Saturday, 7 July 2012

Bad move for the Croatian playmaker

With speculation growing that Luka Modric is off to the Bernabeu I thought I would take a closer look at this move. Modric is a great talent who is so comfortable on the ball. He is always happy to receive the ball even in tight situations and will get himself out of trouble with an easy pass. I first witnessed Modric's talents in that infamous 'Mclaren Umbrella' game where he ran the show. He controlled everything Croatia did and although Ivica Olic got a lot of plaudits for his work and goal that night it was Modric who was the star man. It cant be a coincidence that Spurs took their performances to a new level once Modric joined in the Summer of 2008 followed by Redknapp's arrival in October.

It's fairly clear that Modric has the ability and talent to play for a top club who are consistently in the Champions League every year which unfortunately for them is not Tottenham. The club did extremely well to keep hold of him last summer with the speculation he would go to Chelsea. It is quite possible that Spurs made it clear to Modric he would not be sold to their London rivals last summer but if he stayed for one more season and helped them to a top 4 finish he would be allowed to move on if the right club came in for him. Spurs would not sell him to Chelsea who had moved on to sign Hazard. It is interesting to consider that AVB was the boss at Chelsea last summer whilst they were in hot pursuit of Modric and he is of course now the boss at Spurs. If it was player he wanted to sign I would like to think he would try his utmost to persuade Modric to stay committed to Spurs as they look to step out of the Redknapp era and the team could be built around him. Either this isn't the case or Modric is so set on leaving it doesn't matter what the Europa League contenders have to say to him.

Modric was excellent against Spain for Croatia in the Euros when he operated in the number 10 role, a position I'm sure he would like to have played in more for Spurs. However, that role was predominantly occupied by Rafael Van der Vaart leaving Modric sitting deeper alongside Scott Parker. The defensive qualities of Parker allowed Modric to roam around and get forward from his central midfield position resulting in 4 goals and 4 assists in the Premier League last year. In comparison, Benoit Assou-Ekotto also managed 4 assists from left back so this is a stat Modric would look to improve upon but also reflects the role he had to do for the team.

So where does Modric fit in at Real Madrid, if in fact reports are true and this is his destination? My initial thoughts were that he would be looking to start in the number 10 role where Ozil and Kaka also like to start. That automatically puts him 3rd choice for Mourinho in that position. Ozil started 30 La Liga games last season whilst Kaka started 17 in an injury interrupted season. One of Higuain and Benzema will always start up front for Madrid, most likely Benzema after last season where he truly showed his class. This leaves 3 spots in the team for Modric to operate in an attacking position in Madrid's 4-2-3-1 system. One of those will always be Cristiano Ronaldo who started the most La Liga games for Los Blancos last season, the other 2 places will be filled by Ozil, Kaka, Di Maria, Higuain (wide right), Callejon and now Modric. In a free flowing team Modric would have no problems starting in one of the wider positions as he wouldn't need to stay wide and hug the touchline. Much like the same way David Silva and Nasri start wide left and right respectively for Man City. They also drift in and the defensive work is generally done by their full back. Ozil has proven to be first choice in the number 10 role and he won't relinquish that easily. The £50million Kaka was back to somewhere close to his best at the end of last season and so he won't be leaving Madrid. I could have seen AC Milan returning for their hero if his form hadn't picked up.

That leaves Modric back in a deeper position as a deep lying playmaker. That's fine, he can do that role and with better players around him he can flourish in it. One problem with that though, Xabi Alonso. He is the 3rd name on the team sheet for Mourinho behind Ronaldo and Casillas and is excellent at what he does. He started 35 La Liga games last season and managed 9 assists. That would put Modric 2nd choice in that position as the 2 of them could not play together in that formation, Madrid and Mourinho require a less techincal 'battler' type in the form of Khedira or Lass Diarra. Diarra is highly likely to leave Madrid this summer despite starting 15 games in the league last year. Perhaps Spurs could get him as part of this deal as he would form a formidable partnership with Scott Parker in their midfield allowing the full backs even more license to go forward. Esteban Granero can also operate in that position for Madrid and Pepe is used there in the games vs Barcelona. This all means there are limited opportunities for Modric at the Bernabeu to start at least. I see his Madrid career following the same pattern as the likes of Wesley Sneijder, Rafael van der Vaart and Arjen Robben (although of course he is not dutch). He will spend 2 seasons at Madrid before leaving for a cut price and then playing really well for his new club with a new lease of life. None of those 3 players particularly excelled at Madrid and whether it was managerial decisions and falling out with certain other players none of them succeeded at Real. Modric deserves to be starting every game for a club in the prime of his career not sitting on the bench waiting for 20 minutes here and there when in all likelihood his team are already 3 goals to the good.

Money talks and so do trophies. He will get more money at Madrid than he did at Spurs and of course is far more likely to win trophies there but I'm sceptical whether it is the correct move for his development. I feel a move to Man Utd would have really suited him although Spurs are understandably reluctant to sell him to a Premier League rival.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

England's Euro 2012 post-mortem

So another quarter final penalty exit for England, hardly a surprise with our history. Yet we were unbeaten, not that that fact equals success in tournament football. After all Spain won the 2010 World Cup after losing their first game. We topped our group with two wins and a draw, a successful 3 games after expectations suggested pre-tournament we would be happy to simply get through the group. Looking back our group wasn’t too difficult; France failed to show up to the tournament having been a lot of people’s outsider to big it all (including mine), Ukraine had home advantage but nothing much else and Sweden were defensively shocking until they were already out of the tournament and caused a big shock in beating France.

Hope and pride seemed to return to the players, coaching staff and the fans both at the games and back home. Well it certainly returned before the Italy game. That ‘we can win it’ spirit and ‘football’s coming home’ feeling was creeping back into people’s minds and the opening 15 minutes of the quarter final was the best football we played all tournament. It was as if the players suddenly felt comfortable with the ball, were making intelligent runs and it seemed like we would do it. If that Glen Johnson chance had gone in early maybe it would have been a different story and we would be looking forward to a semi-final against the Germans. However, Italy seemed to wake up to our early threat and controlled the game from then on. Before the game I wrote how the Rooney v Pirlo battle would be the key to the game as they like to operate in the same space. In the end this was a non-contest as Pirlo controlled where the ball went all game it seemed. Rooney was nowhere to be seen when Pirlo had the ball and England’s ball retention was so shocking there was no need for De Rossi to stay close to Rooney when we had the ball as we had no threat. Surely the fact Pirlo would boss the game and control Italy wasn’t hard to predict? That hope I had seen come back quickly disappeared as our ultimate weakness returned, our inability to keep the ball.

It has been argued that a semi-final against the Germans would have been too embarrassing for us so it was a good thing we did lose to Italy to save us that shame but surely a semi-final appearance is much better than a quarter final defeat? I can see the reason behind this argument but once again it would have united the country, we would have won a penalty shootout and we would have still made the same conclusions we have now yet would have had another game.

Every pundit who backed Roy Hodgson as the right appointment pre-tournament is now suddenly an expert in how England should play, how our style is poor and miles behind other nations. Well congratulations for finally coming to the party. Hodgson has played 4-4-2 his whole managerial career and his teams are built on defensive solidarity. England had that in this tournament, barring the Sweden game which was far too open for his liking. That game was the most Premier League-like game; poor defending, lack of shape and a decent amount of attacking play leading to goals. A 3-2 win compared to a 1-0 win is the difference between an exciting open game and a boring game according to most people, everyone does love goals after all. Ask Roy Hodgson and he will take 1-0 wins every day of the week, ask Harry Redknapp and he will take 3-2 wins. Redknapp is tactically inept, no doubt a great motivator but he would simply pick his 11 best players and tell them to go and play with a smile on their face. International football is about discipline, shape and possession. That’s why Hodgson was the perfect choice.

The popular point pundits are now making is that we do have the players but the system is the problem. We always have some excuse; heat, injuries, foreign manager, no winter break, no luck, can’t score penalties, formation. How refreshing it would be to hear someone ignore all that and state that we don’t have players who are comfortable enough on the ball and give it away far too easily. Possession is 9 tenths of the law (or the football pitch in this case). You can’t concede if you have the ball, you can only score. Hardly rocket science but yet we consistently give the ball away without stringing more than 3 passes together. There is no doubt our youth system is in a bad place and the English tendency to look at physical attributes over technical ones is massively flawed. You can grow and get stronger with age but you either have technique or you don’t, it can’t be taught. Scott Parker is the prime example of this for me. No doubt a good player who has that stereotypical English spirit and attitude, heart on his sleeve and would throw his body into any challenge but his technique is awful. He takes 3 touches to control a ball and struggles with passing over more than 10 yards. His job in the England team is to break up play, the same job Sergio Busquets does for Spain. A detailed comparison isn’t necessary, it’s clear to see.

