Sunday, 15 June 2014

England Suffer Maladaptive Syndrome in Manaus

England surveys the remains of a tactical crash in Manaus, after defeat to Italy in its opening game at the 2014 World Cup. Advocates and opinion formers will spin this as some kind of progress, in terms of the performance. They'll sharpen the rhetoric, and have us believe England played good, positive attacking football, a vindication for picking young, skilful players in the team.

Picking a team, and tactics should never be influenced by popular opinion; and I dare to say, England Manager, Roy Hodgson caved in to popular demand, and fielded a team that he would know deep down, does not add-up. 

Read It Is Roy Hodgson's Trial, Not Wayne Rooney's

England played the 4-2-3-1 formation, to fit names, but all it did was create a tactical headache for the manager.  Rooney, Welbeck Sterling, behind Sturridge was always going to leave the team with a deficit in numbers when defending. You are depending on at least, three players from that group to adapt to defensive duties, which is a counter intuitive command, and a tactical risk that really did unravel Manaus.

Read England: Expectations and Formations

Welbeck on the right, Rooney on the left, and Sterling in the middle, all three supposedly interchanging was a nice piece of theory. In reality, it created square pegs in round holes in offence and defence, especially for Rooney and Welbeck. The lack of defensive balance on the left of the England team, was a legacy of this ill-judged tactic, and Italy's winning goal proved it.

As eye catching as Raheem Sterling's performance suggests, it was in reality a pyrrhic one. Points is what counts;  and the stats on chances created and ball possession, Italy triumphed. How can there be positives when Hodgson fires his big guns, to no avail.

Italy on the other hand were fluid, simple, elegant, and tactically imposed their game on England. Former England Manager Glenn Hoddle said last week, Andrea Pirlo will not last 90 minutes in the heat of Manaus. Again he was wrong. Pirlo smacked England's bar with a sumptuous free kick in time added on.

Pirlo is what Floyd Mayweather is to boxing: a master of his craft. The 35 year old was shepherded by Verratti and De Rossi in midfield; and in his vision - right and left, he had movement off the ball from a combination Chiellini, Marchisio;  Darmian and Candereva. Ballotelli was the man on the end of everything. A finely woven system by Coach Prandelli. His tactic puts the opposition on the back foot, giving them a pedestal to dominate.

The question is where does England go from here? my take is that 4-3-3 or 4-3-2-1 is the way to go. The team needs to be compact in midfield, andJack Wilshere added on to the midfield roster. The full backs Johnson and Baines have to pound the flanks

The vital thing is playing players to optimise the system, and not the opposite. Drumming for and against individuals like the nation is doing is futile. Wayne Rooney has to be the reference point to England's attack not a distraction. The Manager has to make him the spear-head, or drop him.

England team pose for a team photo prior to kicking off against Italy

You can see how the Italians ring-fenced Ballotelli and Pirlo. Rooney deserves that. But more importantly, have a cohesive master plan. One that is enduring, self-sustaining,  and balanced enough to deal with the unknown. It was woeful seeing Darmian, and Candreva running riot down the England left, and the reaction is to have Rooney and Welbeck, strikers by trade, having to adapt, tracking back. Play suitable players in those positions, and non of that need arises.  Preposterous. England deserve better than that.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

England: Expectations and Formations

 England's 1966 World Cup Hero, and all time top scorer, Bobby Charlton, suggests England are  lacking "world class players" ( yes, once again, that silly phrase: "world class players") and categorically declaring the team will not win the world Cup. Then BBC Anchor, and Mexico 86' World Cup, top scorer, Gary Lineker, urges the team to "outscore" opponents, playing  attacking football. Ex-International, and icon, David Beckham has weighed in with his thoughts to the effect: "the kids will be alright".

The mind set of such luminaries easily highlights the misconceptions England have when it comes to the national team. The sum cannot be bigger than the whole. To achieve results, you need a good team - and better still, a balanced team.

There is a fixation in  England for the reincarnation of heroes of the past - Bobby Charlton, Kevin Keegan, Glenn Hoddle,  Bryan Robson, John Barnes, Paul Gascoigne, Chris Waddle, David Beckham.  Every new generation of players is foisted with the prophesy, pre-ordained to return England to the promised land. Players who do not even have 15 international caps carry this albatross of labels from soothsayers. This is fed through to the fans by the media, and before you know it, his development becomes arrested at it's nascent stage.

