That’s how I would categorize England’s performance for the majority of their 2-1 friendly victory over Switzerland tonight. Distinctly average.
If the England players wanted to come out and set a positive tone to impress new manager Fabio Capello, I’d have to say that as a group, they didn’t accomplish their goal.
David James was OK between the sticks. He made the stops he was supposed to make, but shanked a couple of goal kicks and clearances after back passes from field players. He didn’t appear to control his back line very well either, but more on them in a second.
The starting back line (Wes Brown, Rio Ferdinand, Matthew Upson, and Ashley Cole) was the definition of mediocre. In fact, I think “mediocre” would be flattering for the games these four players had. First of all, one could make the argument that Brown, Upson, and Cole shouldn’t have been in the starting lineup based on current form in the first place, but that’s neither here nor there. Ferdinand and Upson looked very, very shaky at times in the center, none more so than on Switzerland’s equalizer in the 58th minute. Brown doesn’t give you anything going forward, and Cole gives you very little on defense for a left back. Wayne Bridge came in for Cole in the 73rd minute and was an immediate upgrade at that position in my opinion, but if Switzerland had any attacking capability in their front line whatsoever, they would have scored more than once because this England defense was ripe for the picking.
The midfield was definitely England’s bright spot, with both goals coming from that group. Neither Gareth Barry nor Owen Hargreaves, Barry’s replacement at the holding midfield position, played particularly well, but captain Steven Gerrard, Joe Cole, David Bentley, and Shaun Wright-Phillips all had solid games. Tottenham midfielder Jermaine Jenas opened the scoring on a tap-in finish in the 40th minute after a wonderful bit of dribbling skill from Cole, and Wright-Phillips tapped in a left-footed cross from Gerrard in the 62nd minute to put England back in front, 2-1. Jenas didn’t exactly light things up today; I thought he actually played poorly aside from the goal.
Up front, Wayne Rooney, Peter Crouch, and Ashley Young all played, with Young coming on for Rooney just three minutes before the match ended. Wazza dropped deep in the first half, as is his usual playing style, and then ended up in a wide left midfield role for most of the time in the second half. The Manchester United man continued his lack of production at the international level though as he had numerous shots, but none of them seriously threatened Swiss goalkeeper Diego Benaglio (sounds real Swiss to me!!). Crouch was more useful than Rooney I thought; the big man has an incredibly soft touch, and can win balls in the air and control them to his teammates or to himself, and he showed these skills today. Personally, I feel that the lone striker formations which Capello favors cater more towards Crouch’s strengths than Rooney’s, so I’ll be looking at that position more closely in the future.
As I said, I think the play of the midfield was England’s lone bright spot today and if Switzerland had any offensive punch, they could’ve easily gotten a result out of this game. Not the most impressive way to begin under Capello, but a victory is a victory.
My Man of the Match: If I was forced to pick, it would be the captain, Steven Gerrard.