Why England Is Not Playing Up To The Hype

The Three Lions have one more game to show their class  Wednesday or they could incredulously be headed home after the briefest of World Cup sojourns.

You didn't ask Fabio, but TSG will help...

For a team that literally buzzed through qualifying and garnered nods for a World Cup Finals appearance outside their own press, the Queen’s men certainly don’t look the part.

So that’s wrong with England? Why are they stumbling in the early going. TSG takes a look–and asterisk we’ve got more reps reviewing the States than England. Note, we still believe England escapes the “EASY” group.

• Abominable game plan or lack of tactical execution? England’s pitch movement is downright pedestrian.

While the jury is out on whether Fabio Capello has instituted a poor game plans or whether his team is just not executing, one thing is clear: What England is trying to do on the pitch isn’t the right thing.

Here’s some examples:

Against the States:

» Continually, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard were flat in the middle. One awaiting the other to make a forward foray.

» Wayne Rooney consistently drifted to the Yanks’ strong side of DeMerit and Cherundolo while it was clear Oguchi Onyewu had troubles in man marking early on.

Against Algeria:

Someone should let the Three Lions know that "wing" "speed" and "Heskey" don't make a great pitch sandwich...

» Emile Heskey ran the right wing channel! With no breakaway speed and no breakaway moves, Algeria was all to happy top oblige Heskey with reception and time on the ball…which left…

» Aaron Lennon (and Glen Johnson on what should have been an overlapping run) to wander inward, making their speedy runs useless against the narrow back three of the Desert Foxes.

Lack of the right game plan? Lack of execution? Probably a little bit of both.

• Lack of speed

Plain and simple, beyond Aaron Lennon and the occasional forward runs of Ashley Cole, England lack game breaking speed necessary at the World Cup-level.

Many a time, Frank Lampard and even Wayne Rooney himself have been caught from behind or defended one-on-one. They’ve tried a little shake-and-bake, but the quickness and on-the-ball strength of the defenders to date (Michael Bradley, Ricardo Clark, Madjid Bougherra and Foued Kadir for Algeria) has been able to at least contain them until help arrives and that’s where the lack of solid pitch motion comes into play.

* Lack of a ball-carrying linking player who can start the counterattack.

Plain and simple, England haven’t gotten very few counterattack opportunities, though the opportunities to initiate the counter have been their in abundance especially against the Desert Foxes.

England desperately need something remotely close to Kaka....

Every competitive team at the World Cup has a linking player who can capitalize when an opponent’s attack has been turned back. Brazil has Kaka, Spain, Iniesta, Portugal, Ronaldo, South Korea, J.S. Park.

The U.S. even has Landon Donovan.

England? Is their best option is the slow-footed Gareth Barry? Steven Gerrard, who’s at this best beating a man on his hip, is not the best racing with possession in open spaces.

Without the threat of a counterattack, there is a chain reaction. Wayne Rooney comes back to look for, and receive, the ball. Once Rooney comes back, there is no one ahead of him but the slow-footed Heskey. The opponents’ defense plays a high line and any semblance of an attack is stymied before it starts.

• Misuse of Wayne Rooney.

What’s the best way to give your best player the ball in a situation he can use it in?

Is this it? Use a plodding target man forward to usurp half of the offensive pitch. Use that same forward on the side with your fastest winger who you rely to create a bulk of offensive opportunities.

Situate your best player on the opposite side, away from the dominant foot of your two distributors in the midfield who are cutting in.

Assuming your best player gets the ball and attempts to put pressure on the defense, don’t use a natural left winger to open the threat of the pass so that the opponent knows the ball is going inward.

Well that was precisely the gameplan of Fabio Capello against Algeria. Prespostrous? Most definitely.

Even Phil Weston would see this isn't working...

• An insistence on keeping Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard on the pitch.

It just doesn’t work. In business there is an often-invoked axiom, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”

Both Gerrard and Lampard are at their best when they can sit back, trail the attack, evaluate and make their move. One problem, there’s no speed–as we mentioned above–in front of them to draw the defense out of position and create those trailing opportunities.

Countless times against the States and Algeria, Lampard and Gerrard were–as mentioned above–flat in the middle pitch, either, presumably, waiting for the other to make a run or waiting for someone in front of them to disrupt the opponents’ shape and open a pocket of opportunity.

At Chelsea, Lampard has World Class players in Anelka, Drogba, Malouda, heck even Joe Cole to challenge the defense.

At Liverpool, Gerrard has Fernando Torres and the underappreciated and underrated runs of Yossi Benayoun to create pockets of opportunities.

With Wayne Rooney running around looking for the ball, Gerrard and Lampard don’t have that creativity of a true #9 in front of them.

Don’t worry England, TSG can help

First, note that England’s defense has been tough. Beyond John Terry’s pairing (Carragher, King) occasionally getting beat, the Three Lions have been stout in the back. In fact, if England weren’t mired in such offensive doldrums right now, the talk of the tabloids might be how solid a performance is being put on by Glen Johnson at right back in defense. Someone just dropped their tea kettle over in Liverpool.

