Pardew’s Packed

In 2001, 59 year old Sharon Stone claimed that while suffering a brain hemorrhage, she died and came back to life. She also claims she saw her close friends who had died, friends who were so dear to her. But it was so sudden and the white light that was engulfing her quickly went up in smoke and she was back in her body again. Whether you believe this or not is up for debate but what is surely believable is the spiritual place where people meet dear dead friends of theirs. Certainly this is where Alan Pardew, David Moyes, Roy Hodgson and (soon to be) Sam Allardyce crossed paths right before they came back to managerial life and got jobs this season. The four managers are certainly four strong points for the detractors of the fact that foreign managers are taking the jobs away from young British managers (How many are they anyway?)

So 11 months after Pardew’s sacking and this blog’s promise that he will be back, Mr Perfect Hair strolled through the revolving doors at the West Bromwich Albion Training Ground. Doors that have to be said had not yet swung back to place owing to Pulis’s slow, deathly and non-attacking nature of football.

arrivin

His first port of call will be to shore up the defence. Conceding (especially from set pieces) and Tony Pulis have never been in the same narrative especially on the back end of last season where Tony led the team to 10th in the Premier League. Something they had not achieved in a considerable amount of time. Further their defence was among the top last season. Fast forward to this season and they have conceded 23 goals in 14 games which averages 1.6 per game. This is something quite shocking and Pardew has to fix this very very quickly. He will have to depend on the experience of McAuley, Dawson and Johnny Evans to step up and take responsibility from now on.

Confidence also has to be restored to the team. Just like Everton, the West Brom players have looked clueless and shell-shocked even in instances where they played in front of their own fans – case in point the 4-0 drubbing by Chelsea. The home crowd this season has tended to be edgy and very nervous, with every misplaced pass drawing a gasp perhaps in anticipation of an inevitable atrocity. To cure this, Alan will need the crowd to back the team so as to get them firing. The last two games have exhibited the soft center that West Brom possess where they have scored first but fail to see of the game hence leading to two consecutive lucky draws owing to the controversial calls that officials have made against their opposition. Confidence will get them playing composed football again.

What has to be said is that the style of play at the Hawthorns will not be revolutionary and the Baggies will not transform into a possession-based, slick passing football team. With Pardew’s appointment, that childish line of ‘be careful what you wish for’ has once again been hurled at the West Brom faithful, as if consistent mediocrity is a better option to the ‘unknown’. However as Pardew mentioned in his maiden press conference, he intends to get the team to play an expansive type of football. This will be adequate entertainment to a stadium that has become ghostly this season due to the ghostly thing in the name of football that has been pranced around often with four central defenders, three defensive midfielders, two very wide wingers and a lone man upfront. Matt Philips has been offered very limited playing time this season but leads the club’s most chances created list. Further, with the presence of Gareth Barry, the experienced midfielder can provide an anchor for a free role midfielder to do the running and link the passes. Barry’s range of passing will also give an opportunities to the zippy wingers like McCLean to work their stuff. Chadli just has to come back into this fold. You’ll be naive to believe that he is injured. Something happened between him and Pulis in the background. Perhaps he refused to tuck in and desired to be expansive? We can only speculate.

What will be good news for West Brom is that Pardew has often been a man of quick fixes. He has been known to squeeze every last drop from his players to ride the new manager wave. This will be very important as his next two games will be against Crystal Palace and Swansea. He will certainly be desperate to do one over his former employers. There is currently a five point difference between 17th placed West Brom and 9th placed Leicester. In a league where Eddie Howe alludes to the fact that you are one result away from a crisis and one win away from safety, there is no overstating the importance of the next two games.

It is difficult to wrap your head around the fact that West Brom’s biggest win this season is a 1-0 victory against Burnley. In light of this, I do not think that the fans have the liberty to cross Pardew’s Ts and dot his i’s. They simply have to get behind him. The same goes for the players. They have to start playing for the shirt again. With a relatively comfortable contract, Pardew has the added advantage of a full month before deciding who to buy and who to offload in January. He will no doubt make West Brom watchable again.. Surely it can’t be worse?!

‘When death comes to you, as it will, it’s a glorious and beautiful thing. I had an incredible sense of well-being and a sense that it’s just so near. Death – it’s very near and very safe. It’s not a far away or scary thing.’ Sharon Stone stated at the end of her interview. Alan Pardew will certainly hope he can keep the proverbial grim reaper at an arms length as soon and as long as possible.

4221396001_5662193419001_5662170085001-vs

 

Advertisements

Last Chance Saloon

The King in Leo Tolstoy’s 1885 “Three Questions” was intent on learning three things; the right time to begin everything; who were the right people to listen to, and whom to avoid; and, above all, if he always knew what was the most important thing to do. If he had the answers to this questions, he would never fail in anything he might undertake. If these three questions had been posted to West Ham’s Chairpersons, Board Members, Fans and David Moyes, the answers would have been varying and very confusing. Thankfully it is not the 19th century, David Moyes and the West Ham hierarchy did not have to answer the three questions and a result, Moyes takes over the London Club. Should the questions have been asked though?

Hammers

On Moyes’s part, this is clearly the last roll of the dice. A chance to drag his name from the realms of mediocrity. In all fairness, he must count himself lucky to get a job in the top tier. You do not fail in three consecutive clubs and still get handed another one . The big question is whether he is ready for another big job. After 11 solid months at Everton during a period in which he transforms a relegation-threatened team into big four contenders. He moved to Man United and despite a six year contract and an ageing squad, he left 10 months into his contract with the club languishing in 7th place.

utd job

He moved over to Real Sociedad looking for a fresh start but a culture shock, language impediment and poor tactics left the club fighting for relegation and after a year he was sacked. Against better judgment, he moved over to Tyneside to manage the Black Cats. He drummed them up as being a big club and that they were in the same league as Everton. By the end of the first month, he was already conceding the fact that Sunderland were in a relegation scrap. Sunderland finished the season with 6 premier league wins, bottom of the table and a goal difference of -40. He went out on a whirlwind regretting the switch to Sunderland, blaming everyone else including the players he bought but exempted himself from blame. This is despite the obvious stodginess the team exhibited when playing and the apparent over-insistence of crossing drills during training.

sund

On to more positive news, it seems West Ham seem to have finally got their man. He was the man they sounded out to replace Big Sam in 2015 nut he turned them down. Now they get a second bite of the cherry in terms of their managerial choice. He is a painfully honest man and this might be the other factor why he was chosen. He calls things as they are and a reality check is really what West Ham need right now. With all respect to Sunderland, he talked up about the quality of players being better than the lot at Sunderland and it is hard to argue. Lanzini, Antonio Hernandez among others are actually a decent bunch and all eyes will be on how he will inspire a fractured dressing room to get them to show unity on and off the pitch.

However this has never been the case. Time is against Moyes and he has never kick-started immediately. He has always taken his sweet time to set his teams up and with fixtures coming thick and fast next month, one wonders how long Moyes will actually be given. The trend that follows the teams he hops onto have always been a downward trend. Look away Hammers! He is being hired for his ability to set teams up well but the reality of the matter is that it has been a while since he has tactically won a game.

The obvious question is now whether he can steady the ship. He has enough premier league experience with 499 PL games managed. Redknapp apart, he was the most experienced manager available. On 19th November against Watford, it will be his 500th Game but between now and then, his ‘to-do’ list is certainly overwhelming. He takes over a team languishing in 18th place with only two PL wins, 9 points from 11 games and with 23 goals conceded. With indiscipline player including Arnautovic, Fonte and Carroll, it will be interesting to see how the manager cracks the whips on these three players especially.

David Moyes has often been credited with setting up teams that are tactically disciplined, mentally resilient, defensively organised and quite simply hard to break down. With West Ham’s leaky defence, they need all the Moyes they can get.

Over to you Willy!

 

 

Alvaro

In the alternate universe of Galactico, Morata is preparing to go back to Madrid. He is buoyed by the international break having scored a hat trick against Albania and this was followed up with a brace against Israel. Benzema still looks to miss out with an injury and there is no cause for worry and the four previous games without him, Morata has certainly steeped as he scored the winning goal in the pulsating game against Valencia in the 93rd minute. Against Levante, he scored the decisive goal with his first touch of the ball and against Real Betis, his quick reactions ensured Madrid wrapped up all three points despite the fact that Betis pulled one back. He has dragged Madrid to their feet all on his own and are now trailing Barcelona on goal difference alone. There is already talk of a Ballon d’or.

In another universe labelled Mancunia, the fans are camped outside the striker’s home hoping to catch a glimpse of their talisman. He was whisked off in the game against Israel in the 12th minute and was later seen leaving the stadium on crutches. There is talk of him missing three months of competitive football. Twitter has had a meltdown following this rumors. United fans cannot imagine life without Morata. His 14 goals in 7 games places him top of the top scorers’ list comfortably. The premier league has not fazed him at all and United are sweating over his injury and are hoping he can make an appearance against Liverpool.

Coming back to reality, Alvaro Morata is a Chelsea player that Chelsea payed 70 million for. The 24 year old is undoubtedly one of the finest finishers in Europe right now and Chelsea fans have no doubt that they bagged themselves a world class player among their ranks.

morata unveil

Factor in his 20 goals in 43 appearances last season and his numbers certainly speak for themselves. Depending on who you ask, Morata was always Chelsea’s first choice forward. Even this is uttered while paying little attention to the interview with the Guardian in April when Morata was talking about how public rejection impacts a player.

He seems to have put all that behind him and his six goals in 7 PL games shows a striker with an instinct for goal. This has however not been enough to convince his detractors. He started off  on the wrong foot in the Community Shield by missing a glorious chance and also a penalty. This clearly got to him as he lashed out about he has played half an hour of football and missed a penalty and everyone is killing him. Perhaps he should have seen the fierce criticism coming considering how competitive this league is.

He did not retreat to his shell but came out guns blazing and it certainly seems like he is coming out on top. There is no one doubting his qualities as he is one of the most technically astute players to grace the field. He is an all rounded player with a turn of pace, ability to beat a man and a heading ability to die for. This is a player quite tidy in possession as he was dispossessed only 1.2 times per game last season as compared to Diego Costa’s 3.4.  The one area that he is yet to be keenly tested on is his ability to lead the line. At Madrid, he was often used as a substitute in the dying minutes of the game or in games against minnow opposition.

This was one of the reasons he resorted to move to Juventus in 2014, so as to get more first team opportunities. This did not also go well as during his Italian stint, he scored 27 goals in 93 appearances which in all truth is a paltry return for a striker of his caliber. He struggled to adapt and during a training session he once broke into tears. In his first season, Carlos Tevez was the top scorer and in his second Paulo Dybala was the top scorer. He definitely had a problem dealing with the pressure that his role demanded.

mo push
Will he crack again when pushed against the wall? 

His conversion rate of 27% last season was another talking point for the various critics as it seems erratic for a player of his ability. Of his 20 goals last season, only 5 were scored against top ten opposition perhaps highlighting the kind of opposition most favorable to him. Five of his goals in the PL have come against Stoke, Leicester and Burnley.

For a ‘cameo-man’, 70 million seems like a lot but as it is with players and transfers, needs must. Consistency is certainly key and the jury is still out as to whether he is a 20 goal a season striker. His rejection by Manchester United will perhaps fuel him to prove a point as to why he should be taken seriously and considered to be one of the best. First things first, he has to work on his fitness to come back from his injury and not show any sluggishness or after effects because all eyes are on him. For a player who has never played more than 43% of available minutes in a league campaign, the onus is on him now more than ever to prove that he deserves to be labelled ‘world-class’.

Morata

The Time for Glory is now!

“The true definition of mental illness is when the majority of your time is spent in the past or future, but rarely living in the realism of NOW.”

– Shannon L. Alder

The year is 2014 and Mauricio Pochettino is already under pressure in his new job having made the switch from Southampton to Tottenham a few months back. Its Gameweek 8 and Spurs have only garnered 11 points. Poch pleads for time and makes a pretty bold statement, “In two years Spurs will have won a trophy”. Well its year number three and the trophy cabinet is still quite dusty.

poch sad
Yea not quite happening is it?

The last time Tottenham got their hands on silverware was in 2008 when they won the League Cup. For those who have watched the premier league for a while, you will certainly remember the Newcastle side under Kevin Keegan in the ’95 season. The side was genuinely lovely to watch in terms of how they moved the ball and the quality of the goals they bagged with Les Ferdinand banging in 25 goals in that season. However come the final day of the season they finished four points behind eventual winners Manchester United. Doesn’t ring a bell for the millennials? well you lads are in luck as  Spurs could well be the best new age team to never win the Premier League.

For the last two seasons we have seen a improved Spurs side who have taken it to the league leaders but there has been nothing to show for it. Last season was an improvement to the season before last as instead of disintegrating under pressure, Spurs pushed up to ensure that the league was only confirmed on the penultimate game of the season.

pump
Best banter ever 

Its not been all doom under Poch. On the contrary there could never have been a better time to be a Spurs supporter. Pochettino has carved out a pretty strong bunch of players particularly their technical ability on the ball. Players such as Erikesen and Dembele have certainly blossomed under the Argentine and are very assured when they are on the ball. Their defence is also something to marvel about as they have been the meanest defence over the past two seasons. Their movements especially the fullbacks when making the transitions from pressing to counter-pressing  and from defending to counter attack is nothing short of phenomenal. Before Pochettino’s arrival, they had only finished in the top four only twice in the PL history. He has done it back to back. They also got their highest league position finish last year in about 50 years. You factor in that during that period their net spend has been a paltry 7 million pounds and you only marvel at what the Argentine is doing.

This is the start of Pochettino’s fourth season at the North London Club and the question on some lips is does he need a trophy? Is silverware that vital in the definition of his time at Spurs? Well for one Pochettino himself does not think so. He has often stated that it is not vital for him to win a trophy. The journey to arrive at a position where you win a trophy is more important to him. But the question that still remains is, have they not arrived at the said position? Its hard to think of an intermediate level between Spurs’ current position and a team capable of collecting trophies.

With just about two weeks until the close of the transfer window, urgent business for Tottenham will be to improve their squad depth. Having lost Kyle Walker, a replacement is urgently needed. They do have Kyle Walker Peters but still.. There are four pieces of silverware available to them this season so squad rotation will be very important. Pochettino will  need to pay attention to the cup competitions, something he has not been previously fond of. Only 13 players made over 10 starts in the league. This perhaps shows his tactical rigidity and in this season where the pressure may be greater than normal, they will need all hands on deck. Able backups to Kane, Alli and Vertoghen should be acquired as soon as possible.

Keeping a hold of his star players will also be top of his agenda. However that will not be much of a problem as we all know how Daniel Levy is. The man could probably walk into a bar and convince his bar stool to pay for his drink due to his hardheadedness. However his job was not made any easier by Rose’s comments with the left-back suggesting that Spurs should sign players you don’t have to google to know who they are. Everyone lashed out at him but he had a point. Spurs wage cap means they can’t compete with the Manchester Clubs in terms of going for a player. Salaries aside, its hard to convince a world class player to come to Tottenham to play backup to Kane.

alli and kane
What a sight.

Sloppiness is also something they have to avoid in the current season. They have often had slow and miserable starts to the campaign, a fact compounded by the realization that Harry Kane has never scored a premier league in August. the 2-0 win over Newcastle was mighty impressive but Kane will have to show up sooner rather than later if this steady start is to continue.

90min.com stated that a trophy should not be seen as the ultimate yardstick for success at Tottenham by lending a thought to Leicester during their PL winning season and the season after. To them a trophy symbolizes success but it does not guarantee it for years to come. The expectation for silverware  should be replaced by admiration and reflection.

Jamie Carragher stated that it would a travesty if this current crop of Spurs players fail to win anything. This is because it is only a matter of time before the big clubs start picking apart this young team with half of them having not even reached their potential. What we have seen recently is that  money will turn any footballer’s head. I wouldn’t use such strong terms but in my opinion a trophy represents the transition from a good team to a winning team.

Bring on the new season!!!

winks
Player to watch: HARRY WINKS 

 

Indifferent

The most weird aspect of all this is that my previous blog was talking about the same thing that I intended to explore; Wayne Rooney. So I have to deviate slightly. After a 13 year association with Manchester United, Wayne Rooney bids goodbye and returns to his boyhood club. Social media has been awash with a lot of tributes thanking the player for his immense contribution but there was one word that formed a lump in my throat every time I read it. LEGEND. Does Rooney really deserve the legend tag?

rooney signs

This question will obviously shock some people. How dare you question the captain! After all he has done for the club? The over 60,000 fans who graced his 2016 testimonial would certainly have my head on a stick.  He is the record goalscorer for club and country which is mighty impressive considering the club record stood for 43 years. He is sixth in the all time list of club appearances. He has now won every trophy that he was eligible to play for but it is always the 5 PL medals that stand out.

