Manchester XI

I will begin by stating on record for those that don’t know, that I am a Manchester United fan.

Sure, it is easy therefore for my judgement on this particular line-up to become a little clouded. I have though tried my utmost to keep my bias under control and have tried to deliver here what I honestly believe to have been the best Manchester XI up to now this season based on a combination of form and statistics.

Manchester United Manchester City

City’s fans may be on top in this picture, but…

In order to counter those who think this will be based purely on a huge bias towards United, I will remind you that I predicted that City would win the title this year and that I believe that one to eleven that they have just as good a side as United.

I would also hasten to add that I would have picked a similar imbalance of City and United players this time last year, but the imbalance would have been in favour of City and the team would have included the likes of Joe Hart, Vincent Kompany, Joleon Lescott, and Sergio Aguero along with the City representatives who have also made the cut this time around.

My selection is as follows:

(4-2-3-1)

David De Gea

Joe Hart my have out-statted De Gea in terms of clean-sheets, 14 to nine, but he has also been far more error-prone and cost his side more points than De Gea has. The fluffy-lipped Spaniard has come one leaps and bounds this year and has arguably been the best keeper in the league.

Pablo Zabaleta

Zabaleta is probably the only must-pick from City in this entire XI. His form has been so steady all year and he has continued from where he left off last season where he became the bedrock of City’s title push. He has been outstanding this term, and that can’t be said for a single other City player.

Rio Ferdinand

He may not be in favour with most English football fans after his recent antics, but he has had a great season, of that there is no doubt. I have always been a huge admirer of what Rio offers, but even I had thought that we had seen the best of him before this season, but he has had a bit of a renaissance and has been terrific.

Jonny Evans

I never thought I’d say this, but Mr.Evans has grown in to a cracking centre-half. I can’t quite put my finger on why, but I have always found it hard to put much faith in Evans until this season. He and Rio have gelled superbly and this has helped David De Gea no end.

Patrice Evra

One of the easiest selections of the lot. City haven’t contributed a great deal in the left back department this year, Patrice Evra of United on the other hand has been outstanding. As well as sharpening up his defensive game, which had waned a little last year, Evra has also chipped in with four league goals, and five league assists, a fantastic and well deserved return for the Frenchman.

Yaya Toure

He hasn’t been quite as good as last year when I would have rated him as my player of the year, but Yaya is a huge asset for City and has still contributed five goals and three assists despite his lengthy absence caused by the African Cup of Nations. It will be a great relief to City fans that his contractual wranglings appear to have been sorted out, as they desperately need him in the heart of their midfield.

Michael Carrick

He may not have scored a single goal this season, but that is almost the only criticism you could target at Michael Carrick this season. He has been consistently brilliant all year, and the four assists to his name don’t do him any justice. The number of important interventions he has made this season, and the number of goal-scoring moves that he has started or played a big part in must be through the roof. First name on this particular team-sheet.

David Silva

Silva, like Toure, hasn’t quite been at his best this year but he has still been a vital cog in City’s attacking machine and not many have played better in sky blue this term. Four goals and seven assists certainly doesn’t make for bad reading.

Wayne Rooney

Many have targeted a lot of criticism at Mr. Rooney this season, and have indeed suggested that this is to be his last at Old Trafford, but I can’t see why. He has only managed 21 appearances this season, but in these appearances he has scored twelve times (as many as any of City’s players), and has notched an impressive haul of 9 assists (more than any City player). He hasn’t been as good as last season, but his role has changed since RVP’s arrival and he has had some injury bother. Nevertheless his contribution has still been sizeable and I think we are slowly seeing his transition into one of the best attacking mids in world football rather than an out and out striker.

Danny Welbeck

Stats may well be the best indicator around for form and contributions made, but in this case ignore them. He hasn’t been banging in the goals, and he hasn’t been a prolific assist maker either but his work ethic has been immense. So rarely has Welbeck failed to contribute this season, so much so that Ferguson has picked him in most of the big games this year and Welbeck has never let him down. This may just be a personal preference pick, but I think he has had a very decent season in spite of what the stats might tell you.

Robin Van Persie versus Manchester City

Robin ruled triumphant at the Etihad

Robin Van Persie

If Michael Carrick wins the nod for the ‘first name on the team-sheet’ in this line-up, then RVP runs him a close second. He has scored 19 goals in the league and made 8 assists, a brilliant contribution and the sort that must irk Roberto Mancini beyond belief as he tried to sign the prolific Dutchman last summer before United beat them to their target. The brilliant thing about Van Persie’s season has been that most of his goal have been important. Many have been winners or goals that turned the tide in matches. He has been off the boil of late, but don’t hold that against him.

United 8 -3 City

England’s Euros Squad: The Ups and Downs of Roy’s first squad and what I would have done differently

In the wake of one of the most protracted squad releases ever known to man, the world and his wife have begun to let their feelings be known about Roy Hodgson’s first England squad selection and it must be said that most are a little bit irked by a few omissions and selections.

