England Problems All Too Familiar

13 06 2010

There has certainly been a lot of disappointment over England’s result / performance last night. BBC’s Phil McNulty claimed there were  ”very few positives” but this seems overly harsh simply because there were very few surprises either…

Robert Green’s error will take the headlines and it was indeed a shocker. To hear Gerrard and Terry blame the ball is commendable loyalty but when Green made similar comments it just felt too much. This was horrible goalkeeping. The disappointing thing is that any straw poll would show that Green is the 3rd choice keeper in the eyes of fans, journalists and ex-pros. Committee is no way to run a football team but the proof is in the pudding and Capello clearly got this decision wrong when most others would have got it right.

The defence is one area I would point to when people question the lack of positives. Glen Johnson got through a fair bit of good work and you would have to say had a good game. Ashley Cole was not a force going forwards, which for England is a huge problem as he is vital to the side as an attacking outlet, but he was solid and did his job defensively. John Terry put in a strong performance amid the chaos of his ever-changing centre back partner so you could argue three of the back four did well.

Of course, defence is all about how you work as a unit rather than individually and England’s high line as they pressed forward left the ageing Jamie Carragher vulnerable late on. Again, legitimate questions can be asked of Capello. Ledley King’s injury was nothing if not predictable and the selection of Carragher to play with Terry does mean a lack of pace at the heart of England’s defence. It does not feel a good fit and, as a side issue, if Carragher is the next cab off the rank does an injury to Glen Johnson mean further disruption? Why was Dawson called up as a 5th choice centre-back rather than a reserve right-back or even an Adam Johnson or Theo Walcott? Unconvincing stuff.

In midfield, we are back with Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard in the centre.  Lampard had a quiet game but his partnership with Gerrard was at least responsible. It was admittedly not the biggest test though with the US central midfielders rarely advancing. Gerrard got the goal and showed glimpses of a return to form but it is hard to see reason to be surprised by anything we saw here – the Lampard and Gerrard debate is well trodden ground. Of course, they can play together but if they are going to be handed the responsibility of sharing defensive duties it is nonsensical for anyone to expect them both to play with the freedom we see of them with their clubs. In this instance, it was a subdued display from Lampard and one that should not have come as a shock to any England supporter.

Aaron Lennon was in and out the game but did have the beating of his full-back at times. He should perhaps have done better when put through in the first half when he could have shot or picked a pass but only succeeded in finding the defender with his attempted cross. As I write the last two sentences it occurs to me that I could have written them in advance or indeed at any time in the last three or four years.. and about any one of Lennon, Theo Walcott and Shaun Wright-Phillips. Ahh SWP.. a baffling choice from Capello a la Sven’s decision to bring on Darius Vassell in 2004.. never the best at retaining possession, Wright-Phillips struggled for much of the hour he was on the field and you couldn’t help but feel Joe Cole would have been a preferable option.

In attack, Wayne Rooney was fairly quiet and this could be a source of frustration as clearly much was expected. Emile Heskey impressed with his overall contribution however. Leading the line, taking the knocks and bringing others into play with his unselfish running, never more so than with his assist for Gerrard’s goal. In short, it was everything that you expect from Heskey at his best. Unfortunately, he fluffed his lines in all too predictable fashion when put clean through by Lennon as he fired straight at Tim Howard. Thus, big Emile completed his ‘classic’ performance.

Conclusions

The real source of frustration is not the result or even the performance. A draw hardly threatens England’s qualification hopes and the performance was far from a disaster. The problem is that this was the moment it became apparent to everyone that the reality is there is no Capello masterplan. 4-4-2. Lampard-Gerrard. Two wingers. Big Emile up top. It is a team and a style of play that could have come from Graham Taylor, Sven Goran Eriksson or countless others. In short, it was everything we might have expected.