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The Netherlands vs Uruguay: MysticalDescent’s view

July 7th, 2010 No comments

UruguayUruguayan Flag

NetherlandsDutch Flag

1) Muslera

1) Stekelenberg
3) Godin

3) Heitinga

16) Pereira

5) van Bronckhorst

22) Caceres

12) Boulahrouz

5) Gargano

6) van Bommel

11) Pereira (Abreu, 78)

10) Sneijder

15) Perez

14) De Zeeuw (van der Vaart, 46)

17) Arevalo Rios

7) Kuyt

7) Cavani

9) van Persie

10) Forlan (Fernandez, 84)

11) Robben (Elia, 90)

So much for Dutch magic and total football. Not only was chance creation at a premium, but the Dutch players doled out cynical tackles at almost the same rate as they were throwing themselves at the floor. Admittedly the third goal was a beauty, but it took a speculative shot from long range and a goal that should have been flagged for offside to overcome a Uruguay side missing two critical players in Suarez and Lugano. To say that the Netherlands never really turned up does a disservice to a hard working Uruguay side with a very effective defensive gameplan. Regardless, whilst the game fairly entertaining, the Germans and Spanish were probably licking their lips at the prospect of playing either team.

The evening started with the unexpected bonus that Jim Beglin would not be taking up the role of co-commentator for the match. David Pleat asides, I’m struggling to think of a pundit who is as irritating and perpetually incorrect as Beglin. His idiocy is only exacerbated when there’s a ‘big’ team who he can pick out as his favourite and shamelessly cheerlead for, so thank goodness we were spared him making countless excuses for the Netherlands tonight. As for the game itself, the first half was mostly disappointing, with only three real highlights. Obviously, two of these were the goals, while the other was the incident on the edge of the Dutch box that saw Caceres catch de Zeeuw in the face with a boot. Other than that, there was very little to comment on. The linesman in the Dutch half was hopelessly incompetent (more on that later) and the Uruguayans did an effective job of keeping Robben out of the game, while struggling to link up their defence and attack. The idea seemed to be to play 4-5-1 when defending, before switching to a 4-3-3 system with two wingers when attacking. Unfortunately, this usually meant that Forlan was left isolated up front, although he wasn’t helped be the hapless number 11, Pereira, and an inability to pass the ball forwards accurately. Ultimately, there was no get out ball for Uruguay and hence no chance creation.

One thing that this World Cup has done is made a mockery of goalkeepers. Muslera had very little chance with the goal, as it dipped beautifully into the top corner of the goal, but he has looked incredibly shaky and has inspired little confidence in his defence. Stekelenberg is another goalkeeper who I don’t really rate and he made a real howler tonight with the goal. You can claim that the ball swerved an awful lot, but he got a solid hand to it and it was as though all the particles in the ball had suddenly decided to act as waves and pass straight through. It’s not just the lowly rated goalkeepers who are being humiliated though – respected, capable goalkeepers such as Julio Cesar and Thomas Sorensen have also made costly errors, though admittedly Sorensen’s big errors came from free-kicks, his most glaring weakness. Has there been a drop of standards since the days of Yashin, Banks or even Schmeichel? Is it bad luck, a coincidence, or could it really be down to the World Cup ball? If it’s the latter then it’s a shame, because the once noble profession of the goalkeeper seems to be being sacrificed by FIFA in the name of the spectacular on the world stage.

As for the incident on the edge of the Dutch box, Caceres may have caused some damage to de Zeeuw, but it was van Bommel who was lucky to escape the incident without seeing red. Thanks to FIFA’s TV operators deciding that it was only important enough for one replay having already missed it taking place due to showing a replay of something else, I’m not exactly certain what happened, but van Bommel appeared to either strike Caceres in the face with his hand, or headbutt him. The consensus seems to be that it was the former, in which case Van Bommel should have been shown a straight red. Just like Fabregas and Campbell for Arsenal, though, it seems that Van Bommel is magically immune from the wrath of referees. In all seriousness, Van Bommel got away with an awful lot of stuff on the night (perhaps he should consider moving to a cynical team like Arsenal), including him taking out a Uruguayan in the build up to one of the Dutch goals and a little kick out at a Uruguayan as the game appeared to be petering out.

The second half again saw Uruguay struggle to get the ball from back to front, leaving the Dutch to control possession but only create half-chances. The turning point was when Sneijder took a pot shot from the edge of the box that was going wide but got a couple of lucky deflections off Uruguay players, sending it into the bottom corner. The goalkeeper should have done better, but he reacted very late as the ball went straight past van Persie, the Muslera seemed to be expecting to control the ball. Van Persie was clearly standing in an offside position and the linesman should have flagged for offside, disallowing the goal. The decision was actually tighter than I’ve just suggested, but the linesman had spent most of the first half flagging Uruguayan players as offside when they were quite clearly nowhere near being in an offside position. I’m not sure where they got him from, but he was completely out of his depth and Uruguay will feel very aggrieved that he cost them numerous attacking opportunities in the first half and then allowed an illegal goal to stand.

The Dutch third goal was a visible hammer blow for Uruguay, with most of their players jogging around the pitch looking as though they wanted to end as soon as possible. To be fair to the Netherlands, it was a very well constructed goal, with a good passing move leading to a pinpoint cross headed in by Arjen Robben, of all people. After that, the Uruguayan players seemed to give up hope. It was only after Pereira (the good one, the useless left winger had been substituted by now) scored from the edge of the box at the end of the game that the Uruguayans pressed on and really tried to get the game back. It would have been a fantastic contest if they had equalised, as the Dutch had started to take off their best players so that they could rest them for the final. Despite a long throw bombardment and some frantic defending, the Uruguayans couldn’t find an equaliser and the Netherlands made it through to the final. Still, you can’t spend 15 minutes moping around and then complain about losing because you attacked for 2 minutes at the end.

In the other semi-final tonight, Germany takes on Spain. At the start of the tournament, I said that Uruguay would win the World Cup (ok, so I was a little wrong, but everyone was predicting that they would go out in the group stages and even with two of their best players missing it took a dodgy goal to beat them) and that you can never bet against the Germans, who will make the final. I’m going to stand by the latter part of my prediction and I expect Germany, the stand out team in the tournament so far, to beat Spain pretty comfortably. I just hope that the game isn’t ruined by the eagerness of players on both teams to throw themselves at the floor and pretend to be injured.

MysticalDescent’s views on England vs Germany

June 28th, 2010 No comments

James – 6 – Did as well as he could given the defence that was stuck in front of him.

Johnson – 4 – Does this guy ever actually bother defending?

Terry – 3 – Exposed, once again, as a national joke.

Upson – 4 – Credit for the goal, but the man is a Championship defender at best. “Go on Matty, pretend it’s just Ricardo Fuller…”

Cole – 5 – I kind of sympathise with him because he was left completely exposed by his left winger, but this was pretty poor all the same.

Milner – 5 – Put in the only decent cross of the day, but contributed very little otherwise.

Lampard – 4 – Just as woeful as he’s been throughout the tournament.

Barry – 4 – One paced and incapable of moving the ball forwards.

Gerrard – 3 – No positional sense, no discipline and no guts, but an almighty ego.

Defoe – 4 – Hit the bar while standing offside. Other than that, he made no contribution whatsoever.

Rooney – 4 – Yet again, almost every time he touched the ball it went to a German.

J. Cole – 5 – Looked no better than anybody else when he came on.

Heskey – 5 – Did absolutely nothing.

Wright-Phillips – 5 – Came on because Johnson had hurt himself. Capello should have left him on the pitch instead.

How embarrassing it was to listen to the BBC’s pre-match broadcast, where we were told by their panel of ‘experts’ that England had a much stronger team man for man and that you wouldn’t swap any English players for any German players. Straight away, I knew that that statement was nonsense, and I suspect that plenty of other people knew that as well. Off the top of my head I can honestly say that I would have quite happily swapped Mertesacker for Upson, Schweinsteiger for Barry, Ozil for Lampard, Klose for Defoe, Lahm for Johnson and Friedrich for Terry. That’s just off the top of my head. But, of course, this is England’s ‘golden generation’, a collection of, ahem, the world’s greatest players who are better than everyone else and anything less than winning the World Cup is underachievement. This ridiculous level of media hype, that certain England players appear to have started to believe, is crippling the England team. As Phillip Lahm said after the game, ‘maybe they underestimated us because our players are not as famous as the English players’. Germany showed us how to play and win football matches at this level: possession is nothing; you just need to have a solid defence and a team with no stars but one creative spark. Whenever you get the ball, you move it forward as quickly and accurately as possible with the object of creating chances. Everybody works hard and does their job for the team. That is why the Germany is a successful footballing nation, while the latest adventures of the ‘golden generation’ have resulted in a second round humiliation.

Lampard and Schweinsteiger

Lampard for Schweinsteiger: two that I'd have loved to have swapped before the game.

I can’t go much further without putting the ‘golden generation’ myth to bed. You could look in almost every position in this current England team and replace the incumbent player with an England player from the last 20 years. In fact, let’s just look at the four year period in between Euro ’96 and the 2002 World Cup, the last tournament before the ‘golden generation’. At this World Cup England have been able to choose Rooney alongside Defoe, Heskey or Crouch up front. Even in the botched Euro 2000 campaign, England had two very good strikers in Shearer and Owen, with the likes of Phillips and Cole in reserve. That’s four strikers who are better than any of Rooney’s potential partners, without even considering Sheringham at Euro 96. If you go back to the World Cup in 1998, you could have Michael Owen in the best form of his career before the injuries took their toll, so from the last 14 years, I’d have Owen and Shearer up front. In goal, Seaman is a better goal keeper than Green or James, while at centre-back Tony Adams was a much, much better player than John Terry currently is and anybody out of Sol Campbell, Gareth Southgate, Martin Keown and Rio Ferdinand would be better than Upson. Gary Neville in his prime easily beats Glen Johnson and it’s only really at left back where you have to actually think about replacing the current player. Ashley Cole is one of the best left backs in the world, no doubt about that, so it’s a complete toss-up as to whether or not you’d put his polar opposite, Stuart Pearce, in his place. In midfield, even at his current age Paul Scholes is much better than Lampard, Gerrard or Barry so he’d breeze his way into the centre, while Paul Gascoigne had more creativity than the rest of the current squad put together. To be honest, I’d probably prefer Paul Ince, David Batty and David Platt to the likes of Barry and Carrick. On the right, a fully fit David Beckham from 2002 would be better than James Milner and would offer the England team more from set pieces. The left of midfield has always been a problem position for England, but even Darren Anderton or Nicky Barmby would be a better option than watching Gerrard spend the full 90 minutes abandoning his position and leaving his full-back exposed. So there you have it, the best England team that you could put together from the last 14 years is Seaman, G. Neville, Adams, Campbell, Pearce, Beckham, Scholes, Gascoigne, Anderton, Shearer and Owen. The only player from the supposed ‘golden generation’ to even come close to getting a look in is Ashley Cole. Going back even further, I don’t think that it’s too much of a push to say that the ‘golden generation’ has, in fact, produced the worst England team for at least 20 years. That sounds like hyperbole or exaggeration, but when you look at the teams and players that could potentially have been fielded over the years, you realise that it is actually true.

