Sunday, 15 June 2014

Inglorious Failure - England lose to Italy

I enjoyed England's performance last night against Italy. Compared with the dross we've been served up under Capello and Ericsson in previous tournaments, this was refreshing. However any enthusiasm must be tempered by serious technical and tactical shortcomings, which still permeate the English game and for all our bright young things on the pitch last night, show no signs of changing any time soon.

1) Apart from the goal and the one chance when Baines played Rooney in but he missed at the near post, we never got behind the Italian defence. We had lots of shots from distance, most of which flashed wide. We didn't create all that much to threaten the Italians.

2) This is because there was a very limited creativity in midfield. There was very little quick passing, cutting through the Azzuri. Instead what we had was lots of individuals running with the ball. Sterling, Sturridge, Barkley and Wilshire. Sterling and Sturridge were clearly very good at it. Barkley makes too many wrong decisions when to do so. And Wilshire? I just don't see what he does that is different and certainly not better to any of these. Welbeck looked decent at short, quick passing, but he didn't seem willing to give and go, that is to surge forward to receive a return pass. I suspect because of his defensive responsibilities. Ricky Lambert is someone who knits the play up well with clever passing, while Lallana is the one midfielder who can do this too.

3) Steven Gerrard had one of his more ineffective games in a while. HE and Henderson couldn't seal up midfield, because the Italians didn't go through the middle, but always sought out the very productive right winger. But even with the ball, Gerrard's 'Quarterback" role where he hits 40 yard cross-field passes to feet was snuffed out by the Italians. A lesser team or one less well drilled tactically might suffer from Gerrard's pinpoint passes, but it was one-dimensional to the Italians.

4) Wayne Rooney... Wayne Rooney was out least effective attacking player of the 4 (Sturridge, Sterling and Welbeck). His one contribution was the goal which was excellent, but he gave the ball away 8 times, missed a golden chance (for which he turned like a battleship to get on to Baines's pass and made him hurry his shot) and could not sort out the left side defensively with Baines. I believe Wayne Rooney's time is probably up, with better alternatives in the squad. It will be interesting to see what Hodgson's selection against Uruguay is.

5) Hodgson's substitutes were baffling. Barkley for Welbeck I can sort of see, though unless Welbeck had run out of gas, I think he was doing a good job and would probably have taken off either Henderson Rooney at that juncture. But Wilshire as I have said is only more of the same as to what was on the pitch. You need a goal, then why not bring on Lambert whose brief international career has shown he can score off the bench. He also allows you to go to 4-4-2 and changing systems for the last 15 minutes would have asked questions of the Italians to adapt and react. I would have brought him and Lallana on together to have their understanding from playing for the same club out on the pitch. Lallana came on too late and didn't contribute, while all I remember Wilshire doing was give the ball away.

6) People point to our territorial domination of the last quarter of the match, but remember we failed to score against Honduras for 90 minutes and part of that time they only had 10 men on the pitch. Honduras are no Italy. After Italy retook the lead, I think they dropped back consciously and let us have the ball. Partly that was their tactical decision, but also I think they were looking to preserve their energy since they have all three of their games in those difficult conditions of the tropical north of Brazil. Was it significant that Italian players didn't go down with cramp during the match, but several England players did? What it did reveal was how much chasing England had to do in the first half where the Italians dominated possession and made us run around after them.

But there is hope going forward. Uruguay were appalling yesterday. If Suarez returns against England, and I find it significant that even in desperate straits at 2-1 down the manager didn't bring Suarez on to dig them out of their hole, I don't think he is going to be sufficiently fit to pose his usual full threat. I think we will beat Uruguay, thus knocking them out. Then that leaves a winner takes all match with Costa Rica. And as enjoyable as it was to see Costa Rica beat Uruguay, if England can't get the result against them then we deserve not to move round to the knock-out phase. We should be able to defend balls into the box that Uruguay couldn't cope with. And we know their danger man Joel Campbell and have to devise a way of snuffing out his threat.

No comments: