Mails: If Drinkwater played for Liverpool…

Date published: Thursday 2nd June 2016 10:07

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England’s most inexperienced squad ever?
Well, when I say ever, I mean since 2000 because that was the furtherest back I could be bothered to go.

However, my point is that Hodgson’s squad for the Euros this summer is the most inexperienced squad England have taken to a major tournament since before 2000 in terms of international experience at least. I totted up the number of total caps in each squad since 2000 including this one and the results look like this:

2016: 516 (caps)
2014: 665
2012: 665
2010: 820
2006: 713
2004: 665 (bit weird this)
2002: 550
2000: 557

So, by far England’ most experienced squads ever were in 2010, 2006 and then 2014, 2012 and 2004 which all very strangely had the same amount of caps in the squad at the start of the tournament. The early 2000s saw a less experienced squad similar to what we have now. There are some strange anomalies looking back too: this will somehow be Henderson’s third tournament, Martin Kelly made the Euro 2012 squad and Joe Cole, Wright-Phillips, Warnock, Upson and Dawson all made the 2010 squad – no wonder we were so bad. So, what does this mean?

Well, it could mean nothing or it could be very telling. This squad, together, has much less experience of international football compared to 2004-2014. Furthermore, the number of caps is artificially enlarged by Rooney who has an impressive 110 caps, as well as Milner who has 59 and seems (unfairly in my opinion) unlikely to play very much. So the team out there when England play Russia will be highly inexperienced and around a fifth of their caps will come from just one player. However, this by no means suggests that England will do badly because they are inexperienced. England in fact produced their best tournament performances in 2002 and 2006, reaching the quarter-finals after a round of 16, with a relatively inexperienced and an experienced squad respectively. So it’s probably anyone’s guess.

However, I think the importance of this inexperience will be exposed if England should ever face one of the tournament favourites:

France: 610 (caps)
Germany: 1038
Spain: 977
Belgium: 715
Italy: 1025

Germany and Italy have over 1000 caps in their squads and Spain are nearly there. Belgium and France are significantly less experienced squads but are still more experienced than England. I think if England come up against any of Germany, Spain and Italy, their inexperience, in contrast, will be exposed (along with a huge gap in class against Germany or Spain at least) but might fare better against the less experienced, particularly in tournament football, France and Belgium (who failed to qualify in 2010 and 2012).

I’ve obviously focused on England in this mail, but there are implications for the tournament as whole highlighted here. France, many people’s favourites, actually have an inexperienced squad – would their undoubted talent make up for it against the highly seasoned Italians for example?

Or is it all just bollocks?
Joe (LFC)


Belgium are struggling
So Belgium laboured to a 1-1 draw against Finland yesterday, and here is how I saw it:

– The big uncertainty at the moment is the Belgium back-up strikers. This was a chance to give Benteke and Origi some game time. Origi had about 55 mins out wide and was a bit disappointing against two lines of defensive players with little space behind; Benteke spurned a glorious chance from two yards out, somehow contriving to knock it wide, plus various inviting headers.

– It took Lukaku, coming on in a 12-minute cameo, to score to restore some pride as Belgium were losing 1-0. He and Batshuayi look the more likely starting strikers

– there’s plenty of talent in midfield however; Hazard and De Bruyne linked up well.

– Fellaini, much-maligned for Man United, still gets picked regularly and played tonight in a more advanced role (well, all the Belgians were on the front foot really).

– Vertonghen was being played at left-back; I know he used to play there for Spurs but it’s still odd to see him there after a great partnership with Alderweireld has been established in central defence. He made a lot of runs and crosses however so can adapt to the role. Vermaelen was preferred as a centre-back, since you ask.

– a quick(ish) counter-attack unlocked Belgium’s defence, who were expecting an easy night against international minnows.

– There’s still Carasco to come in and he would add a bit of inventiveness out wide.

I guess it’s best not to base too much on a friendly warm-up match where no one wants to be too committed and risk an injury. Nonetheless a lot is expected of this Belgium team, who have got a lot of gifted players. The question is, will their excellent midfielders create enough goals to outweigh the weaknesses of their strikers, defensive play, and Fellaini?
Paul in Brussels (still very much hoping Belgium do well)


What’s going to happen at Euro 2016…
There’s a very good chance I’m about to make myself look foolish here, because it involves a prediction. This is kind of in response to a couple of Mailbox contributions encouraging/expecting England to adopt a ‘we’ll score one more than the opposition’ approach to the forthcoming tournament.

