Weekend Review – from fantasybet.com


As it often does, the crammed festive period brought around some interesting results, plenty of goals and pretty much everything except an Aston Villa win. Here’s 5 things we learned:

Arsenal will keep bouncing back

There was a lot of talk about how Arsenal suffer under the pressure of being true title contenders, after a 4-0 hiding at the hands of Shane Long and Southampton. While a home game against Bournemouth was a pleasant opportunity to respond, Arsenal do tend to respond to their domestic calamities quite well. They opened the 13/14 season and then this season with home losses to Aston Villa and West Ham. Both losses were followed by several wins, most coming in the comfortable fashion we’re accustomed to seeing Arsenal win in.

The main issue with Arsenal is that their defeats are never all that quiet. A tough, usually televised game suddenly becomes a disastrous flaming inferno fueled by Arsenal fans screaming #WengerOut. This time however, it might have worked in their favour. The pressure was definitely lifted from Arsenal a bit after the two results this week and now they’re free to tackle what looks a soft-ish schedule in January. Barring any complete slump in form, the Gooners next big test will be when Bayern Munich come to visit in February and potentially distract them from their league opponents too.

Aston Villa are going down

Remi Garde’s reign has been very quietly documented but that’s because essentially very little has changed. Villa are awful. That is not up for debate, and the comparisons to Leicester’s grave situation last year and the possible escape are a little off the mark. At this point in the season last year, yes, Leicester were bottom but they had 13 points and were only 3 points from safety. For comparison, Villa are sitting on 8 points and are 11 points shy of climbing out of the danger zone. As well as this, Leicester were playing good football just without the results to show for it, which is a far cry from the product Tim Sherwood and Garde have trotted out this season.

Is there anything to salvage from this season, surely lost now to the waiting arms of relegation? Jordan Ayew has looked lively under the new manager, and will provide a different option all season in the sub-6.0 range. But Ayew, the small bright spot is now suspended for 1 game which sums it all up really. Rudy Gestede…maybe? That’s really starting to scrape the barrel there and shows just how devoid of quality Villa’s squad is right now. Maybe the Championship will be good for them.

Stoke reaping rewards of Shaqiri investment

Everton’s defensive faults manifested themselves at home once again, but sometimes things happen. Sometimes, those things are sweet, sweet strikes from a certain Swiss right boot. Xherdan Shaqiri’s half-volley was a gorgeous strike but Mark Hughes will have been equally pleased by the way his side is now creating and converting chances. The Potters are starting to harness the potential of summer signing Shaqiri while getting consistent contributions from Marko Arnautovic. The bulky Austrian with a spiky temperant is often a handful but his talent was often seen in flashes.

Stoke have a very similar makeup to Crystal Palace, given that both attacks are largely reliant on good performances by their wingers. Hughes in recent weeks has mirrored their South London counterparts by playing 4 winger-type players with Bojan as the main forward. It seems to have unlocked the space for Shaqiri and Co. to attack from behind but I’m sure Mame Biram Diouf still has an influential part to play this season. Peter Crouch continues to look on in lanky bemusement.

Spurs will go as far as Kane and late, late goals will take them

While their North London rivals had a more dramatic week with opponents from the South Coast, Tottenham are creeping up on the title race. Spurs scored freely in the win over Norwich before pulling out a tight one against an ever-stern Watford outfit. Late goals, often from Christian Eriksen, were a huge feature of their wins last season but their wins this season appear a lot more sustainable.

It’s easy to forget that Spurs have only lost twice this season. One of those came courtesy of a Kyle Walker OG in a stodgy season opener at Old Trafford. The second was at home to Newcastle, which has proven to be something of a bogey fixture for Spurs in recent years. Their defence has conceded the fewest goals in the league and that level of performance should be maintained during the season. But to seriously entertain title chances, they will need Kane to continue excelling. Perhaps involving Son Heung-Min more would help, as the Korean often provides another outlet up front and allows Kane to drop deep where he is most effective.

Morgan Schneiderlin could prolong Louis van Gaal’s reign

For most of the season, the main gripe with what the Dutchman was doing with Manchester United was that they were boring. Stout, solid and extremely difficult to beat – but judged by most as dull. Their defensive prowess led to many raving about Chris Smalling, but the man who really deserved credit was Schneiderlin. It was he who was dropped by LVG looking for some more inspired play going forward, but the stagnant attack remained and United had sacrificed their one redeeming quality – a suffocating defence.

Although injuries did play their part in United’s recent swoon, Chris Smalling was present while United shipped goals to below par teams. It’s clear that Schneiderlin is United’s best defensive midfielder and if Louis van Gaal wants to remain at the helm he will have to keep playing the Frenchman.  United arrested their slide with a sober draw against Chelsea, keeping a clean sheet on Schneiderlin’s first start since the 0-0 draw at home to West Ham. If he’s getting a run in the team again then picking up United defenders would be highly recommended.





