Joe Hart no longer the best English Goalkeeper?

Since 2012, Joe Hart has been England’s first choice goalkeeper. Three successive England managers – Fabio Capello, Roy Hodgson and Gareth Southgate – have all showed great faith in the Manchester City goalkeeper over the course of the last seven years.

While he has largely repaid their faith, he is also prone to making errors, such as allowing Gareth Bale to score from a long range free-kick in England’s 2-1 win over Wales in the group stage of Euro 2016. Therefore, there is room for other goalkeepers to challenge Hart for a place in manager Southgate’s side.

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A few contenders exist.  Some have done so for a bit longer, whilst others are starting to establishing themselves as potential England candidates. Already with some playing experience for The Three Lions and perhaps part of a group of possible replacements for Hart are Jack Butland and Fraser Forster.

One name catching the eye of pundits and fans alike is Burnley’s backup goalkeeper Nick Pope who is taking advantage of the injury to Tom Heaton to stake a claim as a starter in the English Premier League. Pope remains a rather fresh face in EPL, with no prior experience at the top level, yet his recent performances for Burnley show he is worth keeping eyes on.

Another goalkeeper worth mentioning whilst he is gradually developing a good reputation is Jordan Pickford. Despite Sunderland being defensively susceptible last season, the 23-year-old Pickford excelled to earn himself a move to Everton.

At Everton he trains with the assured Dutchman Maarten Stekelenburg, who provides healthy competition for Pickford and can play a role in his progression. Pickford has represented England at every level from U-16’s to U-21’s.

At present, Hart remains England’s no.1, but his hold on the position is not as strong as it once was.  He has the opportunity to earn a spot to play at his second World Cup finals by doing well for West Ham.  Additional incentive exist for him to do so, from the way Pep Guardiola set him aside at Manchester City to his struggles with Torino in Serie A.

Perhaps an even greater motivation for Hart is the presence of goalkeepers such as Butland and Forster, along with the emergence of Pickford and Pope. Nevertheless, the greatest incentive of all, for any footballer, would be to participate in a World Cup tournament so Hart needs to step up for the Hammers in order to secure his place in England’s squad for Russia 2018!

England Would Do Well to Recall Rooney

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When Wayne Rooney ended his 13 year stay at Man United ti return to his boyhood club Everton earlier this summer, many speculated that it was a risky investment on the Toffee’s behalf. That speculation did seem to hold a fair amount of water, but Rooney has appeared rejuvenated since he pulled his blue shirt of choice back on.

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England beat Lithuania but show signs that they haven’t moved on

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How do you see a half pint measure? That you still have half, or that you only have half?

This could well be represented with Gareth Southgate’s England team, a team who got all three crucial points in their World Cup qualifying match over Lithuania. England of course were expected to win, especially being at home and did so- it was job done.

It was also achieved in a rather relative professional matter, the goals, one by Jermain Defoe and the other by Jamie Vardy were well taken and executed well. Mention should go out to Defoe, who at his age of 34 was deemed surplus to requirements as far as international football went. But the striker has been superb in an ever growing nightmare of a season for his club Sunderland who are at the foot of the Premier league. Credit should go to Southgate to realise that the striker was in form and deserved a call up, one that was immensely justified.

But England’s performance was incredibly laboured, even lethargic because within ten minutes of kick off they had checked out their opponents and quickly realised that Lithuania playing what seemed to be almost six men at the back had come to Wembley Stadium for a 0-0 result. Perhaps with huge luck Lithuania would have countered in the final quarter of an hour for a shock of shock wins but this was never in realistic terms going to happen.

And so the three lions had to be awakened as such, it never even had to be a rude one as Lithuania rarely threatened. The key in the end was getting an early goal, which Defoe did and the rest was history. By the time the second half had kicked off the area around the bench, so gloriously filled with fans for the big games was almost empty. Most had opted not to make the visit, whilst some may have still been at the bar behind the stand or grabbing a snack.

