Friday, August 10, 2018

Pre-Season 2018 Part 2 - The Return of the Les

Watch This Les - I'm Going to Magic You Up a Striker

Pre-season continued…..

With Carrillo heading off unite the deadly Striker/Manager partnership with Pellegrino and four players having already come in, Saints set to work with clearing out more deadwood and Sofiane Boufal went out on loan for a season to Celta Vigo. Again, we dwell on how good he could be on his day and how much ability he has but after two seasons of not a lot, it is time to conclude that the guy is a complete fucking waster. Off we went to Derby for friendly and got dicked 3-0 was probably not part of the plan but not anything that anyone should get too upset about. There were debuts for Elyounoussi and Vestergaard and then off to France for a week before the home friendlies.

No sooner had we arrived in France then more deadwood was cleared out with Jordy Clasie heading off to Feyenoord on loan for a year. Another painful reminder of the mainly misfiring recruitment policy of the last 3 years. I’ve said this before but it’s worth repeating. We signed Clasie at a point where Harrison Reed was being touted as the next bright young thing out of the academy and by signing another central midfield midget, we basically stompled all over any chance Reed head of making any sort of progression. Clasie was signed as a replacement for Morgan Schneiderlin so we did need to sign someone but we just didn’t need an identical player to Harrison Reed.  It’s a bit like the argument of Sam Gallagher against Carrillo, there is no way we would have got less out of Reed then we did out of Clasie.

Clasie joins Carrillo and Boufal

The week in France ended with a friendly against Dijon and a 2-0 win with goals from Shane Long (yes, you read that right) who was presented with a tap-in after good work by Armstrong and Bertrand.  Said tap-in was dispatched from a slightly offside looking position. Gabbiadini got a second goal having been put through by Austin. In the same way that the 3-0 defeat to Derby doesn’t mean that everything is shit, a 2-0 win against Dijon doesn’t mean that everything is brilliant. Oh yeah, our third kit made an appearance. The shirt it is basically the home shirt with white stripes being replaced by dark red ones.  It looks alright if a tad unnecessary but apparently you can’t have yellow playing against white so it will be used at Fulham and at Spurs when we could quite easily have used the home shirt but there you go.

Celta Vigo rolled into town first of our home friendlies and hang on a minute, that’s the club at the Boufal has just moved to. I bet he doesn’t turn up... oh look he’s injured. Hughes named what looked like quite an experimental line-up with Sam McQueen right wing-back and Steve Davis having a place in central midfield alongside Romeu. Disturbingly, there is also a place for Shane Long. The first half is not great and we go 1-0 down when Bednarek gets outmuscled and it’s 2-0 not long after as Shane Long gives the ball away horribly on the edge of our penalty area trying to do some sort of wanky skill move he probably saw someone else doing training. The second half though is miles better with Matt Targett playing a starring role from right wing-back instead of his usual left. Firstly he put a superb right foot across onto the head of Charlie Austin he made no mistake before sliding a ball through into the path of Armstrong to make it 2-2. The comeback was complete in the 94th minute as JWP hit the post from the edge of the box and the ball rebounded kindly for Elyounoussi to roll home the winner.

The final friendly was at home to Borussia Moenchengladbach and we were quite frankly dreadful and lost 3-0 and barely raised a gallop all game. There’s not much to be said about it really other than we seemed to get cut open every time the Germans came forward and that seem to in the main be down to no cover from the midfield. At least it will ensure that no one takes the foot off the gas in training next week.

Transfers… The general message coming out of the club for the last few weeks is that we would need to sell before we can buy and whilst we have shipped a few players out on-loan, I still can’t see any significant incomings. It’s hard to pinpoint where we are most likely to strengthen if at all. The obvious place would be upfront but we have players there who can stick a ball in the net but we don’t get the supply to them. So maybe it’s the wide areas that need strengthening with the formation we are playing at the moment, there isn’t really a place for wide players. You could say that we are still lacking in defence but we have five central defenders so unless you’re going to sell one and sign hopefully a better one, I can’t see that happening either.

Right back seems to be the new pressing issue as Cedric appears to maybe have done a Jose Fonte and that he has gone away with Portugal for a tournament and after Instagramming his lads holiday, he has a mysterious stomach bug which he’s probably got from wearing too many tight shirts.  As far as I’m concerned – he can go if we can get a replacement.  Questionable defender, questionable attacker and has wanted away all last season if rumours are to be believed.

The only other interest in any of our players appears to have been a rumoured enquiry from West Ham for our Rock Star Instagram Model and Part-Time Footballer, Mario Lemina. Whilst he is brilliant on his day, his attitude clearly stinks and I would drive him to the Olympic stadium myself if West Ham offered us more than 20 million for him.   Someone might have to drive him as the thick twat keeps getting done for speeding.  Meanwhile, back on the pitch, I can’t get over the times I spent last season looking at these two players (Lemina and Cedric) in particular and wondering whether they really gave a shit about anything so I wouldn’t be too fussed if either of them left.

My main hope for the season is that we play some positive football. By this I mean that we actually go out to win some games and not just sit back and wait for something to happen which is what we have done for the last two seasons. There is a significant difference in the Premier League of course between the top six and everyone else. The other 14 teams outside of the top six are all pretty shite so you should really be looking to win the majority of your games against these teams and the best way to do that is to be positive and even if it isn’t the best way to go about it, that is what I want to see this season. I want a team that I feel has some sort of goal threat and some sort of intent. I don’t wanna see us go 1-0 down and the rest of the game be like creeping death when you know absolutely fuck all is going to happen apart from losing and not scoring.