Weekend Review – from fantasybet.com


Everton fail to exploit lesser teams

The failure to close games out has haunted many a team and Everton were not to be spared of this anguish against Norwich on Saturday. Romelu Lukaku spurned a couple of golden chances as the Merseyside team failed to capatalise on an extremely potent attacking display. Gerard Deulofeu continued his sparkling form and looks to be the team’s lead creator now. The reason Roberto Martinez has shifted Ross Barkley back deeper is unclear and will definitely impact his fantasy value.

However despite many bemoaning Everton’s wasteful attack, the real reason Norwich stayed in the game is the defensive shape Everton have and their resilience at set-pieces, both of which are non-existent. Gareth Barry and Co. made Norwich look more than competent in attack, which takes some doing. Making a push for Champions League means Everton have to take 3 points from these opportunities, yet their league leading 8 draws show that they have failed to do this time and time again. Arsenal, to take one example, often have games where they could score 5 in one half. Yet when they only muster one goal, they’ve consistently shown the ability to close out games. Everton must learn this they want to progress as a team.

Koeman needs to fix Saints’ midfield

In the face of adversity managers show their true colours. For the majority this will lead to a ‘batten down the hatches’ mentality and this weekend Ronald Koeman proved he was very much in this majority. Away to Crystal Palace, the Dutchman started three centre-halves, flanked by a fullback on either side and then selected Victor Wanyama and Oriel Romeu to sit in midfield. Even George Graham would have called it unambitious.

It didn’t exactly work either. Palace’s goal came rather easily as Yannick Bolasie squared for Yohan Cabaye, who not one of the 7 defensive minded players decided to track, which rather negated the point of selecting the side Koeman did. The decision to not start Dusan Tadic was questionable, but the main issue Koeman must recognise and focus on is the balance of his midfield. With Morgan Schneiderlin gone, it is paramount that Southampton turn their attention towards scoring rather than attempting to re-create the solidity the once had.

Van Gaal missing the forest for the trees

Speaking of Schneiderlin, what on earth is he doing being left on Manchester United’s bench? In the desperation to generate some goals Van Gaal has dropped the player who was keeping their defence solid while still failing to ignite the attack. With Rooney out, Van Gaal has no excuse for what is a miserable attack, but if this is a long-term problem then the least he could do is play Schneiderlin who, at times, has made Chris Smalling and Daley Blind look better players than they really are.

Admittedly United’s backline is plagued with injuries. The only first choice defender left is Blind, who was easily evaded at a corner for Josh King’s goal, which proved to be the winner. The pressure Van Gaal has come under in recent weeks and the incessant ‘attack, attack, attack’ is clearly impacting his decisions for the worse. It is eerily similar to when Moyes began to second guess himself with the press breathing down his back, which does not bode well for the Dutchman’s future.

Manchester City are going to challenge for the title

After being thoroughly outplayed by Stoke, Manchester City decided to respond by closely imitating the performance at home. Normally so imperious in front of their fans, City looked determined to chuck this one way. Swansea City have looked hapless of late but were suddenly empowered by the home side’s floundering. It is worth wondering if Pellegrini and his squad are struggling to shake a sense of listlessness.

This group has won the title before and with seemingly daily reports of Guardiola agreeing to take over from next season, it could be possible that the entire mood around the club is one of lethargy. It’s certainly reflecting in their play this season. They’ve floated through many games, being crushed in games against Liverpool and Tottenham where they met real spirit and fight. City are just unfortunate that the top of the league is in such a mess that there will be a title challenge from them, whether they like it or not.

Watford look most likely candidate to regress

Every Premier League season sees some new faces rise into the top half of the table before Christmas and 2015/16 has been no different. Most notably Leicester City have ascended the pile after mistakenly being tipped for relegation, but they are joined in the top 10 by Crystal Palace and Watford. Annoyingly though, things seem to become a little bit more sensible and straighten themselves out over the winter.

The Hornets seem like the side who will be the most vulnerable to plummet into plain old mid-table. Newly-promoted sides, for whatever reason, often can’t sustain form as well as a team in their second year. They also face a tough stretch from now into the beginnings of January as they face Liverpool, Chelsea (Hm), Spurs and Manchester City. This will provide a stern test for Watford’s excellent defence while also probing at their attack. If teams can figure out how to take Ighalo and Deeney out of the game, there won’t be much help in the goals department from other areas.


Weekend Review – from fantasybet.com


Second season disorder

Crystal Palace last year. Southampton in 13/14. Swansea in 12/13. Newcastle in 11/12, remember Hatem Ben Arfa and Demba Ba? Now we’ve seen Leicester rip through the league, powered by Jamie Vardy and a dangerous bunch of sidekicks behind him. Welcome to the second season experience.

