Greg Johnson believes the FA should look to Non-League day to win back fans.
Football shouldn’t be a chore yet with every passing September, the first international break of the season feels more and more like an administrative obstacle to overcome rather than a spectacle to relish.
With just a handful of games played, it’s time to put down your clubs’ burgeoning league campaigns, tidy away the spoils of the transfer window, and get on shift. Who cares if you’ve only just got into the rhythm of the new season! No wonder people are left feeling short-changed by the fixture list and its abrupt halt to proceedings. They’re left all warmed up with nowhere to go; it’s a classic example of the old bait and switch con if ever there was one.
And it’s a situation that’s hardly likely to help the popularity of Roy Hodgson’s England, especially after their dour display against Norway in front of a half-empty Wembley.
Rather than kick their PR campaigns into overdrive to try and explain away the desertion of fans from the national team however, the FA should take notice of the positives that can come out of this unhappy quirk of the FIFA calendar.
Non-League Day, now in its fourth year, was a huge success at the weekend as many supporters looked locally for a substitute to replace their interrupted intake of club football. At Dulwich Hamlet in south London, a crowd of 2,856 flocked through the turnstiles to watch them draw 2-2 with Hampton And Richmond all the way down in the English seventh tier. It was an attendance larger than the numbers that made it down to come League Two games, and even pipped the figures for Crawley Town’s 4-0 home defeat to Rochdale in League One.
Similar successes were reported across the country as teams tried to make the most out of the lull of topflight football by engaging with their communities and offering enticing discounts and deals for ticket prices. At Dulwich, the club looked to Radiohead for inspiration, running a “Pay What You Like” scheme on the door. Days after a hollowed-out Wembley played host to echoes, Champion Hill roared.
England would do well to take inspiration from the growth of Non-League Day. It’s not just the dull football and tired tactics that are causing audiences to switch off or turn away. There’s a general sense of aloofness that permeates the national team, the FA and the bubble that surrounds the upper echelons of the game’s establishment in this country.
Sure, who wouldn’t want Hodgson to finally make good on his comparisons between Jurgen Klopp’s version of a 4-4-2 and his own? But in the absence of excellence, there should be a concerted effort to reacquaint England with its supporters, and create a feel good factor that doesn’t rely on hype and bluster to paper over the cracks of both the team and its relationship with the general public.
If attendances are a problem, lower the ticket prices. Open the doors to a new group of fans who may appreciate the opportunity to grab a seat and sing a song to produce an atmosphere rather than an inflated profit. Attempt to foster some sort of connection between those on the pitch and those in the stands, beyond the logo of the kit manufacturer that adorns their both their shirts and their replicas, respectively.
Perhaps in some ways Wembley itself is the problem. What better example is there of the authorities being out of touch with their public and the problems of the grassroots game than the 90,000-seater behemoth that replaced the iconic twin towers at great expense and delay? The £757 million spent on its construction could have done a world of good to the beleaguered youth clubs and half-dead or disappearing playing surfaces that are strangling England from its roots as the Premier League soars. And beyond the monetary cost involved, think back to the nomadic era on the road under Sven Goran-Eriksson and the excitement generated by the national team having no fixed abode. Rather than playing their half-baked football in an inconvenient pocket of north-west London—with the rest of the country out of sight and out of mind—England toured England, playing to the crowds in Manchester, Middlesbrough, Birmingham and beyond. For all the tradition of having a national stadium, in retrospect the decision to go back to Wembley now seems like a retrograde step.
However, the cost has been paid and so the ground must be used, but the FA need to remember the positive impact brought about by those wandering qualification campaigns and friendlies that brought the England team to the fans, rather than the other way round.
Do we somehow need a Non-League Day of sorts for England? With qualification to future European Championship tournaments set to be decided by a multi-tiered league system after France 2016, Hodgson and his successors may find themselves thrown into such a scenario due to decline instead of choice if the rot isn’t stopped soon.
