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Posts Tagged ‘Capello’

Euro 2012, Discipline Lessons and Farewell Arry, Farewell Orange?

June 14th, 2012 No comments

England played with refreshing discipline against France.  Our players kept focus and came away with a  deserved point.  It was particularly pleasing to see the midfielders protect the defence properly.  Steve Gerrard didn’t stray forward and Terry and Lescott were solid.  If we continue to defend with such composure the kerfuffle over Rio Ferdinand’s absence will soon be forgotten.  Our forward play caused France problems, but we lacked that extra bit of craft and confidence on the ball to sustain pressure.  When Rooney returns against Ukraine he will provide our attacking play a much needed extra dimension.  It is worth noting however that despite France dominating possession, it was England who created the clearest chance of the game.

While lacking the style and panache of the 98 and 2000 sides, France have improved greatly since 2010’s catastrophic World Cup campaign. On Monday we got a draw against Europe’s in form team.  When he was appointed we knew that Roy Hodgson would put emphasis on shape.  It’s pleasing to see positive results.

When the draw was made back in December it was surprising that much of the media seemed to regard England’s qualification for the quarter finals of Euro 2012 as a formality.  Every side you face in a tournament will cause you problems.  When England beat Sweden in a friendly in November it was the first time we had defeated them since 1968.  If anyone becomes complacent and believes a corner has been turned, bear in mind that England have never beaten Sweden in a competitive match.  Ukraine are the final opponents and facing the hosts always provides an extra challenge.  We have made an encouraging start to the campaign but the notion that England will easily reach the quarter final is naive.  Long way to go.

Elsewhere in the tournament the Dutch appear to be on their way home.  For all their skill and style they have failed to defend properly.  Germany‘s two goals were brilliantly created and taken but their opponents helped them along.  For his first goal Gomez found acres of space between the two German central defenders. Schweinsteiger’s ball was incisive  but why were Holland so generous? They still have a chance of reaching the quarter finals but need to defend as a unit.  The rumours of player unrest in the camp hardly inspires confidence.

‘Arry has left Spurs.  Who could have predicted that at Christmas?   Fabio Capello’s departure co-incided with Redknapp being found not guilty of tax evasion  and it seemed his stars were aligned to light the path to manage England.   Unfortunately for Arry the speculation about managing England led to a serious dip in Spurs form.   He was sacked over a contract dispute.  Despite what he said it’s hard to believe Champions league qualification wouldn’t have helped his cause.    Will he manage in the Premier League again?   He may fancy a lucrative contract overseas.

The need to exorcise demons, brilliant orange, a solution for Fabio.

November 23rd, 2011 No comments

Psychiatrists often advise people to confront their demons.  Using this as a template, Tony Pulis would be well advised to take his players to Bolton’s Reebok Stadium for a day out.  We discovered on Saturday that we still bear the scars of the thrashing we received a fortnight before.

The Bolton aftermath haunted the build up to the QPR game.  Oddly, Tony Pulis even stated publicly that he’d been too harsh on the players.  It was odd but understandable.  We were preparing for a home game we expected to win.  A win was crucial to wash  the pain of Bolton away.  Initially it seemed our players had responded to the challenge.  We started at a blistering pace and immediately carried the game to the opposition.  On eight minutes we took the lead with an impressive finish from Walters.  Our early dominance had got it’s reward.  When Crouch squandered an excellent opportunity it seemed a matter of time before we doubled the lead.  On 22 minutes static defending led to Helguson equalising for QPR.  That was the pivotal point of the match.  From being in complete control of the contest we were at Bolton again…. visibly shaken, confidence shattered and discipline lost.   The early zest disintegrated  completely and yet again we were reduced to chasing the opposition.  It wasn’t a huge shock to go in down at half time.  For a right back Luke Young’s finish was masterful but why we stood off and failed to challenge is a mystery.  Having to chase games is a depressingly familiar feeling. 

