It’s that time again, Football Manager has been released and like last year my first save will be with the club I support, Man Utd. Unlike last year, however, I will actually play the save longer than a couple of in game months. Continue reading
First things first, I hired a new assistant: Pat Rice. The ex-Arsenal assistant accepted the role and brings a wealth of experience to us. He also will handle arranging friendlies which is pretty great. His first arrangement is a friendly against France which is a great idea, cheer Pat! And Lithuania, which meh… So a long one today.
Whilst waiting for the first set of friendlies I have had job offers from Bournemouth, Leicester, West Ham and Everton. Needless to say, I rejected them all in order to focus on the England gig.
For the call-up, I have decided to experiment (a little). Welbeck and Hughes are out for Oxlade-Chamberlain and NOBLE! Yes, Mark Noble. I decided to try the experienced Hammers midfielder as a backup midfield option. Hopefully, his developed mental traits give him the edge on Hughes – also, he has had a great season at West Ham.
The first friendly, as previously mentioned is France, the tournament favourites and our group-mates (is that a term?). I will be testing out our more cautious, counter-attacking system in this match. We have tried this out in the past to not too much success, but we haven’t played any team of France’s stature, and these are the teams the tactic is built for.
So, here is the lineup and tactic:
With this shape, we are looking to counter attack but also make some use of our full-backs. Dier is ideal in this shape to play an anchor, which will help break down oppositions attacks whilst we sit in shape, and then allow our full-backs to charge on as we counter. Henderson will be our all action man in the middle, and Lallana will look for space to break out. Rashford will hopefully combine with Vardy, whilst Sterling stays wide to supply support. This is all of course in theory. We have a few players down for just 45 minutes action so there will be a lot of rotation. Let’s see what happens away in our night in
We did okay, France had twice as many shots as we did, but most were from distance. Our first half performances were very even, but I was forced to remove Dier from his anchoring role due to club restrictions and replace him with Noble, who was much more comfortable as a deep-lying playmaker on defend, which he did okay with but Dier seemed a lot more effective. Up top, Rashford was quite poor, as was Vardy, but Sterling performed well carving himself out a few opportunities. We had the only clear-cut chance of the game which came via Rashford in a scramble following a corner, he hit the ever present Kante. Smalling picked up the man of the match.
Overall, pleasing stuff. I will give this tactic another shake in our game against the Netherlands, I think it could serve us well. Henderson picked up a knock and so is out for the next game, so in comes Ward-Prowse. Now, Lithuania, again, but in sunny Lithuania, which I suppose might be nice… apparently they have nice potato dumplings.
I am giving Noble a start after his substitute appearance against France if only to test his versatility, his ability to play most midfield roles might be very useful in the tournament, though I am somewhat concerned about his technical ability. Elsewhere, Ward-Prowse start, Wilshere see’s a start in a more advanced role, Walcott is on the wing, Kane start, and the back two are rotated. This is the same tactic we used last time out against Macedonia, let’s hope for a similar result.
It was cold out there, there was even snow, but luckily we were comfortable. Pickford’s hands must’ve been freezing after having only one save. Our first goal came after Clyne worked well down the right-hand side before delivering a perfect cross for Rashford to tuck home. This was followed up by a penalty as Walcott was fouled in the box as he looked to latch onto another cross, Noble stepped up, and on his first England start, stuck home as cooley as well… Pickford’s hands. Noble ended up captaining the team, which was odd as it is only his second cap, but he has done enough to get himself into contention. Rashford got man of the match.
With that result, we have also set an England defensive record, not conceding since we played Scotland in September 2017, it’s now nearly April 2018, a long way from conceding five against Northern Ireland – catenaccio.
