Saturday, 29 September 2012

England’s Young Lions

So, let us be positive; let us forget England’s disappointing showing at the Euros and their ordinary performance against Ukraine in the World Cup qualifier.

Let us assume that England will qualify for the finals in Brazil in 2014, and that the young players showing promise will progress as we hope, and will be injury-free come the big carnival.

Let us also, for the sake of this discussion, take all players who will be over 30 in two years out of the equation, and that includes Joe Cole, John Terry, Rio Ferdinand, Steven Gerrard, and Ashley Cole.

What have we got left to frighten Brazil, Spain, and the rest? Well, here goes: how about this for a team of ten twenty-somethings and one teenager?

Joe Hart (who will then be 27) in goal. A given. A back line of Kyle Walker (24), Phil Jones (22), Gary Cahill (28), and Leighton Baines (29).

A midfield comprising Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (21), Tom Cleverley (25), Jack Wilshire (22), and Raheem Sterling (19). And a front two of Danny Welbeck (23) and Wayne Rooney (28).

Doesn’t look too shabby, does it? And, while sticking with youth, there’s decent cover at the back with Ryan Bertrand and Chris Smalling; in midfield, with Theo Walcott, Jake Livermore, and Nick Powell, and up front with Daniel Sturridge and Andy Carroll.

England demonstrated against Ukraine that possession for possession’s sake does not get you very far; we need players from front to back who can keep the ball and use it tellingly when and where it matters.

There are signs that the group mentioned above has the skills to deliver. Perhaps it is asking too much for them to light any fires in Brazil, but they will almost all still be in their twenties come the Euros in 2016 and then we may well have a team to go all the way with.

Fans with their hopes planted firmly in the present should take a look at the early betting on Champions League for updates on next week’s games. 

There is also hope for Barnsley fans in the Championship Previews: Tykes to Continue Ipswich's Miserable Run.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Owen can be a big success at Stoke

After what seemed like a lifetime of speculation, Michael Owen finally set his heart on Stoke City in what was an expected move by members of the BetVictor football community.

Media and bookies had tipped Owen to move to the Potters, despite late rumours linking him back to Merseyside with either the Reds or his boyhood club Everton.

Owen, who once featured prominently in Liverpool betting markets, made his first appearance in two years against Manchester City at the weekend, but there’s one huge question overshadowing the move. Can Owen still compete at this level?

Thousands have taken to Twitter to tell Owen just how bad they think he is, as well as some more derogatory comments. They will be plenty more that will agree, but this writer certainly doesn’t.

It’s staggering to think that Owen, who seems to have been around for a lifetime, is only 32. He’s had injuries and lost some of his pace. However as the old saying goes, class is permanent.

He will need a run of games, service and maybe time but give Owen a chance in and around the box and nine times out of ten you will have a goal in your favour. His experience will be invaluable to the dressing room and more importantly Owen knows how to play with fellow striker Peter Crouch.

A first-team chance might not come for some time due to Stoke’s style of play and good form at present. But when it does expect Owen to be firing on all cylinders, and if given an opportunity he could help take Stoke to the next level.

To some football fans, Stoke have taken a risk which will fail. For me they have signed one of England’s greatest ever strikers for one last hoorah.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

England still Need a Target Man

A lot was made in the build-up to England’s second World Cup qualifier with Ukraine this week about the national team’s lack of a main striker and, with Wayne Rooney and Andy Carroll injured, forward responsibilities fell on Jermain Defoe’s narrow shoulders.

Although Defoe did a good job and scored a perfectly fine disallowed goal in the first half, he struggled to make himself known in the Ukraine defence and their back four were relatively solid for the majority of the game because of it.

England played a more patient, passing brand of football than previous games and it was nice to see our wing play used to proper effect. Steven Gerrard was given the usual distributer job in midfield and with full-backs, Glen Johnson and Leighton Baines, happy to come forward, England found themselves in very promising situations.

Yet, midway through the second half and a goal down, Roy Hodgson’s side should have equalised when a cross came over for Defoe. The striker rose to meet the ball but his 5 ft. 5 in. frame would not stretch far enough: a golden chance wasted.

It is a simple thing to say but, had a taller striker been there, England would have equalised a lot earlier than they did. The encounter was truly nail-biting for fans betting on football

This is not to denigrate Defoe’s clear striking talents, but England do need a physical presence in the box. Three of their Euro 2012 goals came from headers and, with a player like Gerrard able to pick a man in the box, it seems foolish not to harness this advantage.

Hodgson may opt for a bigger front man in future qualifying games to provide this aerial presence. Rooney may be the obvious choice but with Carroll, Peter Crouch, and Darren Bent all more than capable of scoring with their head, there is plenty of choice for Roy to find his perfect front man.