The second half started as the first concluded… with QPR passing through us. When Helguson put us 1-3 down the game was all but over.  It’s to the credit of our players that they did rally to try and get us back into the game.  Shawcross scored to get us back to 2-3.  This should have been a signal to lay siege to the QPR goal but the  onslaught never arrived.  Lacking the craft to open them up again we were stifled in relative comfort.  There’s no doubt we should have been awarded a penalty but it’s important not to cling to that grievance too tightly.  We made too many mistakes to deserve anything from the game. 

We face Blackburn next in yet another winnable game.  As with all bad runs of form, the current malaise is nothing a win won’t put right.  But to ensure we get that win out players must remember that if we face a setback it’s vital to be mentally strong and to continue to do the things they do well.  Then, and only then, will get the crucial victory we need…. and start to exorcise the Bolton demons. 

The remarkable thing about Brisbane Roar’s 2-1 victory away to Newcastle Jets is that Brisbane for long spells were second best.  For most of the first half Roar’s play lacked it’s usual  fluidity.  Newcastle had set out to play a high tempo physical game and to their credit it worked.  The Jets deserved their half time lead and it seemed likely that the day had arrived when Roar’s record breaking run would come to an end.  In the second half however Brisbane showed a side to their game rarely seen.  Instead of bemoaning their lot they outnumbered Newcastle in midfield which helped them to match the physical prowess of the home team.  It was also noticable that the incisive through ball from Brisbane was coming from deeper positions, this could prove a useful plan B to accompany the usual style.  At half time a win was highly unlikely, but displaying variation and application, three precious well earned points were accompanying the team back to the river city.  Overall it wasn’t the stylish total football that has underpinned this amazing run but it’s sometimes worth remembering… an ugly win is still a win. 

Brisbane’s win was a milestone because it equalled the longest unbeaten streak in the history of Australian sport.  The record was set 74 years ago by an Eastern Suburbs rugby League team who enjoyed a 35 game unbeaten run.  The home game against Perth on Saturday could prove to be a huge piece of Australian sporting history.   Hopefully the Australian sporting landscape will be bathing in a sea of orange!

Wayne Rooney will be a huge talking point during England’s preparation for Euro 2012.  There is still the possibility that the 3 match ban he received be reduced to 2, but the manager could be forgiven if he’s seething.  Being placed in such a situation, for no good reason, by one of his most important players, is an unwelcome obstacle.  However, every problem contains it’s own solution.  Italy’s habitual caution is genuine and legendary.  But in 2006 Marcello Lippi, wily old fox that he is, contradicted this regular policy of football suicide by taking six forwards to Germany in 2006. SIX. More to the point, in the semi against Germany alone used five of them.  This is a lesson for Fabio Capello to take on board. Instead of filling the squad out with holding midfielders, take an extra attacker. Take 5.  You can’t have too many attacking options. Capello’s  Milan in 1994 stunned many with the unexpected display of attacking football in the European Cup Final. An England side with a variation of attacking options may surprise people.  This would address the issue of Rooney’s self imposed absence with positive sympathy.

Groundless expectation, damaging expansion and hopes of a clean sheet

April 1st, 2011 No comments

Why are England dogged with such ridiculous expectation?  There is absolutely nothing to justify the notion that England are a superpower.   Our record since 1966 isn’t great. In the last 45 years we have reached a World Cup semi two a Euro semi and several World Cup quarter finals. In the same period Holland have reached three WC finals and a semi and won the European Championship. Bulgaria got to a WC semi and a Euro final. Sweden have got to a WC semi and a Euro semi. Poland  reached a WC semi and finished 3rd in 1974. Belgium have reached a Euro final and a WC semi. Turkey have reached a Euro semi and, of course, Greece were European champions.  That’s only the middle ranking European sides. 

