Talking points: England’s World Cup has been a failure, but context is important

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After 180 minutes, England’s knockout round fate is in Italy’s hands, with the Three Lions’ 2-1 loss to Uruguay meaning anything but an Azzurri win on Friday will send the former champions out. Even if the Italians stumble against Costa Rica, there are very few scenarios for Tuesday’s Group D finale that will put England into the knockout round. If bottom lines are your thing, Brazil 2014’s will be an indictment for Roy Hodgson’s squad.

In context, however, the conclusions are so clear. A tough Group D meant one knockout round hopeful was going home early regardless, while two close matches against strong teams meant England’s record only partially reflected its quality on the field. If you’re making a list of things to blame for England’s poor result, put “FIFA ping-pong balls” at the top. Drawn into a number of other groups, England would be going through.

Regardless, after today’s loss, England’s probably down to 90 minutes at this year’s World Cup, and while that will draw the ire of some, there’s no reason to cast too much gloom on mixed if disappointing results. Our three talking points.

[ RELATED: World Cup news, analysis from Soccerly ]

1. Two days, two groups of death … – Maybe we’re going about this Group of Death-thing all wrong. I’ve harped on the U.S. side of this enough, so no use recycling those thoughts, but given what we’ve seen from Group B (Spain: out) and Group D (England: almost out), we should rethink how we go about this label. Whereas we’ve to slap it on the toughest group, we should start playing to what the term actually means.

There are groups which, because of their draw, will provide a renown team a quick, potentially unfair (in light of the other groups) exit; a death, if you will. On Wednesday, we saw it with Spain, and now we’ve seen it with England, a team that has the quality to get out of five other groups. Two ex-champions, among the world’s most popular teams, are probably going home before the knockout round, given a premature departure because of the depth of their groups.

Instead of acknowledging a single Group of Death, maybe we need to be more liberal with the label. With Chile, the Netherlands, and Spain, Group B was a Group of Death, ending the reign of one of international soccer’s most dominant teams. And Group D, featuring three teams that have final eight quality, will likely send England home before the tournament’s first cut.

As much as England’s tournament is about its shortcomings, it’s also about an extremely tough draw.

source: AP
England’s Wayne Rooney scored his first World Cup goal, but for the second straight match, he and his team fell, 2-1. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

2. … so let’s not be too brazen about England’s failings – What have we learned over the Three Lions’ 180 minutes in Brazil? That they’re not as good as Italy? We already suspected that. Italy showed its quality at Euro 2012. To the extent England can compete against Italy, it’s more about matchups (fast attackers against a slow defense) than the overall quality of the squads.

Did we learn that England’s not as good as Uruguay? Before the tournament started, that was less certain, but La Celeste are reigning South American champions. They also made the semifinals on at South Africa 2010, a depth England hasn’t reached in 24 years. If England’s not up to Uruguay’s standard, it’s certainly nothing to worry about.

Alas, England fans will worry, and it’s hard to blame them. The final result just wasn’t good enough, but when you consider the strength of the Three Lions’ group and the stage this team’s at in its development, the result’s nothing to worry about.

Not only was England competitive against good squads, but better days are ahead for a still maturing core.

3. Can’t say enough about Suárez – Rightfully, people are criticizing the English defense. When a team gives up four goals in two games, some post-mortem is required. Maybe Hodgson should have brought John Terry out of retirement, picked Ashley Cole, and sided with cohesion by playing a mostly Chelsea back line?

To the extent England’s defense failed, it was in moments, not spans. Perhaps the familiarity of three Chelsea players would have solved the problem (even though it didn’t seem to help Phil Jagielka and Leighton Baines).

There is, however, another way to look at what happened. After all Uruguay only got two shots on target. Italy, for that matter only had four. It’s not like the Three Lions were giving up a slew of chances. Their failings were isolated, made more dangerous by striking talent few teams have in their squads.

For Italy, it was Mario Balotelli, who put himself in a position that was nearly impossible for Cahill to defend. Against Uruguay, it was Suárez, who showed his Liverpool teammates what it’s like to be on the other side of a match-winning kind of performance. While teams like the Netherlands do have similarly talented strikers, most teams at the World Cup don’t. Again, England’s draw came back to haunt them.

Though England could have done better on Uruguay’s first goal, Suárez deserves credit for pulling off a finish that few would have had the sense or technique convert, and while the second goal was a less forgivable failing, players like Suárez make you pay.

We’re seen plenty of other players blow those types of chances. Suárez did not. As a result, England’s on the brink of going out.

FIFA seeking sponsors for video replays at World Cup

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LONDON (AP) Video replays will be used at the World Cup for the first time and talks are underway with potential sponsor branding to appear when the technology is used, a FIFA executive said on Monday.

Soccer’s rule-making panel met Monday to assess recent trials ahead of video assistant referees (VAR) being officially approved by FIFA later this season for use in Russia in June and July.

“Definitely VAR will happen,” FIFA chief commercial officer Philippe Le Floc’h told The Associated Press. “It’s great to have technology in football because this is also a fair(ness) thing.”

Referees were assisted for the first time by high-tech aids at a World Cup in 2014 when goal-line technology was used. That system sees a message instantly flash on referees’ watches saying only whether the ball crossed the line.

Video review is used when there is a “clear and obvious error” involving goals, penalty awards, red cards, and mistaken identity.

Replays could lead to delays in games in Russia as different angles are reviewed, presenting an opportunity for FIFA to brand up the segment on the global broadcast feed.

