Category Archives: English Football

Just about good enough: Manchester United’s 2016/17 season review

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Be wary of anyone who said they enjoyed watching Manchester United throughout the entirety of the 2016/17 season. They might be a little crazy.

While there was glimpses of quality and some strong performances dotted in there, this campaign has been a tough slog for the Red Devils. Jose Mourinho is slowly but surely stamping his mark, both on the squad and the tactics, but that hasn’t come as quickly as many expected under the Portuguese manager.

In terms of results, it has been a mixed bag of a season. The results in the EFL Cup and the Europa League were good, earning two trophies and an automatic Champions League spot cannot be understated in how valuable they are to the club not just this season but the upcoming one too.

Cup competitions in general were a success, with an FA Cup quarter final exit to Chelsea disappointing but by no means embarrassing. It showed that when it’s needed in a high pressure, one-off game, the team can pull off the result they need.

They proved that against the champions in the Premier League too, but that was an all-too-brief bright spot in a frustrating campaign. Too many draws, especially at home, combined with a plethora of missed chances against smaller teams and being outclassed by those above them meant they never really looked like title contenders.

In fact, they only really looked like top four contenders because of the misgivings of other sides fighting for those places. A great run over Christmas was matched by everyone else, meaning their long, strange unbeaten run saw them keep pace rather than hit their stride with any real aplomb.

From a tactic’s perspective, it seemed like Mourinho could never quite settle on a preferred setup with a consistent line-up. The squad looks set up to play 4-2-3-1 but with midfield issues it switched to a 4-3-3 before moving back in the final few months of the season.

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That meant no-one really settled into their roles yet neither particularly showed that it should have been the formation to follow.

The 4-3-3 meant one of the attacking midfielders missed out but it added more balance to the midfield. It offered Paul Pogba a little more freedom, it helped strengthen the middle of the park but it also hindered United at the attacking end, leaving the striker often too isolated with predominantly inside forwards at the club’s disposal.

The 4-2-3-1 got more forward-thinking players into the side but created an imbalance behind them. Finding someone who worked best with Pogba in that role proved troublesome, even if at the end of the season Ander Herrera showed why it really should have been him all along.

However, the win against Chelsea towards the end of the season did show off Mourinho’s tactical prowess when needed. An almost misshapen 4-4-2 with Jesse Lingard joining Marcus Rashford in a speedy front two caused the Blues back three all kinds of problems.

The man-marking from Herrera on Eden Hazard worked perfectly too and displayed what this team could produce under the right conditions. That flexibility will be great in big games next season but a more consistent system with a regular starting eleven needs to be established.

A few unheralded players can hold their head up high, with that list beginning with Antonio Valencia. A revelation at right-back and a reinvention no-one could have seen coming, the Ecuadorian has been nothing short of excellent and has thoroughly deserved his contract extension.

Herrera has also been his non-stop self, even if he has overstepped the mark on occasion. He holds himself extremely well, never puts in less than his maximum and has worked extremely hard to be a permanent fixture in the big games in the heart of the midfield.

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At the same time, there’s a few that should be a little ashamed of a pretty dire season. Phil Jones has been poor along with injury prone which sees him practically out of the door, Luke Shaw needs to bounce back stronger in the pre-season and Anthony Martial needs to rediscover his consistency if he is to continue his progression as a footballer.

The signings from the summer window were all good additions, even if not all of them hit the ground running. Zlatan Ibrahimovic was exactly what you’d expect from the big Swede, Eric Bailly has the potential to be a mainstay for years to come, Pogba can be so good when he’s fully involved which needs to happen more often next season and Henrikh Mkhitaryan just has to find more consistency after a slow start, an exciting middle and a dithering end.

The positive to take from this campaign is there has been a foundation built. That’s not to say there isn’t more to be added, they need a little more at centre-back, left-back, midfield and up top but with the right players in again, they could be pushing much higher in the table and in all cup competitions as well.

What needs to be done is an establishment of an attacking identity. There’s a solid base from Mourinho’s background but he needs to create a more dynamic, unpredictable offence that not only creates better opportunities but finishes them off as well.

In the end, United’s season felt like they were learning a musical instrument. Sometimes it would sound wonderful, on occasions it made your ears bleed but on the most part, you could just about understand what they were trying to play.

The challenge now for Mourinho is to turn them into rock stars. If he can get them singing off of his hymn sheet instead of just humming the tune, this team could grow in both quality and potency quickly.

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A most unlikely of likely seasons for Hull City

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On May 14th 2017, Hull City Football Club were relegated from the Premier League. Not so surprising for most that the Tigers eventually succumbed to their pre-season prediction of falling through the trapdoor but that it took so long to do so should be something of note.

Rewinding back all the way to July in their preparations for the season to come, I caught the friendly between Hull and Mansfield Town. Steve Bruce had a bare bones squad, filled with youngsters and missing spots on the bench along with Peter Odemwinge on a trial, that only just scraped past a League Two side with a 1-0 win.

To add insult to the many injuries they had coming into the evening’s game, Michael Dawson had to be taken off in the first half.

This also went down as Bruce’s last game in charge, leaving three days later due to a lack of funds in the transfer window.

In came, well, no one. Bruce’s assistant Mike Phelan was promoted to caretaker manager while the owner continued to keep his purse strings tight as the team kept weltering. Without enough new faces to supplement the stricken and no injection of quality needed for top flight football, it always looked like it would be an impossible season for the club on the Humber.

They started shockingly well, winning their first three games in all competitions, which included a victory on the opening day against reigning champions Leicester City. A late defeat to Manchester United, however, saw the spiral down the table with heavy defeats of four, five and six goals.

Phelan was initially promoted to full-time manager, only to see himself replaced by Marco Silva in late January. The Portuguese was an unpopular appointment with some sections of the media, questioning his experience despite winning the Portuguese Cup with Sporting and the Greek title with Olympiacos.

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What he did within the time he had was astounding to say the least.

 

To start with, he saw two of their best players sold. Robert Snodgrass was shipped off to West Ham United, the Scotsman still standing as the club’s top scorer some five months on, while Jake Livermore saw his chance to flee south to West Bromwich Albion.

Saying that, they did pull in more faces than in the summer but most came in the form of loanees. Lazar Markovic, Oumar Niasse and Andrea Ranocchia were all bundled through the door in the last few days of the window, with Kamil Grosicki making a permanent switch from Rennes.

However, the rag-tag group was brought together and started playing football on both ends of the pitch.

Before his arrival, Hull had scored just 17 and shipped a staggering 44 goals this season. While the scoring hasn’t moved an enormous amount, the Tigers have two more goals in three less games, their defence has almost taken on another personality altogether.

They shipped just 29 in their last 17 games, not spectacular numbers but a drastic improvement from before. They added three more clean sheets to the one they had right at the start of the season, which shows that they were in an upwards trajectory.

Gone were the days where they would mix between a 4-3-3, 4-5-1, 4-4-1-1 or even a 4-3-2-1 for what seemed like what position the sun was in the sky. Silva gave them a 4-2-3-1 base to work from, instilling graft and when a little bit of zest was needed, a switch to 3-4-3 seemed to do the trick.

 

He grew their relatively solid home form, where they have only lost to the top six excluding Tottenham Hotspur (who visit on the final day), Stoke City and Sunderland, the result that killed their hopes.

They also played in a more adventurous, do-or-die kind of way. The wingers were swashbuckling, everything was with commitment and they would go down swinging, shown by their eight defeats under the Portguese were by more than one goal as they left themselves a little open in the pursuit of a comeback.

In fact, that’s what became their Achilles heel all season long. Only four of their 21 defeats were by a single goal, showcasing that they could never keep it close even in games they were playing well in.