record

He forged one of the most lethal counter attacking forces with Tevez and Ronaldo and in his prime was generally unstoppable. He has only failed to reach the 15 goal mark in two seasons illustrating his goal-scoring prowess. He has played all over the pitch except primarily as a central defender demonstrating his selflessness. Playing deep against Barcelona so Ronaldo would have the licence to roam free has always been the go to case for many fans. However there was one incident that would have escaped my eye had it not been for RedDevilArmada when Rooney let Pogba and Martial take the penalties against Fenerbahce because the players needed to boost their confidence and never gave any thought about the goal scoring record he was chasing then.

rooney clap

So why the hesitation on my part? I do not believe Rooney lived up to the hype following his sensational career start. There are feelings that he took longer than he should have to break the record and was generally on the decline. I am however aware that my sentiments may be blinded by the fact that I am a Three Lions fan and he has never really delivered on the international stage so I will shelve that debate.

In  2010, Rooney issues a transfer request to the United  hierarchy and asks to leave. He questioned the ambition of the club and the direction the club was taking. United had just sold Ronaldo so perhaps this was understandable. He claimed that he was keen on winning trophies and wanted a challenge. At the time he was flirting with Man City, a club that was in its 34th Season without silverware and were doing a bit of ‘kamikaze-spending’ as SAF put it. He had talked to City behind United’s back. 48 hours later, the Glazers tabled a 100,000 pounds a week contract and Rooney signed.  See the connection here? Quite funny that it took 100gs for Rooney to decide United was after all ambitious.

Three years later the greatest manager in the world said his goodbyes and as a parting shot notified everyone that Rooney had once again asked to leave the club. The general feel was that he didn’t take too kindly to losing his striking role to RVP. Mourinho at Chelsea made no secret that he wanted the English international at Stamford Bridge and United did knock back bids from the London Team. Rooney never came out to discourage these reports or to simply assure everyone that he wanted to stay. He was playing the high school girl who’s waiting to go home with the boy who wins the fight. (Un) Fortunately Moyes was desperate enough to offer him a ridiculous contract which included the armband and it was only after this (seeing the zeroes on his paycheck) that Rooney finally came out to state he was always going to stay. United again saved face by not allowing their star player to join a rival and stated that the new era would be ‘built around Rooney’. End result was a long contract that made things awkward within a season and a bloke probably earning what he did not deserve.

What unraveled was that Rooney was past his prime and his move to a midfield role was simply delaying the inevitable by hoodwinking us with those off-pressure cross-field passes. He lost his pace, the ice in his veins in front of goal (or any part of the pitch really) and most importantly his touch. So in my opinion Wayne Rooney was simply a journeyman who simply did not know when to leave.

Jake Lane of FutbolPulse recently stated that stats make someone a great but not a legend. Rooney for me falls in the former. A good player but not a United legend. The hallmark of a legend is someone with a genuine affection for the club and the desire to give your ass and place the club above all else. Rooney never did this and I for one feel he never cared about the club.

So good luck to a loyal *sic* servant of the Manchester United and I sincerely hope your next club is forgiving. The numbers label you a legend, I’ll take a pass.

everton banners getty
You can have him now (getty images)

 

 

 

 

Full Circle

The Emperor stood out before the parade that he had gathered so that he could reveal his newest set of clothes to his subjects. He had been advised that only those who were elevated enough would see his clothes. So you have to wonder if he thought his subjects were elevated, was he fit to lead them. Everybody bows before him and afraid of contradicting him, everyone agrees that his set of clothes are of very fine quality. However a tiny boy yells, “But the emperor has no clothes!”

In this scenario, the rest of the world is the little boy and Wayne Rooney is the emperor. Everyone sees it but him. Squawka’s reference to him as a headless chicken was the best thing conjured up in the last 24 hours.  Rooney’s inclusion against Arsenal was his 750th appearance for club and country and you could tell all those appearances have had a bearing on his legs. Lumbering forward nimbly and strutting about awkwardly.

sns0853heatmap
courtesy of The Sun

His supporters will point to his 252 PL goals setting him up as the all-time United top-scorer in tandem with 5 Premier League titles, 1 Champions League, 1 FA cup and 3 League Cups. He has 21 appearances this season and has seven goals and 10 assists in all competitions. However my good friend recently alluded to the fact that statistics don’t tell the whole story and not to be selective but that does apply to Wayne.

However if you want to go the statistics way, against Arsenal yesterday he attempted 6 tackles and didn’t win a single one, he had 7 failed crosses, 4 shots off target, 1 chance created and 0 take-ons. This makes for a pained reading especially because the man in focus is Wayne.