That said, if TSG had our druthers, how would we mix it up in Camp Capello to insure a victory on Wednesday.

*Note: we’ll deploy the selected line-up instead of the one we would have taken. (In: Adam Johnson, Gaby Agbonlahor, Ashley Young, Ryan Shawcross — Out: Shaun Wright Phillips, Jermain Defoe, James Milner, Jamie Carragher)

First, the line-up

G: Joe Hart

The skinny: Nothing wrong with David James play against Algeria. Average, but acceptable. However Joe Hart is a passionate player with a booming voice. Just having Hart back there barking instructions should infuse some passion into the on-field play. Hart is also a more than adequate netminder.

DEF: Glen Johnson, Matthew Upson, John Terry, Ashley Cole

The skinny: The Three Lions defense has been strong. Matthew Upson, and his six years of experience on Michael Dawson, comes in to pair John Terry in the middle.

Carrick: Necessary

CDM: Michael Carrick

The skinny: Yes, Michael Carrick had at best an average year at Manchester United. However, he plays great instinctual defense and he only joins the offense when the shape or play calls for it. With the Lions running into each other all over the field, England needs less players in the offensive kitchen, not more.

Gareth Barry for all his skill is not a true CDM and carries too long in possession…and as we know Gerrard and Lampard are not making runs for him.

MID: Aaron Lennon, Steven Gerrard, Joe Cole

The skinny: Frank Lampard, our apologies, to the pine to commiserate with Beckham you go.

Steven Gerrard, you stay. Gerrard is the more dynamic player of the two and the more apt to move off the ball and create space. He’s also more a threat in possession than Lampard who–if you’re watching England 2010–has never created his own chance in the run-of-play.

Joe Cole comes in on the left for a moment of brilliance a la Clint Dempsey. Aaron Lennon is still the best option on the right. He’s instructed to go toe the touchline and create more width.

FW: Wayne Rooney

Rooney plays the #10 to Defoe's #9 role...Lennon, you get out of here, go stand out wide....

The skinny: A controversial move to actually take Wayne Rooney away from goal. Lacking a linking player, that’s exactly how TSG chooses to deploy Rooney in the role his #10 kit calls for.

He’s already meandering all over the pitch in search of the ball an he’s been unable to get his own shot in the box because the distribution is not coming his way.

Most press will probably want him as a lone striker, however Rooney does not possess the speed off-the-ball to be dangerous and further as the lone target man above he’s going to get the ball in order to make space, not as the final one to play on goal.

Making space is left to…

STR: Jermain Defoe

The skinny: Look, TSG is not a fan of Jermain Defoe either, but someone needs to clear Rooney and Gerrard some space and Jermain Defoe–a poor man’s Charlie Davies (apologies couldn’t resist tongue-in-cheek)–is tasked with disrupting the opponent’s defensive shape and occasionally challenging the offsides line.

In other words, Defoe…make yourself useful by creating opportunities for others.

The formation:

A 4-1-3-1-1 essentially where Defoe pulls wide and Lennon is already, suddenly open space for the Lions in the middle of the pitch.

The tactics:

Actually, were not changing much. The formation deployment should effect enough. Some minor points.

• Defoe, make like Usain Bolt in cleats, but don’t cross the halfway line.

Diaganol runs, 45-degree drags, fly patterns. Defoe, you run all day. Challenge the backline; open up space.

• Lennon, you go stand over there.

The Lions need width against Slovenia. That Lennon’s crosses are shoddy is not something that can be corrected at this juncture. Make the leftback for Slovenia work and draw them away from being narrow. Oh and if Glen Johnson comes forward, he–not you–has free reign.

• Joe Cole, do your best to pretend your lefty, and  you follow.

Ideally, TSG would like to deploy Joe Cole forward more. Maybe if the Lions are moving well and unison on the pitch. For now, Cole stays fairly wide and reacts to how Gerrard and Rooney are moving in front of him. A sort of don’t be a useless cook in the kitchen thing. You are free to watch and link to Ashley Cole overlapping.

• Carrick, do your thing. Defense, don’t change a thing..

Carrick is masterful a positioning. That has not changed. The defense. Remain the same. The defense has been strong.

