Should Steven Taylor have been called up to the England squad?

Steven Taylor has been in very good form in the last couple of weeks and possibly deserved a call up to the England squad this month.

Against Anzhi, he was yet again sublime particularly when Lassana Diarra looked certain to score not once but twice. The 27 year old put in two blocks and his contribution was arguably as important as Papiss Cisse’s last minute winner. This season it has been no surprise that when Taylor has been in Newcastle’s starting 11 they have performed better and looked a lot more solid with him at the back. One thing that does go unnoticed though a lot of the time is his passing accuracy, in recent games he has been close to 100% and he clearly has learnt a lot from his regular centre back partner Fabricio Coloccini in being composed at the back and building attacks from there rather than just sending it long and pointless as others do so often.

Taylor has been around the squad for a long time now since making his debut in the 2003-04 season and may feel that in that time he has deserved a call up to the full England squad. His record at youth level has been good for England and he even has a cap at B level but that full England cap still seems to allude him. He is everything you want in a centre back, he is brave and rarely loses the ball when it is in the air and has improved immensely when strikers or quick wingers are running at him.

With England struggling for options at the back these days it is a surprise to me that he didn’t get called up this time but if he keeps his current form for the rest of the season there is no doubt in my mind that the calls for him to be included in a squad will get louder and louder. There are only a few reasons why I think he won’t get called up and they are simply because England managers, including Roy Hodgson seem reluctant to come to the North East to watch Newcastle and Sunderland games so there is very little chance of a call up from either squad. But, possibly another reason is because he sometimes does things that are very strange and his antics could be costing him. He seems to do some things to get the crowd going and to get a cheer rather than just being more professional, an example of this is when he has laid on the ground to header the ball instead of just clearing it with his foot. Also, his actions towards Stoke goalkeeper Asmir Begovic in the recent win showed a different side to him and if he did that on a national level it would be much bigger news and he would be criticised for it.

For me though, Steven Taylor should be in this England squad and could have even started because he is in better form than Chris Smalling. With Michael Dawson and Gary Cahill given opportunities already and not really making the position there own it may have been better to try someone like Taylor. Then there is Rio Ferdinand, is he still good enough? He probably is and I think Taylor and Ferdinand would have formed a great partnership.

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What is Manchester United’s best central defensive partnership?

Manchester United are top of the Premier League and looking like they will win yet another title but defensively they haven’t been at their best.

So who should be in the heart of their defence? The most experienced centre back is Rio Ferdinand as he has won a lot of trophies and played a lot of games in his career. However, this also works against him because he is getting towards the end of his career and he has been caught out this year a couple of times. Most notably by Gareth Bale in their defeat to Tottenahm Hotspur at Old Trafford.

Nemanja Vidic is another player that a few years ago would have been considered one of the best in the world but injury problems have caught up with him and he hasn’t quite looked the same player and he has only played 13 times so far this season. However, he is still an imposing figure and I doubt many strikers look forward to playing against him and he also is a threat when he goes forward for set pieces. I personally do still consider him to be a great defender but whether he should be first choice anymore is another question.

If Vidic and Ferdinand aren’t guaranteed their place anymore who should play? The defender that has been the most consistent for quite a while now is Jonny Evans. The Northern Ireland international is a player that has actually performed well enough to change my opinion of him. A few years ago I didn’t rate him at all but now he doesn’t seem to do much wrong and I see it now as Evans plus one for Manchester United which says a lot as I honestly didn’t even think he would be a top half Premier League defender.

Another player that could take the position and play there for a very long time is Phil Jones. I think centre back is his best position by a long way and he will eventually settle there when he gets more experience. But that is part of the problem, his versatility is working against him as he can do a decent enough job at both right back and holding midfield which makes me think that Sir Alex Ferguson doesn’t quite trust him yet in the middle of his defence, especially for the big games. He could become one of the best in Europe but he needs to keep improving.

Finally, Chris Smalling is also an option for Alex Ferguson and like Jones he is certainly one for now as well as the long term future. His talents have been recognised both at club level and international with him starting for England in the 2-1 victory over Brazil. However, I do not think he is quite ready yet to be put in that position on a consistent basis and for me he should be fifth in the pecking order. Saying that he isn’t a bad number five centre back to have in your squad considering that he can also play right back.

The two I would choose are Jonny Evans and Nemanja Vidic when fit. Who do you think?

Will Lucio join the Premier League this season?

Inter Milan defender Lucio’s agent has claimed that he will be leaving the Italian team this summer and is looking for a new adventure in Europe.