The Foxes’ surge was most recently punctuated with 3 goals against a stern West Brom side playing the type of football not even Tony Pulis’ mother could love. Leicester is up there as the story of the season, eerily reciprocating Chelsea’s stunning slump. Although Leicester finished strongly last Spring, the transformation made over the summer has been instrumental in their success. Claudio Ranieri’s appointment was condoned by very few but he’s the clear frontrunner for Manager of the Season, his case helped by another typically smart, proactive outing this weekend.

Riyad Mahrez returned to his mischievous point-snagging ways serving justice to those who, without paying attention, assumed he had gone off the boil for good. Ranieri did briefly drop him seeking defensive solidity and then rested him after the international break, but the Algerian was always going to come back into the fray. His development from last season is just as marked as Vardy’s. Under Nigel Pearson the winger would have plenty of touches and runs, only for them to lead into nothing productive, a sort of inverse Nacer Chadli if you will. His first goal against West Brom, sprinting off the ball to meet convert Marc Albrighton’s millionth cross, illustrated how he’s now channeling his obvious ability into goals this season.

Nitpicking the league leaders

Manchester City’s difficulties lie on a road thoroughly mapped out and well travelled by observers from the past few years: Their best players are injured. With Aguero and Silva out, Manchester City were unable to break down Norwich at the Etihad which is a little worrying as the East Anglian visitors aren’t watertight like West Brom or Watford. Wilfried Bony remains an uncertainty. Letting Edin Dzeko go and prioritising the Ivorian was a lateral move at best. He does seem to have learnt Dzeko’s trait of scoring useless surplus goals though, piling 3 on against Bournemouth two weeks ago. The upcoming international break will helpfully buy more time as Aguero recovers.

Arsenal’s current optimism is reminiscent of the 2013/14 season before a visit to Old Trafford, where United won 1-0 thanks to RVP, initiated the grounding of that title challenge. Arsenal were widely praised on Saturday for ‘winning ugly’ against Swansea while Manchester City ground out their own 3 points against Norwich. It’s only more noticeable with Arsenal because it’s so rare. After their 2-0 win away to Manchester City last season we collectively gushed over Coquelin and Arsene Wenger discovering defensive resistance. 2 weeks later they surrendered at White Hart Lane. That exact fixture is up next for the Gooners and trepidation remains a tad hard to shake off with this team. Two Spanish fullbacks though, so that’s a plus for me.

Liverpool uncork the goals

Philippe Coutinho kickstarted his pretty dreadful season thus far with 2 goals against Chelsea. It was also done in the Brazilian’s style, having developed a quirky knack for scoring in games where he doesn’t play as well overall.

Chelsea’s defence may as well have been credited with the assist for Benteke’s goal. Not many would volunteer to get in the way of Christian Benteke but the professional footballers playing against him were the most likely candidates. Not so, it seems.

I was dubious of Benteke’s prospects under Klopp but an early one will settle him. Liverpool face challenging sides in the next month but both ends of their play are showing improvement. Spanish fullback Alberto Moreno is fun to watch but was directly responsible for Chelsea’s opener, which is less fun.

The key to the Weekly Freeroll?

Central midfielders are often forgotten about in a fantasy midfield. For good reason too, given that there are eligible players for midfield like Alexis Sanchez and Dimitri Payet. But in the hunt for differentials, turning to the engine room might be a wise move. We already know about Jordan Henderson and Yohan Cabaye who have history of producing in that area. Many other are lounging around who will have near zero ownership worthy of a weekly punt.

Yann M’Vila has proven to be one of the few reasons to watch Sunderland this season. He’s tough tackling but skilled, with some set piece responsibilities. There was a lot of reasonable scepticism over Chieck Kouyate’s start and his prosperous start and surely enough the goals of August and September dried up. Yet for a cheap price you get an energetic player who will make runs forward in an attacking side. It doesn’t hurt that he gets to play in close proximity to Payet every week either.

Fernandinho has long been an underrated component of Manchester City’s well-oiled machine. He’s probably the biggest punt considering he does all the dirty work playing next to Yaya Toure. Danny Drinkwater has a dire first touch (trust me) but it was his ball that set away Jamie Vardy for his eighth consecutive goal. Leicester have the most lethal attack outside of the top 2 and Drinkwater is a classic candidate for being ‘due a goal’. The Weekly Freeroll awaits you.

Remi Garde has his hands full…or empty?

90% of new managers come in with platitudes of attacking mindsets and looking to get the team playing some ‘good football’. The former Lyon boss, who enjoyed Monday night watching his Aston Villa comfortably lose to Spurs, was no different. Andy Brassell, European football expert, said as much, “He creates the environment in which players can express themselves, and favours attacking, possession-based football.”

Yet where does he fashion this attacking team from? Rudy Gestede and Jordan Ayew? Jack Grealish’s reputation is still high despite him doing the square root of naff all. It’s far easier to envision Villa as the counter-attacking, anti-possession outfit they were for most of the past few seasons. Nice as it is to play ‘good football’, some squads just aren’t as cut out for it. Garde has a serious task cut out for him in the West Midlands.