So since 1966* our record, when compared to other European football nations, gives new meaning to the word average. Yet people get annoyed because, for example, we’ll never ‘win anything with Capello.’ Its unlikely we’ll win a competition whoever the manager is. We’d all love to but to actually expect England to win a tournament is based on wishful thinking. There is  no great tradition to justify a demand like that.  We should keep our hopes in perspective.   But if we qualify for Poland and Ukraine we can still expect the same filth and fury when we get knocked out.   I’m certainly not saying we shouldn’t try to win tournaments.  But I am saying we should keep our hopes in perspective.   Personally, I always look at getting through the group then take it from there. Usually as soon as we face a side with genuine aspirations to win the tournament we get knocked out. In 1990 it was great fun but, with all respect, Belgium and Cameroon weren’t contenders to lift the trophy.           *our record before 66 wasn’t great either…Bela Horizonte anyone?   

From 2016 the European Championship will ludicrously be expanded to 24 teams.  One reason the Euro’s is such a good competition is that so many of the sides have  genuine aspirations to win it. From 2016 that quality will be diluted. Did UEFA decide this  because the cash cow that is England didn’t reach the last one?  I’m guessing it’d be a significant factor. They forget that England didn’t qualify because we weren’t good enough.  They want to ensure everyone gets there that to maximise income…. at the cost of quality.  Nearly half the teams in the qualifying competition will be in the tournament.  A preliminary competition to wed out some the cannon fodder is long overdue.  Failure to do so leading up to the 2016 competition will result in a farcical loss of prestige for what has often been a truly top notch competition.

The suspension of the J-League is jeopardising Japan’s participation in this year’s Copa America. Their domestic league may have to finish too late for their players to prepare for the competition.  If they do have to withdraw it would make sense for Australia to try and take their spot.  It’d be the sort of competitive experience that’s essential if they are to continue to grow on the world stage.  Playing against teams with expansive systems of play would prove beneficial for their game.

England’s victory over Wales was solid steady and professional.  Wales had little to offer.  Had Gareth Bale been fit it might have made some difference but as it is England were rarely threatened.  Parker and Wilshere were composed in centre midfield… is it now time to start phasing out the Lampard Gerrard combination?  It’s certainly time to start building the team around Wilshere.  He showed that he can grow into the playmakers role and develop into a top class international midfielder.  With such a dearth of English talent his skill mustn’t be wasted.  England’s qualification could rest on the final game away to Montenegro in October.  If that’s the case we have to hope we don’t fall victims to the horrendous catastrophe that befell Steve McClaren’s team in 2007.

Amid the excitement of the forthcoming FA Cup Semi…. and the organised chaos of the ticket scramble, it’s easy to forget that we have a game on Saturday against the reigning champions.  Chelsea have returned to form yet still lack the dominant strut they paraded early in the season.  It would be typical Stoke if Torres scored his first Chelsea goal against us.  We are yet to play in a 0-0 draw this season.  If our first arrives on Saturday we wouldn’t be complaining.   A clean sheet will suffice!

Emphatic victory, captaincy, an agonising anniversary and a get well soon

March 22nd, 2011 No comments

Stoke City sent out a crisis what crisis message with the impressive 4-0 defeat of Newcastle.  We were feeling decidedly edgy before the game.  Nervous glances at the league table led us to believe we could easily get dragged into trouble.  While there are still many points to be won and lost, and we need to stay focused on reaching safety… we blew away the cobwebs with a win every bit as comprehensive as the scoreline suggests.  The result was never in doubt from the moment Jermaine Pennant sneaked in to put us 2 up straight after the interval.  From that point we played with renewed viguor and refreshing confidence.  Fuller’s late goal simply gave the socreline a more realistic complexion.  Surprisingly three of our goals came from open play.     It’s pleasing that after a season of wasted  free kicks we score two in two games.  At the final whistle the Geordies looked totally demoralised.  I don’t doubt that this emphatic win is partly due to the bout of cup fever the city is currently absorbed in.  The whole idea  of a cup run being at the expense of league form has never seemed a valid  notion.  For a club like us it injects the season with fresh impetus and generates excitement.  Premier league safety and a possible cup final.  What else could we want from our football team?  What a difference two wins can make.

That Stoke are yet to take part in a goalless draw  is one of the quirkier statistics of the season.   If we got our first 0-0 of the season in the next game against Chelsea few Stokies will be complaining!

Our win was crucial because it’s unlikely we’ll get much from our next two games against Chelsea and Spurs.  It’s a relief to have the points in the bank.  Wolves victory over Aston Villa was a surprise as was WBA drawing at home to Arsenal, a game in which both teams can reflect on two points dropped.  Wigan’s  win over Birmingham keeps them alive and West Ham will be delighted to leave White Hart Lane with a point.  There are many twists and turns ahead and it’s getting complicated.  Gerard Houllier must be starting to suffer sleepless nights as will Alex McCleish.  When the season climax arrives we can hope our sleepless nights are because of the hullabaloo surrounding our first FA Cup Final appearance!

Sunday March 27th marks the 40th anniversary of our first FA Cup semi final against Arsenal.  Back in 1971 the cup held nearly as much prestige as the league did.  As a result the semi was a huge game.  In his excellent autobiography, Denis Smith describes the game in detail.  Smithy states that  for much of the game we felt we had reached the final.  We were seconds away from one of the most memorable moments in our history.  To have a seemingly unassailable lead snatched away at such a late stage is agonising even now.  Whatever happens on April 17th I hope none of us feel the agony Smithy and his teammates felt 40 years ago.  On the subject of this years  Semi final I’d have preferred to play on the Saturday, but after waiting 39 long years another day is tolerable!

David Luiz was colossal for Chelsea against Manchester city.  He ran the defence and initiated moves, using his heading prowess to give his team the lead.  The one big black mark was the avoidable yellow he recklessly acquired in injury time.  One question which must be asked is why were Manchester City so inexplicably negative?  Whilst understanding the need for a contingency plan against a side of Chelsea’s undoubted quality, couldn’t they have been just a bit more adventurous?  Given the money spent on the team they should have been able to go to Stamford Bridge with plans to attack and try to win the game.  Another noticeable aspect of the match is that Fernando Torres still hasn’t scored for Chelsea. 

Attention turns to international fixtures now, in particular England’s European Championship qualifier against Wales.  Reaching tournaments is a no win situation for England.  Qualification is expected and quickly forgotten but failure incurs the wrath of a nation.  Combine this with the fact that there are still many people who, mind bogglingly, expect us to win each tournament we participate in.  While my English feet are firmly on the ground, Wales is game we can confidently expect to win.  Should we fail to do so our presence at Poland and Ukraine in 2012 will be jeopardised and it’s hard to imagine Capello surviving the fallout.

 Does John Terry’s re-appointment as England captain really justify the media interest?  Fabio Capello must feel bewildered by the  pandemonium surrounding the decision.  The primary responsibility of a captain in football is to step forward at the start of the game to call ‘heads’.  Or perhaps ‘tails’ as the case may be.  Good teams have 11 captains (football cliche 231) so why the irrational level of interest and analysis?  It’s just another episode in the bloated hyperbole drenched soap opera that the England team has become.

It was a shock to learn that Bryan Robson, an England captain of an earlier vintage, had undergone an operation to remove a cancerous tumour on his throat.   Few could doubt that he was the heart and soul of both Manchester United and England for several years.  He was the only England player to emerge from the calamitous 1988 European Championship campaign with any credit.  Roy Keane, his successor in the Man Utd engine room, was never the all round player that Captain Marvel was.  Get well soon Robbo. 

It was sad but not so much of a shock to read that Ex Argentina coach Cesar Luis Menotti has undergone lung surgery.  One of  the abiding memories of the 1978 and 1982 World Cups was Menotti anxiously sucking  cigarette after cigarette.  This familiar image overshadows the fact that he built an exciting team.  His Argentina  were filled with flair that was balanced with a sturdy defence.  Perhaps the biggest testament to his management is that he was strong enough to omit a stroppy youngster named Diego Maradona from the squad…. much to the distress of Maradona himself and the Argentinian media.  Daniel Passarella holding the trophy aloft in the River Plate Stadium vindicated Menotti’s decision, and ensured his place in history.   Good luck Cesar Luis Menotti. 