Lucio has played 105 times for Brazil

The Brazilian international has had a fantastic career so far winning many trophies including the Bundesliga three times, Serie A once and the Champions League as well as many cup competitions. He has also played over 100 times for his national team Brazil and helped them to win the World Cup in 2002 which just shows he can perform on the biggest of stages. He first came to Europe to play for Bayer Leverkusen and instantly adapted to German football, not only defending well but also adding goals from defence with his power in the opposition in the box as well as his forward runs in open play. For Bayer Leverkusen he played and scored in the 2002 Champions League final but unfortunately they went on to lose to Real Madrid 2-1. After scoring 18 times for the club, he joined Bayern Munich and went onto even greater success, while he was in the team they were very successful in their own country and even though they couldn’t replicate that form in Europe he was still considered one of the best defenders in Europe.

Even though he was getting older his services were in great demand and he joined Inter Milan and in his first season won the treble in Italy. Inter won the Coppa Italia, Serie A and Champions League against his former club Bayern Munich. He barely missed a game throughout the season and now at the age of 34 he could still make the difference to a lot of teams in Europe. So who could he join in England?

The first team I think he could do a good job is at the current champions Manchester City. When Vincent Kompany and Joleon Lescott were injured last season  they struggled with Stefan Savic and Kolo Toure not looking up to the challenge and costing their team on multiple occasions. I think Lucio would just add extra experience and make a difference particularly in the Champions League because the current team have a lot of world beaters, but how many have actually won the Champions League or World Cup?

Manchester rivals United, should also be looking at him as Sir Alex Ferguson knows they need to improve their team this summer and although I was quite impressed with Jonny Evans this season, I think Lucio is a lot better than him still. Plus Ferguson doesn’t mind bringing in experience as we have seen in the past with players like Laurent Blanc. With Nemanja Vidic struggling with injuries this season he may not be able to get back to his high standards when he returns and with Rio Ferdinand also getting older he will not be able to play as many games next season. Yes they do have Phil Jones and Chris Smalling but they have been used in different positions throughout this season and that little bit of extra experience may have got them over the line this season and secured the title for them.

Finally, Arsenal always need a centre back. Laurent Koscielny has had a very good season in my opinion but he does still make mistakes and Thomas Vermaelen has struggled with injuries at times this year. Lucio is also a lot better than Per Mertesacker and the Brazilian would fit into Arsenal’s style of play a lot better as he is one of the best ball playing centre backs of the last 10 years.

He may not be as quick as he used to be but he still has a lot of very useful attributes and would add something to the very best teams in the Premier League so I think if any of these teams get a chance they should definitely sign him up.

Super Sunday- The verdict

So it was the Super Sunday Sky Sports billed it as, long gone are the days when viewers had to watch Chelsea and Manchester United battle out a 0-0 draw, we finally have goals to go with the best players in the league, but where to start, should Balotelli have even been on the pitch to score the last minute penalty? Are Spurs genuine title contenders? Is Welbeck the man to lead the England strike force at Euro 2012?

Well, I am going to start with Arsenal and has Arsene Wenger’s time at the Gunners come to an end? He made a strange decision today that actually cost his team which led to half the stadium booing the manager’s decision. He took off arguably the best player on the pitch in Alex Oxlade Chamberlain for Andrei Arshavin who failed to defend against Antonio Valencia properly and he eventually set up the winner for Welbeck. There is no doubt Wenger has been one of Arsenal’s greatest ever managers but the club haven’t won a trophy in years and are finally losing their grip on a top four place and are currently the second best team in North London which must hurt the fans more than anything. He has failed to invest in experienced players and the team looks short of quality with only Robin Van Persie, Aaron Ramsey and Thomas Vermaelen looking like top players on a consistent basis. Koscielny at the back has improved this season but still looks like he is prone to mistakes and yes Arsenal are struggling with injuries as was shown with Johan Djourou ripped apart by Nani in the first half and then being replaced by an 18 year old in Yennaris, yet Wenger still refuses to spend any money.

If Arsenal fail to finish in the top four then Arsene Wenger should step down if he is not sacked as he has done a fantastic job but the team is going backwards and therefore needs a change or Tottenham will leave them behind.

