England must not waste this golden opportunity

Football in England hasn’t felt this exciting for a long time. 2018 has seen World Cup euphoria, an overwhelming wave of new talent, the illumination of model-manager Southgate, but most importantly the collaborative stride for greater improvement and success. This desire is becoming a defining aspect of modern football. RaheemTake Mourinho and Guardiola. Think of their contrasting demeanours and aspirations, but then of their different league positions. Although not yet the finished article, England are quickly becoming the model 2018 international team. Fresh tactics, fresh faces, fresh love. 50 years of hurt may be coming to an end.

Selfless Southgate

Southgate is not a revolutionary. The shift from the ‘proper football man’ to the compassionate, caring but meticulous geek has been a gradual one- dating back to the start of Arsène Wenger’s illustrious, revolutionary reign. No longer is player-deprecation a common practicality. No longer is it fashionable to dismiss sports science and technology, or get blind drunk on a Friday as long as your ‘up and at em’ the next day as ‘they don’t fancy it’. Southgate embodies the responsibilities of a modern day manager.

He has a magnificent connection with the young players ,which is partly down to his 3 year spell as Under-21’s manager, but also respects the old guard- most recently by allowing the Rooney testimonial. There is no dogmatism towards a certain style of football but he is tactically in touch as we have seen with the recent formation switch up (Check Below). One may estimate that, due to his constant studying,  Southgate is pretentious at times- one couldn’t be further from the truth. He will listen to the players and ask them questions as he knows that they possess important, first-hand knowledge which he doesn’t. But most signifcantly, he is a warm-hearted, down to earth, caring human being who makes a legitimate effort to bond with his team and their fans. Danny Rose spoke of how England were his salvation during a difficult spell of depression and the succour offered by Southgate. SouthgateThere is a real camaraderie : No club division, just some fun with mates…on inflatable unicorns in the pool. However the highlight of Southgate’s compassion came at a time of great euphoria. In fact, it wouldn’t have crossed many peoples minds to, in the aftermath of a revolutionary penalty-shootout victory, run over to the opposition and console the unfortunate scapegoat in Carlos Bacca and Mateus Uribe. Southgate knows how it feels. Memories of 96 still sting with a passion.

We speak of Southgate as an angel, and an immortal, a god. When in reality he is just a normal, well-moralled man from Crawley who has his flaws just like all of us. But he has achieved something unique for England. He has given us back our identity, and reignited our love. Something that can take you a long way in football.

Exciting youngsters need game time to fulfil potential

It becomes all too easy in the world of football to get caught up in the moment and make outlandish statements. “It’s our year this year”, “I have never seen a better player” or “This season is gearing up to be the best in decades”. When in reality, it is unjustified, false hope. But, although this may seem hyprocital, there have been myriad records broken in 2018  for English Football.  Some statistical, some objective admittedly. Yet when has there ever been 11 teams expecting promotion in the Championship ?  When has there ever been a more dominant Premier League side than Man City ? Statistically, never. And has there been more young, English talent since the golden generation of 2006 ? I highly doubt it. Jadon Sancho, Phil Foden, Marcus Rashford, Mason Mount, Trent Alexander-Arnold, James Maddison, Ryan Sessegnon, Harry Winks, Ruben Loftus-CheelBen Chilwell and Joe Gomez are all spoken extremely highly of and have frightening potential. However, equally as talented are : Morgan Gibbs-White, Aaron Wan Bissaka, Emil Smith-Rowe, Reiss Nelson, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Demarai Gray, Ademola Lookman, Lewis Cook, Freddie Woodman, Domanic Solanke, Tom Davies, Harvey Barnes, Rhian Brewster and the list just goes on and on and on. Rashford“He is one special talent” is becoming an irritating platitude. The difference between these youngsters is that some are consistently exposed to a high level of football, whereas others are languishing on the bench. Southgate has established the rule that in order to warrant an England call up one must be playing regular, first division football. Some are already proving their worth at English’s elite, some are doing so alongside English’s elite, while others have sought opportunities abroad- particularly in Germany which is renowned for it’s player-development. But the common denominator is that they all have the potential to play for Europe’s heavyweights- a thigh rubbing prospect for us England fans. A prospect that has not been achieved with a click of the fingers, but through 6 years of endeavour at St Georges that is finally paying off. Dan Ashworth, the Technical Director, has done so much work behind the scenes in forging a winning culture and a positive vibe emanating throughout all England’s age groups, and a citadel of excellence in St Georges Park. A citadel of excellence where the senior players can be seen playing video games with the children to reverberate that English spirit, and where the first team are given the same instructions as the Under 10’s to ensure that everybody is on the same length and playing positive, modern football. “Courage” is Southgates buzzword. Playing out from the back and pressing from the front. And in the quest to find the new Gazza: courage to make mistakes. Young players are now encouraged to try those flicks, to attempt that through ball, to beat that man. It has payed off. But we must remember that the aforementioned ‘prospect’ is only a ‘prospect’. Southgate and whoever Ashworth’s successor is need to do all they can to ensure that their creations are playing consistently, week in-week out. France left out Benzema, Lacazette, Laporte and Martial but still won the World Cup- England may also soon find themselves pleading for 33 men rather than 23.

New tactics, formation

The 3-3-2-2 from the World Cup left the flanks exposed which Croatia at the World Cup, and Spain in the Nations League took advantage of (both of which used 433 formations which are particularly problematic because of the flying fullbacks). Lingard and Alli aren’t disciplined enough to fill in alongside the flanks and when the ball did go beyond Trippier- often due to his defensive problems-  and they were there to cover, it left few bodies in the middle of the park- where England were overrun. The channels themselves were bombarded against Spain with their flying fullbacks due to this lack of cover. Sitting back and absorbing pressure didn’t suit our personnel. Alli and Lingard are not by any means defensive players, and Kieran Trippier is renowned for his work up the other end. The new 4-3-3 formation not only supplies more midfield solidity, but also incorporates key personnel and an attacking midfielder who can link play. Alli, Maddison and Barkley could all play that roll. Here is England’s best 11 for me :

Pickford

Shaw                         Stones                                    Maguire                            Walker

Winks                     Dier                              Alli

Sterling                                           Kane                                        Lingard

Areas to improve

Enough eulogising, England have a long way to go before they can start considering themselves contenders for any silverware. I have already briefly mentioned England’s pressing game- similar to Liverpool- but when under the cosh it slowly faded. Whether it is fitness or mental strength i don’t know, but Southgate must go over it.

England have to keep possession better. Two ball playing centre backs highlight Southgate’s ethos, but England will struggle in the deep heat of Quatar if they try and keep the ball like they did in Russia. Perhaps, playing Lingard- a winger by all accounts- in the midfield wasn’t conducive to fluidity, or maybe it was fear. 50 years of hurt is bound to provoke irrational criticism from the media, which is off-putting for the players. However, after a successful World Cup where England made an effort to bond with the press through bowling and darts, the relationship appears to be in a state of convalescence.

 

 

 

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Momentum still lacking for stuttering Forest after another turbulent month.

