It is unlikely we will see a finer goalkeeping performance in the Premier League this season. Steklenburg really was absolutely sensational. He saved two penalties and made numerous other saves to keep his team in the match. How they escaped The Etihad with a point still remains a mystery. The Dutchman has recently regained his international place and based on this performance is likely to hold on to it for a considerable time.

The Stopper– Winston Reid

Reid was a key component in West Ham claiming only their second win of the season, and their first away from home. The Hammers have struggled since leaving Upton Park in the summer, with their stuttering form leaving them languishing in the lower reaches of the table. Reid, however, is a class act. When he plays well the West Ham defence looks immeasurably better.

The Ball Winner – N’Golo Kanté

In my opinion this guy is the best central midfielder in the league. He was faultless as Chelsea romped over his old employers and reigning champions, Leicester City, 3-0 at Stamford Bridge. Kanté covers so much ground that you could be forgiven for thinking that there were two of him on the pitch. Probably should have scored, but his overall display still showed why he is such a talent.

The Runner – Junior Stanislas

This was a tough shout. We wanted to include Dele Alli purely for his delightful finish against West Brom. But how can you ignore players from a team that won 6-1? Bournemouth bulldozed a desperately poor Hull City side out the way at Dean Court. At times it looked as if some of the Hull players had given up. Nevertheless, Bournemouth were superb, and Stanislas was the pick of the bunch. Two goals and an assist ensured Bournemouth claimed their biggest ever Premier League victory. A well deserved inclusion in our TOTW.

The Finisher – Charlie Austin

Charlie Austin will score you goals. There is absolutely no doubt about that. The ex-QPR forward has got 7 in 9 in all competitions this season. He initially struggled after joining Southampton midway through last season. However, after his electric start to the season he has finally managed to cement his place in the team. Southampton are unbeaten in four Premier League games, with Austin scoring in three of those. If his goal-scoring form continues he could well find his way into the England fold.

Your Premier League team’s key signing

Simmo takes a look at who your club has signed this summer.

ARSENAL – Granit Xhaka – £35 million from Borussia Monchengladbach

Granit Xhaka is the big new signing at The Emirates. The Switzerland international comes with a burgeoning reputation, but also a questionable disciplinary record. Having been sent off 3 times last season for Borussia Monchengladbach, the ex-Basel man will have to watch his step. Nevertheless, with a venomous left-foot, and an eye for a pass, the 23 year old has all the credentials to be a real success in the Premier League.

BOURNEMOUTH – Jordon Ibe – £15 million from Liverpool

There were a few eyebrows raised when Eddie Howe parted with £15 million for the ex-Wycombe youth. The young winger has flattered to deceive for much of his career to date, yet the Cherries clearly saw enough to warrant smashing their transfer record. At only 20 years of age his best years are ahead of him – it could be a big year for both Ibe and Bournemouth.

BURNLEY – Jóhann Berg Guðmundsson – £2.5 million from Charlton Athletic

Fresh from Iceland’s extraordinary run to the quarter-finals of Euro 2016, Guðmundsson will look to make an impact in the top flight. He impressed last year in a Charlton side that was eventually relegated to the third tier. This will be a big step up, but if he can replicate the form he showed during the summer, then Guðmundsson could turn out to be a shrewd acquisition.

CHELSEA – N’Golo Kanté – £32 million from Leicester City

At £32 million this guy is a snip. The outstanding midfielder in the league last season. He covers every blade of grass, wins tackles and keeps things simple. Will be perfect for Conte’s new-look Chelsea, and will act as a foil for the likes of Willian and Hazard further up the pitch. If Chelsea do lift the trophy in nine months’ time, then Kanté will no doubt have played his part.

CRYSTAL PALACE – Steve Mandanda – Free Transfer from Marseille

Possibly the best value signing made thus far. The Zaire born French stopper is a class act. After 9 years and nearly 450 games on the French Riviera with Marseille, the France international decided that it was time for a clean break. With 22 caps for Les Bleus, (he would’ve had many more it weren’t for Hugo Lloris), Mandanda brings a wealth of experience. Will oust Wayne Hennessey from the No.1 spot, and is a must for your fantasy team. An inspired signing by Pardew.

EVERTON – Idrissa Gana Gueye – £7 million from Aston Villa

One of the few bright sparks in a Villa team that was relegated from the top division for the first time since 1987. Gueye has few supporters back at Villa Park, but new manager Ronald Koeman thinks that the Senegal international can add some steel to an Everton team that has massively underperformed for the last two seasons.

HULL CITY – No signings made

It’s been a summer of upheaval at the KC. The Tigers are currently without a manager since Steve Bruce left, citing differences between himself and owner/chairman, Assem Allam. There are only 9 outfield players fit at the point of writing with the future looking pretty bleak for last seasons playoff winners. With under a week to go until the start of the season Hull need to invest in a squad that is desperately short on not only numbers, but also quality.

LEICESTER CITY – Nampalys Mendy – £13 million from OCG Nice

The French midfielder has a nigh on impossible task on his hands – replace N’Golo Kanté. Mendy is not a like-for-like replacement; he’s less dynamic, and his reading of the game is not as good. Having said that, he’s a better passer of the ball than his fellow Frenchmen, and may even be a better defensive shield for the back four. With Danny Drinkwater alongside him to guide him through difficult periods in games, Leicester will recover from the blow of losing Kanté. Mendy will need to have a big season if Leicester are to once again upset the apple cart.