You can find Greg on twitter at @gregianjohnson
By Sam Tighe
Jose Mourinho drew global applause for snapping up Filipe Luis this summer, paying £20 million in no-nonsense style for what many consider to be the most complete left-back in world football. The Brazilian, comically overlooked by Luiz Felipe Scolari for his FIFA World Cup 2014 selection, boasts both defensive and attacking ability and has the stamina to match anyone. He's not an offensive juggernaut like David Alaba but he's close, and while he may not be the best left-back in the sport, his skill-set is most certainly the most well-rounded.
He forged a wonderful relationship with Arda Turan on the flank for Atletico Madrid, bombing forward when necessary but tucking in to do his defensive shift too. Is there a better way to replace the outbound Ashley Cole than with a player so similar in his ethic and traits?
Luis to Chelsea made all the sense in the world to every individual...except one player in particular who has decided he won't be ousted. Branislav Ivanovic takes issue with the notion that he should take a back seat, and as a result is playing some of the finest football of his entire career.
This was to be the season, earmarked by Mourinho and the club, in which Ivanovic—so often a central figure in the dressing room and a key face in the side—would be phased out. The focus in pre-season was on how the Serbian would take it; how would he cope with a reduced influence in proceedings as the new pair of full-backs took over full-time control?
Cesar Azpilicueta, who played most of last season on the wrong side in place of Cole, was expected to return to his natural right side and Luis would slot in opposite on the left. The pairing, on paper, is perfect; one of the strongest and most mobile in world football.
That Mourinho didn't introduce Luis immediately wasn't a surprise, with Chelsea opening Monday Night Football for the season with a tough, physical trip to Burnley. Newly promoted sides are among the worst to face when both slates are clean, and travelling to Turf Moor on a windy, rainy night requires nous, experience and, above all, exactly the type of physicality Ivanovic provides.
This strategic move wasn't an issue for Luis, who would win his chance soon. The problem developed when Ivanovic had an absolute stormer and scored a goal, then followed that up with a cracking show against Leicester and a goalscoring performance against Everton, too. Utilize the latest Guts sports promotion and place a bet on Ivanovic to score next game, that could pay off big time.
The Serbian has two in three from right-back, has been hitting the best crosses out of everyone and has renewed vigour in his defence work. Mourinho gave Luis his debut late on at Goodison Park on Saturday evening, but his task was to flail around in defensive midfield rather than slot in at full-back.
It's arguable Ivanovic has been Chelsea's third-best player of the season so far behind Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas, and what was originally a guaranteed first-team role for Luis has now become the biggest challenge of his life.
Many were quick to accept Ivanovic fading this season, but not Ivanovic himself. He's in demonic form because he knows what he's up against, and don't expect his performance levels to drop any time soon.
You can find Sam on twitter @stighefootball
By Karl Matchett
If Liverpool surprised more than a few people with their ability to win games and challenge for the Premier League title in 2013-14, an awful lot of stern, memorable lessons were handed out between January and May. With a couple of 5-0 and a 4-0 hammerings dealt the way of Tottenham Hotspur in that time, the north London side should have heeded those teachings more than most.
Fast forward to the start of the present campaign and Spurs—complete with another new manager—had the chance to show they were ready to compete with Liverpool for a top-four finish, but once more they were undone by the power, pressing and precision of the Reds’ midfield diamond.
While it is shape which allows a number of Brendan Rodgers’ key players to flourish, one stands out more than most: Raheem Sterling.
Formerly used as a winger or an inverted forward, Sterling used his pace to blaze beyond full-backs before moving infield to shoot or provide a final ball—but such has been his tactical, as much as his technical, improvement over the past year that the teenager can now reasonably claim the No. 10, central attacking midfield position, as his best role in the team. In Liverpool’s diamond midfield, he is indispensable in that role: able to work hard defensively, press his opponent into a mistake…and then surge beyond the opposition pivot, breaking into space with his great acceleration.
It allows Liverpool to overload very quickly through the centre, with Sterling looking to exchange passes with the forwards or commit defenders with his dribbling. Either way, it inevitably leads to a chance for the Reds to test the goalkeeper.
New arrivals this summer at Anfield include Lazar Markovic and Adam Lallana, both attacking midfielders who could reasonably lay claim to that same role in a diamond. Sterling’s advantage is that he can play in a number of roles, including as the second of the two forwards ahead of that point. Not a natural striker, he nonetheless stretches play with his pace, is free to roam the channels and has an ever-improving end product in front of goal.