The manager gets plenty of plaudits and will rightfully have interest across Europe this summer. Whether a spot in the Premier League will open up for him is debatable but with a number of attractive options in France, Italy and even with FC Porto at home, he could be under new employers soon.

Some of the players showed enough to stay as well. Sam Clucas showed both quality and effort, Harry Maguire is finally filling in the promise he showed at Sheffield United a few years ago, Andrew Robertson has looked like a left-back for a bigger club for years now while both Markovic and Grosicki glimpsed enough quality to get interest from elsewhere too.

In the end, the disappointment for the fans will be that up until that Sunderland game, they really had it within their own hands. In reality for most, who thought it could be a Derby 2007/08 scenario, they’ve done much more than many could have even imagined.

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Pitch invasions should be a thing of the past

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Have you ever had that rush of blood when you are at a concert and you are so overjoyed that your storm the stage in celebration of the band’s beautiful creation?

No?

How about when Anthony Joshua beat Wladimir Klitschko at Wembley, didn’t you want to jump into the ring to celebrate with all the assembled media that hopped in?

Really? Weird.

Well, it seems to happen every year in English football, regardless of whether a team goes up or avoids going down. It’s tradition, like watching the queen’s speech at Christmas or throwing up after having too many pancakes on Shrove Tuesday, for many a pitch invasion simply has to happen.

But, why?

Picking apart one of many that occurred over the final games of the Championship, League One and League Two, the one at Nottingham Forest was a little shameful. The former two-time European Champions, as they would kindly remind you, saw their fans claim the City Ground’s pitch after their team staved off relegation to League One on goal difference.

It’s like throwing a party because you managed to pay the bailiffs by finding a pound coin in-between the sofa cushions.

Even the positive ones seem a little redundant, like when Bolton Wanderers’ fans even started raiding before the final whistle had blew. They have come straight back up after relegation last season, so the redeption story or the overwhelming sense of beating the odds just isn’t there.

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Compare it to Brighton, who were on the brink of extinction just over two decades ago, and you can justify their need to hug all of their lovely footballers. Those fans almost couldn’t imagine a future and now, it could not be much brighter.

Saying that, footballers must hate pitch invasions. For the home players, it must be like being mugged by the most joyful person in the world. Most of them hope to be near the tunnel straight away but the poor goalkeepers and defenders must wade through the barbarians like it’s Black Friday at Tesco.

As for the away players, they must be begging that they can avoid all of it. The only things that could happen are getting shouted at, potentially assaulted or a dabble of both, with a sea of people running your direction not looking so nice for those that simply want to be on the first plane off this rock for the summer.

What’s even stranger is that it never happens elsewhere. There wasn’t a mass raid when Leicester spectacularly won the title last season, no one in Turin jumped the barriers when they made the Champions League final earlier this week and France contained themselves when they even won the World Cup in their own country in 1998.

However, we English tend to get all passionate about much. When it’s our local football club, with it’s inferior budgeting for stewarding and their more lax nature for idiots, let’s just ignore the norms and go a little mental.

It might be an unpopular opinion, or a surprisingly popular one, but end-of-season public pitch parades should be a thing of the past.

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Arsene Wenger and when adoration becomes aggravation

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You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.

It might be a little cliché to quote The Dark Knight but when a real-life superhero to many slowly fades into infamy, it seems only fitting.

Arsene Wenger has been a monumental figure for Arsenal. The Frenchman took them to great highs in an era where only his stylish sides could match or even better the juggernaut from up north in Manchester United.

However, the key word in that paragraph above is has. Whether it’s a mixture of a failure to evolve, a delusion of power or the modern game simply outpacing him, the 67-year-old’s time at the helm of the Gunners should finally come to a close.

Not with a bang, not even with a whimper for some.

There’s no doubt that Wenger is one of the greatest managers in English football history. He’s won an impressive stash of trophies, maintained a strong league finish every year even with the money thrown around by other clubs and preceded over an unbeaten season that will likely never happen again.

Not only that, he looked to bring through a number of young English players and develop them as the core of his next great footballing side. A little distant from the powerful, cultured sides he had before as they slowly evolved into a slick, possession-based monster.

That is likely where his downfall started.

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The first step was changing the culture, adapting it into what he believed was beautiful football. No one is questioning that he succeeded, sometimes Arsenal are simply a joy to watch, but too often they were found wanting when it came to crunch times of the season.

They could be bullied, with a lot of the new players being a little more lightweight than the ones that came before. Then came the adage that they would try to pass the ball into the net, with teams setting their stalls out on the edge of their box to keep the Gunners at bay and all too often, it worked.

Almost like a backwards evolution, that deformity became a trait. Fans clamoured for some physicality but for years Arsene resisted, lamenting with the signing of Granit Xhaka this summer, only for him to fall into the trap of becoming an Arsenal stereotype himself.

The second issue that has come back to bite him is those young players, who have simply taken advantage of his belief in them. So many of them have had their careers stalled in one way or another, their desire to fight when they struggled torn away and his loyalty to them, almost as a father figure, have plunged both into deep waters they can’t escape from.

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Taking Aaron Ramsey as an example, who was maligned for so long before bursting into life for one fabulous season. He’s been intermittent at best since, Arsene torn between sticking with him or throwing him to the sidelines as he showed in the European Championships with Wales that his powers have not abandoned him.

He has not been ruthless enough. Francis Coquelin still gets a game despite becoming a passenger, Theo Walcott has never learned how to play with his brain and Petr Cech is on a seemingly speedy decline in between the sticks.

This, in turn, has led to a shirk of responsibility on his ‘star’ players. Mesut Ozil can’t get on the ball and when that doesn’t happen, he’s absent while Alexis Sanchez would run through the crust of the Earth for you at the start of this season but when no-one else follows suit, why should he bother?

Even as a fan of a bitter rival, it really is a shame that it has come for this for Arsenal. It almost needs blowing up in the summer and rebuilding completely, unless someone can resurrect a virus that seems to run deep into the core. Scarily deep at that.

With Wenger still coy on his future, the players have decided to make up his mind for him. They haven’t got the fight any more, the powers are seemingly draining from a frustrated manager and the fan base is slowly turning in on themselves.

It’s poisonous and while for many it will seem like cutting off a leg, at least it might save the rest.

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the difference a superstar can make

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Zlatan, a god amongst men. Source: CNN

He said it would happen and so it would come to pass. The self-proclaimed God of Manchester can almost sound biblical at times but what really is surprising is that he’s rarely wrong.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic came to win and he has won one big battle already. There were doubters, those that still live in the small-minded English mentality of the classic rainy evening in Stoke analogy but the big Swede has been nothing short of a success yet again in yet another country.

Standing before us is a shining example of what a superstar can make happen. He can change the culture, he can bring that winning attitude and most of all, he can rise to the occasion, which is exactly what happened at Wembley on Sunday afternoon.

There’s no doubt about it, Southampton were the better team in the EFL Cup Final against Manchester United. Their full-backs were excellent, the way they moved up the field with speed and advanced on the wings to put in some terrific crosses had to be admired.

They did a little bit of everything. New signing Manolo Gabbiadini scored three lovely little goals, with one being wrongfully ruled out for an offside that never was and with that strike, the game could have been so different.

The Saints were undoubtedly superb and probably deserved more from the encounter. A credit to Claude Puel, his tactics were spot on and his players did not shirk on an occasion that can be too big for so many others.

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Gabbiadini was superb and could have been the difference on another evening. Source: TalkSport

However, United had a difference maker in their midst. After being significantly outplayed for the first section of the game, it was the Red Devils that struck first thanks to a long-range free-kick from Ibrahimovic, significantly against the run of play.

A bolt from the blue, in all honestly.

Jesse Lingard made it a little more comfortable but Southampton didn’t shrink and instead grew back into the game with two goals either side of half time. It was the South Coast side in the ascendancy, against a team that won the FA Cup in the same stadium just under a year ago.