LIVERPOOL – Sadio Mané – £34 million from Southampton

Another player Liverpool have pinched from Southampton. Mané joins no fewer than three of his ex- St Mary’s teammates at Anfield. At £34 million big things are expected, but there are signs in pre-season that he has what it takes to manage the expectation. Places in the Liverpool frontline will be hotly contested, yet Mané offers pace and a natural width that few else do in the current squad. It could be a big year for the red half of Merseyside, and the 24 year old could well play an important role.

MANCHESTER CITY – Leroy Sané – £37 million from Schalke 04

The initial fee is £37 million, but this could rise by another £9.5 million depending on trophies and appearances. It’s a huge fee to pay for someone with fewer than 50 league games under their belt. Nevertheless, Guardiola clearly saw enough in his final year in the Bundesliga to convince the City board to fork out the cash. In doing so, Sané became the most expensive German player of all time. This season he will be competing with Kevin de Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, and fellow newcomer Nolito for a place on the City flanks. Much is expected from the young German, and he will have to contribute a lot in order to justify his huge transfer fee.

MANCHESTER UNITED – Zlatan Ibrahimovic – Free Transfer from Paris Saint Germain

He’s finally in the Premier League. United and Ibrahimovic are a perfect fit. At 34 years old, age is no longer on Zlatan’s side. However, a career best 50 goals in 51 games (including 38 in Ligue 1) last season for PSG, goes to show that age is merely just a number. Early signs are that he will make a big impression; he scored the winner in the Community Shield on his competitive debut. Having worked under Mourinho before, both will know what to expect from one another. Don’t be surprised to see him with the golden boot at the end of the campaign.

MIDDLESBROUGH – Victor Valdés – Free Transfer from Manchester United

This is a man who has won 3 Champions Leagues, 6 La Liga titles, 2 Copa del Rey’s, and countless other trophies, not to mention a World Cup and a European Championship. Since leaving Barcelona two years ago Valdés has only played 10 games. It has been a bizarre decline for a goalkeeper with such pedigree. Usually used to challenging for titles, this season will be the reverse. He will be kept very busy and could well be the difference between Middlesbrough staying up or going down.

SOUTHAMPTON – Pierre-Emile Højbjerg – £13 million from Bayern Munich

The young Danish international said he needed to move in order to gain first team football. If he wants to re-join one of Europe’s elite clubs then Southampton is the perfect stepping stone. The ex-Bayern man is a really clever player; good on the ball, and not afraid of a tackle. Could be one of the surprises this season.

STOKE CITY – Joe Allen – £12 million from Liverpool

Outstanding in Wales’ run to the semi-finals at Euro 2016. Mark Hughes has changed Stoke’s long ball approach since taking over from Tony Pulis three years ago. Allen ticks all the boxes for Hughes. An intelligent ball playing midfielder; he will form an exciting midfield partnership with Gianelli Imbula.

SUNDERLAND – Papy Djilobodji – £8 million from Chelsea

Djilobodji is Sunderland’s only signing in what has been an incredibly disrupted summer. Losing manager Sam Allardyce to the England manager’s job meant that little in the way of transfer activity took place. Djilobodji was one of José Mourinho’s last signings at Chelsea. He made one cameo appearance in the League Cup before leaving in January to join Werder Bremen on loan. In Germany he impressed, and new manager David Moyes was quick to make his move upon his appointment last month.

SWANSEA CITY – Fernando Llorente – Free Transfer from Sevilla

The Navarrese native has pedigree. A 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012 winner – there aren’t many of them in the Premier League. Nevertheless, at 31 years of age his best years are behind him. Swansea will struggle this season, and the ex-Juventus striker will do well to reach double figures. If Swansea are going to stay up then Llorente’s goals could be vital.

TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR – Victor Wanyama – £12 million from Southampton

The Kenya international re-joins Pochettino after two years apart. The ex-Celtic man scored against Barcelona in the Champions League and can look forward to more European nights with Spurs this season. With Moussa Dembélé suspended for the opening 5 games of the season, Wanyama will have to be at his creative best. Disciplinary issues have previously been a problem, and he will have to watch out when coming up against Europe’s stricter referees.

WATFORD – Jerome Sinclair – £4 million from Liverpool

Sinclair moved at the end of his contract, but due to being under 24, Watford and Liverpool had to agree a compensation package. A £4 million fee was agreed, and this could well turn out to be a bargain. Sick of not getting a chance at Liverpool, Sinclair will have to settle for a place on the bench initially. With Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo in front of him, Sinclair will have to bide his time, yet, should an injury occur then Sinclair will be ready to make his mark.

WEST BROMWICH ALBION – Matt Phillips – £5 million from Queens Park Rangers

I don’t know why more weren’t chasing the Scotland international. He’s quick, tricky, and hard-working. Pulis has shown a penchant for speedy wingers at West Brom, and Phillips certainly fits the role. Could be a real player to watch this season.

WEST HAM UNITED – Sofiane Feghouli – Free Transfer from Valencia

The French born Algerian international has managed to gain a bit of a bad boy reputation. Under Slaven Bilić any nonsense will not be tolerated. If Bilić can extract some of the Algerian’s potential then he could well turn out to be a smart piece of business.