So onto Spurs, they performed admirably against Manchester City and deserved at least a draw against the team currently at the top of the table, doing this without their main striker this season Emmanuel Adebayor. But, Jermain Defoe played pretty well and has also made it known to Capello that he wants to be in the England squad this summer. He capitalised on a defensive error and rounded Hart with ease and always looked a threat throughout the game. Tottenham are most definitely title challengers because they have players like Gareth Bale who can rip apart any team in the world with his direct running and incredible pace, when the Welshman gets going he is hard to stop. His goal was sublime and no keeper in the world would have saved it and then he showed all of his abilities in the last few minutes to run rings round the City defence and then square the ball for Defoe who agonisingly missed the ball by inches. Seconds later Balotelli won a penalty and scored it but earlier in the game he probably should have been sent off for a stamp however the referee must not have seen it clearly as he stayed on the pitch and ended up winning the game. When they went 2-0 up they must have thought the game was up after David Silva had shown yet again that he is one of the best players in the league by putting Samir Nasri through with an inch perfect through ball that Nasri finished clinically. But champions win games when it’s not looking likely which has now happened twice in a row with the result against Spurs and the 1-0 win against Wigan.

However, do not discount Manchester United just yet, as they pulled off another victory when they weren’t at their best. The first half they were comfortable and looked like the only team in the game but in the second half when Arsenal picked up the game they had to defend stoutly and remain resilient which they did and if it wasn’t for Van Persie’s brilliance then they probably would have kept a clean sheet although that same player missed an absolute sitter after a mistake from Chris Smalling. The difference in the game was the manager’s decision making as Fergie’s changes changed the game positively for the team, firstly bringing on Rafael for the injured Phil Jones which allowed Valencia to be at the back post to put them ahead, then taking off Rafael for Park Ji Sung so Valencia dropped back to right back and set up the all important goal for United.

Welbeck scored the winner and his partnership with Wayne Rooney is starting to look really promising and this can only be a good thing for club and country. He was making a lot of runs behind the defence looking for through balls while Rooney was dropping deep and looking to slide it through for him. Maybe he won’t be top of the list to start at the Euros but he is definitely one for the future but if he keeps performing and scoring big goals he may just find himself in the starting 11.

At the end of the day it is Manchester 2-0 London and with the way things are looking this trend could continue for a while to come. However, it is refreshing to see all four of the top teams like to play attacking football and I think Tottenham under Redknapp will continue to improve and could possibly break Manchester’s dominance at the very top of the league and maybe even win the trophy. But if the England job becomes available will he stay at Spurs or answer the call from the FA? Will Tottenham be as good under a different manager?

England’s right back for the Euros

When Liverpool played Manchester City in the Carling Cup it gave England fans the opportunity to see two players aiming to be England’s starting right back at Euro 2012 with Glen Johnson being switched to left back for the tie and Micah Richards playing in his usual right back position.

Both players have played plenty of times for England and will be hoping to impress Fabio Capello in the coming months to show why they should be one of the first names on the team sheet. Glen Johnson seems the favourite at the minute for Capello but may not be the fans’ choice. Everyone that watches Johnson play knows he is good going forward but at times looks suspect at the back and even though in the modern game full backs need to be good going forward, their primary role in the team is to stop the opposition scoring.

Micah Richards must feel hard done by as he broke into the England team a number of years ago and seemed to be the natural successor to Gary Neville but for some reason he lost his way on the international scene. But his team are top of the table and have one of the best defences in the league so surely he deserves another shot. Like Johnson, very good at going forward and is probably one of the strongest and quickest players in the Premier League which allows him to get back into position quickly after making a break forward.

While this game was being played, Kyle Walker of Tottenham was helping his team keep a clean sheet at home to Everton and is proving to everyone why Harry Redknapp made him his first choice right back at the start of the season. Scoring a wonderful goal against Arsenal obviously made the Spurs fans love him but he is most certainly catching the eye of Capello. His loan move to Aston Villa last season has done him the world of good and he would be disappointed if he wasn’t selected.

Danny Simpson has an outside chance of making the trip to Ukraine and Poland because he has been in good form for club side Newcastle but it isn’t looking very likely at this stage. But he is proving to be one of the best right backs in the country and if the players above him in the pecking order suffer an injury or go on a poor run of form, he would do a solid job for the team.

Other options for Capello are to play Chris Smalling, Phil Jones or Phil Jagielka at right back as all of these have played in that position at some stage in their career but all three of them are better centre halves than right backs. Although, their versatility could work in their favour, it is unlikely that they will get played at right back ahead of Walker, Richards or Johnson.

Verdict: Micah Richards should be England’s first choice right back as he is currently stand in captain for the team that is top of the league and is looking very impressive, his marauding runs forward cause panic in the oppositions defence due to his sheer size and presence therefore he adds something completely different to the team.

But who will Capello choose?