Who will be in Big Sam’s first England Squad?

Big Sam Allardyce - England ManagerThis Sunday, Big Sam Allardyce will name his first England squad ahead of the first World Cup qualifying match away to Slovakia on Sunday 4th September.

Big Sam has quashed any rumours by reassuring Joe Hart that he will be in the England squad.  But Marcus Rashford won’t be selected unless he can force his way back into Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United first team.

Allardyce knows he will have to get things right and hit the ground running. It is therefore no real surprise he has muted the possibility of a return to England for the former Captain, John Terry.  The Chelsea captain previously stood down and even announced his retirement from international football when courting controversy off the field.  But on the field, John Terry is still performing week in, week out, even if he has lost the odd yard or three of pace.

The recent Euro 2016 finals in France clearly showed a buoyant young England squad that became bereft of ideas and froze when they needed to pull together and produce the old English bulldog fighting spirit. Let’s not forget how truly awful every player was, with the exceptions of Tottenham full-backs Kyle Walker and Danny Rose, This Sunday, Big Sam Allardyce will name his first England squad ahead of the first World Cup qualifying match away to Slovakia on Sunday 4th September., and the late cameo appearance of Marcus Rashford.

The captain and senior figure was Wayne Rooney.  But like David Beckham before him, he is not a born leader.  Someone willing to shout, orchestrate and rally, like John Terry.

When I first read the headline that Allardyce may turn to John Terry, I shook my head in disbelief.  But then I remembered watching how direction and clueless England were, not only in the Iceland game where each and every player turned into a frozen, shell-shocked quivering wreck, dripping with nervous tension and schoolboy errors.  But in the previous match, where the England team, the players, majority of the fans and manager Roy Hodgson, underestimated their opponents.  That team was Slovakia, and the score was a very worrying 0-0.

So what Big Sam needs is to put together a squad boasting a mixture of the finest young talent and some seasoned hands, ready to steady the ship and toe-poke a winning goal or be on the end of an 89th minute route one scramble, if needs be.  Anything to keep the back pages clear of ‘you don’t know what you’re doing’ headlines and turnip-head collages, for as long as possible.

So who else is likely to be considered for Big Sam’s first England squad?  Joe Hart will be joined by Southampton goalkeeper Fraser Forster (who I believe will start the game) and Burnley’s Tom Heaton.  Whether Joe Hart finds first team football at another club or not, I believe the time is right for Jack Butland (Stoke) to step up, once he returns from injury; and especially if he has another excellent Premier League season.

Along with Rashford, who has been named in the under-21 squad, who else is Allardyce likely to leave out from the disastrous Euro 16 squad?

I don’t think Big Sam will make too many changes.  Partly due to not wishing to rock the boat, and in part because realistically, there isn’t many alternatives.  Whether he will start with Wayne Rooney or not, I don’t think anyone can argue he is not among the best 23 England players available.  Other unfit players that were taken such as Jack Wilshere and Jordan Henderson will be left out and possibly replaced by Fabian Delph and Danny Drinkwater.  While a player that has made a positive start to the new season is Andros Townsend (now Crystal Palace).

If he is going to show loyalty to players he has relied on over the past few seasons then a return for Jermain Defoe (Sunderland) could be both favourable and popular.  But I can’t really see how anyone can justify a place for Mark Noble (West Ham) over other midfield players; and whether or not it was on the cards, Andy Carroll (West Ham) is once again injured, so that is a decision for another day.

So , after the lowest ebb in England’s international history, I believe the squad more or less picks itself.  What is missing and so desperately needed is not wholesale changes, but a solid team spirit, leadership and an identity and style that suits the players available.

England will go on to face Malta, Slovenia, Lithuania and Scotland before qualifying for the World Cup 2018 finals in Russia.  Slovakia away is England’s opening match and the only one I see they may possible not win.

Only seven teams looking to retain 100% Premier League record

As we head into the second weekend of the new Premier League season, only seven from 20 teams will be looking to keep up a 100% record.

Already at a three point disadvantage, Arsenal failed again to win at home in their opening game.  This time it was Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool beating Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal, who between them scored seven goals in an exciting match that had more to do with defensive frailties than attacking prowess. Not for the first time, the final whistle and another defeat at the Emirates Stadium was greeted with a loud chorus of boos.  While the annual ‘why doesn’t Arsene Wenger spend the money’ debate ensued.

Leicester City were beaten 2-1 in a shock result by newly promoted Hull City who went into the game without a manager and a depleted squad.  Michael Phelan showed great tactical awareness by closing down the space for Leicester to run into.  Leicester looked rusty and bereft of ideas.  It could be a long, hard and frustrating season for Claudio Ranieri and Leicester City as opponents wise up to how best play against, rather than into the hands, of last season’s Premier League Champions.

Similarly, Tottenham looked a little off the pace against Everton at Goodison Park.  New manager Ronald Koeman had the Toffees playing more as a solid unit – attack-minded but with the ability to defend.  Everton went ahead with an early free-kick by Ross Barkley and bossed the first-half.  But Spurs began to turn it on after the break, and were unfortunate not to sneak a win. That said, a draw was a fair result.

