Wednesday 22 January 2020

Premier League review: James McCarthy is better than Jack Wilshere, and why 3-5-2 is not working

Everton's James McCarthy challenges Arsenal's Jack Wilshere
Everton's James McCarthy challenges Arsenal's Jack Wilshere

It is time for Manchester United and QPR to ditch three at the back, Jose Mourinho wants timeouts in football, and why Ireland's young midfielder is better than England's

Who is better: Jack Wilshere or James McCarthy?

In keeping with a digital age in which everything is predetermined by an online poll, I propose a vote.

Which midfielder would you rather have in your team. Arsenal's Jack Wilshere or Everton's James McCarthy?

I offer this fully aware Arsenal fans will be incandescent with rage anyone has the audacity to compare the future of English football with the Republic of Ireland midfielder, but it is a worthwhile experiment to assess the honesty of the average supporter. Any Arsenal fans watching at Goodison on Saturday - or indeed any neutral not dazzled by hype or patriotic favouritism - would surely agree that based on the last 18 months it is McCarthy and Evertonians who should be insulted by the question.

The difference between McCarthy and Wilshere is the Everton midfielder, well, does stuff. He reads the game expertly, makes tackles and interceptions, passes the ball to his team mates and covers so much ground his 'heat map' must be radioactive.

Wilshere - or certainly the current version of him - does none of the above. True, he is a different type of player, selected for his creativity, but he does not score enough goals, has no turn of pace, creates nothing, often concedes possession cheaply and looks like he might be injured every time an opponent has the audacity to tackle him.

If the pair were made available for transfer today, aside perhaps from Chelsea and Manchester City with their warehouses of midfielders, McCarthy would enhance every other team in the country. Arsenal, for example, would be much superior with McCarthy sitting deep in their midfield rather than Wilshere doing nothing much at all.

If Wilshere was for sale, no-one else in the top four would be bidding. My guess is he'd be pursued by those clubs who become safe havens for those stars prematurely worshipped as a part of a new generation of English footballers until we all realised the illusion.

Currently, Wilshere puts one in mind of Joe Cole. He might have peaked at 18 and seems to be dining out on the memory of what he was - what he once represented - rather than what he actually is. If he does not radically improve soon he might as well start measuring up for that West Ham or Aston Villa jersey. Chris Bascombe

Everton's James McCarthy challenges Arsenal's Jack Wilshere

Time for Van Gaal to ditch three at the back

Louis van Gaal may be forced to abandon his three-man defensive unit at Manchester United to arrest the team's slide towards mediocrity.

United were fortunate to emerge from Sunderland with a point on Sunday following a disjointed performance at the Stadium of Light, but the most obvious frailty in Van Gaal's team was the back three.

Traditionally a coach who plays a 4-3-3 formation, Van Gaal claims he has imposed 4-3-1-2 at United due to the players at his disposal. But the back three is not working and, as a consequence, neither is the rest of the team.

Tyler Blackett, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling are too inexperienced to play the system. It requires a communicator of Nemanja Vidic or John Terry's standing to make the system work and United simply lack that string, commanding figure.

The uncertainty at the back sucks the midfield deeper and leaves the forwards isolated and without adequate service, so there are few positives for Van Gaal.

Returning to four at the back against Burnley this weekend would at least restore some certainty and give United's defenders a system they are comfortable with.

It could also provide a platform for a much-needed recovery. Mark Ogden

Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal

 ... and Redknapp is also struggling with it

Queens Park Rangers manager Harry Redknapp defended his decision to play with three centre backs at Tottenham, but there are question marks over how effective the formation is in the Premier League.

Redknapp’s QPR and Louis van Gaal’s Manchester United are yet to win a Premier League game this season after introducing the 3-5-2 system at their respective clubs.

Hull City have largely played with the formation for the last couple of seasons and manager Steve Bruce has so far enjoyed more success than Redknapp and Van Gaal with it in England.

Although their central defenders have not been performing particularly well, with the exception of Phil Jones, it is the wing backs who are causing Redknapp and Van Gaal the biggest problems.

Mauricio Isla suffered a difficult debut against Tottenham, with the White Hart Lane club constantly doubling up on his side with Danny Rose and Nacer Chadli. As a result, Steve Caulker was dragged over to the right, leaving Rio Ferdinand exposed in the middle.

Ashley Young has also struggled with the defensive side of his duties in a wing-back role for United and was caught out in the home defeat to Swansea City.

Redknapp admitted after the Spurs game that he has switched to 3-5-2 because Loic Remy does not like playing up front on his own, while Van Gaal appears to be trying to accommodate both Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie.

Other than asking Bruce for tips, Redknapp and Van Gaal are faced with the choice of defiantly sticking with the formation or making a brave decision over their strikers. Matt Law

QPR defender Richard Dunne is challenged by Nacer Chadli of Spurs during the Premier League match at White Hart Lane. Photo: Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

Things could turn very ugly at Newcastle

There has been a lot of talk of fresh optimism surrounding Newcastle United as a result of the nine signing the club have made over the summer, but in truth it has not been enough to completely remove the bitterness and resentment that soured the end of last season.