The new National Football Centre in Burton is a step in the right direction and in 10-12 years we will hopefully see results from this set up in our style and the quality of young players we bring through. The whole English football philosophy needs to change which isn’t an easy thing to do. It’s a huge long term project but if it does work and we start to play better interesting football where we pass the ball, keep it on the floor and make runs off the ball to support the player in possession I’m prepared to wait for a few more tournaments. England performed better in Euro 2012 than they did in 2010 so there are some positives to take from this and hopefully opening people’s eyes up to the sort of style we should be developing will lead to long term positives from our performances. It doesn’t matter what system the team plays if they can’t keep the ball, players don’t make themselves available and are unhappy to be in possession even when under pressure a team will get nowhere. Even with no expectation the team showed themselves to simply not be good enough and too far behind the real big boys in international football. We had no strength in depth, all be it Lampard and Barry were injured, to change things in the middle of the pitch.

There will be a lot of speculation about where England go from here and the team that will start the friendly against Italy on August 15th. Hodgson has to be the man to get rid of the old players and bring in and develop the youth in preparation for the 2014 World Cup. Kyle Walker at right back, Micah Richards at centre back, Wilshere (if fit) in centre midfield, the Ox and Walcott wide and Sturridge involved somehow must be the plan going forward. I’ve had enough of the old guard now. It’s time for changes. 

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Last thing we need now is expectation

Injuries, a change of manager, various questions over player selection and a 2 game ban to our best player yet England won Group D with 7 points going unbeaten. Two wins and a draw was surely what only the most optimistic of England fans would have expected. The performances against France and Ukraine were very disciplined with two clear banks of four and England taking any chances they could to attack but never over-committing. Hodgson would have been furious with the second half of the Sweden game, yes we won and his Walcott substitution worked out really well but there was no shape of defensive discipline in the display. The goals we conceded were extremely poor. Hodgson's teams are built on defensive solidarity first and foremost which is why Parker and Gerrard have sat so deep (which cost us on the Nasri goal in the first game) and why Milner is playing on the right over Walcott or Oxlade-Chamberlain.

England have succeeded in the group stages playing reactive football which is exactly how we should be playing, as I explained pre-tournament. We don't have the quality to play any other way and it has worked for teams this season, Chelsea and Atletico Madrid in the Champions League and Europa League finals. England have done this without the whole country saying "We can win it" and everyone expecting big things from these players. Having reached the knockout stages these thoughts might start to creep back in to the media and conversations between people down the pub and at work....DON'T LET THIS HAPPEN! The worst thing that could happen to us now, except for an injury, would be for expectations to rise up. The reaction to the way we play football in this tournament seems to have been one of acceptance. Winning and progression at tournaments is what counts at the end of the day rather than the style of football a team plays. In other countries like Spain, Germany and Holland the style is equally as important, just see the kind of bad press Bert van Marwijk gets from his decision to play van Bommel and de Jong. His decision was shown to be correct after the Portugal game as they were opened up consistently with only one player protecting the back four. The fact we haven't won anything since 1966 may be a big part of this. We crave success and have finally realised we are not going to achieve that playing like Barcelona or dominate a tournament with great flowing football. We have to succeed playing football in a different way based on defending and discipline.

Our path to the final starts with Italy on Sunday, likely Germany in the semis and Spain in the final (in my opinion). Germany have been the most impressive team in the tournament dominating their oppositions playing good football and also looking defensively solid. Italy on Sunday will pose an interesting opposition. I feel they played really well for the first 45 minutes against Croatia and also in parts vs Spain but they never seem to take their chances when they are on top or sustain their level of dominance for long periods of play. Italy are traditionally a team who set up not to get beat and that's exactly how England play so Sunday's game would look to be a defensive battle where one moment of quality will change the game. We will be looking to Rooney for this and Italy will be looking to Andrea Pirlo as everything good they do generally comes from him. He is the heartbeat of the team and can play a killer pass from anywhere on the pitch. Mario Balotelli will surely get a lot of press space in the build up to the game and if he fancies it and if he gets on the pitch he can cause us problems. Rooney and Pirlo will be operating in the same area of the pitch though so they may cancel each other out. If I was Prandelli I would play Pirlo on the right of a central midfield three with De Rossi in the middle to cope with the Rooney threat. De Rossi has been excellent for Italy in the group stages starting in a defensive three for the first two games and playing further forward in the final game against Ireland. England will no doubt be looking for fast breaks with Rooney, Welbeck and Young and also set piece opportunities to get goals.