Both Manchester clubs began with an expected three points.  Manchester United had an easy win away to Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth with Zlatan Ibrahimovic scoring on his Premier League debut and looking sharp for the challenge. While Manchester City struggled to get passed Sunderland with their new manager, David Moyes.  Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola had their teams passing and playing with more confidence.  But I still feel  Man City are still a few players short of playing the high-pressing, fast-paced Guardiola way and expect more players to be either sold or pushed out on loan, to make way for more new faces before the end of August.

Chelsea also made a bright start against a below average West Ham on Monday night.  Antonio Conte had Chelsea playing quick one-touch football and most importantly, desire had returned to the likes of Diego Costa, Eden Hazard and Branislav Ivanovic.  Kante made a very impressive start to his Chelsea career.

Swansea City and West Brom were the other winners last weekend with 1-0 away results at Burnley and Crystal Palace respectively; and while West Brom will have a tough time to contain Everton, Swansea could well be holding on to a 1005 record thus far, with a home match with Sunderland.

With less than two weeks to go to the end of this transfer window it will be interesting to see where Joe Hart is playing come September, and how that effects his ability to retain the no.1 shirt for England after a very poor Euro 16 campaign. With none of last season’s top six in the market, Everton look favourites to continue spending and offer Joe Hart a first team place; and following the signing this week of Yannick Bolasie from Crystal Palace, Everton could be ready to agree the sale of Romelu Lukaku back to Chelsea.  Though I’m not 100% sure Everton, Lukaku or Chelsea want the move.

Crystal Palace lost no time replacing Bolassie with Christian Benteke from Liverpool; and though I think Benteke will do well for Alan Pardew and the Eagles, it is at best, a side-step rather than a step forward.

This weekend’s fixtures start with Manchester United taking on Southampton tonight (Friday) at Old Trafford and I’m confident Jose Mourinho’s first home game will result in a further three points and another convincing victory.  Southampton start another season without their best players from the previous campaign and another new manager.  Claude Puel follows Ronald Koeman and Mauricio Pochettino in attempting to keep stability in the Premier League for the Saints after losing top scorer Pelle to China and their player of the season, Mane to Liverpool.

So, along with Manchester United, who else do I expect to be sitting at the top of the table with 100% records come Sunday evening?

Manchester City should overcome Stoke City in a tight game at the Britannia Stadium, especially as England goalkeeper Jack Butland has been ruled out from an early return from injury. Liverpool will beat Burnley convincingly as they continue to push forward under Klopp; and a rejuvenated Chelsea should be too strong for Watford where another new manager and continuing turmoil off the pitch will surely take its toll this season.

But the most exciting game of the weekend could be Leicester v Arsenal at the King Power Stadium.  Leicester will need a Plan B if Drinkwater is not given space and time to find Vardy as he makes his darting runs behind the defence.  But Liverpool showed the Arsenal defence, weakened further by injury as well as a lack of pace, are very vulnerable if put under pressure.  If they’re unable to break up Leicester’s game, Arsenal could find themselves in another high scoring thriller.

The English Premier League 2016/17 Season Preview

Premier League 2016/17 SeasonIt’s back! Today sees the start of the 2016/17 English Premier League season, and one thing everyone and his dog appear to agree on is the 2015/16 Premier League season was a one-off.  Not only were 5,000/1 Leicester City crowned champions by 10 clear points, Arsenal, Manchester City and Man United  faltered with a stop / stop season, while Liverpool‘s chances were savaged by an injury crisis and Chelsea went into complete meltdown, and only scrapped into the top half of the table all season.

Tottenham and Leicester were the only two consistent teams throughout the whole season. Both played exciting football that relied on pace and fitness.  But Spurs choked as they entered the final straight.  The path to glory was left for Claudio Ranieri and Leicester to win the Premier League.  But this season will be a lot different.

There are no less than eight new managers; and with the arrival of Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho in Manchester and Antonio Conte at Chelsea, expectations are super high; and winning the Premier League is once again back on the agenda for all three of the so-called ‘big four’.  

But with Man City, Manchester United, Chelsea,  Arsenal, Liverpool, Tottenham and possibly Leicester all realistically looking to compete  for a top four finish, this could be the season that Arsene Wenger and Arsenal miss out on Champions League Football.

Chelsea and Manchester City have made some marquee signings but it is Man Utd who have led the transfer headlines.  Jose Mourinho targeted four stellar signings that along with goalkeeper David De Gea, will become the new look spine of Manchester United; and if Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Pogba & Mkhitaryan hit the ground running, it will interesting to see where Wayne Rooney fits in to this team.

