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Saturday, May 26, 2012

PREMIER REPORT

Hodgson will need improved Carroll


LONDON — Roy Hodgson makes his debut as England manager in this weekend's friendly against Norway when he will select a side that will have little in common with the team he will choose to face France in the opening match of Euro 2012.

Christopher Davies

The game in Oslo is the first of two pre-Euro friendlies — Belgium at Wembley next Saturday, when the Hawk-Eye goal-line technology will be used, is the other — and the new manager will be without the Chelsea contingent of John Terry, Gary Cahill, Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard, who have been given extra time off after their Champions League exertions; Wayne Rooney, suspended for the first two matches, will not be considered for the friendlies; Glen Johnson and Scott Parker will not be risked because of injuries.

The center of attention will be Liverpool striker Andy Carroll, who is set to lead the attack in the absence of Rooney. Carroll has one goal from his three international appearances but finished the season strongly with two outstanding displays against Chelsea. Rio Ferdinand's supporters will point out that Carroll overpowered John Terry in these matches yet the Chelsea captain was still chosen ahead of the Manchester United defender "for football reasons."

At Newcastle, where Carroll learned his trade, they made sure they got the ball to him as quickly and often as possible, the striker using his 191-cm frame to dominate in the air.

His £35 million move to Liverpool saw Carroll struggle to impose himself as he had previously to the extent the most expensive English footballer became the butt of jokes, "The F.A. have brought in a new ruling — anyone found passing to Andy Carroll will automatically receive a yellow card for time-wasting,"

If Hodgson goes with a central striker flanked by two other attackers, Carroll is the only one of the trio suited to such a role. Should the new manager decide on two up front, Carroll's ability to hold the ball up and bring other players into the game would be ideal for the nippy Jermain Defoe.

The Harry Redknapp fan club among the media will no doubt be ready to pounce if England fails to win in style, but Hodgson will be looking for individual positives from Oslo, none more than Carroll.

* * *

A WEEK after the most incredible, unlikely and still unbelievable Champions League victory by the worst Chelsea side in Roman Abramovich's nine-year tenure, Roberto di Matteo is still the interim manager. Chelsea beat a Bayern Munich side who had dominated the Blues for most of the 120 minutes, as Barcelona did in the semifinals, by defending in a manner that was effective but as difficult to penetrate as it was to watch.

Like the Catalans, the Bavarians were profligate, both sides missing penalties which were both conceded by the hero of the night in Munich, Didier Drogba who, to the surprise of no one in the end, won the match with his shootout spot-kick. There was a growing sense of inevitability about this.

Most interim managers who had the F.A. Cup and Champions League on their CV within two weeks of each other would have been handed the job permanently but Chelsea is not like most clubs. Or to be more precise, Abramovich is not like any other owner. Di Matteo has been left in limbo, the Russian and his advisers no doubt aware that while Chelsea did brilliantly to overcome two teams which were technically better it, parking the bus in your penalty area is not a tactic that wins the Premier League.

You do not beat Stoke, West Bromwich, West Ham or Everton by adopting what is almost a 8-1-1 formation and in the league under RDM Chelsea, who finished sixth, picked up 15 out of a possible 33 points.

With Pep Guardiola on a year's sabbatical and Jose Mourinho signing a new contract at Real Madrid, Abramovich's options are limited but Laurent Blanc, whose contract with France ends after Euro 2012, remains a leading contender.

The new head coach will have to do without the services of Drogba, who announced his departure from Stamford Bridge earlier this week. The Ivorian's Chelsea career has seen its share of controversies and to many he will be remembered as a player built like a heavyweight boxer who goes over with the slightest touch. But Drogba invariably saved his best for the big occasion and his nine goals in finals for Chelsea underlines his value to the side when it really mattered.

* * *

I HAD hoped the Football Association would not so much throw the book at the odious Joey Barton as the entire library. The 12-match ban plus a £75,000 fine handed to him for three charges of violent conduct in Queens Park Rangers' final game of the season against Manchester City was something of a result.

It means the soon to be former QPR captain will not be available to play again until December 1. Rangers, who are holding a private inquiry into Barton's behavior at the Etihad Stadium, have three realistic options: to pay him his basic salary of £80,000 a week for four months' training, terminating his contract, worth £10.5 million over the next three years or paying him off.

Rangers will seek legal advice about sacking Barton but a few years ago a player broke the jaw of a teammate after a row about a game of cards and after 12 different disciplinary hearings it was ruled not to be a sackable offense. Only on Planet Football could anyone get away with this.

Last summer, a newspaper linked Barton with Manchester United, prompting the response from Sir Alex Ferguson: "What sort of manager do they think I am?"

Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.


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