Overview

October, to put it bluntly, has been more of the same for Forest. Without doubt, a clear improvement on last season- the 2-0 away win at Middlesbrough being one of the highlights. But underwhelming nevertheless. It has been painful to see us dominate 1 week, then choke the next. Forest were never promotion contestants this season, despite the contradicting opinions of some deluded fans, pundits and owners. Marinakis.pngYes, owners- Marinakis is said to have exhorted his ambitious goals for the season: “Promotion or nothing”. Quite what the “nothing” part means eludes me, but the “promotion” part is ridiculous considering Forest haven’t finished in the top 10 for 5 years. It is a long term project, and it is concerning to see that our owner is not on board with that. We can’t possibly spend £30m on players in the summer- 5 of which having never experienced English football- and expected to be a fully functioning, winning machine. The rare fabulous performances are carrots. Regardless of Forest’s current situation, there will always be peaks and troughs to a Championship season such is the competitive nature of the division.

Matches

The month began relatively positive with the Red’s picking up a hard-fought point at Ewood Park. A strange football match- or ping ping match shall i say. The two teams exchanged spells in domination throughout, but neither could hold onto their lead after a missed penalty for Grabban.

A struggling Millwall arrived at the City Ground in midweek, and not only was it a game where Forest chucked away their 2-0 lead but a game with a bizarre floodlight failure- postponing the match for 15 minutes. We could only manage a draw after a post light turn off bombardment from The Lions. Millwall’s physicality and directness was too much for Forest- they were second best throughout.

With a point to prove, Forest marched into The Riverside- who’s residents haven’t yet seen their team concede at home- with no fear. Grabban.jpgThere was a real spring in their step, a purpose to their play as they dispatched Middlesborough. The 2-0 victory was Forest’s best performance of the season, displaying all the qualities we know that they possess. In the first half and large parts of the second, our creativity in possession and speed on the counter attack mesmerised The Boro. Joe Lolley was in spectacular form as he fired home one of the goals of the season. When on the receiving end of a last gasp effort from Middlesborough, however, we defended stoutly and managed to subdue any danger. A 5 star performance that sat Forest in the play-offs and only 6 points off leaders Sheffield United.

Fresh, tactically prepared and yearning to go after the international break ? No. Forest were a mess as they fell prey to Farke’s fledglings. Sluggish, disjointed, erratic. 3 words that summed up our day. It seemed as though a few were still basking in the light from The Riverside, however Norwich fans would argue that Forest’s capitulation was solely down to their brilliance. And it would be difficult to disagree. Although suspect defensively, they were lightning on the counter-attack, incisive in their passing and exploited space with ease. In all honesty, they were a joy to watch*. Todd Cantwell is definitely a star in the making.

*Obviously not for Forest fans.

Forest, defiant as ever, responded emphatically with a 3-0 win at Bolton in the Championship. Admittedly, Bolton were poor and lacked any real idea or purpose. Nevertheless, any win away from home in the Championship is a valuable one, regardless of opposition. And an especially important victory as it would stand us in good stead for the trip to Ellen Road on Saturday. Rumour has it that Marinakis came to training and gave the players a dressing-down pre-Bolton. He certainly comes off as a firy individual.

Dirty, Dirty Leeds. A calamitous referee decision robbed Forest of a landmark victory against high-flying leeds. The ball clearly struck Kemar Roofe’s hand- but a near fossilised linesman somehow did not spot it. Although deep down, Forest fans know that they were extremely lucky to get a point out of this game, never mind three. Leeds dominated possession throughout, and played some eye-catching football. We rose to the challenge though, and our stout defending suppressed Leeds to very few clear-cut opportunities. But our possession play was another story… Yes, any team is going to have to live off scraps against Leeds’ high press but Forest were especially unrelaxed and jittery in possession. It all felt so forced.

Talking points

Faulty possession play

One thing you can’t fault Forest for this season is their aggression and superb work rate. But on the ball, we have let ourselves down. Karanka’s system is a reactive one with two defensive midfielders. It allows us to devastate teams on the counter-attack; we have shone when the tempo is fast paced and the play is instinctive.  But when teams sit back and afford us time on the ball, especially at home, we begin to procrastinate in possession. One thinks of Rotherham at home, of Birmingham at home, Norwich at home and even Bolton away. The build up play is slow, forced, predictable. At the moment, Karanka’s first 11 is based upon too many runners on and off the ball like Dias, Cash, Lolley and Osborn but not enough possession-based players. Not in any way, shape or form am I incenting a shift in system, but we just lack that extra dimension to our game.

Karanka can address this issue by making Guediora a staple in his team. When the Algerian Wizard is on fire, Forest look a different team.Gueddy.jpg He adds impetus and a superb range of passing -two defensive-minded midfielders ( Colback and Watson ) can be too negative at times. Perhaps Karanka should also give Gonçalves another chance. He looked impressive in pre-season, but hasn’t quite had the game time to make his mark. He seems more of a possession-based flair player, a Bernardo Silva rather than another Raheem Sterling.

Game management

Over the past couple of months, Forest have thrown leads away like Juventus have Champions League trophies. Norwich came from behind to beat us, Millwall nicked a draw, so did Leeds on Saturday, West Brom did earlier in the season and Stoke nearly fought back in the Carabao Cup. The problem at the beginning of the season was the way we started games, but it is now the way we end them. It’s a matter of ruthlessness  in front of goal and taking advantage of your spell in dominance. No team can rest on a 2-0 lead in the Championship.

Stopping the rout-one

Particularly against Millwall we saw an achilles heel that has plagued most Forest teams during their prolonged spell in the Championship.  Defending against direct, ‘get it in the mixer’ teams. When balls come into the box, Forest are very unorganised. Millwall abused this tactic, and caused havoc in the final 15 minutes at the City Ground. It may be a case of personnel: Dawson’s leadership helped settle the shaky defence in a long ball bombardment against Bolton, so maybe he is one piece of the answer in our quest to thwart the route-one beast which permeates through the streets of Nottingham. Or even search for a new goalkeeper as Pantilimon can’t command his area when crosses come in, despite his height.

Player ratings

Costell Pantilimon- 3/10 : The Romanian lampost has had an absolute shocker of a month.  Wayward distribution, reluctant to start counter attacks, and can’t manage his defence when crosses come into the box, as I have just mentioned. His monstrous height may even be hindering his goalkeeping capacities- he is so slow and stiff when diving. You know his time as Forest’s no.1 is coming to an end when pleas for Jordan Smith’s return can be heard. Yes, he has been that bad.

Jack Robinson-9/10: Robinson, who came on a free from QPR, is proving to be one of the bargains of the season. His spectacular month, which was capped off with a goal against Leeds, comes off the back of a solid start to the season. The broad-shouldered scouser does not only have the tenacity of a terrier, but has the defensive guile of an experienced left-back- unlike Osborn. Well, apart from his silly red card against Middlesborough.Robinson

Danny Fox- 6/10: A little shaky against Millwall and Norwich, but has otherwise had a decent month.

Michael Hefele- 5/10: Karanka is still yet to decide on a centre-back pairing, but The Rhino has not had the best month where he has featured multiple times in a leaky, unorganised defence.

Tobias Figuerido- 7/10: A really positive month for Figuerido who has formed a solid partnership with Dawson. His calmness on the ball and ability to play out from the back is Premier League standard. Yes, he can overplay at times but he is still only a 24 and, in my opinion, has the potential to grow into a top-class defender.

Michael Dawson- 8/10: If it weren’t for his age, he would start every match. His leadership and organisation skills are invaluable as we saw against Bolton. Two components sum him up: a heart and a head.

Saidy Janko- 6/10: Started the month like he finished the last one but eventually lost his place to Darikwa.

