Wednesday, 23 July 2014

World Cup 2014 - My Underrated XI

So, in the 2nd of my Best XI's of the World Cup I've gone for an 'Underrated' team. Slightly misleading title as I have basically chosen players that weren't necessarily the best in their position overall (covered that in my Best XI) but that were either surprising performers, a little underrated before the competition or players that not many people had heard of before the start of the tournament. Again I've gone with a first choice and back up.

Kaylor Navas (Tim Howard) - GK

In a World Cup of so many goals and good attacking performances the goalkeeper was probably the hardest position to choose from. Navas was outstanding, so quick off his line and made several outstanding block saves rather than ones to pick the ball out of the top corner. Behind a well drilled defence he really showed a lot of confidence. Tim Howard is my second choice, primarily based on his one man show against Belgium (where he made the most saves recorded in a World Cup match - 15, a lot of them excellent stops rather than easy long rangers). He was also excellent in the 3 group stage games to provide confidence in a back line that at times were a little shaky. I also have to mention Dominguez of Ecuador, M'Bolhi of Algeria and Cillessen of the Netherlands as having excellent tournaments.

Fabian Johnson (Serge Aurier) - RB

Johnson was a machine going up and down the right flank, I've never seen such stamina on a player. He was more like a right winger at times against Ghana and Portugal and you'd think he would get caught out but he recovered so quickly to stamp out any danger. He created the winner against Ghana by continuing to push forward even late in the game to win the corner from which Brookes scored the winner. Aurier was highly rated before the tournament but I hadn't seen much of him, he was Cote d'Ivoire's primary attacking threat against Japan and created both goals with pinpoint crosses. He did well getting forward against Colombia and showed his defensive capabilities when dealing with Samaras against Greece. He looks like moving to PSG this summer after Arsenal chose to sign Debuchy instead of him.

Sead Kolasinac (Miguel Layun) - LB

Tough one to call this position with no absolute stand outs. Kolasinac was very unlucky to concede an own goal in the opening minutes against Argentina when he could do nothing about it and proceeded to keep Messi quiet for most of the game until one moment of brilliance. He was then surprisingly dropped against Nigeria and Bosnia paid the price as the majority of the Africans attacks came down that side and ultimately cost Bosnia their place at the World Cup. He was restored against Iran and had an excellent game, solid defensively but also positive going forward and difficult to shake off the ball. Layun was excellent as a wing back in Mexico 3-5-2 formation, pushing forward to stop the opposition having freedom down the wing but always back in position when he needed to be.

Mario Yepes (Matt Besler) - CB

Hard to call Yepes underrated as he's been around for years and played for some of the biggest clubs in the world, but he rolled back the years at the World Cup, marshalling a well organised defence and handling all different kinds of attacks with ease. Greece's directness didn't faze him, neither did Cote d'Ivoire's pace and individuality. He bossed the back line against Uruguay and Brazil barely had a chance other than 2 set pieces. At 38, he showed you don't have to have pace if you can read the game. Besler was outstanding in the heart of the USA defence and constantly in the right place with excellent positional sense. Not trying to do anything he shouldn't and just an old fashioned solid centre back, his one mistake was in trying to outmuscle Lukaku in the game against Belgium!

Stefan de Vrij (Konstantinos Manolas) - CB

de Vrij was a highly rated member of the Feyenoord defence that had done so well but being so young and inexperienced this was supposed to be a tournament to let him develop and then expect big things at the next Euros. Instead de Vrij played Diego Costa out of the game against Spain, scored, looked very comfortable against Australia and for the rest of the tournament looked like a veteran defender alongside Vlaar. Great pace and ability to recover alongside positional sense and aerial ability make him the perfect defender and the World Cup has probably doubled his price tag. Manolas was part of the rock solid Greece defence that started so badly but ended up conceding just 2 goals in the following 3 games. His partnership with Papastathopoulos was key to this and they complemented each other superbly. Another one who can expect a transfer.

