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
After Mark Noble laid a beat down on Albania, *cough* with help from my own tactical changes *cough*, we find ourselves up against a much sterner oppositions, a team with two world cup’s to their name, one more than us! That cannot stand! Theirs are older so count for less I guess, but ours is getting a bit dusty, that’s why they hired yours truly – that and lack of other suitable candidates.
Expectations back home are raising a bit, although ITV have got Henderson on their panel and I’ve heard he’s been talking a lot of smack about me, so I’ve been mostly watching BBC. Mark Noble did little to handle national expectations, appearing on Good Morning Britain singing “Vindaloo” with a bunch of school kids from Bethnal Green lower, ending with picking up the smallest child, looking him straight in the eyes and saying “I’m gunna bring it home for you little Johnny” before crying and shouting “come on England at the camera”, sufficient to say his 20 leadership is a blessing and a curse.
Back to the hard stuff. Managing England. Having a quick look at the Uruguay team isn’t doing too much to help my nerves…
A look at the Uruguay team reveals something straight away… strikers ain’t bad. Cavani and Suarez can go without any introduction. Outside of those two, Gimenez and Godin form a solid partnership in central defence. Outside of those two areas, I think we are stronger, but those are two particularly important areas, especially if they play direct and bypass their pretty weak midfield. However, it’s not like we have a strong midfield.
Looking at the competition stats, Cavani is joint-second top goalscorer with four goals, one more than our top scorer Rashford. De Arrascaeta of Uruguay tops the assists, he isn’t in the above and seems to play either central attacking midfield or left wing, so I am braced for a change of formation from Uruguay.
With the USA somehow beating Germany in the quarter-finals, have our chances of bringing it home improved? Or have our chances of embarrassingly being eliminated by America?
That being said, we pull through against Uruguay today, I would love the USA, show ’em who’s boss (us, we are, in case you didn’t get that from our weak displays).
Anyway, getting ahead of myself here is the team for today’s game:
I know, not the 4-2-3-1! I feel I have to go with something different given our underperformance, but there is more thought here than that – just a little more though. Given our attacking full-backs, I figured a four at the back formation would leave our two centre-backs too exposed to Cavani and Suarez, with this, we should have an extra man, at the cost of the wide areas. For that reason, we will need a big game from both Rose and Clyne. I am hoping at the other end Alli and Kane can occupy the two centre backs whilst Lallana causes trouble for the two deep-lying midfielders. Oh, and I am hoping Noble nets an hat-trick (maybe even a double hat-trick).
I guess all we can do is see how this pans out. I think the gamble is warranted given how our tactics have faired recently, needing in-game adjustments, here’s hoping this is strong from the off. Might even surprise them…
Obviously, Uruguay aren’t playing the tactic we saw earlier, instead, they are running with this 4-4-2 narrow diamond shape. It should allow us to do better out wide, but the attacking trident may cause our back three some problems, it may be worth dropping Noble back into the space, and moving Lallana further back also, but we will see.
20′ – Not too much has happened. Uruguay have edged possession, I think it may be worthwhile to switch to counter to ensure some solidity.
29′ – England work a good crossing opportunity for Clyne, unfortunately, Kane heads wide.
38′ – Stones gives a silly foul away on the edge of the box, picking up a yellow card. The free kick has a little too much on it – just over.
41′ – Suarez works a shooting opportunity but Hart gets down to save.
The in-game commentator described the half as tepid, and I’m inclined to agree. We need something else, we just aren’t creating enough. To try to remedy this I am going to lean on what we did last time out: push higher, press harder, play slightly narrower to exploit the wings also. We will be sticking on counter. If there is no real change, I will be looking to get Rashford on, I will have a look at the team, maybe change the shape again when this happens.
With all that said, team-talk over, we will be getting back out there for the second half… let’s hope we win it ey?
53′ – We get in down the right-hand side as a sliding pass from Alli finds Clyne, he crosses deep to Kane, who’s headed is straight at the keeper.
54′ – A nice passing move from England finds Alli free, unfortunately, his shot is easily saved.
