How Weak is Englands Backline?
With England’s captain Rio Ferdinand now out of the World Cup Finals, one would think the notoriously pessimistic English would be packing it in already with fears about their defense, but there has hardly been a tremor. Throughout the Premiership campaign Ferdinand had not played up to potential, and many believe that his replacement, likely to be Ledley King, is at least, if not more, capable than the Man United man.
Although there are always comments to be made about the state of King’s knees, he seems to have reassured everyone of his commitment, backing the talk up with evidence from his heavy minutes towards the end of Tottenham’s season. As for his skills, he is comfortable with the ball, needed as he is replacing England’s ball distributing center-half. Rarely caught out of position, everyone assumes King and John Terry should be a stern test for the varied offenses England will find in South Africa.
Things are rarely that simple, however, and while the decision to go with King might very well reap rewards, the weaknesses in such a choice must be considered as well. It is rarely the most talented team that wins the competition, normally the unit that has the best chemistry, and the best execution succeeds. Sadly, you cannot just plant two players next to each other and expect everything to work out, (England fans should know this, they have been dealing with the Gerrard/Lampard conundrum for ages). The problem here is that even a fully healthy defender would struggle to form a good partnership with Terry at this late stage, but King has to do it without the benefit of full and regular training sessions.
The central defensive pairing for England will become even more important as they will be expected to help out on the flanks quite a lot, with Johnson’s tendency to bomb up the field, and Ashley Cole too playing a risky style (although he is rarely caught out). Communication and understanding becomes vital because otherwise viewers will be seeing a lot of King dealing with two forwards in the box as Terry goes chasing off into a challenge on the wings.
Terry himself has been a bit of a worry in the past few months, never a defender with great speed, he seemed to have lost a step and was making it up with physicality that might be tolerated in the EPL but would be booked in international play. Still, the old adage says form is temporary, class is permanent, (although it is pretty much assumed Terry has none, at least socially). For all Terry can’t do with reliability, at least anymore, (take space away from the entire front line, make precise passes to start the break), there are certain things that he remains excellent at, such as predicting where crosses will end up and getting into position early, (vital with the new ball that everyone is complaining about), and guarding set plays. He is also very vocal, which will be needed to create some form of chemistry between him and King.
They key for England is to stop worrying about what their defenders can’t do, and focus on what they’re great at. Sven’s old tactics of scoring a goal and sitting on it will not be a winning strategy at this World Cup, offenses are too good. Johnson and Cole’s offensive prowess will be needed to add much needed variety to England’s attack and Terry and King are no slouches at set pieces. England’s defense is not as strong as it could be, but it certainly looks like it can get the job done.