Sunday, 27 June 2010

How the Don was Done

Like many other England fans, I like 'Don' Fabio Capello. I respect his managerial record, as anyone who has won leagues in every country he has managed in deserves respect. I don't agree with that rot about managing at international level being a whole new level - it's different, and you can't just buy your way out of trouble in the transfer window like whoever is managing Real Madrid at any given time. But respect him or not, he has made several key tactical errors at this world cup that have cost England dear.

As is always the way in key England defeats, there has to be a scapegoat and calls are already being made for video technology to prevent incidents like the Lampard 'goal' that would have pulled England level before half-time. Not that this addresses the glaring issues that England have technically, but we'll come back to those in just a moment. 4 - 1 flattered Germany, but they were deserving winners nonetheless and we cannot allow the goal that wasn't to distract us from England's obvious failings during the game.

To begin with, England have an over-reliance on key players who have a knack for not performing in the national shirt. Rooney has previously carried the England team single-handedly, but in this tournament he has been little short of a liability, and when he is not scoring, England do not score. Lampard and Gerrard in England shirts are shadows of their club selves, and their frequent no-shows stymie the attacking instincts of Glen Johnson and Ashley Cole.

The lack of width on the pitch is a disappointing factor in England's failure. The best England teams have always had flying wingers, and the goal against Slovenia on Wednesday came from interlink between Johnson and Milner on England's right wing. Against Germany, Milner was withdrawn early for Joe Cole and Gerrard pulled inside, meaning that England effectively had no wingers at all. Milner crossed at will in the first 45 minutes as Jerome Boateng seemed uninterested in closing him down, but in the second half, even with momentum, England never looked like breaking through packed German defences.

Commentators always suggest that Gerrard should play behind Rooney in a 4 - 4 - 1 - 1 formation - though it is worth suggesting that Liverpool employ him in this way and they certainly didn't look much this season, even with a world-class forward up front. Gerrard does not look to me like an inspiring captain. John Terry at least looks the part as a leader. It is a shame that he doesn't look the part as a defender.

Terry's positioning was poor, and the naivety of his defensive partner Matthew Upson was repeatedly and ruthlessly exposed by Germany's incisiveness. Playmaker Mesut Ozil was not troubled by the man-marking of Gareth Barry, and indeed probably should have scored himself before Germany's opener.

That opener - a tragi-comic effort from Klose which resulted from a simple run onto a bouncing goal kick, followed by a dip of his shoulders that shrugged off a challenge made almost as an afterthought and ended with an inevitable touch beyond the keeper. The BBC commentators described it as a typical Sunday pub-team goal - and in terms of the ability shown, it was probably a generous comparison for England. Sluggish defending followed again minutes later as Thomas Muller's deft touch set up Lukas Podolski for a second. The Germans are hard enough to beat anyway, without giving them a two-goal headstart.

It should have been so different. Unlike many times when England have struggled in the past, this was not due to their inability to get the ball, in fact quite the opposite. Germany sat off and allowed England to have as much of the ball as they wanted. They did not press at all until England got within thirty yards of their goal, so there was really no excuse for England's lacklustre passing and utter wastefulness in possession.

Don Fabio made several critical errors in his assessment of England's ability against quality opposition. He also made bizarre substitutions, taking off Defoe at a time when England needed goals and finally bringing on a winger for a defender when the game was already lost. There will be talks with the FA about where the England team goes from here - as I write this, it seems likely that Fabio will stay on to honour his contract, but 24 hours is a long-time in football. Should the Don decide to step aside, you can rest assured that I am immediately available for the vacant post, and my analysis of England is as follows:

Goalkeeper: England went for their best option in selecting David James, but this tournament was undoubtedly his swansong. While I am a keen fan of Robert Green and know he is a much better shot-stopper than his gaffe against the US would suggest, on the evidence I have seen Joe Hart is the future of England goalkeeping, and bearing out injury, should be assured of his place in the next Euro Championship qualifiers.

Defence: Ashley Cole and Glen Johnson are capable full backs, and they should be encouraged to maraud forward for England at every opportunity. If we cannot defend, we may as well try to score more than our opponents, and in tight matches attacking full-backs can make the difference. Look at Maicon for Brazil.

The central defensive partnership is more troublesome. Terry will probably be good for one more European competition, but both he and Jamie Carragher are now clearly on the wane and cannot offer the reliability that they once did against fast strikers. Ledley King is frequently unfit and that leaves Upson to forge a partnership with a up-and-coming youngster, such as Huddlestone.

Midfield: It's been analysed to death, but whether they can or can't work together, history suggests that Lampard and Gerrard simply won't. Perhaps they are too similar, perhaps they are both attack minded and England would work better with a defensive midfielder, if a suitable one can be found. Barry is hard-working and a better player than many people give him credit for, but he is not the world-class puller-of-strings that England so desperately need. Gerrard is absent on the left-hand side of a four man midfield, a spot which should naturally fall to Joe Cole or youngster Adam Johnson. It will be interesting to see if he develops more swiftly than Theo Walcott, who will probably regain his place in future at the expense of the unfortunate James Milner.

Attack: Rooney...such a world-class talent when he is fit, a sulking shadow when he is off the pace. Above all, coaches have to realise that anyone, even Rooney, can be dropped when he is not playing well. Heskey holds up the ball and wins free-kicks but England simply cannot afford the luxury of a forward who doesn't score, and therefore Jermain Defoe will probably cement a place up front. Crouch looks out of his depth sometimes in the England side, but his goalscoring record is good and he is worth so much more than simply being used as a lightning rod for England when they run out of ideas and choose to lump balls forward instead.

Another disappointing feature of the current England setup is the lack of genuine young talent coming through the ranks. It is difficult to name a 20-year old Englishman playing regularly in a Premiership side, and therefore it becomes a struggle to see who the saving grace will be for England in Brazil 2014. But then, I guess we have to qualify first, which will probably be a story on its own. There's one piece of good news for the 2018 event, which will hopefully be staged back here in Blighty. England's Under-17 side have just won the European Championship at their level, meaning there should be plenty of bright emerging talent ready to step up to the plate when football comes home again. Now that, my friends, is a thought to savour.

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