6 into 4 Doesn’t Work

Welcome / Willkommen / Bienvenido!

It’s true folks I’m back.

Apologies for the lack of content towards the back-end of 2016. Things to do, people to see etc.  You know how it goes.

But like I said I’m back, but more importantly welcome to 2017! Let’s hope it doesn’t put us through 12 rounds with AJ like 2016 did.

When Andy Williams wrote the trademark Christmas song ‘It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year’ rumour has it, he was actually singing about January. Yes that’s right people, January brings us crazy spending, impulse buys and career making decisions. It is of course the January Transfer Window.

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One whole glorious month dedicated to clubs to either strengthen or save their respective season. It’s a pivotal moment in the campaign for managers, with only half a season left to avoid the ever-present fear of getting the proverbial boot. (No pun intended. Okay you saw through me, maybe a little one was intended)

With Chelsea topping the table at Christmas time, this season has a much more ‘familiar’ feel about it after Leicester City’s unexpected incredible feat last season. Make no bones about it, last season was an astonishing season, but for different reasons this season could turn out to be even more exciting (Perhaps not if you support Leicester City though!)

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The 2016-17 season could and hopefully will be remembered for being a 6-horse race, and should provide to be an exhilarating journey until the Champions get crowned in May.

Even when Chelsea have threatened to run away with the title race in recent weeks, deadly Dele struck twice for Spurs to ensure the winning streak came to an end for Conte.

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It would appear that all six, yes that’s right SIX teams have a realistic chance of lifting the trophy come May and become champions of England.

So.. Aim of this article?

I’m going to attempt to apply some of that useless irrelevant football knowledge I have, and discuss where each of these teams need to strengthen, during the January window and also try to predict the final league standings.

 Wish me luck.

Let’s start with the leaders; Chelsea  img_1183

After a rocky start to life in the Premier League, Conte has adapted superbly – Guiding his side to top of the table and 13 victories on the bounce. At this moment in time they are obviously favourites to win the league. But favourites don’t always succeed. Otherwise we’d all win our acca’s at the weekend.

Area to Strengthen:

 LWB: Marcos Alonso deserves a lot of credit for his performances this season, his ability to bomb up and down the flank and his crosses in particular have been an added bonus to Conte’s team. But Italians pride themselves on their defensive displays and defensively I’m still not sold on the Ex – Real Madrid man. Chelsea’s search to replace Ashley Cole continues.

(Did you know? Marcos Alonso only made 1 appearance for Real Madrid in 2010)

CM: This is a late addition. But after watching how the Spurs midfield controlled the game against Chelsea in midweek, and in particular how Mousa Dembélé played. It was noticeable what Chelsea were missing. The Belgium international is known for his silky dribbling and his ability to maintain possession, something IMO Chelsea need next to the destroyer known as N’Golo Kanté. There’s no argument that Chelsea have the best defensive midfielder in the league. They just need more energy in the middle of the park which Fàbregas & Matić haven’t got anymore.

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ST: With the lack of game time and the consistently great form of Diego Costa this season, it seems Michy Batshuayi’s time at Chelsea might be short-lived. It would appear that Batshuayi has fallen down the pecking order considerably under Conte, who would rather play Pedro as the lone attacking option when Costa isn’t available. But perhaps a run in the FA Cup will help Batshuayi to impress the Italian.

Prediction:  2nd    *Chelsea fans before you begin reporting me, hear me out*

I firmly believe Spurs showed a real weakness in Chelsea during the midweek game, and with having to travel to Anfield at the end of January. I can only see a victory for Liverpool with a fit again Coutinho as well.

I would highlight Kanté & Costa as key men for Chelsea, but they are also battering rams in a sense, who are likely to have to serve a suspension ban at some point before May. Could prove to be key.

But if Chelsea can get a win at Anfield, the title is heading to Stamford Bridge.

Liverpool img_1184

 It would appear Klopp likes to do things the hard way. An excellent home victory against Manchester City, followed up by giving 2 points away against Sunderland. Klopp is an Anfield favourite already and given time he will take Liverpool to the top of the league, but will it be this season?

Area to Strengthen:

 GK: What is it with Liverpool and Goalkeepers? From Calamity James to Simon Mignolet, they have all been prone to a howler or two. This title race is going to go down to the wire, and Liverpool can’t afford to give points away due to howlers. It’s a shame that Jordan Pickford got injured on Boxing Day, as I would have liked to see Liverpool put a bid in for a young talented English Goalkeeper. Or even a cheeky bid for Kasper Schmeichel wouldn’t be out of the question.

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CB: Klopp has found a solid CB in Joël Matip but troublesome ankle injuries have meant appearances have been few and far over the hectic Christmas period. But like the GK issue, Dejan Lovren has a clanger in him too and hasn’t convinced me of his defensive capabilities yet.

Prediction: 1st

I could be way off with this one, but I think it’s going to happen this year. One of the reasons is that, Liverpool’s final game against a Top 6 team is on the 18th March. That could provide to be pivotal.

It’s also like they are landing a new mega signing with the little Magician they call Philippe Coutinho back on the training pitch.

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Finally it’s Klopp just the best man motivator you could want in a title race?

Tottenham img_1185

 Poch is certainly building something at Spurs, and at White Hart Lane they are unplayable at times. Youth is certainly with Pochettino’s men, as of end of August ‘16 they had the youngest average age of all the Premier League teams. Arguably have the best defence and GK out of all the Top 6 teams.

Area to Strengthen:

ST: I would like to see a variation to Harry Kane. Kane’s a bit of an anomaly as he likes to play leading the line on his own, which has worked well with the continued great form of Dele. Moussa Dembélé at Celtic could be one way to go, I like the look of him and could provide to be a good speedy alternative to Kane.

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Prediction: 4th  

 Feel it might be a season too soon for Poch and his young team, with a tough Jan / Feb period where they have to travel to Manchester City & Liverpool. If they can get 4 points from those two games who knows though.

Manchester City img_1196

 

Not as easy as it looks ehey Pep? The Sky Blues have looked a shadow of the team who looked they were going to run away with the league before November. Pep looks flustered and frustrated on the touchline and his aging team needs some new life injected into it.

Area to Strengthen:

 Defence:

Some of the defensive capabilities of Kolarov, Otamendi etc would have given the likes of Jamie Carragher nightmares. With the consistently injured Kompany edging ever closer to early retirement, it would appear Pep needs to invest and spend big. Wouldn’t be surprised to see Virgil Van Dijk at City next season.

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GK: Bring Hart back. Simple.

CM: Gündogan is an exciting player but another one who’s struggling with injuries, Yaya isn’t the same player as a few seasons ago and lacks the desire to get back and defend these days.

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Prediction: 3rd

City have an opportunity to drag themselves back into this title race with Spurs, Manchester United & Liverpool all having to come to The Ethihad before April. But saying that they then have to travel to London and play Arsenal and Chelsea less than a week apart. I can already hear Pep moaning about that one..

Manchester United img_1199

Stuttering start, but looking a lot more consistent these days. The likes of Pogba & Zlatan are beginning to show why they are held in such high regard by the Old Trafford crowd. Jones & Rojo in the heart of defence isn’t a long-term fix but it seems to be working right now.

Area to Strengthen:

CM: United’s main aim should be finding a long-term replacement for Michael Carrick (35), his defensive displays in midfield have allowed Pogba to shine and take the headlines.

Prediction: 5th

 Jose is building. Next season will be the real test for his Red Devils.

Arsenal: arsenal_fc-svg

What can you say about Arsenal and Wenger which hasn’t already been said? Cazorla and Coquelin out for months with injuries, Sanchez disgruntled. What does Wenger do? Signs a Non – League player of course.

AFC Bournemouth v Arsenal - Premier League

Area to Strengthen:

CM: Xhaka hasn’t worked at all, with consistently clumsy challenges putting Arsenal under unnecessary pressure and Francis Coquelin injured yet again, it’s time to look elsewhere.

 Prediction: 6th

My maths has never been my strong point, but even I know that 6 doesn’t go into 4. Someone’s going to miss out and for me Arsenal are looking the most likely to miss out. Perhaps that will help the board make a decision on Wenger’s future. With visits to Chelsea, Liverpool and a North London derby to come it doesn’t look promising for Arsenal.

So there we have it folks, you might agree you might not. Either way we are in for a treat up until May, let’s see what unfolds.

As always thanks for reading,

Ta Tom

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Team Wazza: ‘A Man For The Ages’

After the battering ‘Roonaldo’ has received from the Press to the supporters who decided it was appropriate to boo last Saturday. I felt the need to put pen to paper on some thoughts I have on the man.

Since Southgate’s entry into the cauldron which is International football, one of the first questions Gareth received during his press conference as Interim Manager; ‘Are you strong enough to drop Rooney?’

Have we all gone mad?

The past two weeks have turned into a witch hunt against our most capped outfield player and record goal scorer. As a nation, we seem so quick to write off players who have represented our country for so many years and make them scapegoats.

Yes, Wayne had a poor game against Iceland during the Euro’s, (probably one of his worst in an England shirt in fact) but is that any reason to hammer him at Wembley against Malta? It wasn’t like Gary Cahill or Joe Hart did any better this summer.

We’ve all had those days where nothing will click or work out, footballers aren’t any different. Money doesn’t come into for me either, we are all prone to ‘poor days at the office’.

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A single player can’t win you an international tournament on their own. Fact.

You might suggest that Ronaldo did it this summer with Portugal. But I would argue that certainly wasn’t a one-man team with the re-emergence of Nani and Quaresma.
Perhaps this is what England fans were expecting when ‘Wazza’ showcased his excellent raw ability during Euro 2004.

For someone who has always made himself available for his Country and never shirked a task or challenge since his debut in 2003. England’s talisman for so many years deserves better.

Could you imagine Rooney acting like Messi did earlier this year,  when he threw his toys out of his pram and retired from international football after Argentina were defeated in the Copa América final?

Wayne would have been slaughtered in the press, if he had taken the same approach after the Iceland defeat. But he didn’t, he apologised for the performance and vowed to carry on playing.

