Archive for November, 2010

What We Learned From Prem Week 15

Baby, Baby, Baby, Where Did Our Defence Go?

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house Not a creature was stirring, not even a defender

For the first time in the history of the Prem everyone’s defence went missing, with a record number of goals scored and not one single team in the top flight  able to keep a clean sheet. Not one. And rather than being a sign of a growing attack minded tactical development in the league, or even an increase in genuine attacking quality as Match of the Day would have it, it’s yet another example of the continuing decline in quality of football in the Prem. Personally, I can’t think of a single Prem defender who can be realistically called world class, certainly none who are of the stature achieved by, say, Fabio Cannavaro during the 2006 World Cup or Barcelona’s Carlos Puyol during the last World Cup. The only one who even comes close is Chelski’s Ashley Cole and even he isn’t having the best of seasons.

If you look at the defensive records of the various Prem teams, none are particularly good. Admittedly there are few surprises, the four best defences belong to, guess who, the top four teams, while the worst three are West Ham, Wolves and, a little surprisingly, Blackpool, which doesn’t bode well for the Seasiders. But, let’s face it, none of the big four have a defence that has even the shallowest sheen of defensive impregnability as this Goals Conceded extract from the table tells us.

  1. Chelsea – 10
  2. Man City – 12
  3. Man U – 16
  4. Arsenal – 17

You sense that the Prem is really missing the likes of Viera, Keane (Roy not Robbie), Makelélé and Carvalho, who’ve left or retired (or in the case of Viera, effectively retired while still picking up Prem style wages – a good trick if you can manage it). Meanwhile, it’s clear that former defensive giants Rio, Vidic, Titface, Carragher, Touré and Sol Campbell are past their best to varying degrees, increasingly lacking pace and bedevilled by long-term injuries. And who are we replacing them with? Ivanovic and Alex at Chelsea? Evans and Smalling at Man U? The perma-injured Vermaelen and Koscielney at Arsenal? Kompany and Kolo Touré at Man City? None of these screams defensive invulnerability to me. Those championing defenders from teams like Bolton, Everton and Boremingham would do well to look at their overall defensive record before bigging them up too much.

It’s not clear what the solution to this is. Man City aside, few clubs want to spend big on a defender and it’s far from clear that the clubs are capable of training youngsters to be anything other than hoofing clumpers, barely capable of holding their own in the Prem, and utterly unsuited to the European game.

Crikey That World Cup Hangover Is Still With Me

It’s no wonder that clubs hate the international game with a vengeance. And not simply because it hijacks their best players and delivers them back tired, crocked or otherwise damaged (so much for building your side around a particular player), but because of the lingering, long-term effects of tournaments like the World Cup. If you look at the effect of winning it on, say, Torres, Fabregas, Reina and Barcelona it’s clear that there is a considerable World Cup hangover, a combination of having achieved your overwhelming footballing ambition and the kind of deep seated tiredness (both physical and mental) that comes with having played competitive top flight football almost continuously for the best part of four years, Spain having played through Euro 2008, the Confederations Cup and World Cup 2010.

Is it any wonder that the likes of Torres, Fabregas, Van Persil, Greedy Stevie, The Drog, Titface, Lumpy, Rio and Chav Wanker are clearly still struggling with form and susceptible to injuries? Or that World Cup absentees who had the summer off like Nasri or were merely bit part players like Van De Vaart, two of the few real highlights of this Prem season, have come into their own?

So All The Games Were Garbage Then?

Weeeeeeelll. No. Not in so many words. Man City‘s thoroughly tedious, if predictable, draw at Stoke aside, most of the games were thoroughly enjoyable in a desperate unsophisticated kick and rush Prem style. And even this match had two moments of real class. Micah Richards, who has beefed up to almost Balotelli proportions, displayed an unusually deft piece of footwork, turning his marker on the edge of the area, to score Man City’s, while a sweet backheel from Tuncay played Etherington in for Stoke’s equaliser. One benefit of flat, unmoving defences is that quick flicks will stun them much more effectively than long hoof-n-hopers, but two good moments in 90 minutes is hardly a ringing endorsement of Prem quality.