Milan’s defeat at Palermo gave both Inter a priceless opportunity to get within touching distance of Milan.  They seized that opportunity by edging past Lecce 1-0…. a lacklustre performance but at this stage of the season you ask how not how many.  Despite the lethargic showing you can be assured that Inter are delighted to be only one point behind their neighbours.  Their next league game is the Milan derby.  Each team will know that victory will provide pole position in the struggle for the Scudetto.  It’ll be a huge occasion.  It was a good week for Inter.  In knocking Bayern Munich out of the Champions League they emerged victorious from a thrilling encounter.  Leronardo’s hyperactive touchline presence added to the spectacle.  The Brazilian has rejuvenated his team.  So impressive is the turnaround it’s hard to believe it’s the same club that Benitez left with  abject indignity.

Tepid England but Stokies to swarm over Bolton!

October 14th, 2010 No comments

In the build up to the England v Montenegro game a disproportionate amount of media attention was given to the manager’s decision to reinstate Rio Ferdinand as captain.  Fabio Capello must be more baffled than anyone, in most countries the captain is just the most famous player or the oldest.  That’s understandable too.  In cricket major decisions are required from the captain throughout the match but, as in football, stepping forward for a coin toss and with the correct guess choosing kick off or choice of ends does not merit hours of debate or hundreds of column inches.  The false controversy over selecting a captain was no bearing at all on the result.  Montenegro are decent team. I’m disappointed but not shocked by our failure to win.  They haven’t conceded a goal in this campaign. We know that England are an half decent up and downer sort of side so why the massive shock when when we fail to break sides down?  Some of the criticism Capello has faced in recent months has been harsh but after this game he deserves some.  Why not put Wilshire on to inject freshness?  We didn’t play with any pace and lacked the imagination to break down a stubborn well organised defence.  There was a reluctance to change things when the planA was clearly not working.  The lack of creativity was partly borne of forwards unable to make diagonalruns to stretch the opponents defence.  In fact, our opponents  came closest to winning when they hit the bar.  An axiom of football is that if you can’t outplay them you must make sure you outnumber them and Montenegro did that well by packing their midfield and forcing our wide players into boxes.  Like Algeria in South Africa, the visitors deserved their celebrations.  Like the World Cup the majority of blame lies with the players and their inability to vary their game and their seeming refusal to learn to do so.   In short, they did a good job on us and we lacked the craft to dig a win out.    Wales look doomed but beating England would salvage some pride, we have to be wary in March.  We still have a good chance of reaching Poland and Ukraine but Spain and Germany have little to worry about. 

Against Russia Ireland were outplayed for long spells.  The visitors played with fluidity and passed through Ireland who looked flat footed.  The amazing thing is that the final minutes could be so dramatic when the game had actually been so one sided!  In Slovakia the Irish started well and took the deserved lead but allowed the hosts a way back.  Keane’s penalty miss proved fatal and despite a crash bang wallop second half they have to be pleased with a draw.  1 point is a disappointing return for Trappatoni’s men.  Scotland displayed admirable fortitude to stage a stirring rip roaring comeback and battle back to 2-2.  However from that point Spain’s winner was sort of inevitable.  It was still Scotland after all!

On Saturday Australia beat Paraguay in Sydney in what tabloid hacks would describe as an ‘ill tempered clash’.  One of the most unfriendly friendlies in the history of, er, unfriendly friendlies!   Arsene wenger would have swooned at the sight of those lunges!

