Ever since Bobby Charlton and his men led England to victory in the 1966 World Cup, the English national team has never quite been able to return to successes achieved on that day. Year upon year and tournament upon tournament, the whole country is tormented by unrequited hope and overly ambitious expectation. But not since the days of Charlton has an England team made the final of a major competition since.
Where does the problem lay? It’s not the players. The players play in the best league in the world and produce some of the best footballing spectacles on the planet. It’s unlocking the full potential and ability of these players and none more so is it obvious than in this year’s bunch.
The side are not short of talent and, on their day, players like Gerrard, Rooney, Hart and Cahill could be considered as one of the strongest spines to a team in world football. And the others aren’t bad either: Lampard could have been argued as world class only a year ago, the much improved and confident Sterling, the industrious Henderson, the sturdy Jagielka, etc.
But singing praises of players ‘on their day’ is not what top class English football is about. It’s about reproducing those good days, making them more frequent and making those ‘off days’ hardly noticeable.
Paul Scholes was recently quoted, to the surprise of Manchester United fans, describing how England should play more like Liverpool if they are to do well in this year’s World Cup. Even the most stubborn United fan should see some logic in that. Liverpool achieved the second highest goals tally in this season’s Premier League just behind Manchester City who, of course, lack English players. Liverpool notched up 102 goals from everywhere on the pitch, coming from all angles and all positions. Significantly 49 of Liverpool’s tally were netted by English players.
Coupling the fruitful Englishmen on Merseyside with England and United stalwart Rooney in a pacy attacking line-up could be the key to unlocking some of those more stubborn world stage defenses. The speed of play obviously contributes heavily to the Liverpool set-up but another feature of their success this term was Brendan Rodgers’ tactical know-how.
One of the more successful of Rodgers’ formations was that potent midfield diamond he deployed throughout the season and this is where England can take a helping hand from Rodgers and the wise words of Scholes.
This is what the diamond formation would do for England:
Likely to consist of Hart, Baines, Cahill, Jagielka and Johnson, the defense wouldn’t change notably. Hodgson is renowned for building his team very solidly at the back, so this would not involve to much ingenuity, a simple well organized line of four.
The holding midfielder’s job, in England’s case Gerrard, is to pull those all important strings and keep everything flowing smoothly as well providing protection for the back for and entertaining Roy’s love for defense.
Then it gets somewhat fancy for a usually dull England side. This is where part of the difference is made: the terriers. Wilshere and Henderson are my preferences for the terrier roles but obviously Lampard could still do the job and even James Milner is a possibility for the role. These roles involve being ridiculously multifunctional and versatile, as well as being fit and able to contribute to all areas of the field, and these qualities are visible in Wilshere and Henderson.
Wilshere is a clever footballer. He’s not only fit but has a decent turn of speed, can dribble and can think fast to turn defense into attack as well as run fast to get back from attack into defense. Similarly in Henderson, he is industrious and dynamic, he may not be as dainty as Wilshere or as cute in his play but the lad can attack, can defend and could run for days on end, both of them showcase the qualities of a good box-to-box midfielder.
Kicking off the all important attacking phase of play is the attacking midfield position and this goes to anyone really. Take your pick from Lallana, Barkley, Sterling, maybe even Oxlade-Chamberlain. All of these players offer something different and the sort of spark that England need in the hole behind the strikers.
Lallana offers a controlled, measured approach were as Sterling and Oxlade-Chamberlain are more about dazzling the opposition with pace and then for a touch of everything with the added benefit of strength and, what would be, my pick for the attacking midfielder role is Ross Barkley.
The Everton starlet has come alive this year under Roberto Martinez. He has the energy and pace to trouble a defensive midfielder and allow him to run at the centre backs, coupled with the guile and craft needed to unlock a defense and then the more brash side to trouble even the strongest of central defensive players.
Then we arrive at the front two. A lot has been said about how Daniel Sturridge cannot find his club form in an England shirt but a lot of this has to do with a skillful Uruguayan named Luis Suarez. Rooney has also had difficulty in hitting his club heights with England as he has failed to score at both of the side’s last major tournaments.
When Sturridge has somebody right up the pitch with him he is a better player but the current England system means he is abandoned up top with Rooney trying to create just behind and Lallana pushed out wide. In this new system a more natural attacking midfielder can play behind Sturridge, who is obviously better with a partner, and Rooney who, in my opinion, has never quite been used to his full ability when he’s pushed further down the field and is more at home in the striker role.
The deployment of Rooney in his natural position and the assistance to Sturridge, along with a creative yet dynamic midfield and Hodgson’s trademark defensive set-up will surely make for a more complete and entertaining outfit and would bring the best out of the world class players that England do have.