It is no secret that Wayne is nearing the end of his illustrious career which has certainly had more highs than lows, such as being voted England’s player of the year FOUR times in his 13 years so far with the national side.

But I won’t deny there have been lows too.

I won’t lie. As a 14-year-old watching England go out on penalties to Portugal during the 2006 World Cup, I was furious when Rooney got himself sent off. So was Sven Goran – Eriksson who last year declared that England could have gone on to win that World Cup in Germany if it wasn’t for the sending off.


He may not be the energetic fearless player who once elegantly picked the ball out from the sky before curling it past David Seaman to announce himself on the world stage. Or the player who made scoring a hat-trick look easy on his Champions League debut. But he is still a player England and the Premier League needs.

With so much media attention surrounding not only Rooney but also the captaincy, it has become a far bigger issue than it needed to be. Gareth showed last night against Slovenia that Wayne is more than capable of coming off the bench when needed. By all accounts Rooney has never been a nuisance for any of his previous managers. I’m sure he will get his head down now to try and regain his starting position with not only England but also Manchester United.


He has been outstanding servant for club and country for well over a decade which supporters and journalists seem quick to forget.

Time to put some of Rooney’s statistics into perspective;

People suggest that Daniel Sturridge is our best striker for England, and to a certain extend I tend to agree.


When Sturridge scored against the mighty Malta last weekend, we celebrated the striker reaching 100 goals for club and country in all competitions at the age of 27.

Rooney will be turning 31 in October and has already amassed over 300 goals for club and country in all competitions.

In a time, where the game has moved on a vast amount from when Rooney made his Everton debut back in 2002. It leads me to think that we won’t see a player with Rooney’s qualities for a long time to come.

Within today’s modern game, where genuine pace and acceleration
are main factors which managers look for. This can sometimes open the door for players to suffer from a lack of physicality or technical skill.

But Wayne in his youth was different, he had it all. Before injuries contributed to his decline of express speed.

The consistent comparisons with Messi and Ronaldo. Why do we feel the need to compare?

2011/12 season Rooney has a superb season scoring 34 goals in all comps. But because Ronaldo scored 60 in all competitions for Real Madrid and Messi 70 goals in all games, Rooney was deemed to have only an average season compared to Messi and Ronaldo.


Messi & Ronaldo are two players that are arguably the best players we will ever see in the game. We shouldn’t be comparing them with other footballers. They should be seen as an anomaly in world football. Let’s just enjoy their undeniable talents while they are still playing.

He has won everything there is to win domestically. (5x Premier Leagues, 1x FA Cup,         4x Community Shields, 2x League Cups & 1x Champions League) His career achievements will go down in history and he deserves his day in the sun.

A selection of quotes about Rooney from greats who know the game;

‘One of English football’s true greats’ ‘Outstanding talent and absolute magic to watch’ Sir Bobby Charlton 

‘Wayne Rooney could have excelled in any era’ Sir Alex Ferguson

‘His achievements are simply incredible’ José Mourinho

‘I would have loved to have Rooney in my team’ Pelé


I hope when he reaches and surpasses Peter Shilton’s record of 125 International appearances, he is widely acknowledged and praised for his all efforts and service he has given to his nation for so many years.

I would suggest that Wayne Rooney is one of the most complete footballers we have ever produced as a nation, let’s appreciate him while we still can.

Rant Over.

Ta for reading folks.

Tom

England’s Nightmare Summer

Where do we start? What’s the best possible way to go about the burning wreckage that is the National Football Team? Everyone will have their own personal opinions on what went wrong in a month to forget that your English (Brexit + Euro embarrassment). But one thing is for sure, just changing the manager will NOT solve it. The problem runs far deeper than that.
As soon as Roy Hodgson resigned, it appeared that all the press immediately switched their attention to who would be his replacement. Almost forgetting about the men who had let him down in France this summer.


Not even a week had passed and pictures of Chris Smalling in Bali were surfacing on the Internet. I know if it was me, and I’d had a stinker of a tournament the last thing I’d want to do is go on holiday – I’d want to get myself on that training pitch as soon as possible. These players will have an opportunity to rebuild their reputations in the seasons to follow, but for Roy this will tarnish a long and relatively successful career in Coaching.

After reading a few segments of James Kerr’s book ‘Legacy’ which discusses life principles that the All Blacks pride themselves on, you begin to understand how far English football has strayed.

One particular example was that after winning a World Cup group game against Wales, two senior members of the team picked up long handled brooms and began sweeping the floor of the changing room. Why? Because no one looks after the All Blacks, the All Blacks look after themselves.

A former player stated ‘it’s a form of personal discipline, not relying on things to be given to you’. The book also goes on to suggest that personal discipline in life will lead to having discipline on the pitch. Helps to create the right environment for a team together instead of a team of individuals, very much like the Welsh camp at these European Championships.

But hang a second, could you really see an England football team of the past 10-15 years sweeping the changing rooms after a game? Could you even see a Premier League team sweep the changing rooms for that matter either?

It’s true, we all know it. Footballers are very lucky humans, everything is given to them on a silver platter. Modern day values simply do not apply to the current elite level footballer. Money makes the world tick, and with the current state of the Premier League and with crazy wages, it doesn’t seem that modern day values will re-appear anytime soon. Shame because it could lead to better performances for the National Team.

The book also focuses on how important it is to have leaders and character in a team, where are the leaders for England? Leaders lead with solid performances game after game, not every now and then (Joe Hart). Think Tony Adams in that Arsenal side, true leader who everyone followed. Personally, in a few years time I hope that Eric Dier can be that man. But at the moment we have no true leaders.


The last time England were successful at a major tournament was 1966, think of the leaders and character in that side (Moore, Charlton x 2, Stiles et al.)


I highlighted it in my last post about The Welsh, and how every player had stood up and taken responsibility at some point during the Championships, supposedly something the late great Gary Speed was responsible for. You need to be united as a team to be successful, a team of individuals will always get found out otherwise just like England were.

On a night which will go down as England’s worst ever competitive result in history. Not only were we beaten 2-1 by Iceland but we were also out done on work rate, desire and sheer commitment.

As an England fan, the very least I expect from players representing my country is desire and work rate. Like most reasonable fans, I can excuse the odd poor touch or sliced shot (Taking liberties Mr. Kane!) But to not give 100% for your nation is inexcusable. You watch some of the athletes representing Team GB in a few weeks time in Rio, they’ll show you commitment.

Tournament Ratings Out of 10:

Hart: (3)

A very generous score, would have been lower but fair play to Joe he’ll always face the media whatever the situation. Two absolute howlers during the tournament from a senior figure of the camp. Expect more pressure from Butland and Forster in the future for the No.1 spot.

Walker: (6)

One of England’s better players of the tournament, provided a good outlet against Russia & Wales but like most didn’t turn up against Iceland.

Smalling: (5)

Although he’s improving, goes to highlight the lack of CB’s available to the national team. Long gone the days of Campbell, Ferdinand et al. I get the feeling with Smalling that he’s one of those players who has always got a mistake in him.

Cahill: (4)

Got found wanting too many times, due to lack of pace. Always been good in the air. One of the older ones in the team now, should have been more of a leader for the team and for Smalling next to him then he was.

Rose: (6)

After looking way off the pace for Sunderland a few seasons ago, he’s managed to turn it around. Excellent for Spurs last season, couple of good performances in the group matches. But once again nothing against Iceland.

Dier: (6) 

Arguably one of England’s players of the tournament (But not sure that’s something you want to be saying too loudly!) Big international stage did not faze him at all, immense against Russia capped with a superb free kick. Did his job against Wales, but froze against Iceland and was replaced at HT. Stick with him, big future ahead – England Captain in the making.


Alli: (4) 

Superb first season for the 20 year old in The Premier League, but 46 games proved too much for the teenager. Himself and his pal Dier will provide England’s midfield for the next 10 years. Like with Dier, stick with Alli he’ll come good.


Wilshere: (5) 

Not the type of player that you can throw on with 20 minutes to go when your losing, he needs to be playing from the start and dictating play IMO. Big season lies ahead for Jack, he needs to decide if he wants to be a Premier League star or a nightclub promoter. Injuries can’t be helped, but he’s type of player who could benefit from some ‘personal discipline’.


Rooney: (5) 

Seemed as if there was no need for all the pre-tournament speculation about Rooney’s position in the team, slipped into the midfield with ease and looked class against Russia. Followed by perhaps his worst performance in an England shirt against Iceland. Will he be on the plane in 2 years time? You’ll have to ask Mystic Meg that one.


Lallana: (5) 

Corrr. Adam sure does like a cheeky ‘Cruyff Turn’ doesn’t he? Shame he can’t play in an attacking three like the late great Cruyff. Played in all 3 group games and never looked comfortable in a wide 4-3-3. Good utility player for England, but we needed a more dynamic direct player in that position.


Sterling: (3) 

Where to start with Raheem. Two years ago at the World Cup, we thought we had a world beater. Since his move to Manchester City he looks bereft of confidence. Subbed 3 times during the competition. Hopefully Pep has the magic cure.


Sturridge: (5) 

Winning goal against Wales and managed not to get injured during the games he played in. (Added bonus) But when playing in an attacking three, he often came far too deep to collect the ball. Needs to be making those attacking runs on goal, not trying to be the supplier.


Kane: (3) 

Arrived in France as a genuine candidate for the Golden Boot after last seasons achievements with Spurs. Never looked fit enough, left his touch and shooting boots in his locker in London. That dismal free kick against Iceland was the cherry on top of a dismal England Championships. Played a lot last season, and in need of a big rest.


Vardy: (6) 

Should have had more game time in general. IMO should have started against Iceland instead of Kane. Got us back into the game against Wales. Has a knack of being in the right place at the right time.


Rashford: (7)

Created more then any other player against Iceland in 4 minutes. Direct running at defenders, changed the game against Wales when he played in a Three up top. Reminds me of a young Michael Owen when charging towards a defence. Big future ahead.


Hodgson: (3) 

Good changes against Wales which worked in the end, but why did it take so long to make the changes? Clearly stayed with the same principals from the Qualifiers where he achieved 10 out of 10 wins. Should have answered to the media after probably England’s worst ever defeat. For €5million a year, England and Hodgson should have done a lot better. The highest paid manager at the Euros.


What Next? 

Of course, the candidates have been shortlisted. In my opinion, would love to see Eddie Howe given a chance. He not only plays the game in the right way but he also had all of his squad playing for one another in a bid to surviving in the Premier League. That’s what we need with England, togetherness. Experience clearly isn’t on Howe’s side compared to the likes of Sam Allardyce or Wenger but that shouldn’t count against him.


‘Together Stronger’ was The Welsh motto during The Euros and it worked, every team member had something to believe in. We need our ‘Together Stronger’ saying, something the whole country can get behind. But more importantly something which binds the players whilst they are in the England set up together.

I tend to believe there is nothing wrong with The FA’s plan in general with the development of the national side, apart from trying to develop more elite level coaches. (Germany & Spain both have 10 times the amount of UEFA coaches as we do as a nation) The Youth teams have all impressed in recent years, which leads me to believe that the culture and the environment itself is the problem with the national side.

Whoever the FA decide to appoint, if they can fix the culture, character & environment of the team, then and only then could England go well at a major tournament.

As always thanks for reading,

Tom

 

Euro 2016 Update – The Final Four

From the ‘Viking Clap’ to Mats Hummels announcing Germany’s defence wouldn’t be terrified of Will Grigg before the group stage encounter – This European Championship Finals has had everything. That’s with bypassing the complete tragedy that is the English National Team.(That mess needs a separate post dedicated to it!)

In my previous Euro post, I predicated that if Belgium played for one another instead of a team of individuals they should make the semi finals. I’m sure most Welsh fans if they were honest would agree with that too. Even if they do seem to have the wood over them at the moment.

What happened next, was something which will live long in the memory for anyone with Welsh blood.


It would be easy to relate the Welsh heroics in the Championships so far to that of Leicester City’s historic PL title winning season. But certain similarities and qualities make it hard to not too.

The majority of Football fans pre tournament would have guessed that England; The perennial underachievers, would have finished top of Group B. Leaving Slovakia / Russia & Wales to fight it out for runner up spot.


Why it hasn’t been just a case of the BALES for WALES

You’d be forgiven if before the Euro’s started you were under the impression that Gareth Bale was the only man who could make the national team tick. It’s true, the Two time Champions League Winner was immense during Wales’s qualification period, and has provided some ‘star man’ moments during the tournament. But there is a lot more to the Welsh team than meets the eye, but I’ll go into that later on during the preview of the Semi Final.

Throughout qualification for Euro 2016, Coleman’s dragons quietly went about their business dismantling the likes of Belgium and Israel. Taking confidence and belief from every game and being urged on by a fully packed Cardiff City Stadium (apparently it was electric isn’t that right Jasper?).
It’s this confidence and belief from qualifying which helped them to top the group (1st time debuting team at Championships to do so, since Sweden in 1992) and also catapult themselves into the Semi’s tomorrow night against Portugal.

The Welsh boys have not feared any team yet throughout the tournament, and they won’t begin to now. Every player in the Welsh squad has bought into the team ethos 100%, you can see every player is playing for the team. On paper Bale & Ramsey might be the big names, but not when it comes to Game Day. Every played has played their part to get Wales to the Semi Final.

Whatever happens tomorrow night in Lyon, the Welsh team should be coming home to a hero’s welcome later this summer. I wonder what impact the last few weeks will have on Football participation levels in Wales? Perhaps it leads to more kids wanting to kick a football rather than catch a rugby ball?

Semi Final No. 1

Portugal Vs Wales (Stade de Lyon)

Portugal will go into tomorrow nights Semi Final as the bookies favourite but not by much IMO. They looked on their way out in the group stages, but managed the mother of all come- backs and equalise 3 times against Hungary with special thanks to National Hero – Cristiano Ronaldo.


The only team to progress to the knockout stage without winning a game – hardly striking fear into the opposition is it. Perhaps Croatia took them for granted in the last 16? Croatia looked very tasty during the Group Stages especially beating Spain, I thought they were going to be a force.

 

As the figures lie at the moment, Portugal have the 2nd best possession statistics during the tournament with 87% of passes completed and 54% of general possession. How will this fare against the 2nd best attacking nation so far of the tournament. Wales have scored 10 goals so far from 59 attempts in their 5 games at Euro 2016.

IMO – Portugal will try and dictate the tempo of the game from the start, Fernando Santos will be hoping his team don’t carry on with being wasteful in front of goal. Now that we are at the business end of the competition.

On the other hand, Wales will be more than content to let Portugal have as much of the ball as they like, as long as the superb Joe Allen (Sorry, Welsh Pirlo!) and Bad Dad Dancing King Joe Ledley (Save the dancing for your postponed Wedding, Joe!) are on hand to sniff out any danger.


The Three centre back system has worked well for Chris Coleman so far, with the colossus that is Ashley Williams yet again stepping up, how is he not at ‘A Top 6 club?’ Mangala who?!
This Welsh team have proven they are a real attacking threat from counter attacks, helped by the use of Neil Taylor & Chris Gunter dominating the flanks. Crossing in particular has been a positive, perfectly illustrated with Sam Vokes’s goal in the 3-1 victory over Belgium in the Quarters.

