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MysticalDescent’s views on England v Algeria

Player Ratings First:

James – 6 – Did all that was asked of him but never looked confident and his defence looked like strangers to him.

Johnson – 5 – Can’t defend and he never showed any of his supposed attacking prowess. Unfortunately he’s all we’ve got.

Carragher – 6 – Even if he’s slow and clumsy, he did a decent job of getting the basics right, unlike everybody else.

Terry – 5 – Another shaky performance.

Cole – 5 – Was more willing to get up the flank, but was poor in his control of the ball and his he ultimately contributed very little.

Lennon – 5 – Struggled to get into the game and when he did, he made some very poor decisions.

Lampard – 4 – His tournament must end now if England are to progress.

Barry – 5 – Some good defensive play in the first half, but as the game went on his distribution got worse and worse.

Gerrard – 5 – Showed promise when he drifted into the middle, but you cannot, you absolutely cannot, just abandon your post like that with absolutely no discipline whatsoever. He was played on the left wing and he left that area of the pitch completely empty most of the time.

Heskey – 6 – Not as good as he was against the USA, but once again he was the only player in England’s attack to actually turn up and do a job. He gets more criticism than he deserves.

Rooney – 4 – The pressure seems to be really getting to him. When I’ve seen him in person, he has almost never given the ball away. This time, every time the ball touched him it would almost instantly return to Algeria.

Wright-Phillips – 5.5 – Just plain not good enough.

Defoe – 5 – Offered absolutely nothing.

Crouch – 5 – Barely touched the ball.

Let’s make no bones about it; this performance was simply not good enough. We weren’t stifled by a team that set out to defend, as Algeria had no such intention and were just as courageous as us. Like the USA, Algeria is a very poor side comprised mostly of players who play several levels below England’s superstars. The fact that one of their biggest stars, Madjid Bougherra, spent a large portion of his time at Crewe Alexandra and Sheffield Wednesday should tell you an awful lot about the quality of player that they have. Responsibility has to lie with both the players and the manager. You may disagree with the team that Capello fielded, I know I did, or even his system, but the 11 players out there should have been capable of scoring at least one against such a poor team. Lampard have several opportunities to put England players through on goal, but instead chose to take a hopeless shot from thirty yards or give it away, Gerrard cost the team width and balance by choosing to spend the entire game sitting in the middle and Rooney seemed to completely buckle under the pressure, having now failed to do anything productive in 180 minutes of football.

Rooney with Djamel Abdoun
A good night’s work for Algeria, but more pressure on Rooney

I worry that the manager has fallen prey to one of Sven’s biggest weaknesses. We all knew with depressing certainty in Euro 2004 that no matter how poorly David Beckham played, he would be guaranteed to play the full 90 minutes. I get the impression that the manager thinks that certain players seem to do so well for their clubs and are so highly rated by everyone that they must play, no matter what. The fact is this: England have only one world class player, Wayne Rooney. The likes of Gerrard, Lampard and Terry are good players, but are massively limited and selfish in an England shirt. They stand out in the Premier League, but that is because they get away with murder thanks to the assistance of their superior foreign team-mates and the referee. All three can do the spectacular stuff, but are simply nowhere near world class. They get all the plaudits simply because they are English players who do the spectacular stuff for their side. Gerrard may still score screamers from the edge of the box in the last minute for Liverpool, but it’s no coincidence that he’s been powerless to stop their slide since the sale of Xabi Alonso. The manager must make some gutsy calls in time for the next game. He’s the man who shipped Ronaldo out of Real Madrid, so I don’t think it’s beyond him.

He would do well to learn from Stoke City’s example. On paper, most teams would probably fancy themselves against Stoke, but there is a rigid system packed full of players who fill a very specific role in that system. If players don’t fit in, they don’t get in the team. People may tear their hair out when the likes of Tuncay and Kitson can’t hold down a place, but the right players play in the right system and it works. For what it’s worth, I believe that England has the right system, but we are picking the wrong players for that system. The midfield is currently the weakness and 2 chances created in 180 minutes of football goes a long way to showing that. Gerrard finally seems to have hit form for England and he’s been sandwiched into the left wing position. On a good day, he’s ineffective there, and on a bad game like last night he’s completely free of discipline and just wanders about doing whatever he pleases, completely abandoning his post. Joe Cole, the only player in the England squad with experience of playing on the left wing at international level and one of England’s few creative sparks, seems to be behind Lennon, Wright-Phillips, Gerrard and Rooney in the picking order for the left wing position. This just does not make sense. Gerrard is probably England’s best central midfielder and is wasted out wide, keeping somebody who can play in that position out of the team (sound familiar, Stoke fans?). The odd one out is Lampard, who for all his superstardom is simply not good enough. I suspect some supporters will be unable to cope with the loss of somebody who is ‘obviously’ good, but if you cannot fit in, you are nothing to the team. Barry should partner Gerrard, but we’d be much, much stronger in the centre if Paul Scholes had been convinced to return. He’s done his job very quietly this season and he doesn’t get forward as much these days, but Scholes is still the best English central midfielder. He can receive the ball off the defence and his range of passing is then superb. England sorely misses somebody like him. Up front, the Heskey and Rooney partnership is probably the best we have, but their roles need to change slightly. Heskey should drop a little deeper and Rooney should focus on spearheading the attack as an out and out striker rather than falling back into midfield. At the very least, those small tweaks would us through to the next round, but Capello must have the guts to stand by his system and get rid of Lampard.

Capello on the touchline

Capello must be strong enough to stand by his system and wield the axe on some of his over-rated stars

So what of last night’s game? I think ‘nervy’ is a bad description, but the pressure certainly showed. Every single player on the pitch was so desperate to stand out that they made some very poor decisions and were not playing for the team. Carragher nearly scored an own goal trying to unnecessarily clear a cross that was going straight to James, Terry headed a ball into a dangerous position when it was sailing out for a goal-kick. In attack, Rooney and Cole were guilty of taking on too many defenders, while Lennon was obsessed with fancy flicks instead of doing the simple job of getting down the line and putting balls into the box. Gerrard wanted to take the starring role in the middle rather than settling down on the left. Lampard went for long shots when there were better options while Barry did a decent job of winning the ball but tried ambitious passes that almost always failed. Perhaps Capello has kept the players on their toes too much and now they are desperate to stand out in case they lose their place. I think the old ‘fear of failure’ is starting to creep back in as well, something that Sven combated pretty well. This is going to be a very big few days and the manager must handle the players well. Clough always said that his players were at their best when they were relaxed and enjoying themselves and you’re inclined to agree. A bit of team spirit and camaraderie would not go amiss. It’s all well and good to see Rooney mouthing off at the camera last night and complain that the players are living in a bubble, but Capello must create a bubble for the players now, isolated from the prying eyes of the press and the criticism of the supporters. 6 days is no amount of time to create a hard working team ethic, but it is what must be done. They must learn to fight tooth and nail for each other and for their nation.

Ultimately, few players played well. Heskey was average at best when it came to doing what was expected of him and Carragher was better than Terry, but that really is as good as it gets. The midfield was absolutely dire and chance creation was minimal. It’s unlikely that we’d have taken any chances that were created because the top English goalscorer last season had to come all the way back into the middle at actually touch the ball. Ashley Cole would probably have been more effective on the left if he had a left winger to help him out, rather than having to do all the work on his own. England failed to outshine the Algerians in a game that was ultimately a stalemate. Great if you’re Algerian, a disaster for England. This was simply not good enough.

My team for Slovenia:

James

Johnson Terry Dawson A. Cole

Lennon Gerrard Barry J. Cole

Heskey

Rooney

Thank goodness that game will be on the BBC. If I have to listen to another 90 minutes of commentary from those idiots at ITV I may end up putting the television through the window. Everything ITV do is amateurish, cheap and pathetic, be it their football coverage or shows such as the X-Factor. There are too many adverts to make it watchable, but when you listen to Tyldsley, Beglin, Southgate and all the rest trying to talk about football, you realise that the adverts are actually the best bit. Tyldsley and Townsend are so incapable of tactically analysing a game that when somebody suggests something novel like changing the system, they become like a dog with a bone and will just not shut up about it, despite it being apparent that it will simply not happen. In the studio, the panel just spout some extra nonsense to go with it all. The fact that Adrian Chiles, a decent bloke whose forte is a more informal, jokey programme such as Match of the Day 2, is fronting the supposedly ultra-sleek and professional World Cup show says it all. The BBC’s standards are pretty low as well, embarrassing even, so thank goodness for the insights of Mick McCarthy.

ITV World Cup Panel

Somebody please shut them up.

England can beat Slovenia and fulfill their potential, but they must play the right players for the system.

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