Now despite the rather ominous title I’m not going balls deep into tearing England apart, I simply chose the word failure because no matter how many positives there were, only getting one point from three games will always be a bitter pill to swallow.
This article is focussing on the Costa Rica game, but with what was played out being less exciting than a Danny Murphy commentary stint, in terms of performance and tactical analysis, there’s not really much to delve into. Changes were made and we were promised a ‘glimpse into the future’ and although I was pleased some of my favourite players finally got the chance they deserved, the lack of interest in the game, on behalf of both teams, meant this game was played out in the most dead-rubber of all dead-rubber fashions.
Jack Wilshere played well. He perhaps held onto the ball too much at times, but this was simply a result of no one giving a flying f*** about playing properly. The players who had not featured were eager to impress, yet the lack of motivation they had for the game meant any sort of impressing was to be done with the ball at their feet. Saying this, I do think Wilshere was one of our better players, he injects pace into the game through his love of the ol’ one-two, and this little move opened up Costa Rica a couple of times, only for Sturridge to completely shank his shot wide, failing to hit the target on too many occasions. I think a blind person with one leg would’ve had a better day at the office, but unfortunately he didn’t make the trip.
Shaw and Lallana both played well too, and more importantly, in tandem. The synergy I have referred to was on show on a number of occasions, and Lallana’s penetrating runs though the channel as well as his ball carrying ability just simply confirmed my anti-Welbeck/pro-Lallana allegiance. The Southampton man looked bright, both in terms of getting involved as well as genuine intelligence, showing us he knows what to do with the ball when he gets it, and can execute it 9 times out of 10. Welbeck on the other hand is still a raw talent. Yes he can make good runs, yes he can score goals; but he does not have the required footballing brain, or at least the mental capacity to perform with his feet what he is thinking in his head, to play as the glue between midfield and attack. Welbeck is much better suited as a forward because his instincts override the process of sending information to his gangly limbs, whilst someone like Lallana on the other hand actually has the coordination, balance and agility necessary for a midfield player, allowing him to assess the game quickly and usually decide the best course of action, without falling over his own legs in the process.
Ben Foster also deserves a mention. He kept our first clean sheet of the tournament and threw in a few decent saves and a commanding presence to boot. However it is the performance of Lampard that intrigues me the most. We saw him constantly try long range passing, lifting it over the Costa Rican defence, or switching play in order to create space somewhere else. This I thought, despite some misplaced passes, was good on the whole, but the thing that really confused me was why Gerrard wasn’t doing any of this in the previous games! Gerrard has built a reputation based pretty much on his ball striking ability, even more so in his twilight years, yet I did not feel I bore witness to this at all against Italy or Uruguay. His passing range would have been key to what should have been a pacy attack, specialising at transforming defence into attack in a matter of seconds. The only time he actually demonstrated his talents was when he came on against Costa Rica, delivering a million yard pass, pinpoint to Raheem Sterling’s feet, and whilst it is undoubtedly an amazing piece of skill, the use of Gerrard’s wand came at a time when all the magic had been lost.
Building on this, I think confused is actually a very appropriate word when talking about England’s World Cup campaign. We all believed in the squad, the youth and experience seemed a perfect mix, and we were genuinely optimistic (me perhaps more than most) about our chances this summer. But with the onset of the tournament, this optimism began to dwindle, as the prior excitement and promise of the squad was contradicted and sapped from us by an innately archaic and defensive team chosen by Hodgson. Another aspect of this confusion relates to what I referred to about Gerrard, insofar as we seemed to do good things in all three matches, but we failed in combining it all into one complete performance. Against Italy we played at a high tempo, we attacked them without fear and all in all looked solid in the final third, with the likes of Sterling impressing. However, when facing Uruguay we seemed to completely abandon this relentless attacking approach and adopted a conservative nature that although allowed Gary Cahill to shine, it came at the cost of the intensity and attacking impetus from the first game. Whilst in the final game, as I have already said, not only did Lampard replace Gerrard, but he ultimately did his job better, a completely baffling scenario to me as no matter what Roy Hodgson would have said to Gerrard in the first two games, surely his instinct is to play those world class cross field passes, and yet we did not see one from him but 6000 from Lampard.
It seems that the wings of the England team were clipped, by something I referred to in part 2 of ‘If I Were A Roy’, the fear of failing. I was a firm believer that with the squad Hodgson picked and the morsels of attacking football we had been treated to in parts of the warm up games, and even games prior to this, the England team were finally ready to expel the weight of expectation as a burden and in turn embrace the faith and optimism we all blindly placed in them. I still believe that this group of players can achieve something in the future, and that Roy Hodgson could also play a role, but until we take some risks, it doesn’t matter who plays, we will always struggle to succeed. However, for the time being at least, the age old irony has repeated itself once again and despite all the signs pointing towards potential success, our innate incapacity to handle any amount of pressure proved to supersede all forms of optimism and as a result, has left all of us with a bitter taste in our mouth and an all to familiar scent clinging to the fabric of the England shirt.
At least we got a point…