Tomorrow night might just be decided from a set piece. With Bale getting more serve on a freekick than an Andy Murray slice, he’s always going to be a threat. Also with James Collins coming in for the suspended Ben Davies, it adds extra height alongside Ashley Williams to attack corners with.

One thing for sure Aaron ‘Rambo’ Ramsey will be hugely missed in the No.10 position for Wales, he currently tops the Assist charts at the moment with 4. Andy King will be hoping for more success like he had last season with Leicester.

It takes a full team performance to make it through the Semi’s into a major European Final, part of the reason why it won’t just be Bale Vs Ronaldo. But instead more about who can bring the best out of their team mates. Not a night for an individual.

Verdict: I’m not about to stop the Welsh party bus! In my opinion, Dean Saunders your parking fine is about to get a little bit more expensive!

Semi Final No. 2

Germany Vs France (Stade Velodrome, Marseille)

Arguably a match up which should have been saved for the Final come July 11th. This has the potential to bring football to its very purest form; Attack Vs Defence. Forget the tactics and the individual player instructions for a second. We have the best attacking team of the tournament playing against the best defensive team of the tournament.

Every supporter in the world is entitled to their own preference, some might enjoy a defensively solid performance. Whereas others might gain a thrill from a team hammering an opposition’s goal with waves of attacks. No one opinion is right.

The Stats:

FRA: 11 Goals / 87 attempts / 29 on Target / 31 off Target / 27 Blocked

Vs

GER: 1 Goal conceded / Passes Completion 91% / Possession 63%

If you didn’t believe me beforehand that this will be a game of Attack Vs Defence, perhaps you will do after viewing those statistics.

I have to admit during the Group Stages, I didn’t think Germany were the force they have been in the past. A 0-0 draw with Poland and only a 1-0 victory over Northern Ireland didn’t make pretty reading for Joachim Löw, but they got the job done and progressed to the last 16.

A much more clinical performance against Slovakia and once again they look like the unstoppable World Champions from two years ago. The Quarter Final against Italy, should have been over by the 90, but for a moment of madness from Boateng.

But who are kidding, it was never in doubt was it? The Germans just don’t lose penalty shootout. Ever.


In all forms of Sport, coaches plan for their athletes to taper before a competition so that they can hit peak performance level during a competition. It would appear that Löw’s taper has worked perfectly. Germany looking dangerous. Anyone else got a case of Déjà vu?
As for France, without playing sensational football thus far they find themselves through to the Semi’s. When teams try and attack France, it would seem this is when France are at their most dangerous – prime example being the Quarter Final against Iceland which finished up 5-2.

I tipped France before the tournament to challenge for the European crown, because of their attacking style compounded with the sheer ability in midfield. So far it hasn’t been all guns blazing, the first half of the ROI game was dismal for example.

If France can engage Germany during the semi – final, it will benefit France. The more open the game becomes the more it drifts into France ‘s favour in my opinion. If it’s cagey and being decided in moments of 50/50 challenges the pendulum swings back towards Germany.

Key Battle:

Is it any wonder that Germany have almost 1000 more completed passes than the next closest team behind them in the possession stats, when they possess Toni Kroos in the heart of their midfield. The Madrid man has been running the show for Germany so far during this summer’s Championships and will hope for more of the same come Thursday evening.


Clearly either Matuidi or Pogba will be given the job of closing Kroos down, but which one of them? If it was me, Matuidi is the engine room and should be given the opportunity, whilst Pogba focuses on breaking towards the opposition goal. Chances won’t come easily against the World Champions, so Pogba needs to be ready to lead the counter attack.


Verdict: I’m going to stick with my pre-tournament pick of France; SkyBet have Griezmann as odds on to win the Golden Boot and I think he’ll nick the winner against Germany.

Thanks for reading as always folks,

Tom

Euro 2016 – Review of Week 1

Thoughts on the Championships so far;

It feels like a whirlwind. Or perhaps that’s just the combination of late nights and assortment of lagers but the last week of football has well and truly delivered. I can’t remember the last time I’ve had quite such a variation of emotions like I did during the ENG vs WAL game. Whilst travelling the globe you come across a plethora of people, I haven’t yet found anyone in Sydney who watched that game and wasn’t captivated from start to finish; pure emotion.


So we are more than a week into the Championships now. What’s happened so far?

Winners so far;

Albania – They came, they played their hearts out and can easily walk away with their heads held high. Briefly catching the highlights from their victorious last group game against Romania, they look very promising indeed.


Iceland – Fair bloody play! They might receive some criticism, but not from me. Clearly well drilled and prepared to hit the ground running. They believed they could get something against Portugal, and they did. Sounds like sour grapes Cristiano!

France – Okay I’ll take some flack, I put the classic commentators curse on them with my previous article. But, France have flattered to deceive so far, at certain points they have shown snapshots of how dangerous a force they could well be. I’m still saying watch out Europe!

And now for the Losers;

Germany – I’ll try not to take too much enjoyment in this one. Die Mannschaft aren’t quite clicking at the moment. A 0-0 draw against Poland isn’t what Germany want to be remembered for at Euro 2016, then again neither is Joachim Löw’s ‘sniffing-gate’.