Fat Sam once again enhanced his self-inflated Engerland credentials by taking his Real Blackburn to Man U and rolling over in even more spectacular fashion than they did at Liverpool the other week. And they didn’t even have the excuse of missing their ‘big man’ Samba. However, it’s well known that Fat Sam always rolls over for Ferguson, so it was no surprise. And Man U did their best to take advantage, spanking Real at every opportunity, Berbatov getting five, two of which were the sort of lucky tap ins that most days would be easily saved or blocked. Nani looks to be increasingly like a gamechanging player. Chav Wanker looks to be retreating into that Paul Scholes role in midfield, which wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing for him.

Arsenal did their best to put aside a pretty frightful week (losing to both Tottingham in the prem and Braga in the Big Cup) by putting the boot into Aston Villa. It was, in many ways, a typical Arsenal performance, they totally dominated the first half but only managed to score twice, then conspired to almost kneecap themselves by letting Villa get back into the game. Still they showed great resolve to grab the initiative and make it 1-3 almost immediately after Villa scored and it was nice to see Wilshere get his first Prem goal for the club. And while it was clear they are defending from the front, with both Song and Wilshere covering in midfield, the defence still looks very shakey. Still, two points behind the leaders, level with Chelski, with the fourth best defence in the Prem and seven points ahead of supposed super team Tottingham, that’s a crisis that most teams would be happy to have. Villa, meanwhile, who have a more serious crisis, have to decide whether they’re going to genuinely trust in the youngsters, which would be exciting and, probably, effective over time, but won’t get you short term results.

Chelski conspired to shoot themselves in the foot, what with Alex and Cech conspiring to conjure a Newcastle goal out of a simple backpass, losing the top spot in the Prem for the first time this season. Their tame draw at Newcastle exposed a side that seems to have completely lost its way. The previously formidable force of Malouda, Anelka and The Drog seems to be as threadbare as an overwalked carpet. It’s clear that without Essien in midfield Chelski are far less effective. Newcastle look certain to maintain their position in the Prem, which is what they were aiming for at the start of the season.

Apparent champions of North London (even if they’re still seven points behind Arsenal), Tottingham reaffirmed their new-found Big Four arrivista credentials by comfortably beating the dead dog (and former Big Four member) that is Liverpool Redsox. Spurs at White Hart Lane seem to be riding a wave of euphoria and adrenalin, and while they keep conceding the lead you get the sense that they just don’t want to lose, hence Lennon’s injury time winner. And while Torres was far better, some of his flicks and dinks were right lovely, he can’t make up for the many, many inadequacies of this Liverpool team.

Having had to eat our words regarding the former strike drought known as Elmander, we’ve going to have to take back our description of Bolton as ‘ a rancid sick sack of tedium and defensive hoofery’. Playing an ebullient Blackpool, who are always great value for money, it was as if the tables had been turned. If you’d said one of these teams would score two from set pieces and one would score two great goals, no one would have guessed that it would be the Seasiders who got a couple from corners and plucky Bolton who scored two fantastic goals. The second, especially, a combination of four great passes in the penalty area was a thing of rare beauty.

Everton continued their slide into mediocrity by meekly lying down to West Brom. It’s symptomatic of the stress around the club that Arteta was sent off for stamping and Cahill was caught raking his studs down the calf of one of his opponents.West Brom showed the form that did for Arsenal. It’s just a shame they can only managed it on a ‘once a month’ basis.

Fulham again managed to scrape a draw out of a potential defeat at home to Boremingham. Like Everton they lack any kind of a strikeforce capable of unlocking even these poor quality defences. Boremingham play away looking for draws, but it was nice to see Hleb dribbling about again.

Down at the dustbin of relegation, West Ham apparently ‘saved’ their season by narrowly stuffing a terrifyingly bad Wigan side shorn of its strikeforce through suspension. Scott Parker aside, it’s hard to see where the quality is going to come from for the ‘Appy ‘Ammers. Just as Tottingham seem to have inherited much of the FA Cup winning Portsmouth side, so West Ham seem to have been landed with the detritus of the  ‘relegated last year’ Portsmouth side, who appeared promising but still went down. There’s no evidence that any of them have improved over the past 12 months and it may be that any promise from Piquionne et al will garner the same results.