The Golden Generation

The last hurrah for the last stragglers of the 'gold generation', thank goodness.

The long and short of it is this: asides from Rooney, who is a world class player despite his awful performances, and Cole, who is still one of the best left backs in the world, the England team is massively over-rated. Steven Gerrard may be the chest-thumping talisman figure for Liverpool who pops up every now and then with a vital goal, but it’s no coincidence that as soon as Xabi Alonso packed his bags, Liverpool sank down the table. Most of England’s star players are somewhere in between mediocre and good, but are made to look like world beaters thanks to their superior foreign team-mates. Would Lampard have developed into the type of player he is for Chelsea without Makelele? He’s a good player, but he only flourishes in his role at Chelsea because he’s got plenty of superior foreign team-mates surrounding him. Chelsea tried playing in a 4-4-2 system, but Lampard couldn’t fit in and they were forced to revert to 4-3-3 so that he could benefit from having two players to back him up. If John Terry wasn’t surrounded by the likes of Alex and Carvalho, who are there to mop up every single mistake he makes, he’d be seen as a very mediocre Premier League player. I have seen him mauled and rag-dolled all over the Britannia Stadium pitch by Mamady Sidibe, a free transfer from Gillingham. I have seen his superb man-marking allow Abdoulaye Faye to score an easy header while completely unmarked. I have seen him get so fed up of failing to win a single ball in the air against Stoke that he rolled around on the floor clutching his face pretending to be injured in an effort to get a Stoke player sent off. If you couple this with his general demeanour during the game (for example, when he had realised that the referee wasn’t going to send the Stoke player off, he got straight back up to play and shouted at the referee for making him go off the pitch in accordance with the rules), you begin to realise why England fail so frequently. Pampered mediocrities led to believe that they’re the best in the world and given a free rein on the pitch by the referee.

For my money, then, a second round defeat against a strong team is probably the most that this England team were capable of. A lesser manager probably wouldn’t have even gotten us through the group stages, so there’s no sense blaming Capello. That said, he has made some very strange decisions during the tournament and they have not benefited the team. Gerrard has absolutely no positional discipline on the left hand side and so the manager should have removed him and put him either in the middle or on the substitutes’ bench. Matthew Upson is not up to Premier League football, never mind World Cup football, and so Capello would have been better off picking Dawson to partner Terry in the middle. Up front, Darren Bent was forced to miss out despite probably being a better option up front than Defoe, whilst Capello became just another in a shamefully long line of England managers to completely ignore the country’s best target man, Kevin Davies. He may be well past his best and playing for an unfashionable club, but that says more about the state of English football than it does about Kevin Davies. Capello was right to stick by his system, but he persevered with the wrong players. Lampard cannot play without two holding players behind him, so bin him, bring in someone who fits the system and move on. Gerrard doesn’t work on the left, so put him in the middle, put a real left sided player out there and move on. Rob Green is a Championship level goalkeeper and James has had a poor season, so play Joe Hart from the start and move on. Unfortunately, plenty of other things were out of Capello’s hands. Somehow, Glen Johnson is the only right-back that this country can produce. He is a player who offers little in attack at international level and whose defensive frailties are even more exposed than usual. Capello cannot single-handedly overcome the ‘player power’ culture that has come to dominate the likes of Chelsea over the years, either. If John Terry doesn’t like the manager at Chelsea, he forces him out, just like Shearer forced out plenty of Newcastle managers over the years. The England players don’t like a bit of discipline and being made to work hard, so the likes of Terry openly question the manager’s authority and methods in public in an attempt to make his position untenable and force him out. Capello cannot simply dispose of him though; if Terry went, Lampard would likely follow and then there would be media outcry as two of the darlings of the ‘golden generation’ had been senselessly exiled, despite obviously being two of the best players in the world. This current crop of England players are simply unwilling to work unless everything is dictated according to their terms and it is yet another reason why they will consistently fail to achieve anything.

The Germans gave us an exhibition of what modern football is all about. England had something like 55% of the possession in the first half, but the Germans demonstrated that possession is virtually nothing. The opposition can do what they like with the ball in their own half, so long as when they eventually give it you back, and they will if you defend properly, you move the ball forward quickly and accurately, with the focus on creating chances. England tried to play with two defenders and the Germans punished them for it. Germany was patient when England had the ball and every player kept to his position. England did a good job of forming a back eight against the USA, but as soon as the Germans invited pressure upon themselves, the England players completely lost their shape. Typically, when the Germans launched a counter attack, Gerrard would be somewhere in the vicinity of the right sided attacking midfielder’s position, Cole and Johnson would both be somewhere near the edge of the box and Lampard and Barry would be in the middle, preparing to jog back at around half the speed of their German counterparts. Three of the four goals came as a result of the Germans counter-attacking ferociously and catching the English players completely off guard and out of position, while the first was simply a routine they’d worked on in training to take advantage of one of the English defence’s weaknesses. To be honest, the Germans were a joy to watch.

