That's one question posed in the afternoon mailbox, although it looks like the Japanese playmaker could soon be on his way. Plus, tipping Palace to go down under Warnock...
Plenty of fall out from Manchester United's shambolic 4-0 League Cup defeat, plus thoughts on Van Persie, Arsenal strikers, Benik Afobe, Celtic and Astroturf...
If you have anything to say on any subject, mail us at email@example.com
You Crazy Diamond
Given all the talk of how/where/why/when Rooney/Sterling should play and England's defensive frailty, I cant help feel maybe England could just play them both through the middle by using a diamond in midfield.
Rooney and Sturridge 'up top' in the mould of SaS, with Sterling behind as a slightly deeper '10' - full-backs essentially playing as wing-backs - (Johnson and Baines would be more comfortable with this you would hope), and Gerrard playing as the middle of the three centre-backs when we have the ball. You then have two of Henderson/Lallana/Barclay/Wilshere/Ox to play insight right and insight left (all of them are more suited to that role then that of a winger anyway) Welbeck falls to the bench unfortunately, but would come on for any of Sturridge/Rooney/Sterling as needed to change the focus as needed.
Is it my imagination, or did I just solve all of England's problems with one tactical masterstroke/obvious plagiarism?
Matt 'patent pending' Sandy
Let's Play Like Saints
Dear MC, I'm rarely moved to write in, but Matt, London seems to have discovered all the pieces of a jigsaw in the wrong place and solved the problem by changing the shapes of the edges with a Stanley knife.
Centre-back is our weakest area. Why, then, would we make it the fulcrum of our team, with all three required to have more ball playing responsibilities? Moreover, moving our best midfielder out of position?
I have also never seen a game where five play at the back that I have enjoyed. Ever. So I'm going to pass on Ranieri-ing the team, thanks.
As for the idea that 'knowing when to transition is key', I agree, but against Italy we cannot expect to get that right every time. Risk is inherent in attacking football, and judging by the number of shots we had, I count us as slightly unlucky to have lost.
I really don't think England were as terrible as you say. We competed with a world-class midfield with a very 'plucky' group of English men...and in the end even Wellbeck showed he can scare a full-back. Let's be clear, that is the most excited I have been watching England in my 24 years.
so Mark, I have some advice for you. We're not going to win the World Cup. Imagine England as a mid-table Premier League team. Do you want them to play like Stoke: dependable, dull, maybe take games to extra time?
Or maybe we should play like Southampton and enjoy it. It's weird to say, but for me at least, winning at this World Cup really isn't everything.
England = Spurs
For all the joy of England playing well and yet failing it just reminded me of Spurs from the various points over the past couple of Seasons, particularly when Simple Tim was in charge.
For all the attacking verve and directness, ultimately someone would have a pop shot from 20 yards which would just miss or be saved. More crucially every time someone attacked us down the flanks I would have kittens due to an out of position or unprotected full-back. Sadly I think this England team will entertain but ultimately fail (just like Spurs) but at least that's better than grind out/nick results and ultimately fail.
Let the entertainment of this World Cup continue with or without England (but please someone lock up Honduras, liabilities the lot of them!).
Ant (I'm on my lunch break, leave me alone) Manchester
People Forget We're Not Playing Italy Again
In response to Matt, London, I can only assume the reason you spend so long making the case for a 3-5-2 formation but add 'partially in jest' is to escape the inevitable ridicule. In short:
* Gerrard is not a centre-back and the suggestion he play there is ludicrous.
* if you think Johnson is wasteful, you probably haven't seen Barkley play this season.
* Baines on the left of a 3-5-2 midfield ignores his main strength of overlapping a winger who is taking the focus away, and will highlight his main weakness of being the only defensive player out wide.
* Welbeck is not a winger, let alone one that can do the job of an up and down by himself in a 3-5-2: he gets played out wide because he can do a job in front of a fullback, and you ignore that despite his 'discipline', his not tracking back led to the second Italy goal.
* if your criticism of England is that they couldn't control the midfield, and your solution is truly pairing Henderson with an exciting but wasteful Barkley with the equally care-free Sterling in front and the out-of-position but attacking-minded Welbeck and Baines either side, effectively leaving Henderson as the only remotely defensive midfielder, God help us all.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing but I watched the game back on Sunday and my thoughts player-wise were that Baines needed Lallana in front of him, Pirlo - highest number of passes completed - should have been man-marked by either Welbeck or Milner, and as Sturridge deserves his number 9 role, the only position Rooney could have played was wide right, so it came down to a choice between him and Sterling (which on form and needing width I would have gone with the latter).