Tendayi Darikwa-5/10: Started against Middlesborough which meant it would be unfair to drop him for the next couple of games. I’m not a fan of his. He is too rash defensively and  gives possession away so cheaply. Dreadful against Leeds where he was completely unsettled by the high press. Karanka seems to have a soft spot for him though.

Jack Colback- 8/10: Colback has been superb once again. He breaks up play, keeps it simple and initiates attacks- a pivotal player for Forest. Good news for Forest is that Rafa Benitez is still showing no signs of interest in the 29 year old so we should soon be able to get him signed on to a permanent deal.

Adlène Guediora- 6/10: Hasn’t quite been firing on all cylinders like he was at the start of the season but as I mentioned before, is an extremely valuable player for Forest.

Ben Watson- 6/10: Those of you who follow this blog will know my feelings about Watson, but to be fair to him he hasn’t been too bad this month. He has only started 2 of the past five games and one of them was the magnificent victory against Middlesborough where he and Colback dispelled the myth that they can’t play together. But, unfortunately for the ginger duo, the subsequent Norwich debacle proved otherwise.

Joao Carvalho- 5/10: An enigma so far at the City Ground. One minute he looks to be settling in: deft touches splitting defences, 2 magnificent goals against Sheffield Wednesday and Millwall and is even getting in to some defensive work. Next minute he is over-elaborating on the ball, plodding round the pitch and doesn’t look half the player we know he is. But we must remember he is only 21 so has a lot to learn and is bound to have dips in form every now and again.

Matty Cash- 5/10: Cash has failed to maintain his blistering form from the start of the season. Hasn’t been as ruthless in front of goal.

Gil Dias- 5/10: Has had a slightly improved  month, with some lively displays- but largely ineffective. Always tries do go on a long dazzling runs, but often blunders straight into a wall of defenders.

Ben Osborn- 5/10: Difficult to criticise Ben as he always gives 110% for the shirt. He has been sloppy in recent matches, but is always a useful squad player due to his versatility.

Joe Lolley- 9/10: The shining light in a difficult month for Forest. An incredible dribbler, he just glides past opponents and has a superb defensive work rate.

Lewis Grabban- 8/10: We expected the goals to come pouring in for Grabban and he hasn’t let us down. Not only has he scored 8 goals in his past 7 league games, but has held the ball up extremely well.

Forget Hazard, Raheem Sterling is the man of the moment.

Casually reading The Guardian sports section on a bright Saturday morning, a certain column proved particularly evocative. Paul Wilson had written a piece titled “how many Premier League players are actually ‘world class’ “. Gardenof edenIt primarily consisted of rambling on about Hazard’s magic, Özil and Sánchez’s inconsistency, and lauding De Gea’s heroics, whilst constantly using the ‘world class’ definition as: a player who attracts interest from Real Madrid and Barcelona (and someone who has been consistent throughout 2/3 seasons). Wilson’s conclusion was that Hazard was trailblazing ahead with a definite yes, with Aguero, De Bruyne De Gea and Salah on his heels. For me 1 thing stood out as inaccurate. Hazard is in spectacular form without doubt, he mesmerises defenders, he links up play brilliantly and is clinical in front of goal. Unplayable at times. Yet, while I’m not disclaiming his “world class” label, I don’t believe that, for a man of his ability, he has been prolific enough. During his 6 year tenure at Chelsea, only once has he finished in the top 5 for goals or assists and only once has he won Player Of The Year. Yes, ‘just once’ appears harsh. But it isn’t for someone who all of a sudden is being likened to Messi and Ronaldo. One thinks of Sergio Aguero : averaging 21.6 goals each season in the past 5 years. Or Harry Kane : 27.5 season average at Spurs. These are truly remarkable personal records. However, in my opinion, one player has stood out over the past 4 seasons.

Raheem Sterling. The young boy who polarises fans, sparks debate, but always delivers. You simply can’t even begin to imagine what Sterling has been through. His father was shot dead in gang activity when Raheem was only 2. In search of a better, safer life, him and his family moved to London 3 years later. RoyHoning his skills on the streets of London, Sterling graduated through the QPR academy until the age of 17 where he was signed by Rafa Benitez’s Liverpool. His official senior debut for the Merseyside giants came against Wigan athletic- still only 17. However, he is remembered at Anfield for SSS: Sterling, Sturridge, Suarez. This was the nickname handed to the deadly trio of the 13/14 nearly Liverpool men. At 19, Sterling was still a precocious talent, with much to learn, but much promise. He went on to be shortlisted for PFA Young Player Of The Year award that season and also won Liverpool’s Young Player Of The Year award.

A dire World Cup where England were publicly shamed would shatter many 19 year old’s confidence, but he ploughed on, and earned himself a £44m move to Man City after ,once again, being shortlisted for the PFA award and winning Liverpool’s. Contract disputes at Anfield would derive criticism from Liverpool legends such as Gerrard, Carragher and Souness. Sterling,the youngster who lit up Anfield, would be booed on his returns. Sterling, the mature 21 year old, resilient as ever, was unfazed. He entered the new chapter of his career with an open, positive mindset. Little did he know he was only taking his first steps into an ever turbulent career.

Unfazed? Maybe not, in retrospect. His first season at City brought lucrative rewards off the pitch, but not so much on. His bright start was followed by a torrid 2016. A groin injury in February would sideline him for 8 weeks, but post-convalescence- was still wasting away on the bench. He had lost his place in the starting line up. And a result, was further ridiculed. Social media was on the rise, and he became the butt of jokes. Particularly his bizarre running style. Comedy gave way to inevitable criticism as he fell into the “youngster distracted by money” stereotype. The English 2016 Euro debacle didn’t do wonders for his supposed all-time low self esteem. Although Sterling was frustrated rather than upset. He believed in his ability. And a managerial altercation gave him the perfect opportunity to turn a corner, to release that frustration. To rebuild his career. Guardiola took to Sterling right from the off. The speedy, raw talent needed nurturing – and few can nurture like Pep. He put complete faith in Sterling, starting him in all 4 of their August matches. It paid off- Sterling picked up Player Of The Month in August. Over the next season with Pep, Sterling worked relentlessly hard to improve his finishing and decision making. His endeavour reaped not only personal rewards, but for the team as well. Sterling’s 18 goals, often at crucial moments, were a vital factor of Man City’s record breaking season- but there would be another twist in the Sterling tale in 2018 summer. The World Cup. A World Cup where in the lead up, Sterling was in the papers for all the wrong reasons. A gun tattoo was spotted on his leg in training- to the horror of anti-gun protestors. Fans were divided. Victims of gun assaults were rightly outraged- but they did not know the story behind it. RaheemIt was in memory of his father. I’ll leave it to you to decide whether the tattoo was justified or not, but he was condemned once more. England, against the odds, powered through to the semi-finals for the first time since 1990. Sterling was national hero. No, he was far from that in fact. Despite playing a pivotal in the Three Lions’ success, he was criticised again. For the simple reason that he wasn’t scoring. Football parochialism at it’s finest. Sterling, though, was too strong for the haters. He brushes them away.

The new season dawns and City sit on top with 23 out of 27 possible points. Sterling, still only 23, has 4 goals and is becoming a staple in a team full of world stars. Real Madrid are interested. World Class yet Paul? A friend and I watched England’s defeat of Spain together. After Sterling had rifled in his first of the night, I turn to my friend, “cracking finish.” He gapes at the TV for a few moment and replies, “a lucky bobble.”