Weekend Review – from fantasybet.com


Newcastle won! Jurgen Klopp drew 0-0 with Tottenham! Leicester came back from 2 goals down again! Oh, what a jolly exciting weekend. The moral of the weekend as you’re about to find out is get Spanish fullbacks. Here’s 5 things we learned:

Bournemouth are brave, but limited

Long-term injuries have bizarrely swept the league in a frightening fashion which Bournemouth have found out all too well in their debut Premier League campaign. Max Gradel, Tyrone Mings and most painfully Callum Wilson have all been lost in the massacre. Even more worrying is how Bournemouth’s defence has been largely untouched — given that Mings had not started for the Cherries pre-injury — but still shows no signs of being able to repel a Premier League attack.

Conceding 5 goals at the Etihad is not a horrific showing. Manchester City will continue to do that to many respectable sides this year. But as a defensive unit Bournemouth have looked on par with Sunderland and given Allardyce’s appointment even they should improve somewhat. Clean sheets are a slightly safer guess than trying to pick a goalscorer from the back and an appealing fixture should not sway you to pick one from Bournemouth. These are not the budget defenders you are looking for.

Arsenal seem sterner but beware banana skin fixtures

The main complaints with Arsenal are so tired and repeated that Arsene Wenger must have permanent tinnitus from sentiments like these:

“They need a top-class striker!”

“The defence will never hold up to a title challenge.”

Of course these could still prove themselves to be partially true. Theo Walcott came off after 60 minutes without a grabbing a goal for Olivier Giroud, who promptly did. That narrative will continue to spin but Arsenal’s defence can be cautiously judged as improved. It relies on Francis Coquelin holding up for 50 games this year but let’s put that to the back of our minds, eh?

Popular perception has often been unfair to Arsenal. They conceded the second least goals last season but televised capitulations have lived long in the memory. It might be a good idea to stock up on Spanish fullbacks. Hector Bellerin and Nacho Monreal are producing the points that we might start to expect of Alberto Moreno on Merseyside. Away to Swansea seems like a banana skin for Arsenal so fill your boots with Spanish left-footers selectively.

A trend to go with – West Ham away from home

Sometimes we over-complicate things. Actually fantasy football managers pretty much always over-complicate things. It just works sometimes, that’s all. An established pattern that seems worth investing in across the field is West Ham’s national tour. A home defeat, coming to a football stadium near you.

Against Palace at the weekend they didn’t muster up a lot of opportunities but like a month ago against Manchester City they secured victory. Manuel Lanzini is not someone many had pencilled in a sa contirbutor when the season started but alongside growing cult hero Payet he’s flourishing around the country.

Don’t do that! I see you hovering the cursor as well as your devious thoughts over Andy Carroll for next week’s game against Chelsea. There’s an unwritten Andy Carroll rule that’s been in effect since 2012 that all should adhere to. Don’t pick Andy Carroll in fantasy football.

Go against your wishes and back Chelsea

It’s been a month since Diego Costa enraged anyone who associates themselves with a club named Arsenal. Swallow your dignity and take a deep breath: pick Diego Costa and perhaps Begovic if he takes your fancy. Begrudging as it may be, a glance at the league table shows Chelsea may be about to embark on a positive streak. Can you envision the Blues being 11th in the middle of November? Nor can I.

The backing comes with caveats of course. Jose Mourinho has no idea how his midfield is going to be set up so don’t bother trying to guess anything there. The Loftus-Cheek and Ramires tandem we saw trotted out on Saturday would interest only a fool. Fabregas, Hazard and Oscar’s statuses are unknown. The defence picked up a clean sheet against Aston Villa (Quelle surprise.) but Azpilicueta is the only one nailed on.

Spanish fullbacks, I’m telling you!

Behind Vardy and Mahrez, Leicester are lacking at the back

No clean sheets. 17 goals conceded which is fourth worst in the league. You sense past the Premier League’s top goalscorer and Riyad Mahrez (who will be starting again now, honest), Leicester are hiding one of the worst defences in the league. Robert Huth and Wes Morgan are strong but stately in their manner. Not to be crass but Huth and Morgan could get exposed by pace in a game of walking football.

They aren’t helped by those around them. Schlupp and Fuchs will oblige in their attacking duties with pleasure but aren’t offering a lot of protection from the flanks. A similar problem has emerged from last season with a lack of size across the pitch. Two smaller central midfielders and no height up front means huge mismatches at set-pieces. It showed with both of the Saints’ goals coming from centre-halves. To sum it up:

Things Leicester are good at: Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez

Things Leicester are bad at: Defence

Weekend Review – from fantasybet.com


This weekend saw even more Riyad Mahrez, Diego Costa playing himself in the oft-remade film ‘Arsenal lose to Chelsea’ and West Ham dominating away from home, again…

Stoke slowly snapping out of their funk

Stoke City were a team in vogue going into this season. It’s well documented, but Mark Hughes has truly ushered in a new attacking era at the Britannia Stadium. Watching Marko Arnautovic on Saturday sweep down the wing and play in a weighted ball for an ever-exuberant Bojan to finish was a far cry from Rory Delap’s throw-ins and Matthew Etherington’s mediocre prime.