Hodgson has handled the press and expectations extremely well since he was appointed England manager but I think he fully expected us to progress from the group we were in despite home advantage of Ukraine. Having said that Hodgson has now embraced the rising expectation which I feel may be a bad thing. The English public and the press only need a slight indication that we have a chance to succeed and we will see and hear all the usual waffle come back. Keeping expectation to a minimum should be a priority for the whole country, our players crumble under the pressure of penalties but have seemed to flourish (or as much as they can under our system) without the weight of a country on their shoulders. Hopefully they realised that we would be happy to see them in the knockout stages. A win against Italy on Sunday and a place in the semi finals will be our best performance since Euro 96 and an excellent achievement for the players and Roy Hodgson. With no expectation he took Fulham to the final of the Europa League and at every stage the consensus was that they had done really well but would lose. That is the mentality we need to have for this England team, full support for them but realistic expectations.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Spain and their no striker system

Sunday afternoon brought us the biggest surprise from a team selection point of view. Vicente Del Bosque chose to go with 6 traditional midfielders rather than selecting Torres or Llorente up front as a typical striker. The front man of this 6 was generally Cesc Fabregas operating in the false number 9 role, a very Spanish tactic. As soon as Guardiola was appointed Barcelona manager one of the first things he did was to talk to Messi and tell him that he was the best player at the club and that he should therefore be playing closer to the goal. Seemed to be pretty simple - put your best player and attacking threat closer to the goal and he will get more goals. The stats don't lie, it worked. This is not to compare Fabregas to Messi in any way, he is not Spain's most potent goal threat like Messi is with Barcelona. Del Bosque put Cesc in this position in an attempt to drag out De Rossi as he is naturally a defensive midfielder to open up the space in behind him. Fabregas, or the most forward Spanish player, was never going to play right against the last man like David Villa is so good at doing, check his offside numbers to see what I'm talking about. This means that most of the time Fabregas, Silva or Iniesta was going to be at least 5 yards off the last defender as that is how they naturally play - they all look for pockets of space and move into them to receive the ball. This system works well if the defender is drawn out to the ball and then the space in behind him is exploited early by runners from midfield. The onus was on Iniesta to do this as he has the skills and pace as well as the finishing ability. David Silva is a great player but he doesn't possess the pace to run into the box like they required, he would much prefer to be the player to provide the defence splitting ball to the runner, as he did for the goal.

The Spanish goal came from Fabregas making a run in behind Chiellini after he went out to Silva who was in the number 9 position. Spain picked the ball up from a slack pass into Pirlo and Xavi pounced on the chance to win the ball and give it to Iniesta early. The World Cup hero then attacked Italy and drew in at least 3 Italian defenders before laying off to Silva who instantly saw Fabregas' run. That was exactly how Del Bosque would have seen his decision working out with moves like that. Iniesta had a great chance in the first half when he positioned himself in space alongside the back 3 of Italy and could well have finished the move created by Xavi. Spain's best other chances in the first half came from pressing Italy and winning the ball in their own half before breaking whilst the Azzurri had committed men forward. These chances fell to David Silva who will only take chances on his left foot and he failed to truly test Buffon on both occasions.

The Italians played a high pressing game, in the first half the pressure on Busquets led to Cassano winning the ball and being fouled by Sergio Ramos resulting in Pirlo's free kick being saved by Casillas. Their back 3 played very deep for most of the game although arguably when they should have played deepest, when Torres replaced Cesc, they played high and should have been punished for this but Torres couldn't capitalise on his 2 great chances. The first of these chances should see Buffon given more credit than Torres given flack, he knew exactly what Torres was going to do and he didn't go down and foul the Chelsea man. There's no doubt even the world's greatest Lionel Messi would have tried to go round Buffon as well. His second chance was another excellent through ball and he created the chance to chip Buffon himself, but like his season has gone the chance failed to go in. His confidence will surely be very low after these misses and the fact he was overlooked for no striker. Torres said after the game "we didn't practice that system with Cesc". Hardly seems like he was impressed with Del Bosque's decision although I would think his chances of starting the game on Thursday will be much higher after Spain created a lot more when he came on. Both chances Torres had were great through balls that he could run on to, showing it was the right decision to bring him on rather than Llorente who would have struggled to outpace the defence. On the other hand Llorente would have thrived on the crosses Jesus Navas provided when he was introduced on the right hand side.

