Where it All Went Wrong for England
In short: Everywhere. Though that won’t do. England’s problems were numerous and solutions are not easy to come by. It’s best to look at the team and the manager as a whole.
Firstly, England played their usual tactics against Algeria who, in turn, played to stifle those tactics. With 3 central defenders and 3 central midfielders with 2 wing backs, England were always outnumbered in the opposition’s half. This left Heskey trying to win the ball and keep it against two dedicated defenders, sometimes 3. It was therefore impossible to perform his primary role as a target man. Without Heskey performing England’s tactics fell apart, he was then unable to bring Gerrard and Lampard into the game as England couldn’t retain possession for long enough. The commentators on ITV kept referring to Gerrard as ‘on the left’ but in reality his role was to roam to where he was needed. The problem with this was that because of Algeria’s tactics there was no space for him to exploit so he could exert no influence on the game.
Another key element of England’s plan were the full backs, with Gerrard moving infield against any other formation this would create space for Ashley Cole and Aaron Lennon could create space for Glen Johnson. With an extra centre back at all times and two wing backs there was no space for the full backs to exploit, preventing England from having another option beyond lucky flicks from Heskey.
After the tactics failed England it fell on the shoulders of individual players to provide the spark that could create a goal from nothing. If the tactics did indeed fail the players failed much much more. It will continue to be a mystery how a team who played so well in Qualification could not play the fundamentals of football, often simple passes went astray and players who obstensibly have a good first touch failing to control the ball several times. It was an abysmal team performance with some questionable substitutions. With 60 minutes of dispiriting football played Fabio Capello replaced the ineffectual Aaron Lennon with the terrible Shaun Wright-Phillips in a change that failed to change anything. It wasn’t until the 74th minute that Heskey was finally taken off and things didn’t change by that point Algeria had become entrenched and England had become desperate.
With 180 minutes of the World Cup played the squad Capello was left with has been short on many things. One thing that hasn’t been commented on is the lack of a set-piece taker. In a game where a team is simply playing for the draw it often takes a set-piece to break the dead-lock. When England did force a free-kick or a corner in a dangerous position it was almost always wasted. In a way that never was when David Beckham was eligible. Without Beckham set-pieces have been a waste for England, neither Barry, Gerrard or Lampard (and they all tried) could provide a quality ball throughout the domestic season or qualification. So it was in Greenpoint too. Algeria, though mentioned briefly throughout here, have not been given credit much in the same way the Swiss were largely ignored in the Spanish story. Algeria played their tactics to perfection, in contrast to England their players performed above their level, played as a cohesive determined unit and caused some problems from Set Pieces.
England fans will be up in arms for the rest of the week and rightly so. However this was a perfect storm of terrible football. Algeria played the perfect tactic to negate all of England’s strenghs and England were denied through injury two players who could create a chance from a dead ball in Hargreaves and Beckham. Though it does call into question the preparation of a manager to essentially have carbon copies of players throughout his squad. Crouch is Heskey and Heskey is terrible, Lennon is Wright-Phillips and King is Carragher. Gareth Barry was a sole good point in England’s performance but that is no saving grace. It is my firm belief that Barry is simply holding Hargreaves place until his chronic injury problems result in some resolution. Hargreaves is England’s creative and destructive Maestro, his perfomance in 2006 was a highlight that has been lost due to his continued absence from Elite football since.
This World Cup has not gone well for Capello and he finds himself in the same conversation as the disgraceful French and Domenech. The players and fans are at odds and team harmony at an all time low. England have now played two draws that feel like defeats and are still a win away from qualification from the group, their fate is still in their hands. If they can rouse themselves to a good performance against Slovenia they may be able to put the Ghosts (and Greens) of the first two games behind them. In the knockout stages they will not meet a team who normally play the tactics that derailed them tonight and their Key players may be able to rise to the occasion. If you are desperately looking for positives at least England are trying, you can’t say that for the French.