It was disturbing to read of a rise in football violence amongst teenagers.  Even here in Australia some youngsters have a sickening infatuation with the whole culture of football related violence.  I overheard some talking excitedly about trouble at an Arsenal game and asked them why they were so fascinated by people bashing each other peoples heads in…. they didn’t know.  As a teenager, many of my contemporaries seemed to see becoming involved in fighting almost as a natural progression.  As if it was a rite of passage.  I’ve always felt isolated from that.  I specifically remember, even as a nine year old, standing in Glebe Street watching Millwall and Stoke’s hooligans fighting and being confused that so many people felt the need to smash people’s faces in over what was, essentially, wanting a different team to win a game of football.  Violence at football has resulted in lives damaged, people even killed.  It has given police the excuse ( but not justification I hasten to add) to treat supporters as second class citizens.  There is nothing positive about football violence. 

It’s exciting to see the news that Stoke City are  taking a huge following to Bolton on Saturday.  We are enjoying a special time for Stoke City.  It used to be quirk that whenever we took a huge away following we’d get beaten, this hopefully won’t re-emerge at the Reebok.  My friends here call Stokies ‘Phil Spector’.   This is because other games are quite normal and up and down but when Stokies are on TV there’s a constant wall of sound!!  I look forward to an incessant din but in this part of the world we can’t enjoy the noise until  Sunday morning…. the game will be shown on a delay here!

Elation and deflation

August 16th, 2010 No comments

Welcome back football, my friend, my strength, my passion and of course, my eternal frustration!   Over a month since the World Cup ended and  Weekends are just inconsequential without you football my darling.  A return to midnight (or 1am) kick offs then retiring to bed accompanied by liberal doses of fatigue and deflation.  

And deflation is the key word to describe the lasting effect of our performance at Wolves.  After Jonesy went off injured our players joined us in the deflation collective and allowed Wolves to get over the top of us and dominate.  Our inability to keep the ball combined with our players bad decisions all over the pitch led to a very, well, deflating day for us. There can be no doubt at all the first goal we conceded was a brilliant piece of skill but we have to remember our part in it.  Whitehead lunging into that challenge was foolish and unnecessary.  Foley was actually moving away from goal when Dean steamed in.  The physical approach is part of what we do but football is a bit of everything if and when it’s needed and flying in like that was just asking for trouble.  The second goal may have been slightly unlucky for us but to cling to that for comfort after a performance as undisciplined as Saturday would be to hide our heads in the sand.  Even when we got the goal back we rarely showed the required energy or imagination to drag an unlikely point out.  In the last minute Rory had a throw that, to the euphoric gloating  of the home fans, just skidded out of his hands… an appropriately embarassing end to a bleak day for Stoke City.  Ah well, upwards and onwards.  Easy games to come…. Spurs and Chelsea.  Will we get a point on the board before the international break?  It feels like we won’t BUT, this feeling of dread is nothing a win wouldn’t put right!   I wonder when it’ll be.

Could it be that Capello’s comment that Beckham is too old was a joke that missed the mark?  His lack of English skills render that a feasible possibility.  If that’s an irrational suggestion it’s no more irrational than the media pandemonium that followed his comment.   Saying that publicly before discussing it with Beckham was ill advised and clumsy but does it really merit the media examination that followed?  The Telegraph declared that Capello had reached a “New low”.  The News of the world solemnly announed that it’s been “One of the worst weeks of his (Beckham’s) soccer career”.  Both melodramic statements which are more in line with Fabio Capello’s current lowly standing than any substantial rational coverage.  The News of the World in particular should be aware of the ups and downs of Beckham’s career and that he’s had much worse weeks than this.  It was after all, that very tabloid organ which gleefully printed the story of his affair with Rebecca Loos in 2004. In fact, Sunday’s comment came as they kindly told the world that his sister has had to claim benefit payments.   After the 1998 World Cup Beckham had to face the prospect of an effigy of himself hanging from a roof and The Mirror bullishly gave readers a David Beckham dartboard.  The England manager forgetting to tell him he’s out of future plans isn’t going to mortally wound him…. or anyone else for that matter. 