Once again it looks like Spain will attempt to tire their opposition for the first 60 minutes with excellent possession football and the possibility of creating chances through Tiki Taka football until they introduce the likes of Torres, Navas, Llorente and Pedro to give the opposition other problems to think about. These players are more likely to finish chances created by Xavi, Silva and Iniesta. Back in South Africa, Spain lost their opening game and then dropped Silva and Iniesta for Torres and Jesus Navas. This year I feel we can see the same players come in with Silva and Fabregas dropped so there is more of a traditional shape and not too many similar players. For their third group game they brought Iniesta back in for Navas. If Pedro had been playing yesterday I feel the system would have worked really quite well, he has great pace and his finishing ability is much better than those on display yesterday. He had a down year for Barcelona with the rise of Cuenca, Tello and various injuries on a personal level but he came back in the last few games of the season and started in the Copa del Rey final. His constant pressing of the opposition makes Barcelona tick and sets the precedent from the front which is why I was surprised he didn't play any part yesterday. He would have run into any space left by the Italian back three and you can guarantee he would have been found with the abundance of class Spain had behind him.

My final thoughts go to Xabi Alonso. He is the pass master for Real Madrid and he would walk into any national team in the world, what I would give for him to be English. However, is there room for him in this Spanish team? Del Bosque clearly feels he should be in the team as I'm sure many Spaniards and non-Spaniards do but what does he do that Xavi can't? He is a deep lying ball player, much like Andrea Pirlo whereas Xavi will drift forward and does get on the end of balls delivered in the box. Since Messi has blossomed under Pep in the centre of the pitch Xavi has gone to play at another level. His link up play with Messi is excellent and they often find each other in the box. Del Bosque has seen this change in Xavi's game so he had faith in the Barcelona trio of Xavi, Iniesta and Cesc all to make runs into the box vs Italy.

Can anyone picture Xabi Alonso making this run for the goal Xavi scored against Real Madrid? I may have contradicted myself by explaining how Xavi now operates in a more forward position and can make runs into the box so Busquets needs someone alongside him for protection but he doesn't need that for Barcelona. If Xabi Alonso was to be dropped for one of Pedro, Torres, Llorente or Navas I think we would see Spain finish and create more chances. Xavi could then play slightly deeper but with Busquets behind him he would have faith in his protection. This would also allow Iniesta to come more inside, with Pedro an option on the left and if not then the speedy Jordi Alba could exploit this space from his left back role. I would argue having the midfield trio of Busquets, Xavi and Iniesta with Pedro/Navas, Torres and Silva as the three up front would cause their opposition many more problems and gives them more balance. The loss of David Villa to this team can't be underestimated, Spain's topscorer is relied upon to a large degree to get the goals and be the final link in their great football. Having threats from a front three like that would hopefully mean Iniesta wouldn't attract this sort of attention, but if he did and managed to pass the ball on it would be finished.

Spain, to me, are a great team to watch and play football in the right way even if they don't tend to shoot as soon as they should. That is why David Villa is so key, he won't hesitate to have a go whenever he has a yard of space. I don't think this will be Spain's year as they still need a natural finisher to convert their great play but we saw something yesterday that was very interesting to see. 

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

How England can win Euro 2012.....Yes that does say WIN!

Welcome to my second post on this blog. The following is a piece I have been thinking about and planning since watching the Champions League final in May. I have now decided it is time to write this piece and try to work out just how we can win Euro 2012.

This may seem like an impossible task to most of the country and even those most optimistic English fans must have significantly less hope than previous tournaments for the 'Golden Generation'. The country loves getting behind the England team and big up our chances of being successful and winning tournaments, mainly the media and certain elements of this country's media, but this year there has been a drastic change in perception. There has been a realistic take on our chances with the managerial change to Roy Hodgson, the loss of Rooney for the first 2 games after his moment of stupidity and the injuries in the buildup to the tournament. This is a welcome change to the normal way of doing things for the English media but has led to the media now saying "with the lowest expectation in recent memory can England win". Will this ever end?

