The nervy Stuart Pearce did not get out of his seat in the first twenty minutes, whereas his England side looked toothless against a relatively laid-back Netherland team. 2-3 was not a disastrous scoreline, even quite an encouraging one for Pearce the debutant, but pundits will declare this was a night that has exposed the difference in class between the Three Lions and a top international team.
Although fielding most of the European Championship runner-up squad, Netherland had barely fired up for the entire match. England enjoyed most of the possession in midfield, but most of the passes were hardly penetrating, ensuring a relaxing night for Netherland duo Van Bommel and De Jong.
England has been adopting the three-man midfield formation, which is becoming a trend in modern football, especially when Germany, Netherland and Spain enjoy enormous success with it. The 4-4-2 formation that England usually plays has a midfield with limited depth and is easily exposed by a capable playmaker. Placing an anchorman in the middle is a sensible move.
However, what England does not realise is, they cannot reach the level Spain is playing at with their current assets, or more accurately, their current squad selection.
This does not mean Parker, Barry, Gerrard, Lampard and Wilshere are not good players; but a team would not win by sending all their best players to the field. England fans, remember Gerrard playing on the left? And the apparently-not-so-successful-partnership of Lampard and Gerrard?
By no coincidence, Germany, Spain and Netherland have a very similar midfield combination. There is a more defensive-minded anchorman (Khedira, Xabi Alonso, De Jong), an all-rounded playmaker (Scheweinsteger, Xavi, Van Bommel), and a more advanced and penetrating attacking midfielder (Ozil, Iniesta, Sneijder).
But there was clearly no well-defined roles for Parker, Barry and Gerrard on that night. Even though Parker shines in the position just in front of back four, his expertise is his spiritual run-around, rather than the Makelele-style of defensive midfielder. With a partner not a natural defensive midfielder, Parker committed a low-level mistake when he was trying to do too much, that had eventually led to Netherland’s first goal.
What they need now is a manager who can appreciate their strength — wingers. They have different types of wingers: Speedy (Aaron Lennon, Theo Walcott), prefers to play on the weaker foot side (Ashley Young, Adam Johnson), deadball specialist (Stewart Downing), defensive-minded (James Milner); and a young man with unknown potential (Alex Chamberlain).
More importantly, there are a good bunch of strikers who may not be the top of the top-class strikers, but possess various attributes which can get the most out of the wingers. Danny Welbeck is a fan of off-ball movement; Andy Carroll is a huge aerial threat; Defoe and Bent are excellent finishers; while Zamora can be called upon as a skilful target man.
And don’t forget the golden boy, Wayne Rooney. No matter as a striker, a deep-lying forward, or even a central midfielder, he is definitely the defenders’ nightmare. The fact that he can play in various positions provides additional flexibility to the England’s line up.
If Parker and Gerrard are willing to sit deeper, with Gerrard controlling the tempo and Parker clearing up the mess, this will encourage either Wilshere, Lampard or even Rooney for more aggressive penetration from the attacking midfield role. Their passing range also guarantee supplies to both flanks, which ideally should be fielded with wingers of different kinds.
When it comes to strikers, combination with the wingers are absolutely crucial. With Carroll, you would want to couple him with Ashley Young and Stewart Downing who could supply quality crosses; Rooney or Welbeck might prefer Walcott who run tirelessly; Defoe and Bent would welcome the threatening and direct approach of Adam Johnson and Lennon.
A team compiled of these talents can never be ruled out as a potential tournament winner. The quality of the younger generation, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Kyle Walker, Tom Cleverley, Jack Wilshere, Daniel Sturridge, or even Lee Cattermole and Jake Livermore, are even more exciting that the fans can anticipate the major tournament trophy is not far away.
Even if Harry Redknapp turned down the offer, or declined to commit long term with England, the Football Association must bring in an English manager who can realistically utilise England’s ever-lasting strength, even more crucial not to afraid of dropping big names out of team sheet. At least the latter was definitely not observed in Sven Goran Eriksson’s or early Capello’s era.
Two months later, we will have the answer.
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