A lot of people seem to be looking at the players the other sides have signed and automatically assuming that they are therefore going to be better than us. I’m sure the fans of other teams looked at Southampton when they signed Boufal and Lemina and the like and thought that we were going to be semi-serious contenders. We of course, were anything but.  Players have to bed in and managers have to be decent or else it’s a collection of talented individuals with no structure and it achieves little.

Saints have made mistakes, big mistakes in recent transfer windows in the players we haven’t replaced in time but also in the players that we have signed. These mistakes are expensive to rectify as you can see by the fact that we haven’t been able to get rid of Carrillo, Boufal or Clasie permanently – that’s about £45 million we paid for little return. We have also made mistakes and some of the contracts we have handed out with Fraser Forster the most ridiculous. A year ago we offered him huge pay increase and added a couple of years on a contract for him and fast forward 12 months and he is our third choice goalkeeper on more money than anybody apparently and surprise surprise, we can’t get rid of him because he has this super fat fucking contract.  The rumoured £90k a week that he is on would certainly pay the wages of someone who may actually challenge to be in the first team. These mistakes, for a club like us, take time to sort out and they restrict us in the meantime.

Personally I think we have the players to do reasonably well this season and by reasonably well I mean, challenge for the top half. The days of challenging for the top six are over for now until we fully rectify the mistakes of the past couple of years and start getting more right than wrong again.  What Hughes has to do better than his two predecessors is get the balance right in key areas of the pitch. For example, at the back. You cannot expect Vestergaard to replace van Dijk and be as good. He just won’t be as he is not the same kind of player. He will be as good in the air but he hasn’t got the turn of pace so I don’t see how are you can play Vestergaard and Hoedt in the same defence unless you have a third much quicker defender in between them. I don’t see how you can pick Lemina and Hojbjerg as your midfield two when neither are prepared to do the dirty work that only Romeu brings to the party. Up front I believe we need some pace. If it’s Austin or Gabbiadini up front then one out of Long Redmond and Elyounoussi has to play and by that, I mean one out of Redmond and Elyounoussi. I think that Hughes will play what is basically a 5-3-2 formation against most sides but don’t be surprised that if it doesn’t work, we adopt the 5-4-1 like we had at the tail end of last season.

If I was picking the team for Burnley then it would be McCarthy in goal, Cedric and Bertrand at fullbacks, Hoedt left, Vestergaard right with Yoshida in between them. Romeu and Hojbjerg in midfield with Armstrong, Redmond and Gabbiadini furthest forward. Charlie Austin can’t play 90 minutes so I’d rather keep him until he’s needed rather than having to make a sub every game when he’s blowing out of his arse.  If Cedric is still having problems with tight shirts then I’ll go with Targett at right back in the short term.  I will settle for a solid season.

My season ticket has just dropped through the door – the packaging is plain this year instead of a fancy box.  It does exactly what it says on the tin – maybe a metaphor for the season ahead.

Netley Boy Returns

Thursday – Transfer Deadline Day – JWP rumoured to be off to Watford – this sounds like utter bollocks to me and I hope it is.  Sam McQueen rumoured to be off to Bristol City – yep, can see that one happening. Danny Welbeck coming in…. hmm, would be good for us but he’s been at United and Arsenal so will be on stupid money – can’t see it. With the Twitterati getting into ‘slit their wrist’ mode at the thought of Saints not signing a striker - at the last minute, it turned out that Les Reed had secretly whisked a Liverpool striker off to the Isle of Wight for a clandestine meeting, offered to buy him a house, showed him videos of where he would be playing and dangled a contract in front of his face, said ‘BOOM!’ (in a German accent) a few times and gave him a special hug and then Les claimed that nothing was our fault ever and we were always the victim.  He did all this without Liverpool knowing anything about it of course.

Quite a few unthruths in there as Les is an honourable man so having agreed a fee of £16 million-ish for this time next year with Liverpool, Danny Ings joined on loan for the season. This can only be a good thing. Of course there are the injuries he’s had which, let’s face it, are the reason we can afford to sign him in the first place.  Despite these, he is a better bet than at least two of the strikers that we have in our squad and that’s enough for me. Also, I’m a sucker for a local boy at the club, especially as he grew up in Netley, where yours truly lived for the first eight years of his life, considerably longer ago than when Danny was there.  Hopefully by the time he’s my age he’s not writing a shitty blog that no one reads.

In addition to ings joining, no one left, not JWP, not Targett so another two local boys in the mix for next season. The signing of Ings has had a somewhat transformative effect on most of the fan base with people in the main feeling more positive now. Some, however, will always be negative and miserable and they’re the sort of people you can do without on your Social Media platforms and in your life in general. I went on a course at work a few weeks ago when I explained that it has actually been measured that it takes eight positive people to counteract the effect one negative person. I’ve never really thought about that before but it certainly seems to carry some weight.

First up – Burnley at home.

Les Celebrates Making Shane Long 4th Choice Striker

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Pre-Season 2018 and Getting it Right - So Far...

Armstrong.  Nice Hair.