We are approaching the squad call-up for our last two friendlies, and then, the world cup. Before doing this, I had a quick look at the premier league, to see who is winning it, and whilst that is not done yet (I will bring you the final result), I noticed this:
Callum Wilson has torn it up this season, throwing himself firmly into contention given the misfiring of other strikers (Vardy and Welbeck…). Also, I will give some thought to Cresswell who has the second most player of the match awards, but he has some tough competition in Rose and Shaw.
But before a choice can be made…
Arsenal nearly clinched it, but Man U had a bit too much. Elsewhere, it was good to see Brighton hold on with Knockaert racking up the assists. Anyway, back to my business, the selection.
It was only when we went to get on the plane I noticed… there was no Jordan Henderson. I asked Pat Rice, where he was, thought he might just be in the bog, but not, I completely forgot Jordan Henderson… our fucking captain.
So this world cup is off to a good start.
You might notice, I also called up Jon Toral thinking I was smart nabbing him from Spain. Turns out, he isn’t that great, and it meant I forgot Henderson… the bloody captain. God dammit!
Life moves on. Wilson and Noble make it, wait no I’m still not over the Henderson thing, let’s just play Holland.
…Oh god, the media are going to kill me…
I called up Toral and Noble instead of…
Actually moving on, the world cup odds are in. We are placed at 18/1, which isn’t great, but if I was you I’d whack a tenner on that. I mean… ignore my incompetence, I’m sure it will pan out, we have Mark Noble.
The International League draw was made, which sort of replaces friendlies, we have drawn Italy and Sweden, which is okay I suppose.
As promised, we are testing out this tactic against a reasonably strong side who didn’t qualify for the world cup, which makes them seem not that strong, but don’t doubt how bad we can be.
We now have no box-to-box midfielders and tonnes of playmakers so Alli can fill in adequately – he has long legs. Oxlade-Chamberlain is in hopefully he can justify his selection. I hope to give Wilson some minutes too. Let’s do this.
What a performance! Completely dominant, creating chances left and right. It took until the second half to score but we missed two clear-cut chances in the first half. Our first goal, however, came about in lucky circumstance. A long clearance from Clyne managed to evade the Dutch goalkeeper, Vermeer, who had came to head the ball, Kane latched on and tapped into an open goal. Following this, a cross from Shaw was about to be met by Chamberlain who was dragged down giving us a penalty, Rashford dutifully tucked home. After this, a fine passing move was capped off by Rashford following a defence-splitting Kane pass. For the fourth, Walcott beat three men on the right-hand side before delivering an excellent cross to debutant Wilson, who had lost his marker, who tucked home. Finally, fine play from Rashford allowed him a pull back to Wilshere, whose shot was parried to Walcott who tapped home.
Overall an excellent performance, and an encouraging one for the 4-3-3 going forward. Next, Cameroon.
We have tried this shape (3-4-3, 5-2-2-1, 5-2-3?) once before against Peru, we won 5-0 that time out. It really enabled our full-backs to get forward and could be very useful in the tournament against teams of Cameroon’s or Peru’s ilk. So let’s give it a second test and see how we perform.
On the pitch, I am hoping to get a closer look at Noble, Wilson, Jones and Barkley in this final friendly… Let’s go.
(Mark Noble to captain the side, West Ham captain?!?! It’s coming home!)
A pretty unconvincing performance, I don’t think we will be carrying the 3-4-3 into the tournament, instead, I think I will opt for the 4-2-3-1 in these type of games, although Dier offers me the flexibility to switch to this shape on the move. In the game, not too much happened, before the 92nd minute when Chamberlain beat his man down the right-hand side, charged to the edge of the eighteen-yard box and delivered a bullet cross to Wilson who produced a side-foot volley from close range to take the win. That’s two in two now for Wilson.
That’s it. Preparations complete. We know our tactics a bit better now, we know our main two (4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1) with a bit of flexibility if needed (3-4-3). We’ve made mistakes and discovered some useful new players, and it all comes to ahead next time as we head into our crucial first game, against tournament favourites – France.