His link-up play with Luis Suarez was at times bordering on the genius last season; with Suarez now departed he has sought to do similarly with Philippe Coutinho—when the Brazilian plays from deeper positions—and Daniel Sturridge. How he ends up combining with Mario Balotelli is another intriguing storyline to watch.
Rodgers has so far restricted Sterling basically to half-seasons of involvement.
A breakout 12-13 campaign was borne of necessity and lack of options as much as Sterling’s own ability, but from January onward in that campaign he barely featured. Last season it was the opposite way round; up until December he was largely substitute, before nailing down a starting role thereafter. Having excelled over Liverpool’s title run-in and gone to the World Cup as a first XI choice for England, Sterling’s own seasonal objective has to be to try and extend those performances over an entire domestic season. Added competition gives him the chance to rest from time to time, but he is also quite clearly vital to the team set-up.
Sterling has already made his mark domestically and internationally, but this season will see him take that ability to the Champions League stage too. Perform as he did against Tottenham—at Anfield last season or at White Hart Lane already this—and soon enough, the footballing entire world will know of the immense talent the Liverpool attacker possesses.
You can find Karl on Twitter at @karlmatchett
Before the season, much was expected of Salford.
Their expensively-assembled squad, championed by bold and brash owner Dr Marwan Koukash, were tipped to at least make the play-offs, and potentially trouble those established at the top of the league, and one pundit, SKY Sports' Phil Clarke, even predicted that they'd win the whole thing.
Yet with two rounds still left of the regular season, the Red Devils are done. Out of the play-off running, thumped 42-6 by Wakefield, a club who was in turmoil in the close season, gripped by financial troubles that forced them to sell all but one of their star players, including ironically Tim Smith, who went to Salford and has since made a return to the Wildcats having failed to sufficiently impress Koukash and his coaches this year.
Koukash has responded to that thumping by cancelling Salford's player of the year event, clearly unhappy at how his so-called star team have underachieved this season.
One of those big names, Gareth Hock, has now had a transfer request accepted and is expected to leave the club soon. Hock was tempted out of an agreed deal to move to the NRL with Parramatta to join Salford from Wigan, and just a year later is now planning his next move. He and the aforementioned Smith probably haven't delivered what Koukash might have expected, but in truth very few of the Salford squad can be happy with their performances over the season.
They started the season under Brian Noble, before he was replaced by Iestyn Harris mid-way through. The change in coaching set-up will have done little to help numerous new signings settle in, although there had been hope in recent weeks, particularly since the arrival of New Zealand international Kevin Locke and London younger Mason Caton-Brown that things were turning for the better.
As it is, Harris has a job on his hands. Having invested so heavily, Koukash would have expected to have at least been dining at the top table in the first round of the play-offs, and in reality, Salford have never come close to even troubling the top eight. Contrast to Castleford, who have done excellently this term, and even Widnes, who in only their third season back in the top flight have occupied a play-off place for the entire year.
Given the failings of the scattergun approach - signing a raft of top players - perhaps we might see a change of tact this close season, enabling Harris to plug the gaps he needs and concentrate more on their style of play - something with which Castleford are renowned for now - or the team spirit - which is something Denis Betts is big on at Widnes.
The play-offs will happen without Salford, but are likely to include both Castleford and Widnes, after the Vikings defeated Wigan last week. They now need just a point from their final two games to finish in the top eight. Castleford find themselves second in the table after a few unlikely results last weekend, and that would give them home advantage in the play-offs. Below St Helens, who will finish first, the teams second to sixth - Castleford, Warrington, Wigan, Huddersfield and Leeds - can finish in any order, meaning the play-off picture probably won't be known until the end of the season. Catalan and Widnes are all but confirmed to be joining them.
England played their first match since the World Cup 2014 debacle in Brazil at Wembley last night and it wasn’t exactly the most exciting affair ever witnessed. The nation has steadily getting over the disappointment (or is it expectation?) of England failing at another major international tournament and the resumption of international football is just a nasty reminder of what could have been in Brazil.