Belgium – How many journalists predicted after the previous European Championships in 2012 and then the World Cup, that this would be the tournament where ‘The Golden Generation’ established themselves as a world force? As starting line – up’s go, Belgium’s is like a night at the Oscars. One High profile character after the next. Didn’t turn up against Italy, then took ROI apart 3-0. Very temperamental side. If Wilmots can get it right, Belgium should skate to the semi’s. Big If mind.

You may have noticed that I have barely touched on a certain team. Yes that’s right let’s talk about England. We all knew it was going to happen at some point during the article. As I sit here now trying to re-capture every emotion which was experienced during Friday morning’s pulsating game with Wales. (God bless Sydney and their Casino 24 hour drinking laws!) I feel torn between criticising ‘Woy and praising him.

With 45 minutes left to save his European adventure, Hodgson had no choice but to go for broke with Daniel Sturridge and the main man himself Jamie Vardy. Obviously what happened after that was pure escasty for any patriotic Englishman.

But why did it have to get to this stage before a change was made? So there I was enduring Half Time with a rather smug Welshman next to me, crying into a Carlton Dry. (recommend!) Wondering where it all went wrong. ‘But we were undefeated in qualifying’ springs to mind. Quickly followed by ‘Why the chuffing hell isn’t Jamie Vardy on the pitch!!’

After scanning the Beeb (BBC) tonight, I see Roy is supposedly planning on making up to 6 changes to the team that started against Wales. Vardy has to start, and yes through the middle too.

In my opinion, Wilshere should have started against Wales, in the first half unfortunately Alli received a bit of a lesson at the hands of Ramsey. I think Jack, *touch wood * fully fit would have dominated that midfield which included a 50% fit Joe Ledley.

I must admit I was critical of Walker starting ahead of Clyne, but it’s worked superbly in the first 2 games so far. What an outlet. Kyle is becoming a key player for England purely for his gizelle like speed and acceleration. Although he is still the type of player on FIFA or FM that you would be putting on ‘Intense Training’ for crossing…
In all realistic terms England should breeze through tonight’s game against Slovakia and guarantee themselves Top of The Group, but then again this is England we are talking about.

Heart Says 3-1 to ENG

Head says 2-1 (Vardy Winner)

Yeah that’s right let’s all get on the Jamie Vardy bandwagon.

Thanks for reading,

Tom

 

United’s New Red Devil: Hit or Miss?

So here we are, Finally. The most discussed story in football over the last 6 months has been put to bed. José Mourinho’s next challenge awaits him, and it’s a big one. Restoring the once well oiled machine that is Manchester United to its former glories.

It’s been no secret that Manchester United have been keeping tabs on José since his departure from Stamford Bridge. Sometimes almost coming  across like a Year 7 school disco, with both parties flirting with the idea without any actually formal offer. But that’s in the past, we now know that José Mourinho has been unveiled as Manchester United’s new manager on a 3 year contract.


This news is sure to bring smiles to United fans all across the globe, and of course why wouldn’t it? It comes with the almost reassurance that Manchester United will be restored to winning ways sooner rather than later. Better believe that, José is a born winner.

It also adds to the list of heavyweight managers now in the Premier League next season, players had better  watch out they won’t be the star attraction anymore! Of course it reignites one of Sports’ best match ups in José Vs Pep, who will rule Manchester? I imagine The Special One has already planned his tactics and revenge for when he takes his United team to Stamford Bridge too.

Of course compared to Van Gaal, Mourinho looks like a gift sent from the God’s, and like previously mentioned he comes with an aura of someone who will deliver trophies. But at what cost?

Manchester United over the years have always prided themselves on playing the ‘Manchester United way’. The list of illustrious players who have graced the treasured turf of Old Trafford is endless; The Busby Babes, The Holy Trinity (Best, Law & Charlton), Class of 92′ and in more recent times Ronaldo and Rooney.


IMO ‘The Manchester United way’ is attack, attack and then attack some more. A relentless force hammering the opponents goal with everything they have until the final whistle. During Sir Alex Ferguson’s tenure he used to pride himself on his teams fighting till the end of games.

One of the contributing factors in Van Gaal’s dismissal was his ‘style of play’, it’s here you are reminded that Mourinho has previous with Van Gaal working as his assistant.


In the past this hasn’t been Mourinho’s style with an all out attack formula, but will he deliver success to Old Trafford even if it takes another route to the summit to the one fans expected? Will fans settle for an compromised style of play in return for more success on the pitch?

Before writing this article I did some research on Mourinho reading some articles, posts and blogs previously written on the man’s tactics, formations and philosophy. Some ideas I agreed with, some I didn’t. Everyone to their own opinions.

But there was one topic which was discussed suggesting that Mourinho would prefer going into games as the ‘under dog’ – ultimately taking the pressure off the team. (His poor record against bottom of the table teams would prove this to be a valid point – can’t have two underdogs in the same match)
How would United fans feel about going into a game knowing that your manager thinks your the underdog? Does it send the right image of an English power house?

