Player Ratings First:
Green – 4.5 – Had two big saves to make, one of which he dropped in his own goal and the other of which he got very lucky with.
Johnson – 5.5 – Untroubled defensively, but he was massively frustrating on the ball. Every time it came to him in the England half he was so slow to move it on that it inevitably went sideways and any attacking impetus was lost.
King – 5.5 – Never really looked all that assured and he never really inspired confidence.
Terry – 6 – Steady performance.
Cole – 5.5 – No troubles in defence, like Johnson, but his distribution was shockingly poor.
Lennon – 6 – When he got the ball, he was our only direct attacking threat. Not perfect by any means, but plenty to build on and a much better option than anything else we’ve got.
Gerrard – 7 – I think that this must have been Gerrard’s first good game for England since he played against Germany at Euro 2000. He did a decent job of getting from box to box, making himself an effective part of our ‘back eight’ and doing a good job when he had the ball.
Lampard – 5 – Completely anonymous, he never got into the game.
Milner – 5 – I can only think that the pressure of the occasion got to him, because his cameo was bizarre.
Heskey – 8 Man of the Match – The missed chance was the only blot on his performance. He held the ball up well, won it in the air and was the fulcrum of our team. Once he went off, the game was dead.
Rooney – 5 – Did not turn up.
Wright-Phillips – 4 – An absolute liability and no better than Walcott. Every time he touched the ball it went straight back to the USA.
Carragher – 5 – none of our centre-backs are especially quick, but Carragher looked slow and out of touch.
Crouch – 6 – Little time to make any impact, but when he came on our attacking threat effectively ended.
I’m yet to look at the Sunday newspapers, but I imagine that there’s some degree of panic mongering and that Rob Green has become something of a scapegoat. I can imagine all sorts of puns involving ‘Soylent Green’ of ‘Putting Green’. There’s no point rounding on the England team after this performance, though. That’s the sort of behaviour reserved for fickle gloryhunters. This performance was by no means up to scratch, but there was plenty of potential and with some minor tweaking, as opposed to a complete overhaul, England should qualify from the group with ease. There were a number of positives.
The first was how effective England was when the USA had the ball and tried to launch an attack. Capello has a reputation as a pragmatist who can build a strong defensive unit and it showed last night. I never had any confidence in our centre-backs, but whenever the USA had the ball, England dropped back and formed a virtually impenetrable back eight. As soon as the USA had the ball in the England half, they had two options: they could either play it back to their defenders who would panic and give it away or they could take a shot from thirty yards. It’s something that’s gone largely un-noticed in the aftermath of the game and I suspect that Capello will be very pleased with the defensive side of his team.
Gerrard’s performance was another big bonus. Normally for England the manager persists with him because he’s such an effective, talismanic figure for Liverpool, but he completely fails to deliver. It’s always been hard to say why; it could be a lack of motivation, being partnered alongside an unsuitable player or just struggling in an unfamiliar position. He seemed really fired up last night and I suspect it had something to do with him having been handed the captain’s armband and having become the team’s leader on the world stage. Hopefully, he may be thinking that he can be the same talismanic captain for England that he is for Liverpool. He tracked back well, his tackling was good, he won it in the air and there were no problems with his distribution. He had a quieter second half, but there can be no real complaints with his performance.
After Heskey’s man of the match display last night, I think that we have the right system, but we need to tweak the personnel a little. I can appreciate the argument for playing 4-5-1 with Gerrard behind Rooney, but it is not one that I can advocate. When we played it long, Heskey generally won it, held up the ball and brought other players into the game. That was when we created chances. When we tried to play possession football, the same thing happened over and over again. We’d start from the back, play it across the back four and run out of ideas. Johnson would get the ball in a position where he could press forward and work with Lennon to get the ball in the box, but he was too indecisive. He ended up trapping the ball, getting surrounded and playing it sideways. Cole tried to press forward with the ball, but his distribution was uncharacteristically poor. If we are to play possession football, it must be with an emphasis on keeping the ball in the opposition half so that they are under permanent pressure. There’s an awful lot to be said for Stoke’s approach of getting the ball into the box at every opportunity. What England was playing was not effective possession football, it was tippy-tappy. Worse still, it was tippy-tappy that always had the same end result, the long ball up to Heskey. They may as well have saved five minutes and just played it long in the first place. This is why I fear the 4-5-1 system. Neither of our central midfielders was coming deep to receive the ball off the defenders. They were both jostling for the starring role and were hoping that somebody would come in and do such menial work in the way that they have become accustomed to when playing for their clubs. The defence were completely isolated and ultimately we ended up with only one way of getting the ball forwards. The difference with playing Gerrard behind Rooney is that we’re left with nobody to win these long balls and we’ll just end up giving it away every single time.
