Mark Holmes has criticism for Everton defender John Stones but lots of praise for Leicester City and a defence of Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil.
ENGLAND CANNOT AFFORD TO TAKE STONES RISK
John Stones was the subject of four bids from Chelsea over the summer, the last one of which was reported to be worth £37million.
The Everton centre-back has also been linked at various stages with Arsenal, Manchester City, Manchester United, Bayern Munich, Barcelona and Real Madrid.
Quite clearly, there is something special about the 21-year-old. His ability to carry the ball out of defence is certainly a fairly unique trait among English defenders.
It’s rather more difficult to pinpoint what feature of his game, however, has apparently attracted the top three clubs in Europe, in particular Barca and Real given the raft of ball-playing centre-backs in Spain. Stones’ traits most definitely aren’t unique on the continent.
More pertinently, from an England point of view, Stones is currently so naive defensively that Roy Hodgson simply cannot afford to take a risk on him at the Euro 2016 finals.
Yes, he can start an attack, but his confidence on the ball led to Swansea City’s opener in their win at Goodison on Sunday, just as it had nearly got him into trouble against Tottenham earlier this month when he upset supporters with a succession of Cruyff turns inside his own penalty area.
Also within the last month, Stones gave away a penalty against Stoke City after a sliding challenge on Marko Arnautovic in stoppage time before somehow escaping it happening for a second time when he slid in and took out Raheem Sterling, again in the final minutes of the game, in Everton’s draw at Manchester City.
Roberto Martinez defended his player on both occasions, but instead he ought to be working on the decision making of a player that has started all but two games for the team with the worst home defensive record in the Premier League this season.
Tim Howard was equally to blame for Swansea’s opener, while the Toffees’ forward line-up did not cover themselves glory, but Stones’ unreliability is costing Everton and must not be allowed to cost England too in France this summer.
NO TEAM MORE EFFECTIVE THAN LEICESTER
I have been guilty, like many people, of assuming that Leicester City would eventually drop out of Premier League title contention.
There is still every chance they might, with games at Manchester City and Arsenal to come in February plus trips to Manchester United and Chelsea to follow in the final three weeks of the season, but having watched them in action against Stoke City on Saturday I would be hugely surprised if they didn’t at least secure a Champions League place.
In the games I have watched this season, I have not seen a more effective team.
Defensively, though they don’t have a centre-half likely to attract the sort of interest that Stones has, they have two in Robert Huth and Wes Morgan that are very good at doing what defenders should be good at above all else – defending. They’re brave, positionally disciplined, strong in the air and not afraid to clear their lines.
The Foxes’ whole spine, in fact, is fantastic. Behind Huth and Morgan is an excellent goalkeeper in Kasper Schmeichel, and in front of them is a partnership so good that they don’t need a third midfielder to make up the numbers as many teams do. N’Golo Kante has earned plenty of plaudits for his performances, but Danny Drinkwater alongside him hugely impressed me against Stoke with his ambitious passing.
Eyebrows have been raised at Leicester’s pass completion ratio, which is the worst in the Premier League, but it’s actually a positive statistic. While many of the modern-age central midfielders spend most of their time between two centre-backs playing simple passes, Leicester’s playmaker looks to play a telling pass as quickly as possible.
And in Jamie Vardy, of course, the Foxes have a player capable of outrunning more than most to get on the end of those balls over the top. He has done it countless times this season and did exactly that again to score the second goal against Stoke on Saturday.
Out wide, much has been said about Riyad Mahrez, whereas the fact that Marc Albrighton has fired in more unsuccessful crosses than any other player in the Premier League might lead many to believe he is a possible weak link in Claudio Ranieri’s line-up. But it’s just another successful aspect of the Foxes’ gameplan.
While Mahrez runs at the defence on one side of the pitch, Albrighton continually puts balls into the box from the other. Add to that Vardy chasing balls over the top and Shinji Okazaki dropping deep. There is so much variety to Leicester’s attacking play that it is incredibly hard to defend against.
They also work remarkably hard, pressing just as well as Tottenham do under Mauricio Pochettino, and on Saturday nullified Stoke to such an extent that they created only one chance in the entire 90 minutes.
Neither their performance nor the result attracted too many headlines, but this is one observer that is now well and truly on board with the Leicester buzz.
OZIL CRITICS QUICKLY OUT OF THE WOODWORK
Mesut Ozil has never fully won over this country. Perhaps it’s because of his running style – nothing gets fans of English football excited like pace and power – or perhaps it’s because he’s shy, humble and not particularly quotable. Whatever the reason, Ozil is only seemingly only one quiet performance away from criticism.
Adrian Durham questioned Ozil’s ‘commitment to the cause’ for missing last weekend’s draw at Stoke City with a slight injury, and now the Daily Star’s David Woods has accused the German of ‘failing to deliver’ when it mattered against Chelsea on Sunday.
‘When Arsene Wenger and Arsenal needed him most, the World Cup winner failed to deliver,’ Woods wrote.
‘It didn’t look like he saw fellow team-mate Per Mertesacker’s sending-off in the 18th minute as his cue to put in an inspirational performance.
‘When you have such a relaxed and languid style as Ozil it looks fine and dandy when you are winning.
‘At 1-0 down, with 10 men, and facing your bogey team, such apparent strolling doesn’t seem quite so cool though.’
It is, of course, complete nonsense. Ozil may not have had his best of games against Chelsea, somewhat understandably so after Arsene Wenger withdrew Olivier Giroud after only 22 minutes, but charging aimlessly around the pitch wouldn’t have changed that, though it may well have kept tub-thumpers like Woods happy.
Nobody expects James Milner to play like Mesut Ozil when Liverpool are playing badly so why expect Mesut Ozil to play like James Milner when Arsenal are?