World Cup Preview – England

44 years of hurt now and it’s made England the laughing stock of world football. Several world-class teams and managers have passed by. But now under Fabio Capello, the ingrained pre-tournament hype has resurfaced again:England will do it this time.

Same again boys please (Photo courtesy of Colin Palmer)

Many believe this is the best chance since Italia 90 and with the squad that Capello has picked, that assertion seems well placed.But I can’t help but have a sense of forboding about the Three Lions. I mean, its only natural. They were one of the favourites for 2006, but ultimately Sven’s squad stuttered and never really hit top gear. Also, as we all know, England lack the winning mentality that rivals Germany always seem to pluck out of nowhere. Efficency and an ability to take penalities.

So, let’s take an in-depth look into England’s chances for South Africa.

ATTACK

After several years, England can finally call upon a truly world-class forward in Wayne Rooney. The supporting cast is also very promising. Up front, England can call upon several strikers for a tactical change if needed. Peter Crouch is menacing against smaller nations due to his size. Emile Heskey, whose inclusion surprised many, provides the perfect support for Rooney by holding up the ball. Plus Jermain Defoe proved earlier this season that he can prove to be an able hitman. If Darren Bent avoids the cut, his form could prove to be useful from the bench if England need to nick a goal.

The only issue I see up front is the fact that other than Rooney and Bent, the others don’t score enough. Crouch’s international record is sensational, but his chances of finding the net against tournament contenders is unlikely. Ditto Heskey, who might be a scapegoat in waiting (joining David Batty and Gareth Southgate) if England fail.

MIDFIELD

England’s engine room is now at full capacity, with several options throughout the squad. The key player within this system should be Frank Lampard, who has been sensational this season for champions, Chelsea. He never seems to replicate his club form on the international stage. But with over 20 goals in the league, he is a proven goal threat. In contrast, Steven Gerrard has arguably had one of his worst seasons with Liverpool, but is often reliable in the England set-up.

The main issue for England is where to place these two. My suggestion would be Gerrard on the left, with Lampard and Gareth Barry (if fit in time) joining him. If Barry is injured, then England would have to use the upcoming friendlies to attempt to find another defensive midfielder, as the importance of Barry is underestimated.

The more interesting scenario is who to put on the right. With D-Beck on the sidelines, attentions turn to Theo Walcott, who has undoubtedly matured and improved since his surprise inclusion in 2006. His crossing has improved and he isn’t all about pace, like he used to be. I’m still not 100% convinced however. Aaron Lennon has just come back from injury and would be a decent choice. Shaun Wright Phillips has the experience plus James Milner can play across the midfield to a fairly high standard.  Adam Johnson’s transfer to Man City in January propelled him into the squad and he would probably be useful in the groups.

My choice would be Milner, mainly as he would be the best crosser for Rooney.

DEFENCE

What was once considered the strongest area of the side now seems the most shaky. The once rock solid partnership of Rio Ferdinand and John Terry seems under threat. Rio has been constantly injured this season whereas the revelations about John Terry have seen the no nonsense centre-back become very erratic. Both clearly on their day are world-class but their faults have been shown often this season.

The other defenders are also prone to problems.  Ledley King is often touted as ‘the best centre back in the world when match fit’. But the key word here is when match fit. Which is never. King has managed to play more than a game a week, but at the World Cup, fixtures come thick and fast. Michael Dawson, for my money the most improved player in the Premier League this season, is theoretically the player in form. But he’s never played at this level before, so Fabio will probably stick to his guns.

One in, one out (Photos by Nigel Wilson)

The full-backs, especially on the right, seem the weakest part of the back four. Ashley Cole is fairly certain of his place as left-back, and will probably be backed-up by Leighton Baines. Both are capable, and Cole is one of the best left-backs in the world, no question. The right-back position is an issue. There are no quality English right-backs in the league, with Glen Johnson being the best candidate. Jamie Carragher has come out of retirement to aid the cause. One issue, Jamie Carragher has also had a bad season for Liverpool. He seems likely to make the cut as well, as he can ‘play’ centre-back. Bizarre

Also, if Johnson was picked, both him and Ashley Cole would often bomb forward to aid the wingers, which could leave England exposed.

