Sunday, 15 June 2014


Four years ago, England went to South Africa on a wave of optimism - there were genuine thoughts that this team could do something - and then put in a series of turgid and torpid performances. Only two players really came back with any credit - Ashley Cole, who was superb, and Steven Gerrard, who largely played out of position - whilst Joe Cole's reputation grew with every minute he didn't play. It was the last time that Cole would be the great white hope of English football.

Perhaps most shocking was Wayne Rooney's performance in that tournament. It was typified by a moment of miscontrol that made Geoff Thomas's trap look good. It became clear, after the tournament, that Wayne had other things on his mind. This, we all hope, is the World Cup where Rooney justifies the hype - where he goes from good international player to great international player - where he fulfils the potential we glimpsed ten long years ago. On last night's evidence the jury is still deliberating but plenty of players start World Cups shoddily.

Fast forward four years and England have a young team which no one expects to do anything (especially given the quality of the group). Last night they were beaten by a better than it looks Italy side but delivered a fine performance. Too often fine England performances are measured by how much chest beating there is, how much blood is spilt, how much the lads want the shirt. Last night, however, there was genuine quality on show and a fine, technical performance was put in. This isn't just a different England squad with a different mentality to the one of four years ago. They seem to be playing a different sport.

Despite the defeat there is much for England fans to find some joy in. Raheem Sterling is a special talent and his performance, particularly through the centre before he was shifted to accommodate Rooney more centrally, was superb. It is rare that a player so young has such vision. For all the talk of his trickery and his pace, it was his movement and range of passing that shone. If Pirlo, or Iniesta, had played the pass to Rooney in the build-up to England's goal we would have seen the footballing hipsters have the sort of multiple orgasm that the Rampant Rabbit has built its international reputation upon. The last time England saw a talent that shone so brightly so quickly at an international tournament was Rooney in 2004. It doesn't seem so long ago that Rooney was the future. It doesn't seem so long ago that Cole was the future. What might be more pleasing for England is that in Barkley and Oxlade-Chamberlain we have three talents who not only have superb ability but, tellingly, seem to have supreme confidence.

Sterling was shifted to get more out of Rooney. This all seemed to make sense. Welbeck moving left would offer more protection to Baines (who, bluntly, had a shocker), Sterling's trickery would shunt the Italian left-back backwards and Rooney would sparkle. Welbeck, bar one lapse, did help Baines but moving Sterling removed his influence from the game and also lost his important role of snapping back into midfield to try to shackle Pirlo. Rooney didn't really improve and, despite his assist, he should be in the pillory stocks for going for the near post when the goal was begging.

Danny Welbeck has his critics but he put in a fantastic performance. His one error, if one is being cruel, was being a little out of position in the build up to the second Italian goal (that was the first of a series of errors, mind). Other than that, he put in the sort of shift that managers drool over and fans say ''but he didn't do much'. He is one of that happy band of brothers who grows to fit the England shirt. He is, arguably, the finest defensive forward in the world at the moment. It seems bizarre that he was taken off. Baines is the opposite, at present, of Welbeck. Grade A form at club level but seems swamped when wearing the Three Lions.

Sturridge played well enough and Jagielka, in defence, had a fine game. Barkley looked strong off the bench and there will be more than a few fans asking 'could he start ahead of Rooney?'. 

The midfield was a curate's egg. Gerrard and Henderson were asked to put in a huge shift in the heat and wet of Manaus. Italy playing 4-3-1-1 meaning that the England midfield was over-run. Whilst I understand what Hodgson was trying to do I'd wager that allowing the opposition to have the ball in those conditions is tiring.

It seems the instruction was to allow Italy to have the ball but to shepherd them with it. Some may say that England should have ditched an attacker (presumably either Welbeck or Sterling) to add an extra man in midfield to cover Marchisio, Pirlo, Veratti and De Rossi. Presumably that would have been Milner or WIlshere. There's some sense in that because Gerrard and Henderson, understandably, struggled. They didn't do too much wrong but they didn't set the heather on fire either. They did their job and, more clearly, did what they were supposed to do but there's a nagging sense that Roy got the numbers in midfield wrong and, perhaps, got his subs wrong too. The substitutions - bar Barkley - didn't add to the team. If anything England went from a unit playing to a game plan to something rather disjointed.

