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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Poor Number 9s
It has been remarked on a few occasions (at least in the circles I move around in) that this has been a tournament where the number nines have been left floundering, while the number tens have flourished. It's certainly hard to argue with that - the evidence is overwhelming. Fred, Higuain, Lukaku, Balotelli and Costa all arrived at the tournament promising big things yet they have all failed to deliver. You can also add some supposed lesser lights to that list in the form of Kokorin, Teo Gutierrez and Drmic. It's all a bit subjective of course, but there are arguments to be made against all of them.
Meanwhile, James Rodriguez, Messi, Neymar and Robben and others are having a fine time in the number ten role. Of course, much of this is down to the fact that they are fine players, but I think there is perhaps more of a tactical reason for the apparent struggles of the number nine. I should point out that when I say number nine, I'm referring to a guy that would traditionally lead the line, that is perhaps less mobile and a bit more... robust, shall we say. So, the likes of Daniel Sturridge and Van Persie are exempt from this (traditional nine-and-a-halfs, if you listen to Brendan Rodgers).
Look at the names mentioned up at the top and one thing should be apparent. They are all passing reasonable in the air, yet the teams they play for don't really cross the ball into the box. Instead, these teams tend to set up with a supporting cast of playmakers in behind the centre forward. Their play is generally quite narrow as they look to get the number ten on the ball and they look to their full backs to provide the width.
This means that is anyone is crossing the ball, it's the full backs. Though this isn't always the case. Brazil's full backs seem to be more interested in shooting from range than providing crosses for example, and as good as the likes of Azpilicueta and Alderweireld are, you wouldn't count crossing as one of their biggest strengths.
Furthermore, the 'wide' players in the default 4-2-3-1 formation of choice for most teams these days tend to be playmakers that have been shunted out wide that like to cut in (Hazard, Shaqiri), or converted centre forwards (Hulk). These players either lack the ability or the inclination to deliver consistent service into the box from crosses.
We can even go one step further, because I believe there is a trend developing whereby we will start to see more traditional 'wingers' playing centrally in the number ten role. Liverpool and England have done it with Sterling, as well as Robben and Rodriguez excelling in the role. And it makes an awful lot of sense. Slow full backs are pretty rare these days and as a result the effectiveness of a stereotypical pacy winger is diminished. However, the triangle of the two centre halves and the defensive midfielder are there to be exploited in terms of sheer speed. If you can get Sterling or Robben picking the ball up centrally and running at the likes of Pirlo, Gerrard or even someone like Busquets, then you can see how it can be a successful ploy. You could also suggest that Argentina are missing a trick here, and deploying Di Maria in a more central role could be beneficial.
Of course, none of this bodes well for our number nines, as their supply line is effectively cut off. Indeed, the whole idea seems to be to get the number ten in on goal. With that in mind, should we really be expecting them to score buckets of goals when in fact they are almost there purely to hold the ball up and bring others into play while feeding on scraps?
There are exceptions of course. But then the likes of Australia and Greece have wilfully thrown high balls into the box. Benzema is perhaps the one that really stands out, but I'd controversially suggest that he is a player in reasonable form that hasn't come up against a good defence yet, and actually his international goal scoring record isn't that great. Maybe that's a different discussion.
How Will Suarez Fit In At Barca?
will Suarez work out at Barca? A front three of Messi, Neymar and Suarez. What could go wrong?
Over the last few years Barca have splashed the cash on a few big name attackers, and really, they haven't worked out. Zlatan, David Villa, Fabregas (not an attacker as such but played up top plenty for them) to name but a few, that Pedro chap gets referred to as a forward but everyone knows he's sh*t.
The last striker to truly make a difference at Barca was Eto'o, and that was when Messi was just breaking into the team. I guess the point I'm trying to make is that with Messi the star man in that Barca team, no other star can exist in the same place at the same time. Neymar had a up and down season but still scored a good few and has looked a great player this summer but would anyone be surprised to see him at the likes of Milan is another two years?
How long will he hang around in Messi's shadow? Then we come to Luis, third fiddle in the forward line, a very selfish forward line. He will have to wrestle the ball off Messi and Neymar to get a kick of the thing, and if he doesn't deliver the goods then he'll be hounded, if he thinks the English press are hard on him wait till he gets on the bad side of the Spanish media.
So he'll be there for a season or three, score a decent amount of goals, win leagues, cups, so it looks like a good time was had by all. But we'll all be left with the feeling that he could have been a bigger star on a different stage.
Of course it could all go wonderfully and those three could absolutely tear the footballing world to shreds.