As Puel’s men tired, it was Jose Mourinho’s talisman that stepped up to the plate. His clearing header from a corner moments earlier led to a counter attack, which slowed but eventually led to a wonderfully powerful header from Ibrahimovic that handed United an unlikely glory.

After the match, he was shattered and defiant. He said he would do it, he put everything on the line and achieved it, something that so many top footballers can fail to do but he has done it time after time after time.

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If not for Mourinho, United would not have been blessed with the gift of Zlatan. Source: newstalk.com

The truly world class players do. In a time of need, they put their team on their back and carry them to victory if needs be which is what can separate a good team from being a great team.

In the NBA, they always talk about getting an All-Star player. Someone who can tip the scales, someone who can improve those around them and a player that could push you further than you thought.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is an All-Star player. Even at 35, he plays every single game for a top club that includes Europa League ties and there are no days off, he wouldn’t allow such a thing to happen.

If you want a player to show your kids what it takes, from the attitude to the commitment, show them Zlatan. He can be brash, some find him abrasive but his one-track mind of only winning and his work ethic to make that happen is the prime example of what makes a generation-defining footballer.

And if you’re a big football club, find the next one. They are so rare to find, can be so difficult to make but my word, they are worth their weight in gold.

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FA set worrying precedent with Saido Berahino

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Berahino made a mistake, but why were The FA silent? Source: Sky Sports News

Last week, it was revealed that Stoke City forward Saido Berahino had been banned for eight weeks for taking “recreational drugs”.

The news was never revealed to the public until it was leaked, reportedly from his old club West Bromwich Albion where the offence occurred, and the ban was also kept hush-hush behind a Tony Pulis wall of “he’s not fit enough” or consequences still on-going from a transfer dispute almost two years old.

The Sun have also reported that the drug in question was of the Class A variety, which under criminal law would carry a potential seven-year jail sentence and an unlimited fine if found guilty of possession.

Now soak all of that in.

So why didn’t anyone know any of this as soon as it happened?

First of all, it’s clear why West Brom kept the new in-house. Any potential ban like that could seriously hamper the value of a player they believe could still fetch them a pretty penny, even if issues surrounding his fitness and team cohesion hadn’t helped in the first place.

Second, it’s also clear why Stoke would have liked to have kept it on the down low. A new player that they hope they can revive without too much scrutiny has suddenly been launched back into the spotlight for a mistake he made on the Baggies’ watch, not theirs.

Both were trying to protect their player, for different reasons, looking after a potentially misguided young man. It’s a reasonably hefty mistake, that many other 22/23 year olds do not make, but a first misdemeanour for someone in a place of power is always a slap on the wrist.

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The FA have a lot to answer for. Source: Wikipedia

What is not clear, however, is why the Football Association deemed it appropriate to keep the news away from the public. Again, the argument to protect the player could be trotted out but that’s a pretentious stance for them to take when in all honesty, that’s not their quota.

It also becomes hypocritical when they publish big bans like when Rio Ferdinand was banned for nine months for missing a drugs test or Mark Bosnich was banned for the same amount of time for testing positive for cocaine.

If The Sun are correct and it’s a Class A drug, as described above, for any other member of society it would come with a pretty significant punishment.

Even if it was a lesser class drug like Cannabis, which would better explain the shortness of the ban, why was it kept under wraps? Does that mean others get off lightly? What about those who are doing less?

Especially when players like Raheem Sterling and Jack Grealish were chastised for seeking legal highs while a player who has made an illegal mistake is swept under the rug. How the FA can stand to punish anyone else for this kind of matter and get away without a big appeal pointing to this leads to the fact that this could lead to a much wider, deeper problem.

This is not to say Berahino should have been made an example of. He was given due process, he served his ban and is now back playing, it’s not an issue for him to reveal it if others are unwilling to do so.