That said, every suggestion I've seen in the Mailbox or article wondering whether to drop Rooney for the next game seems to be based on the team's failings against Italy, which quite frankly is b*llocks. We're not picking a team to play Italy again, we're playing a team to play Uruguay, who have three talented strikers, not a great midfield and a relatively weak defence, which was exposed by a player who apart from his goal in the first leg looked utterly ordinary against a weak United team in Europe this year. There is no point talking about temperatures in the same way either, because the difference between locations is over seven degrees and not unlike a summer day here. I truly believe the team that lost against Italy would beat Uruguay with the same tactics, and that is why the England team and Roy feel positive.
David P, Manchester
England's Defeat Was Tactical
Bit late for comments on England/Italy now perhaps, but there is something that has been annoying me more and more as the days have passed and I feel the need to get it off my chest.
First off, as most agree, England's defeat to Italy was hardly crushing. Had Balotelli missed his chance, had Rooney scored his, had Jagielka not headed off the line from Balotelli's chipped effort, had Sterling's screamer gone in - any number of final scores could have been recorded. We could have drawn, we could have won, and we did lose. The outcome felt fair, but a draw or a narrow win would have felt fair too.
But one thing I have not been able to stomach is the notion that Baines getting done over time and time again down the left was somehow Rooney's fault. Blame Rooney for his missed chance if you like, mock him for his wasted corner-kick, but can't we just be fair and honest and recognise that this was a case of Italy's tactics beating ours on the night?
England was sent out to play in a 4-2-3-1, with Rooney playing as a left inside-forward. That was where he was told to be, and that was where he was. The narrative in the media has focused completely unfairly on Rooney not being there to offer cover to Baines the second Italy broke, which is essentially blaming him for not being able to teleport. It's nonsense. He was playing as a forward, not a wide left midfielder. He bust a gut trying to get back there as fast as he could whenever Italy took possession of the ball, covering more distance than anyone else on the pitch. But he doesn't have super powers, and that seems to be the stick which he is being beaten with.
England set up with Gerrard and Henderson staying very central, cutting off the lines of any attacking through balls or runs from midfield. Which worked. Italy had very little success against us through the middle, despite outnumbering us there.
England set up with Rooney, Sterling and Wellbeck as a very narrow line of three behind Sterling to enable a bold and aggressive attack. Which worked. When we attacked it was fluid and looked dangerous nine times out of ten. The media seem not to have noticed that our goal came from Rooney, playing exactly where he was supposed to be playing, putting in a peach of a cross for Sturridge to tap in. Had he been in the wide midfield position they were castigating him for not being in, we would not have scored at all.
The players did what Hodgson asked them to, and it did achieve the results he wanted, the problem was that every system has weaknesses to exploit. In this case, Italy had three options in midfield to find a pass to one of their wide wingers, each backed up by a full-back behind them. Our narrow system gave them freedom to attack down the wings and the defensive frailty of both Baines and Johnson did nothing to hold them back. Which worked. Over and over again.
I'm not even saying this was a tactical mistake on Hodgson's part. It was a calculated risk that might have paid off on another night and I was happy to see such a bold ploy from an England team. As it was, England set up the right way to successfully attack Italy, and Italy set up the right way to successfully attack England. On the night Italy won, but it could have gone either way.
I long for the day when we can see actual tactical analysis after a match in place of the mindless scapegoat-ism and obsession over 'flash points' our media are obsessed with.
Stefan K, London
In Defence Of Daring Sterling
I had no particularly strong feelings after the enthralling England v Italy game other than being very impressed by it, mainly due to my neutral Irish status, however I was compelled to write in after reading Jeff Denham's negative comments about Sterling.
Denham personifies the reason England have failed over the past decade or so. Any glimpse of daring, risk or creativity is condemned for its lack of safety or how poorly it comes across as statistics.
I was pleasantly surprised to see how England came out of the traps at the weekend. After seeing them frozen with fear at the 2010 World Cup with everyone afraid to take a chance in case of making a mistake, seeing the likes of Sterling try new things was a breath of fresh air! Welbeck's boundless energy, Sturridge's unpredictability and particularly Sterling's creativity were a far cry from the 2010 bore-fest v Algeria. Was it perfect? Far from it, but as of yet, no team has appeared anywhere near perfect. And to a watching neutral like me (who has a soft spot for Belgium) I'll take this exciting England over the previous 10 times out of 10.