58′ – Stones is tired and isn’t having the best of games, Kane just picked up a knock. Double change? For now, Jones will come on for Stones, let’s see how Kane handles the knock.
66′ – Kane doesn’t seem to be recovering all too well, Rashford will take his place.
71′ – Not even on for that long and Rashford finds space behind the Uruguay defence, Lallana finds him, but for the third time this game we fire straight at the keeper. Better signs though.
73′ – After a long passing move starting all the way from Jones, Alli finds Rashford, free again, but he fires straight at the keeper… again.
85′ – An excellent Cavani through ball finds Suarez, free behind the England defence after a deep run, he is one-on-one with Hart, goes for the chip and…. OVER! And wide… wover.
87′ – Just before that move, Smalling picked up a twisted ankle and will have to come off. This means we will have to change shape. Oxlade-Chamberlain is on for him and we switch to the ol’ 4-2-3-1.
We were better in that second half, but still 0-0… With Oxlade-Chamberlain on, I will look to use a little more width and hopefully we can create something, anything! Well… anything Rashford won’t kick straight at the keeper. It turns out we do not appear to have the fourth sub for extra time thing yet, or at all.. which is a shame, my team are knackered, and we have quite a few yellows.
It has been a very tense game so far if that hasn’t been conveyed here, and I feel whoever scores takes this given the fatigue of both sides. Hopefully, that side is us. And let’s not with penalties yeah?
Extra-time (1st half):
92′ – Oh no…
The worst possible start, Cavani latches onto a Laxalt cross, that was allowed way too easily, Cavani finds acres of space as Jones for some reason runs away? Either way, we find ourselves 1-0 behind.
This changes everything, we are going to have to throw everything at them. Well, now I hope I’m wrong for predicting the first team to score will win…
105′ – And…
Wilshere has a Beckham moment. Picking up his second yellow with a completely needless challenge. That makes this a whole lot harder… It’s also a shame because Wilshere has been a decent player for us, I wouldn’t want him taking the fall back in England, that should be Jones and definitely not me… right guys? right?
Well… things went wrong really quickly didn’t they? We need to try to find a way back into this… We are going to give it everything we can in this last few. I’ve shifted back to the same shape we started the game with, but with two centre-backs. Oxlade-Chamberlain has come infield and can hopefully cause some chaos.
Let’s just see what happens… please… please score England… I’ll take penalties now…
Extra-time (second half):
107′ – A great shot from Lallana is well saved. It was goalbound for sure.
109′ – Uh…
A nice bit of play by Oxlade-Chamberlain allows him to find Lallana, who in turns picks out Rashford who tries his best to shoot straight at the keeper, but it finds its way in anyway! We are back in this! The problem is now, do we go for it, or do we sit back? Uruguay are buckling, let’s give it a minute or two, try to grab another… famous last words…
114′ – A cross from Rose finds Chamberlain who heads well, but the keeper is equal to it. We go straight to the other end where Suarez’s shot is saved well by Hart…
116′ – Suarez is found with a through ball by Godin, he is once again one-on-one but Hart saves. Another chance squandered by the best player on the pitch. The warning is noticed though, dropping to counter.
Full-time of extra-time
Penalties. You know the thing about England and penalties right? You must do, if not here, that should fill you in, and also give me my team talk. I’ll just show the boys this video and say don’t do that, simple.
There is one thing those teams didn’t have though… Mark Noble, the secret weapon.
Yes, that is right, Joe Hart is one of our best penalty takers, that is how screwed we are here… I don’t want him to be taking one though with 1 finishing, not sure how much of a difference that makes, but surely Danny Rose and Chamberlain are better options. Mark Noble will be leading the takers though, if he tucks away, the team might just follow suit.
And first up is Noble, he steps up, chest puffed, stern looking, a single bead of sweat rolls down his face…
And he misses! Tame penalty and the keeper saves to the right.
Suarez then steps up and scores… 1-0 Uruguay.
Rashford then steps up… come on England… and for fuck sake Rashford, he kicks it straight at the keeper… well slightly to the right… but the keeper was standing there.