The FA, on the other hand, have a lot to answer for. This is a bad precedent to set, not revealing a serious issue like this will lead to either others getting away with it and the potential for future leaks through the media could look very ugly for an officiating body under increasing scrutiny.

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UEFA Nations League: An experiment that could go either way

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Yeah, it’s a little complicated. Source: UEFA.com

Something that went a little under the radar this week in the world of football was UEFA’s announcement of a new international tournament, the UEFA Nations League.

The basic principle, try to stick with it as it is a little convoluted, is that 55 teams will be competing in four separate league containing four groups in each starting in September 2018. The winners of the groups will be promoted to the next league, the bottom team in each of those groups are relegated.

The four winners of League A will compete in a knockout round called the Final Four, that will take place in June 2019. It will be replacing friendlies during the autumn period and will happen every two years in between the other two major international competitions.

Did you keep up? It’s a lot to take in.

It is a good move for those that hate irrelevant friendlies as it eliminates most of them other than those before a tournament. With more of the international breaks either devoted to qualifying or to the Nations League, there will be less fluff and more emphasis on building a team that can compete at any occasion.

That, in turn, may improve the quality of international football during the season. With more games meaning something, teams are more likely to play strong starting line-ups and that consistency will also help managers in building a proper squad rather than piling up those that did well for their clubs.

UEFA do say in their reveal piece that it will not increase their workload, which is true during the season, but for the bigger teams in the Final Four of the tournament it surely would. While it may take the place of some summer friendlies that would usually occur, it will be much more competitive and for those in nations like Spain or Germany that may get to the finals regularly, it could tire out their players in an already hectic schedule.

It will also be an unwelcome addition to the season for club sides, who will not be happy that their players are playing more competitive fixtures. That opens them up to potentially more injuries during the season and potential to need extra time off after the summer finals.

Whether it is a tournament that really catches fire remains to be seen. It’s not the best idea but it’s also not the worst, with the incentive of performing well in the lower divisions giving you a real chance of making the European Championships rather than the convoluted third-place system for Euro 2016.

However, it will be the competitive nature at the top that will be the real factor. Competing against teams of a similar level will help show a measuring stick ahead of a big championship but will those teams also clamour for the title or will it be a glorified friendly tournament.

Again, only time will tell. The best case scenario is it makes international football a little more exciting overall as it improves competitiveness or it implodes with the extra work load and potential lack of enthusiasm for another tournament.

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Is expanding the World Cup a good idea?

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The World Cup is changing, but for the better? Source: CNN

This morning, FIFA president Gianni Infantino announced that from 2026, the World Cup will be expanding to a 48-team format.

Sixteen groups of three teams will duke it out for two qualifying spots before the final 32 face off in knockout rounds. There will be a decision made two years before the finals whether ties in the group stages will be settled by penalty shootouts.

So, the real question out of this is, have they gone absolutely bloomin’ bonkers?

Well FIFA certainly don’t think so, as they can’t see any of the anger towards them through the shower of money raining in front of them. With the extra 16 games comes only more need for fans to fill stadiums, more games for television companies to cast and more heavy-duty wallets for the bigwigs.

That’s not to say that any positive is because of greed. The four additional spots for Asia and Africa to qualify are great for two developing continents within the world of football to gain exposure on what is the largest stage.

It’s also another well for FIFA to drain should it take of as well.

However, there are also legitimate arguments against the idea of a big expansion like this, starting with it diluting the competition element of the tournament. With the most recent European Championships a prime example, adding more teams means that some that missed out because they weren’t good enough then will slip through the cracks, bringing the overall football on show down a peg.

That also, unfortunately, includes those extra teams coming from nations like Asia and Africa. When current rankings are taken into consideration, teams like Sweden, Denmark, Scotland and Austria would not make it whereas powerful footballing sides like China, UAE and Curacao would.

