There has been much discussion of Manchester United's departed or injured defenders, but far less of Michael Carrick. Will his return to fitness cause notable improvement?
Arsenal fans have been sucked back into believing Wenger can bring the glory years back after beating Borussia Dortmund. Plus, more on Liverpool's worrying decline...
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Get Jack Back
It has been often said during this tournament that England have lacked a truly defensive midfielder/screening midfielder/ whatever the current preferred term might be.
The tragedy is that back in 2011, England had exactly what we needed - a young, tenacious, exciting, strong, physical, defensively capable midfielder, who was also able to break forward and find a through ball when necessary. Unfortunately (for him and for England), rather than make his name in his preferred position at the club where he grew into his trade, he moved to a bigger club (for admittedly understandable reasons, both financial and professional). I am of course talking about Jack Rodwell moving from Everton to Man City.
We'll never know whether Rodwell would have become the player he was tipped to become had he got regular match time for the last 3 seasons - but what we do know is that other players who became "lost" in a large squad at a big club, have gone on to revive their careers when given a more prominent role (for example, Daniel Sturridge).
I guess this leads me to two conclusions - firstly, for England to have the best chance in 2016, we need players like Shaw, Lallana, Barkley, Wilshere, Stones and even Jones and Smalling (heaven help us all) to play regularly in their best positions. Jones and Smalling in particular are excellent examples of players touted for a bright future at Blackburn and Fulham, hoovered up by a bigger club, then marginalised and held out of their best positions (by Vidic and Ferdinand, admittedly). This has clearly led to a regression in their performances that cannot simply be explained away by the argument of "the larger the club, the more focus on the player".
This leads me to my second conclusion, that all hope is not lost for such players if they are given the chance to play regularly. If Rodwell does (as expected) leave Citeh on loan (or permanently) during this summer, there is still the opportunity for him to become the player that we all hoped he could be three seasons ago. Rodwell is still only 23 - coincidentally, the same age as Sturridge when he signed for Liverpool - and has plenty of time to mature into the combative midfielder (and captain?) that England will sorely need in 2016. Equally, the departure of Vidic and Ferdinand may give Jones and Smalling the opportunity to grow into the central defensive partnership that United (and England) are crying out for (unless Van Gaal buys Ron Vlaar.)
Perhaps it's the fact that I support a "small" club, but I sincerely hope that if England's current crop of promising youngsters that are linked with a high profile transfer do make the jump to United (Shaw) / Liverpool (Barkley, Lallana) / Chelsea (Stones), that they are given the competitive game time to continue their development - not just for their own benefit, but for that of the national side as well.
Terry Hall, Switzerland
England Would Be Special
Why can't the FA just give Jose Mourinho a shed load of cash, and promise him a knighthood when he wins us the World Cup. Hodgson might be a lovely chap and have all the best intentions, but his football teams have never won anything. All the youth development in the world doesn't make a difference when the manager has no tactical awareness. England look completely devoid of ideas when playing and seem to have had little coaching in how to attack in the final third. To compound it, England set up to allow the opposition to settle into position before every attack commences.
It made me sick recently when I read we nearly got Jose for England manager and we ended up with Capello. Imagine England at this tournament with Jose leading it - England certainly wouldn't be out yet. Everybody hates Jose, apart from Chelsea fans I imagine. If he was managing England and getting us to the World Cup final he would be a national hero.
Jim (for the record, not a Chelsea fan), Canterbury
Shape Of Things To Come
This might have already been said - if not, it should have - but England are not going to get any better in the next two years unless things change.
We're out of another competition and it's the same old story. In two years time, the situation will be exactly the same; we'll qualify relatively easily (one or two dodgy away matches aside) and go into the Euros in decent form. Some of our players will have had good domestic seasons and there will be a quiet optimism that we can perform well. Sound familiar? That's pretty much the story for almost every tournament since Euro 96.
We always kid ourselves into believing that we're on the cusp of another "golden generation", as if to say: "Don't worry about this tournament lads, it's the next one that counts. You'll be better for this experience." But we won't, at least not until things change. We need to stop relying on the supposed quality of our players and start putting more emphasis on effective tactics and systems.
Look at the Dutch team; how many of those players would you say are superstars? Robben and van Persie are really the only ones that fit the bill. Of the rest, you've got Leroy Fer (relegated last season), Krul, De Guzman, Vorm and Vlaar (finished 10th, 12th & 15th with Newcastle, Swansea & Villa respectively). Plus four from Feyenoord, who got knocked out in the playoffs of the Europa League. Yet see how well they play. They have got their game plan spot on - even without van Persie in the line-up they weren't affected; if anything they defended better. The same goes for teams like Chile, USA, Mexico, Ghana, Costa Rica, Columbia etc. (success being relative, of course).
It doesn't matter how good we think Luke Shaw, Raheem Sterling, Phil Jones, Ross Barkley et al are going to be; if we don't get the system right, it's moot. You can have the best players in world football in your team but if you don't use them in the right way you're still going to struggle. Case in point, Portugal; they have the Ballon D'Or winner in their team, and they've only got one point, having scored just twice.
It's time to start actually planning how to deal with the opposition - learning to exploit their weaknesses and defend against their strengths. Enough of just chucking whichever flavours of the week aren't injured into some random formation and hoping for the best. If it means dropping players like Rooney or Gerrard, or bringing in players from less "fashionable" teams then so be it.
I'm not saying we have no chance in the Euros but unless lessons are learned from both other countries, and from this tournament in general, then it's all just a little bit of history repeating.