GOALKEEPER

This selection is no-brainer for me. Robert Green hasn’t been great at West Ham this season and David James is often prone to mistakes. James has been pretty good for Pompey, but Joe Hart has been outstanding on loan at Birmingham. His only problem is the one international cap to his name, meaning a lack of experience. I say give him a shot, he deserves it.

KEY PLAYER – Wayne Rooney

After bursting onto the international stage at Euro 2004, ‘the next big thing’ never looked back and has established his place in the top 5 players worldwide this season. With Cristiano Ronaldo leaving Manchester United, Rooney managed to become the focal point of United’s attack, and if England want success in South Africa, they must use him as the spearhead of any attack. 34 goals this season in all competitions gave his best haul in his career, plus ability for super strikes. I think it’s time for Young Wayne to become a national hero.

MANAGER – Fabio Capello

England’s best manager since Sir Bobby Robson. The Italian has won several league titles in many countries so his calibre can’t be underestimated. He’s managed to transform a side with no confidence in Dutchman Schteve McClaren to a team of possible world-beaters.The side has quality and the most astute tactician. It must be destiny.

IMPORTANT THINGS TO NOTE

  • Since its a Winter world cup, the weather should favour Europeans. It won’t be cold, it won’t be scolding, but pretty warm, meaning memories of scorching days back in Mexico 86 won’t rear their ugly heads.
  • England, like many other teams, will play a game at high altitude. The game in Rustenberg against the US will be like playing on top of Ben Nevis. so Fabio has taken the lads to Austia for altitude training. Unfortunately several other teams have followed suit, meaning this shouldn’t be an advantage.
  • On paper this group looks easy. It isn’t. All teams are in the top 32 clubs in the world, according to FIFA Rankings. The U.S. have some good players in Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey. The Algerians made the African Cup of Nations final. The Slovenians might be a tight unit to break down. It won’t be a cakewalk that’s for sure.

ODDS OF LIFTING THE WORLD CUP – 11/2

PREDICTION – Semi final tragedy. Again.

To hopefully inspire here is the best world cup advert this year and the best world cup song. Join me next time for a preview of the rest of Group C.

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The 6pointer Alternative team of the year

The PFA Team of the Year was announced at the weekend. So I’ve decided to compile the players who I feel should be in the team of the year

But this team’s slightly different.

  1. I can’t use anyone who has featured in the PFA Team of the Year
  2. The team will recognise the most improved rather than best team overall.

So here we go

GOALKEEPER – Heurelho Gomes (Spurs)

He may look like recently deceased Ping Ping but Gomes has improved immensely this campaign. Signed from PSV in 2008, after giving an amazing performance against Spurs in the Uefa Cup, it took Gomes quite a while to adapt to Premier League. Nightmare performances against Aston Villa and Stoke made everyone think Juande ‘Wendy’ Ramos had made a costly mistake at £8 million. But this season, the Brazilian has been incredible. He’s the best shot stopper in the league in my opinion, and surely can only get better as he gets older. Here’s a retrospective look at Gomes

RIGHT BACK – Glen Johnson (Liverpool)

Some people questioned Rafa’s logic in forking out £18 million for England’s right back. It was money they couldn’t really afford. But he’s been one of few Liverpool players to really shine in a poor season for the Merseyside club. He’s also capable of scoring as well, which helps a side that focuses entirely on two players. In fact, right backs seem to be the weakest position collectively among the league, tough to pick someone other than Ivanovic really, who rightly deserves his place in the PFA team.