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Infantino has wanted to expand the tournament for a long time and he finally has his wish. Source: Sportzwiki.com

 

But then, those heart-warming stories about the plucky underdog can become more likely. With some bigger nations maybe taking it easy or tired from a long season, some small nation may get the chance to stun us like Iceland or Wales did in Euro 2016.

Then again, there’s just as much chance of drubbings that require the score prompter to spell out the number because it’s got that high.

There will also be a big backlash from a number of the big European clubs, filled with international players, who already have to give some a longer rest if they go far in the tournament. With it likely to last longer or attempt to pack more matches into a shorter timeframe, especially with plans to move kick off times for big markets, it will only exacerbate an already strong issue for club football.

It also boggles the mind of the football purists, who can’t even fathom trying to cover that many games in a short space of time. That fatigue will also eventually hit the regular fan too, exhausted from a long club season and a myriad of pointless qualifiers that have even less significance now that when it does come to the summer, they would rather take a few weeks off.

Lost in some of this is the dream machine it will hopefully make for some of the youngsters around the world in some of the most impoverished areas. That may be true and that’s a beautiful idealism to root for but is that FIFA’s forward thinking or a by-product of them trying to expand their grip into new markets?

This is sure to be a debate that will roll on until the tournament, wherever it may be held, rolls around in nine years’ time. While some will be shaking their heads, some like those in FIFA will simply be blue-balling themselves with dollar signs in their eyes until then.

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Why video refereeing will work in football

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Mike Dean did not have the best of days on Monday night, to say the least. Source: The Mirror

Somewhat lost among the regular spiel during a match day weekend of referee rants and manager meltdowns was two instances where technology in football made a big difference. In two games, Hawkeye confirmed goals that otherwise were not caught by officials pitch side.

At the Etihad, Burnley clawed themselves back into the game after Ben Mee’s header was confirmed to have crossed the line after a scramble. The other instance was even more significant, with Gareth McAuley’s header against Hull City was not denied on the line and gave the Baggies their first lead in the game.

Both almost seemed like the norm, which is why there was no real talk about it. So, if that has significantly helped football, why can’t video evidence be used to aid referees in a similar manner?

There’s no getting away from it, Mike Dean had a bad day at the London Stadium on Monday evening officiating West Ham United versus Manchester United. Sofiane Feghouli’s red card is very harsh (it has since been rescinded), Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s goal was offside in both phases and with a couple of unpunished fouls, along with a deliberate handball that was given but no booking, it almost turned farcical.

Now avoiding the silly talk about Dean’s enjoyment of the limelight or how he seemed to never recover from the early red card, which all are slightly unfair shots at his character, let’s talk about how we can assist them. Without video evidence, none of these debates would have been brought up in the first place but with them there, there shouldn’t really be an excuse from the footballing hierarchy not to use them.

It would not take a dramatic amount of time to check them, the videos are available for TV companies in a heartbeat and after a few different angles, 95% of decisions are fairly clear cut. With an experience, official either at the game or a team based somewhere, it should be something that any major league or international competition could start quickly.

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This goal would not have stood if it wasn’t for Hawkeye in football. Source: The Sun

There have been a few trials at international friendlies, with incredibly interesting results. It was used in France’s 3-1 win against Italy and with the use of VARs (video assistant referees), they helped make sure a Djibril Sidibe challenge was not worth a red card within 10 seconds.

10 seconds. That’s all it took.

Some commentators say that the managers should have challenges as well, similar to the system used in the NFL. If they get the first challenge right, they get to keep it but overall over the course of the game, an NFL coach can only make a maximum of three challenges which is dependent on that first call.

Mixing that in with the referee being able to check things that quickly and it could turn things that can completely change a team’s season into the norm. With everything checked quickly and then given an extra time to look at them because of a challenge would completely clear any doubt over the referee’s decision, although some will still refuse to accept it.

The old guard will argue that the game’s gone to pot and with machines aiding it now, it’s not long until it’s completely out of pub talks forever, but they’ll soon get over it. The sport is continuing to modernise, even if it’s still vastly behind some sports in certain areas, and finally implementing these ideas would really help.