A crucial time approaches for the England national team. Crunch time as we soon play Lithuania and double crucially, Slovakia away following our whooping of Malta and Scotland, it’s all down to this. But first, we play Cyprus in a friendly, conveniently for me this has been arranged away in Cyprus so a nice little holiday for me.
Before I can get on the beach and some halloumi, I need to call up a squad. The only changes to the previous squad have been dropping Gary Cahill for Mike Smalling, replacing James Ward-Prowse for Phil Jones freeing up Eric Dier to play in the middle and the injured Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is replaced with Will Hughes to buff out our creative options. With that announcement sent off, I’m off to the beach, then to some stadium some place, then back to the beach with another tray of halloumi (it’s from here, and that’s about all I know about Cyprus) to report on the result.
A B-team was rolled out for this one, with Will Hughes being given the 90 minutes. Even with this, we were always in control with Cyprus causing very few problems. Theo Walcott picked up the man of the match with a goal and an assist repaying my (never ending) faith with him, Phil Jones also impressed.
An encouraging performance away from home that also allowed us to rest key players ahead of the double header.
So now, of the beach after eating my weight in halloumi (did you know halloumi was first created during the Medieval Byzantine period?), we head into CRUNCH TIME!
First, Lithuania at Wembley, a game we should win but then again England should’ve won the world cup in 2002 and Ronaldinho happened, not saying Lithuania have Ronaldinho, but it’s not like we have Paul Scholes and Darius Vassell? That squad wasn’t as good as I remember it being.
Here is the team for today’s game:
A few changes to the team due to players being close to suspension and returning from injury. Rashford, Rose and Dier have been kept on the sideline as they are a yellow away from suspension, whilst Wilshere, Stones, Clyne and Henderson are risked, a yellow for any of them meaning they are out against Slovakia. Kane is rested as he is recovering from a knock, if needed he is capable of twenty-or-so minutes.
Anyway, into the match this eleven goes.
Once again we are in control. It did, however, take us a while to break through, with Walcott perhaps most guilty, missing two decent opportunities in what turned out to be a good game for him. Frustration began to build as we mounted pressure in the second half missing an array of chances before winning a penalty from a corner. Stones stepped up to score and the floodgates opened as Lithuania were forced out of their defensive shape. A goal for Walcott followed after a nice pass from Dele, Rashford quickly followed suit scoring a volley from a Walker cross. Dele picked up the man of the match from what was a dominant display, Walcott caused a constant menace running into the half space between Lithuania’s left-back and centre-back.
Onto the bad news, Walker is suspended, Clyne also picked up a slight knock but should be okay. Slovakia also picked up a 2-1 win against Malta, meaning going into the last game the table looks like this:
As you can see, Slovakia and Us are a class above the rest of the group, and in reality, it was always a story of us and them. To avoid the uncertainty of a second placed finish, which could mean playoffs, we need to draw or win away in Slovakia. Our defence and attack have been impressive in the qualifiers, let’s hope they can carry us through this last one.
The team for today’s tie:
I have gone for a bit more solidity in the middle with Dier coming in for Wilshere and Henderson taking up play-making duties, this sacrifices some creativity but hopefully, allows more control. Elsewhere we have Rashford coming in for Sterling who disappointed against Lithuania, Rose in for a tired Shaw, and Kane given the start. Walcott retains his place after scoring in his last two.
On to the game, will we be playing qualifiers? Will we be out? Will we be off to Russia? Let’s find out.
We did it! In retrospect, I think we still would’ve gone through with a loss since we have an incredible goal difference. Oh well, we are through anyway, but it makes my nail-biting as we fought out a 0-0 draw look a bit silly. Nothing much happened in the match itself, a few chances for us, a few chances for them. We had two good chances, one for Kane and one for Walcott, both squandered. Slovakia had a few, all of which were well matched by Hart who wasn’t too stretched by any of them. The man of the match went to Slovakian full back Hubocan.
