Another World Cup and another muted start for the England team. England tries to deny it, but the national team are just as predictable as a Zimbabwean election. But, if you manage to brush pass all the jingoism and all the hyperbole, you’ll come to the realization that England’s performance wasn’t that bad. It was certainly the best they’ve produced in recent months.
Credit should be given to the USA, first and foremost. Their shape, which placed Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey just behind the two forwards, posed a serious question to England and severely limited their vital left-wing outlet. Moreover, their deep midfield and high defensive line compacted the space in which Wayne Rooney usually operates and stunted the impact Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard could have on the game.
Ok. Enough about the USA. Let’s address the elephant in the room: Emile Heskey. It goes without saying that the bulky Aston Villa striker isn’t the most popular of Fabio Capello’s England selection. And, even after a quite reasonable performance, there’s no reason to pull any punches.
Apologists have likened him to Stephane Guivarc’h of France’s World Cup winners in 1998: an appalling striker, but one that links the play for others on the field. What said apologists overlook, however, is the fact that that French team also had Zinedine Zidane, Patrick Viera, Emmanuel Petit, Christophe Dugarry, Thierry Henry, Didier Deschamps, and Youri Djorkaeff. Simply put, the French team could’ve had Diana Ross upfront and still won the tournament.
But that’s beside the point, because Emile Heskey’s link-up play against the USA was on the slightly buttery side of miserable. He routinely won the ball but often failed to find an England shirt because of the USA’s deep midfield duo, Ricardo Clark and Michael Bradley.
To give Heskey some credit, he was involved in the goal which came as a result of Oguchi Onyewu’s over-zealous pressing of Wayne Rooney which allowed Steven Gerrard to exploit the space left behind him. After five minutes then, the system appeared to be working.
Onyewu’s indiscipline was there to be exploited all night. Unfortunately for England, the opportunities fell to an inexperienced right-winger – who passed when he should’ve shot, and a poor striker lacking confidence – who, unsurprisingly, shot directly at Tim Howard’s midriff. Even had all the legwork by Heskey been exact, England can’t afford to spurn those kinds of opportunities against tougher opponents, and it begs a pertinent question: given the similarity of build and style, yet the difference in striking instinct, why Peter Crouch wasn’t afforded a start by the England manager?
As the game progressed though, a case could’ve also been put forward for Jermaine Defoe. England’s ascendancy and the USA’s high, undisciplined line, would’ve been perfect for a mobile forward to run in behind.
Capello will need to rethink this area and England fans should probably expect Peter Crouch to line up against Algeria.
Another fault of England’s was their inability to take control of the game after taking the lead.
With Heskey up-top, the defenders were quite happy to launch the ball forward towards him and, unsurprisingly this caused England to lose possession quite often.
A more considered approach would’ve been more beneficial. Anyone watching Germany on Sunday night will have noted their ability to control the game comfortably through possession that didn’t necessarily have to end in a goal-scoring opportunity. England, on the other hand, lost concentration, became sloppy and paid the price.
Gerrard and especially Lampard were quite wasteful in possession. Had there been a midfield anchor such as Gareth Barry or Michael Carrick to allow deep possession retention, England could’ve dominated the game much more. The USA’s defensive 4-2-2-2 system would’ve also offered plenty of room for a holding midfielder.
The Left Flank
Yet again, England’s lack of a decent natural left winger proved costly.
Donovan pushed well up on Cole and stymied his surges forward. This meant that England had to rely much more on James Milner and later Shaun Wright-Phillips getting forward.
As Wright-Phillips was forced to cut inside onto his favoured foot and Cole was unable to provide the overlap, England was left toothless down the left side. Conversely, this allowed Steven Cherundolo to get forward and support Landon Donovan and most of the American’s attacking play sourced from there.
It was therefore up to Glen Johnson and Aaron Lennon to stretch the American defence and both won several plaudits as a result. Lennon, however, should have exploited an aging Carlos Bocanegra much more successfully.
How easily the USA nullified England’s attacking prospects down the left should be a worry to Capello. The Italian was probably correct in using James Milner on the left to track Donovan’s advances but the Aston Villa midfielder’s naivety and indiscipline told in the end.
With a lot of problems highlighted, not to mention Robert Green’s mishap and Jamie Carragher’s uneasy replacement of an injured Ledley King, there are undoubtedly a lot of areas for improvement in spite of a decent display. Thankfully, there is easier opposition to come in the coming two games.
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