Editors note: Some nice thoughts here from JDW on the GB U.A.E game, specifically the performance of Tom Cleverley, who is getting some very good games under his belt in preparation for the Premier League season, which starts a three weeks today (I think....)
We might as well have one of these. :)
Some quick thoughts on GB vs UAE:
I thought Cleverley was easily Man of the Match. Consistently active both in possession and out of possession. Quick, short passing distributing the ball and avoiding UAE's pressure. Rarely tried to do too much. The Giggs goal summed up his day: very nice run by Ryan where Tom made himself available for the pass, then not wasting anytime swinging it to Bellamy while Ryan makes a good run to the back door. I'm sure if anyone else in GB's MF would have made the pass the way they were playing yesterday. The pass to Sturridge was terrific. The play where he hit the post was excellent as well: very nice pass to Bellamy, then at a time when no one else seemingly wanting to support Bellamy's run, Tom bolted down the pitch and was ready to receive the cutback. Too bad that didn't go in.
There were other things I liked from Tom. There was one time in the second half where he was just slightly off on a pass in one of those "good idea, almost" passes that turned it over. UAE pushed the counter fast, and you could see Tom busting his ass chasing the play to get back to support the defense. Any number of other players, even seasoned vets, could have spent more time pouting the turnover rather than having the brain instantly flip this way:
"Shit... well... gotta get back... damn, they're breaking hard... gotta get back fast..."
Which leads into the second point:
I think Allen was poor relative to a good game in the opener. Just didn't seem sharp at all. Don't know if it was due to carrying the injury, or what it was. The goal struck me as being more on Allen than Tomkins: Eisa blew past Allen, who was slow to respond. In turn Eisa ran into space, forcing Tomkins to try to get there too late. This came at the climax of a stretch in the second half where Pearce pushed Tom to the top of the MF trio with Giggs dropping back and Allen in kinda-sorta-Holding. In the first half, Giggs has largely been at the top, Allen going a bit more regularly advanced than he had been in the opener, and Tom at times the deepest and other times going into runner mode to support the attack. It's possible that Pearce saw the best three moments of the first half coming from Tom passes:
* to Bellamy to set up Giggs
* to Bellamy in what should have again set up another teammate by Bellamy shot poorly on goal
* to Bellamy then cut back for Tom to hit the posts
Perhaps in seeing those, Pearce thought it wise to push Tom up to start the second half. Bad idea. Allen and Giggs weren't so hot in having to control the MF. Not just the goal given up, but UAE looked for all the world like they would get another before the Sinclair goal changed the game again.
Anyway, Allen struck me as poor relative to the opener. Giggs had perhaps three or four moments, one of them a big one. He's not at the level he played in the 2010/11 run in, which sadly I think will be the last time we see him be "great". I'm happy he got the goal, and it would be nice if this team at least got a bronze to Giggsy had a "national team" honor to go with all the United ones. Ramsey...
Good lord was he awful. The contrast with Tom was amazing. Ramsey was consistently holding the ball too long, trying to beat his man and not doing so well, missing opportunities to quickly pass to teammates, oblivious to teammates making runs... pretty jaw dropping bad performance. There was talk patting Pearce on the head for having another man in MF, but he added a useless man. I don't typically loath him, though there are times where he's been overwhelmed at Arsenal. On Sunday...bad.
The hype will be on Bellamy, but I thought he was 50/50. The two similar plays with Tom in the first half summed him up: one lead to a nice cross for Giggs goal, while the other he got goofy and too a shot that he had no chance on. There were times when he over dribbled into nothing, and time when he remembered he had teammates and played them good balls. It seemed that he had so much space and speed to work on that left side, which UAE doing very little to quickly shut him down, that he went into Video Game mode of thinking he could beat his man all the time. I would have preferred a Valencia style performance when Tony knows that he can beat his man all night, and his teammates know it and keep feeding him, and in turn keep moving to space where Tony can get them the ball, and 98% of the time Tony is focused on getting the ball back. Bellamy tend to have a few moments where the head is down and the other 9 outfield teammates don't exist. :)
GB's defense is an odd mess. They are getting caught out too much, and their communication / organization seems like shite. It was smart to get Micah back on the rights, but it's not like the middle duo improved: it just played better to Micah. I want to like Caulker, but he hasn't looked good... well, he's only looked good in contrast to his partners (Micah in the first game and Tomkins in the second game) have looked worse.
In a sense, you feel a bit bad for Pearce because his likely team when looking ahead from last summer would have had Smalling & Jones paired in the middle, with a year at United working together to improve their partnership. A strong CB duo with a good understanding of each other covers for a lot. Add those two with Micah and you have 3/4 of a very strong backline. Instead, Jones and Smalling advanced too far on the national team (as did Welbeck who could have been here), and Pearce is stuck with this. A bit unfortunate.
I'm a little ambivalent on Sordell and Sturridge. I would need to watch the game again with a focus on Sordell to pick up everything he was doing, and admittedly I was tracking Tom a lot, Bellamy got camera attention (along with a ton of the ball), Ramsey's horrid performance was distracting me... and Sordell just slip my attention. Sturridge was Sturridge, which is the positives with the negatives. He does some things brilliant, but he remains frustratingly Sturridge-centric in how he plays. It's a style of play where you would put up with it if it nets you 25+ goals a year, but annoys the heck out of you if it's 15. He's certainly talented enough to score a lot... and to drive you crazy. The goal was a nice run, terrific pass from Tom, and excellent finish. Beauty of a goal all around. But there also were times where you could see teammates giving him a few choice words for having blinders on.
Anyway, GB is through, and aren't in bad shape if they can win their group and avoid the Brasil half of the bracket. Brasil have hardly been world beaters in their group, but their attack would present a lot of problems for GB's flakey defense.