The dust is beginning to settle on another tournament disappointment involving England. The under-21s have crashed out of the 2015 European Championships, finishing bottom of the group having been beaten by their Italian and Portuguese counterparts.
It could be argued that this age group is very important if the aim of FA Chairman Greg Dyke of winning a World Cup by 2022 is to be realised; after all, these players should be at their peak of their powers by the time that the rather controversial World Cup in Qatar comes round.
Considering the incredible revelation that FIFA in the Sepp Blatter has toxic corruption and greed running through its veins (who knew?), with Qatar at the very centre of it, it would be quite something if that World Cup was to instigate change in English football.
Apart of the allegations of bribery, the biggest talking point about Qatar is the potential for the first ever World Cup held in the winter. Whilst there’s inevitable outrage of how it would affect the European football calendar, perhaps it would finally bring English football in line with its continental equivalents.
The debate over a winter break has been had, but perhaps the World Cup forcing the Premier League to stop for six weeks could finally means action rather than words.
It would stop a well-trotted line about players coming to the tournament as ‘tired’; it does seem like an excuse, but perhaps there is an element of truth to it. Considering the 139 representatives of English football across the 32 nations at the 2014 World Cup, there were no real impressive performers.
Of those who did impress having come from British shores to Brazil, think who did do well; Robin Van Persie, Andre Schürrle and Mesut Özil were some of the better performers, but they all struggled for game time in the season leading up to the World Cup, whether through injury or, in Schürrle’s case, lack of game time. Luis Suarez benefitted through an enforced break, too.
The players who were regulars in the Premier League leading up to the World Cup, including the dismal England performance, did look shattered; stars like David Silva and Eden Hazard were well under par compared to the star turns in the Premier League.
But a winter break would benefit the Premier League itself, too. Considering how strongly Diego Costa, Alexis Sanchez and Cesc Fabregas had started in the first half of 14/15, the second half shows a drop in form and fitness.
Costa and Fabregas’ club manager, Jose Mourinho, also acknowledged how the Premier League was the toughest when discussing Chelsea’s chances of winning the quadruple, but with a winter break that goal would perhaps become more realistic.
A month break over January would be an ideal chance for Premier League clubs to have a breather to make decisions. After 19 games, a break in January would be a chance to conduct transfer business without games going on; no longer would rash decisions be made in the aftermath of games.
If chairmen and sporting directors suddenly stopped deciding they needed new left-backs on the basis of one poor game, the same could be argued for managers; how many times have managers been sacked either after being given too little time to turn things round, or in Chris Hughton’s case at Norwich, too long?
A break to stop and assess the first half of the season would help that; for the amount of money that washes around in English football, an awful lot is frivolously wasted on snap decisions.
Critics of a winter break say it would stop tradition, which is understandable; many people first look for who they play on Boxing Day, and many more get excited over the third round of the FA Cup too.
That would obviously need a rethink, what with the incredible three cup competitions clubs in League One and Two get through, but why does there need to be three cup competitions in the first place? Compared to the FA Cup, the Capital One Cup is treated with far less romance anyway.
Of course a winter break would not help to overcome the drastic problems within coaching or the lack of English young players in the Premier League, but it could be a start.
For far too long, the arrogance of ‘the English game’ has stopped change and progress; whilst the likes of Di Maria and Radamel Falcao are branded ‘not good enough’ for the Premier League despite looking world class elsewhere, in reality British football is one long slog that just exhausts players.
But a winter break would be a start, a first big step. And besides, who really enjoys watching a 0-0 in the freezing cold of January?[separator type=”thin”]
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It’s crunch time for Stoke City under Paul Lambert
The next two months are crucial for the future of Stoke City.
There are only eight games left of the Premier League season and with Manchester City running away with the Premier League title the attention now turns to the race for survival.
Stoke City began the season celebrating their tenth consecutive year as a top-flight club and yet the campaign could ultimately culminate in relegation to the Sky Bet Championship.
The warning signs were there in the summer when star winger Marko Arnautovic forced through a transfer to West Ham United and claimed that the Potters ‘lacked ambition’, something that the club hierarchy strenuously denied before forcing Mark Hughes to be reliant on free transfers and loan signings.
The further departure of club stalwarts such as Jonathan Walters and Glen Whelan was also a loss in the dressing room and behind the scenes, if not necessarily on the pitch.
The campaign actually got off to a promising start as Stoke secured four points from their opening two home fixtures against Arsenal and Manchester United, but the wheels quickly began to fall off.
Hughes had opted to deploy a new look 3-4-3 formation and, despite some early success, it soon became apparent that the Potters did not have the personnel or quality to make the system work.
