Tuesday, November 20, 2007

In which I play armchair manager

So: Israel beat Russia, which means that England only need a draw to qualify for Euro 2008. And Croatia have already qualified and are coming to Wembley tomorrow with nothing to play for. Which theoretically should make things easier for England, but then they've already shown a quite impressive ability to fuck up things that ought to be easy. (Like, say, beating Macedonia at home. Or defending a lead in any sort of competent fashion.)

Anyway, the Guardian is reporting that Steve McClaren is going to pick Scott Carson over Paul Robinson in goal, which is a bit of a pleasant surprise. I'd like to think this is a sign that he'd be willing to makes some changes to the rest of the lineup too -- rather than just picking the biggest 11 names and throwing them on the pitch willy-nilly -- but I suspect it's more that Robinson has simply choked too much lately.

As for the rest of the team, you know as well as I do who it's going to be: Whichever four defenders are fit. A five-man midfield identical to the one that crashed out in Germany last summer. And Peter Crouch up front on his own, seeing as Michael Owen is hurt YET AGAIN (I am serious, he is made of marshmallows and scotch tape), Alan Smith is being turned back into a midfielder, and Jermain Defoe has barely played this year.

I do like the idea of bringing in a defensive midfielder (probably Owen Hargreaves, possibly Gareth Barry) to hold things down and free up Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard to push forward -- and hopefully not get in each other's way too much in the process. But I can't help thinking that this is a rather ponderous midfield, and, Crouch is going to end up way too isolated up front.

Yes, David Beckham has lots of experience in crunch games, and his crosses and free kicks are still great. But that's about all he offers at the moment. He's not even 100% match-fit. Plus, pinging balls onto Crouch's head is lovely in theory, but it would probably be a better strategy if Crouch was actually, you know, good in the air. It sounds like they're going to be expecting Gerrard to play almost like a support striker -- which, again, doesn't really play to his strengths. He's much more effective bursting forward from deeper positions.

What I'd kind of like to see instead is actually a 4-3-3, with Lampard, Hargreaves and Gerrard across the middle and then two proper wingers to support Crouch -- Joe Cole and...um, this is where I run into trouble. I guess you could go with Shaun Wright-Phillips, but the problem there is that his crossing kind of sucks. So maybe Ashley Young, then? I'm not sure. Still, it doesn't matter a whole lot, because chances are that SWP's going to end up coming on anyway, when Beckham's legs go after about 60 minutes.

Also, there has predictably been a lot of stuff this week about whether or not McClaren should keep his job, with the players saying yes and pretty much everybody else in their right mind saying no. But of course the players are going to say they're behind him...well, they kind of have to say that. But to me, it's telling what sort of things they've been saying in support. It's all about how he's a great guy, he's good on the training ground, blahbiddyblah. And I'm sure it's nice to have somebody who can be all buddy-buddy with you in training, but wouldn't you rather have a manager with the ability to pick the right players and come up with a proper strategy to win games? Maybe that's just me.

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