So what now for the future of the English game? Well, I personally wouldn’t advocate a change of manager, although it appears to be on the cards. Capello is a very good manager who did the best he could with a bad hand and he should be given a chance to clear out the rubbish ‘stars’ from the England team before he leaves his post. It is pretty obvious, though, that fundamental changes to the English game need to be made. These are already being discussed at length and so I shall not go into that here, but I do think that the national football centre at Burton is an absolute must. As for the short term, if we must have a change in manager then there is likely to be a clamour for Redknapp or Hodgson. This is pretty reasonable, seeing as they’ve both been successful in recent seasons, but I fear that they’d just bring us more of the same. They’d go on telling us that the current English crop of players are amongst the best of the world and then try to take on the Spanish or Brazilians at their own game, resulting in defeat. If the top international teams formed a kind of ‘Premier League’, England would be the team with a big reputation but players who are, technically, massively inferior to their counterparts. There are two men in the Premier League who are good at getting results with this kind of team, Sam Allardyce and Tony Pulis. As Pulis is Welsh, that leaves us with Allardyce. It may not be pretty, but it sure as hell will be effective. Allardyce would get the current crop of England players playing to a system which accentuated their strengths and focused on the team, rather than putting a bunch of individuals into a formation and expecting them to perform as they do for their clubs. At Newcastle, Allardyce failed because he was stuck with prima donnas who didn’t like being made to work hard and play as a team. For England, if the players didn’t want to work then Allardyce could just ship them out and bring in two destroyers instead. Defending resolutely and bullying top teams into submission may not be the prettiest way to play football, but in the short term it’s probably the only way to get the best out of the current team.

The ‘golden generation’, however, are a dead loss and need to be cut adrift as soon as possible.

MysticalDescent’s views on England vs Slovenia

June 24th, 2010 No comments

James – 7 – Good safe hands for the majority of the match. He looked a calm, experienced head in a crunch game.

Johnson – 5 – Anything he did in the match, of which there was little good, was completely overshadowed by his persistent cheating. He was eventually booked for exaggerating contact, but he was very lucky to get away with a couple of other dives.

Terry – 7.5 – I was actually impressed with Terry, he was good at the back, was unlucky not to score and put in an exceptional, vital block. More of the same please.

Upson – 6 – Made one good block, but the rest of his game wasn’t really up to much. Somehow, he’s even slower than Carragher.

Cole – 7.5 – Not up to the level he performs at for Chelsea, but much, much better. He really got down the flank and gave his full-back a nightmare. How much better would he be with a left winger to help him out?

Milner – 8 MotM – His crossing ranged between awful and inch perfect, but his all round performance was probably as good as any England player this tournament.

Barry – 7 – A good, quiet game from Barry, but his forwards distribution left a lot to be desired at times.

Lampard – 6 – He still hasn’t really impressed, he missed a good chance and everything he did well was cancelled out by a mistake.

Gerrard – 6 – He looked dangerous throughout the game, but he completely abandoned his position on the left hand side time after time.

Defoe – 6 – Got the winner, but that was almost his only touch of the game and I’m far from convinced by him.

Rooney – 6 – Better than his shocker against Algeria, but he looked low on confidence and was making poor decisions.

Cole – 6 – Didn’t have a huge impact on the game.

Heskey – 6 – Also didn’t have a huge impact on the game, but was at least a decent calming presence who was a useful get out ball in the tense last few minutes.

It’s been a long time in coming, but England has finally arrived at the World Cup. Like our tournament to date, we started off sluggishly but unlike the tournament so far, we had a real flourish in the 25 minutes prior to half time and it continued for about 20 minutes after the break. In that period, we looked like we could have scored three or four and it was a complete turnaround from the last two games. We mustn’t get carried away, however.

Defoe scores for England

England have scored in the middle of a good spell! What, really?

Slovenia is not a team of world beaters. Slovenia is a team who finished in third place in a bog standard World Cup group and who never had any real hope of getting beyond the group stage. They are not a top, top team and there are certain things that we got away with against them that we will not get away with against the likes of Spain, Brazil and Uruguay (who remain my tip for the trophy). For a start, I’m a long, long way from being convinced by Jermain Defoe up front. He scored the winning goal and that’s a big plus, even if it did go in off his shin. Would Heskey have gotten himself in that position to score? It’s unlikely. That was one of Defoe’s only touches over the course of the match, however, whereas Heskey would be involved in most of England’s attacks. It would be alright if Defoe were the sort of player who will pop up almost every single game with a goal, but he isn’t, at all. It’s all a bit of a quandary really, and I don’t envy Capello for having to make the call on Sunday. The more I look at it, we really are very, very weak up front. Defoe, Heskey and Crouch are all limited players and none of them is a world beater. Even in Euro 2000 we had two very good strikers to call on in Shearer and Owen. This year, we just have Rooney.