Even tardy tackling Wolves were up on the scoresheet against Sunderland, who are fast losing the shine from their win over Chelski a while ago. And they even won. And they were without captain and inadequate tackler Henry. Coincidence? I don’t think so. However, like West Ham they still find themselves 3 points adrift from safety.  And like West Ham, Everton, Wigan, Fulham and Aston Villa (coincidentally the teams immediately around them) it’s unclear where their goals are going to come from. And with no attack and useless defences, where does that leave the Prem?

Rob Green Save Of The Week

I keep almost fogetting this bit, what with keepers preferring to actually, well, keep properly. Again there was no one goalkeeping howler that really slapped you around the face. Instead we have the genius that is Real Blackburn’s Pascal Chimbonda with a backpass so weak and feeble that it made Alex’s mistake look like the epitome of great defending. As the ball meekly made its way to the edge of the box Berbatov was able to not only pounce on it, but spend a moment looking somewhat bemused in that kind of ‘I am still onside aren’t I?’ way before realising that, obviously, he was onside and calmly slotting it past Robinson for his second and Man U’s 3rd.

Archive for November, 2010

More Tweets From The Palace 2010-11-28

  • Just won the Afrika Corps Kubelwagen in Gran Turismo. Now to arm it with the rocket launchers from CoDBOPs. #
  • Streaming choons from my iPhone to my stereo. Outstanding. iOS 4.2 is good. #
  • Hello Gran Turismo 5, goodbye productivity. #

Archive for November, 2010

Games: James Bond 007 Blood Stone

James Bond hangs his head (and gun) in shame at tired storyline and gameplay association

Men Of A Certain Age Beware

There comes a point in every Englishman’s life when he comes to the reluctant conclusion that, bloody hell, he will never be James Bond. Just as he has reluctantly acknowledged (probably 10 years previously) that he will never be picked to play football for England. It’s both a rite of passage and a psychologically crushing moment that leaves one horrendously scarred if somewhat more rounded and mature and ready to get on with one’s life.

The promise that I can outlive this moment of clarity by becoming Bond (if only Games Bond) is highly enticing. Certainly the Bond character lends himself to video gaming far better than Lara Croft lends herself to cinema. And in the Daniel Craig incarnation, you have the best Bond yet – an almost unchanging force akin to the classic Western Hero who strolls into town, solves everyone’s problems (usually by killing many of them) only to languidly wander off into the sunset largely unaffected by the whole process.

However, about five minutes into this game you come to the understanding that no, this game won’t let you be James Bond either.

Sure,  it does replicate one key element of the Bond experience. After coming into town, clearing it of baddies and walking into the sunset, you emerge a few, scant hours later unscathed and unchanged. But it ruins even that by leaving you shortchanged, unmoved and bereft of any feelings of satisfaction or enjoyment.

What’s The Problem?

Essentially this is a game that doesn’t know what it wants to be and attempts to camouflage this beneath the thin facade of a below par Bond storyline. Rather than taking the plot as the starting point and building the game around it, it seems more likely that the plot has been shoe-horned into the capabilities of the developers.  As a result there’s no clear or coherent sense of ‘self’ to the game.

It’s a bit like that popular pop music song of a while back, Mambo No. 9 by Lou Bega. You play it for a moment, find yourself humming it while in the supermarket, but never have the desire to really play it again. To paraphrase, it’s a little bit shooter, a little bit stealthy, a little bit driving, a little bit platform and a whole lot of rigid linearity. All wrapped up in a storyline that feels like the bottom bin discards from an unsuccessful two day screenwriting workshop. You have the requisite, if predictable, ‘glamourous’ locations, the all too familiar rogue Russian billionaire and a few handy McGuffins – but nothing feels like a real Bond moment and the whole story runs out of steam pretty quickly, after which a succession of identikit, bob-a-job villains and baddies strive unsuccessfully to do you in as some kind of vague afterthought. It’s Bond Lite (rather than Bond Redux or Bond Reinvented or The Dark Bond), delivered from the rejected out-takes of one of the screenwriters of Goldeneye, Tomorrow Never Dies and The World Is Not Enough.

The Story Stays The Same

There are some fundamental problems here, which to some extent are problems with the entire concept of narrative within videogames, to some extent problems with the entire Bond world.

