Today I bring you another guest blog written for World Football Commentaries, an article that centres around the recent El Clasico, or Barcelona vs. Real Madrid for the uninitiated. The match was billed as the showdown between the world’s two best players, with Messi and Ronaldo facing off against one another, and after Barca’s emphatic 5-0 win, Messi is being hailed as the genius who made it happen. But when asking who is the best player in the world, are we asking the wrong question? I think so.
As I’ve been watching the Confederations Cup I have, along with everyone else, been hugely impressed with the Spanish side. Aside from the obvious talent that they possess, what has really impressed me is the sheer strength in depth that they have – though given that the mercurial Mikel Arteta is yet to be capped by them that shouldn’t be such a surprise. Nothing sums up this strength in depth nor provides a starker contrast to the England national side that the position of goalkeeper.
The occupant of the number one jersey for England is one of a couple of undoubted weaknesses in the side, while Spain do not hesitate to give their goalkeeper spot of Iker Casillas, who is probably the best ‘keeper in the world at present. They also have Jose Reina as their backup ‘keeper, who despite some comedic errors in his time at Liverpool is undoubtedly a better stopper than David James, England’s current ‘number one’, and the up and coming Sergio Asenjo demonstrated his ability by saving James Milner’s penalty in the European U21 Championships recently.
But it comes as no great surprise to me that Spain are so much better off in the goalkeeping department, click through to find out why…
I will concede that I’m not a very big supporter of new Zealand’s All Whites. My loyalties lie very much with England when it comes to international football and usually I’m not really bothered by NZ’s results. However, I am an avid supporter of New Zealand football in general. As an exiled Englishman who is fanatical about football I’m very keen to see the profile and popularity if the game raised in this largely egg-chasing country. And I know that the best way for that to happen would be for the All Whites to qualify for next year’s World Cup, and so in that quest they have my support.
After watching this morning’s game though, I’m very worried. The 5-0 defeat to Spain can be struck off, that means nothing. But if NZ are serious about overcoming Asia’s 5th placed qualifier and making the World Cup they will need to improve vastly from their showing against South Africa. They were beaten 2-0, but had the Bafana’s finishing been up to scratch it could have been many more, and NZ’s complete toothlessness in attack and haplessness at the back is of a major concern for New Zealand football fans, myself included.
A few weeks ago, as the Premier League season drew to a close and Everton lost out in the FA Cup Final to Chelsea, I lamented the onset of a long summer with no major tournament, which cursed us to a few long months with no football to savour. I made that remark in full knowledge of the fact that the Confederations Cup was to be played this summer, and I stand by it. But why is a tournament that will feature Spain, Brazil and Italy not deemed a ‘major’ international tournament to the majority of football fans?
Especially given the fact that as a rule, the nations involved, even the big ones, tend to send something resembling their strongest squad to the competition. This year’s tournament will see the likes of Xavi, Torres, Kaka, Robinho, Pirlo and Buffon gracing South African pitches. And yet, no one really seems that bothered. It certainly appears to be one of footballs little anomalies, that while we’re all sat around in the sun complaining that it’s too hot and there’s no football, there are actually some world class players doing battle.
So why aren’t we watching? Click through to find out…
1. The System Works
England started slowly in Almaty, with the home side coming at them relentlessly early on, but once they saw off the initial charge (just about) and settled down, it became pretty clear that Fabio Capello’s system of playing something akin to a 4-2-3-1 formation is really starting to work. Frank Lampard again played with maturity and responsibility alongside Gareth Barry in a slightly withdrawn role which allowed the front four a lot of freedom.
And while people will inevitably question the use of Gerrard on the left, I think his and Rooney’s understanding is sufficient to allow them to switch almost at will. And while neither of them is naturally a left winger, they both play there to good effect and the ability to change it up adds a sense of unpredictability to our play – you can never quite know where either one of them will be, and it suits their roaming style.
Having Theo Walcott on the other flank is a good move too, and you can understand why Capello is keen to stick with the youngster. Having him there provides a more direct and traditional outlet which gives England’s play some variation which it has lacked in recent years. Heskey as ever worked hard and brought players into the game and he works well as a cog in the machine, but it would be nice if he had a little more quality and inventiveness of his own, but you can’t have everything.
I have to admit, I didn’t see this one coming. I’ve always quite liked Gareth Barry, he’s been a great servant to Aston Villa for many years, and even when he was doing his best to engineer a move to Liverpool last Summer, I could respect him, because he was just trying to further his career by playing Champions League football. And let’s face it, he’s 28, and so he needs to get a move on if he’s to win some trophies. So why on earth has he joined Manchester City?!
Well, of course we all know why he has joined them, and that is because they’ve offered him a big fat wad of cash. The arguments will be made that he’s joined them because they want to achieve something big, and I’m sure they do, but I highly doubt that it will happen overnight. No matter how much money they spend this Summer, I don’t think City will break into the top four, and I don’t think Barry will play in the Champions League for Manchester City.
In all the talk of relegation last weekend, and then later in the week, lost amongst all the anticipation and reaction to the Champions League final, it was easy to miss the fact that Fabio Capello announced his England squad for the qualifiers with Kazakhstan and Andorra. However, I did see the squad and despite focusing on the above mentioned issues, made myself a mental note to come back and address an issue I have with it, which I shall now do.
Mr. Capello has, in general, been a breath of fresh air for England, and his squad and team selections have, on the whole, been good and most importantly a fair reflection of form. However, on occasion, he does seem to fall into the age-old trap of picking those players of bigger reputation ahead of those in the best form, especially in defence. My point today can be adequately summed up as follows: “why the hell isn’t Leighton Baines in the England squad?!”