Foster And Bentley Deserve Credit
Usually I'm with Nick Miller when he writes columns but on this occasion I think he is so desperate to play devil's advocate to the accepted norm that he has confused his own argument.
I agree that if a player doesn't feel pride in representing his country then he shouldn't force/fake it but equally he should make it clear that he does not want to be considered for selection rather than taking up a position that a player who wants to play could take.
I have much more respect for a Ben Foster, even as with many fans I'll never understand why you wouldn't want to play, being honest about it and requesting he isn't selected than a player who accepts the call-up then doesn't bother or pulls out at every available opportunity.
The Foster issue is also hugely different to David Bentley's situation. While few football fans could understand why a footballer would ever give up that life/career to many it is probably just a job that pays the bills and many of us hate our jobs, perhaps do a half-arsed job but go into work every day and pick up the pay cheque regardless. So I don't blame Bentley for that even if it would piss me off to see him continue to pick up a wage at my club and provide nothing in return. If he chooses not to even do that then he deserves some credit.
To confuse either of these issues with Capello missing his son's wedding or a player wanting to miss an international because his partner is expecting is nonsense and Redknapp knew this when he stuck his oar in and Nick should see this as well and call it for the petty, pathetic score settling that it is. He wasn't appealing for paternity leave for footballers, he was kicking Hodgson and the FA when they were down. These are legitimate reasons for missing a game/work and should be treated as such so if any attitude needs to change it is for these reasons not dead grannies or fake injuries or lack of pride.
Also what is with this 'Suarez has had one good season' nonsense that seems to be sneaking into the mailbox as if it is fact? The guy scored 23 goals two years ago to go with his 31 this year despite missing 10 games, that's 54 goals in 66 games. He has a one in two record at international level and was top scorer in the qualifying campaign having been named player of the tournament at the last Copa America and having an excellent 2010 World Cup. All that without including his phenomenal record at Ajax (as we all know goals in countries other than Spain, Germany, Italy, France and especially England do not count).
The guy has been superb for at least the past four years and has been getting better and better year on year and the figures being rumoured are therefore absolutely fair.
Neymar: He's Quite Good
How good was Neymar last night?! Yes he scored two good goals, but the most impressive things I saw from him were:
- Tireless running to chase down loose balls and pressurise defenders. He is clearly not a lazy flair player.
- Tricks and flicks being attempted. Some came off - there was a brilliant little flick off the outside of his right foot as he pirouetted to the left at the end of the first half which almost set up an awesome goal. But it's the fact that he kept trying them that made me most impressed; no England players would have attempted a rainbow kick from just outside the box.
- No f***ying about! He got a bit of a kicking, but was generally straight back up again. Didn't go to ground as easily as most players have been doing at this WC.
I know it was 'only' Cameroon, but I thought he was ace.
Ian (Aberdeen kick off their Europa League season next week, jeez!) Towns, MUFC
Slow And Steady Wins The Race
In response to Andy, London, who wrote in to highlight how the World Cup is usually won by a slow starter - I couldn't agree more. I have been evangelising this truth for the past weeks to a somewhat uninterested & stubborn audience. Most of my mates watched the first round of games and immediately concluded that the semi-finalists would be Holland, Brazil, Germany, Argentina. I too wondered if they have never watched a World Cup before. It's a hard concept to explain but it just almost always turns out that way.
The thing with a tournament like the World Cup is that, firstly, it is just that - a tournament, and not a league. Five goals in your first game doesn't give you any advantage over a team that draws their first two games and scraps through by an own-goal in the third group game. Also, it is very difficult to keep up the type of pace Holland (for example) started with for seven games - heck its hard in any part of the world to go seven games unbeaten.
You can lose one game in the first three and still survive, but losing one game in the last four is the end of the road. Hence, a team can't afford to have a bad game in the second two weeks, but can afford to have a bad game in the first two weeks, learn your mistakes and power on from there. Your opposition gets tougher as the tournament progresses too and someone will have studied your technique by the time you get to the QF/SF stage. The chances of injuries and suspensions increase and the loss of a key defender to suspension/injury just means one mistake from a newcomer playing their first game of the tournament means the end of a World Cup for you. There is no goal difference factor later. There are just so many variables involved - nine points from the first three games means very little.
That said, it's been a belter of a World Cup.
Lee (Scrap the Qatar idea and just have Brazil 2022) Moyo, Durban.
Portugal: No Better Than Wales
Loath as I am to defend our greasy friend, its fairly obvious that Ronaldo is not fully fit. The cross was a moment of magic which we all know he's capable of. Expect to see hissy fits galore from Bale in the Euro qualifiers with the quality of his team-mates play, as I'd have Wales on a par with Portugal, possibly better than them with Ramsey in the team. We all know Gareth's got a rock on for Cristiano
Baz (Nuno Gomes? Maybe they've always had a false 9) Dublin
Is Dani Alves the first player to ever sport three different haircuts in as many matches? His usual do in the Croatia game which was dyed a dirty grey for the Mexico game and then a preposterous imitation Joe Hart blow dry/trendy Phil an' Lil from Rugrats horror do for the Cameroon match.
Hulmy (f**k trends)
Can I get odds on who will be the first team to use the refs foam in a goal celebration?
Oh and while we are at it, does it work in torrential rain and will there be an orange version for use in the winter?
Rusty (asking the questions nobody cares about since 1983) Gray, West Bromwich Albion