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Some England thoughts
Seeing as we usually struggle to score from open play at tournaments, and tend to rely on set-pieces for most of our goals, to not start Jack Grealish would be criminal. He may be a very similar player to Foden, but which one of the two is used to the pressure of having to carry a team on his own in game after game. Foden could likely develop into a better player, but which of the two is, right now, the player that will demand the ball in a tricky situation? For me it’s Grealish every time. Plus, Foden coming on for Grealish in the last half hour to terrorise a tiring defence could work a dream.
Bellingham has to start. He oozed class. In a game where Austria pressed very well , he managed the ball nicely, varying between getting it forward and making himself available for his teammates to receive the ball, all while (mostly) avoiding the opposing press. You’d easily be forgiven for thinking he’s 27, and has played at this level for a decade longer than he has. He could easily slot in on either side of a midfield holder in a three or as a partner to a holder in a double pivot, so provides some really good options for Gareth. Also he looks to have a terrific engine, maintaining his work rate throughout. Very impressive overall, and leaves me much more hopeful for our chances in tournament football, which is often decided by the quality of the midfield.
Speaking of midfield, Hendo’s inclusion in the squad, but omission last night is worrying. Apparently he was rested as he’d reported some discomfort in training. This is a player who hasn’t featured for his club for months now. Even if he gets over his injury in time to feature on Sunday, we’ll at best be looking at getting him up to match fitness over the course of the group stage, and that’s if he can start and play all of them. I know he’s a leader off the pitch, but in an area of the park where we usually struggle, to potentially include an unfit player, it’s a massive gamble.
Rice is a bit of a baller. As is typical for DMs, by doing his job well he didn’t really stand out. But on more than one occasion in the match, he managed to skip through the Austria press using his close control – lovely to see, and memories of admiring Pirlo in WC14 where he played deep, controlled the game, and was almost impossible to dispossess. Get Rice on a diet of Pirlo videos, you never know, he might have it in him…
On that performance, and his role for Arsenal all season, Saka is not in the squad to get a free holiday, Walcott WC06, style. He will be an option to be used, most likely from the bench, his quality and work rate are undeniable. He and Grealish absolutely terrorised Austria’s back line with their movement, pace and direct running, and were it not a friendly, we’d have seen Austria pick up a couple more yellow cards in the first half alone. The goal was a just reward for an excellent performance from a player whose ceiling we still are some way off finding.
Roy Keane’s half-time analysis regarding Harry Kane was spot on: when the wingers and wide forwards have a chance to cross the ball into the box and Kane’s not there cuz he’s gone off wandering, late-stage Rooney style, they should cross it in anyways and get on his case for not being there – captain or not, he has a role in the side, and it’s to be the one to put the ball into the net and he’s not likely to do that from the half way line. It’s all fine and good dropping deep in a Mourinho Spurs team that play defensively and where you have the pace and striking ability of Son, to take your place up front. But for England, against an opposition that has parked the bus in front of their goal, to wander off into midfield to pick up touches, leaves us with no-one to get on the end of crosses and convert the half chances, the few occasions where we are able to get behind the defensive line. This happened more than once in the first half and if I were Kane’s teammate I’d be furious with him. After the break Austria played much further forward, so Kane coming deeper to receive a pass worked, as there was room for others to run in behind, as in the goal we scored.
Not sure continental refs are ready to appreciate DCL’s athleticism. He seemed to pick up a foul for every time he outjumped his rival. Can Crouch get on the phone with him to give him some tips? If I recall correctly he also used to suffer from similar ref bias. It’s like the referee couldn’t believe his eyes, and assumed that the only way a person could get that high off the ground is cuz someone has been fouled. If DCL can learn how to work on the right side of refs, what an absolute nightmare he’ll be for any defence.
Sorry for TAA, he deserved this chance. Absolute rotten luck, and I wish him the best. But what a perfectly ludicrous story-line. Where will the media take their drama now that he is almost certainly ruled out?
Looking forward to the real thing…
Trent: Not for England
It’s been said a million times before but Trent is not the best defensively and fairly regularly gets caught out of position. Certainly in comparison to the other half dozen RB’s in the squad.
When playing for Liverpool this doesn’t really matter, if they concede they will still likely go on to win the game. When playing for England, this mistake would likely be game over.