Cavani steps up… 2-0 Uruguay…
Just… typical England.
And Danny Rose misses! Well… this is it for Uruguay… score this and they win and also make England a meme.
But Pereira misses, which is just tempting to get my hopes up, but I refuse.
Dele Alli steps up… AND BLOODY MISSES!
Four penalties, FOUR! missed, has anyone had that before? Jesus Christ England… maybe that team talk made them nervous.
As Dele stands there dejected, with the rest of the England team behind crying you can just about make at me, the manager, laughing at them Big Sam style for being so England. Unbelievable, four penalties missed out of four. I just… need a minute.
So, I guess that is that for World Cup 2018. Not the ending we had hoped for, but maybe the one we deserved given some of our performances out here in Russia, a quarter-final is okay. We had some highs, we built up hope, we scored some goals, probably more than England have at a World Cup in a while, but ultimately what this world cup will be remembered for is Noble making a small child cry, and us missing four bloody penalties in a shoot-out.
Anyway, it’s been a good world cup for me, and I’ve enjoyed your support both on here and on Reddit. So with that said, what do you think our next step should be? Get to Euro 2020? Quit the England gig and take a club job? Go and turn Scotland into a global super power? Let me know what you think.
Till next time (where ever that may be).
Four bloody penalties missed out of four… Even for England, this is a new low…
After powering (read: scrapping) through the group stage we found ourselves a reasonably favourable draw – Albania. I say reasonably because now the stakes are much higher. We win, we meet expectations; we lose, well… I might have to move to Scotland, and I talked a lot of smack about them during the qualifiers…
So in order to play down expectations I’ve been making an effort in the UK press to talk up Albania as a footballing powerhouse, they have massive players… like… Granit Xhaka’s less good brother, that full-back who plays for Napoli, Lazio’s backup goalkeeper, Veton Berisha (a striker who wears number six? Heathen) and a few other players. I think this is something Roy Hodgson screwed up at Euro 2016, managing expectations.
With the English public now questioning my judgement more than ever let’s get into our side. One second…
World Cup News!*
Germany beat Mexico on penalties, and Spain has beaten plucky underdog DR Congo PhD.
In other world cup news, USA and Austria played out a bloodfest, a game with 11 yellow cards, 4 red cards and 28 fouls and somehow the USA pulled through (if we get through against Albania, I’d quite like a run at them).
Okay, back to England.
Not like that, we haven’t been knocked out yet, jeez.
Once again we will be going with the 4-2-3-1, I just still feel it is the most effective shape against teams of this calibre… despite that being proven wrong two games in a row. This is naive, but I don’t like to be too reactionary. With that said, if it doesn’t work out by the 30-40th minute I will change it.
For the personnel today, a few players are starting to get fatigued and so have been rotated. These players are Shaw and Stones who are replaced by Smalling and Rose. Lallana comes in for the injured Alli, and Noble for the (obviously) injured Wilshere. Elsewhere, Kane, Rashford and Stones are all pretty tired, and if possible I will look to rest them for the final part of the game (if we can). Oh, and Clyne has served his suspension so has come in for Walker.
Okay, nothing more to say apart from COME ON ENGLAND!
1 – I have just remembered that Dier is pretty tired, and he is pretty much our only natural ball-winning-midfielder (because I forgot Henderson). With Wilshere out that just leaves Noble as the backup… Let’s hope Alli comes back from injury sharpish.
30 – Yup, that’s right… 30 minutes with no action. We are struggling to maintain possession but are having the majority of the shots. Lallana is heavily involved but I am going to try to allow him to come a bit deeper. I am going to move Kane to a deep-lying forward, and try to get Sterling more involved by moving him to an inside-forward. Let’s see if that helps.
Sufficient to say, it didn’t work. That may be the most boring half of football ever played. Here are the stats:
It seems Albania are playing an ultra-conservative style, using possession as a form of defence. I think the best way to break this will be not to chase possession figures and try to best them in that stat, but instead to play a high-press counter. Trying to force a turnover and breaking up their conservative passing. The obvious danger here is a long ball over the top to their striker, he is reasonably fast but not some kind of speed demon.