In fact, it will really help the officials the most. For how scrutinised they are, they can only give what they have seen on the field and especially when you only get one shot at it, then it’s almost a thankless task to have an absolutely spotless game.

This needs to happen as soon as FIFA and The FA can get it off the ground. It might seem a little hyperbolic but people’s jobs are at stake in this results-based business and the fact that it could change from the wrong decision should not be a factor in 2017.

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The crazy Christmas schedule needs to end

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Southampton have a crazy Christmas schedule that has shown it’s toughness in the last two games. Source: The Mirror

Southampton play Everton today at 3pm.

They lost 2-1 to West Bromwich Albion in the 3pm kick-offs on New Year’s Eve. They played three nights before that in a 4-1 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur at 7:45pm.

Then the Saints go marching into Carrow Road to face Norwich City in the FA Cup before a midweek League Cup semi-final against Liverpool on the 11th. Burnely are then their foes at Turf Moor on the 14th of the first month of 2017.

6 games in seventeen days. A game every 2.8 days. Doesn’t that sound a little absurd to you?

Many will cry out that Christmas football is sacred and cannot be touched. Some will say that English football is a tough man’s game and doesn’t need the siesta seen by those less worthy on the continent.

When you a see a schedule like that for a team, it can’t be excused. In fact, every single team in the Premier League has at least an extra day’s rest than Southampton over the three games this week, a distinct disadvantage both for the now and for the future.

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Premier League executive chairman Richard Scudamore doesn’t care as long as that truck of money doesn’t stop pulling up at his house. Source: chelseafootballnews.com

That goes for any team in the top flight who could have faced this kind of issue. To those that want to win the Premier League to those fighting to stay in it, they want to play at their full potential each game and that simply isn’t possible with so many games over a short period of time.

This also has a detrimental effect to the product you are watching. Is it any wonder that there will be a few lethargic, uninspiring displays and some terrible mental errors that could cost any team valuable points when they simply could have played them further apart?

What is even more absurd is how spread the games are this year through the period. There isn’t one day where every team is playing, all bowing to the whims of the ever-powerful TV deals that force them to move to their will to cater for their viewing public.

Injuries occur more often when playing in such a short space of time, which must put a real panic in teams that are already short-handed. Fatigue could also set in towards March, when regular internationals have been playing week-in, week-out since August or even since the summer for some, which is only amplified for those from South America who have had long flights on top of that.

Then there’s also the blame that this affects English players in major tournaments. With most of the national squad playing in the Premier League, the tiredness and lack of mental strength shown in the summer at least on the surface looks like it could be down to a long, arduous season, especially with most playing for a Tottenham Hotspur side that had to fight tooth and nail until the very end.

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Can a break really help the international side as well? Or is that just more hope than anything? Source: nytimes.com

So, what is the real answer to fixing the clogging of games at this time of year? Lifting the 3pm kick-off ban so that we can have more teams play on one day without a fuss? Or take a few weeks off either after the traditional Boxing Day fixture or after New Year’s Day to refresh the batteries?

I’d actually like for some real hard evidence to be conducted to prove how much it can affect a player and how important a short-term midseason break can be. It’s easy to point at international tournaments and the fact there’s been no English side in the Champions League final for four years, but before then there was at least one representative on eight out of nine occasions.

It’s true that the players and coaches would absolutely welcome a break, which for many on the continent actually means a week off then more preparation for the restart rather than three weeks dossing. It will give them a chance to restart themselves, for coaches to work their ideas into their teams and get ready for the second half of the season.

Whether it will happen any time in the future is the real question. With the TV companies and the Premier League big-wigs probably seeing it as a great opportunity to take advantage of no overseas competition, it would be difficult to see it coming to fruition any time soon.

But seriously, Southampton’s schedule over the next month is a joke. That can and should be changed next year, it’s isn’t fair in the slightest.

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