The problem is this is not even an isolated incident. Time and time again, Wayne Rooney has been accorded time and space on the team and he has left his team and particularly his manager red-faced at his decision to field him. A significant point of the game was in the closing stages of the first half when Rob Holding squared a slow ball to Cech and Rooney raced on to intercept it. The game and Petr Cech were at his feet but Wayne being Wayne, he simply bumped the ball against the keeper. Mourinho turned away towards the bench and shook his fist, utterly disgusted. That was the perfect symbolism of every united fan’s feelings and frustrations. Perhaps the finish wasn’t as simple as it looked but this was Rooney! 5 years ago you could have bet your house on him burying that one. Scoring seemed like his inherent ability, it was never supposed to sink to these levels. The fact that our linchpin has been a 35 year old and Ronaldo being about six months older than Rooney recently scored European goal number 103 makes Rooney’s fading the more spectacular.

cech save

In 2013, Sir Alex alluded to the fact that Rooney had a problem with his fitness and lifestyle. Rooney has become a sort of ogre, round-shaped and short. Struggles to close down on teams that play from the back and is simply exhausting to watch. He has simply lost his tactical discipline. Against Arsenal, he kept dropping deeper and deeper whenever the midfielders had the ball instead of going the other way so there was no attacking outlet. Everyone could see the exasperated expression on Carrick’s face when he had the ball and Rooney causally strolled past him going into his own half. You’re the number ten, freaking open up and give a passing opportunity.

If there’s one thing that United has learnt during the past seasons is that holding onto sentiments can hurt you. He has always been warmly appreciated at Old Trafford with ovations and chants whenever he’s warming up or coming on. However, given the chance to pick the team, how many would actually place him in their starting line-ups? Heck he would barely make my 18 man squad!

The Sun in yesterday’s article called him the ‘ex-England captain’. Whether this was a tongue in cheek swipe or a genuine overlook remains to be seen but such is his position in the national team. His omission has brought barely a whimper from anyone. Southgate claimed Rooney is still his captain and the national doors are still open if he improves his performances this season. However basing on this, that door is steadily being shut and the light at the end of the tunnel is slowly fading.

He has got what he wanted in being United’s top scorer. It’s time to go Wayne. For both our sake. Stop embarrassing yourself and tainting that proud image that you have.

You either leave a hero or stay long enough to become a Steven Gerrard villain.

What Next? 

​Gareth Southgate has finally taken charge of games as the permanent manager this week and it was a good week for the three lions. An encouraging display against Germany in Dortmund followed by a good win against Lithuania at Wembley yester night. We can see some aspects of Southgate’s imprint on the team but one thing we are noticing is that there is progress. So what should Southgate sort out before the next round of international matches?


1. A definite style of play.

Southgate has tinkered with the team quite a lot since his appointment but his favoured formation has always been 4-2-3-1 where the front three sort of tuck in and give more space for the fullbacks to fly forward. However after the Slovenia game in October, we felt it proving to be a problem with England as the movement wasn’t that swift and the game was for most parts, dull.

Against Germany, he lined up with a 3-4-3 formation and it was excellent to say the least.  It has to be said that England did not deserve to lose. Michael Keane has to be singled out for his performance that night. For you to make your full international debut against the world champions and come out without any blame surely can’t go unnoticed. It will be interesting to watch him in the next few games.

On Sunday Southgate marshalled a 4-2-3-1 formation and there were a few jitters about the formation but to some extent it worked. It’s nice to note that the players are actually flexible to handle the tactical switch. Going forward it will be interesting to see what Southgate sticks to. He wasn’t very outgoing in his post-match press conference by claiming England is at an advantage in that they can shift their formation so it will keep teams guessing.

I would rather the 4-2-3-1 formation as it actually encourages a lot of build-up from the midfield where the bulk of England’s talent lies. It will prove to be a difficult formation to resort to if the opposition actually come out as it means the fullbacks have to go back and the wide players need to track their markers which is probably not their strongest asset.

2. Player Call-ups

There were definitely eyebrows raised when Theo Walcott wasn’t selected for this round of international matches despite being the second highest scoring Englishman. Southgate claimed that Theo had been given his chance the last time and he was unable to replicate his club form. He also added that he had more options in Barkley and Rashford and was looking to try something new. Wayne was also left out though why this was a shock to people I don’t know. Southgate got a lot of stick for selecting Livermore but look around and notice anyone who watched the game against Germany has changed their stance about Livermore. The boy was efficient with his passing and tackling. 