A 3 legged race, a United revolt and the Gunners reinvigorated.

It is an easy trap to read into performances too early in the season, however 1 thing has been crystal clear after the first 8 games of the 29th premier league season- it’s going to be a 3 legged race for the title. Due to their record breaking season last year City are still the team to beat. A truly ominous statement to the 19 inferiors, is that although they are not firing on all cylinders and are without Kevin De Bruyne, they are unbeaten with 21 out of a possible 24 points. Yet despite their ease and dominance so far they are not invincible. We saw how an inspired Lyon pounced on their mistakes, how they wasted golden opportunities against Wolves and nearly succumbed to an out of sorts Hoffenheim after an early lapse in concentration.Delphy It is becoming a widespread opinion that in those crunch matches, when the game is deadlocked, they have no Plan B; they have no Fellaini. Perfect Guardiola, the angel of the media, the godfather of Man City, is perhaps too regimented by his ethos. Disappointingly not only for die-hard city fans but also for the neutrals, is their half-hearted commitment to Europe. 40,000 fans turning up in a 55,000 seater stadium is hardly conducive to an electric atmosphere. Never mind the booing of the Champions League anthem before the game. Regardless, they are still firm favourites for any competition when Kompany, Mahrez, Jesus and Foden can only make the bench.

The Scousers aren’t doing too badly either. With their reinvigorated defence and nightmarish attacking trident (who admittedly are yet to find their form), Liverpool are back challenging for the Premier League and even Champions League. The cauldron, Anfield, is rapidly becoming the dreaded visit of the season. Momentum is a myth for the inferior away clubs. Teams no longer go there with the attitude “we can get a result out of these”, no , it is now “let’s not get humiliated”. This was never more evident than in the 0-0 damp squib 2 weekends ago with City. AngusfieldIt was as cautious and cagey as we have seen Pep’s men in the best part in 2/3 years. Speed demons, Mendy and Walker seldom crossed the halfway line. Liverpool are feared. James Milner, the linchpin of Liverpool’s success so far, has been arguably the best player in the league this season. But is he also the achilles heel in Liverpool’s squad? While City desire Liverpool’s support, Liverpool crave City’s midfield creativity. Henderson, Milner and Wijnaldum have been fantastic , but they are not flair players by any stretch of the imagination. They are no Zidane, no David Silva, someone who can not only dictate the tempo of the game, but who has that caress and deftness in and around the penalty area. Adam Lallana arguably has that potential, but he is too injury prone. The failure to secure Nabil Fekir’s future at Anfield could prove costly.

Chelsea are without doubt a unique football club. The constant managerial rotation would appear to outsiders as draining and soulless- but fans and players have gradually  accustomed , and after all, it’s not like they can complain when they have been the dominant force of the past 15 years. 5 titles in 14 years- the most in this period of time- is no mean feat. So regardless of the nonsense those idiots spout on The Debate, it was no surprise to see Chelsea adapt so quickly to life under Sarri. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel for them. The Italian chainsmoker has had a particularly liberating effect on his players after the exhaustingly regimented methods of Conte.Chelsea Diets have been relaxed, players can stay with their family the night before a game as long as they arrive on time and  training times are later. But most importantly, he has introduced Sarriball. Sarriball revolves around a 433 high press game, where the ball must be switched from defence to attack rapidly in order to punish opponents. It also removes the defensive responsibility shackles on attackers, especially the wingers who are free to express themselves in the final third. One man is flourishing particularly in this new system. Eden Hazard. A steadying captain on the rough Stamford Bridge sea. If he can stay fit and Chelsea tighten up a little at the back, Liverpool and City may find their noses out of joint.

Since I wrote my piece demanding Jose some respect, the day before United were trounced 3-0 by Spurs, much has changed but the toxic emotions linger. Their heroic comeback against strugglers Newcastle did little to dress up the mess that the club is at the moment. For any United team or manager, 8th in the league after 8 games is simply not good enough. And while I believe Jose Mourinho can be targeted and disrespected at times, he for certain should have shouldered the critical clamour, but instead he deflected it haphazardly. It’s a basic managerial responsibility to defend your players in front of the public, so why Mourinho opened up to the world about his view on Rashford’s “sadness”, and Mctominay’s “fear” remains a mystery to me. I am pro-Mourinho, but that was out of order. It was reminiscent of his degenerating man-management, spiralling out of control since his clash with Iker Casillas when he called friend Xavi after El Clasico. Since then, Hazard, Mata at Chelsea, and pretty much all of the United squad have all fallen prey to his antics. As I mentioned in my last piece on the Jose, one of Mourinho’s great strengths is his ability to galvanise individuals. Not in a charismatic Guardiola way, but in an almost snooty way, a light criticism and then “prove me wrong”. His record is not one whereby his techniques’ effectiveness should be questioned. But a sprinkle of extra negativity, a few drops of stress, a coating of desperation and his mixture uninspires and deflates.

Although it is not only his man-management that is corroding, but his tactics are also outdated. Jose’s victorious teams of Porto, Inter and Chelsea would pride themselves on their defensive solidity, error aversion, and organisation in all areas of the pitch. Yes, a useful attribute for defenders, but for attackers, not so much. To be successful in attacking, you have to be unpredictable. Spontaneous. Ronaldinho, Johan Cruyff- innovative. Chris Smalling, im Phil JonesEspecially these days with smarter, quicker defenders. United created their highest number of chances in a game this season in the second-half against Newcastle. Why? Because they had nothing to play for. They weren’t afraid to take risks, to try flicks and skills  in an around the area, which is why we saw the likes of Martial, Pogba and Sanchez flourish. Mourinho must replicate this, he must begin to encourage risks and mistakes, much like his contemporary, Guardiola, whose keeper even often expresses himself. Dare to fail, United. We could point out other small faults in United’s performances like their lack of natural width and a link between midfield and attack. But the bottom line is : while United’s woes are not exactly his fault, Jose has to adapt. Quickly. Yes, he is a fantastic manager, but he can only be regarded as one of the greatest ever until he moves with the times, like Sir Alex did so fluently.

I don’t wish to over extend on United, but we have not covered the focal point of United’s failures this year- the players. In the modern age of fine margins and high standards, we often forget that these players are humans and not just an encryption to be decoded. Consequently, it is often the people in control that are blamed. The onus should always on the players, before anything or anyone.

I’ll leave Neville and Souness to rant about the lack of effort, but it would be unfair to point the finger at one player, as they have all been culprits. It is never a healthy sign when your own player is not only questioning the teams attitude, but also his own. Paul Pogba. The riddle wrapped in a mystery in an enigma. Wonderful at the World Cup, woeful at Wolves. You begin to doubt whether he ever will string some momentum together and begin to live up to his potential.Paul Labille His glorious summer should have given him the perfect backdrop to kickstart his club career. Yet while he certainly not been the worst, it has been a disappointing start. We have seen flashes, instrumental in the second half against Newcastle, 2 goals against Leicester, a beauty in Switzerland, but he is 25 now and it is becoming less and less likely that these flashes will ever materialise. The same could be said of 26 year old Neymar. Pro-Pogbas like Mino Raiola would argue that his feud with Mourinho has distracted him, and that he would be better off elsewhere. Realistically, though, who would pay the big bucks for Pogba? We are talking over £100 million for an unproven player. Yes, his CV would illustrate otherwise: 1 World Cup, a Europa league and 4 scudettos. But his troubled spell at United has shone the light on his bad habits. He publicly questions his own managers tactics, he publicly questions his future at United and he even publicly questions his attitude : Pogba can be childish and careless. Fact. However while many old crooks demonise Pogba for his social media antics and general PR, they forget the responsibility he has to build the Pogba brand. Fresh, modern, eccentric. A marketer’s dream. And as a result, a valuable asset to any football club. Perhaps sometimes , as a society, we can be instantly critical on people who maybe don’t have as high aspirations as expected. “I’m just living the dream life I worked so hard for,” says Pogba himself. He is right, the hardest work is over, but now it is time to put it into practice.