And yet here Sterling is bashed, for daring to be different. A pass success rate of 74% was mentioned, yet how many of those passes were attempted through balls or key passes that could have been crucial assists, instead of bland passes backward. If that's what's wanted, call up Cleverly and Carrick quick!
In last night's game between Bosnia and Argentina, Messi spent the whole first half shackled by the Bosnians. He must have lost the ball 10 times in possession and given away several passes that were meant to cut Bosnia open. Did he change his game to play it safe? No, he did exactly the same thing...and buried in the winner.
If you want to see an England who play it safe and achieve sleepy nil-all draws with Algeria or USA, then bash Sterling. If you're hopeful enough for something more exciting; maybe even successful, Praise him.
Andreas, (THFC) Eire
Baines The Problem
Why are pundits and media unable to see past the highest profile player when it comes to criticism. I would just like to remind that it was Rooney's inch-perfect cross with his wrong foot on the run that set up the finish, and his movement that created the chance for the goal he should have scored. But is he the one at fault? He was switched to the right (where he's not as dangerous) as Roy figured the left side needed more protection. That worked out well, huh.
So, how has the real culprit of that game - Baines - got out of jail almost completely. He mostly absolved of blame for some reason. Fact is though, he failed to defend (like always) and now added failing to attack to his repertoire. All he's good for is a cross or an attacking run, yet no cross I can remember, and not once did he take his man on. Not once. Never. He received, stopped, turned around and passed backwards every single time. As a result, he offered no threat or width to keep their right side on the back foot, and thus was instead pushed back to defend.
When Lallana came on, he did make one eventual run into space (not with the ball of course) and then had a tizzy when he didn't get the ball. As though he'd been making that run all day...
And of course we shouldn't forget the cross that he allowed to come in virtually unchallenged, while helpfully pointing Jagielka to come in and pulling him out of position (and probably causing Johnson to come in-field to cover) into the bargain.
And that's the point. The impact of his defensive failings is so great, he caused so many problems in his own defence with his positioning, that his best bet is to attack. And when he failed to do that, he just opened the door to the Italians and all but waved them through.
Have to highlight Wilshere's abysmal introduction too. I am quite possibly his biggest fan so it's a bitter pill to admit that he looked woeful in that game, misplacing the easiest of passes, doing nothing of note with the ball. The first time it really mattered, and I'd unquestionably pick Henderson every time right now.
Frustrating. Not just the performance, but the abject failure of pundits like the clearly chip-on-shoulder wearing Shearer to point out what should be glaringly obvious. Hopefully Roy at least saw.
Guy S (our biggest threat after Sterling is not the problem)
...Quite how Leighton Baines has escaped any sort of scrutiny for the Italy defeat is beyond me. Positionally he was dodgy, he offered little more than a willing overlap runner offensively, and he was entirely impotent against the mighty Darmian and Candreva. To be embarrassed by Ronaldo, Robben etc. as a full-back is an occupational hazard (one which Ashley Cole always avoided, however), but to be fooled by Candreva is scarcely encouraging.
A decent left-foot at corners and free-kicks does not make a good full-back. Baines has flourished at Everton because the team builds its attacking system around him. He plays with an interiore ahead of him who is primarily a decoy runner, and defensive midfielders who cover him when he's caught up-field. There's nothing wrong with this, but it scarcely makes Baines suited for a team in which he isn't the principal attacking outlet.
Rooney was still terrible (and he really was, he offered almost nothing in attack or defence other than a willing and increasingly red-faced runner), but Hodgson exacerbated the problem by asking Rooney to perform a role for which he simply wasn't suited.
If Hodgson was considering playing Rooney on the left before the tournament, he ought to have taken Cole. Despite his diminished attacking powers, Cole is a far superior defender to Baines (who, I'd suggest, is over-rated anyway), and is particularly strong one-on-one. Cole's defensive solidity would have provided a platform for Rooney to have at least tried to influence the game, whereas Baines' need for midfield support and decoy runs reduced Rooney to a Park Ji-Sung role.
If England persist with Rooney ahead of Baines, and Gerrard trying to fill a defensive role for which he hasn't the legs, then they'll continue to be massively vulnerable down their left.
Why Rooney Should Not Start...But Will
I could not agree more with John Nicholson that Rooney needs dropping. It could kick him up the arse, it could vitalise others in the squad, and it could open up our game. Plus, he has been so poor in tournaments since 04. Some players simply don't have a big-game mentality, and it appears Rooney's has gone. Another consideration is how slow and vulnerable to pace Uruguay are, so starting the Ox/Barkley in Rooney's place is tactically sound.