The sight of Mame Biram Diouf, a striker by trade, stranded as a wingback pretty much summarises the tactical naivety of Hughes and his unwillingness to revert to a back four, despite poor results, saw the club slip into the relegation zone.
Ultimately, it has been Stoke’s inability to defend that has underpinned their demise this season.
At one stage, the Potters had the unenviable record of possessing the worst defensive record of any club in the top flight of European football, whilst only West Ham United have conceded more goals or kept fewer clean sheets in the Premier League this season.
Mark Hughes was dismissed in late January after Stoke City had been knocked out of the FA Cup by fourth-tier Coventry City and were stranded in the Premier League relegation zone.
There is little doubt that the Potters were correct to part ways with the Welshman, although in hindsight the club hierarchy had remained too loyal for too long.
Stoke’s attempt to hire a successor was chaotic, disorganised and became something of a soap opera.
Gary Rowett was the first manager to publically turn down the job after being approached and was swiftly followed by Quique Sánchez Flores, who conducted a swift U-turn within twenty-four hours of reportedly agreeing to leave Espanyol, and Martin O’Neil.
Stoke supporters were eventually left with the uninspiring appointment of Paul Lambert who, quite clearly, was nobodies first choice for the role.
The former Aston Villa and Wolverhampton Wanderers boss has certainly had a positive impact since arriving in the final weeks of January and has undoubtedly made the team more organised and harder to beat.
However, Lambert has overseen just one win in seven fixtures, at a time when the club are desperate for points, despite having been handed a favourable run of fixtures that included Huddersfield Town, Watford, Brighton, Bournemouth, Southampton and Leicester City.
The 48-year-old will need to stimulate a dramatic improvement in results of The Potters are going to have any hope of avoiding the drop.
On paper, the current Stoke City squad consists of a core contingent of proven international players that should have the quality and experience to pull away from the relegation zone.
Jack Butland, who is vying to be England’s first choice goalkeeper, Kurt Zouma, one of the most highly rated young defenders in Europe, Joe Allen, a central midfielder of undoubted quality, and Swiss superstar Xherdan Shaqiri make up the spine of the starting eleven, whilst Moritz Bauer and Badou Ndiaye arrived in January to add further quality.
However, there is an obvious lack of creativity in the current squad and the responsibility for facilitating goal scoring opportunities rests solely on the shoulders of Shaqiri.
In addition to this, Stoke lack a proven goal scorer with Mame Biram Diouf (inconsistent), Peter Crouch (one dimensional) and Saido Berahino (who has yet to score in over two years) the only options at Paul Lambert’s disposal.
This imbalance in the squad has been reflected in recent results. Since Lambert’s arrival in late-January Stoke have lost just once in seven games, against the champions-elect Manchester City, and have kept three clean sheets in the process.
However, in the same period, they have only won once, in Lambert’s first match against Huddersfield Town, and have found the net just five times – three of which were provided by Shaqiri.
It is the lack of creativity and goals that is undermining any shoots of recovery at the Bet365 Stadium.
Everton (H), Arsenal (A), Tottenham (H), West Ham United (A), Burnley (H), Liverpool (A), Crystal Palace (H) and Swansea City (A).
Stoke City have a semi-difficult run of fixtures but there are certainly opportunities to accumulate points over the closing weeks of the season.
Home games against Everton, Crystal Palace and Swansea City are ‘must win’ based on the fact that the Potters have the worst away record in England, having won just once on their travels this campaign, but trips to Olympic Stadium and the Liberty Stadium could provide a chance to rectify that.
Fundamentally, if Stoke can get to the final two games of the season and still be in with a chance of securing safety then they will be relatively pleased. It could all come down to the last day of the season with a mouth-watering fixture against Swansea.
Will They Survive?
Although Paul Lambert has certainly had a positive impact since being appointed in late-January, making the team more organised and harder to beat, it is difficult to see where Stoke City will secure the three or four wins required to guarantee safety.
The Potters have won just six games all season and the lack of creativity throughout the side and the absence of a proven striker leaves you wondering where the goals are going to come from.
There is certainly still hope for Stoke supporters, but Lambert will need to facilitate a dramatic improvement in performances if he is to guide the club to safety.
It will be an achievement if he can get the Potters to the final two games of the season, against Crystal Palace and Swansea City, and still be in with a chance of surviving.
Paul Dummett’s Wales snub will please Newcastle United fans
The Welshman turned down an international call-up this week.
Paul Dummett has been one of the standout players for Newcastle United this season and his performances haven’t passed Ryan Giggs by.