Stoke have had a rough start and their defence no longer looks quite the part, a trade-off for their increased dynamism in attack. These factors combined leave them in the bottom 3, but the table doesn’t honestly depict Stoke’s level of play. Leicester City were fortunate not to be facing a heavier deficit as Hughes’ side repeatedly turned them over. Another late flurry from the visitors reflected poorly on Stoke and handed both teams their third draw of the season already. Sparky’s jump leads seem to have worked for his team and Stoke’s results will soon see an uptick now the engine is rumbling.

Options are aplenty: Shaqiri is continuing to settle, Bojan is fit and Jon Walters will be a good differential pick while Mame Diouf is out because no-one ever, ever can bring themselves to pick Jon Walters.

Not all budget strikers were made equal

Callum Wilson and Troy Deeney were both talismen for their newly promoted clubs yet have fared differently when it comes to Premier League goalscoring. Wilson has spearheaded an attack that holds Bournemouth’s best chance of survival this season. He’s been energetic and clinical, a must for a forward playing for a lower table club. Eddie Howe has also been deploying him with no other recognised striker, which leaves a hefty burden on the former Coventry City man that he’s been able to handle.

Troy Deeney on the other hand is still looking for his first goal. In the Championship, pacy players and target men are reliable sources for goals. However in the past few seasons, pace has translated far more easily then what Deeney has to offer. Charlie Austin and Rickie Lambert spring to mind, but they are unusual when looking at the history of the newly-promoted. The burly Watford striker has notched some assists and perhaps hasn’t been helped by not playing in a free flowing side like Bournemouth — the Hornets’ defence looking like their best asset. Although we only have to check out Odion Ighalo, playing next to Deeney, to see how pace is often more damaging to Premier League defences.

Sunderland are the Andrex team of the year

The Andrex award is unofficially awarded to the Premier League team who’s defence most resembles soggy wet toilet paper. There’s always one specific backline that offers little to no resistance and subsequently gets relegated at the end. Two years ago it was Fulham. Last season it was QPR. This year? Hello Sunderland.

Bournemouth must be credited for their play on Saturday but Sunderland’s performances have been the collective embodiment of the word ‘soft’. It perhaps doesn’t help that Sunderland have taken a leaf out of QPR’s book in recruitment. In the starting eleven on Saturday we could find Jermaine Defoe who is declining rapidly and Younes Kaboul who hasn’t been good since the year Newcastle finished 5th.

When will everyone recognise that broken former Spurs players are not a good signing for a lower team? Kaboul’s suicidal performance at Bournemouth was not without good news, as his red card prevents his selection for at least one game. A dull silver lining in the gloomiest of clouds on Wearside.

De Bruyne has a place in Manchester City’s lineup

West Ham stole the show on Saturday night away to Manchester City, only after Kevin De Bruyne threatened to ruin it all for Slaven Bilic. More than any other player, De Bruyne was the one who had Hammers fans worried when he picked up the ball. The Belgian couldn’t ultimately bring it back but he proved to many that he will have a substantial role alongside Sergio Aguero and David Silva this year.

The doubters questioned whether another attacking midfielder was a necessary signing for Pellegrini. It was a reasonable qualm given how City’s attack had been steamrolling every cluster of 11 men that dared cross their path. But De Bruyne exerted such an influence on the match with his willingness to get on the ball and spread the play, you wonder how the team would have fared without him.

His case helped even more by Jesus Navas’ dire performance on the wing. De Bruyne will surely take his place when Silva returns. The need for Navas has been negated with the arrival of Raheem Sterling who provides the width City so sorely need and much more than the Spaniard. After making his first start of many, De Bruyne gave us a taster on Saturday of what he’ll look to serve up all season long.

Anthony Martial is making us look silly

Fantasy football players scoffed when they first saw Martial’s price. It was seemingly extortionate for a teenager that scored just 9 league goals in Ligue 1 last year. 3 bona-fide, Robbie-Savage-approved Premier League goals later and the tide has turned.

In a way that only fantasy football can, many people who consider their knowledge regarding football of the fantasy variety to be extensive have quickly been turned into fools. 8 million for Manchester United‘s starting striker and everyone thought he was overpriced? What were we all thinking?

Having Sunderland — this year’s Andrex team, lest you forget — at home seems like the most appetising fixture possible right now and it’s exactly what Martial is facing next weekend. If that doesn’t tempt you, nothing will.