The two Manchester clubs of managers go head-to-head as the bookies favourites to win the Premier League.  But I think it might take some time for both Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho to get their teams playing the way they want to.  While Chelsea appear to be quietly going somewhat under the radar. The fourth team I believe will make this season a much closer fought won, is Tottenham.  But this depends if Mauricio Pochettino can strengthen his squad in the next couple of weeks and that the Euro 16 finals hasn’t drained the confidence of his England players.

Buzzin Football Premier League 2016/17 predictions:

Premier League to be won by no more than three points by either Manchester City, Man Utd, Chelsea or Tottenham.

Arsene Wenger and Arsenal miss out on qualification to next season’s Champions League.

Liverpool, Leicester & Arsenal to fight it out to the last day of the season for a top six finish.

Hull City (Tigers) to be relegated with a Premier League low record number of points

Three from Hull, Swansea, Sunderland & Burnley to be relegated.

How bright is the future of the England football team?

Big Sam Allardyce to become the next England ManagerSo, as the FA look forward to the start of another record-breaking, money-swamping, ego-bloated Premier League season, following the abysmal performances and eventual collapse of the England national team in Euro 2016 against Iceland – a country with the population of Croydon and more volcanoes than professional footballers – the English Football Association have yet another chance following a tournament failure, to ‘get it right next time’.

With that in mind, who wouldn’t be excited to know they are in talks with Big Sam Allardyce to become the next England Manager.

It’s funny how all the football pundits, journalists and so-called football ‘experts’ (especially ex-professionals who apparently have an insider’s understanding of how to play football because once upon a time, they under-performed and failed miserably in an England shirt too) were all singing England’s praises before the start of the Euro 2016 finals in France. Roy Hodgson was being talked up for selecting a young, exciting squad and England was being tipped to make the quarter-finals, semis and by some, even win the tournament. This euphoria followed an unbeaten qualifying campaign. Neither of which is something new. Nor were the poor performances, no plan b or lack of quality when faced with an opposition who played as a team, were not afraid to receive the ball, and above all, didn’t resort to kicking the ball around as fast as possible in headless chicken fancy dress costumes when they went behind.

For decades now England has underperformed on the big stage. This isn’t new, but deep-rooted. It started in the 1970s when England failed to even make the World Cup finals for over a decade At the same time, there was an emergence of a new style of European football. While West Germany (as it was known then) continued to play solid, cautious football with a strong team ethic, Holland (also known as Netherlands) began playing a slower, more skillful game that promoted individual flair and ability but still with a strong team spirit. This evolved from the exciting flair of the Brazil 1970 team – possibly the best football team of all time – and infiltrated Spanish football in the 1980s when Dutch legend Johan Cruyff became manager of Barcelona. England’s style of fast, furious, aggressive football was no longer good enough to compete at the highest level. While I can understand the achievements of 1966 and 1970 were still fresh in the memory when England failed to qualify for the 1974 and 1978 World Cup Finals, by the 1980s the English FA had the chance to address the endemic problems in English football coaching that start with young kids and proliferates through grassroots and professional levels.

Apart from a brave attempt in World Cup 1990 and again helped by home advantage in Euro 96, England’s place in the hierarchy of national football is no longer at the

top table. The only difference with the over-enthusiastic and under-performing Euro 16 debacle was this time the capitulation was against a debutant country the size of Iceland. England achieved a new rock bottom in embarrassment and under-performance. But however frustrating it is to see overpaid primadonas fail miserably once again to play for their country at the level they play for their clubs, be careful not to agree with the wrong excuses. Forget ‘tiredness from a physically draining season’, too many foreign players, money or lack of commitment. England’s failure at every World Cup and European Championship finals comes down to one thing – the English way of playing football. Until that changes at schoolboy and grass roots level and permeates to the top level of English football, England will continue to fail at every major tournament.

Jurgen Klinsmann was at the heart of rebuilding Germany when they hit a low 10 years ago. They looked not just at the national team’s performances but at the whole structure of German football. Look where they are now.

The future of England isn’t bright. According to the English FA, the future is… Big Sam Allardyce!

Wembley Arch displays Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité ahead of England v France

Wembley Arch displays Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité ahead of England v France
Wembley Arch displays Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité ahead of England v France

Wembley Arch will display the national motto of France, Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité (liberty, equality and fraternity) for the England v France friendly.

Supporters going to the England v France frindly tonight are advised to get to Wembley Stadium as early as possible to avoid queues and to support commemorations of the tragic events in France.

The FA plans to appropriately remember Friday’s Paris incidents and encourages England fans to support the following initiatives:

  • England fans are asked to respect the French national anthem, La Marseillaise, the words of which will be displayed on screens inside the arena
  • La Marseillaise will be sung after God Save the Queen, in a change of protocols
  • Materials will be on seats in the east side (England Home End) of the stadium, which will form the French Tricolore when fans hold them aloft during the anthem
  • A minute’s silence will be observed prior to kick-off
  • Please ensure that you take your seats no later than 19.55 to observe the minute’s silence and national anthems
  • Both teams will wear black armbands during the game
  • The England team will make a gesture of solidarity to the French team prior to kick-off