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19.6.14
Play Rooney - Drop Gerrard

Big game tonight, England have to avoid defeat to have a chance of progressing to the last 16 of the World Cup. A draw might suffice, but it would be nice for England supporters (and novel...) if the national team could finish the group with back to back victories.
 
There was quite a lot of froth surrounding the defeat to Italy. These days the hacks place unity of opinion very highly and there are very few voices of dissent but they were broadly correct, that in patches England played quite well. Raheem Sterling was excellent, when he had the ball and the forwards also worked well when they didn't have the ball. However, the Italians are masters of tactical preparation and their decision to attack Leighton Baines as opposed to Glen Johnson was very effective.
 
 
 
Steven Gerrard was never in the game, Jordan Henderson didn't feature, Wayne Rooney didn't provide any degree of cover for the hapless Baines and the back four looked shaky as a unit. On top of this we leaked a goal from a set piece and our marking for the winner was all over the place. So, all in all, if the press had decided to go for the jugular, there was ample evidence to do so. However, I get the impression that the media like Roy Hodgson and therefore he's being cut a good heft of slack.
 
The Manchester United punditry crew (count them on BBC - there's enough for a seven a side team), have been keen to talk about the undue pressure of attention on Wayne Rooney. The agenda seems to be, not whether or not he should play, but where. Rooney's goal record at major competitions, with the exception of Euro 2004, is abject. But he is fit and he has had a good season. In a way, he's the apposite of Danny Wellbeck, who is actually effective for England but very ordinary for his club side. Despite this, Rooney should play and he should start behind Sturridge. I think that in the unlikely event of Rooney scoring, he'll score again, he looks like he's suffering from a sharp bout of constipation.
 
 
 
The keeper is a no-brainer and I would stick with the same back four. I'd play Sterling - Rooney - Sturridge - Wellbeck again. However, I'd change the midfield, rather than the Liverpool duo of Gerrard and Henderson (one can't run, the other isn't good enough), I would pick Lampard and Milner. This won't happen of course, Hodgson will definitely pick Gerrard and Henderson again. But the manager can improve on his tactical performance and substitution decisions. Roy has said, quite rightly, that World Cup games are 14 man matches. Therefore, when it's not working - change it. That means that Barkley and Wilshere should feature earlier if and when England's passing gets stodgy.
 
 
 
Having three or four mobile, technical strikers is one thing, but if you can't get the ball to them, they're not much use to England. This Uruguay team has two great strikers in Suarez and Cavani, but their midfield is pedestrian and they are missing two defenders (one injured, one banned), so the game is there for the taking.
 
By Ian Byrne
 
Follow me @RightAtTheEnd
 
 


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3.6.14
Arsenal Speculation - Anxious days before the World Cup

We are in the phony war that proceeds every transfer window with the additional interest provided by the World Cup being staged in Brazil.
 
The righteous and completely necessary investigation into FIFA's award of the next two World Cups to Russia and Qatar in extremely murky circumstances shouldn't colour the award of the imminent competition to Brazil. If England is the birthplace of modern football, then Brazil is the emotional centre of the sport in the 20th and 21st centuries. Personally, I can't wait for the first game between Brazil and Croatia on the 12th of June and although I anticipate that matches in the "classic" bracket will be in short supply, the tournament is in Brazil for good reasons and the atmosphere surrounding the games will be extraordinary. There have been teething problems, construction delays and tragically, fatalities but Brazil is a country finding it's feet in the first world and has deserved the award of the 2014 World Cup.
 
 
 
This can't be said for Qatar, Russia I can understand to a degree, although I am almost certain that money has changed hands to secure the 2018 tournament. But Qatar? If you fancy some interesting and illuminating holiday reading, try Andrew Jennings book: Foul! It explores how and what FIFA has become, and it's an extraordinary tale of back scratching, corruption, bribery, threats and malevolence. In the midst of the book, you find yourself reaching the conclusion that how come it took so long for Qatar (or a similar "country") to be awarded the World Cup? Sadly, a country's expectation of being awarded the finals is directly related to the financial leverage it can apply.
 
 
 
 
Back to matters Arsenal. We have two representatives in the English squad, but a further ten will be playing for France, Germany, Belgium, South Korea, Spain and Costa Rica. Over the next few weeks I'll blog about their involvement and I'm sure we'll all tune in to see how our players fare in the games that they play in. We'll also look for indications as to who the manager will sign, the World Cup is a fantastic shop window, but it's too easy to find yourself buying the Emperor's new clothes. Hands up who remembers Liverpool signing Salif Diao, world cup hero, Anfield zero? Incidences of similar mistakes are legion. So you have to be careful, which is why I feel confident in Mr Wenger's judgement, if anything, he's anatomically programmed to demonstrate extreme caution at all times.

But what do we need? Definitely a right back and a goalkeeper to replace Sagna and Flappers, but also a centre forward and a holding midfield player. Current betting has Arsenal being linked with Serge Aurier, Lars Bender and Wilfredo Caballero. As for strikers, the vacuum of information has raised speculation temperatures to the heights of linking Mario Balotelli to Arsenal, blimey! You'd have thought the football writers would be far too busy with the World Cup then to come up with stories that far fetched.
 
Like me, you probably check "newsnow" or a similar aggreagator on a fairly regular basis. My advice - ignore them, their business model is as transparent as FIFA's is not. They work on the premise that you'll be sufficiently exercised by a link to a story about Cesc Fabregas buying a copy of the Islington Gazette to click on the link in the vain hope you'll then explore every advertiser on their page/site. Don't do it, don't fall for it. Protect your own mental health and just enjoy the football.
 
By Ian Byrne
 
Follow me at @RightAtTheEnd and I'll follow you back.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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