I have switched back to a 4-2-3-1 and changed Kane to a defensive forward. This is bold, but something has to change in this game, we need to take the initiative. My concern here is that this may be too many instructions too suddenly, or Dier may pick up a second yellow… I will look to bring him off if I can.
Okay, second half.
45 – From the kick-off, I like what I see! We force Albania very deep with our full-backs pushing on, forcing two crossing opportunities for Rose and Clyne. Albania have no passing options and are forced to clear long.
47 – The first big chance and it falls to Kane! He hassles the last man for Albania stealing the ball, he is one-on-one with the keeper and… The keeper makes an excellent diving save. Kane really should have taken that one. From the resulting corner, Sterling meets Lallana’s delivery on the volley, but straight at the keeper – better!
55 – Barkley will be coming on for Dier, with Noble taking over the ball-winning duties. With our aggression I was worried about Dier picking up a second yellow, especially with fatigue.
60 – Sterling has had a poor game, he is replaced by Walcott – I think he is better suited to inside-forward… I believe!
65 – Corner, Walcott takes, it’s whipped in and… PENALTY! Roshi (not master, Odiese) is judged to have pushed Barkley. Mark Noble steps up…
With that goal, all I can ask for is more of the same! We have been a completely different team in this second half. It’d be so England to blow this now… (A penalty goal… please no)
69 – Another penalty! Barkley dinks a free-kick over the Albania defence who are caught unaware, Rashford pounces, chests the ball and is brought down by Armend… Armend Dallku, who will now have to make… Armends… I mean… I tried. Although he can’t because that was his second yellow and so he has been sent off… maybe he can get the beers in for the rest of the team or something.
Noble steps up again, well I say steps up, he bloody darted from the half-way line, I thought it was Walcott for a second. Actually, here is just how much he wanted this penalty:
With that, Noble steps up to the spot, having already dispatched one today. Will he go the same way?
The run didn’t tire him out! Noble calmly puts the ball in the goal and completes the major scoring objective of football. He goes the other way this time and just like last time, picks out the top corner! England have a penalty taker?!?!?
70 – With the second of the game added, Kane will be coming off. His replacement, Callum Wilson, will surely be hoping to grab himself a goal here.
83 – But it is Albania who come forward, with their first shot on target of the game. Mavraj meets a free-kick with a meaty header, only for Hart to tip over.
87 – Walcott is found by a Clyne throw in, he turns, beats his man and lays off Lallana who’s shot is well saved.
88 – A nice interchange between Lallana, Wilson and Walcott see’s the latter get rolled through on goal. Not quite one-on-one, as he is closed down, firing wide from just inside the box – not an easy chance, but should’ve been on target.
And that is that! Full time at the… Samara Arena (Samara?). Mark Noble picks up the man of the match, my changes come off and England are through to the quarter-finals.
A lot better than in the first half huh? I can see why Albania got this far, if we hadn’t worked out what they were doing with that possession, they could have easily nicked a goal from a set-piece or taken us to penalties. We turned round the possession battle by forcing them to try to do something with it, and whilst that wasn’t the main objective, it shows how we unsettled them, forcing them into multiple mistakes such as the Kane chance, and of course the penalties.
Overall a good win, but I must work on getting us ready for the game, our first halves are always very shabby, and adapting on the fly is going to let us down sooner or later. Just takes one team… with a really good striker… a team like…
A team with two very good strikers, you might have heard of them… Suarez and Cavani? No? Well, they’re like Callum Wilson, but a lot better.
Uruguay is current world number five, so a tough team to be sure, but we knew we would have to face one eventually (although we played France already, the same France who just knocked Brazil out with a 2-0 win). it would’ve been nice to get a slightly less brilliant team, but I think we can do something here… at least try to, we can’t do any worse than the 2012 World Cup, can we? We probably can… but faith, faith in Mark Noble will pull us through.