United’s current turmoil is not one person or one group of people’s fault. It’s not just Mourinho’s fault, it’s not just Ed Woodward’s fault for his poor recruitment and failure to back Mourinho, it’s not just the Glazer’s fault, it’s not just the players fault, or Sanchez and Martial’s fault, or Pogba’s for that matter. No, the problem is pointing the finger at others. Mourinho at Woodward, Pogba at Mourinho, Mourinho at Pogba, Fans at the Glazers. It is a complete mess. They  must unite in the face of adversity, and rekindle the United spirit. Do they have the resolve?

A quiet revolution

With the Red Devils hogging the headlines, and spectators content with a fierce battle for the title, Arsenal have been free to kickstart life under Emery without the constant scrutiny that plagued them towards the end of Wenger’s reign. And after an excusable 2-0 loss to Man City and an excruciating 3-2 defeat at Stamford Bridge, the Gunners have responded with 9 wins a row. Okay, 3 of those wins came against Quarabag, Fc Vorslka and Brentford. But nevertheless, potential banana skins for Arsenal only a year ago. Perhaps the most satisfying thing for Unai Emery is that they have picked up victories after poor performances, where they really deserved to lose.Fulham FC v Arsenal FC - Premier League Against Watford, Deeney, Hughes and Success all squandered golden chances but the Gunners managed to scrape through thanks to a Cathcart own goal and a tidy Özil finish. Their erratic defending almost also cost them points against Everton and West Ham, where the scorelines were once again flattering for the home team. Cardiff city, scoring 8 goals in their last 11 matches and with only 4 this season, even managed to put two past them and nearly got a result .It is still a very raw, faulty Arsenal side, Cech and the defenders are still accustoming to Emery’s style of playing out from the back- so there are bound to be mistakes. At least they are getting these errors out of the way early on, and thankfully not being punished for them. With their team spirit and talent in the likes of Lacazette, Aubamayeng and Ozil, there is potential. Arsenal fans are cautiously hopeful.

Aside from the obvious positives of a 9 game win streak, Emery will be most pleased with his team’s aggression and fight. Chelsea may have craved a calming, soothing manager, but Arsenal needed one who could give them a kick up the backside. They needed drastic change. And who is more opposite to Wenger than Unai Emery. Under Arsène, players complained that the training sessions were so unfulfilling that they felt they wanted to do it all again. With Emery, they need a sleep after. You can see his burning passion on the touchline, gesticulating wildly, barking orders. It is rubbing off on his players as well. Players have started to put the extra mile in for the manager, to make that sprint back, to jump that little bit higher, to die to get on the end of that cross. Arsenal’s much improved aggression was encapsulated most aptly with Özil against Watford.Emery 2-0 up in injury time, Doucoré collects the ball for Watford. Özil races back, regardless of context, with all his heart, and makes a fine tackle to thwart Doucoré on the edge of the box. Bear in mind the fact that the German has been long questioned about his work-rate. Emery has supported Özil- who has suffered a torrid time recently with the national squad- and backed him in press conferences. You can see him slowly getting his confidence back. The German playmaker isn’t the only one thriving under Emery. Lacazette looks as sharp as ever, Torreira has provided some long craved midfield tenacity, Iwobi is becoming a fans favourite, Mustafi seems to be recovering his career alongside Sokratis and even Danny Welbeck is making a push for the starting 11. They are playing for the manager. These days you have a managerial scale of meticulous pragmatist like Allegri, or liberating aesthetes like Sarri or even Wenger in his time. Emery would find himself somewhere in the middle. He encourages attractive football-the highlight being Ramsey’s beautifully manipulated goal against Fulham- and playing out from the back, but also obsessively studies not just his own team, but also the opposition. It couldn’t be more different to Wenger, who would make a point of practically forgetting the opposition were even there. Every week brings an hour long video analysis of the game, every mistake pinpointed and mentally corrected. Players will also receive statistical breakdowns, and one-on-one briefings on their next opponent. “He put on so many videos I ran out of popcorn. He’s obsessed by football, it is practically an illness,” said Joaquin, a Spanish winger who played under Emery at Valencia.

“We’ve got our Arsenal back,” sang joyous Gunners at Craven Cottage. So much for cautious hope.

Reinvigorated Forest respond to the critics with 3 straight wins + what are the realistic goals for this season.

Forest, without a win in 3 league matches, playing inconsistent and disjointed football could not have been more ready for the international break. The extra time gave Karanka an opportunity to discuss with his players what was going wrong and how to improve. Many issues regarding coherence and chemistry on the pitch would, for sure, be solved by time. However, they also came to the unanimous conclusion that the stand -out problem was a lack of consistent intensity, especially at the start of matches. BennyAnd, finally, it was nice to see much of the endeavour that goes on behind the scenes reflected on the pitch in some physical, aggressive Forest performances capped of by spits and spurts of eye-catching, fluid attacking football. The depressing clouds of doom and gloom surrounding the City Ground have been temporarily blown away, after an incredible September ( well, after September 2nd anyway) picking up 3 wins and a draw out of 4 games- leaving us in the healthy league position of 9th and only 2 points off the play-offs. The optimism from the start of the season has returned- but in a slightly more hesitant and considered form.

Forest, evidently, took the intensity advice on board, as we saw a well-devised pressing game by The Reds against Swansea, with the mighty Ben Osborn as the poster boy for aggression and fight, his commitment inspiring fans and teammates alike. Forest attacked Swansea with verve and impetus, unprecedented for us away from home this season,  and, doubtless, deserved to emerge victorious at The Liberty Stadium, but only returned with the underwhelming draw. 3 points were much-needed, so it was gutting to collect just the 1 after one of the performances of the season. The only downfall being incision and composure in the final pass/shot. Ben Osborn, once again at the forefront of things, was this time the main culprit for profiglacy. His performances summed up Forest’s week.

3 points had evaded Forest too many times, so a win on Wednesday night was paramount. Forest scraped through after a nervy final 5 minutes, when Steven Fletcher’s audacious effort deflected beyond Pantilimon. Crowd vibesIt was a scrappy game, with lots of individual errors but, by and large, Forest controlled the tempo of the game, and enjoyed the majority of possession. Forest were not magnificent, but they did not have to be at their very best against a deflated Sheffield Wednesday side. Forest, once again, pressed well and were up in the faces of Wednesday, right from the first whistle, and their endeavour carved out an opportunity for Cash in the 1st minute, but he sliced into Row Z. Forest teased crosses in towards Grabban all night long, and Sheffield Wednesday couldn’t cope.