The new Wales National Team manager has admitted that he has spoken to the left-back with a view to a return to the squad. The Chronicle reported the following quotes:
“I had a conversation with Paul Dummett, because he hasn’t been in the last few squads, and he just felt that it wasn’t the right time to come back.
“He wanted to concentrate on his Newcastle career which I have to respect, and we move on.
“He (Dummett) said that he wanted to concentrate on Newcastle’s relegation fight so I have to respect that at the moment. In the future we will wait and see.”
That will be music to the ears of Newcastle supporters and Rafa Benitez, as Dummett has emerged as a key player for the team since his return from injury.
This season in the Premier League, the Magpies have conceded only 13 times in the 12 matches that the 26-year-old has started.
That underlines how effective he has been and his importance to the team’s chances of staying in the top-flight.
Although he may not be the most exciting player to watch, Dummett is very good at carrying out a role for the team and it is no surprise that he has become one of Benitez’s most trusted lieutenants.
The Spanish manager enjoys to coach players that listen and carry out his instructions to the letter and his left-back certainly fits under that description.
A quick look at the stats shows how rounded Dummett is as a defender.
He averages 2.83 ball recoveries, 0.78 blocks and 6.85 clearances per ninety minutes. Meanwhile, he is very good in the air as shown by his aerial duels win rate of 57.41%.
He was once a scapegoat for Newcastle supporters and the focus of anger when things weren’t going well. The reason for that was his lack of technical skill, which would make him stand out on the pitch.
However, that side of his game has developed and he is now serviceable in possession. Dummett isn’t going to be cutting sides open with his attacking threat down the left, but he understands his own limitations and that has seen him improve as a player.
The 26-year-old has been part of Wales squads in the past, but he has only played once for his country and his lack of game-time may be a reason why he stepped away from the international arena.
Last summer, Newcastle issued a statement to explain why Dummett withdrew from the squad for the World Cup qualifier against Serbia, which featured the following quote:
“After a gruelling campaign with the Magpies, in which he played through the pain barrier on several occasions, 25-year-old Dummett is keen to recharge his batteries and spend time with his family and friends in order to ensure he is at peak form and fitness for his hometown team’s return to the Premier League and what promises to be a big campaign for both him and the club.
“He has been supported in his decision by Newcastle boss Rafa Benítez.
“However, Dummett – who has represented his country from youth level all the way to the senior team – has not closed the door on his international career and hopes to represent the Dragons again in the future.”
It is clear that Newcastle is the priority for Dummett, but it is interesting that he refused to close the door on Wales last summer.
A managerial change since then may lead to further opportunities for the left-back and it is easy to see why Giggs has already reached out to him.
The Newcastle full-back has developed into a Premier League calibre player under Benitez and he will offer an upgrade on the options currently in the Wales squad.
For him, as a player, it may be beneficial to play international football and gain experience at the highest level. Although he didn’t agree to come back at this time, it would be a surprise if he doesn’t return to the fold in the near future. Both parties would benefit from that.
Salif Sane is the centre-back Everton must sign in the summer
The Senegal defender has been in fine form for Hannover 96 this season.
Salif Sane may not be a player well known to many fans in England, but this season he has emerged as a superstar in German football.
The 27-year-old has been in incredible form for Hannover 96 this season. According to the stats aggregator, WhoScored, Sane is rated as the second-best player in the Bundesliga, with only Bayern Munich’s James Rodriguez ahead of him.
His form should surely have caught the eye of Everton.
The Toffees have had a torrid time defensively this season.
Ashley Williams has been in awful form and has lost the backing of fans with his recent red card versus Burnley.
Michael Keane has struggled to replicate his Burnley form at Goodison Park.
Phil Jagielka’s age is catching up with him whilst Mason Holgate has been erratic.
The less said about loan signing Eliaquim Mangala the better. With Ramiro Funes Mori sidelined for most of the campaign, Everton have leaked goals.
Sane could be the perfect plug.
The Senegal defender, who came through the ranks at Bordeaux and later Nancy, is exactly what Everton need.
Sane is a no-nonsense defender whose main aim is to keep out goals. Defending is his first priority.
One area of his game where he is imperious is in the air. Not many players beat the 6ft 5 ins powerhouse in an aerial battle.
This season has been a breakthrough campaign for Sane.
This summer he will be in the Senegal squad at the World Cup in Russia, with plenty expected of a side containing the likes of Sadio Mane and Keita Balde Diao.
Sane would join his international colleague Idrissa Gana Gueye at Everton and would arrive more than capable of finally steadying the ship in Everton’s woefully inept defensive unit.
If not Sane, then someone else, but it is fair to say not many players in Everton’s price-range would be able to have the impact the Senegal defender might if given the chance.
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