So how will we set up, what will our style be and who will actually play? Well Roy Hodgson's history has always been to play a 4-4-2 formation, that can possibly adapt to a 4-4-1-1. Hodgson's team are always about defensive solidity first and foremost, 'defence wins championships' is a classic phrase used in the NFL but for any sport it can be applied. No matter how good your attack is if your defence can't stop the other team from scoring how will you ever win. It's not a coincidence that teams that win leagues have the best defensive records, Man City and Man Utd conceded the least amount of goals in the Premiership last season while Wolves conceded the most and finished bottom. This old game is pretty simple. Now there are two ways to prevent your team from conceding in my opinion, one is with the ball and the other is without the ball. Spain and Barcelona don't concede goals because they always have the ball, possession is nine-tenths of the law and if you have 69.3% possession as Barca did last season then it's very difficult for the opposition to score goals. Now England won't play like this and never will, our players are not naturally talented enough or comfortable on the ball like the Spanish or the Dutch. Far too often when we have the ball we lose it or just hoof it forward much to my personal frustration and the frustration of many of those watching. Our players are never comfortable to simply maintain possession and move the opposition around the pitch until a pocket of space opens up and can be exploited. We have no patience.

The other way to not concede and the one England will adopt is to play a game of frustration and prevention all designed to hit teams on the counter attack. It's clear to see from the two 1-0 wins against Norway and Belgium that England will set up in a 4-4-1-1 formation with Ashley Young playing just behind our main striker who is likely to be Andy Carroll over Danny Welbeck despite his well publicised form and lack of goals this season. We will have two very solid banks of four with not too much space in between the two of them. This is designed to eliminate the space in between the midfielder and defence that is exploited by the naturally gifted talents such as David Silva, Mesut Ozil, Samir Nasri and Wesley Sneijder. These are the talents that have led to a modern day era of teams playing 4-3-3 and moving away from the standard 4-4-2. They are the main players for their teams and a lot runs through them, if you prevent their best player from expressing themselves you are forcing the opposition to switch to Plan B. Spain will have more of a Plan B than Barcelona did against Chelsea when they were frustrated to death. Their Plan B is to go more direct to Fernando Llorente as seen in their second round game against Portugal in the 2010 World Cup. They scored within 5 minutes of him coming on and he did an excellent job of holding the ball up when they were forced to go long. They combine this with using the likes of Pedro and Jesus Navas in the wide positions to stretch the opposition and deliver crosses to Llorente. Barca tried a similar strategy this season using two from Tello, Cuence and Pedro in wide positions hugging the touchline to stretch the play and open up gaps for Messi, Iniesta and co. but they had no threat of punishing teams with crosses unlike Spain. Andy Carroll will have to do what Llorente did in this game; hold the ball up, earn fouls and big a general nuisance to the opposition defence.

England will be going long quick and often, against Norway it was clear to see Hodgson had instructed the team to go long to Carroll or into Young's feet' as soon as we win the ball back. The pace of Young and his running ability will be a threat for us and quite possibly our key player for the first two games as long as he isn't diving around everywhere (although that will likely be his tactic to win free kicks which we can exploit). They linked up well for the goal against Norway so hopefully that is a sign of things to come.

England will happily allow our opponents to have the ball as Chelsea did against Benfica, Barcelona and Bayern Munich. This is the blueprint we must follow. As someone who loves the possession game and watching free flowing proactive football it pains me to admit it but reactive football will be the only hope for England in the Euros. We have played in this manner in Hodgson's first two games in charge and it won't change now. Chelsea's key men in those games were Ramires and Drogba. Ramires played on the right and did well defensively but was the key to breaking away quickly, see his goal against Barcelona at the Nou Camp. I expect us to start James Milner on one side of our midfield for his all round ability and versatility so the opposite side will be filled by Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain or Stewart Downing. I feel our best bet to copy the blueprint would be to start Oxlade-Chamberlain but put him on the left so Milner can support Glen Johnson on the right hand side. This will be particularly important against France up against Franck Ribery. Ashley Cole is our most consistent player and who no doubt be our player of the tournament as he has been in past tournaments so he will need less protection from the midfield than Johnson on the right. Chamberlain's youth and inexperience should be seen as a bonus not a hindrance as most will view it. In all likelihood we will exit at the 1/4 finals stage so why not give him the experience from the start to help his development ahead of the World Cup in 2014.

