After powering (read: scrapping) through the group stage we found ourselves a reasonably favourable draw – Albania. I say reasonably because now the stakes are much higher. We win, we meet expectations; we lose, well… I might have to move to Scotland, and I talked a lot of smack about them during the qualifiers…
So in order to play down expectations I’ve been making an effort in the UK press to talk up Albania as a footballing powerhouse, they have massive players… like… Granit Xhaka’s less good brother, that full-back who plays for Napoli, Lazio’s backup goalkeeper, Veton Berisha (a striker who wears number six? Heathen) and a few other players. I think this is something Roy Hodgson screwed up at Euro 2016, managing expectations.
With the English public now questioning my judgement more than ever let’s get into our side. One second…
World Cup News!*
Germany beat Mexico on penalties, and Spain has beaten plucky underdog DR Congo PhD.
In other world cup news, USA and Austria played out a bloodfest, a game with 11 yellow cards, 4 red cards and 28 fouls and somehow the USA pulled through (if we get through against Albania, I’d quite like a run at them).
Okay, back to England.
Not like that, we haven’t been knocked out yet, jeez.
Once again we will be going with the 4-2-3-1, I just still feel it is the most effective shape against teams of this calibre… despite that being proven wrong two games in a row. This is naive, but I don’t like to be too reactionary. With that said, if it doesn’t work out by the 30-40th minute I will change it.
For the personnel today, a few players are starting to get fatigued and so have been rotated. These players are Shaw and Stones who are replaced by Smalling and Rose. Lallana comes in for the injured Alli, and Noble for the (obviously) injured Wilshere. Elsewhere, Kane, Rashford and Stones are all pretty tired, and if possible I will look to rest them for the final part of the game (if we can). Oh, and Clyne has served his suspension so has come in for Walker.
Okay, nothing more to say apart from COME ON ENGLAND!
1 – I have just remembered that Dier is pretty tired, and he is pretty much our only natural ball-winning-midfielder (because I forgot Henderson). With Wilshere out that just leaves Noble as the backup… Let’s hope Alli comes back from injury sharpish.
30 – Yup, that’s right… 30 minutes with no action. We are struggling to maintain possession but are having the majority of the shots. Lallana is heavily involved but I am going to try to allow him to come a bit deeper. I am going to move Kane to a deep-lying forward, and try to get Sterling more involved by moving him to an inside-forward. Let’s see if that helps.
Sufficient to say, it didn’t work. That may be the most boring half of football ever played. Here are the stats:
It seems Albania are playing an ultra-conservative style, using possession as a form of defence. I think the best way to break this will be not to chase possession figures and try to best them in that stat, but instead to play a high-press counter. Trying to force a turnover and breaking up their conservative passing. The obvious danger here is a long ball over the top to their striker, he is reasonably fast but not some kind of speed demon.
I have switched back to a 4-2-3-1 and changed Kane to a defensive forward. This is bold, but something has to change in this game, we need to take the initiative. My concern here is that this may be too many instructions too suddenly, or Dier may pick up a second yellow… I will look to bring him off if I can.
Okay, second half.
45 – From the kick-off, I like what I see! We force Albania very deep with our full-backs pushing on, forcing two crossing opportunities for Rose and Clyne. Albania have no passing options and are forced to clear long.
47 – The first big chance and it falls to Kane! He hassles the last man for Albania stealing the ball, he is one-on-one with the keeper and… The keeper makes an excellent diving save. Kane really should have taken that one. From the resulting corner, Sterling meets Lallana’s delivery on the volley, but straight at the keeper – better!
55 – Barkley will be coming on for Dier, with Noble taking over the ball-winning duties. With our aggression I was worried about Dier picking up a second yellow, especially with fatigue.
60 – Sterling has had a poor game, he is replaced by Walcott – I think he is better suited to inside-forward… I believe!
65 – Corner, Walcott takes, it’s whipped in and… PENALTY! Roshi (not master, Odiese) is judged to have pushed Barkley. Mark Noble steps up…
With that goal, all I can ask for is more of the same! We have been a completely different team in this second half. It’d be so England to blow this now… (A penalty goal… please no)
69 – Another penalty! Barkley dinks a free-kick over the Albania defence who are caught unaware, Rashford pounces, chests the ball and is brought down by Armend… Armend Dallku, who will now have to make… Armends… I mean… I tried. Although he can’t because that was his second yellow and so he has been sent off… maybe he can get the beers in for the rest of the team or something.
Noble steps up again, well I say steps up, he bloody darted from the half-way line, I thought it was Walcott for a second. Actually, here is just how much he wanted this penalty:
With that, Noble steps up to the spot, having already dispatched one today. Will he go the same way?
The run didn’t tire him out! Noble calmly puts the ball in the goal and completes the major scoring objective of football. He goes the other way this time and just like last time, picks out the top corner! England have a penalty taker?!?!?
70 – With the second of the game added, Kane will be coming off. His replacement, Callum Wilson, will surely be hoping to grab himself a goal here.
83 – But it is Albania who come forward, with their first shot on target of the game. Mavraj meets a free-kick with a meaty header, only for Hart to tip over.
87 – Walcott is found by a Clyne throw in, he turns, beats his man and lays off Lallana who’s shot is well saved.
88 – A nice interchange between Lallana, Wilson and Walcott see’s the latter get rolled through on goal. Not quite one-on-one, as he is closed down, firing wide from just inside the box – not an easy chance, but should’ve been on target.
And that is that! Full time at the… Samara Arena (Samara?). Mark Noble picks up the man of the match, my changes come off and England are through to the quarter-finals.
A lot better than in the first half huh? I can see why Albania got this far, if we hadn’t worked out what they were doing with that possession, they could have easily nicked a goal from a set-piece or taken us to penalties. We turned round the possession battle by forcing them to try to do something with it, and whilst that wasn’t the main objective, it shows how we unsettled them, forcing them into multiple mistakes such as the Kane chance, and of course the penalties.
Overall a good win, but I must work on getting us ready for the game, our first halves are always very shabby, and adapting on the fly is going to let us down sooner or later. Just takes one team… with a really good striker… a team like…
A team with two very good strikers, you might have heard of them… Suarez and Cavani? No? Well, they’re like Callum Wilson, but a lot better.
Uruguay is current world number five, so a tough team to be sure, but we knew we would have to face one eventually (although we played France already, the same France who just knocked Brazil out with a 2-0 win). it would’ve been nice to get a slightly less brilliant team, but I think we can do something here… at least try to, we can’t do any worse than the 2012 World Cup, can we? We probably can… but faith, faith in Mark Noble will pull us through.
And we will have to put that faith in Noble because Dier’s suspended…
*The colours of World Cup News were chosen as an apology for calling Senegal, Cameroon all throughout the last article. I’m not that sorry, you should have less similar flags, but still…