Hodgson must choose what he wants England to be


October has never been the time to discuss international football too intensely. The collective football world is either coming off a major tournament or slightly too far away from another. There’s still lots of time for development throughout the season which, carrying an inevitable recency bias, will matter more than right now. We should treat Roy Hodgson’s latest squad like an in-law, pleasant nods while suppressing more honest opinions in our own heads. — ‘Ryan Mason? Haha, yes of course!’ Internally tuts. — This new edition of ‘Hodgson selects an in-form player’ will be mildly intriguing with Jonjo Shelvey looking to fill a hole in midfield. Hodgson in all his tenure has never employed the same side in the same formation. It suggests there is opportunity for everyone within the squad to stake their claim. Even Jamie Vardy. Unfortunately the only meaningful game is against Switzerland, negating the chance to see how everyone performs against credible opposition.

One of the most fascinating facets of Hodgson’s prospective decision-making will be in the centre back department. John Stones’ inclusion in this discussion is impressive given he only truly broke into Everton’s side in the second half of last season. Half a season of football was enough for Raheem Sterling to start in a major tournament so why can’t Stones after this season? Everton under Roberto Martinez are not quite porous, but certainly have an air of permeability that Stones’ insertion into the side has, understandably, failed to fix alone. His actual defending is decent — it’s rare to find a truly great centre half now, even less so at Stones’ age — but the ability on the ball he has showcased is arguably the best of any centre back in the Premier League. This is even more of an asset to England who have long struggled to keep possession against quality opposition. Stones can amend this with his willingness to play the ball out from the back, compared to someone like Cahill who often appears flustered for England. Stones’ chances of starting increase with each game he plays. There’s the small bonus of being able to fill out at right back if needed, but England have a multitude of players to do. Stones represents  a decision that shows what Hodgson values in his side, if he recognises the issue of ball retention then Stones is a crucial pick to set England on the right track.

Chris Smalling briefly looked like he’d created a cocoon in May, locked himself in, then emerged a dominant central defender. His physicality was never an issue but it now seemed matched by his concentration during the game, leading to 3 clean sheets in 4 games. Yet, as with many things at the start of the season, not all is as it seems. Playing behind Carrick and especially Schneiderlin creates the safest of havens for Smalling. In the defeat to Swansea, when United’s midfield was bypassed frequently, the same defence appeared from the mist of last year. United will quite possibly lead the league in clean sheets this year if they persist with this midfield, but the role that Smalling has to play is reduced enough to flatter him. This context is important to consider if having to decide between Stones and Smalling. Toss in the deficiencies Smalling has with the ball and it should be an easy decision.

One man who might stop this decision from having to be made is Gary Cahill. He’s been a certainty in the team since his move to Chelsea. However with Zouma lurking and the possibility of Stones’ arrival, Cahill has a serious chance of losing his spot for club and country. He provides an acceptable medium of Stones’ technique and Smalling’s physicality without excelling in either area. The experience of playing previously for Hodgson and with Joe Hart will also surely count for something. Tactically this trio of central defenders gives Hodgson the chance to play a higher line no matter who he selects. With the fullback slots likely to be manned by Nathaniel Clyne and Luke Shaw, England will have respectable speed right across the back line for the first time in many years.

Without Jordan Henderson, Hodgson can try out some new looks in the centre. Carrick should start given his unparalleled ability to take care of the ball and protect a defence. As mentioned before, England’s main issue lies with attacks stagnating in midfield. This could be put down to numerous games against lesser sides in qualifying who have sat deep making England create in front of them. Jonjo Shelvey isn’t the player to fix this, in fact his inclusion would more likely exacerbate the issue but Hodgson will no doubt experiment with him. James Milner and Fabian Delph cannot deal with this either, but both provide increased defensive effort which leaves Shelvey’s prospects looking dim. A possible solution is placing Oxlade-Chamberlain in midfield, someone who will drive forwards with the ball breaking the monotonous and often lateral nature of England’s advances. Hodgson has never really shown an experimental side in regard to unconventional lineups though. There are few other noteworthy developments in midfield, unless you’re an optimist on Ryan Mason’s career.

Wayne Rooney’s stuttering form to start the season has led to the biggest questioning of his ability he’s ever faced which is a testament to his consistency. Over the last 18 months Rooney, now stripped of his speed and agility, has looked to transition himself into a wily finisher who can facilitate for other attackers around him. While his own goals dried up, many praised his passing, work rate and leadership. While this was all deserved for the most part, there was always the nagging sense that you could put Rooney into a Tyne-Wear derby and not really notice him. His first touch has long deserted him and the work-rate that was so often the reliable base of any Rooney performance is no longer there to be counter on. The England goalscoring record could provide a welcome distraction from his glaring inadequacies right now. The moral of this ongoing story? Be the captain of every side you play in.