Therefore, despite what Trent offers that the others don’t, he doesn’t play for England.
There are several others in the England team that are likely to make the same calamitous mistake, Pickford or any of the CBs for example, but they don’t have any replacements, so they have to play, but Trent doesn’t.
Joel (with such glaring deficiencies elsewhere, what happens at RB really doesn’t matter anyway, we may as well be debating who the kit man isn’t)
Hope for England with 4-3-3
There are really two thoughts when it comes to selecting national sides. One, pick a strategy of play and select the players who you think best fits that strategy. Or, two, pick a team around your best player(s).
Clearly, unlike with club managers, national managers can’t choose to go with their preferred strategy and either take the time to coach/retrain players or buy in players to fit the strategy when the existing players come up short. It requires time to both coach and displace players. And with injuries or club sides playing games with pseudo-injuries, national managers aren’t sure who might turn up.
So what style to go with? The second option seems to rarely work – as Argentina have been finding trying to shoe-horn a team around Messi since Messi burst on the scene. But the first option also has its challenges.
So when national teams decide on a strategy, it tends to be the lowest common denominator type of thing. That’s why Hodgson would play his two banks of four and when Southgate went with the modern equivalent, 3-4-3 or 3-5-2. Every now and again you get someone coming along trying to change the game as Germany did by getting clubs, their academies and national team playing the same style to make it easier to fit players into a higher performing national team.
We saw Southgate start out his term using 3 at the back to overcome what he saw as a deficit in CBs and some deficiencies in midfield. It kind of worked in the WC but mostly because of a favourable draw and some excellent work on set pieces – which are proven to be a big factor in tournaments. (Hopefully England will continue to work that for the Euros – fascinating to watch their bus queue or whatever it was called corners.)
But when England shone recently it was in the Nations Cup qualifying games. Drawn against Croatia and Spain, you can bet everyone thought England would be also rans. The experienced Croatians were considered a bogey side for England and Spain have such talent. But Southgate played 4-3-3, with what would be considered a poor midfield consisting of Barkley, Dier and either Delph or Winks. None of whom are in the current squad or who were ever that great to begin with – certainly not consistently. But the front three in these games were Sterling, Kane, Rashford. They pressured, broke the line and created space for the midfield to push into. So in the end, playing the non-safe option turned out to be best. Clearly, playing a defensive formation and allowing the other sides onto you requires different skills and personnel and is actually the higher risk option. Teams that like to play with the ball are immediately taken out of their comfort zone. Who knew?
So going into these Euros, Southgate should continue with the 4-3-3. He has much better midfielders to select from with Rice, Bellingham, Phillips and Henderson and can easily drop one of Mount or Foden in there against weaker teams. With that midfield – able to give cover to the full backs – Southgate also gets more out of any of the 6 full backs he has at his disposal. All offer an attacking outlet.
While it’s tempting to play the 3 at the back, especially given it might not only use Maguire early on, it would mean too many playing in a less conventional role than they regularly play for their clubs. Watching Rice, Phillips and especially Bellingham at such a young age, playing such composed football in the middle, it gives me hope. With the fact he has retained all of Foden, Mount, Grealish and TAA in the squad he has some great attacking outlets he can bring in when needed to freshen or change things up.
With this squad, I am really looking forward to the Euros now.
Actually, players over systems please
While I agree that Alexander-Arnold hasn’t played that well for England thus far, the talk of him “not fitting the system” has got me feeling grumpy.
Managers should prioritise talent over systems. Especially international managers. At domestic level it’s possible to scout and acquire players who will make their system work but at international level you have to take what you’re given and need to adapt your system to fit that. Obvious caveat that if you have five good centre-forwards (for example) you can’t play them all together but, wherever possible, players should taken precedence over systems.
In terms of England, that means not playing three at the back, for example. Centre-back is our second weakest position, after goalkeeper, so it’s crazy to deny ourselves superior players just to suit the manager’s pet formation. And its not as if there’s a small difference in quality either.
My Main Principle If I Was Managing England
Related, but slightly different point. Almost every tournament, including when getting to the semi-finals of the last World Cup, we have massively struggled with scoring goals in open play; and almost exclusively (with very rare exceptions) been flat-track bullies – winning against poor or average sides and inevitably losing against good or better sides.