Essentially drama and narrative centre around the notion of change and conflict. You have a situation and a bunch of characters which develop over time only to reach a suitably climactic conclusion by the end. The satisfaction we take from a narrative lies as much in the development and resolution of both the situation and the characters as it does from our experience of their journey.

Games have a deepseated problem with the notion of story. Games are not stories, no matter how much they seem to want to be. Sure they may conform to the basic ‘beginning, middle and end’ concept you’re taught at school, but they don’t seem to do anything more superficial than that. The real journey does not play in front of you, it plays you, or rather in playing the game it’s the gamer who is changed not the character they are playing within the game. If in a novel character is internal, and in a film character is action, then in a game character and character development is about the spaces, the holes in which the player operates, allowing them to ‘live’ in the game, rather than any element of the game itself.

If that’s true, then this game has no character at all because there are no holes. Your process through the game is fundamentally rigidly linear, leaving little, or frankly, no room for exploration or deviation. Make no mistake, this is no highly extensible, open sandbox environment littered with choices and options. Instead you are instantly locked into a single passage through the game with paint by numbers routes filled with low grade anonymous enemies whose actions and ‘intelligence’ are severely limited.  In doing so the game reduces the player to little more than a flesh covered husk of bone and gristle whose sole function is to keep breathing while pressing the correct buttons in a specific sequence. Even more so than God of War, which has elevated mindless monkey see button mashing to ever-greater heights, this is about the game manipulating the player rather than the other way around.

Even those levels that are supposedly about exploration, where Bond’s task is essentially to do a bit of detecting, are painfully constricted, with a tedious ‘now go here, now go there’ mechanic that serves only to drag you from one shooting location to the next.

Driving elements are especially guilty. They’re all about pressing hard on the accelerator, learning the corners and various vehicular impediments and very, very occasionally dabbing a digit on the brakes. There’s no room for manoeuvre or deviation. It doesn’t matter whether you’re driving Bond’s Aston Martin, a Thai tow truck or a high speed boat, the action is exactly the same – speed, speed, brake, corner, accelerate, avoid the lump in the way, speed, crash out, memorise route, repeat, close. Very, very little subtlety other than the occasional moment where the finger is dabbed off the accelerator is required to comfortably pass these levels.

Meanwhile, the Stealth and Shoot levels are a bit like a chinese meal, easy to get to grips with, vaguely satisfying, but ultimately insubstantial. Unlike the meal, however, you’re not left wanting another one half an hour later. The linear, one-route-to-rule-them-all system, the tame, predictable behaviour of the enemies and the easy targeting style makes it unrewarding (not to mention pointless) to attempt a stealthy approach. There’s no real benefit in even trying it. And just in case you were thinking of going off-piste on this, your poxy smartphone, which looks even cheaper and nastier than your first disposable mobile in GTA IV, presents you with a series of waypoints that dictate your progress.

Sure the ‘Score an unarmed takedown, get a free headshot’ mechanic is kind of fun, at least making takedowns into a vaguely tempting option, but quite frankly the goons are so stupid it’s rarely worth the additional effort needed, and if you’re into the challenge of going through whole levels only killing baddies by stealth in a pitiful attempt to enliven the gameplay, well don’t bother as key doorways become bullet infested chokepoints which you can’t get by without a reliable semi-automatic weapon.

There’s also an essential problem with Bond himself. For Bond books and films are not classic stories per se, although they perfectly conform to the strictures of the classic Western. For Bond as a character is especially unchanging, his character arc defined by action and external events rather than any kind of internal or emotional development. Which is to say that the Bond who exits a film is essentially exactly the same as the one who enters it (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service being the sole exception). Indeed, one of the key differences between the Bourne movies and Bond ones wasn’t the gritty tone and the more intimate physical violence, but the fact that Bourne’s character actually changed over the course of each movie.

The Villain’s Lair

So there you are. Incomplete and insubstantial gameplay blocked off with a half-arsed storyline that would be lucky to see either side of the bin going down conspire to make this an unpalatable gaming experience to say the least. So much so  it’s hard to tell whether the excessive brevity of the game – around a paltry 6 hours – is a blessing or a curse. Certainly it’s a shock when you suddenly find yourself at the closing credits, albeit a brief one as there is a pang of satisfaction that the thing is actually over and shouldn’t be bothering you for the rest of your life.