Yet there are more discussions outside of the swirling debate that orbits Rooney eternally. Harry Kane looks off-colour or is returning to his normal abilities, depending on which way you’d like to look at it. It’s probable that Kane simply needs a rest. Danny Welbeck’s injury will hurt England, given his quality performances on the international stage that contrast with his time at Arsenal so far. Danny Ings, Daniel Sturridge and Saido Berahino will need some games to show they should be in contention. Don’t rule out Callum Wilson getting a call-up for the November games, if he prolongs the purple patch he’s in right now.

So, Jamie Vardy, eh? As a relatively rational Leicester fan, I feel well positioned to discuss him and his second call-up to the national squad. Many raised their eyebrows seeing him picked again. He is neither a prolific goalscorer (yet) nor a consistent starter at a top team, leaving him dangerously outside of the accepted venn diagram of ‘Prestige players’ and ‘Rampant goalscorers’ which comprises of all England players ever. This leaves his selection to be ridiculed by the numerous doubters of the England squad. On top of this, he’s disliked for generally being a horrible player for your team to play against. He is rather like having a sneaky swig of someone’s gin at a house party: quick, reckless and only produces the sensation of vomit tunneling up your trachea, if his hardened face and busy elbows are up against your club that week. But like your Dad will say with the gin, “You get a bottle yourself when you’re older, more experienced and you’ll love it son.”. The same will occur with Vardy. Once those three lions are on his chest, you may find your one-way feud with him thawing somewhat, the burning sensation in your throat fading away.

I’m not here to tell you he’ll revolutionise England’s side or even make a palpably positive contribution. His first touch is questionable and his vision is clearly the most unrefined aspect of his game, often overlooking easy passes in favour of head-down-racist-in-a-casino type charging. However there is one thing to be said of his ability. Vardy is elite, possibly unmatched, in his harrying of defenders. Now this in itself is likely to be scoffed at, “Strikers are for scoring goals, what use is this ‘harrying’ you speak of?”, a particularly obnoxious friend might exclaim. Yet if Vardy’s relentless pressing in combination with his pace has led to several goals in the Premier League (just watch the 5-3 win for Leicester against Manchester United), then why not for England? Without Danny Welbeck to do the dirty work up front, Hodgson will go looking for a replacement. Harry Kane’s heavily fatigued, Theo Walcott’s a little out of sorts, Vardy might even start.

Now that really is a reason to discuss international football in October.

The 6 Archetypes of Centre Backs


Clichés are very useful for the regularly appearing pundits who have little to no knowledge on the modern game and those who play it. Yes, Glenn Hoddle is the main focus here but there are others. It’s fair to single out the man who believed prior to last summer’s World Cup that England’s best XI had Gerrard and Lampard in as a double pivot. Actually it probably wasn’t even a double pivot, I think it was Four Four fucking Two. Anyway, these clichés stretch wide and far across the footballing encyclopedia, varying from transfer assumptions to formational prejudices. I’ve highlighted one of these clichés, and duly present to you subjective, inaccurate and inconsistent groupings of the only position on the field that seems to do any defending nowadays and even then, they probably don’t do it. If a bit comes across as xenophobic in parts, blame Jim Beglin. Here are the 6 Different Archetypes of Centre Backs:

1. The Veteran

Good examples: Demichelis, Mertesacker

They’re experienced. They’ve played in all sorts of big matches. They’ve matched up against the best and held their own. They are slow as fuck. If you ever hear the word ‘experienced’ when someone describes a central defender, just take it as a synonym for moving like a doped up sloth. Especially in the top leagues across Europe, this breed are good defenders, diligently marking their opponents and being a dominant force in the air. They bring steel to a shaky backline, but you also worry that unless you have two midfielders shielding them you will concede constantly. Open space on the pitch is viewed as the worst possible situation for this archetype. These centre halves have the signature move of chopping down a sprightly winger, only to get off with a yellow card because they know the ref from the millions of games they’ve played.

Their utility in this mold for crap pundits is two-fold; there is the obvious talk about their experience and own ability but it also provides a ready-made counter point for the other team and how they should try to run at this experience laden defender. Such incisive analysis is best left to Andy Townsend and co, clearly the mere concept of making a slow defender run is above our mortal heads back watching at home. Clearly.

2. Athleticism Abound, not much else

Good examples: Chris Smalling, Younes Kaboul

Speed records are smashed, gym equipment is broken and crafty strikers are left free to nod home a floated cross. They can jump 40 inches high and are actually the fastest player at your club according to teammates but none of that matters when the opposing striker is standing all alone at the far post. As a result of their excessive physicality they will put in the most crunching tackles, and are generally a good bet for two red cards a season.

Like all West African forwards they will be primarily described as ‘powerful’. Any commentator worth his salt will mention that they are fast enough to keep up with anyone that dares challenge him to a through ball in a game. However there aren’t many of those commentators about, so instead they will continue to assume every attacker is automatically faster.

