England vs Slovenia – A Preview

22 06 2010

I just saw Piers Morgan’s team for the Slovenia game. 4-4-2, Lampard and Gerrard as the central pair with ‘Crouchy’ up front and SWP on the wing. Didn’t exactly inspire me. Well, that’s not true, it inspired me to write this.. a few thoughts on the credible alternatives facing Capello right now..

The first thing to say is that a change of shape appears both necessary and inevitable. To say that 4-4-2 is an old-fashioned and discredited formation is patently untrue. What is true, and has been for some time now, is that the formation does not suit the players at England’s disposal. After a sensational free-scoring season for Man Utd, often playing alone as a central forward, the notion that Emile Heskey is there ‘to get the best out of Wayne Rooney’ should have been questioned. From the moment Wayne Rooney said he preferred to play on his own up front, it should have been filed in the tray marked Plan B.  When you throw in the fact that the players arguably need the psychological boost of being told that it was the formation that was the problem then we are probably heading inexorably towards some sort of variation of 4-5-1.

The two best options for England and Fabio Capello involve bringing in either Michael Carrick or Joe Cole:

1) Michael Carrick

The case for Michael Carrick’s inclusion has been made in more depth and more persuasively than I could hope to in several articles by Zonal Marking over the past few months. Suffice to say, when on form, he is positionally excellent and has a good range of passing in his repertoire. Those articles argue for his inclusion alongside Gareth Barry with Frank Lampard ahead of them and Steven Gerrard wide left in a 4-2-3-1. This formation would clearly give Rooney his desired role as a lone frontman and, perhaps equally significantly, give Lampard more attacking freedom. Of course, Steven Gerrard remains out on the left-flank which is not ideal. However, he is playing out of position as it is and at least in a 4-2-3-1 there is a chance that Barry can cover the problems caused by Gerrard’s positional wanderings somewhat better than seems to be the case in a 4-4-2. This formation would hopefully see Barry and Carrick secure control of the midfield and give England’s star players the platform from which they can go play and score goals.





2) Joe Cole

You could be forgiven for thinking Joe Cole has been England’s player of the World Cup thus far judging by the kind words written and spoken about him over the past week. What started as a Joe Cole or Adam Johnson debate last month has now become, according to John Terry at least, a case of Joe Cole being one of only two players who can unlock opposition defences. Good progress for a man who has seen no match action thus far. It is fair to say, however, that he does give England something different. While Wright-Phillips and Lennon have that ability to stretch the play, only Cole has that combination of dribbling skills and guile that England appear to have been sorely lacking. If he is to be involved it would seem likely to be from the left-wing, freeing Gerrard up to take his preferred role playing off Rooney. Cole had some success here in 2006 for England, emerging as one of the side’s better performers with his stunning goal against Sweden the highlight.

3) Others

There have been alternative ideas floated. As I write this, there is talk of Jermain Defoe joining Rooney up front and Shaun Wright-Phillips replacing Aaron Lennon on the right-wing. This formation would be in keeping with the shape Capello favoured throughout qualifying. However, with SWP merely a like-for-like swap for Lennon the change is partly cosmetic and perhaps fails to get to the root of the problem – England are just not functioning as a team.


England have stumbled through the first two games of this World Cup and the reasons are many. The feeling persists though, that there are quality players in the squad who could take England far deeper into the tournament than currently looks likely. The key is getting the best out of them. That task is a psychological and motivational one but it is also tactical. The options discussed above would surely give Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard every chance of succeeding. If one of the options is taken then let us hope the players make it work. And if Capello does not opt for these changes, let us hope it does not cost us.


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.


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.