“We are talking to various technological companies who are very interested with what we are doing on the technology side of things,” Floc’h said on board the World Cup trophy tour plane during a stop at London Stansted Airport.

The final decision on allowing replays to become part of the rules of the game falls to the International Football Association Board on March 3 when its annual meeting is held at FIFA.

Video review has been expected at the World Cup because FIFA controls half the votes in IFAB’s decision. The other voters are the four British soccer federations.

Monday’s meeting brought together IFAB technical experts, FIFA refereeing officials, and researchers from the University of Leuven in Belgium, who have studied use of video review in 804 games across more than 20 competitions.

“The discussions we had today do not indicate that further experiments need to be conducted,” said Johannes Holzmueller, FIFA’s lead official for technological innovation.

Watch Live: Swansea City vs. Liverpool

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Swansea City’s bid to slow down steamrolling Liverpool begins at 3 p.m. ET Monday at the Liberty Stadium (Watch live on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

The rampaging Reds are coming off a 4-3 win that ended Manchester City’s unbeaten Premier League season, and will hope to avoid a let down against desperate Swans.

The Welsh hosts are six points adrift in the race for Premier League safety, and look set for a 5-4-1 with Jordan Ayew the only forward. Wilfried Bony and Oliver McBurnie are on the bench along with attack-minded Luciano Narsingh.

LINEUPS

Swansea City: Fabianski, Naughton, Van der Hoorn, Fernandez, Mawson, Olsson, Ki, Fer, Clucas, Dyer, Ayew. Subs: Nordfeldt, Bartley, Roque Mesa, Carroll, Narsingh, McBurnie, Bony.

Liverpool: Karius, Gomez, Matip, Van Dijk, Robertson, Can, Wijnaldum, Salah, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Mane, Firmino. Subs: Mignolet, Milner, Klavan, Lallana, Ings, Solanke, Alexander-Arnold.

Kevin De Bruyne commits to Man City through 2022-23

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Kevin De Bruyne is one of the best players in the world, and he’s committing his prime to the club which has taken him to the next level.

[ MORE: How will Arsenal, Man Utd line up? ]

Manchester City announced a new deal for the Belgian wizard, keeping him at the Etihad Stadium through 2023.

De Bruyne, 26, has posted 31 goals and 38 assists for Pep Guardiola‘s men since returning to England from the Bundesliga, and appreciates being given a lot more money. From ManCity.com:

“As I’ve said previously, my intention has always been to stay here at City, where I’ve felt at home from day one. Not only are we winning – we are playing great football. It’s a pleasure to be a part of and I’m really excited about what we can achieve in the coming years.”

De Bruyne is in the discussion for a Ballon d’Or finalist spot this year, along with Lionel Messi, Neymar, Gareth Bale, Harry Kane, and others (Hot take: This does seem to be year Ronaldo possibly knocked off, barring a remarkable run in the Champions League or World Cup).

After the swap: Alexis, Mkhi-infused XIs for Man Utd, Arsenal

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The deal is done: Henrikh Mkhitaryan has moved to Arsenal with Alexis Sanchez going the other way in a monumental January move.

[ MORE: Transfer rumor roundup ]

How will it look for each side once the shape’s settled?

Arsenal

When Henrikh Mkhitaryan was at his very best — for Borussia Dortmund in 2014-15 — he was deployed as a left or right wing. He contributed 23 goals and 32 assists in 52 matches during his final season at the Westfalenstadion, and predictably saw those numbers drop as Jose Mourinho consistently moved him toward an attacking center midfield role.

He’ll get the chance to go out wide again at the Emirates Stadium, though perhaps not always to the extreme flanks. Expect Alexandre Lacazette‘s numbers to explode with this move.

Arsene Wenger used a 4-3-3 to batter Crystal Palace 4-1 at the weekend, with Ozil on the right wing and Alex Iwobi on the left. The club still needs better at center defensive mid while Aaron Ramsey is out, so that will likely keep the lineup similar until he returns (at a minimum):

Cech

Bellerin — Mustafi — Koscielny — Montreal

Elneny (Ramsey, eventually)

Xhaka — Wilshere

Ozil — Lacazette — Mkhitaryan

By the way, a lot of Arsenal supporters aren’t feeling great about this (understatement alert):

Manchester United

Alexis Sanchez prefers left wing, too, and Mourinho has a trio of in-form players who like that side of the field. Anthony Martial is red hot but plays wider than Jesse Lingard, and it seems one of them will take the slot of Juan Mata to the right of Paul Pogba in a 4-1-4-1. Marcus Rashford could also see the far right positioning.

But against top competition — continued apologies to Burnley — it’s usually a 4-2-3-1 for Mourinho with Pogba dropping next to Nemanja Matic a little deeper in the formation. Lingard has been getting the run as CAM here, usually to the detriment of Juan Mata. With Alexis as the clear-cut left wing in this formation, it causes real combat for the two other slots between Mata, Lingard, Rashford, and Martial.

So while it’s likely we’d see something like this in a big game for Manchester United…

De Gea

Young — Jones — Smalling — Valencia

Matic — Pogba

Martial — Lingard —  Sanchez

Lukaku

… We’d love to see something more like this:

De Gea

Young — Jones — Smalling — Valencia

Matic — Herrera

Pogba

Martial — Lukaku — Sanchez

How do you think Wenger and Mou will run ’em out?