Where were we… oh yes, we stayed up by the skin of our teeth.  Since then…

Ralph Krueger gave an interview which was the usual mixture of microscopic amounts of detail and a whole load of management bollockspeak. The main topic of conversation was of course who the new manager was going to be and without saying that it would be Mark Hughes, Krueger basically threw every compliment in the book at him - about him having passed his audition and all that sort of stuff so it appears like a formality with the only question being, why it hasn’t happened yet? The future of Les Reed was addressed, sort of… and it appears that he retains the trust and confidence of the Chinese owner, who we still haven’t heard a fucking dickie bird from.  The players at the time were off to visit him as we had a preseason tour there to play two matches, one against a Chinese side and one against Schalke. I would’ve thought we could have arranged a friendly against the team that Graziano plays for or even the one that Big-Time Fonte plays for. The one complete clunker in the Krueger interview was by him at redefining what the pathway means. For the last seven years we have assumed that the pathway meant the pathway from our Academy through to the first team but according to Ralph it now means the pathway from Europe to Southampton to Liverpool for players like Sadio Mane.  No I’m not bothered about Mane but with the anger at Liverpool still barely beneath the surface, it was a bit of a PR own goal.  When you think about it though, there has always been two pathways but the problem is that the one I’m on about has stopped for the last few years.

Politically, holidays were blamed for a delay but eventually Mark Hughes, Mark Bowen and Eddie Niedzweicki were confirmed as Southampton Football Club’s new management team for next season. It really had to be this way for a number of reasons. Firstly, Hughes completely deserved it and secondly, with the board hadn’t appointed him and then got another appointment wrong, their position would’ve been completely untenable.

A couple of ‘out of contract’ players moved on in Florin Gardos and Jeremy Pied. Gardos had some good games for us before his bad injury and I was always a bit mystified why he didn’t get given least a chance in the last two seasons when we were struggling defensively and Pied was bought in as cover, got injured straight away and never really looked the part.  In Pied’s case in particular, you can say he was a pathway blocker, a cheap experienced player from abroad brought in simply to cover, take up a squad place and stop any promising right back we may have coming through.

The squads for the World Cup were announced and some of our ’in contention’ players made it and some did not. Predictably, Maya Yoshida made the Japan squad, Tadic the Serbia squad and Cedric the Portugal squad. Less predictable was Jan Bednarek making the Polish 23 so fair play to him.  On the flip side, Pierre Hojbjerg had made the extended Denmark squad but when it was cut to 23, he found himself on the beach.  A quick search on Twitter revealed that most Denmark fans were pretty pissed off that he was left out.

The biggest shock I guess was that Ryan Bertrand, having played in 6 out of 10 qualifiers and never letting anybody down, didn’t make the England squad or even the standby list. There were several reasons given for this, none of which made any sense to me as he was easily the best English performing left back in the season just gone. Danny Rose had been injured all season, only coming back into the Spurs side for the last two games but he’s been taken as the only specialist left back in the squad. I didn’t really have an issue with Rose being in the squad but seeing as he has had so many problems with injury the season, it would make sense to take the second specialist but instead of that he went for the Man United squad player in Ashley Young who is as right-footed are you like but has been playing there for United this season. If ever there was an accident waiting to happen then it’s that. Another strange one is that in addition to Young who could easily play right back, there are three other right backs chosen with Trippier being first choice and Walker expected to play on the right of about three. If anything happened to Trippier then the latest Liverpool youngster in Trent Alexander-Arnold was the back up or maybe he’d switch Walker out there and play one of the three reserve centre backs he has in the squad or play Young there. Southgate was asked about Bertrand and gave a bollocks excuse, saying he wasn’t at the level of the other options. His opinion of course but not one that I think is justified.  It used to be the case that sounds players left Saints because they didn’t get picked for England and then it became the case that soon as a Saints player got in England squad, they move to a bigger club and we lost them anyway and now appears to have gone full circle again with the Manchester United, Tottenham and Liverpool players picked instead despite not being regulars at the club or a regular in the position in question.

The new kit design was eagerly awaited by some and of course there were some leaks in the media like the new Southampton shirt for sale on the Under Armour website in Hong Kong. It looked pretty average to be honest and the rumoured third kit is very similar to the All-red design that we wore in our first season back in the Premier League and looks very average as well. I quite liked last years effort but I’m too old to really get arsed about kits to be honest. As long as it’s red-and-white I don’t really care.

I am a season ticket holder and as a season ticket holder you don’t get a discount anymore when renewing, any more than the new season ticket holder would. What you do get however it’s a request from the club to fill in a survey about the club but it’s not about the football side of the club, it is just about the other bollocks with questions like what would make you turn up to the ground earlier and what do you think of the hospitality packages? In short it’s all about the corporate side which I gave absolutely zero fucks about. I, like a vast majority I would guess, am a football fan. I am not a fucking customer and as long as I can see the whole pitch from my seat, I don’t really give a fuck about anything else. I don’t care about catering I don’t care about artificially induced atmosphere, I don’t care about hospitality. I want to turn up 10 minutes before the game, watch the game, clap the players off and then fuck off home. This questionnaire seems obsessed with making people stay behind after the game and spending more money. A good question would’ve been if you wanna leave on 75 minutes, what would make you stay to the end of the fucking game to support the team? Anyway, my responses were full of sensible suggestions but not what they would’ve been wanting. Question: What ruined your match day experience? Answer: the team announcement when Shane Long is upfront on his own…. Question: What annoys you during games? Answer: The manager not having a clue what he’s doing.