That leaves Carroll as our Drogba. They are in two very different classes but both really step up when they fancy it and can bully centre backs. A goal for Carroll vs Norway would have been an excellent confidence boost for him but it wasn't to be. He will need to assert himself early against France. He won't be required to chase down defenders when they have the ball at the back but he must be switched on as soon as we win the ball as he will be involved very quickly. Drogba was the key component to Chelsea and even though I felt he was defended against well by Bayern Munich in the final with Tymoshuck getting in front of him whilst Boateng stayed behind him when the ball was played long he was the difference from a corner. England will depend on dead ball situations and Carroll is a threat in the air even though he only managed 4 league goals this season whilst having 2.5 shots per game. His form in the last month of the season was encouraging and hopefully the motivation to go the Euros and start for England forced him to raise his game. In the FA Cup Final for those last 25 minutes he was excellent, he needs to recreate that for 90 minutes in an England shirt.

To round off I personally give us no hope of winning the Euros, our team is a mess and has been put together in about 2 weeks rather than 2 years. I always felt we should use this tournament as a preparation for Brazil 2014 with youth players brought in and given the chance to start. Hodgson has little pressure on him although I'm sure he doesn't feel that way. No one should expect us to play excellent football but I expect us to be defensively solid, we will mainly aim to prevent anything from coming from the central areas and we have centre backs and a keeper who are comfortable with crosses. We will set up in the correct way for our style and the players we have and even when Rooney is available I don't expect us to change from the 4-4-1-1. I think Young will move to the left and Rooney fills the number 10 role. We won't be exciting but we will be solid and let's be honest we will all be watching and hoping.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot. We might need some luck as well!

Monday, 28 May 2012

Eden Hazard joins Chelsea.....but why?

So Eden Hazard has finally made his decision and it's one I was expecting all day since the bookies drastically dropped their price on him joining the Champions League winners. I had been under the impression he would go to Man Utd having stated his future was in Manchester before seeing this shift in where the money was going.

I never really saw him going to the Premier League Champions to play his football at the Etihad. It's very clear from his actions over the past couple of weeks that he loves being the centre of attention and I don't feel he could do that at City. Look at Balotelli and Tevez. They seem to have the same attitude as Hazard, one that the world and their football club revolves around them and them alone. Tevez seemed to come back with a new attitude since the infamous Munich refusal, same player and work-rate on the pitch which I can't see changing his whole career, but he has realised he should play for the team rather than play when he wants and try to force Mancini's hand. The way Mancini controlled the whole issue was excellent and in the end he got the best out of Tevez and won the league. I don't think Mancini really ever wanted Hazard, no doubt a class player but would he fully buy into Mancini's principles and the 'no star policy' they seem to have now. Aguero, Silva, Kompany and Yaya Toure are clearly the 4 best players in the City team but none of them have a ego. Listen to any post match interview with Kompany or Toure and they praise the rest of the team and focus on one game at a time, every game is just as important as the last and as the next. There is no doubt Mancini will have spoken in depth to Kompany about Hazard if he really wanted him there is no reason why City wouldn't have got him. They would have offered him the highest wage and probably bid more for him than either Chelsea or Utd. Their style of football would have suited him but a lot of what City does goes through David Silva, Yaya Toure and Ageuro so is there enough to go around? They bought Nasri last summer and even though he was hardly extraordinary in a City shirt he was part of their first choice front 4 and is a clever player who hardly ever loses the ball, his pass completion rate was 91.1% and a return of 5 goals and 9 assists is fairly good. I see City adding depth to the squad which majorly struggled in Europe last year rather than making drastic changes to their starting 11.

This brings me round to Utd. A team criticised last year for being over-reliant on the old faces in their squad as seen by bringing Scholes back. Even with this and the constant praise for the football City played Utd did finish level on points with their rivals but there is still no doubt they need to sign younger players and some more big name talents to work alongside Rooney. I always wonder how many of the Utd first choice 11 would get in the City team, I can only see Vidic and Rooney being options Mancini would take and Mancini may even think twice about Vidic with his injury problems and the partnership that Kompany and Lescott developed. Do Utd have any 'exciting' players anymore or real gamechangers? There is no doubt Hazard falls into this category, 20 goals 16 assists and 14 man of the match performances in Ligue 1 last season is reason enough to believe he is worth the hype. So Utd need someone young, check, someone with an eye for goal, check, someone who can work well with Rooney, check, someone who is an exciting talent, check....yet they fail to get their man. Why? Are Man Utd no longer an attractive enough option for a player who can choose where he will go? This may seem strong as they still remain the most valuable sports team in the world according to Forbes back in December and there is no denying they are one of the top three most followed teams in the world. So why did Nasri opt for City last season, Hazard opt for Chelsea this year and Rooney apparently ask for a transfer request in 2010? Ferguson will know when it's time to call it a day but I feel he needs to sign at least 3 top players this summer to keep up with City and bring some more excitement to Old Trafford.

