After two good wins against Montenegro and Poland, England finally confirmed their qualification for the 2014 World Cup finals, in Brazil.
Roy Hodgson took advantage of both games being in front of the Wembley faithful, by fielding two very attacking sides. As well as adventurous full backs, England basically played with four forwards and this change in style saw a number of brilliant performances.
Leighton Baines, in for the injured Ashley Cole, showed why he is one of the best fullbacks in world football right now. Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney both were extremely influential and looked full of confidence, but the stand out player had to be Andros Townsend.
These were the Spurs winger’s first two starts for his country, but he played with the same pace and directness which has seen push his way into his club side. He carries the ball so well, his power and skill caused havoc in the opposition defence and when he had the chance to cross or shoot, on either foot, his end product was extremely good.
Townsend showed how effective a real winger can be at international level. It will not only act as a wakeup call for players like Theo Walcott and Ashley Young, who must be worried about their place in the squad, but for the Country as a whole.
Ever since the Spanish sides have come to prominence, everyone has been obsessed with possession football, with media and pundit’s alike calling for English teams to follow suit.
At club level this transition is a little easier, due to the impact foreign players can make on the tactics and structure of a team, but for many English players it just isn’t a natural way to play, so when they all come together for an international game, you can’t help but think that possession football is just not possible for our country.
But instead of just calling us a failure waiting to happen, we need to come up with ways to become successful. We need effective ways of quashing possession based teams and using our strength to cause them problems. The German sides in last year’s Champions League are a great example of this.
Bayern Munich beat Barcelona 7-0 on aggregate, despite having 46% possession over both legs of their Champions League Semi-Final. But they defended extremely well, the two central midfielders were very physical and they counter attacked at such speed and precision, that Barcelona just could not cope with it.
Borussia Dortmund got through a very tough group, before knocking out both Malaga and Real Madrid on their way to the final. They too break very quickly, but it’s defensively where they stand out.
They press their opposition all over the pitch, defending from the front. Their forwards have a pack mentality when defending, closing down in pairs all over the pitch, not allowing the opposition defence or midfield any time on the ball.
This more direct attacking style would suit our nation really well, as we have an abundance of pacey, powerful attackers. Daniel Sturridge, Danny Welbeck, Townsend, Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ashley Young, Wilfred Zaha, Raheem Sterling and Thomas Ince, just to name a few.
Even central midfielders like Jack Wilshere, Ross Barkley, Jonjo Shelvey and Tom Cleverley have the skill and pace to not only commit defenders in attack, but to make life a lot harder for teams who like to play their way out of trouble.
Our defence is getting stronger by the game. I think Glen Johnson and Ashley Cole will come back into the side for the World Cup, but the players who have stepped in have proved more than capable of playing at this level. Where we could fall short, however, is in central midfield.
Every top team has a top quality sitting midfielder. No Matter what system you play, you need that defensive minded midfielder to give the team shape, security and balance.
Michael Carrick is the only player we have at the moment who is naturally suited to that position. Steven Gerrard can play there, but it is a waste of what he can bring to the team.
You could tell in the games against Ukraine and Montenegro that Gerrard was very restricted by playing with Lampard and Wilshere. Carrick was brought on against Montenegro and started against Poland, giving Gerrard a lot more freedom to get around the whole pitch and stamp his mark on the opposition.
For me, Carrick has to play. But after this tournament, when players like Gerrard, Carrick and Lampard will probably retire from international duty, who do we have who can sit in midfield, break down opposition attacks and keep the side ticking over.
The harsh truth of the matter is that we don’t really have anyone who can do that.
Wilshere and Barkley are stars of the future, no doubt, but not in that position. Maybe players like Tom Huddlestone, Jake Livermore, Mark Noble and Fabian Delph will take their game to a whole new level, but that doesn’t look like it will happen.
Even with this being said, I’m very optimistic about the future. A good World Cup campaign could provide a great building block for even more success in the future, but we have to be realistic about what a ‘good’ campaign would be.
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