For years England’s central midfield zone was consumed with one conundrum summed up by two names: Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard. Both were great players for their clubs. Powerful, charismatic,adept in front of goal, and decent passers. Both had won numerous accolades at club level and at their peak, were considered two of the best players in the world in their position.
Yet when it came to international competition and the two were put alongside each other, it never worked. They were too similar some said. Others felt that they didn’t cover for each other or that they were too slow. The truth was probably a mixture of all these things, but for years they played together and after England’s numerous tournament failures, eventually ”Gerrard and Lampard” started to become a byword for international failure. Just hearing the two names together in a sentence would make an England fan groan.
Although both players are in the England squad for the 2014 World Cup, times have moved on. Barring a catastrophic series of injuries, Lampard is very unlikely to start alongside England captain Steven Gerrard. Unfortunately, midfield woes continue to plague an England team that otherwise has quite an intriguing blend of youth and experience.
The problem this time is not that of two elite players who are unable to combine their talents, but one of finding the right blend of defense, passing, agility and discipline between four quite different players.
England’s main central midfielders for Brazil 2014 are Steven Gerrard, Jordan Henderson, Jack Wilshere and Frank Lampard. At this stage, all four have had a chance to play in England’s pre-World Cup friendlies.
In the first friendly against Peru, manager Roy Hodgson opted for Steven Gerrard and Jordan Henderson. This was probably the most obvious choice as the two players are teammates at a Liverpool side that have just enjoyed a magnificent season.
Before the match, much had been made of England playing “the Liverpool Way” which essentially appears to mean pressing hard and attacking with speed and fluidity. This would also mean Steven Gerrard playing quite a deep role with the rest of the midfield in front of him. This did not happen when England played Peru and given the heat and humidity in Brazil and the slower pace of international football, this seems a tough ask.
Instead, Henderson and Gerrard played as a two man central midfield and were generally side by side on the pitch. This did not seem to work particularly well. Neither player seemed able to move into the right positions to give England the requisite fluidity in midfield and England were often reduced to relying on Gerrard attempting to pick out players from distance. In fact, Peru seemed to work out quite quickly that Henderson is not a particularly effective passer in this area of the pitch and as a result, they tended to let him have the ball. This led to Henderson playing 114 passes in the match, almost double the amount of any other England player.