[review pros="Vaguely entertaining for a few moments, Lets you pretend to be Bond if you squint a lot" cons="Highly linear and rigid gameplay, Monotonous, Derivative storyline, Way too short, Dull if speedy driving sequences" score=45]

Archive for November, 2010

What We Learned From Prem Week 14

Never Mind The Quality, Feel The Width

It was a bad week for the big teams in London, in fact a bad week for all the teams in London unless you’re Tottingham, who out-thought, outfought and generally outdid an Arsenal side who seem to have thought that the game had finished after 45 minutes. It was a great week for Man U, who not only managed to hold on to a win against a reduced-to-9-men Wigan, rising to joint top of the table in the process, but saw the dubious return of Chav Wanker. Indeed, with Man City finally scoring goals again it was an excellent week for both sides of Manchester.

But the overall impression is that this season manages to intertwine two narrative strands. The first is that for a variety of reasons, the impending UEFA Financial Fair Play rules, the UK tax laws and the introduction of the 25 man Premiership squad among them, the quality of players in the Prem has diminished. Few genuinely world class players have arrived (and remember Real Madrid were desperate to offload Van der Vaart), while the few we had have been diminished. The second, possibly the result of the first, is that the quality of football of the best sides has declined. And with some of the trailing pack, Tottingham, Bolton, Man City among them, improving, the league has become more competitive, if only on a lower, more mediocre level.

The result means that no team is running away with the title. Yet despite ‘Appy ‘Arry saying that the Prem is more open than ever, the top 4 will undoubtedly come from the top six teams (or being really honest five of the top six as Bolton won’t make it beyond the Europa League places). The bottom two look set in stone. And the midtable stodge is greater than ever. Witness the lack of enthusiasm for Monday’s Sunderland Everton tie. Witness the lack of Prem players in the Ballon d’Or shortlist, which also contains no English players at all.

As further evidence of the decline in Prem standards consider the chances for English teams in the Big Cup. With Chelski out of form, Man U playing well below their previous high standards, Arsenal being defensively incompetent and Tottingham an unknown quantity, does anyone really expect an all-English final, or even two teams in the semis unless they get the luck of the draw?

Holy Moley, Is There Any Good News (Or Should I Just Kill Myself Now)?

I guess the third narrative strand is that we’re beginning to see an emergence of new, young talent, and I don’t mean the long-awaited promised land of a successful Arsenal side. It’s almost as if we’re witnessing the end of a sclerotic period of overblown excess as high priced, old has-beens are shuffled off into the sunset in favour of cheaper, younger, possibly less proven youngsters taking their places. Aston Villa under Houllier are blowing away the logjam imposed by Martin O’Neil, Chelski are regularly fielding two or three young players on their bench if not their first team, while Arsenal have seen Wilshere break his way into the team.

Games, Games, Games

If there’s one thing we’ve really learnt this week, it’s that Arsenal aren’t likely to win anything soon, but this is nothing really new. Their capitulation to a buoyant Tottingham side tells us what we’ve all known for years, they are mentally weak, lack leadership on the field and have no idea how to defend. Going forward they are immaculate. Certainly their forward play in the first half was beautiful, their goals splendid, but once again they showed a defensive naivety exhibited only by the likes of Wolves and West Ham. It’s unclear what the problem is, but Wenger clearly has some kind of a mental block where defending, or defensive coaching is concerned. I can’t think of a genuinely world class central defender playing for Arsenal since the Adams Winterburn partnership Wenger inherited when he arrived. Oh alright, possibly Sol Campbell. But since then, nada. And Vermaelen doesn’t count because he’s now as crocked as Van Persil.

This weekend Tottingham’s midweek Big Cup opponents Werder Bremen were caned  4-0 by the aptly named, if 15th in the table, Shalke 04. Their similarity to Arsenal, the presence of useless defender Mickael Silvestre, who was way past his best  well before he left Man U to become another stopgap Arsenal defender. The list of mediocre Arsenal central defenders under Wenger is a sad and sorry tale, typified by what regulars call The Senderos Years, and the purchase over the summer of low graders like Squillachi (at 30 obviously yet another stopgap signing) and Koscielny (who clearly is having trouble adapting to the Prem). It’s clear that Wenger needs to do what so many have called for for years, buy one or two genuinely experienced, on-field leaders to bring his team forward.

