In a game like yesterday’s the result is of no consequence. England will still qualify handily for Euros, (but in all probability not go very far), and they weren’t playing their strongest side by any means. Yet, even if the penalty was awarded and it finished 1-0 to England, I don’t think a single fan would be feeling secure about England’s ability to hang with Germany and Spain in the real deal.
While the playing staff is not superb, certainly they are not as good as Spain’s, they cause themselves unnecessary problems by having undefined roles, often that change from game to game. The blame for that rests solely at the feet of the manager, who has been utterly inflexible in not fixing what is obviously broken. After the World Cup, I said that Capello should stay on, so that he can learn from his mistakes rather than getting in someone new who would doubtless have his own adjustment period. I still don’t believe that he should be sacked, but he has got to start understanding that some of his moves have failed, and need to be adjusted.
One of the main gripes during the World Cup was that England’s 4-4-2 was outdated and couldn’t hold up anymore, they needed to switch to a formation that used their players better. Germany passed all around them, and they couldn’t even break down a stubborn Algeria, the one thing that the 4-4-2 is supposed to be good at.
I’m not a huge believer of the 4-4-2, but if any side can have success with it, it’s England. ‘Arry uses it regularly and Tottenham are one of the most entertaining (and successful) sides week in week out. British players and a British style of play primarily resolves around: traditional English wingers, either inverted or not, strong presence in the box and organization in defense and on set plays. The 4-4-2 thrives on width, either from overlapping full-backs or super-fast wingers, and a target in the box to aim crosses at. In that respect Capello seemed to be learning, as his side certainly seemed to match his formation. Starting Crouch was a good move, as he could provide a target in the box for cushioned headers or knock-downs. Two out and out wingers were played, and they were inverted so they could either get to the byline or cut inside, while still leaving width due to the presence of Cashley and Glen Johnson. So fair enough that Capello starts with that formation, even against a 4-5-1.
After some time has passed however, it is unfathomable that Capello didn’t know it wasn’t working. Outnumbered 2v3 in the center of the park, the entire England plan was shot to pieces, wingers came inside to help, balls dried up into the box, Rooney came down into the midfield to get the ball, there was no target to aim at for balls into the box, it was a shambles. For all the strides teams like Sunderland and Birmingham City have made in recent years in the Premiership, to see the national teams main source of offense come from Gerrard in deep positions, hoofing long balls (albeit precise ones) to Peter Crouch, is quite frankly, embarrassing.
In situations like this in the World Cup, Capello did nothing, he waited and waited to try and make something from nothing, yet seemed surprised when it never happened. It’s only reasonable to expect him to have learned from past experiences and tried something, anything, different. Of course, he remained obstinate. Had he noticed the wingers weren’t really getting forward to the byline and tried to cajole them into it, or even switched Johnson and Young to their natural sides, could have done the trick. A move to a 4-2-3-1, moving Rooney into a position on the shoulders of the center backs, with Crouch taken off for Wilshere, would have given the opposition something completely new to adjust to.
After relatively easy victories over Switzerland and Bulgaria, many though Capello had learned his lesson, and make no mistake he’s certainly getting better. The back four and the goalkeeper now look much more confident, and some youth players are getting a look in without placing too much expectation on their shoulders. Also, this was an England team missing quite a lot of impact players, Kevin Davies shouldn’t make it anywhere near the first team in the future. But it’s not enough, at some point when things aren’t working properly, it’s because they’re broken.