And we will have to put that faith in Noble because Dier’s suspended…
*The colours of World Cup News were chosen as an apology for calling Senegal, Cameroon all throughout the last article. I’m not that sorry, you should have less similar flags, but still…
After scraping through against Iran, we play Senegal with everything on the line. The group is tight, with us in the driving position on four points, France and Senegal trail with two points each and Iran are on one point. This sets up a situation where any team can go through and any team can go out, including us if we lose against Senegal.
Looking at the other groups, and there are some interesting placings. DR Congo tops their group with Germany second; Mexico topped their group with Spain second; Costa Rica, USA and Japan also topped their groups, so in some ways, a second-place finish wouldn’t be too bad.
That is all academic though until after we play Cameroon, so let’s see the team for today’s game!
We go with a similar shape and tactic to that which we used against Iran, hopefully, they perform much more convincingly. Clyne misses out today through suspension so Walker steps in, Sterling replaces Oxlade-Chamberlain and Alli comes in for Barkley. Keane and Stones are fatigued, but I have more faith in them than Smalling and Jones.
So let’s get into today’s game, I’m excited to see what we can do against Cameroon (who’s capital city is… Yaoundé… had to google that one…).
Cameroon seem to be making somewhat of a statement with their starting eleven – very attacking! Coupled with a combative midfield three we could have a hard day here. We will have to be careful not to get hit on the break with that front three also, as I suspect they will play direct and hit those front three quickly, and look to recover the ball in the middle. The obvious weakness is the full backs, who we can look to isolate and overload. The centrebacks are solid, and let’s hope Kane is on form to handle them.
Minute eight and we have our first highlight (and news from Iran-France, that Iran has taken the lead courtesy of a Pogba OG). Cameroon hits a long, direct ball from their centre back to Babacar, who knocks the ball to Gueye. The ball is kept well and a shooting opportunity opens up for Diame who fires over from distance.
We have struggled to keep the ball so far.
Senegal are getting a few long shots as Balde fires over – fifteen minutes in.
The twentieth minute, it is all Senegal. They have a headed chance, straight at Hart. 70% possession to Senegal… we need to change something. That change see’s us switching to a counter approach, and sticking Sterling to support, with us looking to play the ball out wide, as we are having no success through the middle. We have also switched to a 4-3-3.
Just before the changes have an effect, Balde works a good shooting opportunity, saved by Hart!
Another shot by Gueye is saved by Hart… I’m not liking this.
The stats after twenty-four minutes paint a very worrying picture…
The twenty-seventh minute comes and finally a chance for us! We maintain possession before Walker whips in a cross onto Rashford’s head – Off the bar! This chance went down as a clear-cut chance, very much against the run of play. Oh, and Dele Alli picks up an injury in the same move… He will have to come off, Lallana replaces him.
Ten uneventful minutes pass before Diouf spins in the box and cannons a shot off the bar. Too close.
Out of nothing Kane pounces on a mistake by Gueye and fires England into the lead. It was incredibly lucky, the game has all been Cameroon, now we must capitalise and take some initiative in this game.
Not sure what to make of that… 45 minutes of mostly terrible football, barely putting a passing move together, and getting battered… but we are one-nil up – football ey?
At half-time, I am going to withdraw Wilshere as he has struggled out there today and picked up a yellow in the process. Noble will be coming on, his leadership and work-rate could help us in possession battle.
A chance for Senegal as M’Baye crosses only for Diouf to head narrowly wide.
The fifty-third minute, and England win a free-kick, Rashford fires just over (in other news, goals for Fekir and Benzema mean that France now leads 2-1)
Nearly the seventieth minute and good work from Walker results in a cross towards Rashford, it is headed away only for Sterling to pounce and… Straight at the keeper.
A minute later and a corner whipped into the Cameroon box causes trouble, a scramble results in a chance for an unidentifiable England player, unfortunately, that chance is missed.
Time for a calm concentrate shout from the touchline.
The eightieth minute and Oxlade-Chamberlain is on for a tired Rashford. He and Sterling will swap sides.