I grew up in a time when Manchester United were all dominating in The English Premier League and Europe. Title after Title, Double after Double. I wouldn’t be suprised if they had the Open Bus on retainer from one year to the next. This is the United I remember, the all conquering side who would go head to head with Europe’s elite. Not a side who might get a result as an under dog.


It did of course work for Mourinho, guiding his Inter side past the irresistible Barca and Ancelotti’s attack minded Chelsea en route to winning the Champions League.

It’ll be interesting to see what sort of profile Manchester United have under Mourinho.

Mourinho – The Tactical Genius

Here’s one for you to quiz your mates with in the pub over a cold one.

How many different leagues has Mourinho set a record point tally in? 1? Maybe 2? (Okay, you probably got Porto) But the answer is actually 3! (Portugal, England and Spain)

Which makes the next part so bizarre, if you asked someone on the street what do you think to Mourinho’s playing style? A large proportion would reply with ‘Boring or not exciting’.

How Chelsea went about claiming the title in the 2014/15 season wasn’t boring or uncreative. Winning games 1-0 or 2-1 may have come across dull, it was actually incredibly clever tactics from The Special One.

Okay, bold statement. Let me explain why IMO the tactics implemented were canny and clever. For the next paragraph or so I’m going to need you to remember one buzz word (god dammit, I love a good buzz word!) The Buzz word is -MED (Minimum Effective Dose). This means the minimum someone or a team has to do, and still get the desired outcome.

Football seasons are a long arduous slog, the quote ‘It’s a marathon not a sprint’ springs to mind. Mourinho recognised that if his side played to their full potential from the start of games, they would often have a lead by half time. Often during the 2014/15 season, Chelsea by 50-60 minutes into a game would switch into a training ground routine. Thus saving their legs in preparation for the next game, whilst the opposition would run themselves into the ground chasing down Chelsea’s keep ball. Mourinho always thinking ahead to the next opponent. Classic MED signs.


United fans in the past have been spoiled with excitement until the final whistle blows, how will they like a more conservative and tactical Manchester United side?

In terms of Mourinho’s preferred formation at United, it’s hard to look past 4-2-3-1. Everyone knows he loves a 4-2-3-1 he’s used it both times at Chelsea, with Madrid and at times with Inter too. IMO it’s a great tactic and it got used repeatedly on FM whilst growing up (granted with a lot less success than Mourinho has had with it!)


It isn’t just a basic 4-2-3-1 with Mourinho though, going forward in attack it develops into almost a 4-3-3 perfect for those fast counter attacking moments whilst still allowing a solid foundation at the back.

Remember those days of Duff and Robben terrorising defenders on the break..?

Times are changing at Manchester United.

Welcome Back José.
Thanks for reading,

Tom

5 A-side Team of the Season

With the season drawing to an exhilarating close, and with Leicester City and Spurs taking the title race down to the wire. I take a look at the players who I’d want playing in my team.

(1-1-2-1)  IMG_2989
Lloris (Tottenham)

Hugo-Lloris

The Spurs shotstopper has certainly had a season to remember. Tottenham have the best
defensive record in the league, with the consistent form of their captain playing a major role. Bodes well for France with Euro 2016 on the horizon.

 

N-Golo-Kante-608036

Kanté (Leicester City)

The 25 year old frenchman tops the charts for tackles and interceptions with an eye for passing too. Calm head on young shoulders, has been vital to Leicester’s title challenge. Has broken up attacking threats from opponents all season long.

Payet (West Ham United)  Payet

Remember watching West Ham Vs Man City at the back end of Jan on Sky. Payet was unbelievable in that game, he embarrassed a majority of the Manchester City  midfield with his skill and trickery. It’s a pity he got injured during the season. But when he has played he’s gone from strength to strength. West Ham will hope they can hang on to him in the summer. Boy his free kicks aren’t half bad either.

SOCCER-626598Mahrez (Leicester City)

Arguably the star player of the season, Mahrez has enthralled the King Power Stadium with some stellar performances with his mazy runs, assists & goals. Leicester will be hoping he signs a contract extension ASAP. Otherwise Europe’s elite will be sniffing around.

 

Harry Kane (Tottenham)Tottenham's Harry Kane

Is he the best finisher in the league? Statistics would suggest he is after bagging his 22nd league goal against Liverpool on Saturday evening. I’d still put him behind Augero, but he’s definitely England’s best forward at this moment in time. Instinctive finisher

 

Subs:

Morgan (Leicester City)

This time last season, Leicester City were bottom of the league. Now they look odds on to do the unthinkable. The 1-0 win over Saints whereMorgan scored too, helped to establish a 7 point gap between themselves and Spurs. Morgan has been ever-present this season in the league for Leicester. A rock at the back and is crucial to Leicester’s success.

Dier (Tottenham)

For me, he has to start for England in the summer. An inspired decision from Pochettino to move Dier from CB to Defensive Mid. Looks at ease with the ball at his feet.

Alli (Tottenham)

Surely another candidate to go straight into Roy’s starting XI in the summer after his performances for Spurs this season. Some question his temperament, but he is an unbelievable prospect.

 

How would your team of the season look?

Thanks for reading,

Tom