Alan Pardew's Euro Zone: Put your money on England to snatch a draw
A look at Euro 2012 with the Premier League manager of the year
Sunday 10 June 2012
In the first game of a three-match group it is important not to lose, which is one reason why my gut feeling about England's opener against France tomorrow is that it will be a draw. As it happens I was on holiday in France last week and I watched their final warm-up game, against Estonia, with some of the locals. They were, understandably, impressed by much of the football in a 4-0 win. But they also expressed some concern about France's defence.
What Laurent Blanc has got France doing well is moving the ball very fast, one-touch or two-touch. They are really slick and my worry would be that Steven Gerrard and Scott Parker in the centre of midfield could get outnumbered and outpassed. If we let them gain control of that area we will be in trouble. I know Ashley Young has played right up with the main striker in England's two warm-up games but I think he will have to drop off the front man to help to contain Franck Ribéry and the rest.
That No 10 role is crucial in international football and it will be key for every team that wants to be successful. Wayne Rooney does it brilliantly for England, either moving up front or dropping in to strengthen the midfield. He is a big miss and we just have to hope England can take, say, four points from France and Sweden before his return.
James Milner, who I expect to start rather than Theo Walcott, will have to work hard too in that central area. Walcott can be an impact substitute if necessary and I think it works better that way round. Milner probably has the best engine in the Premier League. The figures we see, which record every player's mileage in every game, show him right up there.
England's defence looks very solid. Our back five, including Joe Hart, must be as good as anyone's in the tournament and even if Ashley Cole still has a problem, Leighton Baines is not a bad replacement, is he? I hope we don't sit back, but go out and make a statement in Roy Hodgson's first competitive game. But if it's still level at about 75 minutes I could see both teams settling for the draw, which would certainly not be a bad result.
Why Carroll would be my man in middle
Although I suspect Danny Welbeck has edged Andy Carroll for the main striker's position, I would play Andy because he really would upset the two French centre-halves, who look something of a weak link to me.
Even against Estonia France appeared jittery at the back and that is something we have to try to exploit, which is why I hope we push on and have a go at them. The choice for main striker is a tough decision. They have both linked up well with Young and as with Milner and Walcott, whichever way it works, you have the option of a very useful substitute coming into the game later with fresh legs.
Welbeck scored that fine goal against Belgium last week and he can go in behind the defence and frighten them with his pace, whereas having worked with Andy I know his hold-up play and physical presence, especially at set plays, is something completely different. At the last World Cup something like 65 per cent of the goals came either from set plays or the next phase afterwards and it's an aspect of the game that in England we're very good at. It's something we all do a lot of work on and having been up against teams coached by Roy and Ray Lewington, I know they will have them well drilled.
Defending corners and free-kicks is just as important as using attacking ones and it was interesting that Roy said after the Norway friendly that he kept Andy on the pitch because of his height and ability when the Norwegians were putting us under pressure with long throws as well. Andy did very well there. He would not let anyone down.
Irish getting in their excuses
I don't like the noises coming out of the Irish camp about working too hard after a long season. It's the sort of thing players can use as an excuse if things go wrong. I see Giovanni Trapattoni, who is a wise old coach, gave them one day off but the reason why he would have had them working is that the Irish are going to have to put in more effort than all their opponents, starting with Croatia today.
So I can understand the marker he has put down. Like England, they will have a problem if they stick to a rigid 4-4-2 and one of those strikers will have to work back in midfield. That will almost certainly be Robbie Keane, who seemed to have lost something on loan at West Ham but came back well with Aston Villa for a couple of months after Christmas.
I would like to see James McClean start on the left, although Aiden McGeady may get the vote. McClean has quality and confidence and is very good at getting on that far post when crosses come in. But it is a very tough group for them.
Scouts ready to have a field day
Just about every Premier League club will have scouts in Poland and Ukraine. From Newcastle's perspective there are obviously players we know very well; there is one in particular I am keen to look at. The worry is that if they do too well the agents and the player are suddenly in a stronger position and the cost goes up.
So as a manager you're hoping they do OK but not too well! Our chief scout, Graham Carr, who has done a great job, will be out there and I am delighted that the club rewarded him at the end of last week with a long contract.
Managers often get the plaudits for a good signing but these guys are easily underrated. Graham had already brought people like Cheick Tioté to the club and he pointed me in the direction of people like Yoann Cabaye and Papiss Cissé who have been invaluable. So it's richly deserved reward for him.
I fear a game will be called off
It was shocking to hear about Dutch players being abused at a public training session in Krakow. I can never remember a tournament where this was such a concern and it is now possible to imagine a referee taking the teams off or even abandoning a game if it gets out of hand. It is a very delicate one but I imagine the officials have been carefully briefed and I can understand the coaches wanting the matter to be left up to them.
As I said last week, it is a matter of educating ignorant people.
Arshavin is out to prove his point
It was good to see the competition starting with some open, end-to-end games, as opposed to some previous tournaments when defences have had the upper hand. You would have to say though that it was tough on the Greek defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos to be sent off for those two particular yellow cards.
The penalty and sending off of Wojciech Szczesny were fair. He has had a chequered career with some great displays and some clangers. Then another Arsenal player took centre stage: Andrey Arshavin, a great talent but a temperamental one, looked in Russia's excellent win as though his head is in the right place. Maybe he wants to prove something to Arsène Wenger...
Alan Pardew will be writing each week during the tournament
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