It's happened to the likes of Lee Sharpe, Neil Webb, Alan Smith, Joe Cole and Theo Walcott is another  in the current set up; but how far has he really progressed as an England International. A player picked in the 2006 World Cup squad, yet had not played a single premier league game for his Club, Arsenal. Fast Forward, 2014 World Cup, and we have Everton centre back John Stones as an appendage to the 23 man squad. The 20 year old only made his first full premier league start for his Club, last January, but he is already deemed talented enough to be an England International. Can that really be the right way to select players?

England pick players and build teams in an incongruent manner. It is rather all over the map. Similarly plans to address the scarcity of talented youngsters. Greg Dyke, the FA Chairman, proposes a B' Team league, to create a wider catchment for English talent. My take is if England have national teams at under 17, 19, 20, and 21 levels, then a synergy of scouting, coaching, incentivising, providing greater impetus, and profile to games and tournaments surrounding these teams would do wonders attracting youngsters. All premier league clubs want good English talent. It would make more sense if the FA ramps up its branding of the youth  teams. How about getting the likes of Paul Scholes, Michael Owen, Ledley King, or even David Beckham, names like that, to work within a structure in the respective youth teams. That's a sure fire way to bolster the supply side of players. The supply side will create a trickle down effect to Premier and championship clubs, and England consequently, and suddenly less becomes more. It's more to do with attention, profile, and structure, and less about bleating.

Congrats to England Boss, Roy Hodgson for holding a question and answer session with England fans in Miami, last week. I give him credit for meeting with them, and articulating his intentions. At least, we know we can hold him to his words. He said he would be going out to win the world cup. I had been critical of his reticence in that regard in my last blog.

READ: It Is Roy Hodgson's Trial, Not Wayne Rooney's

After the friendlies in Miami against World cup teams in Ecuador and Honduras, it's blatant England are going to line up in a 4-2-3-1 formation. They are geared to want to go out and attack, and set the tempo. If you like, play like most contemporary teams try to do.

Whilst it represents a bold move to play in an attacking, more modern style, and England have most of the components to do it, however, i am not sold on the performances from the last two friendlies.

England v Honduras

I do not think Hodgson has the right sort of player to fit into the middle of a trio behind the striker. That is not being critical of any one player, but it was pretty evident in those two games. The player who plays in that position is the brain box for the team's attacking play; and he has to be defensively very aware, because he is in line to dropping into midfield. In short, he has to think like a midfielder, better still be a midfielder.

On the other hand, the team looked short in midfield with regards bodies and variety. If the manager is going to play two holding midfielders, there is an imbalance in the team. The team would be better set up for a 4-3-3 formation. It was also glaring the full backs  are not synchronised to attack down the flanks; neither do the centre halves. Jageilka and Cahill are way too flat. One has to come forward with the ball in order to release the full backs and midfielders.

Blessed with a generation of midfield runners is no guarantee for success. Folks rave about Barkley, Llanna, Oxlade Chamberlain, and Sterling, but the mechanics of the game would suggest all parts of a team have to interact. There is an inherent danger if the manager sticks to this 4-2-3-1 formation. If fusion and interaction make a good team, I'll be hoping the manager does not get ahead of himself. Better stick to a system that generates the right chemistry for this group. Play 4-3-3, Roy!!!

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

It Is Roy Hodgson's Trial, Not Wayne Rooney's

The 2014 World Cup is upon us. There is a plethora of debates doing the rounds in different countries about the squads Head Coaches have picked, and the form of some individual players.
Rightly or wrongly, Head Coaches get demonised for one thing or the other at this stage. In 1982, before and during the World Cup finals in Spain, the Italian World Cup winning Coach, Enzo Bearzot, was in the firing line for his squad selection, and for his tactics in the tournament per se, after three draws from their opening group games, prompting the late coach to practically boycott the press - silenzio stampa  (press silence) Suffice to say, Italy went on to win the world cup that year.
England Manager, Roy Hodgson has enjoyed a cordial, and at times cosy relationship with the media than quite a number of his predecessors managed. When the Manager announced his world cup squad a couple of weeks ago, there was little or no fuss overall over his choices. Not even at the exclusion of Ashley Cole, the 107 times capped left back, for 18 year old Southampton green horn, Luke Shaw.

