Thursday, October 12, 2006

A night to forget

Oh dear.

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.

England lost 2-0 to Croatia last night. Scotland lost 2-0 to Ukraine.

Not good. You're quite possibly feeling a bit down in the dumps about it all, but let me just say this as I try and raise your spirits.

Some things in life are bad, they can really make you mad. Other things just make you swear and curse. When you're chewing on life's gristle, don't grumble - give a whistle, and this'll help things turn out for the best...


Always look on the bright side of life (do-doo, do-do do-do do-do), always look on the light side of life (do-doo, do-do do-do do-do)...


Smart said...

I knew I should have placed money on my 2-0 prediction.

12 to 1 that was...

Chris said...

Really? 12-1? Blimey...

As soon as you said that, I thought "Yeah - 2-0. That sounds just about spot on." And now I wished I'D put a bet on it too...

Flicktokick said...

Far be it for a Scot to comment on England's fortunes. But having been at all your World Cup matches - and having the narcolepsy to prove it - I was at a loss from the first squad announcement McClaren made why dropping Beckham, and that alone, would make any difference to the way your team plays, apart from drying up the one source of crosses that may lead to goals.
People complain that Beckham didn't beat people, but if he puts a cross in from 25 yards out and its headed in why do you want it from the byline. The fact is that Beckham either made or scored almost every goal for England at the World Cup and it can hardly be suggested that his standing out on the right was the reason why the rest of the midfield failed to perform.
From a neutral point of view it seems that McClaren needed to announce himself as different from Ericsson and that the best way to do that was to make a very definite gesture involving the most visible embodiment of the Swede’s era. That it seemed to denude the squad of its most potent weapon seemed not to be an issue and the media appeared all too happy to go along, not questioning McClaren’s bland ‘New direction’ statements.
If the decision appeared hasty and ill-considered at the time, given the subsequent injury to Lennon and recent anaemic performances it now just seems reckless.
Now England has a midfield that looks to play long balls to a forward line that doesn't want them and doesn’t know how to penetrate in any other way.
Your most dangerous midfield player – Gerrard - is now left stuck out on the wing, where he is neither at his most effective nor the best player to exploit the position.
Yesterday you played with 3 central defenders AND two holding midfield players and some are surprised you created very little.
The difficulty for England lies in trying to satisfy too many conflicting demands. The first is that the 'form' players be picked, the best players. So Lampard, Gerrard and Rooney have to be on the pitch and because he's scored a few recently so does Crouch. Beckham has a dip so he has to go. Short term knee-jerk proclamations are made about who must play but the problem here is that no account is made for the oppostion tactics or how the team will play as a unit and the result is a team which has all the right names in it but which misfires. The fact is that it can be better to include a player who is not as good but is more effective for the team, its structure and its fluidity. So was Emile Heskey ever the best centre forward in England? No, but his style of play allowed Michael Owen to play and in doing so gave the team the structure to play its game.
But a bad result or two and fans and media demand changes.
The other problem England face is that of adapting their natural playing style to different areas. Think about it. Both Liverpool and Arsenal did well in the Champions League with teams that did not perform with anywhere like the same success in the Premiership. The reason is simple. In each case the team was in a state of change. The players were used to playing in a way that style that suited the Champions League but were finding it difficult to perform amongst the all-action, pace guts and thunder of the Premiership. Conversely Chelsea could sweep all domestic opposition aside and yet stutter badly in Europe.
So what happens to England? They know International football is a different proposition to the Premier League so they seem to have two options. Change the way they play - adopt a more methodical approach which in many ways is alien to the players or keep to a traditional British style with an emphasis on workrate, pressing opponents. This of course is the approach with which the players may feel most at home and it would certainly please the crowd and the media but what if it doesn't work against an opposition that doesn't play the same way? The result is you get tired and they don't, perhaps leading to a collapse in the later stages of the game. And the idea of performing like that every four days for a month in soaring temperatures at the end of a long season doesn't seem too sensible.
So again, what should England do? The trick, and it is a difficult one, is to manage some sort of hybrid. Upping the tempo for periods of the game and knowing when to take time and hold it in defence. It is unsurprising that the one player who shone at the World Cup for England was Owen Hargreaves.
Hargreaves plays in a League that falls between the extremes of English football and Italian. As was shown to great effect in the World Cup German football has the physicality of British football but combined with a little more attacking patience and a culture of flexibility in player’s roles.
Prior to the World Cup Hargreaves was dismissed by most England fans as not being as creative or dangerous as Lampard or Gerrard, but when given the stage he was able to show that he offered something else in terms of the control of play at the back of the midfield area, coupled with sensible running and strong tackling.
Unfortunately for McClaren, there is not a seam of foreign based players to be tapped to assist with the development of his team, so he has a choice. He can work out which of the players available to him can make the necessary alterations to their game and build the team around them. This however can be controversial and painful as seemingly good players are left out and of course as with any experimental phase results can suffer. This is the approach Berti Vogts tried with Scotland and although it has left us with a crop of younger players coming through it was not a pleasant experience and if like Vogts you get the experiment wrong too often the end result is simply failure.
The second option for McClaren is to play safe. Use the conventional 4-4-2 formation that would appear to play to the current squad’s strengths and generally play the team that fans and media demand at that time – whether Defoe/Bent/Crouch plays up front etc. Of course there remains the possibility there that the current squad’s strengths were fully exposed at the World Cup and that the peripheral changes made since will make no discernable difference.
The third option is once again the hybrid option. Find a system which the available players are comfortable with but which allows for a flexible approach. Is it possible? I don’t know. But until England find an answer, for all that their players are feted and undoubtedly will win many games, the end result will be that the team will continue to fall below expectations.