I’ll admit I’m torn on England’s chances. On the one hand, I think we’ll do quite well based on my opinion that we’re actually a fair bit better than people realise, a strong qualifying record, and that everyone else isn’t really that good. On the other hand, I feel that Roy might be about to try to shoehorn our 11 most-gifted footballers into a horrifically unbalanced ‘team,’ playing a midfield that offers little to no protection to a shaky defence. Extreme ends of the spectrum of course.

Something which I’ve been giving serious thought to is the tournament format, and how it might affect how teams approach things. With only eight teams dropping out at the group stage, logic dictates that there is a reduced incentive to try to win a game. That is, the focus shifts to ‘not losing.’ See Italia 90 for a case in point – and it was notable how cagey the knockout stages of the last World Cup became after a frantic group stage, perfectly epitomised by Van Gaal’s Netherlands team. It’s conceivable that a team could reach the final of the tournament without winning a game, such as Paraguay in the Copa America a few years ago. Three points would probably ensure qualification from the group, after all.

We could well see a tournament where defences come out on top, which I feel bodes ill for England. A team that masters the art of playing like Atletico or second half of the season Leicester could well cause an upset here, as the traditional powerhouses blow themselves out against tightly packed defences.

The conclusion I’ve reached is that I agree with John Nicholson; England could indeed be well served by adopting the tactics of Leicester. However, this clearly won’t come to pass. England made a conscious move to 4-2-3-1 after Euro 2012, and that’s what we’re going to play at Euro 2016. The fans and the press won’t stand for England sitting deep, absorbing possession, and trying to play on the break. We did that against Italy in Euro 2012 and popular opinion was that England were rubbish.

Based on what I’ve written, this is how I see things panning out for England. Squeeze out of a group that ends up being tighter than anyone expected with a low goals for column and a feeling that the team hasn’t gelled and that we’ll get dumped out by the first good team we meet. Roy, not brave enough to act on what’s under his nose, refutes the notion of adopting any sort of Plan B, and England get dumped out by the first decent team they meet, 1-0 or on penalties. Roy gets angry at criticism from the fans and the press, saying he picked the best players just like everyone wanted. Meanwhile, Italy, terrible in the group after trying to play attacking football, bore their way to yet another final. Surprise package Romania, playing their own version of ‘anti-football,’ take a number of big scalps along the way, winning the final on penalties after the worst game of football in living memory.
Andy, London



More Leicester players? Oh do shush
‘We should have built our team around Leicester and Spurs players’ was a common theme in Wednesday morning’s mailbox as if Hodgson had named a squad without a single Spurs or Leicester player.

No club has more representatives in the England squad than Spurs. But unfortunately this doesn’t fit in with the narrative that players are only picked because of the club they play for. Out of Tottenham’s starting 11, five of them are English and guess what? All five are in the squad and are likely to play in the euros. Roy looks set to mound his side around a similar system to the one Spurs use with a narrow attacking unit with the width provided by the full-backs. This system encourages an attacking style and one with a lot of possession. Which is the opposite to Leicester’s deep shape with a good defensive structure but a great counter attack.

There are four Englishmen in Leicester’s most-used 11. It’s safe to say that neither Simpson nor Albrighton were really good enough for selection so that leaves just Drinkwater and Vardy. Vardy’s pace, pressing and surprisingly good finishing are extremely good assets to have in the England squad so he rightfully has his place in the squad. Unfortunately England don’t have N’Golo Kante in midfield or Ranieri as manager so Drinkwater really isn’t going to be of much use in the squad. He looked out of his depth on Friday and he was only awarded the MOTM against the Netherlands because it was his debut. Roy obviously feels that there are proven international players that will perform better than Drinkwater in the squad so rightfully leaves him out. He’s not good enough to start and doesn’t offer anything off the bench unlike Barkley who has the ability to change a game. Leicester also have as many players in the squad as Arsenal. People really should look at things before pulling out the Big Club bias card.

This idea that he should get in because he won the title is nonsense. Yes he’s played well but there are plain and simply better midfielders in the squad, who have also performed at international level. Why not throw in Danny Simpson and Marc Albrighton in instead of Nathaniel Clyne and Raheem Sterling? After all they did win the title and played their part.

It’s almost as if Roy has picked better players, who suit the English system and have performed for him in the past. Madness.