You hate their virtual being also. On Fifa they have a knack of haunting you repeatedly when trying to fulfill your dream of winning the Champions League. This hate then carries over to when watching a proper game, but it’s sweetened by the fact that they’ve already let Kevin Nolan drift by them twice for a brace.

3. David Luiz(s)

Good examples: Um, pretty obvious here. I’ll put Vlad Chiricheș here as well, but to be honest Vlad could go into several of these.

There’s little to be said about David Luiz, fresh off a move to the cash lined Parisian streets. But we’ll say it anyway. (Gary Neville says it better here). Compared to the majority he is technically superior; he can pass, bring the ball out himself and even score (1 in 50) free kicks. He brought his sweet sweet spongy afro style to the Premier League, where upon it was immediately criticised. Seeing skilled central defenders appears quite vulgar for many a traditionalist British viewer of football, especially one as flamboyant as David Luiz. Just listen to anything David Pleat says. But while they help their team win games occasionally they provide the older British viewer, who grew up watching big bastards hoof it away, reason to point and scold.

This type of centre back suffer from the same disease as nearly all other archetypes do, OSTBS (Occasional Shit The Bed Syndrome). A rash rush out of the line and suddenly it’s a 4 on 3 counter-attack. Or one too many seconds looking to pick out a pass and suddenly the striker is through on goal. However over time a good reputation can be built, and David Luiz did this gradually in his time at Chelsea despite sporadic appearances and notable mistakes against Everton and Cardiff. Then we saw that same reputation put through the sausage grinder against Germany in a soul-wrecking destruction of his national team, Brazil. Soul-wrecking for David Luiz perhaps, not for the rest of us who laughed at his tear streaked face.

4. Fat Bastard         

Good example: Steve McNulty, Countless Sunday League players

Frequent dwellers of the lower leagues such as this group are a reason it’s so disheartening to see a new wave of British and international fans who only see the sanitised product that makes up the Premier League. The top tier with its money, global appeal and centre backs who don’t look like they double as a nightclub bouncer and would smack you if you ask to have six in. Those new fans will never get to appreciate watching a player with an apple figure shove puny wingers around at their mercy. It is one of the 7 footballing wonders of the world to watch someone who can handle 6 pukka pies and knocks back a couple pints and then puff around a pitch for an hour and a half. We hardly ever see this rarer bunch on TV. Subsequently we are deprived of commentators desperately finding appropriate synonyms for big and sound technicians having to tone down the crowd chanting the very phrase this section is titled. Every Premier League team should be obliged to fill a quota of having one big ‘unit’ of a player on their roster. Leicester have theirs, a certain Mr Gary Taylor Fletcher.

One final thing this category has going for it are the excellent uses of phrases such as ‘eating up the ground’ and ‘a real appetite for this match’. Underused, I feel.

5. The Spanish Ones          

Good examples: Gerard Piqué, Mats Hummels

Now they don’t have to be strictly Spanish in this group, it’s more that every single bloody Spanish defender plays this way. They always can pass the ball out, they always want to pass the ball out and they always will pass the ball out. Also associated with them is that they can occasionally be a little soft against physical strikers. You see any Championship club sign Arsenal defender Miquel on loan and the guy sitting in front of you at the ground will inevitably say that he ‘don’t like the looks of him’. Miquel is one of those players that is obliged to be signed on loan by nearly every second tier club, similar to Michael Keane and a couple of years ago Andros Townsend.

There’s some crossover between this and group one because generally Spanish centre halves are perceived as being not fast. (I think we automatically categorise defenders into 3 sections regarding their speed: Fast, average and ‘experienced’.) However when watching them you trust their ability on the ball, you don’t constantly pray to stave off the effects of OSTBS for them. It’s the modern way to play like this, tiki-taka and all that La Masia crap. Sure, whatever, just know when to get rid.

6. The ones who think they’re Spanish

Good examples: Souleymane ‘Sol’ Bamba, Dejan Lovren

Bombscare Bamba, pictured playing for my dear Leicester City above, was somewhat affectionately named by Hibernian fans. The Ivorian could tackle and block shots all game, but in possession he’d make you cringe harder than Bobby Moore watching David Luiz vs Germany. Poor Sol believed he could spray the ball to Paul Gallagher on the wing and clip it over the top to Jermaine Beckford. Even if he could do that, Beckford was a lazy shit who wouldn’t be making that run anyway, but Sol didn’t have that kind of ability so it’s irrelevant.

When a relatively uncoordinated 6″3 guy is throwing stepovers on the edge of his own box it’s never good for the heart. Such defenders should carry a label that warns those of a nervous disposition. I’m also going to lump into this group defenders that appear like they cannot kick a football cleanly at all, Mamadou Sakho sadly stumbles into this Archetype now.

Revise these football stereotypes obsessively. If you are ever caught in an ITV Sport Studio or have accidentally sat next to Garth Crooks on Final Score, you can stumble through some analysis. Thank me later.