This match underlined the English mentality- and you do wonder if much will change under Southgate’s wing. True he wants to be a winner and he may take more risks player selection wise than this predecessors but this was a match devoid of any tempo, the opposition were clearly here for the taking and the 70,000 or so fans deserved to see a game ending with four or five goals rather than just the two that England could muster up in 90 minutes.

Let’s hope that this was just a bad day at the office, yes a win is a win and it’s three points, but this match could well lead onto a path that many English fan has walked many a time, only to be re routed backwards when the going gets tough.

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Spanish test can secure England job for Gareth Southgate

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England will take on Spain at Wembley Stadium on Tuesday evening in a game that promises much despite it being a friendly.

One of those is attack minded Spain who have beaten England four times from the last five meetings. The other will be England’s defence which always rises to the occasion of a superior talented opposition. And the English will surely remember that the last time these two nations met at Wembley, England ran out surprise 1-0 winners.

But the other huge factor is on England interim manager Gareth Southgate who might be close to getting the job full time. Southgate was brought in after Sam Allradyce was sacked after just 67 days and 1 game for off the field allegations.

At the time this looked like a solid move from the FA, but Southgate has repeated on a few occasions that he wasn’t keen in taking on the job full time. However with England recording good wins and now topping their World Cup group his thinking may have changed.

Added to that is that players themselves have now come out and praised England’s reluctant manager. There is of course the instant respect given that Southgate was an England international as little as 12 years ago. And it is clear that these set of players want to play under his wing.

It’s easy though to understand Southgate’s reservations about the job. So many have failed, better managers with greater resumes than Southgate’s have come and gone, so why should Southgate do any better?

The key though is player respect and understanding the philosophy behind England football and the player’s mentalities. Southgate seems to have that checked. One also only has to think back to Roberto Di Matteo. Four years before he was being sacked down in the Championship at Aston Villa he was steering Chelsea to Champions League glory over Bayern Munich. Again sometimes it isn’t the quality of a proven manager but their relationship with the players and the authority they hold in the dressing room.

And so back to Spain, a win for England should get Southgate’s ink on a permanent contract. The FA will want that stability heading to the Russian World Cup.

One also senses that even if Spain leave England with a victory, it won’t be by much and England would have faced one of their toughest opponents in a while. The test is welcomed and so is Southgate to the England set up, he just hasn’t realised it yet.

Hart saves England against Slovenia amidst unfair criticism of Rooney

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Some things never change like England struggling against a well organised team away from home, grinding out a 0-0 result and the continuing onslaught from the media of the form of Wayne Rooney.

In truth Slovenia were never going to be pushovers even if their current FIFA ranking of 67 would suggest otherwise. Whilst England had far the lions share of possession, the home nation had 13 attempts on goal, so did England but it was Slovenia that came closest to breaking the dead lock.

Joe Hart still in trusted in goal after his superb recent performances for Torino made a string of brilliant saves and was arguably England’s man of the match. Hart would have been pleased with himself and would have (excuse the pun) thought that he had made a point.

As for points England still sit on top of Group F with seven points and are now two points clear of 2nd placed Lithuania. Gareth Southgate has overseen two qualifiers now and even though his team have been underwhelming in both games, four points gained will be welcomed. England will now prepare to meet Scotland in a mouth watering match at Wembley Stadium in four weeks time.

As for Wayne Rooney it has been a season to forget so far. The veteran striker has been under an avalanche of attacks from the media for his recent form and faced a chorus of boos at Wembley against Malta. Southgate came to his rescue after that match and then left him perplexed one would think when he dropped the Manchester United player for this match.

Rooney did get playing time though and came on for Tottenham’s Dele Alli in the 72nd minute, he made little impact but so did the entire team. Rooney has remained cool though he is certainly boiling inside. But he did say in a pre press conference for this game that he will not retire from international duty.

But will we now see games both internationally and at club level where Rooney will not be an automatic pick? Jose Mourinho toyed with the idea against Stoke in United’s last game and liked the shape of his team even if they could only get a 1-1 draw at home. And now Southgate has taken the plunge.

The realism is that Rooney will be 31 in twelve days time and he isn’t getting any younger. But the hounding of certain media to remind us of his failings seems at odds against for example Francesco Totti in Italy who still plays at club level at 40 years old.