Manager Alan Pardew is certainly sitting a lot more comfortably in the manager’s chair than he was in May, but discontent continues to fester and the misgivings about his ability to lead the team remain.

The squad is undoubtedly stronger than it was at the end of last season, but there are still many supporters who believe Pardew should have been sacked over the summer and the ill-feeling towards owner Mike Ashley is likely to remain until he sells the club and the Sports Direct signs that cover St James’ Park are taken down for good.

Newcastle fans have been forced to accept there is little they can do about Ashley, but Pardew is far more vulnerable. Fans who call for a manager’s head almost always get their way if they do so loudly enough.

With that in mind, Pardew – who was the target for sustained calls for head at the end of last season - needs a good performance and a victory at home to managerless Crystal Palace on Saturday.

Newcastle have played pretty well so far this season, but they have not scored any goals and the folly of a summer recruitment drive that has so far failed to fill the most obvious gap in the squad – a goalscorer - is becoming increasingly apparent.

They are still trying to sign a replacement for last season’s top scorer Loic Remy, but it is far from certain they will succeed. That would leave Pardew with a talented group of players, but without anyone who is going to put the ball in the back of the net with any sort of regularity.

That probably isn’t his fault, but he will take the blame anyway. Newcastle have won only one game in ten, his cautious tactics are already being criticised this season and there is no goodwill left from the club’s fifth-place finish back in 2012 to fall back on.

Fail to impress against Palace and things will start to turn ugly again very, very quickly. Luke Edwards

Newcastle United manager Alan Pardew wants his side to be more clinical in front of goal

Should timeouts be brought into football?

No great surprise to hear Jose Mourinho suggest a change to the rules that would put even more spotlight on managers and give them an even greater possibility to influence a game. Mourinho said that he wanted to stop Saturday’s 2-0 win against Leicester City after only 10 minutes and have the chance to give a team-talk. His suggestion, as in American sports, is for football to allow time-outs to managers – one in each half – during which the game would be stopped and they could speak to their players.

“Football is very slow to change the rules,” said Mourinho. “How many years have we had to wait for goalline technology? I hope I am still in football when they give the coach the chance to stop the game during the first half once and during the second half because you can make the game much better.” Mourinho then cited how Louis van Gaal had effectively done this in the World Cup with Holland during a drinks break.

So is it a good idea? The big concern would be the extent to which a match was interrupted and how it could be used to slow down a game or even time-waste. Advertisers will also be salivating at the idea. Mourinho’s suggestion of four time-outs between the two teams is surely too much. But his idea is not completely without merit. It would represent an extra test of managers and would certainly bring added interest to a match. As well as the tactical input, you could imagine how a time-out might be used by a manager like Mourinho who is so fond of mind-games.

So perhaps the answer could be only one time-out for each manager per match. And a strict time limit of, say two or three minutes, that must be enforced. The best managers can get their message across in that time and it would certainly provide another level of intrigue. Jeremy Wilson

Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho has challenged his side to improve on their performance against Leicester

Delph is ready for an England call-up

Roy Hodgson will name his first England squad since the World Cup debacle later this week and there is a growing sense that Fabian Delph could be included.

Hodgson was at Villa Park on Saturday and with only six Englishmen starting, it has raised hopes of Delph earning his first call-up to the senior squad.

With injuries to Ross Barkley, Michael Carrick and Adam Lallana, Hodgson’s midfield options are severely limited and the Aston Villa star is likely to get the nod.

It would certainly be deserved and not simply further evidence of the lack of quality available to the national team.

After struggling with injuries early in his Villa career, Delph has been consistent for the past two seasons and also impressive against Newcastle.

He will deserve international recognition, if indeed it comes, and will also further enhance the wave of optimism that has swept around B6. John Percy

Villa 5.jpg
Aston Villa's Fabian Delph and Stoke City's Glenn Whelan clash. Photo credit: Lynne Cameron/PA Wire.

Leicester lack strength in depth

On the face of things, it was an immensely encouraging weekend for Leicester. They matched the title favourites for more than an hour, and could even have won if David Nugent had put away his one-on-one chance. Dean Hammond had a wonderful game, winger Riyad Mahrez looks a real find, and striker Jamie Vardy should be fit to return against Arsenal this Sunday.

So what’s the problem? The problem is that Leicester are one injury crisis away from disaster. Nigel Pearson has struggled to bring in new faces over the summer, although the arrival of Esteban Cambiasso may well be close. Cambiasso in many ways epitomises Leicester’s difficulties: the Premier League transfer market, with its myriad agents, advisors, kick-backs and clauses, is a completely different game to what Pearson will have been used to. “There seem to be so many representatives,” he moaned on Saturday. “Finding out who’s actually doing the deal has been the biggest problem for us.”

It is an issue that could make or break Leicester’s season. They have easily enough quality to stay up. Whether they have the depth is another matter. Jonathan Liew

Leicester City's Jeffrey Schlupp battles with Andre Schurrle of Chelsea during the Premier League game at Stamford Bridge. Photo: Paul Gilham/Getty Images

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