Hodgson England

The headlines in short are that Steven Gerrard has been named captain, Rio Ferdinand misses out, John Terry makes the cut in spite of the on-going race row, Kyle Walker misses out through injury, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and John Ruddy are in despite never having played for the national side and Micah Richards, Peter Crouch, Darren Bent, Daniel Sturridge and Phil Jagielka have all missed out.

If I were in charge my squad would be as follows:

Joe Hart, Rob Green, John Ruddy

Glen Johnson, Phil Jones, Gary Cahill, John Terry, Joleon Lescott, Rio Ferdinand, Ashley Cole, Leighton Baines

Theo Walcott, Frank Lampard, Scott Parker, Steven Gerrard, Michael Carrick, James Milner, Ashley Young, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain

Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck, Daniel Sturridge, Andy Carroll

Reserves: David Stockdale, Phil Jagielka, Adam Johnson, Aaron Lennon, Peter Crouch

I think the goalkeeping selections in ‘my squad’ are the same as what Roy’s because, quite frankly, there are only very few other viable options. The likes of Ben Foster and Paul Robinson would be hard to tempt back into international football given that they would only be back-up options to Joe Hart who in reality will probably start every game of the tournament even if he plays really poorly.

My defensive selections are also very similar to Roy’s. I too would have ignored Micah Richards as he hasn’t been able to find a place in City’s line-up in recent weeks which I believe speaks volumes about a lack of faith in his ability to be trusted in big games. The only alteration between my selection and that of Hodgson is my inclusion of Rio Ferdinand as an eighth defender. I think Ferdinand has performed admirably at times throughout the latter half of the Premier League season and if his omission is down to “footballing reasons” and not an unwillingness to partner John Terry then I would still have him alongside JT in my starting line-up.

My midfield selections are also fairly similar to Hodgson’s. I though would never even have considered Stewart Downing for a place in the squad given his dismal form this season and I would have instead taken an extra central midfielder in the form of Michael Carrick who I think has had a very strong season in Manchester United’s midfield. Another player who has made Hodgson’s squad but would fall short of making mine is James Milner who has struggled to find a starting place at Manchester City over the second half of this season. I know his omission would be a little controversial given his very strong and determined character and his versatility but I am wary of taking too many players that are either out of form or struggling to get into their club sides.

My four striking options would consist of Rooney, Welbeck, Carroll and Sturridge. Rooney and Welbeck are must haves after their respective campaigns at Manchester United, Carroll would provide a direct, target-man option and Sturridge would provide flexibility and versatility with his ability to play either through the middle or out a little wider as part of a front three. I would omit Jermain Defoe from my squad for the same reasons as I stated about James Milner, he is undoubtedly a very good finisher and he does have decent experience of international football but I struggle to see him making a huge impact when he has been limited to a place on the subs bench for much of the Premier League season.

In summary I think the positives of Roy’s selection are as follows:

John Ruddy’s selection as the third keeper: It is nice to see Ruddy’s development this season rewarded with a call up and I think his form has warranted acknowledgment of this nature.

Micah Richards’ omission: I think Micah Richards offers a lot in the Premier League but when up against the world’s best wingers and full-backs I still think he lacks discipline. I think he will be a part of England’s World Cup squad for Brazil in 2014 but for nowI think he still needs to do more.

The selection of Gerrard and Lampard in midfield: Many were calling for one or both of England’s veteran centre midfielders to be axed in favour of a promotion of younger options but they are both still well worth a place in the squad for me.

Picking Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain: This was a decision that took a lot of guts and I definitely think it’s the right call. I would go as far as to consider the Ox for a starting berth as I think he has the ability to provide a real surprise factor at the Euros. If he were German or Dutch then I think that their coaches would be throwing him straight into their line-ups as their policy of promoting young talent on the big stage in recent times has proven successful.

Andy Carroll taken as one of England’s strikers: Many will point to Carroll’s poor form since moving to Anfield in arguing that he isn’t worth a place but I think his more recent signs of life and in particular his strong performance in the FA Cup Final as a second half substitute are enough to suggest that he could be a key player for England next month.

And now for my thoughts on what I think are the glaring mistakes in Hodgson’s selection…

The  ‘Downs’ of Hodgson’s squad selection:

The omission of Rio Ferdinand: He may not be the force of old but I think Rio is definitely still one of the four best centre backs in the country and should therefore have been selected.

Stewart Downing making the cut: I don’t understand how a player so horribly out of sorts can make England’s national squad in a position which we are actually quite well stocked in. I simply cannot fathom how he has been preferred to other wide men such as Adam Johnson and Aaron Lennon. For me this is the worst selection in the whole of Roy’s first squad.

The omission of Michael Carrick: I have forever been fighting the corner of Michael Carrick as being someone worthy of a place in the international set-up but it seems that yet another England manager doesn’t much fancy him. I may be a touch biased given that I am a United fan but I think he has had a very decent season and that he offers the defensive qualities of someone like Gareth Barry whilst also offering a superior ability to distribute the ball. Sadly it now appears as if he is ready to turn his back on international football.

The omission of Daniel Sturridge: He may have struggled to hold down a place in Chelsea’s starting line-up since Di Matteo took over at the club but before that he was arguably one of Chelsea’s best players this season. Versatility is crucial for sides hoping to go deep into major tournaments and I think he would provide that in abundance.

The winners and losers of Pearce’s week at the helm

In a week where England Under 21’s boss Stuart Pearce was asked to fill the Fabio Capello sized hole as the full international side’s caretaker boss, England have been defeated by one of the stand-out favourite’s to win the European Championships.

It has been a big week for Pearce and several England hopefuls

No surprises to be had then really… England were fairly soundly beaten by a top-class, experienced and much fancied side when their own team are in a period of managerial transition and were also hampered by several key absences.

In truth, this friendly match was less about seeing how a settled England side could compete with top-class opposition but more a chance for some less experienced players to continue their education as international footballers and for the squad to try dealing with adversity.

Due to the nature and circumstances of last night’s game I have decided not to look too in-depth at the performance as a whole but rather pick out a few significant events and performances in Pearce’s week of stepping into the breach. My picks for the winners and losers of ‘Psycho’ ‘s week of charge are as follows…

The Winners:

Stuart Pearce:

He may not have got the result he was hoping for on his first outing as Manager of the full international side but his team did show some spirit and resolve and ultimately won’t be too disappointed with the outcome.

It was win-win really for Pearce as he has stated that he doesn’t think he is ready for the job full-time, but he will have learnt from the experience and it will certainly have helped any long-term ambitions he may harbour of eventually taking the role on a permanent basis.

Scott Parker:

His international stock continues to rise and after last night’s characteristically brave and battling performance he will not only have secured his place in England’s starting line-up for the Euro’s but he has also made himself favourite to lead the team out in Poland and Ukraine this summer.

John Terry:

He may be injured and his public and footballing image may be left tarnished by recent events but last night England’s defence looked bereft of the grit and experience which Terry possesses by the barrel-load. England’s defensive backbone needs a John Terry-esque figure and there seems to be little in the way of alternative options.

Rio Ferdinand:

He may have spent a fair period in the international wilderness now but, like John Terry, it is hard to deny the experience and quality that he possesses and that could yet earn him a call-up to the Euro’s squad if he is fit for duty.

It is yet to be seen whether he would be happy to part of a squad including his long-term central defensive parter John Terry though, given the offence taken by Ferdinand to Terry’s alleged racial abuse of his brother. For me, the England squad will be stronger if they can put aside their differences and regain the necessary fitness and form to earn their call-ups as I think they are probably still our best central defensive partnership.

Micah Richards:

He was overlooked consistently throughout Capello’s reign but he returned to the side last night and looked every bit an international footballer. He does look a little indisciplined in defence at times but his strength and determination in the challenge and when breaking forward provides something different for England at the back. He would definitely make my England squad for the Euro’s.

Daniel Sturridge:

Came off the bench early on for the injured Steven Gerrard and played a part in most of England’s good attacking play. He may have even done enough to jump Danny Wellbeck in the race to start up top for England in the absence of Rooney for the first two games at the Euro’s and Darren Bent’s potential absence for the whole tournament with injury.

Ashley Young:

Four goals in his last five international appearances now for Young and he is beginning to look comfortable at this level. He may have been fairly quiet throughout last night but his goal was sweetly taken and his set-piece was a constant threat. He now seems the most likely of England’s wingers to make the starting line-up come June.

Holland (obviously):

Winners in a literal sense on the night but also in terms of the threat and killer instinct which they seem to possess going into a big summer of international football. Not many teams in world football could come back from throwing away a two-nil lead in the last five minutes of normal time away from home  and against strong opposition to producing a winning goal in additional time. They demonstrated great self-belief in coming back to win the game late on after enduring a few late minutes of defensive indecision themselves and they impressed with their play throughout the ninety-odd minutes at Wembley last night. It was the sort of performance and result which serves to underline their reputation as one of Spain’s strongest challengers this summer.

The Losers:

Manchester United and Chris Smalling:

With Chris Smalling picking up a pretty gruesome head injury, Manchester United’s never-ending defensive injury crisis seems set to continue.

Aside from Patrice Evra and David De Gea, pretty much every member of United’s defensive unit have spent considerable stints on the sidelines this season, Smalling included, and now he is set for another spell out of the game. Incidents like this do warrant sympathy for the players themselves and for their club managers and I’m sure Sir Alex Ferguson will be bemoaning his luck with a huge game against Spurs lying in wait at the weekend. Hopefully for his and United’s benefit, the injury picked up by Smalling will not be as bad as it looked and he will make a speedy return to action.

Steven Gerrard:

Most people were expecting a swift return to the England captaincy for ‘Stevie G’ but it wasn’t to be as Scott Parker was picked for the job.

Not only will Gerrard be disappointed by this but he will also be irked by his short stay on the field after being named in England’s starting line-up. His stay of action lasted barely 20 minutes and was hardly what he was hoping for having barely played any international football over the past year due to injury.

It seems likely that Gerrard will be picked if fit and available but the brevity of his contributions last night certainly won’t work in his favour when it comes to squad and first XI selection at the Euro’s.