England’s 2014 World Cup campaign in Brazil began with a defeat to the Azurri on Saturday in the energy sapping venue of Manaus in northern Brazil. While the 2-1 defeat has been viewed in many sectors as one that did not disgrace the Three Lions, there is a feeling that England lost to a side that is far from being a world beater and that certainly on the balance of play; England deserved at least a draw.
GiveMeSport’s James Charuka feels that England manager Roy Hodgson needs to be more tactically adept if England are to survive a tough group…
England lacked a Plan B
Roy Hodgson selected a side full of youth, adventure and pace upfront by starting with Raheem Sterling, Daniel Sturridge, Danny Welbeck and Wayne Rooney. When you factor in the attacking play of the two full backs in Glen Johnson and Leighton Baines, it was pretty obvious what Hodgson had in mind: attack Italy at pace and stretch their defence as much as possible.
Whilst England started off brightly with Welbeck and Johnson combining well to trouble Italy’s make-shift left-back, they did not do a Liverpool-style blitz which would have put them on the front foot against a side content with slow, methodical build-ups. Despite some promising play from Sterling playing behind Sturridge in a Liverpool-like formation, Italy dominated possession which did not help Hodgson.
With such a high-energy ploy, the Three Lions needed an early goal to upset Italy’s poise then possibly use their pace on the break but this was not to be. Instead Italy controlled the pace of the game with playmaker Andrea Pirlo dictating play in the middle of the park. This meant that a lot of energy was also used in searching for the ball as it was required in quick breaks when England attacked.
After Italy took the lead through Claudio Marchisio after a cleverly worked free-kick routine, England did well to equalise through Sturridge just two minutes later. This should have been the tonic for Hodgson to adjust his side as Antonio Candreva and Matteo Darmian continuously troubled Leighton Baines on England’s left-hand side.
Rooney must be played in his best position
This was not rectified and Italy regained the lead, again with a raid on the same side. Hodgson would have done well to introduce James Milner to act as a shield down that flank as Rooney could not be expected to do so whilst continuously drifting inwards in his left-sided role. That would have freed up Rooney to play in his best role – behind the main striker. It is a well-known fact that the Manchester United man dislikes that wide role, and the best thing would have been for him and Sterling to interchange in the first half as Sterling is a more natural wide man.
Another option would have been for Hodgson to deploy Milner or even Phil Jones in the holding role and allow skipper Steven Gerrard to operate further forward. Instead, Hodgson continued to make like-for-like replacements and England did not change their formation, despite Rooney eventually moving infield.
He did not seem happy overall and a completely miscued corner kick was embarrassing to say the least. It also did not help that the England star man was sufficiently rattled to blow the one clear chance he got when he fired wide after springing the Italians’ offside trap. That miss may well haunt him should England fail to progress. But in truth, Hodgson needs to employ a formation that gets the best out Rooney as he is England’s best outlet for goals. He can both create and score in equal measure when in that hole and placing him on the left will affect his effectiveness and only serve to frustrate him.
Against Uruguay, Hodgson may well start with the same formation as Uruguay’s back four really looked their age against the fleet-footed Costa Rican forward line. But the best thing may be to start Sterling out wide and move Rooney inside. Hodgson also needs Leighton Baines to affect play in a much more attacking manner than against the Azurri where he was rarely seen offensively.
He was one of England’s more creative players in the qualifiers and if Johnson can improve on the quality of his crossing which was awful against Italy, then England may get the crucial win that may well mean a prolonged interest in the quadrennial tournament.
If the pace and trickery provided by youth fails, then Hodgson has to ensure England play to more traditional strengths than continue with the same formation and eventually run out of steam in Sao Paulo as happened in Manaus. These traditional strengths are the poise and craft of Rooney, the graft and width of Milner, Johnson and Baines as well as utilizing set-pieces, which is a time-honoured route to goals.
Otherwise England’s Brazilian adventure which began in the Amazon jungle may well end at the hands (or feet) of a certain Luis Suarez, the Premier League best player last season, on Thursday at the Arena de Sao Paulo.
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