This must be the first little tweak to the current 4-4-1-1 system. One of Lampard and Gerrard must be dropped or moved asides because the two simply do not work in the middle together. Neither of them will come deep, receive the ball and start an attack. They want to finish the attack and take the plaudits for their part in a vital goal. Last night we were crying out for a player like Gareth Barry to just sit back and take the ball and move it on. This role has recently been mastered by Paul Scholes at Manchester United, who sits on the halfway line, demands the ball off his defenders and then players a pin-point 30 yard pass to a team-mate. Unfortunately, he couldn’t be convinced to come out of retirement and so the only viable alternative is Barry. I think the way forward is to play Joe Cole on the left, put Gerrard and Barry in the middle and drop Lampard. Somebody has to miss out for the good of the team. We’ve then at least got two ways of getting the ball forwards and hopefully that would allow us to bring the likes of Lennon into the game more. For now, though, I can see no sense whatsoever in getting rid of the only get out ball that we had tonight and the only player to play really well. The fact that he was our only get out option when we had the likes of Gerrard, Johnson, Cole and Lennon on the pitch is something that seriously needs addressing.
The other change that needs to be made is in goal. I am not going to go over the top in criticism of Rob Green. He made a horrible, horrible mistake on the big stage and his confidence will now be shot to pieces. I don’t know if he’ll be able to pick himself up in the next few days, but I get the impression that there could be a disaster on our hands if we pick him again. Unfortunately, there is also a pretty persuasive argument for not swapping goalkeepers. Whoever comes in will know that there is an incredible amount of pressure on them not to make the same kind of stupid mistake the Green did, else they’ll be out of the team and a national villain. To be honest, Capello could and perhaps should have avoided this whole situation before the World Cup even began. At Stoke this season, I have seen a number of perspective England goalkeepers. Joe Hart for Birmingham was virtually single-handedly responsible for the 4 points that Birmingham took from Stoke this season. Paul Robinson produced a string of good saves home and away. Rob Green, however, had a big part in the three goals that Stoke scored against West Ham this season (as did Matthew Upson for that matter) and got away with dropping a long throw onto Fuller’s head last season when the referee disallowed the resulting goal. Whenever I have seen Green his positional sense has been questionable, he has been uncertain on crosses and he has failed to inspire any kind of confidence in him. Joe Hart has matured into a good shot-stopper who has added the ability to command his box to his repertoire. He is the in-form goalkeeper high on confidence and he should have been tried out in the warm up friendlies and he should have played yesterday. It’s no use going over the top on Green; he’s out of his depth and should never have been picked.
Finally, Capello needs to take a long, hard look at his two centre-backs. King was poor and may well miss the next few games through injury. Neither he nor Terry looked very good in the air, either. This didn’t surprise me with Terry, as I’ve seen at first hand that despite the bravado, he’s not one of those defenders who will eat up absolutely everything played high into his own box, but I thought King would cope better. The biggest concern, however, was pace. Terry and King are slow, but their immediate back-up, Carragher, was horrifyingly slow and it nearly cost us a goal. Upson is no better and I’m afraid that I don’t know enough about Dawson to suggest that he’d be a better option. If King is injured, I think that Carragher is over the hill and Upson just plain isn’t good enough, so I suppose it would have to be Dawson who came in. He’s young and inexperienced, but it’s an opportunity for Terry to show off his leadership skills and guide him through.
In short then, a disappointing result and performance, but no real disaster. It showed that the system we are using is the right one, but that we need to make slight changes. Capello is a smart manager who will learn from his mistakes and will hopefully get it right next time out. He doesn’t seem to be the sort to shy away from the big calls, but I have a horrible feeling that both Lampard and Gerrard will feature in the next fixture. I think that there will be a lot of emphasis on the fact that the England team weren’t too far away from where they wanted to be last night but that there is room for improvement all over the pitch.
My team for Algeria:
Johnson Terry Dawson A. Cole
Lennon Gerrard Barry J. Cole
P.S. What an absolute pleasure it was to have Mick McCarthy as the pundit for Nigeria’s game against Argentina. Having a manager currently plying his trade in the Premier League gave a far greater insight into what was going on on the pitch than anything that Lawrenson or even the unbearable Beglin have ever come out with. If only he commentated on England’s games.