B. Nolan, LFC
Pogba: He's No Matuidi
Firstly, I dont watch Italian football week in week out, and I am not going to profess to know Juventus' formation, playing style etc etc but having watched a couple of European games this year I struggled to understand the hype about Pogba...He looked lethargic, a step behind everyone and his first touch was ....well awful
Fast forward to the world cup and Im still a little bit unsure of the hype - yes he is probably an upgrade on cleverley (who isnt right now)but is he really truly worth £60 million - against honduras his temperament nearly and probably should have got him sent off and i must have watched a different game to everybody else because Im not having this conception that it was an all conquering performance against Nigeria - Id actually go as far as to say that Blaise Matuidi has been the better midfielder...
So please somebody enlighten me as to how this French player is literally the best thing since sliced bread because I just dont get it.
More Childhood Games
Down South, 'Wembley' and 'Heads and Volleys' are completely different games. Heads and Volleys is called 'Specials'. Whilst the game of 'Wembley' is 'All v Keeper'.
Definitely the second and third greatest games ever created. 'Wembley Doubles' is also great but is too open to corruption. However, my all time favourite is '60 Seconds'.
Leon 'Colombia for World Cup' Mende, LFC
...We used to play a game called Spot, where we would kick the ball against a wall hoping for a huge bounce and spin and an impossible shot for the lad after you. If he couldn't hit his return kick in one go at the wall he would get S (unless he hit the wall and it was the next lads kick) then P and so on, until whoever spelled SPOT was eliminated until there was one left. #
You could even have an alliance with another mate to get a certain person out by rolling the ball right up the wall for your mate to punt it as hard and just skimming the wall as possible so it was impossible for them to get the next shot. There was normally a lot of kicking off when that happened so alliances were few and far between.
Great game to play in small spaces, all you needed was a decent sized wall.
...In response to Stuart Wilsher, we had a similar game that involved kicking the lumps outta each others' shins, we called it "Kapping" game (like the brand "Kappa" with "-ing" and the end). To "kapa" in colloquial footballing slang is, loosely translated, to kick lumps outta someone. Basically if you touch the ball, we kick you.....too much fun.
Another very popular game was what we call "spy-two mpana". "Spy-two" is a nutmeg, and "mpama" means slap. A nutmeg is very popular in these parts, bringing great praise for the nutmegger and great shame to the nutmegged. So the game involved everyone tryna nutmeg each other, if you got nutmegged, you get slapped / hit by all other players until you reach and touch the designated "safety" object like a wall or pole of fence etc etc. Great fun, not for the faint-hearted.
KT Mokhele, Gooner in Johannesburg, South Africa
Why Can't Players Be Their Current Ages?
Im going to say something crazy but all players are 1 year older in a years time.
This is obvious you cry?! Well then why are many always commenting, often with regards to a transfer target/acquisition, that they will be a year older at some point in the future so he is too old. Maybe if someone's bday was next week or month but I don't care beyond that. Please stop it!
Simon (l saw in the comments section someone say lallana is 27 at end of next season...seriously?!) Morris
I'd just like to show my solidarity with Yaya Toure and the evident but unacknowledged prejudice towards the Ivory Coast and all the other African teams in this World Cup. It's a travesty, nobody is 'upset' at the loss of Ivory Coast through this refereeing injustice.
It must be hard for him to take having to witness the daily vigils being held by world football for the exits of Bosnia (who had a goal disallowed against Nigeria), Mexico (who managed to get out of the group stage despite having two goals wrongly disallowed against Cameroon depriving them a chance to top their group on goal difference) and Croatia all falling foul of refereeing 'scandals'.
It's like not being wished happy birthday properly multiplied by four.
Damien(I don't even know anymore)Quill
Well Even We Were Fooled Last Night Then
Once again during last night's game between USA and Belgium, the pundits and "experts" struggled to tell the difference between a linesman flagging for offside and a linesman flagging for a goal kick.
In the last minute of normal time, the American player, Wondoloski was not offside when he missed the target from six yards. The replay showed he was a good yard onside. The linesman was merely flagging to give a goal kick. They use a similar flag motion when pointing for a goal kick as they do for offside.
Shearer and Rio both seemed clueless as well. Did Shearer think that every time he missed the target from six yards that the linesman was flagging for offside?
Aside from that, it was a fantastic match and one I really enjoyed. Here's hoping the remaining games continue to provide such excitement!
It's been bugging me for some time now but I've finally realised what's missing from this World Cup that would truly make it complete: a free kick taking goalkeeper. The sort that would rush up the other end of the pitch to take one on the edge of the box.
Now they really were a rare breed.
EGV, THFC. London