However, needs must and Roy Hodgson must get the players back to performing how they were prior to the commencement of the World Cup. Yes, it was only a friendly and yes it was the first international game of the calendar however a better performance was still expected against what actually was modest opposition, who on their last away trip were ruthlessly dispatched 4-0 by an impressive French side.
Looking at a sparsely populated Wembley last night was quite frankly depressing for the well being of English football. The sight of the entire top tier of the stadium being deserted was a reminder to the FA that the English public have, for now, had enough of poor performances.
Equally, the official attendance of 40,181 didn’t quite ring true either as there was swathes of empty seats lower down and to fill the ground on uninspiring nights like this, the FA must amend its ticket price policy or face even more embarrassing attendance figures such as the one that marked the new Wembley’s lowest attendance since being opened in 2007.
Even clearer after this match was that the team need the fans onside, they need the crowd to cheer them on as quite clearly, they’re not going to be able to do it themselves.
Winning 1-0 on home territory against opposition of the calibre of Norway would not have been Roy Hodgson’s idea of ideal preparation for what is sure to be a sterner test away to Switzerland on Monday night. There were a few nervy moments for the England defence particularly down the right-hand side where young John Stones was making his first start in an England shirt and this would have been punished against a side of higher calibre.
England need Gary Cahill who is now the ‘experienced’ head in that back four, particularly at international level, to assert his authority and become the leader.
Raheem Sterling has quite frankly been a breath of fresh air to an England team that desperately needs one. His running, vibrancy and energy are desperately required and he provides the spark within the current team. Daniel Sturridge is also required up front but he must be more ruthless in front of goal if he truly to become a success in an England shirt. To be more of a fluid unit, Hodgson must find a way to fit his best players in within a system that gets the best out of them consistently.
While Rooney scored the goal that ultimately won the game, he didn’t really put in the performance of a leader. It’s true that he needs help from the more experienced members of the squad but he is the one ultimately responsible. If that means dropping a little deeper to organise his teammates then so be it.
Hodgson must work to prove the public wrong and dismiss the jibes that he should have been sacked after the appalling World Cup form suffered by the squad in Brazil. He is again pinning his side’s chances of success on an arguably out-dated 4-4-2 system.
If England are to prosper, Roy must show that he is tactically flexible to get the best out of not just individual players, but the team as a whole.
Kirsten Schlewitz shares her thoughts on the start of the Conte era.
Italy, winners of the 2006 World Cup, finished last in their group in 2010. Cesare Prandelli took over, guiding the azzurri to the final of Euro 2012. But in Brazil, Prandelli’s squad finished third in their group, unacceptable for the four-time World Cup champions. Prandelli then resigned, ushering in the Conte era.
Antonio Conte, who spent the vast majority of his career at Juventus, is credited with the recent bianconeri revival. He was appointed head coach prior to the 2011-2012 season, and immediately took Juventus to the top of Serie A, finishing the league unbeaten and lifting the scudetto. Two more titles followed in quick succession.
Heading into qualification for Euro 2016, Conte is tasked with reviving the Italian national team in much the same manner. The question is whether his considerable talents at club level will translate into international football. Conte, as a manager, is both tactically adroit and skilled in his ability to forge a team, rather than assemble a collection of individuals. The problem is that national teams are almost always comprised of individuals who don’t often play together. And with little time to train, tactics are often less refined than those used by club managers.
But if there’s one trait Conte is famous for, it’s his innate ability to find a way to win. He’ll be well aware of the limitations imposed on national teams, and as such, he’s unlikely to make wholesale changes prior to Italy’s first qualifying match, against Norway on Tuesday, September 9. That’s evident when looking at the squad he’s selected. Only one outfield player is uncapped – Simone Zaza, who represented Italy at various youth levels. Four players remain from the azzurri squad that lifted the World Cup in 2006.
The majority of the squad is composed of players Conte knows well. His backline will almost certainly be composed of three center backs Conte led at Juventus: Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli. They’ll be in front of veteran Juve and azzurri goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, and capable of skillfully carrying out the 3-5-2 formation Conte loves so much.