So, if I was managing England, I would pack the side with as many good ball-playing / creative players as possible, to do everything I could to overcome that problem – not to mention trying to compensate for our dodgy central defence.
Possible team with that principle in mind:
GK – Henderson
RB – Alexander-Arnold
CB – Stones
CB – Mings
LB – Chilwell
CM – Phillips
CM – Ward-Prowse
AMC – Grealish (swap in Mount against better sides)
AML – Foden
AMR – Sancho
SC – Kane
In the full-back, midfield and more attacking positions they are pretty much the best ball-playing and creative positions we have. Possibly lacking a tiny bit of pace, but not slow. Phillips and Ward-Prowse both have good defensive stats, according to Whoscored, so wouldn’t leave the team exposed. Putting Mount in against the best sides would give even more solidity, given his high work rate.
We’ve never tried this ethos before and I think it’s worth a go. Anything to move beyond flat-track bullies to try to give us a chance of beating top opposition.
Mark (normally London, currently Mexico)
On AWB as a holding midfielder
They say if you live long enough you eventually get to see, or in this case read, it all. Wan-Bissaka as a DM? You’ve got to be kidding. As a deep lying central midfielder you need certain attributes – positional sense, the ability to read a game and in particular smell the danger, and comfort on the ball whether you’re going left or right. I don’t know what this guy is watching but I can assure you those are amongst Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s worst attributes.
He’s just come off of a season where he routinely lost his men at the back post when the ball was coming in from Shaw’s side – in fact, the reason he needs to be so good at last-ditch tackling is often because his positioning is so poor to begin with – never saw a backwards pass he didn’t love due to his utter inability to pick a forward ball and a technique that made Smalling look like Scholes; and you want to play this guy in the centre of the park? Yeah, possibly if you’re curious what a true catastrophe looks like. Look, I get that football is a game of opinions but just saying anything that pops into your head is a pretty low bar to set.
…I read a letter Chris had sent in the last Mailbox suggesting Wan-Bissaka as the DM that Manchester United need. He raised some valid points but for me I see his role further back – I think he could be the perfect foil for Harry Maguire at the back. His pace would be a massive asset, he reads the game well, makes crucial interventions and blocks and he’s got the size and athletic ability too. Comparable to how David Alaba transitioned from a LB to a CB at Bayern.
Trippier would then make sense with Brandon Williams as understudy and the funds that may have been tied up in Varane can be used further forward.
Cheers from NZ.
…AWB as United’s new DM is quite possibly the maddest statement I have read in the past year or two of absolute madness!!
To also feature NG Kante in the reasoning, well………take a bow son!
Emery and plenty of other tactically astute managers set their teams up to force United to funnel the ball to AWB as much as possible as they know it completely nullifies any potential threat.
I imagine Luke Shaw would be the busiest player on the pitch as AWB constantly stops the momentum and passes it back or sideways to him.
Plato – MUFC (I suppose football is a game of opinions)
….As a Utd fan I would like to make it clear that AWB as a defender is one of the more positive aspects of the current Utd team. The key term being ‘as a defender’. Whilst he may be able to come close to nipping the ball away like Kante he would then very much give the ball straight back to the opposition as he doesn’t have a football brain.
There are few players since the great Paul Warhurst (look it up kids) who can move to a different position and be excellent or improve.
Yours in sport
No thanks to Lukaku
I’d rather not bring back Lukaku yes he scores goals but he still has a poor first touch for a professional footballer at this level, I want Tammy Abraham to be given a chance with at least 40 games under his belt as I think he would get 20+ goals easily.
Chelsea do need a proper serious clear out however as I don’t think Marcos Alonso, Kepa Arrizabalaga, Emerson, Callum Hudson Odoi, Ruben Loftus Cheek, Kurt Zouma, Ross Barkley, Christian Pulisic, Danny Drinkwater, Tiemoue Bakayoko, Kennedy, Matt Miazga, Victor Moses, Baba Rahman, Davide Zappacosta, Lewis Baker, Marco Van Ginkel, Michy Batshuayi and Izzy Brown have it in them to step up to where Chelsea want to be.
Players I would like bought in would be Ben White, Matheus Pereira and Allan Saint-Maximin.
Just my two pence.
Greg, Herts, CFC