Jermaine Jones (Kyle Beckerman) - CM

Jones has been around for a while so is hardly underrated but his ability and engine still surprised me a little. he has even managed to add some attacking threat to his normal defensive game with a superb strike against Portugal and very unlucky not to grab an equaliser in extra time against Belgium. He seemed to cover every blade of grass and often made space for his team mates with runs forward, taking the pressure off Bradley. Beckerman was also excellent, although in a deeper midfield role and I was very surprised when he was left out of the Belgium game having had 3 outstanding performances in the group stage.

Miguel Herrera (Marcelo Diaz) - CM

Herrera was superb in the 3 man Mexican midfield, often going beyond the strikers as they dropped off to look for the ball and providing a positive goal threat. His link play with Dos Santos in particular was a highlight and he rarely seemed to be out of position despite his forward play. Diaz was the anchor in mobile Chile midfield and probably the only player who stayed in position and didn't rotate at some point. He showed excellent technical ability on the ball and his set pieces were outstanding, creating chances for the team that were one of the shortest on average at the World Cup.

Christian Atsu (Ahmed Musa) - RW

Atsu was exciting and a bundle of tricks although not without his negatives. He sometimes tried to do a little too much and often shot when a pass was a better option but at just 22 he has time to learn about awareness and choosing the better option. He was a constant threat for Ghana down the right side, able to go either way to cross or cut in and shoot and if Chelsea develop him correctly they will have a real player on their hands. Ahmed Musa of Nigeria played in a similar style and was exciting to watch him run with the ball at the back line. He switched sides a few times, popping up on both flanks and caused Argentina real problems when he grabbed 2 goals against them in the group stage.

Xherdan Shaqiri (Yacine Brahimi) - AM

Bit of a cheat putting Shaqiri in as he's been an excellent player since coming through the ranks at Basle and playing for the giants of Bayern Munich hardly makes him an unknown. However, he doesn't figure often for Bayern, playing 2nd fiddle to Ribery much of the time. He pulled the strings against Ecuador and bagged a hat trick against Honduras (the first all left footed hat trick in World Cup history), while causing a lot of problems for Argentina when Switzerland broke on the counter. It seems likely he'll leave Bayern for more first team opportunities and whoever signs him is buying a player of immense quality. Brahimi is not a player I'd seen a lot of for Porto and he was one of the key men in Algeria's attacking front 4. He tended to drift left and link with Djabou and between them they carved open Korea Republic and had the Russians on the back foot for much of the game. Only Halihodzic's tinkering was his downfall as he was dropped for the Germany game and had a huge influence when he came on.

Ashkan Dejagah (Abdelmoumene Djabou) - LW

Dejagah is a player who has been around for a while with Wolfsburg and Fulham and has shown he can do it in spurts in the Premier League. He was Iran's main attacking threat from midfield and his runs to support Ghoochannejad were important to provide some positivity in a generally defensive side. Very unlucky not to score against Argentina and could possibly have had a penalty, he was also a constant threat against Bosnia. Djabou was very impressive and probably under utilised on the left as he was outstanding when he started against Korea Republic and Russia only to be benched for the Germany game. He did come on and scored in the dying second to make things interesting but in reality if him and Brahimi had started Algeria might have pushed the eventual champions even further.

Enner Valencia (Emmanuel Emmenike) - ST

Valencia played like a typical centre forward, somewhat a dying breed in this age of false 9's and players dropping off or out wide. His movement, predatory instincts and pace caused problems for whoever he faced and with more positivity and better service against France he may have scored in every game he played. He should fit perfectly into West Ham's style of play if he can secure a work permit. Emmenike was a one man wrecking ball, often not looking fully in control of what he was doing but his unredictabiliy making him a real danger. It seems odd to include a striker who didn't score but the goal against Bosnia was all about him and he also grabbed an assist against Argentina as well as being marginally ruled offside when he bagged one against France.

So there were have it, if anybody thinks I've missed somebody please shout up!

Friday, 18 July 2014

World Cup 2014 - My Best XI

As I mentioned previously I'm going to post up a few different line ups based on my own opinions as to who I thought did well, who was a little underrated or surprising and who was disappointing.