Secondly, Capello has to spend a lot of time thinking about what he does with his captain. Steven Gerrard simply does not work out on the left wing. He does not behave with any of the positional discipline that you would expect of a left winger. Instead, he plays the same game that he plays for Liverpool when he plays in the centre, apart from when defending in which case he drops back over to the left hand side. Throughout the game Gerrard appears all over the pitch when England has possession, but he is never where he is supposed to be. The ultimate effect is that we are left short if we ever move the ball over to the left and as good as he is, Ashley Cole cannot consistently take on two opposition defenders on his own. For what it’s worth I would move Gerrard to the middle, take out Lampard and put Joe Cole on the left. Bizarrely, Capello doesn’t seem to have considered this, as he showed when he brought on Cole to play behind the main striker while Gerrard stayed out wide. Gerrard’s indiscipline will cost us in both defence and attack against the better teams unless it is nipped in the bud now.

We can at least be pleased with the performance that James Milner put in. Aaron Lennon is a good player, but there was something missing from his game against the US and Algeria. His failure to use his pace to get down the line to put a cross meant that he offered just as little in attack as he did defence. Milner, however, was a revelation after his bizarre cameo against the US. He was constantly getting balls into the box and whilst they were a bit hit and miss, when he got it right he got it very right indeed. The cross for the goal was inch perfect and there were one or two others that he put into the right areas. He’s a player who has really come on quietly over the past few years and he is now starting to demonstrate why he is such a crucial player for Aston Villa. In a team that has been blighted by workshy, arrogant prima donnas, it’s nice to see a quiet and hardworking player who also has a bit of talent. Hopefully we’ll get a repeat performance against the Germans.

James Milner

James Milner's performance was a revelation, hopefully he could become the star of this tournament for England

I have already mentioned in this article and others that I think Wayne Rooney is our only world class player. For some reason, however, he just hasn’t turned up so far. A change of strike partners hasn’t helped him and every minute that passes over the course of the game just seems to place more and more weight on his shoulders. I think that he’s being affected by a combination of a lingering injury and feeling the massive, massive pressure that’s on him to perform. The press are quite happy to remind him every time he sees them that he’s seen as the single creative spark that England has who is capable of single-handedly winning the World Cup. He’s constantly told that he’s the best English player for a whole generation. I think once he gets one goal, he could well get another and the pressure would start to alleviate a little, but a lack of confidence caused by the pressure then begins to come into play. Against Slovenia, he quite often chose to pass when he would have been able to shoot, or shoot when he would have been better off passing. He had an excellent chance to score, but he fluffed his lines and ended up taking his shot with the ball already behind him. It was a top quality save, but a poor miss, regardless of whether or not he thought he was offside. I think we’ve seen the back of the player who will get so frustrated that he’ll lash out on the nearest opposition player, so with careful management that shouldn’t be a worry for us, but he needs something to happen for him soon because he’s currently becoming a liability. Worse than that, he’s an undroppable liability, somebody who England cannot do without, but who is holding England back.

Of course, a good 45 minute spell across the middle of the match won’t be enough for us to beat the Germans. There’s a reason that they haven’t failed to reach the quarter finals since 1936 and it is engrained into their football culture. We cannot afford to let the game go beyond extra time; we must win it before the dreaded penalty shootout. Do that and maybe, just maybe I’ll let myself suspect that it could be our year. We can potentially face Argentina in the quarter-finals and Portugal in the semi-finals, should we beat the Germans. It’s all lined up for us to take our revenge for so many footballing disasters over the years. I’m feeling strangely optimistic.

England lose to Germany on penalties

Let's try not to take on the Germans at their own game, let's just beat them in ordinary time instead.

MysticalDescent’s views on England v Algeria

June 19th, 2010 No comments

Player Ratings First:

James – 6 – Did all that was asked of him but never looked confident and his defence looked like strangers to him.

Johnson – 5 – Can’t defend and he never showed any of his supposed attacking prowess. Unfortunately he’s all we’ve got.

Carragher – 6 – Even if he’s slow and clumsy, he did a decent job of getting the basics right, unlike everybody else.

Terry – 5 – Another shaky performance.

Cole – 5 – Was more willing to get up the flank, but was poor in his control of the ball and his he ultimately contributed very little.

Lennon – 5 – Struggled to get into the game and when he did, he made some very poor decisions.

Lampard – 4 – His tournament must end now if England are to progress.

Barry – 5 – Some good defensive play in the first half, but as the game went on his distribution got worse and worse.

Gerrard – 5 – Showed promise when he drifted into the middle, but you cannot, you absolutely cannot, just abandon your post like that with absolutely no discipline whatsoever. He was played on the left wing and he left that area of the pitch completely empty most of the time.

Heskey – 6 – Not as good as he was against the USA, but once again he was the only player in England’s attack to actually turn up and do a job. He gets more criticism than he deserves.

Rooney – 4 – The pressure seems to be really getting to him. When I’ve seen him in person, he has almost never given the ball away. This time, every time the ball touched him it would almost instantly return to Algeria.

Wright-Phillips – 5.5 – Just plain not good enough.

Defoe – 5 – Offered absolutely nothing.

Crouch – 5 – Barely touched the ball.

Let’s make no bones about it; this performance was simply not good enough. We weren’t stifled by a team that set out to defend, as Algeria had no such intention and were just as courageous as us. Like the USA, Algeria is a very poor side comprised mostly of players who play several levels below England’s superstars. The fact that one of their biggest stars, Madjid Bougherra, spent a large portion of his time at Crewe Alexandra and Sheffield Wednesday should tell you an awful lot about the quality of player that they have. Responsibility has to lie with both the players and the manager. You may disagree with the team that Capello fielded, I know I did, or even his system, but the 11 players out there should have been capable of scoring at least one against such a poor team. Lampard have several opportunities to put England players through on goal, but instead chose to take a hopeless shot from thirty yards or give it away, Gerrard cost the team width and balance by choosing to spend the entire game sitting in the middle and Rooney seemed to completely buckle under the pressure, having now failed to do anything productive in 180 minutes of football.