Tottingham, by contrast, are flying. Albeit with fewer points than Arsenal and a defence that is every bit as pourous and inept as Arsenal’s. Their recent matches against Inter, Bolton and Blackburn have been rip-roaring occasions, if only because Spurs regularly give their opponents a couple of goals for starters. When asked what lessons he had learnt after their 4-3 pasting/Bale inspired fightback at the San Siro, you sensed that Redknapp’s only answer should have been, “don’t give Inter a 4 goal lead”. Will they win the league this season? No chance, not least because if they make it into the latter stages of the Big Cup they will hit the wall hard. Will they remain in the top 4? It’s between them, Man City and Arsenal for the last two places.

Meanwhile, Chelski continue to implode. How much of a twat does Essien feel for that inane two footed leap at Clint Dempsey in the 93rd minute which got him a straight red and a 3 match ban? Because without him, Titface, and Lumpy, Chelski’s spine is looking very dubious. Certainly new boy Ramires and Mikel aren’t a solid midfield spine. And it’s clear that a below par Drog playing against a notoriously solid defence is not the attacking threat he might be.  Boremingham have built on their umpteen low grade, low score draws and have a reliable strong defence and a stunning ability to spot goalkeeping talent – last year they got Joe Hart on loan, this year they have Ben Foster. And as Arsenal have found to their cost, a good keeper will save you points in the key, big games, while a bad one will just concede goals.

Man U kept on keeping on. Playing badly and winning. And they were aided by some chaotic playing by Wigan, who did themselves no favours by having two players sent off for inept, catastrophically poor fouls. Not even the appearance of the newly bemoneyed Chav Wanker could lift this match above mediocre.

Surprise package Bolton managed to do what neither Man U not Arsenal could, played well and won. Winning being a euphemism for ‘giving Newcastle a right good stuffing’. Lovely to see Kevin Nolan give away the first penalty. And once again Elmander played a blinder and scored twice.

Man City also appeared to have unblocked themselves and suffered a discharge of goals. And in a beautiful moment of hubris it was former manager Mark Hughes and his Fulham team who were on the receiving end. They still look like a work in progress, but they will be in contention for the Europa Little Cup and the top four.

Blackpool continue to surprise and astonish. A beneficiary of the downgrading of Prem quality, they have phenomenal team spirit and odd moments of genius. Their first goal against a shambolic Wolves reinforced Blackpool’s notions of style over hoofery and Wolves’ disturbing habit of conceding in the first 10 minutes. Blackpool might not win anything, but they’re more likely to stay up than Wolves are and they’re way, way better to watch.

Liverpool continue to surprise and astonish. Sure they gave a shambolic West Ham a right good spanking, but there’s nothing there. Most interestingly, they won easily without Greedy Stevie. Is he going to just walk back into the side in a month’s time if they continue to win?

Down in the stodge of mid-table mediocrity, up and comers Stoke continued their nice progress by beating a fast-falling West Brom side. Still the latter needn’t worry. There are at least three teams starting with W who are worse than they are in the Prem. Even Real Blackburn managed a win, albeit against a youthful, experimental Villa side. And either Everton or Sunderland could get a really big 3 points this evening. But more likely the dour defence of the former will overcome the Chelsea win enthused attack of the latter. Expect Darren Dullboy Bent to replace Asamoah Gyan with his usual toothless charm.

Rob Green Save Of The Day

No question of the winner this week. After all, with Engerland keepers Ben Foster and, incredibly, Rob Green having good days, there was only one place to go. Once again the Entire Arsenal Defence wins for their complete inability to defend a simple ‘hoof it to the big man’ gambit from Spurs. The sight of the entire defensive line coagulating around Defoe as the ball sped on its merry way to an unmarked Bale was as emotionally devastating as it was funny. This lot could lose a one person fight with themselves. In the dark. With one hand tied behind their backs.