Today I'm going to focus on the players I thought performed best in their individual positions. I've also included a 'back up' choice so in essence this is a best squad!

Manuel Neuer (Vincent Enyeama) - GK

In all honesty this was probably the easiest choice in the whole team. Not only was he assured and made some excellent stops but swept behind his defence and provided a passing option when Germany needed to start attacks from the back. Absolutely deserved to win the Golden Gloves award. I've chosen Enyeama as back up as he made 3 excellent stops to give Nigeria the win over Bosnia which almost assured them of a place in the 2nd round. Behind an average defence he provided excellent back up. I don't imagine it will be long before he moves on from Lille.

Philip Lahm (Mauricio Isla) - RB

Lahm only switched to the RB spot halfway through the tournament after starting in a DM role, but moved back into his normal position quite comfortably and linked up superbly with Muller and Schweinsteiger as the Bayern Munich triumvirate were practically unstoppable against Brazil and the majority of Germany's good play came down that side against Argentina, along with keeping Griezmann quiet against France. Winning the World Cup was a fitting way to go out as he announced his international retirement today.
Isla was excellent for a Chile side that focused on attacking but still managed to beat Spain and come close against both Netherlands and Brazil.

Ron Vlaar (Thiago Silva) - CB

Vlaar had come off the back of a less than stellar season for Aston Villa but was outstanding in leading a young Dutch defence. Before the tournament I noted that he needed to lead from the back and the 5 man back line was perfect for him, especially as he had Martins Indi and de Vrij to generally do his running for him, while he could command from the back. A memorable incident was his crunching tackle on Messi in the semi final when much more mobile defenders would have been easily beaten. Thiago Silva had moments of quality and moments of madness, but him being missing from the semi showed how vulnerable Brazil's defence was without him.

Mats Hummels (Ezequiel Garay) - CB

At the risk of this just being the Germany team it is hard to ignore the performance of Hummels. Again after a mildly disappointing season he led the back line superbly for Germany, scoring twice including the vital goal against France and all despite carry 3 separate problems into the tournament (leg injury against Portugal, Flu saw him miss out against Algeria and Tendonitis in his knee against Brazil). His covering, especially behind Howedes at LB was key to Germany's tight defence.
Garay was exceptional for Argentina and had to cover behind his defensive partner and the wandering Rojo several times throughout the tournament to shore up a defence which was generally not tested enough.

Danny Blind (Patrice Evra) - LB

While LB is not Blind's normal position, he showed his quality going forward and was instrumental in the Dutch style of play, with accurate long passes to release the forwards on the counter attack. Defensively he was solid, backed up by a deep back line and also showed his flexibility to also play CB and CM. Evra had a disappointing season for Manchester United but seemed rejuvenated at full back for France. His bursting runs, ability to recover and positional sense was vital when they were under pressure.

Toni Kroos (Nigel de Jong) - CM

Shock, another German! Kroos's passing range, bursts from midfield and set piece delivery put him head and shoulders above most other standard CM's. His ability to tackle and press but spend much of his time playing forward in front of a 2 behind him of either Lahm, Schweinsteiger or Khedira gave him freedom to receive the ball higher up the pitch and be instrumental in many of Germany's attacks. While de Jong is not everybody's type of player, his ability to break up play and sit in front of the Dutch defence to protect a young team was key. The marking job he did on Messi in the semi final when he was supposed to be ruled out with a Groin tear was excellent.

Javier Mascherano (Luiz Gustavo) - CM

Mascherano was probably Argentina's most influential player other than Messi. His shielding of the defence allowed the front 4 to go and play and he would often drop back to pick the ball up off his defence and play forward to start attacks. Along with his ability to press and win the ball back, it would have been hard to see Argentina replacing him had he got injured. Not bad for a player who played almost the full season at CB for Barcelona. Luiz Gustavo did a similar job for Brazil, allowing Neymar, Oscar and Hulk to spend little time worrying about defending and doing a lot of Paulinho's work. This was exemplified by the first goal against Cameroon as he won the ball high before an inch perfect low cross to Neymar allowed him to open the scoring.