Rooney with Djamel Abdoun
A good night’s work for Algeria, but more pressure on Rooney

I worry that the manager has fallen prey to one of Sven’s biggest weaknesses. We all knew with depressing certainty in Euro 2004 that no matter how poorly David Beckham played, he would be guaranteed to play the full 90 minutes. I get the impression that the manager thinks that certain players seem to do so well for their clubs and are so highly rated by everyone that they must play, no matter what. The fact is this: England have only one world class player, Wayne Rooney. The likes of Gerrard, Lampard and Terry are good players, but are massively limited and selfish in an England shirt. They stand out in the Premier League, but that is because they get away with murder thanks to the assistance of their superior foreign team-mates and the referee. All three can do the spectacular stuff, but are simply nowhere near world class. They get all the plaudits simply because they are English players who do the spectacular stuff for their side. Gerrard may still score screamers from the edge of the box in the last minute for Liverpool, but it’s no coincidence that he’s been powerless to stop their slide since the sale of Xabi Alonso. The manager must make some gutsy calls in time for the next game. He’s the man who shipped Ronaldo out of Real Madrid, so I don’t think it’s beyond him.

He would do well to learn from Stoke City’s example. On paper, most teams would probably fancy themselves against Stoke, but there is a rigid system packed full of players who fill a very specific role in that system. If players don’t fit in, they don’t get in the team. People may tear their hair out when the likes of Tuncay and Kitson can’t hold down a place, but the right players play in the right system and it works. For what it’s worth, I believe that England has the right system, but we are picking the wrong players for that system. The midfield is currently the weakness and 2 chances created in 180 minutes of football goes a long way to showing that. Gerrard finally seems to have hit form for England and he’s been sandwiched into the left wing position. On a good day, he’s ineffective there, and on a bad game like last night he’s completely free of discipline and just wanders about doing whatever he pleases, completely abandoning his post. Joe Cole, the only player in the England squad with experience of playing on the left wing at international level and one of England’s few creative sparks, seems to be behind Lennon, Wright-Phillips, Gerrard and Rooney in the picking order for the left wing position. This just does not make sense. Gerrard is probably England’s best central midfielder and is wasted out wide, keeping somebody who can play in that position out of the team (sound familiar, Stoke fans?). The odd one out is Lampard, who for all his superstardom is simply not good enough. I suspect some supporters will be unable to cope with the loss of somebody who is ‘obviously’ good, but if you cannot fit in, you are nothing to the team. Barry should partner Gerrard, but we’d be much, much stronger in the centre if Paul Scholes had been convinced to return. He’s done his job very quietly this season and he doesn’t get forward as much these days, but Scholes is still the best English central midfielder. He can receive the ball off the defence and his range of passing is then superb. England sorely misses somebody like him. Up front, the Heskey and Rooney partnership is probably the best we have, but their roles need to change slightly. Heskey should drop a little deeper and Rooney should focus on spearheading the attack as an out and out striker rather than falling back into midfield. At the very least, those small tweaks would us through to the next round, but Capello must have the guts to stand by his system and get rid of Lampard.

Capello on the touchline

Capello must be strong enough to stand by his system and wield the axe on some of his over-rated stars

So what of last night’s game? I think ‘nervy’ is a bad description, but the pressure certainly showed. Every single player on the pitch was so desperate to stand out that they made some very poor decisions and were not playing for the team. Carragher nearly scored an own goal trying to unnecessarily clear a cross that was going straight to James, Terry headed a ball into a dangerous position when it was sailing out for a goal-kick. In attack, Rooney and Cole were guilty of taking on too many defenders, while Lennon was obsessed with fancy flicks instead of doing the simple job of getting down the line and putting balls into the box. Gerrard wanted to take the starring role in the middle rather than settling down on the left. Lampard went for long shots when there were better options while Barry did a decent job of winning the ball but tried ambitious passes that almost always failed. Perhaps Capello has kept the players on their toes too much and now they are desperate to stand out in case they lose their place. I think the old ‘fear of failure’ is starting to creep back in as well, something that Sven combated pretty well. This is going to be a very big few days and the manager must handle the players well. Clough always said that his players were at their best when they were relaxed and enjoying themselves and you’re inclined to agree. A bit of team spirit and camaraderie would not go amiss. It’s all well and good to see Rooney mouthing off at the camera last night and complain that the players are living in a bubble, but Capello must create a bubble for the players now, isolated from the prying eyes of the press and the criticism of the supporters. 6 days is no amount of time to create a hard working team ethic, but it is what must be done. They must learn to fight tooth and nail for each other and for their nation.

Ultimately, few players played well. Heskey was average at best when it came to doing what was expected of him and Carragher was better than Terry, but that really is as good as it gets. The midfield was absolutely dire and chance creation was minimal. It’s unlikely that we’d have taken any chances that were created because the top English goalscorer last season had to come all the way back into the middle at actually touch the ball. Ashley Cole would probably have been more effective on the left if he had a left winger to help him out, rather than having to do all the work on his own. England failed to outshine the Algerians in a game that was ultimately a stalemate. Great if you’re Algerian, a disaster for England. This was simply not good enough.

