BY Pete Starr
Welbz Has One More Game To Nail On No.9 shirt
The biggest plus surrounding England since the World Cup has been the form of Dat Guy Welbz. Currently top scorer in Euro qualifying with 5 goals following his brace against Slovenia, Welbeck’s turned his England prospects around after Daniel Sturridge’s prolific resurgence at Liverpool looked set to consign him to a career of time wasting substitute cameos or shifts out on the left flank whenever England play someone with a decent right winger.
Always an excellent team player - grafting from the front, selfless in and around the box and a smart retainer of possession – his ruthlessness in front of goal was the major question mark. Whilst still no Ruud Van Nistelrooy in the box, he’s certainly improving, something backed up by some decent numbers. Since his move to Arsenal he’s bagged 10 goals in 16 games for club and country and has 10 strikes from the 12 matches he’s started as a centre forward for England.
The assumption was that upon his return Sturridge would consign Welbeck to parking his arse on the pine once again. Another goal against Scotland would see the Arsenal man deposit some considerable credit in the bank with Roy Hodgson going forward and really force Sturridge to hit the ground running if he wants to slot straight back into the starting XI in 2015.
Henderson Looks Set To Be Offered Chance To Atone For Slovenia Debacle
One man who’s suffering most from Liverpool’s miserable start to the season has been Jordan Henderson. A surprise stand out last year he’s been woefully out of sorts in recent months. Against Slovenia he had a bit of a mare, spaffing possession about the place willy nilly and recording England’s lowest outfield pass accuracy of 74%, that’s 11% down on his seasonal average for Liverpool, as he failed to find his target 16 wretched times.
In the aftermath of the World Cup, as Gerrard and Lampard finally fell on their swords, Henderson looked every inch the man to pick up the midfield mantle going forward but it’s been Jack Wilshere who’s impressed more. There’s still plenty of debate as to where Hendo’s best position is (he was used in six different midfield roles last year for Liverpool) and where his diligence is best utilised in an England side devoid of a natural holding midfielder but I still think he’s a player worth building the team around. The big worry however, the longer his horrible slump continues, is that last year was actually anomaly for Henderson where he looked good in a successful side containing the PL’s three best forwards in Sterling, Sturridge and Suarez.
Considering the firecracker atmosphere and the way the Scots went hammer and tong at the Republic of Ireland the other night in another charged derby, leaders on the pitch - especially those who can handle themselves physically will be essential. Henderson has an immediate chance to erase Slovenia from the memory and belatedly kick start his season here, let’s hope he takes it.
Smalling Could Start…
Found myself daydreaming about the merits of a 10-0 Scotland win last night, IF it meant Chris Smalling would be banished to Narnia forever more. Jon Stones, Steven Caulker, Calum Chambers, Michael Keane, TONY F*CKING HIBBERT - someone! ANYONE?! Please, raise your game so we can free ourselves of this gormless stain on our national team.
Barkley Given Chance In No.10 Role
Raheem Sterling is currently the man in the middle for England at the tip of Roy’s diamond, but such is his pace and dribbling ability, the Liverpool man can operate wide, and to great effect, as we saw in the second half against Slovenia. Ross Barkley, another hotly anticipated Scouse talent, is likely to be handed a chance to impress against Scotland behind the two strikers at some point. What the Everton man lacks compared to Sterling in the agility and acceleration stakes he more than makes up for with bulldozing power and a crispness of strike few can match.
One area that Roy’s England really need to up their game is goals from midfield. The current squad contains 217 midfield caps but just 9 goals, with 5 of those coming from occasional centre forward Theo Walcott. The doomed central midfield pair that retired in the summer exited stage left with 50 England goals between them. Gerrard and Lampard may have been far from perfect, and they certainly picked their times to go missing in England shirts, but their goal scoring returns stand alone as pretty exceptional.
One thing that I raised the last time England played a pair of qualifiers was this lack of midfield goals being exacerbated by a baffling refusal to pull the trigger by the likes of Sterling, Henderson and Wilshere. The good news here is that Barkley has no such hang ups about letting rip when offered half a chance, something reflected in his average shots per game this season of 2.8 – only Yaya Toure attempts more per game from midfield in the PL. Wilshere in comparison musters just one per match.
The flip side to this is that whilst Barkley does offer a willingness (if not yet a fully refined eye) for goal getting, his creative game could still do with a little work, especially if he’s going to operate as a No.10. In 51 PL appearances, his assist against Villa on the 10th October this year was his first and only to date.
So… It’s ruddy tip top that we have such willing passers in midfield these days but not so great that we have so few goals. Barkley’s good because he shoots a lot, but is also not so good because he doesn’t grab very many assists. Super, clear as slurry Pete. I swear there’s a point worth making in there somewhere, do give me a shout if you manage to pick it out. In conclusion – wouldn’t it be would be nice if all our players were better at footy?
The good news, however, is that Roberto Martinez is doing his best to keep the Barkley hype on an even keel, claiming this week that the 20 year old 'will become the best player England have ever had'.
Cheers. For. That. Roberto.
Shaw Gets Go As Gibbs Passes Slovenia Exam with a B-
The Arsenal man did just about enough the other night but now Luke Shaw has a golden opportunity to make the No.3 shirt his own in Leighton Baines’ absence. The young lad’s somehow managed to look decent enough as part of a tragic back line at United after his early season dressing down for eating all of the cakes.
Berahino – How Good Is This Kid?
Another certainty tonight is that Saido Berahino will be handed his debut run out for the seniors after a rapid rise to prominence this season where he leads the PL scoring charts, in terms of Englishmen, with 7. What we do know about the lad is that he passes pretty neatly, has gas to burn if afforded space in behind, finishes well and has killed it at U21 level (10 goals in 13 games).
It will be interesting to see how the 21 year old copes with the step up to a full cap, the cauldron like atmosphere, the no doubt rugged approach Scotland’s centre backs will take and the deep line I can only assume they’d pick when he’s on the pitch. He’s hardly the burliest of forwards and needs to improve his game outside of the box – only two players get tackled more times per PL game than the Baggie and he’s the league’s 9th worst for losing possession through a shoddy touch. He also bloody loves an offside flag.
These type of stats of course only tell half the picture – Alexis Sanchez, bar Aguero the PL’s best player, has similar figures for losing possession – but keeping hold of the ball, especially against the better teams in world footy, is an absolute must.
When All’s Said And Done, It Should Be Quite Fun
Excuse my arrogance, but England should, on paper, stroll this. The Scots are likely to start just with four PL players with plenty of Championship dross kicking about their squad.
Cliché Klaxon! But it’s the oldest, most spicy derby in football! Passions run high and rulebooks fly out of windows - anything can happen!
Last year the Scots turned up at Wembley and handed us one hell of a game that was won at the death by the world’s most famous root vegetable worker. Kenny Miller even slapped home a peach.
Gordon Strachan has worked wonders in a short space of time with this Scotland side and, despite their lack of star names, they’re an organised and gutsy outfit to be respected these days as they sit level on points with Germany in a fiendishly competitive Euro qualifying group. Can the Scots grab their first win north of the border over England since 1985 tonight? I still don’t think so, but it’ll be a hell of a lot more competitive than a hypothetical game between the two, around 3 years ago might have been.
Why not remind yourself of last year’s belting fixture?
Disagree with any of that tripe? Let us know beneath the line.
Looking for a pub showing Scotland v England tonight? Hit the link and whip your location/postcode in to see bars nearby screening it.**