With that in the bag, we can look forward to a summer trip to Russia, and all the usual media nonsense in the build up. Will I allow the WAGs to come along? Will the fact I consult a psychic for tactics come up? Will my having a cup of tea with every match earn me a nickname? Mr Tea? Please?
I guess only time will tell. Next time we will be seeing just who we have coming, a look at the preparation and how qualifying went around the world. Most importantly, we need to decide on our world cup song… Probably gonna have to be this classic.
Till next time.
As mentioned last time we have Scotland and Malta coming up before the crucial double header of Lithuania and Slovakia. Today, we will just be covering the minnow matchups, but first, important news about my upcoming holiday.
Good news! We are going to Morocco in 2022 (hopefully, might fuck it up). Morocco has pretty awesome food, so that’s nice. Plus fewer slaves and that, although I’m no Morocco expert so can’t say for sure. Chamakh is from there, so I know that too, that and food – I know enough to get by on the mean streets of Casablanca.
Also, club protests? I imagine it looked a little something like this in the Bayern camp:
Onto business, the squad call-up is pretty much the same as the last few times. Only exceptions are Smalling and Sturridge who are injured, in their place Keane and Welbeck.
Side note – the U21 side lost in the finals of their tournament to France, so let’s not speak of them.
The team for the game against Malta will look like this:
A few players are a yellow away from suspension so have not been risked from the off. Although Dier and Walker start and are both at risk of suspension. Malta shouldn’t pose too much of a threat, but if they do, we have some great options from the bench. Malta looks to be lining up with five at the back, so switching to two up top might be a great option if we struggle to break through.
We never really had to get out of first gear in this game. Early goals from Sterling and Rashford made this game a cake walk. The only downside to an otherwise straight forward away victory was Harry Kane’s injury, the severity of which means he will be out for five weeks (also, hopefully denting Spurs’ league title defence). Sterling earnt himself the man of the match, Vardy also came on for Kane to excellent effect grabbing a goal and an assist.
Okay, so onto Scotland at Wembley with no Harry Kane with Callum Wilson his replacement. The starting eleven will be much the same as the previous game, only exceptions will be Clyne for Walker, Wilshere for Ward-Prowse, Henderson for Keane with Dier shuffling to centre-back, and of course Vardy for Kane.
Before the game, I received a match report which pretty much read: We need to watch Leigh Griffiths as he scored in their last game against Lithuania. Great work scouting team… great work.
With that tactical nugget firmly lodged in my mind up with all the other important football stuff (if in doubt, kick it out; put the fast kid up front and lump it; and of course, don’t fanny about with it at the back) we head into the game.
A reasonably comfortable win moves us three points clear of Slovakia who managed a goalless draw with Lithuania. In this game, Scotland had me briefly (very briefly) worried, when they equalised in the 52nd minute. This followed a first half where we dominated but only took one chance. The man who scored was, of course, Leigh Griffiths, who my centre-backs lost track off allowing him in behind, a mistake from Hart then allowed him an empty net. Our goals came from a variety of sources. A well worked first goal between Rashford and Sterling opened the scoring, following the equaliser Dier powered home, Wilshere scored a fantastic free-kick and Oxlade-Chamberlain powered home a back post header. John Stones also took a penalty won by Welbeck, surprisingly Stones has 15 penalty taking… but he still missed kicking straight down the middle, where the keeper remained rooted. Overall good performance, shame about their goal, but we move on.
Stardust Gordon played again today, looked into his profile, plays for Jagiellonia in the Polish first flight. I have more respect for him now, a much higher level than the SPL, and playing abroad like Oliver Burke and Ryan Gauld… something I wish more English players would take the chance to do (although, hasn’t really worked out for any but Burke and he isn’t in the Scottish national team in game for some reason…).
Next time, we have the crucial double header plus a friendly against Cyprus. After that, we will hopefully be preparing for our first shot at the big one. Till next time.