In Italy they expect veterans to have bad games, bad weeks and bad months. But respect is still granted, in England nothing much has changed and Rooney could be forgiven that he is being yanked from his pedestal by each passing day by the same people that put him there.

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Rashford scores hatrick for England U21′s to put Big Sam under pressure

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Marcus Rashford is like lightning in a bottle and continued his brilliant form from last season to help England U21′s where he scored a superb debut hatrick over Norway as England ran out 6-1 winners for World Cup qualifying.

Rashford sent a message to club manager Jose Mourinho at Manchester United who has dropped the talented Englishman to the bench in favour of a starting line up of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Anthony Martial. How longer can Mourinho resist such a talent? The worry in the past with Mourinho has been his intent to stick with star players over Academy ones, but surely he will recognise for the good of the club that Rashford really ought to be starting games.

Pressure also rests with England manager Sam Allardyce who decided to drop Rashford into the U21′s. But as evidenced against a dogged Slovakia team in his first game in charge the England forward line was listless. How they could have done with Rashford to settle the nerves early on instead of relying on a goal that came 20 seconds to the end of added injury time.

Rashford was obviously elated by his three goals and said: “It was a good début to have. It was a strong performance from the boys. Norway played well, despite the scoreline. We worked hard for the whole 90 minutes and I think in the end we deserved the result.” Asked about his favourite goal of the evening, Rashford surprised some “I’d say the penalty was my favourite, to be honest. It was the first penalty I have scored since I have been a professional.”

Allardyce was at the match and that can only be a positive sign that he is keeping close tabs on the 18 year old. But it seems odd that England would want to hold back such a talent. Wayne Rooney faced a similar problem at the same age but played for the senior team almost immediately.

Back to Mourinho and he now faces an interesting task ahead of him- does he start with Rashford in the eagerly awaited Manchester derby this weekend? The feeling is that he won’t but Rashford will get game time.

Gareth Southgate the U21 coach said of Rashford, “I’ll speak to Sam in the next couple of days, I’m sure, but I’m sure it’s given him food for thought. But he’ll be pleased with some of the performances of his players .“What we saw all week [from Rashford] we saw tonight, so I wasn’t surprised in any way. I don’t think anyone can rubbish the experience. The key is, if they come down, they get to play and put on a show like that.”

 

World Cup 2018 qualifying round-up

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Europe kick started the qualification process for the 2018 World Cup over the weekend and there were some interesting results and ties. Here is a quick look at what happened:

England started their campaign with a hard fought 1-0 win over Slovakia. The game which was England manager’s Sam Allardyce’s first in charge looked to be heading for a dour 0-0 result when Adam Lallana struck deep into injury time. This win should give the team a vital boost.

Northern Ireland who had done so well to qualify for Euro 2016 impressed in their first qualification match as they came away from a tricky Czech Republic tie with a point. The game ended 0-0 and that should be seen as a very good result considering that they were away from home.

Scotland who are vying to get to their first World Cup in what will be 20 years made heavy weather of opponents Malta early on but then ran out 5-1 winners away from home. Malta had 2 players sent off during the match, but still this was the perfect start by the Scots.

German press was not happy with their team’s performance which they described as sloppy despite the big score. The World Cup champions won 3-0 over Norway and appeared to be in cruise control- this backlash seems to show high expectations for the Germans.

San Marino almost avoided defeat but ended up suffering a 1-0 defeat to Azerbaijan. Denmark got a much needed home win over Armenia by the same score line.

There are still 9 more games to go for some of the teams and much more twists and turns to finally knowing who will join Russia at the World Cup. Matches continue this week where we will see some mouth watering fixtures such as Croatia v Turkey. Israel v Italy should be an interesting encounter also. Spain will fancy their chances when they take on Liechtenstein at home, not only should the team win but pundits will be expecting many goals also.

Gareth Bale will hope to lead out his Wales side when they open their account at home against Moldova. The Welsh side are experiencing perhaps their best form of football in their history and are aiming to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in what would be 60 years.