The kit was actually release and the home shirt is red and white stripes and the away is yellow and blue which on the face of it is what everyone would have chosen. It’s amazing quite how much people find to get annoyed about regarding the kit which is (I repeat) changed every year. Some are annoyed because of some very minor detail on the shirt like a logo bring the wrong colour or the Under Armour badge being slightly too big and the wrong colour. Some people get annoyed because the kit was leaked on overseas websites first. Some people got annoyed when Saints media team tried to make light of it and implied that the leaked kit wasn’t the actual kit. Some people even got annoyed because the leaked kit that they didn’t like was possibly not the real kit and they felt they were being trolled by the club. For fucks sake. As I said at the start, the home shirt is red and white stripes and a away shirt is yellow. Happy days and if you don’t like it, don’t buy it and it will charge again in 12 months time. Important details are that it has the Southampton badge on the front and it has Premier League matches on the sleeve

Meanwhile, back on things that matter.  After the last few transfer windows and us all becoming quite pessimistic about us sorting out the things that need sorting out with regards to players - this year with the transfer window closing early, we have no choice but to get on with it and so Stuart Armstrong arrived from Celtic for £7 million quid. Armstrong is an attacking midfielder with an eye for goal and seems an exact replacement for Steven Davis who of course has no eye for goal at all and hasn’t left yet. The signing of Armstrong rises intriguing questions about how the team is going to set up to play as there doesn’t appear to be on the face of it, a place for him in the 5-4-1 formation that we were playing at the end of the season. Still, the one thing we’ve lacked in the last few years is a goalscoring midfielder so hopefully, this is a guy who can get near to double figures. Oh, and he has nice hair apparently.

Probably unrelated but one in was soon followed by one out with Dusan Tadic completing a move to the Ajax. I have mixed feelings about this. On his day he is a brilliant player and when they happen, he is untouchable.  In his four seasons with us, he has played well in the main under the two decent managers that we’ve had, Ronald Koeman and Mark Hughes. Under Puel and Pellegrino he was pretty shocking at times going 15 to 20 games without actually contributing much at all. He’s had some great moments in the Saints shirt though, dismantling Sunderland on the 8-0 win, scoring the winning goal at Old Trafford and recently of course, his major contribution in keeping us up in the game at home to Bournemouth. He was of course originally brought in to replace the shit house Adam Lallana and for the first two seasons, no one would question that he had been successful. I think that he leaves on good terms so as long as we replace his creativity then I’m ok with it.  Apparently he’s talking a pay cut to move and his partner is Dutch so fair play to him.  It is a bit of a surprise that he is leaving now, given that Hughes obviously really likes him but I have a feeling that this deal has been in place for long time and to be honest. If he had left in January, then no one would be that bothered. Four seasons was probably the length of the original contract that he signed and he has of course signed an extension which means that we got a not insignificant lump of cash for the sale of 30 year old who was inconsistent.

Alex McCarthy signed a new four-year contract which is really good news and something he completely deserves and it was really interesting that we were heavily linked with Angus Gunn, a promising young goalkeeper at the same time. I guess this means that Fraser Forster’s days are numbered and the club must be pretty confident about getting his wages of the books somewhere.

And another one - Mo Elyonoussi, a Norwegian winger, arrived from Basel to fill the void left by Tadic‘s departure for £16 million quid. On the face of it, he looks an exciting addition to the ranks and with only YouTube clips to go on, all we can do is hope he adapts and turns out to be decent, unlike Boufal and Ramirez who both arrived with an accompanying YouTube highlights real and high expectations which proved to be unfounded.

Please Don't Be Another Boufal

The squad for the trip to China was announced with a couple of notable omissions and a couple of notable inclusions. Jordy Clasie was involved which was a surprise after he’d turned into a bit of a forgotten man last year when on loan in Belgium. Not included were Boufal, who is clearly still persona non-grata and Guido Carrillo who as far as Hughes is concerned is clearly persona non-ability. Saints have a friendly against Schalke in one of those friendlies we have a different teams in each half and drew 3-3 with goals scored by Redmond, Harrison Reed and Jake Hesketh. It was interesting to see Harrison Reed was picked as a right wing back which I think is probably going to be his position this season as back up to Cedric if he hasn’t taken his Boyband and tight shirts somewhere else by the time the season starts. The formation was a variant of the 5-4-1 that he was played at the tail end of last season and though nothing is definite of course, until the transfer window has finished-this looks like the way we are going on personally I am fine with that and with England doing so well at the World Cup with three at the back, I can see it being fashionable for a while anyway.

The Angus Gunn interested became real and he signed from Manchester City with the accompanying sound of Fraser clearing his locker out (and dropping everything because he wasn’t using his hands).  Another game in China and a 3-2 win with Stuart Armstrong setting up Gabbiadini for the first goal, Nathan Redmond scoring again and then Sam Gallagher coming off the bench for the winner. Meanwhile, big news, with the emphasis on fucking big and the signing of Jannik Vestergaard from Borussia Monchengladbach, a highly rated 6 foot 6, 25-year-old centre back with over 200 Bundesliga appearances under his belt. We were linked with him last year but he’d only just signed for Borussia so the significance of that is that it’s clearly a ‘club’ signing, like most of our best signings have been in the last few years.