If Liverpool signed Drinkwater…
A lot of the responses (from Spurs and Arsenal fans I assume) in the mailbox about Danny Drinkwater seems to be that he is a journeyman midfielder that is only good because his manager knows how to play him correctly in a championship-winning team.

I don’t really get how you can call at 25-year-old that has only had permanent contracts at Man Utd and Leicester City, and won the league with one of them, a journeyman? And surely pointing out that Ranieri is able to turn him into a Premier League winner, whereas Roy can’t work out how to get the best out of him says more about the manager than it does the player?

This perceived ‘step-up’ to international level football is also an archaic concept, it’s not the 80s and 90s anymore, every Premier League team is chock full of international players, and England only play against one decent team every eight years as things currently stand. Drinkwater clearly has the technical ability to perform at that level, as well as the consistency and form. Roy said “Rashford has had a great end to the season”, but Drinkwater has had a great season.

If Liverpool were to sign Drinkwater this summer, he would be starting for England throughout the upcoming World Cup qualifiers.


James Milner > Ross Barkley

Shinji would like five positive things that James Milner brings (given that he’d chose to have Barkley in his preferred midfield alongside Rooney?!).

So as a direct comparison Jimmy v Barkley in numbers:

Goals: Seven (from 42 matches) vs 12 (46) although I’ve included this because Jimmy takes far fewer shots per game and is therefore not just shooting on sight.
Assists last season: 11 v 8
Tackles per match: 2.5 v 0.9 (if he’s played on the right, he provides decent cover for a marauding full-back)
Matches in Europe (given we’re playing European teams): 12 v 0 – on this note, Milner was instrumental in Liverpool’s run, and was exceptional in the matches v Dortmund.
Key passes per match: 2.2 v 1.5

In a nutshell, at this time Mr Swiss Army Knife contributes more in a match than Ross Barkley. While I’m disappointed that Milner’s corners are not up to scratch, his free-kicks are always pretty handy. He has vision, can be disciplined and generally doesn’t go missing in any game. He can play in multiple positions (handy for when Alli or Walker get sent off) as well.

Barkley just doesn’t seem to be doing it at the moment. There’s no doubt he’s got talent, but if he’s not delivering that’s about as handy as having a tin opener when you need a corkscrew. Therefore, I’d have Milner. After all, what kind of Swiss Army Knife can’t open a bottle of wine and a tin? Based on his team proposed, Wilshere is better from the centre with Milner out right. As for Rooney in the middle, I *really* don’t get that.

Does Wilshere deserve to be there? A month ago, I’d have said no, but he should be the least tired player in the tournament and therefore could be a surprise asset. Or injured in the first five minutes.

Personally, I think it would be great if we had a better option than Milner on the right but at the moment we don’t seem to.

Final point it’s Wilshere. Wiltshire is a county in the west of England. Really p***es me off that one.
Rob, London


…In response to Shinji Out in the earlier mailbox – you wanted to know 5 things that Milner brings to any team. Well here are a few thoughts:

Goals and Assists – five goals and 11 assists in the PL this season, from 28 appearances. Seven Goals and 14 assists from 42 in all competitions. Not bad for a player often dismissed as a water-carrier midfielder and who often plays on the wing, not to mention the fact that Liverpool’s strikers were often MIA whilst on the pitch, or simply broken and off it.

Incidentally, those 11 assists meant he was joint 5th in terms of assists in the PL, and the top English player (the next one being Alli with nine). He has a good eye for an incisive pass.

Discipline/reliability – he’s a consistent performer and is relatively rarely injured. You also know that he’s unlikely to have a mad moment and go wandering elsewhere on the pitch where it’s clear he isn’t meant to go (Moreno’s role at Liverpool as far as I can tell). He won’t win a match with a moment of genius, but his positional awareness and discipline combined with his work rate and attitude mean he will often stop the opposition players getting the chance to do that either.

Effort – because it’s James Milner after all.

Versatility – He can play several positions across the midfield. He’s not a master of any of them, but a very good player at all of them. It gives Woy greater tactical flexibility during a match and useful cover for several positions in the event of injuries.

Experience – he’s still just about in his prime at 30 years old and has played consistently at the top level. He is very professional, level-headed, and rarely phased. Kind of what you need when the pressure is on in a big match, and should be a calming/confidence-boosting influence if players like Rashford (undoubtedly talented, but very young and inexperienced) and Alli (young, immature and ill-disciplined) are on the pitch. I’m not trying to do Rashford and Alli down – both are the kind of exciting players who can turn a game, but we need a blend of youth and exuberance as well as experience on the pitch.

