England: What To Do?

by Tim MacBain

Roy Hodgson: more imagination needed
(source: Wikicommons)
I am, as I am sure many of you will be very aware, not a very sporty person. I love the stuff, but can’t seem to play it properly. However, I do enjoy thinking and talking about sport, and thus I was somewhat incensed by the horrific display the English football team put up against Montenegro on Tuesday evening. How could a team with such ability put in such a depressingly bad display?

When Roy Hodgson became England manager, I think I was with the majority of people in believing that he was one of the best men for the job, and all the better that he was actually English. I am impressed with his new attitude; give young players some time on the field, and change the formation. Now, I have nothing much against the 4-4-2. It’s a very well balanced formation. But it’s SO DULL. It gives no room for imagination; one is always attacking the same way, and as soon as the opposition work out how to repel that attack, you are permanently on the defensive. That was why, when watching the build up to the match on Tuesday, I was ecstatic to see a new formation. I did think the 4-3-3 was a little dubious, for reasons I shall reveal later, but it wasn’t the 4-4-2, so I was more than happy with developments. I was equally happy with the selections.

Almost. I don’t deny that Tom Cleverley has been playing well recently, but why is he starting? Put Frank Lampard on the right of the midfield and you’ve got a simply sublime combination; even better, Lampard and Gerrard aren’t right next to each other, separated by Michael Carrick, so we won’t be faced with the problem we’ve had for so long, will we? If I may also point out the ridiculous inaccuracies of the ITV broadcasting; Milner was OBVIOUSLY playing on the right, NOT the left as their reporting would have us believe. I can understand this incorrectness before the game had started, but after half time? Honestly, this is why I can’t stand watching football on ITV. That and the blooming adverts…

So, the match begins, and England are chugging along rather nicely. A goal in the sixth minute, just what you want, and the whole team, especially Welbeck and Milner, are having a blast. However, the seeds of England’s undoing were sown in the first half. As soon as the goal was scored, as Andy Townsend said might happen, the midfield drops back so their almost having a chat with Joe Hart in goal. With that, they surrender a fair old whack of the pressure they had built up in the opening minutes. I’m afraid to say that this is the problem I have with the 4-3-3 formation; without proper regulation, it becomes more of a 7-3, with an enormous gulf between the defence and strikers/wingers.

This became even more of a problem in the second half, with Gerrard playing more and more long balls; let’s face it, Milner, Rooney, Welbeck and Cleverley aren’t going to win many aerial battles, are they? This meant that England surrendered possession, pressure, and made camp in their own half, relying on last ditch saves to stop a Montenegran goal; which, as the scoreline states, doesn’t work so effectively. It was like the England of old, reverting to the dullest of kinds of football; hoof tackle hoof hoof tackle, block, block, tackle, block, concede. Euro 2004 quarter final all over again, protecting a one goal lead.

So, what can we do?
In my humble opinion (which I know doesn’t have much backing in terms of knowledge/experience), we should succumb to the latest formation craze: 4-2-3-1. I was, initially, quite suspicious of this formation, but have since come to the conclusion that it offers an improvement on the basic promise of the 4-4-2, defensive capabilities, whilst offering offensive flexibility in as much as a lot of players in midfield, allowing a team to dominate possession. Keep the same backline (I for one have faith in Chris Smalling, he just needs time to settle into the international setup) apart from replacing Ashley Cole with Leighton Baines, who is FAR more capable and level headed than Cole, and use Carrick and Lampard to sit in front of the defence and feed the front four. Cleverley can be kept on the bench to provide that little spark should we need it in Gerrard’s position.

Gerrard can stop playing the accursed long ball (we know you’re good at them, Stevie, but do you HAVE to do them so often?) and instead supply some delectable through balls to Rooney, Welbeck and Milner. Rooney can hold the ball up if there’s no one in support, or can hang around the opposition’s 18 yard box waiting for one of those magical through balls. Ashley Young, Theo Walcott, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain can provide another option for Hodgson through their speed and agility, and hey, if all goes belly up, replace Rooney with Defoe and Gerrard with Parker and tell them that AVB is thinking of selling them both; that’ll soon get some pace in the team!

All we need is imagination. Roy Hodgson has shown that he can provide a little. Now we need him to show he can provide a lot.