CENTRE BACKS – James Collins (Aston Villa) and Michael Dawson (Spurs)

I was fairly surprised at Martin O’Neil was signing Collins from West Ham in the summer, thinking that he would merely be a stop gap for the retiring Martin Laursen, who was amazing for Villa. But I’ve been proved wrong. Collins along with other signing Richard Dunne, towards the beginning of the season formed a tight partnership that leaked few goals. Villa’s defence has been just as good as any of the top four’s all year really, which has seen them push onto challenging for a Champions League place. Here is a generic clip of James Collins stepping up to the plate.

Michael Dawson has been superb this season and has stepped out from Ledley King’s shadow. Spurs have only conceded 12 at White Hart Lane in 09/10 and Dawson’s improvement in all aspects has contributed immensely. Highlight performance include the recent Arsenal and Chelsea games, and I wouldn’t bet against Fabio taking Dawson on the plane to South Africa.

LEFT BACK – Leighton Baines (Everton)

David Moyes signed Baines back in 2007 for £6million, and a what a buy that turned out to be. He was one of Wigan best players and who can blaim Baines for joining his boyhood club.This season seems to be the turning point for Baines as he tries to claim an England place. His worth to the Toffees is unparalleled. His crossing and pace make him a big threat on the left side, and hes grabbed plenty of assists. Chances of making the World Cup have been improved by Wayne Bridge’s withdrawal as well, I say why not take him to Africa anyway?

RIGHT MIDFIELDER – Ashley Young (Aston Villa)

This was an incredibly tough call. Honourable mentions to Landon Donovan for being the catalyst in Everton’s comeback in the second half of the season, and also to Aaron Lennon who mesmerised down the right for Spurs. But both had limited time in the league. Ashley Young has been pretty impressive throughout the season, and last season in fact so he gets the nod. Don’t know what I mean, this clip may persuade you

A nifty winger on either side, Ashley Young should be on the plane to complement the wealth of options in England’s midfield.

CENTRE MID – Frank Lampard (Chelsea) and Paul Scholes (Manchester United)

Once again, it’s incredibly tough to pick two centre midfield players. Honourable mentions to any of the Spurs midfield, particularly Luka Modric and Tom Huddlestone. But I’ve gone with Frank Lampard firstly, due to his phenomenal scoring record. He is the instigator in everything Chelsea do, and often is overshadowed by Steven Gerrard in the age old debate ‘Who is the best English CM?’ No doubt for me this season it’s Lampard.

20 goals in a season for the first time (how he didn’t make team of the year, I’ll never know), Lampard might just be like a fine wine, getting better with age.

Similarly, Paul Scholes has been superb for United and saved them from the jaws of defeat often. Ferguson has often played him in the holding midfielder role as well, which theoretically shouldn’t work. But does. Yes, he may not score as much anymore, but Scholes is still relevant in the United team, and can help the team strive on to great results. See Manchester Derby and his amazingly calm and composed post-match interview

LEFT  -Florent Malouda (Chelsea)

A lot of people didn’t rate the Frenchman before this season, and I was one of them. Adapting your game from Ligue Un can be easy for some and not for others. But finally Chelsea have a gifted winger who contributed so much to the side, and provides a perfect foil for Didier Drogba. Here’s his 09/10 goals for your delectation

STRIKERS – Darren Bent (Sunderland) and Carlos Tevez (Manchester City)

The definition of one man teams here. Darren Bent has been literally on fire as Jamie Redknapp would say. His dad said his wife Sandra was a better finisher than him. Oh how wrong you were Harry. Darren Bent plays better when he is the focus of the team, and at Sunderland (like at Charlton), he’s an out and out goal machine, bagging over 20 goals. Here’s a season review

Rejected at the Theatre of Dreams, Tevez made the short trip across Manchester with much controversy. But he’s pay dividends at Eastlands, with a superb scoring record in the 2nd half of the season. His celebrations may be a bit dodgy but there’s no doubting his quality now

Messi times, Robben’s renaissance and Zamora’s plane ticket

Apologies, its been a while. Been quite hectic with assignments and whatnot, but this week will be supersmashinggreat. All one word, hey if Ian Dowie can get a word in the dictionary, so can Lord Jim Bowen.