So I absolutely agree with Woy that Milner must go to the Euros. He sure isn’t glamorous or exciting but he is very important for both team and squad. No idea why Headless Chicken Henderson is going though. Or what Wilshere has done to justify his place.
Andy Bray


If you can’t spell his name…don’t comment
To anyone else struggling with the constant berating of England’s best midfielder during qualifying being selected to go to the tournament he helped qualify for, here’s a helpful tip: Scan mailbox entries and article comments for Wiltshires and Wilshires and whatever other misspellings, and if present – ignore.

There are legit arguments against his inclusion, but anyone quoting stats who can’t even spell his name is probably talking shite.

I’ve sent this in once before, but thought it worth repeating given the current enthusiasm for denigrating him. Hope it makes reading things a little easier.
Ross, AFC London


Did he mean Drinkwater?
I was speaking to my dad about the England squad and he expressed his disappointment that Winterbottom hadn’t made the final 23! Not sure how relevant this is but it made me chuckle!
Craig Ford, Plymouth (glad that Rashington made the squad)


Love for Glenn Whelan
I was thinking the exact same thing yesterday before reading Tipperary Mark’s thought’s on the usefulness on Glenn Whelan. I’m generally on my own amongst friends and family when discussing whether or not he should be in the team. But I can see why numerous managers over the years start him every single game, for club and country.

I think the dislike of Whelan may come from fans buying into the Giles/Dunphy notion that all midfielders should be swashbuckling attacking players playing tiki-taka football up the pitch. This is an Ireland squad whose main attacking tactic for most of the last decade has been for centre-backs to lump the ball up the pitch to ‘The Big Man’. Sometimes holding on to the ball and passing it sideways or backwards between full-back/centre-back/centre-mid is what’s needed, especially for a team so often under defensive pressure. There’s only so many times you can lump a ball up the pitch before you get punished. As well as reading the game and providing a decent screen to the defense, I think Whelan does this keep-ball job well when it’s needed, while also being capable of passing it in to the feet of a Hoolahan or a Long when it’s on. We have ‘attacking’ players to (try to) do the job that the RTE lads cry out for, but without Whelan providing decent cover and ball retention behind I think the structure falls apart.

I was in Lansdowne on Friday watching Harry Arter play some keep-ball stuff with the defense on a couple of occasions against Holland, I turned to my wife and said “he’s doing the job Whelan gets slated for, but I bet he’ll get praised for it, just because he’s not Whelan”. As a Whelan hater she shrugged me off, but by the end of the 90 minutes Artur was announced as man of the match! Apart from a few reckless tackles I can’t think of anything else un-Whelan-like he contributed (it was a week ago and beers consumed on the night blur the memory. The young RTE panel of Richie Sadlier and Kenny Cunningham seemed to agree though).

As a Man Utd (and Carrick) fan I do appreciate that unnoticed players only get noticed when they’re not in the team, and I think Whelan will probably get more recognition once he’s gone. I for one will miss him. We could’ve done with him against Belarus!
JustG (I am not related to Glenn Whelan), Dublin


Anybody else excited for Copa America?
In the wake of the final English game of the season (GGMU suckers) and the eventual crescendo of the Champions League fina, I find myself powering through mailboxes littered with talk about the glitz and glamour that is Euro 2016. Now whilst I am an avid follower of European football, I feel a thought should be spared for those of lesser talent. While sure, Luis Suarez is no Jamie Vardy (Although Suarez does usually bite off more than he can chew) and poor old Lionel Messi couldn’t hold a candle to the man with his own underwear brand (CR7), surely someone, somewhere is excited about the imminent Copa America.

Let’s get some excitement – the colonies are going to war!
Zain (MUFC because Mourinho is Red) South Africa


Di Matteo to Villa, then.

I suppose if he sits in front of the back four it will give Grealish more freedom to get forward.

Alex Stokoe, Newcastle upon Tyne


Who does Ozil want?
There were a few emails yesterday about whether or not Alvaro Morata is any good. The thing is there should only be one person who gets to choose who Arsenal sign as their next striker. It isn’t Stan Kroenke, it isn’t Arsene Wenger, it’s Mesut Ozil. He, and he alone should get the deciding vote, preferably with an interview process including an audition.

If that isn’t the case then the whole world has gone bonkers. Or Ozil is heading off to a different club this summer.
JazGooner (If Mesut wants Morata, I want Morata)

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