It is scandalous the media have at this late hour contrived to take issue with Wayne Rooney's form, and starting place In Hodgson's team, rather than highlighting the manager's queer decision to over load on young, inexperienced attacking midfielders. Neither have they been able to play any meaningful role in fostering an agenda around the England Team leading up to the world cup. The team has set sail for South America without really connecting with the aspirations of its supporters. 
Manager Roy Hodgson on the other hand, has been bland and tepid with his messages. He has barely pronounced or declared a jot on the state of the team’s evolution under his stewardship, and the media have played lip service to all of this. 
Maybe, it’s about avoiding unfulfilled expectations that the England team has been saddled with in the past; but you do not necessarily succeed by running away from stating your aims before tournaments   

Picking  Adam Lallana, Alex Oxlade Chamberlain, Ross Barkley, Raheem Sterling, Jack Wishere, in midfield, looks brave. Add four strikers, and the squad starts to look asymmetrical, especially given that Wayne Rooney's talent and technique straddles the play maker cum striker genre.

I can imagine Roy Hodgson was disinclined to selecting Garreth Barry and Michael Carrick  due to the possible stigma of having four over-thirty's in his squad of midfielders. Whereas, the rational point should be: aren't they needed? if Captain Steven Gerrard picks-up a debilitating knock in the tournament, there would be potentially huge problems. Only Jack Wilshere has the distributive skills of Gerrard, but he has no experience at world cup level; neither did he have a good season for his Club. 

 Daniel Sturridge is flavour of the month, and the media see him as worthy of the alpha-striker status in the World Cup. Yes, the Liverpool striker had an outstanding season, and was the top English goal scorer in the premier league, but it's deluded, an idea to relegate Wayne Rooney, who at 28, has 38 goals in 90 England games; 158 goals in 307 premier League appearances, to the bench. Who does that? Sturridge is on a hot streak, but it is best not to heap unneeded pressure on him.

Wayne Rooney has been derided and scorned by sections of the media in an unfair and hypocritical way over the last year. He was thrash-talked for asking for a transfer from Man Utd this time last year, when his relationship with Alex Fergusson  soured. Even when he played his way back into the Man Utd team, some in the media ridiculed him for not being as good as Luis Suarez, nor Robin van Persie.

The England XI in the World Cup need Wayne Rooney, and Rooney needs the players around him to fire. If as it appears, Roy Hodgson is committed to playing straight-forward attacking football, then Rooney is needed, and the team benefits from his experience. He is a goal scorer, an all round forward, an intelligent team player. I suppose the media fantasise Wayne Rooney as a wrecking ball, and as that has not materialised over the years, their expectation has morphed into disdain. Persecuting Wayne Rooney is a misplaced agenda, churlish and misguided.

In my opinion, England would be better of with a 4-3-3 formation, simply because it is suitable, sustainable and natural to what Hodgson's first choice eleven would be The back four picks itself; the midfield should be a unit of Lampard, Gerrard. and Wilshere, keeping it tight, efficient, and steady - feeding a trio of runners, creators, and goal scorers in Rooney, Sturridge, and Sterling. These three have the talent to play easily in the attacking channels, with the requisite combinations, skill, speed and penetration coming naturally. These three must not be overly choreographed by the manager. Best left to their own devices, I would reckon. What is needed is encouraging support from the full backs - Baines and Johnson.
No one should forget, nor underestimate how Atletico Madrid's simple but effective brand of football brought them the Spanish title in the land of "tiki-taka"; as well as getting them to the champions league final. 
England's best chance to win the World cup would manifest via pragmatism and efficiency. Simplicity is genius. But I guess after years of self-deprecation and condescending advice from a legion of foreign players and managers who have graced  the premier league, Hodgson may opt to play to the gallery.
Whatever be the case, the world cup is Roy Hodgson’s watershed moment. If England do well with this crop of players, he would be hailed as a genius. The man who introduced young, bold attacking players to a sterile and labouring team. In the absence of him ever stating any clear objectives, his silence would seem golden. 
How ever, if England fumble their lines, Hodgson will be the poster boy for another world cup heart ache. Then his equivocal vibes might well come to haunt him. He would then have to explain where England are heading, and how he intends getting  them there. The penny would have truly dropped after two years of treading water.