We March On... With Massive Fucking Strides

So far, this transfer window has been excellent and that we have addressed the obvious issues. The players of course need time to settling in to the Premier League but on the face of it and on paper, it looks really promising and I suspect it’s not over yet.  In my opinion, the squad need an alternative to Cedric at right back and the front end of the team needs some maintenance. If we are going to play with one striker, which seems likely then there are question marks over all the strikers we have who could possibly play that role. Gabbiadini has the movement but not really the physicality, Austin just doesn’t have a fitness and you know he will be injured for three months of the season, it’s just a case of which three. Shane Long isn’t even in the conversation really and should of course be moved on if we are looking to progress as a squad. If he is used as anything other than an emergency right winger this season then I think I might cry. Sam Gallagher has the physicality to play up front on his own but he is raw and unproven at this level.

The World Cup ended.  We sent four players out there but of course, Tadic didn’t come back.  Maya Yoshida had a great tournament with Japan, reaching the last 16 and the man himself putting in a superb performance against Belgium.  Jan Bednarek scored his first goal for Poland and it turned out to be the winner against Maya’s Japan.  Cedric started the tournament ok for Portugal, got a shit penalty given against him aginst Iran in the 3rd game and then got dropped for the last 16 game against Uruguay which they lost.  The three have all had a late holiday – guess who of the three have posted the most photos with their bro’s and shirtless selfie’s on social media?  Take a wild stab in the dark.

The we had a disastrous blow when our record signing went out on loan.  We didn't want to lose him and fought tooth and nail to keep him but Guido Carrillo is far too good for Southampton and we were lucky to hold on to him as long as we did.  Fair play to him for wanting to challenge himself as he clearly found it too easy here - so he's off to play up front for Pellegrino in Spain.  Good luck to them both,

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

World Cup 2018 - Semi's and Final - Ok, France Didn't Implode Like I Said They Would

Fair Play Carlton

Semi-finals and France against Belgium. It’s really tough to pick a winner from this match but I’ve gone Belgium, simply because of the greater attacking flair. I should’ve known. To be fair, France played this game absolutely superbly, scored the one goal that decided it with a header from a corner by Umtiti and then saw the game out impressively by defending properly and not over-committing players forward from midfield, making themselves immune to the counter-attack at which Belgium are absolutely deadly. When confronted with this, Belgian looks fairly ordinary and nearly all of their attacks fell down when the ball got to Lukaku who was absolute pocketed by Varane and proved that whilst he is a very good striker, he hasn’t got the first touch to be regarded as world class.  Mbappe and Griezmann had moments when they were absolutely brilliant but I’m going to give a shout out to Carlton Pogba who played a superbly disciplined role for the team to nullify the seven foot wig that is Marouane Fellaini. Oddly enough, I feel that should we go through against Croatia, then we would have a better chance against France than we would against Belgium.

Southgate named the usual team and here are England in a World Cup Semi-Final against Croatia.  In 1990 I was watching the game in a pub near Fratton Park of all places.  Oh the misery after that one.  Anyway, 28 years later and in five minutes, dreamland as Trippier brilliantly chipped a free kick over the wall and into the top corner. Fuck me – what a start!. For the rest of the first half, we absolutely battered them but couldn’t score with Kane being denied one-on-one by Subasic and then managing to hit the rebound on to the post via the goalkeepers boot.

Just for a Minute - We Believed

It was obvious that Croatia would be better in the second half and so it proved as they pushed up on our defence and we were severely found wanting. There was no playing out from the back and every time the ball went to Henderson in midfield, it was hoofed aimlessly forward.  Not good and from about the hour mark onwards it was obvious that we weren’t going to score again and we were just hoping to hang on but it wasn’t to be with a cross from the right hand side finding just one player moving towards the ball in the box and everyone else static.  That one player was Perisic and he got in front of Walker to knock it into the net. We hang on till extra time and the first 15 minutes were fucking dreadful as we struggle to get any sort of foothold at all, rel;ying on the excellent Pickford to keep us in it. The second 15 were better but we still didn’t create much and then a shit clearance up in the air from Walker, it came down, it was nodded back into the box, Stones was playing statues and Mandzukic reacted and scored easily. World Cup semi-final, 2-1 down, five minutes to go and we’re going to need a hero but we don’t have any. Sadly, it was completely gone and there was no way back. Rashford had a free kick and aimlessly floated it into the box and it was easily cleared and that was the last chance and with it went England’s participation in the World Cup in 2018, aside from the bollocks third place play-off they now have to endure.

We have lost to a very good side but it’s one that contains Dejan Lovren and that’s hard to take because he is a fucking wanker. I think we can have a little bit of a gripe of the referee as he let the Vrsaljjko and Rebic in particular get away with murder but we didn’t do enough from the 45th minute onwards to say we deserve anything out of the game.  Croatia with the better side and good luck to them in the final.

Overall, we’ve had a really good tournament but there is a case of what might have been. What might have been if we had put it to bed in the first half which should’ve done. What might have been if we had some game changers on the bench. What might have been, bearing in mind how the draw opened up which in all likelihood, won’t happen again. As has been pointed out by numerous other people, the English National football team has reconnected with the public after the all time low of the Iceland debacle which was after all, only two years ago. Gareth Southgate has undoubtedly been a massive improvement on Roy Hodgson and is probably the most likeable England manager this side of Bobby Robson. England lost this game because they didn’t take their chances in the first half and when Croatia got to grips with us and started asking questions of us, we didn’t adapt and we didn’t deal terribly well with the pressure that we were put under. If you’re being harsh then you would say it is pretty much as predicted. We would do okay until we came up against a good side and then defensively, we would be found wanting. The first goal was pretty bollocks but the second goal was appalling and you can’t give away goals like that at this level and expect to win many matches.