Now for the team Hazard decided to join, Chelsea. The team that won the Champions league playing reactive football, allowing their opposition to constantly have the ball and then simply going long to Drogba or exploiting the pace and fitness of Ramires. I don't quite understand how a player like Hazard who likes having the ball to feet, creating chances and being able to express himself would make this decision having seen this style of football. I feel he either must not care (which seems highly unlikely) or has been assured Chelsea will be bringing in a manager who will play a better passing game. If it was solely money orientated everyone would have expected him to go to Man City. There still remain great talents at Chelsea with the likes of Torres, Sturridge, Mata and Lampard still has years at the top level of the game. The system and style they played in the Champions League didn't suit Mata but he found himself get into spaces really well and helped keep possession of the ball when Chelsea did have it. He will remain a clever threat but he isn't a goalscorer like Hazard is. The two of them plus Torres will likely be the Chelsea front 3 next season and is a sign in the right direction for them signing young talents. A lot of managers will surely be attracted to the prospect of coaching such a talent and leading Chelsea in their next stage, hopefully one playing better football and giving youth a chance. Do Chelsea fans still remember Lukaku? Their £18million signing last summer. The best young Belgian talent. It looks like Hazard is now that man but I expect him to have a better first season at Chelsea than Lukaku did.

Of course there is still no OFFICIAL word from Lille or Chelsea that this is a 100% done deal but Hazard tweeted he would be "signing for the Champions League winners". Maybe he feels he is good enough to change the way Chelsea play. So that's now 1100 words on a player I have never seen live, I haven't even seen a full game he has played in but I will be paying full attention to him in Saturday's friendly game against England when he lines up for Belgium, a team with a very bright future ahead of them. His performance away at CSKA Moscow was the most I have seen of him in a live game but in that game he was excellent. He was on the ball a lot and his pass to set up Joe Cole who hit the post before Sow finished it off is exceptional.


Firstly thanks for coming to my blog and reading what I have to say! Having started writing a Fantasy Baseball blog as a way to document by experiment of attempting to win or at least compete in a fantasy baseball league without having any real baseball knowledge, all is explained in the blog, I felt I should write about something I have more of a passion and interest for and Twitter doesn't allow me to go into as much detail as I feel is necessary.

I have developed a keen interest in reading a lot of tactical pieces which can only really be found on the internet, newspapers and TV shows won't offer such a detailed look at games and how teams are set up. They are more concerned with looking at individual key incidents or mistakes as they have a wide audience base that are not all bothered by this in-depth analysis. My blog won't always focus on a tactical analysis of games but I feel this has inspired me to write my thoughts on anything football related I want to explore. If it leads somewhere then great but if not then at least I can express my myself on what I see.

With the Euros coming up I feel this is the perfect time to document my thoughts as this will clearly create a lot of talking points.  Personally I feel Zonal Marking is the best independent blogger I regularly read, his tactical analysis of teams and games is something that isn't very common but is consistently accurate. The recent victories of "reactive football" is something I am particularly intrigued by and also a little sickened by. This may seem like an overly strong term but it describes exactly how I felt after Chelsea recently won the Champions League. This isn't a dig at Chelsea or their fans even though I am a mad QPR fan and we are well known rivals. It could have been any team playing that style of football the whole tournament and managing to win Europe's elite competition just like Inter did under Mourinho in 2010. It was clear to me that since Di Matteo took over from AVB he went back to Mourinho basics. Playing Drogba up front of Torres, becoming reliant on Lampard and Terry and less of a high pressure game from the front which AVB brought to Stamford Bridge. Although the formation remained the same, a 4-3-3 4-5-1 set up depending on whether they were in possession or not. Anyway enough of that, I will write a piece relating to this and England before the Euros kick off so look out for that!

I will now move on to my first proper post about the man of today....Eden Hazard and his move to Chelsea.