Archive for November, 2010

More Tweets From The Palace 2010-11-21

  • Just finished Assassin's Creed 2. Very enjoyable if arsebustingly frustrating at times. #

Archive for November, 2010

What We Learned From Engerland vs France (1-2)

There Were Positives

Andy Carroll hurrumphs his way past two of the French, sadly to no avail

Impressively for a match where Engerland were out-thought, outplayed, out-passed, outclassed and generally outed as a pile of out of date clodhoofers, there were actually positive things we can take from the game. It was, for instance, good that Engerland played a largely young and experimental side in a friendly that fundamentally wasn’t about the result but about the way we got there. It was exactly the right place to try out the likes of Carroll, Henderson, Young and Gibbs to see if they could step up from the Under 21 squad; it was exactly the right place to see whether certain semi-established players like Barry, Milner, Adam Johnson, Lescott, Jagielka, Walcott, and Foster were capable of raising their game and dominating their position; and it was exactly the right place to test whether the big players, Ferdinand and Gerrard still had it in them to be genuinely world class. It was the right place to test out Crapello’s tactics and gameplan against a side that, while also rebuilding, brought a level of skill and ability that Engerland can only aspire to.

Shame Shit Different Day

Sadly, Engerland flunked pretty much all the tests. As a whole, the team performed with a tactical naivety and incompetence that will see them swiftly eliminated from any serious championship, assuming always that the flaws are not so great that we actually make it that far. It was the same sorry story we saw recently against Montenegro and so many other matches before then.

An inability to accurately pass the ball to a colleague, an inability to effectively control balls lumped up from the back, an inability to work the ball through midfield, failure of movement off the ball, failure of ambition. In fact a general level of failure that was utterly depressing.

There. I’ve said it before and so it was again. To all that can be added a total lack of pressure off the ball when the opposition has possession. France were given this game by an Engerland side seemingly content to hoof-n-hope it to them every time it had possession, and happy to let the French midfield advance to the edge of the area before beginning to put them under any kind of pressure. It was almost as if they’d been told there was a 3 metre exclusion zone around the French players. You don’t win games by only beginning to impose yourself in your own penalty area.

Tactically, We Don’t Have A Clue

Tactics are the manager’s responsibility. He sets the shape of the team and dictates how it plays. Crapello seems to set his sides up as 4-3-3 or possibly 4-4-1-1, but it’s abundantly clear that this isn’t how Engerland play. When we have the ball we play a mysterious 4-0-1 formation whereby the entire midfield goes missing and balls are artlessly hoofed to the ‘big man’ at the front who is magically supposed to do something with it (and inevitably fails), while when we’re defending we crumple to a 9-0-1 formation lining up like compliant little mice on the edge of our area ceding possession and initiative to the opposing team.

Now, unless he is clinically insane, stupid or diabolical enough to actually want Engerland to lose, there’s no way Crapello actually sets up the team to play this way. He’s intelligent enough to realise that you can’t play playground hoofstyle and expect to win anything more elevated than the Johnson’s Paint Trophy (and that’s probably an insult to the Johnson’s Paint Trophy). You win international matches by retaining possession and passing the ball to feet. Sure the occasional long pass works, but the percentages are against you. That’s why when they do work they look impressive. But, fundamentally, they’re best played against slower sides who maintain a high defensive line. Not against the French.

Somewhere between Crapello’s mouth and the players’ brains something goes horribly, horribly wrong. At some point in the first five minutes of the match everything they’ve discussed gets lost. You can almost see it happening. During the first two or possibly five minutes of an international Engerland play genuinely international class football. We pass the ball to feet when we have possession (admittedly not that well and usually just around the back four) and we press the opposition when we don’t to try and recover the ball. Then, suddenly, it’s gone. The first judders of fear appear, confidence evaporates and we start hoofing it all over the shop. From then on we are merely reacting to events rather than instigating them.

On the showing of the first half Engerland were lucky to emerge with naught. We created nothing, barely got the ball beyond the halfway line and, if we did, it quickly cannoned back to the French. They displayed neat, intelligent interplay, primarily orchestrated by Nasri and Malouda, who don’t seem to have become incompetent simply because they play in the Premiership. The goal, a sweet piece of defence splitting interplay between Malouda and Benzema (who can’t buy an appearance never mind a goal against Spanish defences), simply illustrated the gulf in class between the sides.