The ONLY thing though - is our gloriously reactive press. Whilst they have been okay this WC (despite Henry Winter and Ollie Holt getting their knickers in a twist because workmen at the Manaus stadium were having a break) they will no doubt hang Roy if he starts without Rooney and England lose...or don't win 25-0 actually.
Quite sadly, this will mean that Rooney starts, even though he really shouldn't.
Ben (England will destroy Uruguay), Aylesbury
Put Club Allegiances Aside And Admit Rooney Should Go
I don't like Wayne Rooney but the reason I want him dropped has nothing to do with my club allegiance and everything to do with the team.
Podolski doesn't get many starts for Arsenal. He's about the same age as Rooney and should be at the peak of his powers. The reason he doesn't start is he doesn't track back and leaves his left-back exposed which is precisely what Rooney did on Saturday and is why he should be dropped with Welbeck and Lalana preferred on the wings.
There should be no moving Rooney to the centre because during the first hour or so Sterling was our best player and deserves to retain his place. Rooney or Chamberlain could be brought on at the hour mark to freshen things up against Uruguay should Sterling tire again but I see no reason for Rooney to start here either.
If we need more precision passing in midfield then I think it's Wilshere you turn to not Rooney, with Henderson making way.
The Man Utd fans seem to think everyone is getting at Rooney because we all hate United and are consequently discarding the evidence of own their eyes. If we're going to progress we need a balanced midfield where everyone tracks back and supports each other with a busy, dynamic attack.
There are no Arsenal players starting and even as a gooner I think on the evidence of the first game I can see why - it's time for United fans to put their club allegiance aside and accept what's best for Rooney isn't what's best for England.
Graham Simons, Gooner, Norf London
Drop Rooney AND Gerrard
There's a lot of clamour based on the Italy game for Rooney to be dropped, and to be fair, he wasn't very effective at all. But what I don't get is why no-one is looking at Gerrard's role as well? He managed to be of even less use than Rooney, and should consider himself lucky that there has been so little attention paid to it.
Drop them both, and let's see what England can really do!
Losers, Rooney And Balls To Savage
It could just be a learnt reflex from years of following Welsh sport but my favourite teams from the weekend of rather wonderful football were both on the losing side. (A confession: due to some live music and drinking I may have been in generous mood watching some games, and asleep for others so this is not exhaustive).
Bosnia, and in particular Pjanic, Besic and Lulic, are pretty damn grand. Pjanic obviously is a known performer and looked very classy with it, but Besic next to him was keen and helped keep things ticking over Lulic looked like one of those awesome World Cup players who just go bold and cavalier due tot he occasion, bombing around the place enthusiastically. I know bugger all about football really but to a lay-person trying to stay awake after a weekend of excess it kept me interested! Also, in a strange reflection of Argentina's tactical choices, they suddenly looked more interesting when they put the extra striker on. It's almost like having players forward helps when you want to try and score goals (which got the game going when both teams decided to do it!)
Despite myself I couldn't help but develop a bit of a soft spot for this previously unseen team in white who actually attacked like it was the point of football. I'm not going to use the E word, I just can't, but blimey they should be applauded. As for Rooney, I think a lesson can be picked up from rugby. When Mike Phillips (a player who trades in aggression and attitude with questionable disciplinary sense) was in a big lull he was benched, wound up and sent out at 50 minutes furious. Not only won his place back but extended the international career of a one-trick pony. Might be worth a pop with old Wayne.
One final thought, Thierry Henry and Robbie Savage's back and forth over the Pogba/Palacios incident is my off-the-pitch highlight so far. I'd love to be able to skewer someone's hypocrisy so succinctly in a second language.
Jon (a fickle neutral) Barnes
Argentina Ungrateful For Messi? Not Really
Hmm, just to address some of Graham Simons, Gooner, Norf Londons mail. I think the Argentinians probably like Maradona more than Messi because he helped them to actually win the World Cup in 1986, becoming the Golden Ball winner in the process, whereas Messi really hasn't turned up at World Cups for Argentina, regardless of his standing in the world domestically.
I also think the Argentinians couldn't care less about his success at Barcelona, why would they? But they could ask why he hasn't replicated that success for his country. Even if they did care, was Maradona's feat at Napoli massively incomparable given the resources at hand?
If you personally believe that Maradona is the most talented player to grace the game outright, why then also supposedly think he is better than Messi because he is a tool as well, that's non sequitur.
As for Argentina being ungrateful for having two really good footballers. South Korea are pretty ungrateful historically, Iraq could be considered the same, hell even Scotland don't appreciate all the things we do for them as their big brother, and want to move into the loft above the garage and call themselves independent. Most search engines will draw your attention to eye-opening ungratefulness in the greater scheme of things.
On the plus side you pulled it back stating it's not going to happen for Rooney. If you forgive the analogy he should be dropped to the bench like a hot potato for the Uruguay game. In fact I think his best chance of a goal is from off the bench with 30 minutes to go, having run the Uruguayans into the ground with the kids. Easy this management lark I tells ya.
Chris ITFC, Liverpool
...By way of explanation to Graham Simons, I believe the reason Argentinians don't much like Messi is that he's spent most of his life in Barcelona having joined them as a small (in every sense) child. They feel he's more Spaniard than Argentine.
It's a dull reason, but it's a reason, if they really must dislike one of their own greatest.
Richard (no, I don't really understand it either) Pike
Loathing Lazy Fawning
I have to say I'm not impressed by a lot of the lazy fawning from TV co-commentators over certain players. You would think that Pirlo was the single greatest passer of a ball ever to step on to a football pitch. Pirlo is very good indeed, but why do certain people who are paid to know better have such an extremely high opinion of him? He passed it around nicely once Italy got 2-1 up against England, and kept things ticking over. But if you actually take the time to look at his pass map, you'll find that he barely threatened England's final third, most of his passes were backwards or sideways and that the majority of his through balls failed to reach their target. He also won zero tackles and made zero interceptions. Why then, am I reading and hearing about how good he was? That sounds an awful lot like the sort of performance people like to criticise Michael Carrick for. There are 18 players with more Ballon d'Or votes than Pirlo, or put another way, if you picked an all-time Italy XI, Pirlo wouldn't be in it. Roy was putting him in the same bracket at Pele and Cruyff yesterday. Jesus, Roy!
Next up, Paul Pogba. Now, Paul Pogba is a good player and may well go on to become a very good player. Time will tell. But Martin Keown's constant comparisons with Patrick Vieira are as unfounded as they are tiresome. Pogba was simply 'okay' in a match against one of the worst teams in the World Cup. He should also have been sent off for kicking out at Palacios.
Neymar also had the same treatment in the opening game. An error-strewn performance that had some good moments.
I get the impression that F365 doesn't really like Clark Carlisle. Nor do I. However, at least he had the balls to be critical of Xherdan Shaqiri at the start of the game. Shaqiri did the rest by serving up the exact sort of performance Carlisle had described, but it appeared as though he had actually taken the time to watch him in other games.
Shoehorning lazy commentary to fit an opinion formed before the game is not what I expect. Luis Gustavo, Candreva, Matuidi and Valbuena all put in better performances than the players above yet received very little acknowledgement for it.
What It's All About...
Last night was what the World Cup is really all about. I'm an England fan, and I'm also a Liverpool fan. I'd like nothing more than for an England campaign to last into the next few weeks but my enjoyment of the tournament as a whole doesn't hinge on this. For one month I don't want to think about or read endless e-mails on petty club loyalty squabbles surrounding Rooney, Gerrard or whoever. If England play well, show promise for the future and go out in the groups then so be it. I want to revel in Holland thrashing Spain, in Costa Rica turning group D upside down, in the gusto of the South American national anthems, in Sterling's early effort turning the pub into a beer-soaked frenzy and then fits of laughter as we realised it hadn't actually gone in, and he wasn't in fact simply too cool to celebrate, in Jonathan Pearce's buffoonery, in the goals, the goals, and the more goals. But what it's really about, was last night. Bosnia and Herzegovina playing their first ever World Cup match. A young, traumatised nation uniting in the excitement, pride and joy of simply being there. That is what it's about, and I love it.
Rick, (Bosnia looked really good too) Brighton
After seeing regular Football Manager purchase Abel Hernandez come on for Uraguay this week. Has any one else ever built up an image of a player from their virtual career who ended up looking absolutely nothing like your imagination created.
Ric Duncombe (Kampala, Uganda)
Yesterday, during a Sunday league game, I asked the referee before taking the free-kick to use the spray can to mark the 10 yards between the ball and the wall. He said he'd show me his spray can in the washroom after the game.
Dominic, LFC, Singapore