Lionel Messi (Juan Cuadrado) - RW

Say what you want about whether he deserved the Golden Ball, there is no way that Argentina would have made it to the final without him. He almost single handedly won the games against Bosnia and Iran, was massively influential in a cameo appearance against Nigeria and often had 3 men around him against Switzerland. Yes he ran less than a lot of other players, maybe this was to ensure he stayed high up the pitch and could use his explosive acceleration in key areas instead of tracking back. Although he was only a bit part player in the final he still managed to create Argentina's best chances and played more Key Passes than any other player in the tournament (23). Cuadrado was very impressive and has matured massively as a player over the last couple of seasons. His pace and power down the wing made him very difficult to deal with and his unselfishness and awareness to set up the 2nd goal for Rodriguez against Uruguay shows how much he has improved.

James Rodriguez (Kevin de Bruyne) - AM

A lot of people seemed to be unaware of Rodriguez before the tournament but this is a player who went to Monaco for £45m last summer. Hardly an unknown. He showed his quality, ability on the ball and eye for a pass throughout the tournament, earning him the golden boot with 6 goals and many people's choice for goal of the tournament with his stunning strike against Uruguay. Ideally suited to the fast, breaking style that Colombia play, he is rumoured to be joining Real Madrid this summer and would fit into their team perfectly.
I expected de Bruyne to play on the left and Hazard through the middle for Belgium but this was reversed and de Bruyne was the better of the two. Given less defensive responsibility he still showed signs of selfishness and a lack of awareness but his driving runs at the heart of the opposition defence were very exciting to watch. His composure has also increased as he took his time before drilling home the opener against the USA.

Neymar (Andre Griezmann) - LW

I'd not been a massive fan of Neymar previously, he'd done OK for Barca but went down at the slights breeze and often showboated when it wasn't at all necessary. But in this World Cup he carried the entire hopes of a nation and to be fair, was the only reason they got to the semi finals. His goals against Croatia and Cameroon carried them and he created much of their better chances against both Mexico and Chile. The pressure on him to score the penalty against Chile was immense and you could see how much it meant to him to score. His injury against Colombia left a nation in mourning and they didn't look like they had recovered when they played Germany. Had he played would Brazil have won? It's unlikely but it would have been very interesting to see...
Griezmann was impressive in the short spells he played and was probably under utilised by France as Deschamps tinkered with his team a little too much to their detriment. With him on one side and Valbuena on the other and Benzema through the middle on a consistent basis France could have gone even further than they did.

Thomas Muller (Karim Benzema) - ST

I wasn't sure where to include Muller due to his versatility but he needed to be included. Despite looking like a little boy and some dubious play acting that reminded me of the German team of the early 90's he was outstanding in a German side that people had doubts over due to the lack of a striker before the tournament. Muller led the line very well scoring 5 goals, scoring with almost a third of his shots on goal. His strike against the USA showed excellent technique and his movement against Brazil was one of the reasons they conceded so many goals as he dragged the CB's out of position to allow the midfielders to come through.
Benzema was probably the unluckiest man in the tournament, despite scoring 3 goals he could have had 6 easily. His shot against Honduras that went in off the keeper, his penalty miss against Switzerland and in the same game the referee's inexplicable decision to blow for full time as he struck a shot into the top corner. By drifting to the left and picking the ball up he looked dangerous whenever he was in possession and only Deschamps decision to try and shoehorn Giroud into the team stopped him playing to the best of his ability.

Let me know what you think! Any you disagree with or somebody you think I've missed?

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Brazil World Cup 2014 - A few thoughts

I haven't written a blog in a while despite my intentions to at the turn of the year. Work kind of got away from me as I had the good fortune to be taken on full time by Onside Analysis in March and I've been kept very busy since then!!

For the past month the World Cup has been pretty much all I've worked on and thought about, this would probably be the same regardless of whether I was employed to do it, I always used to make sure I booked the first 2 weeks of the tournament off work so I could watch 3 games a day and make sure I didn't miss any! So to work on it this year has been an absolute dream! Over the course of the tournament there has been plenty to enjoy, a few things to grumble about and some general observations - I've written them down below so I hope you enjoy reading them!