Saturday brought a different challenge. A dogged Rotherham United who had recently troubled Frank Lampards unspeakables. It was another scrappy game and a frustrating day where Forest were mediocre. We struggled to penetrate The Millers’ deep, compact back line, and only really started to slice through them when Matty Cash and Joe Lolley came on. Rotherham will trouble many teams this season with their resilience, and definitely have what it takes to stay up. Once again the desire for Forest was present, but not the quality unfortunately. Nevertheless, The Red’s prevailed with a satisfying 3 points after a rainy, miserable Saturday. We then maintained our momentum, and earned a place in the round of 16 of the Carabao Cup against a demoralised, deflated Stoke side. It has been a great 2 weeks for Forest, but there is evidently much to improve upon.  Regardless, The Reds remain unbeaten at the City Ground- which is quickly becoming a fortress. 27,266 have, on average, turned up to each home game this season- the 3rd best attendance in the league.

Areas to improve

Killing off matches. Forest could have been punished for their reluctance to kill teams off  when the momentum is on their side against both Sheffield Wednesday and Stoke. It is almost as if they feel sorry for the opposition and don’t want to rub salt into the wounds. This flaw is without doubt related to their lack of composure in front of goal. Time and time again this season, Forest have tried to pass the ball into the net, consistently choosing the wrong option on the final pass. However, when we do pull the trigger it is always a lash instead of a calm, calculated placement.

Forest have looked particularly strong off the ball in recent weeks- harrying the opposition with their press and forcing countless errors. Yet when we have a lot of time on the ball in possession, players freeze for some reason and don’t move into space. Our class has only shone through when the play is fast paced and instinctive. We must learn to play with that same urgency when building attacks.

Realistic goals for this season

Is it completely ludicrous to say that I hope with all my heart that we don’t get promoted this year ? It is not unlikely that Forest could scrape into the play-offs this year. Anything can happen from there. So say we were to pull of a Huddersfield-esque miracle and make into the Premier League, would we be ready ? Absolutely not. We would finish rock bottom, our key men would depart, fans would fall out of love with the club and it would be a disaster and a return to the gritty, gruelling Championship*. Back to square one. It is a marathon not a sprint. In my opinion, it would be a disappointment not to finish in the top 10. I also believe that we are more than capable of pushing for a play-off spot this year. It is all about next season for me. If Karanka doesn’t get us out of this hellish division by 2020, the pressure will start to mount.

*That was maybe a minor exaggeration.

The rest of the Championship

You have to put Leeds as favourites for the title this year. Graced with a world-class manager in Bielsa, they look as formidable a team you’ll see in the Championship. They are the Real Madrid of English’s second tier- full of individuals who can change a game in the blink of an eye. Samuel Saíz, Ezgjan Alioski, Kemar Roofe and Pablo Hernandez are Premier League quality. But don’t write off Tony Pulis’ well drilled Middlesborough. Few teams will score past them this season. Wigan are also capable of major shocks.Leedy leeds.jpg At the other end of the table, i have already mentioned my faith in Rotherham. Stoke also need to be careful- I know people feel he needs more time, but i feel Rowett has to go. I was sceptical about his appointment in the first place. He doesn’t exactly strike you as a particularly charismatic man. Something tells me that the best cure for Stoke at the moment is a new manager who can rip into their complacent, snobbish attitude, and give them a right kick up the backside. They have Premier League standard players, but they came in to the Championship thinking it was certain they would go straight back up even if they only gave 50% effort, and were punished for it. Is it time for Big Sam ?

Forest player ratings

Costell Pantilimon- 8/10: Kept 2 clean sheets out of 3 games, and has generally commanded his area well. It helps when you are 6’7. A few times, he has looked nervy when the ball is at his feet, but I put that down to the outfield players as I think at this level goalkeepers shouldn’t be expected to be skilled with their feet- they should stick to using their hands.

Danny Fox: 7/10: Danny Fox never ceases to amaze me. He was seemingly done and dusted last year after a horrendous performance in the FA cup against Hull but Karanka kept his faith in him and he was one of Forest’s most impressive players towards the end of last season. 14 signings and two new centre-backs later, Fox is still the main man. His flying tackles, towering headers and signature move: the left footed, over-the-top diagonal, pinpoint ball makes him a crowd favourite. 2 clean sheets from 3 league games is not bad at all.

Michael Hefele (The Rhino)- 7/10: In my last piece on Forest i wrote about how Hefele struck me as clumsy and prone to errors. But over the past couple of weeks I have noticed what a valuable player he is. He is constantly barking orders and commanding the defence. The suppression of 6’5 beast Atde Nuhiu of Sheffield Wednesday was also vindication of his fearlessness and immense physicality. The Rhino has earned the reputation as the ‘hard man’ of Forest.

Saidi Janko- 8/10: Janko has had a very impressive start to life at the City Ground. He is like an upgraded Darikwa. Fast and dynamic on the ball, but more robust defensively than his Zimbabwean colleague. Delivers quality crosses into the box.Foxy He is reminiscent of Man City’s Kyle Walker.

Jack Robinson- 7/10: He has made that left back spot his own after some more solid performances, with the pick of the bunch against Rotherham. A reliable defensive asset.

Ben Watson- 7/10: Looks a lot more like his combative old self- commanding the middle of the park, determination inspiring teammates.

Jack Colback- 7/10: Had an outstanding performance against Sheffield Wednesday and looked strong against Swansea and Rotherham too. He is such a clever player, he can always sense where the danger will be and works tirelessly for the team. Nottingham Forest’s Kanté. For some reason though, he can’t play well alongside Ben Watson this season.

Michael Dawson and Tobias Figueiredo-6/10: Both only featured against Stoke, where they had to stand up to an onslaught late on as The Potters sought to take advantage of the extra man. Dawson dealt with Crouch well. Can’t say much about these two though.

Adlène Guediora- 5/10: He has looked sluggish and out of sorts on his return from injury. No doubt, he will soon find his find his feet again. When this man is firing on all cylinders, Forest look a different side.

Matty Cash- 6/10: Cash hasn’t really been able to maintain that blistering form from the start of the season. Has been wasteful at times, but is always a nuisance for defenders.

Joe Lolley- 6/10: Anonymous against Swansea, but then came on against Rotherham and used his direct running to get in behind the defence. Looked at his best against Stoke with some fine link up play and meandering dribbles in what was a lively Lolley display.

Gil Dias- 5/10: Has looked clumsy and uncomposed recently for some reason. Definitely not at his sharpest.

Joao Carvalho- 8/10: He is really starting to grasp life in the Championship and prove why we spent 13 million on him. He can unlock defences with his passing and can mesmerise defenders with his trickery and deft touches. A wonderful finish against Sheffield was the highlight of a great week for Carvalho. He doesn’t shy away from tackles too and isn’t the foreigner that “won’t fancy a wet Tuesday night at Stoke”, like many expected.

Ben Osborn- 9/10: The versatile Ben Osborn encapsulates the expectations that follow when you sport The Garibaldi. His desire and fearlessness is second to none. I just doubt whether he has the quality in the final third to play at left-wing. Any club, though, would happily have a Ben Osborn in their squad.

Daryl Murphy- 7/10: Featured only against Stoke where he shone with a thumping strike.

Lewis Grabban- 7/10: 2 goals in his past 2 league appearances will be a massive confidence boost after a poor start to the season. Grabban can easily bag 20 for Forest this year.

