Why Wio Woy?

So, Roy Hodgson has made his first big call as England boss.  Despite Thoughtsport‘s suggestion he hasn’t dropped John Terry.  Instead, he’s opted to leave out Rio Ferdinand.

Once we got over the shock, surprise and dismay that Roy either disagrees with our advice, or perhaps (gasp!) he doesn’t even read it… we going to say ‘fair play’ to Roy.  At least he’s made a call.

Ferdinand’s fitness may not be up to tournament football and it’s one way of resolving the Terry v Ferdinands argument — if not the one we’d have favoured.

Let’s analyse, Hodgson’s Euro 2012 squad against our picks.  Where we’ve differed we’ve highlighted the players in red:

Roy’s Goalies: Joe Hart; Rob Green; John Ruddy.

TS’s goalies: Joe Hart; Ben Foster; Paul Robinson.

Roy’s defenders: Leighton Baines; Gary Cahill; Ashley Cole; Glenn Johnson; Phil Jones; Joleon Lescott; John Terry.

TS’s defenders: Rio Ferdinand; Phil Jagielka; Joleon Lescott; Gary Cahill; Micah Richards; Kyle Walker; Ashley Cole; Glenn Johnson.

Roy’s midfielders: Gareth Barry; Stewart Downing; Steven Gerrard; Frank Lampard; James Milner; Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain; Scott Parker, Theo Walcott; Ashley Young.

TS’s midfielders: Steven Gerrard; Gareth Barry; Scott Parker; Frank Lampard; Michael Carrick; Ashley Young; Theo Walcott; Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

Roy’s forwards: Wayne Rooney; Andy Carroll; Jermain Defoe; Danny Welbeck.

TS’s forwards: Wayne Rooney; Daniel Sturridge; Danny Welbeck; Andy Carroll.

Roy’s standby list: Jack Butland; Adam Johnson; Daniel Sturridge; Phil Jagielka; Jordan Henderson.

Squad analysis

So there you have it.  Rio Ferdinand’s England career is, apparently, over.

Jermain Defoe on the bench for Spurs

Comfy seat: Defoe’s most utilised muscle of late has been his gluteus maximus

Looking at it in order, there are (as you might expect) pros and cons — but also some glaring inconsistencies.  Stewart Downing is, seemingly, in the squad on the basis that he’s left-footed.  Surely his (terrible) form for Liverpool cannot be the reason?  Yet the left-footed Daniel Sturridge is left out in favour of Jermain Defoe — the same Defoe who started just two of the last 12 Tottenham matches — and was an unused sub in four of them.

From the back: Our predictions were woeful.  We only got Joe Hart’s name right.  To be fair we wrote it before Ben Foster rejected Hodgson’s plea to end his international ‘retirement’.  Let’s face it, we’re hardly awash with quality between the sticks anymore.  If Joe Hart gets injured/suspended we’re in a heap of trouble.

In that scenario we’d still have preferred the experienced, Premier League (just about) goalie, Paul Robinson to come in — rather than Championship West Ham stopper Rob Green.  Fair enough, John Ruddy can gain experience coming along for the ride we won’t quibble on that one.

At the back Hodgson has made the headline grabbing call — dropping Ferdinand and picking Terry.  That comes as no great shock.  Of more concern is the right-back situation.  Again, we picked our 23-man squad before Kyle Walker was ruled out with a toe injury.

However, Hodgson’s squad leaves him with Phil Jones as a back-up right-back?  The squad seems to be crying out for Micah Richards — the blockbuster Manchester City full-back… the same City side that just won the Premier League title.

Micah Richards

Micah Mystery: Richards must have offended someone somewhere, surely?

Yes, Jones has the advantage of age on his side — giving a 20-year-old with a bright future some tournament experience makes sense.  But aged 23 Richards is hardly at pensionable age.

The midfield picks of Downing and Milner are just perplexing.  Downing, as any stat-fan will tell you, has scored 0 goals and has 0 assists for Liverpool this season — a staggering statistic for a winger.

Milner has started just one of City’s last 12 games.  His last noted goal or assist was back in January!  Yes his utility is useful in that he can play in a number of positions but then, so could Paul Warhurst.  It didn’t make him an international player.

Amidst all this Michael Carrick who has, arguably, had one of his best ever seasons for Manchester United (and has also played in nigh-on all of United’s big matches this season) is left out?

The much hyped Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is in.  Thoughtsport quite likes that.  He’s got a big future ahead of him.  Comparisons with Theo Walcott’s call-up by Sven Goran Ericsson will be made but it’s hardly the same.  Walcott hadn’t even played for Arsenal when his call came — Oxlade-Chamberlain has played, scored and impressed for the Gunners already.

Up front, we can’t argue much with Rooney, Carroll and Welbeck — especially as we picked them too.  But the selection of Jermain Defoe has left us scratching our heads again.

Let’s look at those stats again.  He’s started two of Spurs’ last 12 games.  A Spurs side pushing for a Champions League place.  Stats often don’t tell the whole story but for a ‘fox-in-the-box’ type striker of Defoe’s ilk they can be more telling than for other players.  He’s in the side to score goals not much else.