Positives/Things I enjoyed

The Refereeing

The first couple of games were really dodgy. Fred's penalty, Neymar's none sending off, the disallowed Mexican goals - it looked as though it was gonna be a real 'mare for referees. But after this they settled down and on the whole I thought it was really good. There were some excellent decisions, such as the advantage given to Switzerland late on against Ecuador that allowed them to score a late winner and the general command they seemed to have over most games (Brazil vs Colombia obviously the exception).

The Anthems

Wow, if you didn't get a tingle down your spine watching the South American's belt out their anthems, especially the 2nd verse without the music you're dead inside!! While this obviously had no bearing on the score (Although I'd like the England players to show the same level of pride I don't think it comes from singing our anthem which is soooooo slooooooooooooooow - wish we had something more uptempo and rousing!!) it really got the fans behind them and when they were well backed anyway it really added to the occasion.


The tournament is the most exciting I can remember. The first one I watched was Italia 90 and while they are all enjoyable in their own way the tournaments had gradually been seeing less and less goals per game (from 2.66 goals per game in France 98 to 2.23 in South Africa 2010). The group stages of this World Cup seemed to abandon the shackles of defence and we saw some outstanding games. Spain 1 Netherlands 5. Australia 2 Netherlands 3, Switzerland 2 France 5, South Korea 2 Algeria 4, Nigeria 2 Argentina 3 - and of course Germany's destruction of Brazil in the semi final. While you don't necessarily need goals to make a game enjoyable they do help!!


The USA were far from the most talented team. What they do have in abundance is tactical nous, team spirit and energy. It was almost impossible not to cheer for them, their enthusiasm was infectious and the 2nd half of extra time against Belgium was pretty much the most exciting 15 minutes of football I've watched in years!

Goal of the Tournament

James or Cahill? James or Cahill? (or van Persie?!?)
You can make a case for both. I was out of my seat for both goal they were so good. I love a good volley, they are the most spectacular of goals and I'd go for Cahill as the long ball and volley on your weaker foot is so difficult to get right. James put the ball exactly where he wanted it in order to volley it (which is clear a fantastic skill in itself) and I could not argue with him winning it. Cahill was just my personal preference.

Negatives/Things that annoyed me

ITV's coverage - particularly Clarke Carlise!

I'm not gonna go into a massive grumble about how Sky-->BBC-->Channel 5---------------------->ITV cus it's for a whole other argument but I often found myself shouting at the TV through annoyance at some of the things they did/said. I long for the day when they get genuinely insightful analysts on these kind of programmes - Gary Neville has shown it is possible - and not just wheel out the ex-footballers looking for a job. Especially when it's clear they haven't got a clue what they are talking about. Clarke Carlisle was the worst, he took 24 seconds to annoy me in his first game (Mexico vs Cameroon) by stating the Mexicans would struggle to play a powerful, direct style as they were all small players. Yeah Clarke, that's how Mexico play. Have you done ANY research?!?
My particular favourite was his absolute disgust at Jackson Martinez not being able to get in the Ecuador squad after his season for Porto. That's Jackson Martinez the Colombian.....

The build up and knock down of England

England were never going to do well in this tournament. A relatively poor crop of players, difficult group, conditions in Manaus. This led to a quite refreshing mindset from most people before the tournament of this being a rebuilding year and giving some of the more talented youngsters a chance to experience a World Cup with the hope of carrying this into the next few tournaments. So what happened? England lost to Italy. Very unlucky. Chances were there that on another day go in. Then we lost to Uruguay, again very unlucky. Rooney could hardly have been closer with at least 2 chances and a terrible defensive mistake by Gerrard allows Suarez to score at the death. Had we drawn it would have been tough but we'd have had a chance going into the final game. Again because of scheduling and due to Costa Rica's surprise performances it meant England were going home to derision and a witch hunt from the media about's who's fault it was. But if we weren't expected to do anything why was everybody so disappointed?! On a personal note I thought England's worst performance by far was against Costa Rica in the final game.

