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.
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.Tweet