My team for Slovenia:

James

Johnson Terry Dawson A. Cole

Lennon Gerrard Barry J. Cole

Heskey

Rooney

Thank goodness that game will be on the BBC. If I have to listen to another 90 minutes of commentary from those idiots at ITV I may end up putting the television through the window. Everything ITV do is amateurish, cheap and pathetic, be it their football coverage or shows such as the X-Factor. There are too many adverts to make it watchable, but when you listen to Tyldsley, Beglin, Southgate and all the rest trying to talk about football, you realise that the adverts are actually the best bit. Tyldsley and Townsend are so incapable of tactically analysing a game that when somebody suggests something novel like changing the system, they become like a dog with a bone and will just not shut up about it, despite it being apparent that it will simply not happen. In the studio, the panel just spout some extra nonsense to go with it all. The fact that Adrian Chiles, a decent bloke whose forte is a more informal, jokey programme such as Match of the Day 2, is fronting the supposedly ultra-sleek and professional World Cup show says it all. The BBC’s standards are pretty low as well, embarrassing even, so thank goodness for the insights of Mick McCarthy.

ITV World Cup Panel

Somebody please shut them up.

England can beat Slovenia and fulfill their potential, but they must play the right players for the system.

MysticalDescent’s views on England vs USA

June 13th, 2010 No comments

Player Ratings First:

Green – 4.5 – Had two big saves to make, one of which he dropped in his own goal and the other of which he got very lucky with.

Johnson – 5.5 – Untroubled defensively, but he was massively frustrating on the ball. Every time it came to him in the England half he was so slow to move it on that it inevitably went sideways and any attacking impetus was lost.

King – 5.5 – Never really looked all that assured and he never really inspired confidence.

Terry – 6 – Steady performance.

Cole – 5.5 – No troubles in defence, like Johnson, but his distribution was shockingly poor.

Lennon – 6 – When he got the ball, he was our only direct attacking threat. Not perfect by any means, but plenty to build on and a much better option than anything else we’ve got.

Gerrard – 7 – I think that this must have been Gerrard’s first good game for England since he played against Germany at Euro 2000. He did a decent job of getting from box to box, making himself an effective part of our ‘back eight’ and doing a good job when he had the ball.

Lampard – 5 – Completely anonymous, he never got into the game.

Milner – 5 – I can only think that the pressure of the occasion got to him, because his cameo was bizarre.

Heskey – 8 Man of the Match – The missed chance was the only blot on his performance. He held the ball up well, won it in the air and was the fulcrum of our team. Once he went off, the game was dead.

Rooney – 5 – Did not turn up.

Substitutes:

Wright-Phillips – 4 – An absolute liability and no better than Walcott. Every time he touched the ball it went straight back to the USA.

Carragher – 5 – none of our centre-backs are especially quick, but Carragher looked slow and out of touch.

Crouch – 6 – Little time to make any impact, but when he came on our attacking threat effectively ended.

I’m yet to look at the Sunday newspapers, but I imagine that there’s some degree of panic mongering and that Rob Green has become something of a scapegoat. I can imagine all sorts of puns involving ‘Soylent Green’ of ‘Putting Green’. There’s no point rounding on the England team after this performance, though. That’s the sort of behaviour reserved for fickle gloryhunters. This performance was by no means up to scratch, but there was plenty of potential and with some minor tweaking, as opposed to a complete overhaul, England should qualify from the group with ease. There were a number of positives.

The first was how effective England was when the USA had the ball and tried to launch an attack. Capello has a reputation as a pragmatist who can build a strong defensive unit and it showed last night. I never had any confidence in our centre-backs, but whenever the USA had the ball, England dropped back and formed a virtually impenetrable back eight. As soon as the USA had the ball in the England half, they had two options: they could either play it back to their defenders who would panic and give it away or they could take a shot from thirty yards. It’s something that’s gone largely un-noticed in the aftermath of the game and I suspect that Capello will be very pleased with the defensive side of his team.

Gerrard’s performance was another big bonus. Normally for England the manager persists with him because he’s such an effective, talismanic figure for Liverpool, but he completely fails to deliver. It’s always been hard to say why; it could be a lack of motivation, being partnered alongside an unsuitable player or just struggling in an unfamiliar position. He seemed really fired up last night and I suspect it had something to do with him having been handed the captain’s armband and having become the team’s leader on the world stage. Hopefully, he may be thinking that he can be the same talismanic captain for England that he is for Liverpool. He tracked back well, his tackling was good, he won it in the air and there were no problems with his distribution. He had a quieter second half, but there can be no real complaints with his performance.

After Heskey’s man of the match display last night, I think that we have the right system, but we need to tweak the personnel a little. I can appreciate the argument for playing 4-5-1 with Gerrard behind Rooney, but it is not one that I can advocate. When we played it long, Heskey generally won it, held up the ball and brought other players into the game. That was when we created chances. When we tried to play possession football, the same thing happened over and over again. We’d start from the back, play it across the back four and run out of ideas. Johnson would get the ball in a position where he could press forward and work with Lennon to get the ball in the box, but he was too indecisive. He ended up trapping the ball, getting surrounded and playing it sideways. Cole tried to press forward with the ball, but his distribution was uncharacteristically poor. If we are to play possession football, it must be with an emphasis on keeping the ball in the opposition half so that they are under permanent pressure. There’s an awful lot to be said for Stoke’s approach of getting the ball into the box at every opportunity. What England was playing was not effective possession football, it was tippy-tappy. Worse still, it was tippy-tappy that always had the same end result, the long ball up to Heskey. They may as well have saved five minutes and just played it long in the first place. This is why I fear the 4-5-1 system. Neither of our central midfielders was coming deep to receive the ball off the defenders. They were both jostling for the starring role and were hoping that somebody would come in and do such menial work in the way that they have become accustomed to when playing for their clubs. The defence were completely isolated and ultimately we ended up with only one way of getting the ball forwards. The difference with playing Gerrard behind Rooney is that we’re left with nobody to win these long balls and we’ll just end up giving it away every single time.