Argentina, Messi & the Golden Ball.

I covered Argentina for the tournament for Onside Analysis so they were one of the teams I watched more closely than most. They were poor. Struggled against a Bosnia side who were lively. Relied on a Messi wonder goal to win it.
Poor against a defensive Iran side. Relied on a Messi wonder goal to win it.
Open and fragile against Nigeria? Relied on 2 Messi goal's to win.
Switzerland - struggled again, Messi beats 3 men to set up Di Maria for the win (Di Maria had put about 40 shots into the stand so it's a wonder Messi didn't stop his shooting privileges!)
Belgium was slightly better and then against the Dutch neither side wanted to lose, with de Jong doing a superb job of denying Messi any space.
In the Final Germany deserved to win, but Argentina had 3 great chances.
Messi looked like he wanted to be anywhere other than collecting his golden ball and the outcry began about how he had won it. Well, I wouldn't have picked him - however he basically carried a poor team into the final. Other than Mascherano nobody stood out so to get through 7 games and be within 7 minutes of going to the lottery of penalties says a lot about Messi. As for comments about he can't be one of the greats as he hasn't won the World Cup? Look at the players Pele and Maradona had on their sides and compare them to this Argentinian side.


For some reason FIFA chose to basically ignore diving in this tournament! Until Oscar's booking in the 3rd place play off there hadn't been one booking for diving in the whole tournament and to be honest Oscar's was more for persistent diving than anything! I assume the referees had been told to do it this way but it seems odd as you could clearly see occasions when the ref's knew somebody had dived and instead of getting the yellow card out they just waved it away. Then good old Sepp says he wants something done about it. Course you do pal.


Greece are hard to like. They defend very well I'll give them that but they have literally no attacking intent unless they desperately need to, even then it's sporadic. They were awful against Colombia, 2nd best against Japan and got the dodgiest penalty of the tournament against Cote d'Ivoire to go through (yes, even dodgier than Fred's!) Even against Costa Rica they didn't go for it until CR had a man sent off and still couldn't beat them - although Costa Rica took some fantastic penalties in the shootout.

General observations


The schedule before the tournament had a much greater bearing than I imagined. Teams like Croatia, England and Bosnia were really up against it from the start. In such a short tournament if you lose the first game the chances of progressing are slim and when the teams you face first are Brazil, Italy and Argentina it's gonna be tough! In fact of the teams that faced the eventual group winners in the first game (the top seeds in every group other than Groups B, D & E) only Greece, Uruguay and Algeria managed to progress.


Poor Fred. While he hardly had a good tournament he was pretty much hung out to dry by Brazil's tactics and him getting booed at 6-0 down against Germany while David Luiz runs around like an idiot and is wildly applauded is one of the stupidest things I've seen. While his movement around the box was poor he hardly covered any ground as he was supposed to push the defence deep allowing space for the Brazilian attacking midfielders to get on the ball and run at the back line. Had he dropped off to link the play there would have been no space for this to happen and it would have been to Brazil's further detriment. Never mind all that.......BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!

Crazy Cameroon!

There always seems to be one team that completely dissolves, usually France or the Netherlands but this year Ghana had there moments but good old Cameroon went completely mental and ended up fighting each other. Assou-Ekotto trying and failing to headbutt Moukandjo seemed to horrifying and surprise everybody, it's not even the first time he's done it this season after trying to headbutt Krajncar against Leicester. That on top of Alex Song's elbow swing.....

It went so fast!

FIFA have said a few times about increasing the number of teams to 40. Do it!!! Make the tournament last longer or every 2 years and increase the number of teams. The World Cup used to be the pinnacle of a players career, I wonder whether some don't prefer the Champions League these days. Can't wait for Russia, only 1,424 days!!

From tomorrow I'm gonna put a few of my own 'teams of the tournament' up. I'm gonna do a best XI, Surprising/underrated XI and a disappointing XI. Thanks for reading!