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.
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.