The new manager is making changes up top, however. Ciro Immobile is the only forward included that made the trip to Brazil. Conte has insisted that players must prove their worth, rather than expect automatic inclusion in the squad, yet his included strikers make one wonder if Conte is following his own rules. Sebastian Giovinco, a favorite of Conte’s, warms the bench at Juventus, as did Fabio Quagliarella, who scored just one Serie A goal last season. Mattia Destro is expected to do much the same at Roma, although he’s certainly capable of knocking in goals.
Of the forwards called, only Stephan El Shaarawy has truly impressed recently. The 21-year-old, who missed much of last season through injury, shone in Milan’s first-round victory over Lazio. It’s enough to make you wonder just how poorly Conte believes Mario Balotelli has performed recently – especially as he had 17 goals last season.
Conte’s ability to succeed as the azzurri coach is limited, both by the time he has to work with players, and the lack of young Italian talent. Yet there remains a sense of optimism over his appointment. Antonio Conte has shown that not only is he a winner, but that he’ll do everything in his power to ensure his side emerges victorious. That’s enough to make Italy worth watching over the international break.
You can find Kirsten on twitter at @KDS_Football
Well the goals are flying in, the games are coming thick and fast and then…there is an international break for 2 weeks – disappointing to say the least. However, with transfer deadline day well and truly underway will you be joining in the scramble for new players for your #FPL team in preparation for week 4?
Early season favourites Ludicrous Display, managed by Daniel Breeze, are still top of the leader board and will take the lead heading into the international break. While having not as good a week in terms of points with 52, Ludicrous Display maintain their lead over 9 point lead over 2nd placed Beegees managed by William Gould. Last week’s 2nd and 3rd residents J managed by Joe Lloyd and inittowinit managed by John Ambrose slip to 9th and 11th places respectively.
At the other end of the table aye rennie managed by Paul Rennie prop up the table with an average weekend total of 47 points resulting in 112 in total. The big movers at the bottom appear to be Drunited managed by Darren Hiscox who had a very good week, more so than the leader with a week total of 65 points resulting in 136 in total. There is still along way to go Darren so keep that average up and you never know!
As for the players who managers should be scrabbling around for, Nathan Dyer at Swansea is a worth a purchase once you’ve sold your deadwood that is while Morgan Schneiderlin at Southampton appears to have put his transfer worries behind him and he scored at the weekend resulting a high score. Villa’s Andreas Weimann seems to have a new lease of life while Swansea’s Gylfi Sigurdsson has made a reappearance on the leader board.
The Premier League took a rather pleasant turn this week – there was a copious amount of entertainment, controversy and most importantly, goals. There were some important victories too for a number of clubs who were looking to kick-start their season.
Firstly, Manchester United are still without a competitive win under new manager Louis van Gaal after they were only able to draw 0-0 with Burnley at Turf Moor. The debut for Angel di Maria, while promising, also ended in a disappointing style with the winger needing to be substituted after suffering from a calf complaint.
Manchester City suffered a rare home loss to a determined and impressively resolute Stoke City team after former Manchester United striker Mame Biram Diouf sealed a 1-0 win at the Etihad Stadium with a quite brilliant counter-attacking goal. There were also goals galore at Goodison Park where Everton were undone by an impressive Chelsea who have started the season in a fantastic fashion with the game ending 6-3 to the visitors after a two-goal blitz inside the first 3 minutes.
Liverpool were also impressive after ending Tottenham’s 100% start to the season under new manager Mauricio Pochettino. With new signing Mario Balotelli making his first start for Brendan Rodgers’ side, Liverpool ruthlessly dispatched Spurs and cruised to a 3-0 away win with goals from the impressive Raheem Sterling, Steven Gerrard and Spanish left-back Alberto Moreno.
This award must go Portuguese who set his Chelsea side up to attack Everton from the off and they got their reward with 2 goals in just under 3 minutes. He realised the only way to avoid a potential banana skin at Goodison Park was to unleash the serious attacking potential of his Chelsea side on Everton and they collected their just rewards with a thumping 6-3 win. However, looking at the error of his ways he’ll probably revert to type for the remainder of the season and look to grind out 1-0 wins from now on!