 

 

 

Pochettino’s conundrum+ Spain’s perfect response to World cup debacle

Continuity is perhaps underrated in football. It is a significant cog in the Pochettino workings, and one of the main factors of Spurs’ rise to the elite. It makes the North Londoners special, and a favourite for the neutral. Likewise for Diego Simeone’s Athletico Madrid. Pochettino is also renowned for his lust to improve players. Yes, a seemingly basic attribute, but one that is becoming rarer for a manager in the modern age of quick fixes. Yet, even when taking this into account, he was ridiculed by fans around all the country for not signing a single player this summer. PochHowever, these critics did not consider both the Pro’s and Con’s of Pochettino’s brave, astute decision. After 3 games Spurs’ superior cohesion and chemistry had contributed to a 100% start to the start to the season. After 3, somewhat jaded, slightly average performances.

As expected, the main talking points were: “We need to start considering Spurs as title contenders”, “Spurs are capable of going all the way”, “continuity makes Spurs a class act”. Then a week later, after a 2-1 defeat at Vicarage road, the tables turned:  “Spurs have lack of squad depth”, ” Soft Spurs  have no leader”, “Harry Kane is tired from the World Cup”. This occurrence is revealing. Do the press and pundit’s opinions fluctuate too easily? Maybe they do. But the focused question today, is does Mauricio Pochettino, for all his myriad qualities, succumb to the critics, take a long look at his squad sheet and ask himself a question that he would consider premature: Should he have bolstered the squad in the summer? Or does he stick with his ethos and believe in his players as, we must not forget, Spurs are a stellar team with a world class manager.

It is essential that one is careful when pondering over the question that is whether the ‘squad’ or the ‘team’ needs investment. In terms of the first 11, Spurs, doubtless, have the tools to excel in both the Premier League and Champions League this year. Although it is not that simple. In terms of depth, Spurs are depleted in comparison to Europe’s elite. Take a look at the bench of Liverpool, Man City and Juventus- 3 contenders in the domestic league and Europe. Sturridge, Lallana, Fabinho, Henderson, Clyne and Shaquiri didn’t start in Liverpool’s match against West Ham. De Bruyne, Sane, Jesus and Kompany didn’t start against Arsenal. Bernadeschi, Can, Matuidi, Mandzukic and Barzagli didn’t start against Chievo Verona. All Spurs have off the bench is Heung-Min Son (who, admittedly, is class), Sissoko and Llorente as attacking options.

But this is not merely comparing firepower off the bench. As the season goes on, the 4 competitions start to take their toll and ,incidentally, injuries begin to plague teams. Who can replace Kane? Who can replace Dier and Dembélé? Alli? Eriksen? What’s more, is 9 of Tottenham’s first team went to the semi finals of the World Cup or further which is inevitably going to be to the detriment of Spurs come November, December period- the peak of fixture congestion. Spurs are an ambitious club and are on a clear upward trajectory, so although in this moment it may seem harsh to compare them to the European heavyweights,Winks it is also entirely necessary if they wish to live up to expectations this year and add some silverware to the gaping trophy cabinet. Would it be going too far to say a depth crisis looms on the horizon?

To balance the debate, we must look at things from Pochettino’s point of view. As mentioned previously, he values continuity, camaraderies and general positivity very highly. So why would he risk destroying the near-perfect atmosphere he has moulded at Tottenham, by spending large amounts of money on players whose egos might upset the cohesion of the team? Even so, Pochettino is no stubborn Wenger. He is a meticulous man, who is also not afraid to go back on his decisions and judgements. So, if he sincerely believed that there was a deficiency of depth and squad solidity, we can be sure that he will have scoured the transfer market right until the very last minute to find the players to fill the gaps.

However, it is all too easily forgotten that moving to a new stadium costs hundreds of millions, so Tottenham can not afford to burn money in the next couple of years. Keeping the theme of money, Danny Higgingbotham stated on The Debate on Sky Sports that if Spurs were to spend 40m+ ( the price required for any player who could have a significant impact) on somebody like Martial for instance, he will demand high wages. Incidentally, it will discontent his star men who would then be thinking  “Who does he think he is, I want that sort of money too”, so a wage inflation occurs, which Spurs can not afford at this moment in time.

A very much relevant issue in English Football that has troubled many but not Pochettino, is gametime for English players. They gave 12,553 minutes, the most in the top 6, to English players that include Kane, Alli, Dier, Rose, Trippier and the young Harry Winks. Consequently, this makes them a neutral favourite and perhaps the press have more tolerance after poor performances. Spurs are envied for this. So if Pochettino were to dip his hand into the market surely this would this intercept the bright development path into the 1st team that awaits the likes of Winks, Onomah and Walker-Peters. It may also prevent Dier and even Dele Alli- who needs to start performing- from regular game time.

It really is a mind boggling conundrum that faces Pochettino. Hopefully, they can get back to winning ways tonight against Inter Milan.

Spain’s impressive response

Lago Aspas steps up to the spot. Saved. The stadium erupts while subs and managers spill onto the pitch in euphoria. Pique, Iniesta, Carvajal and Busquets, nostalgic, stare into the distance in dismay. An image that would certainly best sum up their tournament. Lost for ideas, aging, vulnerable. Russia, the hosts, who prior to the tournament people labelled hopeless and a liability, have just knocked the mighty Spain out of the World Cup and advanced into the quarter-finals via penalty shootout. That same night, Iniesta, the linchpin of Spain’s 08,10,12 successes, announced his international retirement. David Silva and Gerard Pique would later follow suit. EnriqueFernando Hierro would also resign as manager. It marked the end of an era, and many anticipated a descent into turmoil for the Spanish team but it wasn’t to be.

It was stark that Spain were respecting teams too much, which often boils down to a lack of ruthlessness and intensity. They even became languid at times. While the FA would have panicked and recruited Big Sam or David Moyes by this point, Spain calmly appointed the shrewd Luis Enrique, renowned for his strict regimes and professionalism, the best antidote for Spain’s problems. His orders consisted of no mobile phones at the dinner table, no video games late at night, less free time and no ketchup. It must be said though, Enrique also had some techniques that were certainly novel, even uncanny. However, in retrospect, highly necessary. He sent them to an escape room, where the idea was that they had to solve a series of clues while being tormented by the Zodiac Killer, in order to escape the room. It is designed for team bonding, and building trust and communication- while at the same time just to have a bit of a laugh. The winning team was Lago Aspas, Thiago Alcantara, Sergi Roberto, Inigo Martinez, Cesar Azpilicueta and Rodrigo. SpainIt is also abundantly clear that he makes full use of his position in power and revells in it – he ordered for a tall piece of scaffolding to be erected, where he has a perfect view of training every day. In footballing terms, his style of play very much reflects his style of coaching. Direct, pragmatic and clinical- no faffing around. This was evident in Spain’s return to competitive football, with a 2-1 win over semi-finalists England, and then a 6-0 rout over finalists Croatia. Many would have mourned over the past, but Spain appear hungry for the future.

Luis Enrique’s work is only one piece of the jigsaw. It is the RFEF ( Spanish FA) who must also be credited. Their impressive work across platforms such as social media for example- where they changed their Instagram bio to UnaNuevaIllusion (a new dream)- creates the aura that they are moving into new, exciting times, inviting fans to join the ride. It encapsulates the rare calmness and ability to fight against a crisis that has distinguished Spanish Football in this past decade. Spain are back.

Consistently inconsistent Forest inevitably punished.

