The Italian Job
The Italy game, despite the loss, was the first England game in a while I reflected on with optimism and a genuine feeling of positivity. As I said, although we lost the match there were many things we did do in that game that showed me a shift in the right direction, a sentiment that underpinned my recent ‘If I Were A Roy’ series of articles.
Raheem Sterling, in the words of Rihanna, shined bright like a diamond, and dazzled us with a performance beyond his tender teenage years, most surprisingly through the middle. His pace, but also creativity and execution meant, the first half especially, was littered with dynamic England attacks, and although perhaps not creating many genuine goal scoring opportunities, the impetus and excitement Sterling added to England’s play was encapsulated by the audacity and quality of his spectacular long-range belter, which for a moment in time sent the whole of England in to a state of absolute euphoria, something that if his last performance was anything to go by, he may well do again in the near future.
Yet besides Raheem’s sterling performance (don’t pardon the pun at all), we also saw D. Sturridge bag his first World Cup goal, an all important one that should give him the much needed confidence he has perhaps been lacking when donning the white of England rather than the red of Liverpool. A well worked move that embodied the new emphasis on moving the ball much quicker and using our pace to our advantage, in which some of our main players all contributed fantastically towards. Bringing me nicely on to the man who assisted Sturridge in this swift and deadly counter attack, Wayne Rooney. Rooney, in my opinion, although playing completely out of position, played pretty well and whilst he was also incredibly unlucky with the potential equaliser, he showed his knack of creating and executing (nearly) goalscoring opportunities for both himself and his teammates. A quality that if he were to be placed along Sturridge would be even more exciting to witness.
Leighton Baines was the victim of a ruthless and relentless Candreva/Darmian double-team, and although questions were asked of Rooney’s defensive work, even when swapping with the supposedly more defensively aware Welbeck, Leighton Baines’ rear end was in perpetual danger, with Mario Balotelli’s well worked winner proving the be the fitting money shot for the explicit havoc wreaked upon poor little Leighton. As I hinted to in my other articles however, I believe the vulnerability of Baines was a necessary product of a more attacking approach to the game and the only remedy I can see for this situation would be firstly not playing Welbeck, but secondly playing both Lallana and Shaw along this side, as the synergy and relationship between them may result in a more competent left hand side, both in an attacking sense and the already highlighted defensive aspect of the game.
The only real things that annoyed me, already hinted to in the last paragraph, were Welbeck’s inclusion and Lallana’s subsequent exclusion from the starting XI. The England team that faced Italy was the perfect example of Roy Hodgson being a slave to a name and a reputation. So great was his desire to play both Rooney and Welbeck that not only were they played out of position but even Raheem Sterling, who’s first half display in a central role was something to be admired, fell victim to the prestige of the others around him and found himself bunged out on the wing come the second half where neither he or those he was sacrificed for proved to be particularly effectual. The reasons Welbeck’s inclusion perplexed me so very much are based on the idea that once again he played in a position completely unfamiliar to him. He is a striker, and although his appearances on the left wing have pushed me close to the edge many a time, finding him in a less orthodox deeper position, more of an attacking midfielder if we are going to label it in some way, saw me question myself once and for all whether life is all its hyped up to be.
Joking aside (the meme did make me chuckle), my point is that although I enjoyed the system Hodgson deployed, I very much did not have fun with those he cast in these new roles. I can’t even justify Welbeck’s inclusion over Lallana in a left wing position, let alone a position that clearly revolved around the midfield area. Welbeck’s job consisted of both getting forward and getting back, as well as being a medium through which England could create attacks, all of which point, in huge illuminated Las Vegas style lights, towards the likes of Lallana, or Oxalde-Chamberlain as the perfect players for these new responsibilities. Both are very able ball carriers, something at which Welbeck has always failed to impress me, whilst both are also accustomed to balancing attacking and defending, as both are, wait for it…… midfield players. NOT F***ING STRIKERS!
However, although Welbeck has yet again been the source of most of my criticism, it really isn’t his fault as he isn’t playing himself there. I just wish Roy Hodgson would look at what he is asking of his players in this new system, which once again I will emphasise how happy I was with, and not be scared to drop the players who clearly don’t fit into it. Lallana, The Ox, or perhaps Wilshere would be better suited to what was asked of Welbeck whilst Wayne Rooney’s guest appearance on the left hand side should be disregarded quickly.
With a few tweaks, Hodgson could have well unlocked the secret to English footballing success, but this will certainly not be accomplished until he learns to take a risk, until he learns that the position dictates who should play there, not the name. The old ‘square pegs in round holes’ conundrum seems very appropriate when discussing the England team and I think its about time Roy started using his bloody round pegs.
Bring on Uruguay.