Oxlade-Chamberlain’s first involvement sees him crafting open a chance for Lallana who powers a shot high but central, and fairly comfortable for the keeper.
And as time passes…
A good win, we slowly got more and more into the game after our goal and mostly limited Cameroon to long shots. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried for a large chunk of that game!
The change to a 4-3-3 allowed us to be slightly more robust in the middle and let us move the ball better, and whilst we didn’t win the battle for possession we created more clear chances.
Most importantly, we top our group, ahead of tournament favourites France, so I guess that makes us favourites – might as well give us the trophy now, save us some time.
As previously mentioned though, being top isn’t all ice cream and backrubs (what… that wasn’t what I… I’ll go with it), a lot of teams I’d rather avoid came second in their groups (i.e. Spain & France). Let’s see who we will be meeting next, and keep our fingers crossed that it is winnable…
And the lucky team to meet us in the next round is…
Not to be too cocky about this (and this could easily come back to bite me) but I’ll take it.
France managed to get Brazil in a repeat of the ’98 final, so between the two teams from group H, it turned out extremely valuable to get the top spot. Other interesting draws include DR Congo v Spain and Portugal v Uruguay.
Next time out we get our first taste of knock-out football against Albania. Where could this end? A disgraceful exit at the callous laced hands of Albania? Or World Cup glory? Well, next time will get us closer to finding out.
After a well fought draw against France, we have a must win game against Iran. For the last two games we have to work on the assumption that France will beat both Iran and Senegal, and so to offer ourselves a glimmer of hope of finishing top (and theoretically giving ourselves an easier draw in the knockout round) we must win both also.
On paper, this should be an easy game for us, but on paper, Iceland was an easy opponent at Euro 2016 and well… I thought I erased that memory but no, it’s back again.
Having a quick look at the Iranian national team there are a few players I recognise: Jahanbakhsh (AZ Alkmaar), Dejagah (formerly of Fulham) and Azmoun (Rostov). These are players you may have heard of, but hardly superstars.
As you can see, we should win… should. The narrow formation suits us, hopefully allowing our wingers, in the 4-2-3-1 shape we favour, to occupy the full-backs creating space for our overlapping full-backs. As I don’t really have much else to say about the team, did you know that Iran has a rich cultural history, boasting one of the oldest civilisations on Earth dating back to around the 4th Century BC? Well, luckily Wikipedia did.
Now we have had a look at the opposition, worked out our approach to the game, and learnt something about our opposition, I guess there is nothing to do but sit back and drink some of this Russian white wine… this clear, strong Russian white wine.
After waking up, hungover with Mark Noble singing bubbles over the hotel balcony to a bunch of bemused Russians in central Moscow (probably making the front page of the sun), we better get to team selection.
There is some slight weariness in the ranks following the France game, so slight rotation has been required, bearing that in mind, here is the team to face Iran:
Mark Noble recovers from a two-day hangover to make the starting eleven, replacing a tired Dier. Wilshere (he was injured before the tournament, going to assume hangover also) and Barkley replace Lallana and Alli, with Rose also coming in for Shaw. Kane is on 90% condition, I will keep an eye on this with a decent replacement in Callum Wilson on the bench.
With all that said, let’s hopefully go and grab those three points.
Pre-game: noticing Iran are playing a 4-3-3… so that full-back overload might be off… let’s stick to it, see how it goes regardless.
A slow start, it is not until the sixteenth minute that we get our first action of the match. A throw in down the right from Clyne finds Barkley who passes to Noble, Noble to Wilshere who lets loose…. and tipped over by the Iranian keeper. The first shot of the game.
Straight after that highlight, in the eighteenth minute, Barkley finds Rashford, who feeds Chamberlain, his shot his blocked, falling to Kane, who’s shot is once again blocked.
The thirty-first minute quickly approaches, quick interchange sees Rashford letting fly – straight at the keeper.
Wilshere and Kane both have long distance efforts in the thirty-third and thirty-fourth minutes. Wilshere way over, Kane’s effort is tipped over. Still, the game is all England, no efforts so far from Iran, but can we make the pressure pay?