There are many who have come out of the World Cup with a reputations enhanced like Pickford, Trippier, Walker, Maguire, Stones, Henderson and Kane and there are some that have a little bit more to do like Dele Alli, Lingard and Sterling and some that just shouldn’t have been there like Young, Welbeck and Jones. Raheem Sterling - for all his running and work rate has the same attributes as Shane Long and that he doesn’t seem to have the faintest idea what to do with the ball when he’s got it.  I feel like we should’ve seen more of Ruben Loftus-Cheek who looked the best option in the front half of the pitch where the alternatives were all slightly underwhelming. Jamie Vardy never really got involved and Marcus Rashford look like a season of being undermined at club level has taken some of his confidence away. 

At the tournament, given the squad that he had there, I don’t think Southgate did too much wrong but I would take issue with some of the players that he picked for the squad, particularly the ones who you want to come on and make an impact. We really needed another creative midfielder and we also really needed a proper left back. Trippier was brilliant on the right hand side and just imagine if we’d of had the same sort of quality coming in from the left. We needed more creative midfielders, we needed some left sided balance, we needed a plan B.  There is work to do and I’m sure Southgate knows that.  Football didn’t come home, as that bloody song implies it might do one day but at least following England as a tournament was an enjoyable experience for once and one that people look forward to doing again in a couple of years.

So, Croatia against France who have got stronger and stronger as the tournament has gone on so I’m afraid I can’t see anything other than French win.

I had decided that I couldn’t be arsed to watch the third place play-off but come 3 o’clock on the Saturday, there I was watching the third place play-off. At least the managers took a relatively seriously this time with only a few changes each. Belgium started the game well and were in the lead in five minutes as Danny Rose totally lost Meunier who ran in from the Belgian right flank and connected with a cross and gave Pickford no chance. The rest of the first half was played a testimonial pace but Southgate improved things, taking off Rose and Sterling for Rashford and Lingard.  We were the better side in the second half until we got completely done on the break with Hazard scoring with ease.  Ah well – who cares?

A feature of this World Cup has been that there has been a lot of bollocks spoken, mainly by the Welsh, Scots and Irish. By that, I mean mainly the Welsh about the fact that we had a relatively comfortable path to the semi-final and we lost when we played a decent side etc etc. To them, I say this.

If you look at our recent tournament history it is this…. 2016 – Lost to Iceland, 2014 – out after two games, pathetic, 2012 – bored everyone to death, out on penalties to Italy, 2010 South Africa, smashed by Germany, 2008 – McClaren, did not qualify, 2006 – Portugal penalties, Rooney sent off, Sven clueless, 2004 – shone briefly, Portugal penalties, 2002 – sven clules, lost to 10 man Brazil, 2000 – Phil Neville.  We’ve been shit and underachieving for ages so this is better.

England have just finished fourth in the World Cup, a competition that every country in the World entered and all bar three of those countries would like to have finished where England have finished. We came fourth in a tournament that Brazil, Spain, Germany, Argentina, Italy, Holland and Wales were in and we did better than all of them. The team and the players have conducted themselves with the utmost respect and dignity which is a marked contrast to Wales at the Euros with their tinpot celebration video after England lost to Iceland. If there was ever a bigger display of arrogance and disrespect by an actual team than that, then answers on a postcard please. Also, because we have a bit of dignity and respect, we are not having any sort of open top bus parade for losing a semi-final. We will leave that to others.

Meanwhile, back with countries that actually matter in World football terms, France against Croatia.  Croatia are favourites because they have one of the best defenders in the world (© D.Lovren).  It was rather a silly proclamation to make by Mr Lovren when you consider that he’s about to play against Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann who are likely to tear him a new arsehole.

Finals tend not to live up to their billing but this one certainly did. Croatia were by far the better side in the opening 20 minutes with France looking like they didn’t really know what to do and how to handle the aggressive play in midfield from Croatia’s superb five of Perisic, Modric, Brozovic, Rakitic and Rebic. With virtually their first attack though, Griezmann took a horrible dive on the edge of the box and won a free kick. The shithouse himself took it and Croatia had got their defensive line all wrong and in the panic, Mandzukic nodded it past his own keeper. You would’ve thought that one of the best defenders in the world would have sorted the defensive line out properly.

Emotional Shithouse after Successfully Pulling Another Excellent Dive 

Back came Croatia from the injustice and a ball into the box was nodded down and Vida laid it back to Perisic who took a touch before drilling it past Lloris from the edge of the box. Game on and then just before half time, more bollocks. Over came a corner which was flicked on and it hit Perisic on the arm directly behind the guy who flicked it on. No penalty given by the referee but eventually, the VAR operators obviously made enough noise and told the referee that he had something to look at. Over he went and watched the TV before deciding that Perisic had clearly done it deliberately and that he had made a clear and obvious error in not awarding a penalty.  This is sarcasm.  Utter, utter bollocks. The beneficiary again was of course fucking Griezmann who slotted home the penalty to give France a totally underserved 2-1 lead at half time.


