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.

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.

England: the hype starts here

That was pretty impressive, wasn’t it?

England spank Croatia 5-1 and once again the monochrome Three Lions support system kicks in.

Everything is either black or white.   Black: the team/manager/formation/kit/boots/captain are terrible and must go or the pendulum swings to the complete opposite and suddenly England are world-beaters and need only turn up in South Africa to walk away with the World Cup trophy.

Don’t misunderstand me.  I’m as fervent an England fan as the next guy.   I was cheering along with the rest of the pub when footballing karma was repaid in glorious revenge-cash when the Croat ‘keeper air-kicked to gift Rooney the fifth goal.

It also shows was a massive difference a good manager can make.  Compared to Steve McLaren’s team, beaten 3-2 by Croatia the England personnel are not all that different.  Gerrard, Barry, Lampard, Defoe, Ashley Cole – all were part of that team KO’d from the Euro 2008 qualifiers.

That Croatia team were also much stronger.  On Wednesday night, compared to the McLaren-tamers Slaven Bilic was shorn of: both Kovacs (Robert and Nico), Modric, Corluka, Simic and Srna.  England were stronger but Croatia were weaker – both in resources and tactics.

Fabio Capello still has many questions to answer:

Impressive as Glen Johnson looked, galloping down the right last night his defensive inadequacies have already been covered in detail elsewhere.

The thought of him coming up against a decent left winger fills me with dread.  If Lionel Messi and Argentina failing to qualify it could be the most significant factor in Johnson’s impact in South Africa next year.

Speaking of left wingers, Steven Gerrard is many things but not a left winger.  His free role, inter-changing with Rooney is a potent attacking weapon.   Both players revel in the freedom but with Ashley Cole another rampaging full-back England’s left flank is left achingly exposed at times.

Emile Heskey‘s “contribution to the team” is often held up as a defence to his lack of contribution to the ‘Goals For’ tally.  Capello will be all too aware that England cannot afford to carry any passengers if they’re to make the later stages of the tournament.  A striker who carries about as much goal-threat as the physios bag is a passenger, no matter his “contribution”.

Centre back is another problem area.  Rio Ferdinand and John Terry are first-class if liable to the odd lapse in concentration.  Matthew Upson and Joleon Lescott represent a huge gulf in glass from first choice to back-up.

Upson’s distribution is a constant catastrophe waiting to happen and Lescott’s positioning is seriously lacking – and at times he makes Ferdinand look like a studied scholar in terms of concentration.

All these problems will be brushed aside – and well they should be.  Now is the time for the team to bask in the celebration of their efforts.  The really hard work starts in 2010.