The second half was marginally better, if only because the French sat back and relaxed, had some lunch, admired the beauty that is Wemberley Stadium, did some shopping and only vaguely bothered to attend to the pestilence that was the Engerland team. Sure they were still bothered enough to ‘get a spare’ when Sagna, who also doesn’t seem to have become useless by playing in England, trotted down the right and crossed the ball into the box. It helped that there were two attacking midfielders there to turn the ball in (more than Engerland accomplished in total on the night) and that Lescott was painfully out of position.

Did Anyone Emerge With Credit?

Well, the new boys will have learnt a lot.

Carroll will have learnt that, like Crouch, his very height and size count against him at this level, playing in to the worst tendencies of the English mindset. Because he’s tall let’s just lob balls aimlessly at him because he’s bound to be able to keep possession in that physical English way that never works internationally. Let’s not give him beautiful passes to run on to, or support him in any way. Hell let’s try not even having anyone else in the same half as him when we fling balls at him as hard as we possibly can, then blame him when he can’t create any chances. He will have learnt that the England no 9 is a lonely space where you don’t even have the luxury of harrying about trying to win possession. You are the point of a spear whose staff has gone missing.

Gibbs will have learnt that he’s not quite in Ashley Cole’s class just yet. However, he was left with no defensive cover from either Milner or Lescott when Sagna overlapped him and ran in to cross for the second. To be honest he had no defensive support all evening. As he showed on his previous Engerland outing he’s an accomplished left back and great cover for Cole, but he’s not genuinely international class.

Henderson, however, will be ruing his call up. He had a miserable evening in total contrast to his performance against Chelsea only 4 days previously. As a defensive midfielder he was playing in the celebrated Makelélé position, or in the English vocabulary the Hargreaves role, and he struggled. The French, being sneaky, simply played sightly ahead of him or between him and the back four. Meanwhile Engerland proceeded to sabotage his evening by not passing to him and on the rare occasions when he did have the ball by not giving him any passing options (about the only thing they did effectively all evening). He will go back to the Under 21s where he’s genuinely appreciated for their European Championships next year but could return to Engerland for 2012. Given he’s probably going to go to Man United sometime soon he’s definitely one for the future.

Ashley Young, who’s been on the periphery of the squad won’t have done his chances any harm by coming on in the second half. In contrast to Walcott, who still seems impotent at this level as a wide man and was starved of service, Young harried more and did more with the ball when he had possession. With some help from midfield and support up front he might actually have caused the French a problem.

The middleweights pretty much all flunked out. None of Walcott, Milner, Jagielka, Lescott or Barry did anything to enhance their reputations. Barry in particular is looking like a total waste of space. It’s unclear what role he performs and he doesn’t seem to be making any kind of contribution to the side. Walcott and Milner were both starved of service from defence and support in midfield. And when they did get forward to support Carroll there seemed to be no connection or understanding between them, Walcott would be looking for the Arsenal pass, while Milner would be trying to Man City it. Lescott provided no support to his flanks and was ineffective. Jagielka was much better when played as a central defender (his normal position) rather than as a right back.

Stevie G had what for him is becoming a normal Engerland performance. He was rubbish. He didn’t stabilise midfield, didn’t support going forward and was most notable for his continued tendency to attempt the 40 yard ‘hail mary’ pass at every opportunity, gifting possession back to the French on pretty much each occasion. No style, quality or leadership.

Franz Ferdinand was possibly the only player to have come out of this without a damaged reputation. He was merely adequate, doing what he was supposed to with the minimum of skill. However, he was also responsible for the hoof-n-hope tendency, far too often playing long balls out of defence rather than trying to play down the middle.

Adam Johnson showed a disturbing tendency to believe his own hype by trying to win the game singlehanded when a pass to a teammate might have been preferable. Richards added more attack when he was played, correctly, at right back. His work with Johnson on the right showing what Man City might achieve there if only they were both being played regularly.

And Crouch showed what everyone has suspected for a while, he’s got a great touch for a big guy. Which only goes to reiterate pretty much everything that’s wrong about the Engerland mentality. In that strange world they call home and we call ‘Abroad’, they’d simply say he’s got a great touch.

It Was A Great Game For

Jack Wilshere. Missing through injury he might almost have played himself into the heart of the Engerland midfield.

And Let’s Not Forget

Spain, the World Champions, played a friendly as well. They lost 4-0 to Portugal.