This must be the first little tweak to the current 4-4-1-1 system. One of Lampard and Gerrard must be dropped or moved asides because the two simply do not work in the middle together. Neither of them will come deep, receive the ball and start an attack. They want to finish the attack and take the plaudits for their part in a vital goal. Last night we were crying out for a player like Gareth Barry to just sit back and take the ball and move it on. This role has recently been mastered by Paul Scholes at Manchester United, who sits on the halfway line, demands the ball off his defenders and then players a pin-point 30 yard pass to a team-mate. Unfortunately, he couldn’t be convinced to come out of retirement and so the only viable alternative is Barry. I think the way forward is to play Joe Cole on the left, put Gerrard and Barry in the middle and drop Lampard. Somebody has to miss out for the good of the team. We’ve then at least got two ways of getting the ball forwards and hopefully that would allow us to bring the likes of Lennon into the game more. For now, though, I can see no sense whatsoever in getting rid of the only get out ball that we had tonight and the only player to play really well. The fact that he was our only get out option when we had the likes of Gerrard, Johnson, Cole and Lennon on the pitch is something that seriously needs addressing.

The other change that needs to be made is in goal. I am not going to go over the top in criticism of Rob Green. He made a horrible, horrible mistake on the big stage and his confidence will now be shot to pieces. I don’t know if he’ll be able to pick himself up in the next few days, but I get the impression that there could be a disaster on our hands if we pick him again. Unfortunately, there is also a pretty persuasive argument for not swapping goalkeepers. Whoever comes in will know that there is an incredible amount of pressure on them not to make the same kind of stupid mistake the Green did, else they’ll be out of the team and a national villain. To be honest, Capello could and perhaps should have avoided this whole situation before the World Cup even began. At Stoke this season, I have seen a number of perspective England goalkeepers. Joe Hart for Birmingham was virtually single-handedly responsible for the 4 points that Birmingham took from Stoke this season. Paul Robinson produced a string of good saves home and away. Rob Green, however, had a big part in the three goals that Stoke scored against West Ham this season (as did Matthew Upson for that matter) and got away with dropping a long throw onto Fuller’s head last season when the referee disallowed the resulting goal. Whenever I have seen Green his positional sense has been questionable, he has been uncertain on crosses and he has failed to inspire any kind of confidence in him. Joe Hart has matured into a good shot-stopper who has added the ability to command his box to his repertoire. He is the in-form goalkeeper high on confidence and he should have been tried out in the warm up friendlies and he should have played yesterday. It’s no use going over the top on Green; he’s out of his depth and should never have been picked.

Finally, Capello needs to take a long, hard look at his two centre-backs. King was poor and may well miss the next few games through injury. Neither he nor Terry looked very good in the air, either. This didn’t surprise me with Terry, as I’ve seen at first hand that despite the bravado, he’s not one of those defenders who will eat up absolutely everything played high into his own box, but I thought King would cope better. The biggest concern, however, was pace. Terry and King are slow, but their immediate back-up, Carragher, was horrifyingly slow and it nearly cost us a goal. Upson is no better and I’m afraid that I don’t know enough about Dawson to suggest that he’d be a better option. If King is injured, I think that Carragher is over the hill and Upson just plain isn’t good enough, so I suppose it would have to be Dawson who came in. He’s young and inexperienced, but it’s an opportunity for Terry to show off his leadership skills and guide him through.

In short then, a disappointing result and performance, but no real disaster. It showed that the system we are using is the right one, but that we need to make slight changes. Capello is a smart manager who will learn from his mistakes and will hopefully get it right next time out. He doesn’t seem to be the sort to shy away from the big calls, but I have a horrible feeling that both Lampard and Gerrard will feature in the next fixture. I think that there will be a lot of emphasis on the fact that the England team weren’t too far away from where they wanted to be last night but that there is room for improvement all over the pitch.

My team for Algeria:

Hart

Johnson Terry Dawson A. Cole

Lennon Gerrard Barry J. Cole

Heskey

Rooney

P.S. What an absolute pleasure it was to have Mick McCarthy as the pundit for Nigeria’s game against Argentina. Having a manager currently plying his trade in the Premier League gave a far greater insight into what was going on on the pitch than anything that Lawrenson or even the unbearable Beglin have ever come out with. If only he commentated on England’s games.

MysticalDescent’s World Cup Blog – An Introduction

June 12th, 2010 No comments

Just a brief first blog here. As a lifelong supporter of Stoke City and England, I’ll be watching every England match at the World Cup and analysing it on here in the aftermath. The games between South Africa and Mexico and France and Uruguay have been fairly disappointing so far, but I have no doubt that there will be some real fascinating and entertaining matches on display.

I’ll be back with my report after the game against the USA. I’m afraid to say I have a horrible feeling about it, but I’m sure that Capello’s England will prove me wrong.