Well looking back at my European predictions, some of them were…..wrong. So this week we’ll steer clear of prediction and stick to pure 100% opinion.

1. Lionel Messi is the greatest player of his generation

Not my words, but Sky’s after his hat trick against Arsenal this week. I’ve been convinced for a while he’s better than Ronaldo, but this performance sealed the deal. 3 hat tricks in his last 7 games; phenomenal for a player that has been criticised by his natives.

Messi has 119 in 204 games for Barca and he’s 22. That’s just unreal. The  media’s view from the first leg was that Messi was quiet, but second leg, every superlative possible was used. He was pretty poor by his own standards at the Emirates, but the fact is the side got a good result at a ground that Arsenal have made into a fortress. If anyone thought Arsenal could get a result at the Camp Nou, they were clearly kidding themselves, especially considering the injuries they have.

Shame really as Nicklas Bendtner played very well.  Anyway, Andy Gray made a bit of a faux pas this week on commentary hinting Barca are a one man side. Not true in the slightest. Xavi and Iniesta are the perfect players to bring the best out of Messi. Barca’s weakened defence were quite good as well, bar the goal. So, Mr Gray trying watching other players as well. There’s other reasons why Pep Guardiola’s made Barca into the best side of the past 10 years.

Well I’m looking forward to El Classico tomorrow. It will be a slobberknocker

2. Kyle Lafferty shouldn’t be allowed to score

Especially if this happens. Shoddy robotics and very poor celebration. Decent enough strike.

3. Arjen Robben is the talisman Bayern have missed for a decade

After waxing lyrical about Barca, I’m gonna throw a curveball and say Bayern may be the side to stop them. Their side just seems destined to make the final after knocking Fiorentina and United out in similar circumstances aka Arjen Robben wonder strikes.

He looks at his best at the moment and looks to have finally settled at a side where he is the playmaker, which wasn’t going to happen at either Chelsea and Real. He doesn’t have the star power like Messi, but the typical attributes that a winger should have. Surely has to be player of the Champions League this year.

Here’s some of Robben’s best mazy running and precision finishing

4. Newcastle need to strengthen to survive

Well the Magpies have silenced their critics with a return to the Premier League (the greatest league the world has ever seen ever). After losing 6-1 in pre-season to Leyton Orient, people were thinking the Geordies would do ‘a Leeds’ but fair play to Chris Hughton and his side, they’ve been great value for money this year in the Championship

Surely a side that has won promotion in record time will be capable of surviving in the top tier. Not in my opinion, the squad has barely changed since relegation. So theoretically they will struggle unless they add a few young talents. I would have suggested Tom Cleverley, but he’s just got a ligament injury meaning he could be out for a while.

They also need to resolve the Carroll/Taylor bust-up, which if not dealt with could have implications next season. My bet is Ryan Taylor will be snapped up by another promotion rival. I don’t think Carroll can make the grade in the Premier League so another striker is needed as well.

5. Bobby Zamora  for England

I’ve thought this for a few months now, but the thing that worries me is his lack of international experience. He could turn out to be like Jermain Defoe and Darren Bent, who when called upon for England haven’t really delivered.

Until Fulham’s Europa League run, I think anyone would agree that Zamora isn’t anywhere near international class. But I feel he could prove a useful squad player for the group stage. I think he should be given a chance in the friendlies beforehand to see if Bobby can turn club form into international class

I’ll put my neck on the line and say the four strikers will be Rooney, Defoe, Crouch and Zamora. Sorry D.Bent, but as last week proves, you can’ take pens against the erratic Heurelho Gomes.

And finally, that vital six pointer

6. Bolo Zenden has scored my goal of the season

The Dutch journeyman of many European greats proves he can still pull out something out of the top draw.

(Apologies for poor quality, but as Andy Gray would say: “What a hit, and I say hit because that’s what it is”)

This goal convinced Steve Bruce to try and sign him for another year. And why not? Experienced, occasional brillance and also falls through orange boxes. What more do you want?

Til next time. It’s all in the game