Not Mr Nice Guy after all eh? He is a man keen to stamp his personality on the team and the train carrying joyriders seems to be slowing down to a halt. However it will be important for some consistency so as to ensure that partnerships and chemistry are built. He’s got to have a definite spine in the team on which to build the rest of the team. The team will be built around Harry Kane because his outrageous goal return so far demands that. Alli has also started curving his own niche as the first choice number ten and it hard to see him being dropped for anyone else. 


However the rest of the squad needs to follow suit.

3. The Rooney situation.

The one thing that has refused to go away for Southgate. I feel it’s unfair that Southgate has to deal with Rooney at every press release yet Mourinho rarely has to deal with the same. Deep down we all know there’s no way Wayne is usurping any person selected to play number 10. Alli and Lallana have excellent movement and Rooney’s lack of pace is definitely something that’s in stark contrast to the rest of the number 10 contenders. A call-up should be as a result of form and not status. He’s captain and record goal scorer but how does that affect England for the 90 minutesif he lasts that long that he is on a pitch?

Southgate however still insists that Rooney has a future role in his team and still regards him as his permanent captain. Whether he is simply delaying the inevitable or is simply according him the necessary respect remains to be seen.

4. Jermain Defoe.

This was definitely a shock call-up. Southgate really took a gamble by placing his trust on the Sunderland forward. He referred to him as a natural and someone who knows his way around goal so there was nothing to teach. Thankfully his plan did not go awry and he was rewarded with a goal early on with Defoe admitting the manager had backed him to score that day. Hats off to Defoe for displaying the professionalism that he’s always possessed. However the hype about his continued presence should be contained.

His last involvement was in 2013 and one might argue his sudden exile from the national team was too sudden. However we need to come to terms with the fact that he is 34 years old. By the time the World Cup will be coming around, he will be a few months shy of his 36th birthday.

Going back to the issue of formation, both the 3-4-3 and 4-2-3-1 demand a lot of movement across the front three and front four respectively. It’s the only way players e.g. Lallana and Vardy will have a chance at goal. The full impact of the front three was felt in the Germany game where Vardy, Alli and Lallana kept switching all half long and Alli should have done better in trying to beat Ter Stegen and Lallana hit the post. Defoe thrived in the 4-2-3-1 situation but in the event the manager wants something else, he will stick out like a sore thumb.

Not to take away his positives. He is the 22nd player to reach 20 goals for England so surely that has to count for something. He is what you want to be in the box. His poaching instincts are a beauty and he must be applauded for his impeccable positioning but I simply believe England has more to offer than to rely on the 34 year old.


Southgate alluded to this by admitting that they should have moved the ball quickly and the runs in behind the defence were not enough, something that definitely changed once Rashford and Vardy came on. 

5. His Back Four

Much has always been made about England’s back four and for good measure it must be said. The pairings have just not been good enough and have been susceptible for individual mistakes or just looked alien. Cahill against Germany was susceptible for Podolski’s goal. Take nothing away from the finish but I think Cahill should have done better than just stand there and be used as a wall and Hart saw it too late. There was simply no way of keeping that out still.

I don’t want to rush it but Michael Keane was phenomenal over the course of the two games. It’s not a system he is used to but he took it like a duck to water. He was also excellent next to Stones yesterday and they hardly put a foot wrong all game long. Cahill is 31 while Keane and Stones are in their mid-20s. It might be seen as too early to decide on this but I think they would make a good base for the national team. Both are comfortable on the ball which will go a long way in implementing Southgate’s all-passing team. Walker is definitely first and second choice RB, probably even third! His movement up and down the right side is a joy to watch and it is simply an honour watching such an athlete doing his job. Keeping him fit is definitely of importance. The LB position is still of worry. Danny Rose is definitely first choice but his deputies need to pull up their socks. Bertrand did a good job this past week. Shaw needs to take the little chance he gets to justify his position if at all he is called upon next.

13 out of 15 points at the halfway stage is not a bad return. The job is far from done as England must learn to replicate its qualification form to the major events that they go otherwise they will simply be regarded as minnow participants. For now, England is far from good enough, but under Southgate, fans have a reason to smile.