Defoe has scored 6 goals in his last 20 matches.  That’s not bad, right?  Not great, but ok.  However, two of those were against League One side Stevenage in the FA Cup replay.  Yes, a replay after Spurs, featuring Defoe (in one of his rare 90-minute outings), failed to score in the first match.

He was kept quiet on that February afternoon at Broadhall Way by Messrs Darius Charles and Jon Ashton.  Two years ago both were playing non-league football.  Fancy his chances against the likes of AC Milan’s Phillipe Mexés?  No, nor us.

Don’t get us wrong.  Thoughtsport love England and we’d love for us to do really well at the Euros.  We’re just not convinced that we will — not that this, seemingly haphazard, squad is best equipped to do so.

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Reservations about reserves

Hmm… hardly convincing was it?

England beat Belarus 3-0 last night – without Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard, Ashley Cole, David James and Emile Heskey – who have played in most of England’s matches under Fabio Capello.

The team are already taking a shoe-ing in other quarters for not setting the world alight in a dead rubber.  Personally, I feel that many of the players should have had more than enough motivation to put in a stellar performance:  a full-house at Wembley; the last competitive game before the World Cup; and those World Cup places up for grabs.

Mostly, they didn’t seize the chance to push their claim for a place in the World Cup squad – demonstrating England’s reliance on the fitness of a few key players.

Peter Crouch rose (no pun intended) to the challenge.  Two goals for the 6’7″ target-man about all you can ask of a striker.

It gives me no pleasure to report that Glen Johnson did not excel as I had hoped he might in a previous blog.

In just the first 20 minutes I counted two occasions where he gave the ball away cheaply which ended in an attacking chance for the opposition.  Fortunately for him Belarus lacked the attacking power to fully punish those errors.  I fear World Cup qualified teams may not be so generous.

Ben Foster made one excellent eye-catching save – another dent to Rob Green’s World Cup hopes and his relationship with Rio Ferdinand.

But England have qualified.  Mission accomplished – in some style too.  Next blog I’ll pick my England squad for South Africa – and I’ll predict Capello’s too.

There’s something about Johnson…

For a while now Glen Johnson (featured in the lovely video below) has been bothering me.

Not in a prank calls, sending pizzas I didn’t order, hanging around outside my house way – more a slight nagging feeling.  A memory of something in the darker recesses of my mind (a scary place) that wanted to come out into the light.

Then, whilst watching the Ukraine v England match it came to me.  It came to me when Andriy Shevchenko (that fine example of why managers and not chairman should buy players) beat Ashley Cole for pace.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Shevchenko – beat Ashley Cole for pace.

The same Shevchenko who looked incapable for beating an egg during those wallet-lining years and months at Stamford Bridge.

It was then I saw it.  Glen Johnson is Ashley Cole.  Albeit a right-footed one – but also the Ashley Cole circa 2001.

This Cole was such a poor defender people toyed with the idea of playing both him and Wayne Bridge in the same team – so as to accomodate his defensive inadequacies whilst not missing out on his rampaging runs forwards.

Ashley Cole 2009 is no Franco Baresi (nor even a Paulo Maldini) but his defending has improved immeasurably since then.

Chicken & egg

With Johnson we are stuck in the chicken and egg situation.  Should England invest more experience/caps in him in the hope that he will improve as Cole has?   He has, after all, four years on his Chelsea counterpart.

I like Johnson, I want him to do well – same as I do any player in an England shirt – even the easily unlikable Cole.  However, his defensive naivety is glaring even to the most casual viewer.

At one point in the match against Ukraine, after one of his many fruitless-forward-forays (rolls off the tongue nicely that) he was caught out of position as Ukraine counter-attacked.

Johnson had jinked inside onto his weaker left foot and lost the ball in the centre of the pitch.  His team-mates are obviously ready for this and the defence all stepped across the pitch one place – which left England with Ashley Cole effectively playing centre-half and Johnson at left-back.  Bizzare.

The result?  A tame cross which would have been dealt with easily caused massed panic with everyone in unfamiliar territory.  It ended with two defenders leaving it to one another and the ball bouncing just wide of the goal.  In the World Cup a mistake like that could be the difference between progress and an early flight home.

Learning curve

I sincerely hope Johnson will improve his defending – that is after all why he is in the team.  England do not need another candidate to be right-winger – there are already numerous candidates for the role.

At Liverpool, playing in the Champions League and fighting for the title he will find himself on a steep learning curve.

All that said, he will probably play a blinder tonight (against Belarus) and all his defensive mistakes will be glossed over again.

As it happens the best thing to ever happen to Johnson’s career could well be out of his hands.  If France, Argentina and Portugal all fail to make the World Cup (as is a distinct possibility) he will be spared the task of facing Franck Ribery, Simão Sabrosa or the great Lionel Messi.

I know… the mere thought fills me with dread too.

P.S. I noted with interest that David James looks likely to miss the Belarus game through injury.  Another opportunity missed for Robert Green.  Thanks a bunch Rio.