Why England Must Rethink Its Midfield Setup Ahead of Uruguay Encounter

England manager Roy Hodgson might feel hard done if he finds himself under criticism following England’s loss against the Italians. There were adamant calls from all corners before England’s World Cup opener for Hodgson to be brave. Having largely comprised his squad with exciting young talent, the England manager was urged by both fans and pundits alike to start with an attacking lineup.

Hodgson did not disappoint.  A front four of Danny Welbeck, Raheem Sterling, Wayne Rooney, and Daniel Sturridge seemed capable of worrying the Italians with pace and invention. Sterling, when on the ball, was direct. Welbeck was quietly one of England’s standout performers in a first half where his smart positioning and abundant speed troubled the Italians. Sturridge marked his first World Cup match with his first World Cup goal.

And that leaves us with Wayne Rooney. England’s number 10 will undoubtedly come out of the opener as the player most scrutinized. A fantastic left footed cross for Sturridge’s goal will do little to offset Rooney’s failure to track back throughout most of the game. The Manchester United stiker will be the easy target as fans look to make sense of how Leighton Baines regularly found himself outnumbered against the likes of Antonio Candreva and Matteo Darmian on England’s left flank.

However, Rooney’s defensive deficiencies were not the reason for England’s defeat. The match was ultimately decided in the midfield.

Sitting behind England’s bold front four were the defensive midfield pair of Steven Gerrard and Jordan Henderson. With a plethora of attacking talent ahead of them, the Liverpool duo did not seem under any pressure to provide an offensive spark. Gerrard and Henderson were instead entrusted with providing cover for the back four.

Hodgson’s plan looked good enough on paper. However, it quickly became apparent that Gerrard did not possess the legs to function in a two man midfield and adequately mark Italy’s midfielders. Whereas Henderson seemed willing to run out wide and protect Glen Johnson, the 34 year old Gerrard seemed reluctant to chase the younger duo of Candreva and Darmian.

Opposite Steven Gerrard was Italy’s Andrea Pirlo, a player that England fans knew all too well following his superb performance against England in the Euro 2012 quarterfinals. Unlike Hodgson, Italian manager Cesare Prandelli did not place defensive duties on his deep lying playmaker. Despite sitting just in front of Italy’s defense for large portions of the game, Pirlo rarely found himself one on one against England’s much quicker attackers. With Daniele De Rossi and Claudio Marchisio willing to do the dirty work, it seemed that Pirlo’s only job was to act as a catalyst for the Italian attack, a task that the 35 year old excelled at.

When Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers began deploying Steven Gerrard as a defensive midfielder, there was talk amongst Liverpool fans of the similarities between their Kop idol and Andrea Pirlo. The only similarities between the two iconic midfielders in England’s World Cup opener versus Italy were their positions as captains and their facial hair (although Pirlo probably beat Gerrard in that department too).  The good news for England will be that the apparent difference between the pair was largely down to the tactics of the respective coaches. Steven Gerrard showed throughout the majority of Liverpool’s season that he can function effectively as the deepest midfielder. The key is surrounding Gerrard with players that have the legs to make up for his lack of mobility.

And so the discussion switches back to Hodgson, who in heeding to the demands of most English fans may actually have gone with too offensive a setup against Italy.  Will Hodgson decide that it was the jungle-like climate of Manaus that stifled an England side that would’ve otherwise gotten a result against the Italians? Or will the England boss look to aid his team captain by replacing past golden child Wayne Rooney for present golden child Ross Barkley? With a crunch time encounter against Uruguay just days away, Hodgson will very little time to get it right.

3 thoughts on “Why England Must Rethink Its Midfield Setup Ahead of Uruguay Encounter”

  1. England missed out on younger players that compete with these world cup games. The FA think that WC is a farewell tour for 35 year olds that are to retire and you see them huffing and puffing amongst players 10 years younger. Talk about old school England. Too old, sitting back, with no intent to attack cept by accident.

    1. ‘Old school England’? Another biased joker with little understanding of the game. Brendan Rodgers must’ve been pulling his hair out watching geriatric Gerrard hobble around for Liverpool in the most punishing league in world football.

      And his role is to sit back, Muppet! Of the two defensive midfielders, Henderson was the one allowed to be more progressive and support the attackers, if occasion allowed. And if his legs are not what they were, his passing, experience and leadership are invaluable for a young, exciting squad.

      Pirlo, also 35, hardly broke into a stroll in an Italian set-up more suited to the conditions and designed to allow him to play to his strengths.

      England were set up, even in the Amazonian humidity and heat, to allow their attackers to shine. This inevitably meant that, with Baines and Johnson bombing forward, much more pressure would be put on those sitting back.

      Mirza Baig might have a point about the tactics employed on the left, with Baines being isolated, but Hodgson himself indicated, with his remarks about Wellbeck’s positioning for the second goal, that he expected the attacker on the left to do much of the donkey work, which didn’t work well. These things you find out in matches, especially one’s against class acts like Italy. Things may well be different in less gruelling conditions and with Rooney either back in the middle or on the bench.

      But a serious discussion on that is for intelligent lovers of the game with their hater goggles off.

      Well done USA, by the way. I’ll be supporting them against Portugal and Germany – who knows Portugal might just be ripe for the picking.

      Pirlo, also 35, hardly broke into a stroll in an Italian set-up more suited to the conditions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *