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Should we be relying on the crocks?
I hate to be a killjoy, but my sense is that there is little joy being had about the 10 wins so I think I’m safe.
The concern is that having won all 10 of our games will make the players (or manager) think it’s all okay, and we’ll rock up to the championships as we are. But clearly, it’s not that great. We still don’t have much in the way of a settled team, or a polished level of performance. We’ve merely discovered that some of our back-up players can do an okay job, while some deserve to be more than back-up players.
The important thing that we’ve found, for me, is the discovery that some of our best players are too injury prone to be relied on but that maybe it’s okay. My fear is that as soon as Welbeck, Sturridge, Wilshere et al come back, they’ll be shoehorned straight back in. Yes, there are players on the ladder who can be reasonably bumped out, but there is no point building a team around the likes of Wilshere. They can come in as needed, but shouldn’t be the base.
What we haven’t gotten from these 10 games is a wave of consistency and confidence, but found 10 different ways that almost work against average teams. My hope is that between now and then we can establish a regular team of players whose fitness is fairly reliable, who get regular football with their clubs and can fit into a decent team; that way it can build that confidence and familiarity. That’s what successful teams have that we never seem to, but all the parts are there.
Sadly, I’m almost certain we’ll spend the next games trying out yet more options so that no one really has a clue how to play together.
The best squad?
Before all the talk quickly turns back to Premier League football, I thought I’d chip in on the International discussion. Forget form, in my opinion these are England’s 23 best players in terms of suitability for their position. If Roy takes this squad to the Euros, I think we’ve got a good chance of not embarrassing ourselves.
GK: Hart, Butland, Foster if fit, otherwise we can just pull a name out of a hat.
CBs: Cahill, Stones, Smalling, Jones (also back up RB)
LBs: Baines, Bertrand (assuming Shaw doesn’t make it)
CMs: Dier (only genuine holding midfielder we have), Wilshere, Carrick, Milner, Henderson, Barkley
RW: Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain
LW: Sterling, Welbeck
Strikers: Rooney, Sturridge, Kane
Surely that’s the best balanced 23 we have. Thoughts?
Big clubs bring big pressure
This is something that has bugged me for a while, and it is perfectly encapsulated by two morning mails (Joey, (I dream of Vardy becoming England’s Solskjaer) AFC, Manchester and Jon, Southampton) – the idea that big club players are treated preferentially to players lower down the league.
Of course there is some merit to this. But there is a massive flip side too – that is, players at big clubs only need one or two bad games, and they are written off.
Giroud is a fine example of this – he had a pretty good season last year, in terms of goals and scoring against the big clubs (United, City, Liverpool). He also scored against Monaco in the second leg. But none of that mattered due to his horror show against Monaco in the first leg, and his non-performances against Chelsea.
Whereas someone like Lallana could have plenty of average games for Southampton, but any good performance against one of the big clubs propels him to the public consciousness. David Bentley is a prime example – that hat-trick against United overshadowed a truly awful scoring record for Blackburn.
Why do so many players of the profile of Lallana/Lambert/Bentley/Bony/Remy etc ‘fail’ at big clubs? They have not got worse – but they are now required to be at the top of their game every game.
Jaimie Kaffash, AFC, London
How Vard can it be…?
Roy Hodgson: picks the PL top scorer…and plays him on the sodding wing. A perfect example of why I do not bother watching England anymore.
Ten qualifying wins out of ten mean nothing to me. We have a manager who in the most uninspiring (in literally every aspect of managing) I’ve seen since Jacques Santini managed Spurs; until this changes, England will never be enjoyable.
Alex G, THFC (how can it be that difficult ffs?)
This Carrick is not good enough…
Regarding Rob, China’s mail about Carrick. Should 2010/2012-era Michael Carrick be in the England team for 2016? Yes. Should 2015 era Michael Carrick be in the England team for 2016? No.
He was kept out of those squads by apparently better options at the time, be it personnel or that he didn’t fit the system that the manager wanted to use. It’s fine to use hindsight to say he was dealt a rough hand based on our performance in those finals, but putting an ageing player who’s nothing more than a passenger for his club in the team because ‘he deserves to go once’ is farcical.
As for 2014’s incarnation…I can’t think of a comedy alternative with the surname ‘Carrick’, but I’d sooner have them in than Michael.
Alex (My team’s in League Two, why do I care?), Manchester
Rob, lazy ESL teacher, Guangzhou China’s mail this morning made me remember something I had actually forgotten/repressed.
Scott Parker captained England. Seriously, Scotty ‘having a ruddy good go’ Parker was England captain. It happened. F**king hell.
Stuart Pearce really was an odd one, genuinely believing a lad with no actual ability and a natty side parting should captain England. The most London/Tory thing to happen in football until Harry ‘bloody good show’ Kane showed up with an even nattier haircut and an overbite that could open beer bottles.
Kris, LFC, Manchester
Sticking up for the ‘minnows’
I’m guessing Andy, London is the sort of person who has supported Chelsea since 2004, having supported Man United before that, the sort of person who doesn’t bother watching the group stages of international tournaments or the FA Cup before the 5th round – at least once the minnows have been weeded out. Super Sunday is probably as far as his domestic football watching goes (though not if there is a sh*t team playing), and he might tune in to El Clasico twice a year to keep up to date with what’s happening in European football.
Andy is exactly what is wrong with the modern football supporter, the archetypical self-entitled, plastic who only want to see the players they’ve actually heard of playing. Maybe we should just have an eight-[team European Championship Andy? Start at the quarter-finals, do away with qualifiers altogether? Maybe UEFA might even let you pick the eight teams who take part? Then the minnows of countries like Greece and Denmark who, as I’m sure Andy knows, have little pedigree in European Championships can pick a favourite country and support them? We could even get rid of Northern Ireland or Wales and pop the Netherlands in in their place for next summer, it’s an injustice that the Dutch players should have to stay at home while the people of Northern Ireland, Wales and Albania have an incredibly rare chance to cheer on their country at the highest level. (Who even knew there was a Pot 5 in the qualifying draw!?)
As you say in your hypocritical mail Andy ‘are Ireland really any better than they were four years ago, when they were outclassed in an admittedly difficult group?’ – perhaps you didn’t realise that Ireland beat the world champions last week, if it wasn’t for the 24-team Euros, Ireland wouldn’t have held out much hope of reaching the play-offs last week and a historic night in Irish sporting history would not have happened. The people of the extra eight nations all deserve the opportunity to watch their country on an international stage, taking that away from them is just plain wrong, and it also makes for a more interesting qualifying campaign if your country are placed in a group where they are far from one of the top two teams. Who knows, maybe (the elite) England may have made the 2008 Euros if there had been 24 teams??
…Andy, London’s mail from this morning made a few interesting points, particularly with regard to the expansion to 24 teams. There’s a point that’s been missed in all of this I think, which is that we shouldn’t disregard how much of a difference the possibility of qualifying in third place has made to the performance of the middle-to-lower ranking teams.
The likes of Iceland, Albania etc have definitely raised their game, and I can’t help feeling that the greater opportunity afforded to actually achieve the end target has helped these hugely. Those early shocks (Albania in Portugal, Slovakia against Spain) set the tone; suddenly every team bar around a dozen or so felt there might be something in it for them. Even amongst the traditional no-hopers, we’ve seen the Faroes win a couple and be competitive in almost every match, Azerbaijan take a point in Norway, Cyprus pick up three away wins (and maybe sneak third)…
As for the big five: Italy have done what they always do (just enough to get in); Spain recovered from an early surprise to storm through; Germany wobbled but the rest were sufficiently well-matched to take points of each other; England strolled home in the duff group (there’s always one); France are in as hosts. There’s not much to be read into that until they start to play each other, really.
Otherwise, the collapse of the Dutch is incredible (if they lose tonight they’ll have taken one point from the top three in the group) but this is surely just an extreme example of whatever psychosis they’re afflicted by; they’ll be back. Denmark slipping behind Albania was also a surprise, but in a five-team group there’s no margin for error, and don’t forget that Albania got three points from an abandoned match.
From an Irish viewpoint: Andy asks if ‘…Ireland [are] really any better than they were four years ago, when they were outclassed in an admittedly difficult group?’ This is a resounding yes; last time we got the luckiest play-off draw of all time, then saw Estonia go down to ten men inside half an hour in the away leg. We were possibly as one-dimensional as any team has ever been; our Plan B was our Plan A with worse players (Simon Cox wide left? Paul f***ing Green anywhere?), whereas at least now there’s some semblance of variety. And, frankly: Ireland 1 Germany 0. That wouldn’t have happened four years ago even if we played their futsal team.
The Scots might grumble, and with good reason having taken four points off us, but the one lesson we learned the Macedonia way is that, even if you don’t really deserve it and it takes a late screamer, you have to beat the likes of Georgia in a group like this. With the top four all taking points off each other, taking 12 from the two minnows was compulsory, and they were the only team not to.
Mike (parenthetically challenged), CCFC, Cork
…I know you’ll be flooded but Andy, London form this morning mailbox dismissal of Ireland – amongst others – as having not really improved in four years and that reward should be difficult to obtain has to be one of the more sanctimonious and smug things I’ve read for a while.
Ireland qualifying group included world champs Germany, Poland who beat Germany 2-0 in qualifying, Scotland who are ranked higher than them now – both Poland and Scotland were ranked above Ireland at the start of the group stages. You could have got 30/1 on Ireland qualifying out of Group D. Roll the clock forward and a 1-0 win over Germany will rank amongst the most memorable of Irish victories. There still not there, if they make it they will have to beat yet another superior team over two legs – Ireland won’t be the seeded team in their tie.
But after all that Andy would prefer that Ireland step aside and let someone more ‘elite’…oh, hang on, whats that? Just read the rest of your email. Yeah, ahem, I agree, er, it is nice, yeah, really nice to see the minnows taking advantage of the big boys’ slump.
As you were. Nothing to see here.
Eugene ‘reactionary’ Murray, Northampton
Switzerland > Scotland
Neil Raines claims its a sin that Scotland aren’t going to the Euros but Switzerland are. I sincerely hope you are joking, buddy. The Swiss are 28 places higher than the Scots in the world rankings, are incredibly consistent performers and boast a very good set of players who ply their trades in some of Europe’s top leagues. In addition to the fact that they also have a very good youth development system and you don’t have to go too far to find incredibly modern AstroTurf pitches which are often packed full of young kids.
But sure, how dare they take Scotland’s righteous place at the European championships?
Benteke’s sliding doors
Everyone one seems to be writing off Benteke under Klopp. However, could it be possible that at any point the board of Liverpool thought to themselves “We’ve got Benteke up front. F**k it, let’s bring in Big Sam and Kevin Nolan”?
It would make a brilliant version of ‘Sliding Doors’. One story where he’s sold to Ipswich for £2m in three years having scored four goals in 52 appearances and Klopp has headbutted him out of frustration shouting “HEAVY METAL! JAH!” and one where he’s a one-man wrecking ball and World Player of the Year.
It’ll probably be somewhere in the middle in reality.
Never mind the Ballack revisionism
I really enjoyed your Top 10 German imports and in particular seeing Michael Ballack on the list. I am a Chelsea fan and I watched him play week in week out for two seasons as a season ticket holder as well as numerous other games for Chelsea, Germany and his other clubs and I really can’t help but feel that he was massively underappreciated here in England. This was a guy who, having begun his career at centre-back, developed into one of the most complete midfielders of his generation. He played defensive midfield as well as Makelele, could play centre mid and could control a game as well as Vieira and was much more disciplined – both professionally and tactically – than Roy Keane. Oh, and let’s not forget that when he played as an attacking midfielder for Bayern he averaged better than a goal every three games which is a record better than Paul Scholes during the same period and has a comparable record to Scholes over his whole career. The guy was also phenomenally consistent, playing over 600 games during his career, scoring 148 goals.
While he may not have been quite a goal threat as Lampard, quite as dynamic as Gerrard or quite as good a tackler as Vieira, he was much more of a complete player than any of them and rarely have you seen a player who is calm in possession, technically graceful, ferociously strong and tactically as smart as Ballack in his prime.
When he arrived at Chelsea he may not have been in his absolute prime but I’ll never forget the number of games he played in where Drogs and Lampard got the plaudits, but Ballack gave them the platform on which to succeed as the centre midfielder who sacrificed himself for the team and controlled games like no other. Oh, and he took a superb penalty and free-kick. So forget the ‘nearly man’ tag and remember him as one of the greatest centre midfielders of our time.
More praise for Jens
Good grief! For once, Graham Simons is actually right. Your list of top 10 Germans in English football must include Herr Lehmann.
Lehman deserves his place not only for the clean sheets, and the numerous moments of comedy gold, including the unforgettable slapstick double act with Didier Drogba, but also for his red-card gamble in the Champions League final which would have worked to perfection if only M. Henry had taken his chances.
However, as Mr. Simons correctly argues, it would make your selection too Arsenal biased, so one of Mertesacker or Özil must go. Probably BFG, to be fair, for some catastrophic defensive meltdowns, but then, that inexcusable penalty miss early doors at home against Bayern illustrates the frailties of Özil.
Mind you, welcome addition as he is, Schweinsteiger’s most poignant current contribution to English football is his penalty miss in the 2012 Champions’ League final against Chelsea, whilst Michael Ballack’s ‘nearly’ time at Stamford Bridge saw him walk off with one Premier League/FA Cup double, one FA Cup/League Cup double, and a further FA Cup win for good measure. And bizarrely Robert Huth may actually be the most successful German to play in the Premier League, having won the title twice. How about that?!
No doubt about the No. 1, though. Bert Trautmann. A real hero.