The start of the second-half was even until the hour mark, when in exactly the same way that they had done in the Round of 16 game against Argentina, France upped a gear and scored twice in five minutes with near identical goals. Firstly Pogba had an effort blocked before picking up the rebound and passing it around the defender and into the net and then Mbappe drilled one in from roughly the same spot and none of the Croatian offenders, including one of the best defenders in the world, got close enough to stop the shot. 4-1 and game over.  Hugo Lloris then came up with an absolute classic. Mandzukic was the only Croatia player in the French half when Lloris tried to dribble around him on the 6 yard line and Mandzukic tackled the ball into the net. Another Croatia goal would have made for a hilarious last 10 minutes but sadly it wasn’t to be and France held out for what was ultimately a fairly comfortable win. To be honest, I probably just about deserved it but Croatia can have every reason to be pissed off with the officiating on the first two goals.

I didn’t know who I was going to want to win.  Normally it wouyld have been Croatia but they have Lovren but even that wasn’t enough to tip the balance.  We did get a close up of one of the best crying defenders in the world though so that was alright.  Arsehole.

Before the presentation it pissed down and I mean really pissed down.  President Emmanuel Macron of France and the wonderful President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović of Croatia got absolutely soaked whilst Vlad the Impaler stood under a flunkey’s umbrella.  A really good tournament and a feather in the cap for Vladimir.  Well done.  For he’s a jolly good fellow.

When does the Premier League start?

Have a Losers Medal.  Dick Head

Sunday, July 8, 2018

World Cup 2018 - Quarter Finals - Neymar Dives Out

I Wish That Witsel (Right) Had Hoofed the Cheating Fucker in the Head

The quarter-finals. The last eight. From a blogging point of view. I have never arrived at the last eight of the tournament with England still in it. Usually, we have been shit and on our way home by now. We are of course still in it and so games that would usually merit only a passing interest became very important.

France v Uruguay
France and Uruguay got the ball rolling and Uruguay were missing Cavani which in my book, immediately made France the favourites and so it proved as they ran out comfortable two nil winners. The first half saw them took the lead as Griezmann flighted in a free kick and Verane flicked home really well. Uruguay had a great chance in the second half after a header by Caceres was brilliantly kept out by Lloris and France sealed the game when Griezmann tried a potshot from miles out and Uruguayan keeper Muslera, basically, did a Karius and dropped it over his own head into the net. Griezmann had made a point before the game that he felt part Uruguayan which was a bit fucking wierd and not celebrating scoring a goal in the World Cup quarter-final is very fucking weird as well. So out go Uruguay and that’s probably the last we will see of bucktooth psychopath Luis Suárez at the World Cup. At least this time he didn’t blatantly cheat like in 2010 or bite someone like in 2014.

What Happened Next?

Belgium v Brazil
Belgium and Brazil was a clash between two of the tournament heavyweights and promised an intriguing clash between Brazil’s commitment to attack and Belgium being excellent on the counter-attack. Brazil nearly scored from a corner when Thiago Silva managed to bundle the ball onto the post from about 3 inches out and it was a Belgian set piece that did for Brazil when zero communication meant two players went to head out a corner and succeeded in neither of them doing it and the ball flew into the net off Fernandinho’s shoulder. Brazil then went into full attack mode which basically played right into Belgium’s hands as they lost the ball and a lightning quick break by Lukaku ended with Kevin De Bruyne arrowing the ball into the far corner to the Belgians 2-0 up at half-time.

Brazil were better in the second half and penned Belgian back and then Neymar, took time off from losing the ball every time he had it, to start driving around. Firstly, he completely initiated contact with Fellaini went down like a sack of shit in the penalty area.  The referee saw it, basically gave him a bollocking to diving and then didn’t book him.  What the fuck is going on?  A few minutes later, this dive came back to bite Brazil as Gabriel Jesus was trashed by Vincent Kompany what look like an obvious penalty but even after a review by the VAR officials, no penalty was given. Brazil eventually got one back through and Augusto header Belgium held out thanks to a decent Courtois tip over from Coutinho and despite collectively blowing out of their arses for the last 10 minutes, secured a semi-final against France.  A final piece on Neymar – he’s a cheating fuck and the referees encourage it.  If you deal with a  problem in the correct way then it goes away.  If he dives then book him, if he does it again, send him off.  It’s like the grappling in the penalty area – start giving penalties and it goes away.  Neymar’s legacy from this World Cup has been encouraging hundreds of kids to make videos of themselves rolling around.  Even the kids know how ridiculous he is and I hope he’s proud of that.

So, France against Belgium in one semi-final and now we move on to the other half of the draw.  

England v Sweden
I moaned again when Ashley Young was picked but this (I have to accept) is Southgate’s first choice team so let’s get on with it. Sweden are more or less at full strength as well and I can’t believe I’m watching England in a World Cup Quarter Final and am confident we’re going to win. After England looked the better side from the first whistle with Sterling in particular, stretching the Swedish defence to breaking point, especially Granqvist who was really struggling to keep up. It took 25 minutes to take the lead and it was yet another set piece. I was not full of optimism when Young went up to take it but he put over a great ball to roughly the penalty spot and Maguire found himself completely unmarked to power a header into the net for 1-0. It should’ve been two before half time when a superb through ball from Henderson found Sterling with just the keeper to beat but the keeper delayed him a bit and then Sterling delayed himself trying to make up his mind what to do and the chance was gone.