Kedge said...

A shrewd and insightfull diagnosis of our teams current failings Flicktokick.
3-5-2 will only work if the 2 wingbacks (Cole and Nevville) can get forward, with the ball, and take on defenders. Cole is probably better at that than Neville, although Neville probably crosses better. Then you need the 3 midfielders to be more central, with 1 holding (Hargreaves/Carrick) and the others supporting the strikers, which is where Lampard & Gerrard come in. Our problem seems to be that Cole/Lampard/Gerrard/Rooney all get sucked into the same area of the pitch and they do not have the close control/ball skill of, say, the South Americans. This means they bang short passes to each other in static positions, rather than a fluid forward movement, and that makes it easier for the opposition to close them down, apply the pressure and force mistakes.
It McClaren wants 3-5-2 then he only requires the 1 centreback, keeping Neville and Cole in a more traditional full back role, 3 central midfielders as above, with 2 genuine wide men used to the role.
As Flicktokick says, Crouch is probably not he best suited to the current long ball pumped forward from midfield. He seems uncomfortable with his back to goal, lacks direction with the lay offs/flick ons, and does not have the pace to get in behind defenders.
Rooney spends so much time taking the ball in midfield that there is no-one around to pick up the odd flick on that Crouch does get right.
(We seemed to play more of a 3-6-1 formation against Croatia).
Granted Crouch has proved he can score goals, but he needs the right sort of service, balls crossed in from wide areas, or if the space is made, balls played to feet while he's facing the goal.
Basically England need to get back to the basics. Concentrate on ball control, passing, both long and short, pushing the midfied forward so that the opposition are given no room to play in rather than having most of our players back in our 3rd of the pitch.

And why oh why did Mcclaren pick our toughest game to start experimenting in? I thought only Ericsson did that!

Smart said...

Fabulous post FlicktoKick.

First of all, RE:Beckham - well to me, it was a case of McLaren making a statement to the players and public that HE is the boss and he has his own ideas for a team, not just Sven's.

If the excuse was that he cant run past players, then I would have tried him in the middle.

As for the rest of the shambles, its the age old problem with England, where we pick possibly the best 11 players around.

The problem is that we have to play some of those players out of position to get them all in to the starting 11.

Square pegs in round holes.

Looking back in history, the best teams arent full of 11 match winning players, they are full of 11 players that worked as a match winning team.

Chris said...

I can only guess that McLaren decided to drop Beckham as he'll be 33 by the time Euro 2008 comes around, but he could still be used for large chunks of games while newer players are being bedded in.

As for the process of picking players that aren't necessarily among the best in England but are good in their respective positions, you have to spare a thought for the manager. If he leaves out a top name in favour of someone whose star is yet to rise and the team go on to lose, what chance has he got of retaining any respect among the fans?


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