The World Cup qualifiers will continue in November and the rest of 2017 before being finalised sometime in next October.

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Sam Allardyce is the new England manager

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When England failed abysmally at Euro 2016 and Roy Hodgson as expected quit his post moments later the players hoped that the new England boss would come from foreign shores. They haven’t got their wish as the FA has given the green light to Sam Allardyce.

Allardyce or ‘Big Sam’ as he is known in England will be doing his best impression of his famed Cheshire cat grin with the news. Indeed a few weeks ago linking the former West Ham United and Sunderland manager to the job would have been distant, but any English manager working in the top flight for so long has the ultimate dream of leading their country and at 61 time was not on his side. He’s finally, after managing for nearly 25 years in the game, landed the big job and he will be relishing every moment of it- but was he really the right man?

The problem for the FA going with a foreign manager is the slap in the face and rubber stamp to the heart of English football emblazoned with a seven lettered word- ‘failure’. Going abroad would have been admittance that there isn’t any English born manager available that has the talent to lead the national side. Also the top nations don’t go looking abroad. New European champions Portugal have done in the past but they finally won a major trophy with Fernando Santos, Portuguese. Indeed all of the semi final teams from Euro 2016 were all managed by coaches from that country. Why should England be different?

The FA can of course point to the fact that when they did look further away they came up with Sven Goran Eriksson and Fabio Capello who both respectively took one step forward and several back. Would an English manager in their time have done any worse? Okay Steve McClaren aside, but these managers demanded huge salaries and huge attention and their legacies as football coaches will not be remembered for their time with the English national team.

Allardyce in the end didn’t have too much competition- there was talk of Steve Bruce perhaps Alan Pardew but in the end the FA have gone for a man who some players he’s coached have recently come out and said he has a calming influence and really does care for the progression of the team. Progression is a huge word and one that ultimately won over the FA because Allardyce has agreed to nurture the next England coach as part of his job.

The problem for Big Sam is that he is more remembered for relegation dog fights than battling it out near the top of the league. And the big worry must inevitably remain that he may, even if he is English, be another manager that could well be taking backwards steps than advancing in his new job. Only time will tell.

England’s Euro 2016 put on ice as Roy Hodgson quits

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England crashed out of Euro 2016 to Iceland in what has been seen as one of the biggest shocks in a major tournament. England were embarrassed when they lost 2-1 and came up with scant ideas to reduce the deficit. Moments after the game England manager Roy Hodgson resigned after being in the managers hot seat for four years.

For Iceland this was by far their greatest victory in their history- they had never made it to a major competition before and now their reward is a quarter final date this Sunday with hosts France.

The game had started at a frantic pace with England taking a fourth minute lead after Raheem Sterling was adjudged to have been fouled in the box by Iceland’s goalkeeper. Replays showed that the ball was nowhere near the player and on reflection this seemed like a harsh choice on the Icelanders. Wayne Rooney who may well have played his final game for England took the penalty as he rolled back the years and directed his shot magnificently. It would be the only bright spark of Rooney and England’s night.

But just when things seemed to be going England’s way Iceland struck back for an equaliser just two minutes later when Ragnar Sigurddson ran past into the area and unmarked sliced the ball past a hapless Joe Hart. Twelve minutes later and Iceland from being a goal behind were now in front when Sigthorsson after what seemed an eternity of passes on the edge of the England area aimed to shoot and the ball trickled over the line from what was in reality a poor shot. Was Hart blinded?

From then on in much of the possession was as one would think with England but chances were only half hearted and England will think that they rarely tested the Iceland goalkeeper and the back four. Indeed if any team was to get another goal it felt like it would go to Iceland who had at least four golden opportunities to increase their lead.

This was a magnificent result for Iceland- but it wasn’t a magnificent game by them. What had happened in stark reality was that they were playing a team in England who were just that much poorer than them. The result is heightened of course given how ‘good’ England should have been with all the players professional experience. This match had to rank as one of England’s worse defeats even if Iceland have had a good 12 months worth of results. One must remember that a nation that holds over 60 million people just lost to one that has 330,000.