Just what we needed. The pressure pays off. Tenacious work down the left sees Rashford win the ball from the Iranian right-back, he then passes square to Barkley, who passes to Noble, Noble carries the ball forward and passes to Chamberlain who works some space before feeding the ball into Rashford‘s path for a tap-in. 1-0 England!
And just like that, it’s half-time. An okay half, we have dominated, but that is to be expected. Iran are defending solidly and deep, this has contributed to them not registering a shot yet. We can expect more from them in the second half, but as they chase the game, hopefully, more chances will present themselves for us.
As the fiftieth-minute approaches, Kane will be withdrawn. He has been ineffective so far today and needs to be rested ahead of the game against Senegal. Callum Wilson will enter the fray.
Danny Rose steps out of position allowing Iran a simple ball down the ring wing. The winger is closed down by Keane, who has to leave his man free in the middle, he (Azmoun) taps home with Iran’s first shot of the game…
Change after the goal: Alli is coming on for Wilshere who is not fully fit following his hangover.
Well, that was quick! Rashford once again wins the ball back, the ball finds its way to the fresh-legged Alli who crosses for Rashford, who made his way into the box to net his second of the game. 2-1 England!
We need now, to make sure we do not cede this. I will be looking to shore things up by changing from Control to Counter in around five minutes.
Before this can take place, we have a corner, which eventually leads to a headed chance by Rashford, which is not taken – to be fair to him, it was a very difficult chance and we do well to win another corner. From the subsequent corner, Barkley works a shot, which flys over the bar.
Another attack works its way down the left, the ball is crossed to Wilson who cannot meet it, the ball is recycled by Alli, who plays the ball to Rashford, but unfortunately, the shot is blocked.
Although we are on top, I am taking the time now to make two changes. Firstly, we are going to look to play slightly more conservatively and make ourselves less vulnerable to the break by playing on Counter, but keeping our tempo low, and our passing short, making sure that we retain possession in a safer manner. Secondly, we will be replacing the tired (and booked) Clyne with Walker (please don’t pull a Tottenham on me…).
Following a long throw, Iran work a shooting opportunity from the top of the box, Hart saves comfortably, but is this a warning sign that I have gone too defensive?
Further proof of this as our attack fizzles out, and Iran plays a long through ball, the shot at the end of the move is tipped over by Hart. This is why we went more cautious, to stop counters!
From the touchline I shout a calm concentrate, I’m not really sure how to shout calmly though…
It was all over. That was much closer than I expected it to be. We were incredibly dominant throughout, with Iran scoring from their first shot and not registering their second until after the eightieth minute. The increased pressure at the end was almost solely my fault for not trusting the players to hold out controlling the game, maybe that confidence was rattled by the Iran goal coming from nothing, but it could have cost us, and our approach to closing out games is something I will have to think about – do I go defensive, or go with the ethos of “it ain’t broke…”?
Anyway, three points in the bag, can’t complain too much. On top of that, we were able to rest some of our players in order to have them fresh for the Senegal game in four days time.
Speaking of Senegal…
Senegal managed to hold France to a draw leaving both teams on two points. This means that a draw will take us through to the knockout round, and a win will guarantee us top spot in the group, however, a loss likely eliminates us. A great situation to be in, albeit, somewhat risky. Before the Iran game, I would have been convinced of our success in this game, but I was not convinced by our performance out there today. I still think we are favourites, and will likely look to control the game but we cannot afford to be too blase as we almost found out today.
But for now, that doesn’t matter, we got the three points, and now, in my estimations, are favourites to top the group. Will we? I guess we will find out next time.
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.
Last time out, we managed to qualify for Russia 2018 after a string of decent results and a well-fought draw against Slovakia. So that leaves us to get ready for a summer in Russia, but it only being October means we have a way to go. To break up this time, we have a couple of friendlies, I will also have a look at the three tactics I will be trialling ahead of the world cup. We also have the world cup draw to look forward to, let’s hope it’s kind…
So first selection for the friendlies… it is the exact same as last time, why? Well, two reasons. Reason one, we are only playing Peru and Macedonia, reason two, I forgot to bring a couple of players I wanted, such as Sturridge.