Spurs and Man City started the Premier League season with a fantastic entertaining game.  Spurs started at an incredible pace and made their possession count by creating a sequence of excellent chances.  Hart was a colossus.  Surely Hart is now well and truly England’s number one keeper…. better late than never I suppose!  It was a much better game than 0-0 suggests but if Spurs can maintain that level of pace and creativity to their play surely they can contend for a top four spot again.  Blackpool were the romantic story of the first day of the season.  Whatever else happens this season, their fans will always be able to treasure that memory, the kind of memory we all love this game for.  Wigan Athletic and their fans will remember the day less fondly!  The real daunting thing about Chelsea’s effortless dismantling of WBA is that WBA didn’t really do much wrong.  In fact for much of the game they tried to get forward and got a few decent crosses in.  That Chelsea hit six without really breaking sweat hammers out a warning to Man Utd.  Talking of Man utd, I sit typing thins during their game against Newcastle and the main talking point has to be Joey Barton’s moustache!  What’s he done that for?  Apparently he’s refusing to shave it until they win a league game.  Now that’s risky!  Otherwise Rooney looks as if he’s carried his world cup form into the new season.   Berbatov just scored.   

Aston Villa’s win over West Ham had an air of crisis what crisis?  O’Neill’s decsion to go hardly the ideal way to prepare any team for the first game of a season.  We can only come to the conclusiion that Villa is now a hard club to manage and Randy Lerner a difficulty man to work for.  The ongoing talk of funding players and having to sell to buy and whether the Milner money would be available must have just worn O’Neill down.  Can anyone blame him?  Does a manager of his reputation need that kind of aggravation?   Where will he work next?  Will he work anywhere?  All will be revealed now the emotional rollercoaster of football has returned!!

Capello’s errors but the world continues without England!!

June 29th, 2010 No comments

Roy Keane has spoken and said the problem with England isn’t the manager at all it’s that the players.   A fair point I agree with but the point has to be made that FabCap has made some big errors.  There was that daft Capello index that would have made public his innermost thoughts on his players.  A foolish inflammatory notion that was only ever going to divide the camp.  In a rare moment of positive intelligent action The FA instructed him to scrap the silly idea.   Another mistake was  taking four forwards as usual.  Surely, he could have taken note of his friend and compatriot Marcello Lippi’s decision to take six forwards in 2006.  Instead of doing something different to create different attacking options it was same old same old.   The most visible error was the whole approach to the players.  It is widely alleged he used to the same unstinting sergeant major approach he uses at clubs and in normal England  camps.   This is usually his method but a tournament like this throws up a situation a rarely encountered by any manager of any profession. You can’t put the same rigid discipline programme in place for six weeks you usually have in place for five days.    Grouped up together for weeks on end the players are bound to get bored and fractious with each other.  Apparently, towards the end, FabCap wavered a bit in his dogmatic approach but to get to that point much damage had already been done.   He says he wants to stay on as manager, but if there is discussions taking place in the dusty FA rooms his position could be more precarious than first thought.  I hope he does stay, but these mistakes mustn’t be repeated if we qualify for Poland and Ukraine in 2012.   But, the point has to be made,  the majority of the 2010  bucks lies with the players. 

Somehow the World Cup is bravely limping and stumbling on without England.   And after the slow start it’s become a cracking competition.   The six knockout games so far have had an average of over 3 goals a game with no penalty shootouts  required.   Brazil’s third against Chile was very special.   They now face The Netherlands in what could prove to be an intense war of attrition.  Argentina v Mexico saw the evil genius Maradona patrolling the touchline with his usual excitable unhinged demeanour.   They were fortunate to get the offside goal but when Tevez scored the third he could be forgiven for wanting to tell a certain Shrekky scouser  THAT’S how to write the future!  

Portugal v Spain later.   The first knockout match between two sides with genuine aspirations to win the trophy.   Every side in a tournament like this will cause problems but they will both know that with the winner facing Paraguay or Japan there  could be much harder ways to get to a World Cup semi final.

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.