"Gerrout the Fookin' Way"

The second half started with Sweden in the ascendancy and we seem to be asleep as a cross was met by Berg and his firm downward header was superbly clawed out by Pickford who was suddenly looking twice the goalkeeper he looked in the earlier matches. The save made England re-focus and concentrate and on the hour it was 2-0 with Lingard putting a cross right on Dele Alli‘s head. He had timed his run perfectly and headed past Olsen for 2-0. Pickford had to be at his best on a couple more occasions but overall England saw this game out fairly comfortably and you sensed, could have won by more if they have wanted to or needed to.

This is fucking brilliant so far. I was not over enthused when Southgate got the job but he has done the one thing that I have been crying out for every England manager to do since 1990 and build a team and not pander to big name individuals. Of course we have star individuals in this team like Harry Kane and players who play for the traditional big clubs but everyone of those players is playing for the team at the moment and not for themselves.  I’m sure that if a situation in a game needed Southgate to tell Harry Kane to play centre back, then he would without question. Sven Goran Eriksson couldn’t even get Steven Gerrard or Frank Lampard to stop bombing forward and play as a defensive midfielder. Southgate has found a system that works for the players that he has, moving Kyle Walker to a slightly unfamiliar role for the benefit of the team. It makes me laugh reading Twitter where fans of Manchester City for example are aggressively defending Sterling because he plays for Manchester City. You see United fans aggressively defending Rashford and demanding he be included ahead of Sterling. It’s laughable really. The reason this England team is still in the tournament is because club rivalries have been completely put aside. England’s latest hero is Harry Maguire who most recently has played for Leicester and Hull. Previous managers would not have even had him in the squad, let alone in the team ahead of Chelsea’s Gary Cahill or Manchester United’s Phil Jones. It just wouldn’t have happened. Southgate needs applauding for that, more than he needs applauding for wearing a fucking waistcoat. He also binned Wayne Rooney which Hodgson should have done four years ago.

I always find it interesting to compare the BBC and ITV coverage of England matches. ITV usually get the gig during qualifying but it is shared in the finals. The BBC coverage is usually absolutely miles better and was good yesterday apart from the commentator (Guy Mowbray) who was a complete fucking arse from first to last.   Co-commentator Martin Keown was ok aside from trying to sell Harry Maguire to a big club as soon as he'd scored.   It worries me that every football fan has the Kenneth Wolstenholme iconic commentary from 1966 etched in their mind... "some people are on the pitch... they think it's all over... it is now".   Even fans who weren’t born at the time have these iconic words. If England win the whole thing, what the fuck are we going to have this time? Some prick shouting “England win, England win” and Mark Lawrenson making some glib joke in the background... and some other tosser speculating on which of the big clubs Harry Maguire is going to join as soon as he gets home... and how Karius had concussion in the Champions League Final... and it all reminded us of when Solskjaer scored in the last minute for United.

After the very tiring experience of watching England it was then time for...

Russia v Croatia
Personally, though Croatia are undoubtedly the better side, I would prefer England to play them than the Russians. I can’t be the only person who is slightly concerned that Russia are suddenly performing amazingly and way above expectations, in a major sporting event. I don’t feel bad for thinking in this cynical way because of the ridiculous amount of evidence there has been recently. Maybe it’s down to the training camp that they just are the fittest team who cover the most ground. Maybe it’s all a big coincidence.  I also don’t think you’d have a prayer of getting a decent shake off the referee and off the VAR if you were playing the Russians in a semi-final.

Halfway through the first half, Russia’s star of the tournament Denis Ivan Drago-Cheryshev, plays a 1-2 and bends a left-footed curler over the top of the keeper and into the top corner from 30 yards. Dodgy positioning by the keeper but an amazing goal nonetheless.  Just before half time, a break down the Croatian left, a cross from Mandzukic and a header from Kramaric makes it 1-1.  We then had a goalless second half of players dropping like flies with cramp and Ivan Perisic hitting the inside of the post for Croatia. I’m sure no one supporting England was remotely bothered that it went to extra time with Vida giving Croatia the lead again with a header from a corner and Drago-Fernandes equalising for Russia with another header with five minutes to go. Penalties again. The first Russian penalty - bearing in mind everything that was riding on it, was right up there with the worst penalties I have ever seen. Drago-Smolov tried to chip it down the middle but instead of doing that he hoped, managed to chip it to his left and Subasic, the goalkeeper who had already dived and was on the ground, had time to make a second movement and just pat the ball away. Utter shit.  Croatia missed the second kick and so it came down to the Brazilian player Mario Ivan Drago-Fernandes, who Putin had granted some sort of express Visa to so he could play in the tournament. He tried to smash it but he almost looked like someone who doesn’t know how to kick a ball when he shanked it horribly wide of the post.  As in the last round, it eventually fell to Ivan Rakitić to take the fifth Croatia penalty which he dispatched easily to send the Russians out and give England a World Cup semi-final against Dejan Lovren.

You Look a Right Prick if the Dink Doesn't Work

So, Russia go out having achieved much more than they thought they would – not winning it but not embarrassing themselves.  They would certainly have taken that at the start and they can be proud in having staged a great tournament so far.  For England now - Croatia are a better side than anyone we have played before (I’m ignoring the game against Belgium’s reserves) but it’s certainly not a team we should fear – they’ve needed penalties to beat both Denmark and Russia - and there is no weight of history against us like they would be if we were playing Germany or Brazil.  I predict England will spend a lot of time without the ball but will win simply because our attackers are better than their defenders.  1-0 to England.  Belgium and France is a flip of a coin job but I’ll take a punt on it being and England v Belgium Final on Sunday – without the reserves this time.