Apparently, the media had a campaign for me not to choose Glen Johnson? Maybe if he transferred to Barcelona, but don’t worry media, it didn’t cross my mind. There also is some criticism regarding my selections of Rashford over Deeney, and Hughes over Noble. Well, media, you are as just wrong, please stop.
With the media’s dagger successfully ignored its time for tactic test one against Peru:
First up, we have the 3-4-3 kinda, the idea here is to make the most out of our dearth of full-backs and centre-backs. We also have two strong attacking midfielders in Lallana and Alli, if this gets the best out of them we could look to use this shape against teams of a similar stature. The idea tactically is to load the middle of the pitch and then allow our full-backs to exploit the space out wide which should be created by the central overload – in theory, let’s see in practice what happens.
The stats might not quite reflect the result, but on the pitch, this tactic worked perfectly. For the first goal, Walker broke into the box from the right before his deflected shot found the back of the net. The next goal once again saw Walker involved, this time crossing for our other full-back Shaw to head home. Alli then powered home from the edge of the box from a Kane pass. Alli then returned the favour, passing to Kane just inside the box who powerfully picked out the top corner. In the second half, Walker was once again involved crossing for Kane to head home.
As you can see, the plan to get the full-backs involved worked almost perfectly (Shaw could have got an assist I guess…). The front three also combined well although Lallana didn’t create as much as I expected him to. One change was made to the tactic before the game, I accidently had Henderson as a BBM, I then changed this to Ball Winning Midfielder to add better stability to the middle. One concern is that Peru is not really representative of a team at our level, and so we should not read into this dominant result too much.
Next up Macedonia, and the tactic will be:
We are pulling out the old 4-2-3-1 that served us well in qualifying. The reason? It has already proven successful at breaking down lesser teams, something that has been something of an Achilles heel of the England national team at major tournaments lately (Iceland, Costa Rica, Algeria, USA). The plan in this shape is to control the game, Wilshere’s role is to sit deep and dictate, Henderson will hassle higher and carry the ball forward. Walcott will look to push beyond the defensive line and cause problems for his full back, hopefully, allow space for Clyne to push into to deliver the cross. On the other side, Rashford will support Welbeck, with Shaw exploiting the space he vacates.
Again, that’s the theory, let’s see how it pans out this time.
Should have seen this one coming, the tactic has still got it. Rashford struck first, following Walcott’s attempt that cannoned off the post. Welbeck then did a Messi, like this, but against Macedonia instead of Real Madrid. Welbeck then scuffed a Clyne cross into the path of Rashford to add his second. Followed by Rashford completing the hat trick from a Lallana pass.
Nothing to really learn here that we did not know already. Whilst it is unlikely a team as weak as Macedonia will be in our group, I believe this tactic will be effective against teams such as Nigeria, Algeria, USA, Denmark or Japan, teams we could realistically find ourselves up against in the group.
Speaking of teams we might draw in our group, here is the group stage draw, in which we have been put in the fourth pot, alongside Albania and Romania… esteemed company. Looking at the other pots, there is a real mix of strength, with pot one being the strongest with Argentina, Brazil and Germany in there, but also Austria and Russia… Anyway, to the draw:
Not catastrophic. France will be a tough, tough game (tournament favourites), their squad has a huge amount of quality and this will be a game we will need to prepare for, potentially I will look to play a 4-3-3 here and hit them on the break. Iran and Senegal should be games we can look to win, and I will try to play on the front foot with the 4-2-3-1, maybe the 3-4-3 against Senegal once I have a closer look at them.
Elsewhere, Brazil may have the easiest group ever with Albania, Egypt and South Korea, and group A has three Spanish-speaking teams… and Russia.
I have looked to set up pre-tournament friendlies against Holland and Cameroon, which should be a closer representation to our group stage opponents and let us see where our tactics stand. Any suggestions for tactics? Let me know before we meet next at De Kuip for our game against the Dutch, tot de volgende keer.