So, Pochettino has gone from hero to villain within the space of a week – football eh? Anyway, Pochettino simply had no answer to Liverpool’s tactics as well as their pace and thrust up front. Brendan Rodgers, who is fast becoming one of the most tactically aware manager’s in the Premier League, exploited Tottenham’s need to play narrow by playing a diamond formation and thus breaking on Spurs with relentless ease.
To be honest two teams could win this award for two very different reasons. While both played, seemingly, on the counter-attack Liverpool’s extra quality gave them an edge over a Spurs side who simply had no answer to that quality. Stoke on the other had to rely solely on the pace and power of Mame Biram Diouf to provide the cutting edge against the champions Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium. Ryan Shawcross was superb in the centre of the Stoke defence while man-for-man they matched City all over the park. As much as City were uncharacteristically quiet at home, Stoke were superb in the defence of their goal.
Diouf deserves this award simply for the way his run ended – in the back of the net. He outmuscled, nutmegged and outpaced a number of City’s defenders to reach the City goal and while the finish wasn’t exactly ‘buried’ (Joe Hart will be disappointed to say the least) he was aware enough to slide it through Hart’s legs and into the net, giving his side a vital and unexpected 3 points.
This weekend highlighted the need for better refereeing training if anything else as there was a number of questionable decisions throughout the weekend. Firstly, there were two in the early kick-off featuring Burnley and Manchester United in which Ashley Young was shoved over in the penalty area with no reward and then a handball decision that was not given, also in the area.
The Manchester City-Stoke City match also featured a number of questionable decisions, one for each team. In the first half Mame Biram Diouf was tripper just inside the area while Yaya Toure was caught, all the while theatrically, in the opposition box in the second-half. Everton’s Tim Howard should have been sent off for a blatant handball outside of his box against Chelsea while Joe Allen’s dive against Tottenham resulted in Steven Gerrard giving his side a vital 2-0 lead in that match.
Simply, referees need to be better and while the element of controversy brings debate into the game, which is what we want, referees need to be consistent in their decision-making. Penalties are penalties regardless of who is on the end of them.
We’re extremely proud to say that our very own Christopher Demicoli, winner of the 2014 ICE Malta Cisco Netriders competition will soon be jetsetting to Italy as Malta’s representative.
Christopher, who is now being mentored by ICE Malta’s very own Cisco Educators, is preparing for the major honour that will be the prestigious NetRiders International competition, which takes place in Milan in October.
Here at Guts we love people who love to innovate and create products and services that we know our users will absolutely love.
I’m sure Chris is tired of hearing it from us but we’re all behind you Chris and we hope you can bring the competition home! Good luck in Milano!
It’s all getting heated now in the Guts fantasy football league and the movers and shakers of the league are beginning to be apparent. It’s only week 2 but much like the real thing, a good start is always vital. Get a good start on your betting career with this Guts sport bonus! Ok, here goes:
Ludicrous Display managed by week 1 leader Daniel Breeze retain the top spot with 153 points total and 68 for the game week. Week 1 2nd place Panthers managed by Arjun Shivananda slip to joint 4th with J managed by Joe Lloyd and inittowinit managed by John Ambrose take 2nd and 3rd respectively 6 points behind the leader.
Down at the other side of the table, there lies Guts Gaming’s own Guts team who slip to 96th out of 100. Come on lads! What’s happening? You’re not going to let the Sports book beat you are you? They are managing a slightly better ranking located in joint 91st. However, at the end of game week 2, the unenviable position of 100th goes to Vixen’s Eleven managed by Hera Tariq who have a total of 81 points with a game week total of 35.
As for players whom you can transfer in and who are performing, the hottest property at the moment seems to be Steven Naismith from Everton who again scored at the weekend vs. Arsenal. Tottenham’s own Eric Dier scored for the second successive week and he is without doubt worth a place within your team at the moment.
When Di Maria finally completes his seemingly inevitable move to Manchester United, I’m sure there will be a few who will scrabble around for him too given his undoubted quality.
Again though, much like week 1, the hottest talent seems to be the obvious, ranging from Diego Costa, Eden Hazard, Sergio Aguero and Daniel Sturridge while Stevan Jovetic may be worth a look if he can keep his place within the City team.