If every player and team were to be consistent throughout every minute, match and season- what would football be? Would Liverpool have fought back from a 3-0 deficit to claim their 5th title in Europe? Would Leicester have won the Premier League with odds of 5000/1? Would Portsmouth have crashed down from the Premier League to League 2 in the space of 4 seasons? Would 650 million people tune in to the El Clasico? Consistency defines teams. ForestConsistency defines football. Somehow though, Nottingham Forest, in their first start to a season under Aitor Karanka, manage to be consistently inconsistent. One minute Joe Lolley is dancing past defenders, The Rhino (Hefele) is thwarting attack after attack and Guediora is nearly netting 100 yard screamers. Look a minute later and  Sam Byram is slipping over for the 3rd time in a row, Ben Watson is failing to make 5 yard passes and Gil Dias is blundering straight into defenders. One minute it is The Avengers, the next, Toy Story. One minute it is Apple, the next, Nokia. Avengers, Toy Story. Toy Story, Avengers. Apple, Nokia. Nokia, Apple. It is simply unacceptable for a club like Nottingham Forest, regardless of any situation.

Consequently, our unbeaten run went astray at Griffin Park. It was a lethargic, disjointed first half performance, where we showed Brentford too much respect and played into their hands that wasn’t improved, significantly enough upon, in the 2nd half to earn any points. Brentford are a well-drilled and disciplined side, whose performances seldom differ drastically. Take note, Forest. Pocket full o' CASHPerhaps, though, it is a positive that no points were collected on Saturday. Why feed the players with false information that they have performed to the level whereby they earn a point or three, when in reality they were far worse than that ? From a tactical point of view, Forest should have tried to maintain possession  and get forward more against a Brentford team with an array of attacking talent. Instead, they invited pressure on and Brentford could have been 4-0 up after the 1st half.

Forest must take the positives out of the past 2 weeks though as self belief is pivotal to success not just in football, but sport as a whole. An incredible performance on Wednesday night saw them defeat Premier League Newcastle in what turned out to be a thrilling spectacle. Salomon Rondon’s 92nd minute equaliser seemed to have saved The Magpies, but The Red’s resisted deflation and Matty Cash fired in his 3rd goal in 4 appearances. To rub salt in the wounds, Dias pressed down Kennedy and intercepted well, and then chipped it audaciously beyond Darlow. That goal epitomised Forest’s performance- fearless, energetic and classy. The previous Saturday the Red’s also fought back from a 2 goal deficit at home to Birmingham. It portrayed immense team spirit, to gain a 3rd point from a losing position, but it also reiterated the points discussed on my last piece on Forest. As much as us Forest fans would like to think a large sum of money spent on a handful of players guarantees instant success, in reality, it is implausible. Time and patience are needed. 5 years of stagnation can’t be repaired in a matter of months. It is also necessary to mention that we have developed a habit of starting matches without  verve and intensity but I do not wish to extend on these topics as they were discussed in the last piece on Forest. Onto the player ratings.

Player ratings  

Note: It is difficult to rate the players as they are very inconsistent but I will try my best and I apologise in advance for any inaccuracies.

Costel Pantilimon- 6/10: Has improved on a cagey start to the season. Not been directly at fault for any of the goals.

Luke Steele- 5/10: Not an impressive first start for Steele against Newcastle. Had a few nervy moments. At the moment, a long way away from contesting Costel for the No1 spot.

Tendai Darikwa- 6/10: In my opinion, he does little to affect the game. Only plays well if the rest of the team are. His pace adds another dimension though.

Sam Byram- 6/10: The Championship doesn’t respect people because of their background.  You will be punished if you ponder on the ball. Byram will have learnt his lesson quickly . He was all over the place against Birmingham. But he had a much improved performance against the Toons, where his class shone, assisting Murphy for the opener.

Danny Fox- 6/10: Fox is in his prime when alongside a composed, reliable partner, which Hefele doesn’t provide in my opinion. Sometimes appeared lost and has had lapses of concentration. Distribution on point as usual though.

Michael Hefele ( The Rhino)- 7/10: Only reason I have given him a 7 is due to the majority of other peoples opinions. From my point of view, he can be reckless and clumsy. Yes, he is a physical presence and wins ariel duels, but he is not a shadow of the player that Figueirdo is, and wouldn’t make it into my first 11.

Dawson, Guediora, Grabban, Figueirdo not featured here due to injury or lack of game time.

Jack Robinson- 6/10: Had a cagey league debut against Birmingham, but improved massively as the week went on with a particularly strong performance against Newcastle. His performance level then dipped against The Bees in what was a poor Forest display all round. Unlike Osborn, he is a robust, reliable defensive asset who seems comfortable at left back. Not as much of an attacking threat though.

Ben Osborn- 7/10: Played in spurts since the Wigan match. At this moment in time, I think Robinson is edging him for the left back spot due to his lack of experience in defence. Osborn’s greatest quality is his versatility, he will prove priceless when injuries start to plague us. Impressive cameos against Newcastle and Birmingham will argue his case for a spot in the team. His pace down the wing adds another dimension.

Jack Colback- 6/10: Has looked unprecedentedly uncomfortable alongside Watson. For some reason, he is failing to set the tempo and assert his authority in the middle of the park like he did so well last season. Perhaps, it is taking him a while to accustom the new players around him.

Ben Watson- 3/10: Dreadful from the captain. Against Birmingham, he produced one of the worst ever performances in a Forest shirt. 5 yard passes were going astray, he lost every ariel battle and he was generally sluggish. Yes, he looked a different player on the Wednesday night as did the rest of the team, but it proved to be case of 1 step forward 2 steps back as he failed to organise his team in an erratic 1st half performance at Brentford, where he was sloppy throughout.

Liam Bridcutt- 5/10: Can’t say much about Bridcutt, his only appearance came against Newcastle where he had a quiet game. Can sometimes be too negative in his passing. You can’t help but feel for him though, his career has fallen apart. It was only 3 years ago that he was a Premier League regular with Sunderland.

Joao Carvalho- 6/10: Seems to be getting to grips with the hustle and bustle of English football. Links up play very well. In his absence, Forest have struggled to make attacks flow. He also possesses the touch of quality in the final 3rd that unlocks defences. He could perhaps get involved more.

Gil Dias- 5/10: His form has slowed down since the start of the season. He appears jaded by the hectic schedule. But his clever chip against Newcastle reminded everyone of his quality.

Joe Lolley- 8/10: Made a huge impact off the bench against Birmingham, Joe Lolley celebrates as his first touch puts Forest back in the game.and then followed it up with a fantastic performance against Newcastle. He glides past defenders like they aren’t there and the directness of his running unsettles defenders. Wasn’t as effective against Brentford unfortunately.

Hillal Soudani- 5/10: Made only 1 appearance which was when he started against Birmingham. Didn’t make an impact on the game in the no.10 role. His primary function this season will be as a super sub.

Matty Cash- 9/10: Cash has been in prolific form, scoring his 4th in 5 appearances on Saturday. He has been Forest’s stand out player this season by far. His ruthlessness and incision in the final third has saved forest many times. What more does he have to do to earn a place in the starting line up?

Daryl Murphy- 7/10: Murphy, despite everyones expectations, is at the moment Forest’s No.1 option up front at the grand age of 35. He seems to have evolved his game to suit his dwindling pace. He now positions himself right on the defenders toes and uses his large frame to shield the ball and hold it up, whereas before he would drop deeper and try and turn with the ball. He set the tone for the rest match with his 2nd minute header against Newcastle.