Courtesy of BBC
Death, taxes and England to choke on its own victory champagne. Football is a funny game indeed. In the blink of an eye, success can give way to crushing disappointment. Perspectives change – the swaggerific becomes the crushed, the crushed becomes the jubilant.
As the whistle went a few minutes ago, England fans were probably left reeling in stunned silence. Not necessarily anger – the performance served up by Spurs + 6 others was very much in-keeping with the tempo and intensity we saw of Pochettino’s men for most of 2015-2016 (forget last day…St James’ Park…). The football was electric and vibrant, very similar to that against Italy in Brazil (2014). The difference here was balance. In Brazil, Sturridge lined up ahead of Rooney, Welbeck and Sterling with an ageing Gerrard expected to shield the defence while Gerrard wannabe Henderson went gambolling ahead. Chances were created, the play was slick and England looked a modern version of itself, not a pretend version of some folks in the Iberian peninsula. However, defensive frailties abounded and alas, a beautiful performance was sourly enjoyed as an aftertaste to defeat.
This time, Hodgson, after endless chopping and changing in warm-up friendlies went with a team that made a lot of sense. The only doubt in selection was captain Wayne. His selection in midfield would require not just a lot of discipline from him, but humility – Dele Alli showed in the last season that he’s most effective being allowed an advanced role. And Rooney went about justifying not just his selection, but his place in midfield. For the first time in an England shirt, he looked like he belonged. The value of having round pegs (not a nod to Rooney’s history of girth) that seemed to sort of fit in round holes almost told in England’s first opening game victory at a European Championship (in it’s history). Almost…
A brilliant Eric Dier free-kick (more on that later) gave England the lead they deserved for a quite frankly thrilling performance. Russia deserved zero for playing so much turd (if there’s a team in a deeper identity crisis than England, introducing Russia…) but football does not always work that way. The equaliser, deep into injury-time, was beautifully executed; a looping header which dropped in at the far post. My cousins, both die-hard England supporters (it’s really the only thing they know, bless them) lay back and couldn’t talk for a while. The frustrated reaction will come later…
A few observations from the game…
Team Selection – Spot on
No, Jamie Vardy should not have started. Steven Gerrard recently, in a rather frank and ironically honest exposition, observed that it was high time England stopped picking the best eleven players and picked the best xi. He would know a lot about that. For years, England tried to shoehorn Lamps and Gerry and frankly, it was ‘ard (forgive me). Meanwhile, Paul Scholes, tiringly touted as the best midfielder of his England generation was forced to the left where he frankly was uncomfortable. He retired not long after Euro 2004 – England suffered nearly another decade of ‘we know Lampard and Gerrard are shit together but we have to make it work!’
Before this game, I voted on a twitter poll which basically asked whether or not excluding Vardy from the xi was the right decision. Nearly 70% of voters thought not – nearly 40% thought it a right f**king crazy decision to exclude him. But it was the right call and irrespective of the result, the performance proved it. Yes, he’s a great finisher but he’s not a left winger and that is the role he would have had to play. Once Hodgson rightly recognised that playing a 3 man midfield is the best way to get his team playing optimally, England’s best striker, Kane, was going to get the spot. Brazil was not forgotten – playing Kane and Vardy looked (and still looks) tasty on paper but it’s gung-ho. His squad selection also seems to have been made with a 4-3-3 in mind, which then makes his decision to take 5 strikers look a bit odd. But it’s what it is. Throw in Vardy’s inferior technical and tactical attributes as compared to a ‘seasoned’ winger of Sterling’s ability and it makes more sense. Sterling, even with a few questionable decisions, was a threat throughout and deserves his spot on that showing.
King Eric (Not Cantona!)
Eric Dier started 2015-2016 as the Portuguese-speaking thatch-haired Spurs defender who was not quite sure what he was doing at Spurs. Tonight, he shielded England’s defence at the Euros with distinction, and then added a cracking free-kick for good measure. I have to admit, I never saw that one coming. It was brilliantly hit (maybe not well placed but with just enough power to beat Akinfeev in goal for the Russians). That said, the Russian goalkeeper was not entirely blameless. The shot was fairly central, he was not completely unsighted and his attempt to save was frankly pathetic. Someone mentioned Van Persie v Ivory Coast as a similar, turbo-charged whistler of a strike from pretty close in, but the beautifully named Tizie was certainy unsighted and BLOODY HELL, it was Van Persie at his hammerful best! But back to Dier. Best compliment to him is that nobody’s crying about Carrick (they never were, but the guy’s got a new contract at United – let’s not rain on his parade, eh?). As an aside, maybe Dier should be taking England’s corner-kicks after that strike…
Kane kicks Corners and I Can Understand Cane on Corner Kicks
That’s almost as repetitive as the tiresome queries on my Twitter timeline as to why Kane was taking corner kicks. “He’s a striker – he should be in the box”…”His corner kicks are shit anyway”…”Hodgson is Van Gaal’s geriatric twin!” (okay, I made that one up). Harry Kane (forgetting Dier’s strike for a second) is easily England’s best striker of a ball on the pitch. They’ve been in training long enough to have established PLUS it’s not rocket-science – just watch him over 2014 to present. His contact is clean, he can get whip on a ball and is accurate. Yes, he overhit a couple tonight but bloody hell, who doesn’t?
Addressing the point of him being in the box, here’s my logic for why it’s almost redundant – Joe reported, about a year ago, that there is roughly a 3% chance of scoring from a corner kick in the Premier League (in 2014-2015). Kane, from a rough viewing of his goals for Tottenham, has scored one goal direct from a corner kick for England. Throw in goals from flick ons from corners and the number swells to 4. He’s hardly John Terry in the box, guys. If you want to make the best of your 3% chance of scoring, why not having your best deliverer of the ball take the corners and have his targets (Smalling, Cahill, Dier, Dele Alli – not dwarves) be ready to maximise the 3% chance of scoring (forgive my use of 3% – it’s not directly transferable because they are different competitions and levels but I can’t imagine the variance would be anything more than minimal). Rather than quibble about who takes corners, because BLOODY HELL (again) it’s not Phil Jones on them, worry about finishing those chances you’re creating in open play.
Onto the next one
England’s not in a terrible place at all. It goes without saying but I’m going to say (type) it anyway – next week’s derby against Wales is a must-win. Fail to win and you’re crapping yourselves against a Slovakia team that really isn’t that bad. It is also important that Hodgson maintains the line-up and perhaps of greater importance, that the players go into next Thursday’s match with the same tempo, aggression and discipline. Wales are led by Gareth Bale but eminently beatable.
I could make more observations but I think motivational fuel has just about run out. I haven’t blogged in a while so my apologies. If you’ve got any observations of your own, get the comments going! Or tweet me @mundus1010. Happy reading!