Not only are England technically inferior, we are intellectually inferior too, because either Roy Hodgson and his team considered the fact Gerrard cannot play in a two-man midfield and naively thought the four attacking players would mean a weak defensive base wouldn’t matter. Or, he didn’t even consider the very obvious fact Gerrard cannot operate in a two. I don’t know what scenario is worse, as both are stupidity of the highest order!
I can’t think of any other nation at this World Cup that has played as recklessly and open as England.
We witnessed the same formation naivety with the “golden generation”. At that time we boasted players of the caliber of G.Neville, Ferdinand, Terry, A.Cole, Beckham, Scholes, Lampard, Gerrard, J.Cole, Rooney, Owen and others. They may not have been as talented as some proclaimed, but the individual talent was there to get to a semi of a Euros or World Cup at the very least. Yet they didn’t.
I believe one of the main reasons for this was the formation and playing style were clearly behind the times and failed to utilise the England squads’ main strengths. Which is the exact problem we had at this World Cup.
Firstly, back then we had four very competent defenders. Scholes, the un-English play-making talent Xavi and Iniesta modelled their game on. Beckham, probably the best crosser in World football. Plus two of the bestscoring midfielders in the world and Rooney and Owen upfront. Yet (in particular) we completely hampered Scholes, Gerrard, Lampard and Beckham’s strengths by not playing them within a midfield system (a three man midfield or even a narrow diamond) that made use of their considerable attacking strengths.
Gerrard and Lampard were told to hold position in the centre of the pitch, despite both being two of the world’s finest goal threats from midfield. Scholes was instructed to move to the left, the left!? That’s exactly like telling Xavi to play left midfield, just complete madness. Without a midfield structure in-place the whole team fell apart.
The same thing happened at this World Cup, with Gerrard playing in a midfield two that he just cannot operate in, especially now his legs and stamina have long gone. Gerrard needed more protection and an extra man to cover for him and do his pressing and running off the ball. Just like he has at Liverpool, where he has mostly excelled this season. England didn’t give him that and the whole side crumbled when in the defensive phase. We were too easy to play through in midfield.
Here’s a very brief outline of how I would recommend England set-up in-future to ensure we aren’t so easy to beat. Gerrard as a deep lying playmaker, never straying from between the centre-backs. Henderson to replicate his box-to-box role at Liverpool. Perhaps Milner, or another defensive holder to protect Gerrard and ensure we don’t get overrun in midfield so easily. Or, when the game dictates, bring on Barkley/Wilshere for Milner to offer another creative, more direct player from deep. This solid three-man base would then also afford Sturridge, Sterling and Rooney the protection to wreak havok playing close together as a front 3, with perhaps Sterling just behind the other two.
In the defensive phase, Sturridge would move to Right wing/midfield, Rooney to left midfield/wing and Sterling to attacking/central midfield. This ensures the whole team helps out in defence and cannot be played through with the ease we’ve seen in the past.
Basically I would replicate Liverpool’s tactics, training, style and formation whenever possible. As England don’t have enough time with the players to teach these things, so it makes most sense to just use Liverpool’s methods.
This lack of insight by England tactically has been an eternal problem and it’s truly staggering. Especially when it’s so apparent our tactics on a national level are behind the times.
It’s time for Roy to say, OK, here’s what I got wrong, here’s what I’ve learned and here’s how I will fix it.
Otherwise, how do we know he will not make the exact same mistakes again and again, just like England have been doing since 1966?