8 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Antonio H. on 2010/06/22 at 1:42 AM

    George would love this:)

    Player reputations and traditional starters aside, who do you think Bob Bradley would put in his Starting XI & subs if he had control of England’s 30-man roster?
    (eliminating injuries) 4-2-2-2

    DEF: The backline need not be given
    CDM: Carrick;Gerrard
    CAM/WM: Ashley Young; Joe Cole
    STR: Roo; Crouch

    Subs-Adam Johnson for Joe Cole; Agbonlahor for Crouch; Lampard for ….eek

    Conclusion, Ashley Young(wasnt in the 30) will play the Landon Donovan role. I (or Bob)picked him over Lennon because he’s less direct in terms of movement and speed than Lennon is, and he has THE best 1v1 ability of anyone in the current England player pool IMO. He’s also a set-piece beast. More physical and less likely to get pushed off the ball than Lennon, and from what I’ve seen this year tracks back well(better than Lennon at least)

    You mentioned Joe Cole above, having the Duece-factor in him. Bob puts him in the Duece role as well- a right footer at LCAM drifting in & combining with Ashley’s overlaps(this doesnt apply for the USMNT, left-side overlapping that is)

    Unfortunately, I can’t leave Rooney out(just kidding, but seriously he’d have to be disciplined in his runs & drifting) although if I could i’d pick Gabby. not Defoe to start in his place. Agbon brings speed and can hold up as well. But back to Crouch, when Young’s whipping in those crosses, he’ll have a primary target in Crouch who can knock on service to a trailing box-to-box mid in Gerrard(ring a bell?)

    Bob picks Carrick over Barry because of speed. Not that Carrick is super faster, but Barry is just sloer(or am i wrong?)


  2. I think Capello is showing why he gave Walcott so many chances. Walcott is not a footballer. Walcott is a sprinter who runs down the touchline on the right. Walcott gets in very advanced positions when England are in possession and creates a ton of space in the middle because whenever Heskey receives the ball in front, an angled pass behind the left back ALWAYS has the threat of England getting in behind the defense.

    In contrast, Lennon is a footballer. He likes to be part of the game and drifts inside to find it. Even when Lennon starts out wide he takes up much deeper starting positions and likes to get the ball and run at defenders along the “Messi” route. He’s just as fast as Walcott but he wants to play football. Suddenly England no longer have any threat to get behind when Heskey gets the ball. The space that Heskey and Walcott opened for Rooney, Gerrard and Lampard to run into is gone and the opponents defense is never really stretched.

    George will love that I’m saying this but Capello’s biggest mistake was leaving the one dimensional Walcott at home, since his absence breaks the team and renders the one-dimensional Heskey ineffective. All England’s problems are solved by fixing this one thing.

    If Capello had bothered to play his first team in any of the warm up friendlies, he would’ve quickly realized that it simply doesn’t work anymore without Walcott. I think that Capello now realizes his mistake but has no idea how to fix it with the players at his disposal.


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2010/06/22 at 7:28 AM

      Agree on this point – look at Robbie Findley – he’s got zero final ball and both England and Slovenia respected his speed. Whether Capello realizes this or not–maybe this is why he brought in Wright Phillips early against Algeria–I don’t know.

      Its worth noting that last time England played Slovenia they won 2-1 at Wembley — there only goal in the run of play game with Jermain Defoe on and both Lampard and Gerrard off the pitch.


      • England will have a tough time with Slovenia – they expected us to react like one of their fellow Euro sides after going down 2 and basically give up and play out the second time. They were shocked with the intensity with which we played the second half and basically resorted to an ongoing strategy of cynical fouling.

        As for Findley, I’m concerned that his absence is going to be a far bigger negative than others might anticipate against Algeria’s 3-5-2. His running is excellent, he’s great at taking down the ball. If he ever gets the hang of putting the ball either in between the defender and the near post or cutting back to the penalty spot, he’ll be a very solid player.


        • Posted by matthewsf on 2010/06/22 at 7:54 AM

          I agree — just having him ahead of Donovan keeps the Algerian attack back.

          Here’s the question: Will BB go over-the-top long ball to Altidore on the right or will he insert Buddle or Gomez hoping they provide similar speed.

          I think it’s funny when I listen to major media kill Robbie Findley. He is who he is–it’s not like he was breaking records and not doing it at the World Cup–Bob Bradley took him for his physique and speed and how they contribute to the team.

          Any more is gravy.


    • Posted by s44 on 2010/06/22 at 7:30 AM

      The problem is that Capello has never run a team in a situation where he couldn’t change the roster between games if his original choices didn’t work.


    • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/06/23 at 2:28 AM

      I have always said that Walcott is “one pass away” from being lethal. His final ball is just pants and leads to zero end product.

      My question is why Capello did not introduce Joe Cole. He has the intelligence, experience and skill to produce and was sorely missed against Algeria. We had a little space towards the end as they began to tire, but we just did not have the quality with the final ball or shot on goal. It was pretty pathetic to be honest.

      TSG mentioned the Lampard-Gerrard conumdrum, but ignore the Rooney-Defoe one. Getting the best out of Rooney means no starting place for Defoe. Defoe is best coming on as an impact sub. I feel he is not very good at making the necessary space, especially if Slovenia put two banks of four outside their 18 yard box as expected – which is fair enough as they only need a draw.

      Personally, I’d drop Heskey, play Rooney up front as a sole striker, with Gerrard just off him. Joe Cole playing on the left.


      • Posted by matthewsf on 2010/06/23 at 10:52 AM

        George – how do you feel about Defoe now?

        Gerrard hugged the touchline well (from the little I saw)


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