Dull and lifeless: it’s time to ditch the 4-4-2

It was a horror show. The majority of us knew that the Algeria game was an unlikely to be a classic, but we watched anyway and waited for (what we thought would be) the inevitable deadlock-breaker. It never came.
A fluffed left-footed effort from Frank Lampard and a speculative Steven Gerrard header from the edge of the box were England’s only real chances in ninety minutes that were excruciating to watch for any Englishmen.

Expletives were launched at televisions up and down the country as Emile Heskey tried to somehow out-trick the Algerian defence. David Beckham looked on exasperated as Wayne Rooney looked vacant and, some argue, even unfit. And all the while, Fabio Capello stood on the sideline dazed and confused at England’s inability to break down the hardworking Algerians.


Could Joe Cole hold the key to an improvement? Photo: doug88888 via Flickr

That bewilderment is worrying. It is perhaps the first time that Capello has been unable to adequately explain a poor performance. In post-match interviews he pointed to the pressure of playing in a World Cup. That excuse just does not cut it—these are mentally sound players who have played in Champions League finals and the like. Blaming the burden of national expectation is an awful excuse.

A more probable reason for the underachievement is Capello’s choice of formation. England quite easily cruised through qualification with what was, in the main, a 4-4-2 formation. But qualification matches and tournament matches are very different creatures and different systems are needed in the finals of a major international tournament.

It is quite obvious that 4-4-2 is not working for England. Steven Gerrard’s natural inclination is to drift in from the left hand side, which narrows the pitch when England attack and leaves that flank exposed when Capello’s team haven’t got the ball. Even Aaron Lennon, who should give the team natural width, was not sticking to the touchline against the Algerians. These things are no problem in qualification matches against the likes of Kazakhstan and Belarus. But the better teams can assess such tactical deficiencies easily by packing the midfield and getting men behind the ball.

Pundits and fans have been calling for a shift to a kind of 4-5-1 system for a while now. That seems to be one of the ways to get the best out of England’s plethora of midfield talent. The goalkeeper and defence would remain the same, but Emile Heskey would be sacrificed for an extra midfielder, allowing Gerrard to play just off Rooney. Barry would retain his “water carrier” position in front of the back four, while Lampard would have more room to manoeuvre and wouldn’t be constrained by Gerrard’s drifting.

As for the man who would come into the eleven, there is only one choice. Joe Cole. A look at the most talented teams can identify a theme. Argentina have Lionel Messi, Germany have Mesut Ozil and the Netherlands have Wesley Sneijder. These are nippy, clever little players who can turn a game on its head with a bit of trickery and guile. England’s starting line-up lacks such a player, and Cole would be perfect for the role, as well as giving the team much more balance.

Capello though is a headstrong coach, and hasn’t got where he is today by pandering to popular opinion. He has admitted that changes may be needed for England’s must-win encounter with Slovenia on Wednesday, but whether that will include a change of formation or not we will have to wait and see. The game is shouting out for Joe Cole though.

2 Responses to Dull and lifeless: it’s time to ditch the 4-4-2

  1. Rob Hewitt says:

    Couldn’t agree here more! Nothing has clicked this world cup. Sick of seeing one dimensional football with no prospects of that changing. Fabio fails with his substitutions by only making like for like replacements. There is no plan b with England and if plan a doesn’t work then the performance is one of complete failure. Even when plan a does work it’s not entirely effective and England just end up looking lacklustre.

    We are sadly on the brink of one of the poorest and most embarrassing world cups we have ever seen. We have faith, but not much.

  2. Bradley King says:

    Absolutely Rob. After listening to the John Terry press conference earlier today, it seems clear to me that he and some of the other players are unhappy with the system Capello is using. On the other hand, Capello is telling the press it’s a problem in the players heads- it’s almost as if he’s that single minded, he can’t admit his system isn’t working.
    It will be very interesting to see the outcome of tonight’s team meeting.

    Thanks for reading.