Lambert was probably a more natural choice than Lallana (if Lambert is there surely the time to put him on when England are 1 down with 15 to play? If not, there really doesn't seem too much point in him being there at all). Welbeck didn't deserve to go off whereas Rooney probably did. Baines will be a happy man that Cole wasn't selected.

Cahill and Johnson were costly but, happily for them, there is no real option to replace them. Cahill will have better games but I'm not convinced that Johnson will. He is, bluntly, a bomb scare whose attacking prowess attempts to mask his defensive frailty. The worrying thing is he has looked better, in recent seasons, when playing on the left rather than his natural position of the right. Hart too made a few poor decisions. 

The big thing is that Roy seems scared to make big calls. Rooney should have gone off last night but, if anything, he was pandered to. This makes sense. He is a fine player - not as fine as we all hoped he would be or hyped him to be - but last night he should have been subbed. Some will argue that Gerrard, rather than Henderson, should have been subbed off. Perhaps. Again, would Hodgson substitute his captain? He's shown he isn't scared of taking on big names (Ferdinand, Cole, Carrick can attest to that) but he seems reluctant to do anything that upsets Rooney or Gerrard. That is a problem.

But this is perhaps overly critical - this was a decent performance against a fine team. Being out-classed by Andrea Pirlo is hardly a sin after all.

On another night England might well have scored a second. On another night Gerrard may have won a penalty (his observation that it would have been a foul outside the box is a fair one). There are a lot of positives.



Anonymous said...

Outclassed, we weren't outclassed we were very bit as good as the Italians and had we then our chances we would have won that match. I thought the substitutions were positive and players that would run at the defence. Lallaina won a free kick on the edge of their box by running at them. We made two errors and they cost us. They need to make sure our left hand side is solidified ahead of the Uruguay game but after watching them and CR not much to fear there, both poor defences that we can have a field day against. We have been clambering for this type of approach for years and we were unlucky.

Virgo said...

Two years ago Pirlo was a. Threat. Yesterday he was again. Do some one take care of the tactics of the game. You cannot play with a man less in midfield against the Italians. Stop playing 1900 football and play the modern football game. Then England can try to make it to the last eight or four of a tournament. Forgot last time England won against a superb team!!!!!!

Metatone said...

Is leaving Cole behind for Baines and Shaw starting to look a bit hasty? What's Shaw like defending? Could he be an option? Right now Suarez is being told to target Baines, I'll wager...

dearieme said...

I enjoyed it; England played better than they have in a competition since God knows when. They just met a somewhat better opponent, but even then could easily have got a draw out if it.

I'd drop Rooney; he should be competing with Lambert as the man to come on when Sturridge has run himself out after 70 minutes. Barkley could start: he'd find a bit more room early on than when the whole opponent's team is barricading the area to defend a lead, too exhausted to advance.

Could it be worth replacing Gerrard by Milner? It doesn't matter since it won't be done.

dearieme said...

I don't see Gerrard as a contender for selection for the side in the next Euro qualifiers. Who might take his place?

Rob Marrs said...

Wilshere, perhaps? He isn't the player that we hoped he would become but he's been a little hard done by at this World Cup. The likes of Shelvey and Hughes will be mooted but they aren't, for me, quite there yet. There is always a mad rush to try and shoe-horn players who aren't playing at the highest level into the squad.

Rob Marrs said...

It isn't as if - unlike Spain, say, there was much left at home. Carrick, perhaps, but he had a very poor season. Cleverley? No. No. A thousand times no!

I'd have taken Barry. He had a fantastic season and would have offered rather more in midfield - especially given the set-up that Hodgson adopted.