What We Learned From Bulgaria vs Engerland (0-3)

Not  A Lot To Write Home About

A win is a win eh? And doubly so when it’s a win in the Euro 2012 qualifiers and pesky side Montenegro manage to lose against the Welsh. Once again Engerland’s destiny is in their own hands. From here on in it’s all downhill (naturally).

That SkyGo Malarky Ain’t Half Bad

For various reasons I was without television, or more practically given that not only was the game only available on Sky but there were no terrestrial highlights, I was without access to Sky Sports. So I had to make do with Sky’s SkyGo app on my iPad. I had expected shit-stream quality video with warbling audio and frequent drop outs. What I got was great quality video and audio. On a 2Mbs line. Pretty fabulous. Didn’t compensate for a terrifyingly stilted match though.

Crap Kit

Engerland sported a new-fangled blue kit, which like Fulham’s goose-shit green away kit or numerous brown kits, should be swiftly consigned to the bin.

Where, Oh Where, Was The Midfield?

What with four defenders and two holding midfielders and, occasionally, dragging Rooney back into midfield, Engerland often had seven men in their own half behind the leading Bulgarian. Which left their three attacking players struggling to weave their way through up to nine outfield players arranged in two neat rows on their 18 yard line. So it was no surprise that the game quickly degenerated into a ghastly kind of head tennis. Capello’s innate defensive nature meant he played not one, but two holding players and both Barry and Parker are way too slow and far too defensively inept for genuine international competition. Their inclination to drop deep meant that there was in effect no midfield at all, another reason for the incessant hoofball being played by the defence. Engerland are going to have to learn to actually pass the ball on the ground through midfield if they want to actually have any genuine threat in international matches.

Oh And It Should Be Pass AND Move

Once again there was little movement from England players who didn’t have the ball. When they lost possession, a leisurely jog back to their own half was required, but without any need to actually track back or mark any of the opposition. When one of Engerland’s players did have the ball, the rest simply stood around like bemused onlookers. No wonder there was no option for the defenders other than a hoof or punt. If you can’t play it to the midfield, because the midfielders are either standing on your toes or on the opponent’s penalty area, and no one else is showing for the ball, what else can you do? If Engerland want to make this more attack-minded lineup actually work, they’re going to have to indulge themselves in some off-ball movement.

Still It’s The Result That Counts

And, yes, it was 3 – 0 to the Engerland. But the performance was dire and if the Bulgarians hadn’t given up before the game started things would have been a whole lot different. This kind of performance will lose you a Championship Group Stage match every day of the week. Still, next up, the Welsh.


What We Learned From Engerland vs Bulgaria (4-0)

Qualification Is Not Championship Football

Holy Cow! An onside Jermaine Defoe gets all down and dirty with the Bulgarian defence

If there was one lesson to learn from Engerland’s World Cup performance it was that there’s a massive gulf between qualifying and playing the tournament. For a while now (arguably since 1990) Engerland have been relatively successful at the former and pretty useless at the latter, especially at World Cups, where beating Argentina in Japan aside, we’ve been mediocre at best. This match merely reinforced the gulf in class between likely qualifiers and also-rans. Whether Bulgaria were actually effectively stifled by Engerland and denied their normal game, or whether they are just thoroughly useless is hard to tell, but they certainly seemed less of a challenge than either Mexico or Japan were in the pre-World Cup friendlies and only slightly better than Hungary. They conformed to all the stereotypes of the ‘pot 3 failed qualifying’ teams, playing a 4-4-2 and allowing Rooney the same sort of space Engerland gifted Mezut Ozil in the match with Germany. However, this simply reinforces the feeling that while the tactics of Engerland may work well in qualifying they won’t work against better teams, especially when we’re still lobbing ineffective 40 yard Hail Mary passes rather than playing to feet.

There Were Positives
Yes. A win is a win and Engerland’s was comfortably the most impressive of all the Euro qualifiers. Sure Spain hit four and Holland took a step back towards total real football with five, but these were against genuinely rubbish opposition where such scores are common. At least Bulgaria are supposed to be a serious team and they were thrashed.

Engerland are beginning to show a bit of imagination. The main tactical change seems to be Rooney’s new position, the traditional no 10 role behind the striker, which suited him very well. He finally had time and space to play and spent more time on the ball than in any Engerland game since the last qualification campaign. He was involved in all the goals and felt genuinely threatening for the first time in ages. If he carries on like this, linking well with Ashley Cole and Defoe I won’t be bothered if he never scores for Engerland. The goals he helps create will more than make up for it. It will be interesting to see how he shapes up when Engerland play more competent opponents – like Switzerland next week.

Joe Hart is Engerland’s keeper for the next 15 or so years. Totally commanded his area. Quite why there was any debate about this seems ridiculous now and it’s laughable to think that this was actually his first ever start for Engerland. All the rest are playing for second place.

The second tactical change seems to be Engerland’s new spine. With Milner playing well as a winger without portfolio and a licence to move about, and a new defensive partnership of Jagielka +1 we’ve got a strong spine on which to build the team. With a rotating threat board of fast wingers (Wallchart, Johnson and bizarrely Ashley Cole) and a vaguely offensive forward, Engerland can become far more flexible and will be able to mix and match their threat to effectively challenge any opponent.

And then there was Defoe. Amazingly never offside throughout the game – a minor miracle for Mr Offside himself, he was a revelation. By far the best performance I’ve seen from him in any match.

But The Team Needs Work
Glen Johnson had an appalling game, typified by his fantastically inept positioning. He was constantly being drawn into the centre of the defence when, that is, he could actually be arsed to get back there. You have to wonder what is a right back doing playing by the penalty spot anyway? Especially when he leaves the door open for the Bulgarians and almost manages to score an own goal. His incompetence left the right flank open forcing Wallchart, Gerrard and Barry to pull back during the course of the match to cover him. And it was no coincidence that all of Bulgaria’s attacking moves came down the right into the area Johnson had vacated. If the excuse is that he needs to rampage forward à la Ashley Cole, then he has to link up more effectively with Wallchart or Johnson and actually be an attacking threat. Overall he was so bad you’re left thinking there must be a better English right back somewhere. Say that Sutter guy from Young Boys.

The 40-yard Hail Mary pass. Born out of years of adherence to the tactical stupidity of Charles Hughes‘ Direct Football bullshit and decades of lousy coaching, the 40-yarder, or Hoof, is still the default offensive manoeuvre of the Engerland team despite its catastrophically low success rate against half-decent opposition. Too often players who would comfortably pass the ball on the ground to their teammates when playing club football, instantly turn into terrified hoofers as soon as they don an international shirt – Terry and Ferdinand being the principal proponents of this mode for Engerland. Too often here the long route 1 balls (for that is what they are) sailed over the heads of Wallchart, Defoe and others, instantly ceding possession to Bulgaria. Perhaps the most telling stat for this tactic was that not one of these passes led to anything like a genuine chance. Engerland would do better to keep passing the ball about waiting for the right moment to strike.

Gerrard’s position is still in doubt. If there was one real positive in the Hungary match it was the freeing up of Gerrard after halftime when he was able to move into the middle and really threaten without deforming the whole team by pulling everything over to the right (as is his wont). This time, however, he seemed to be playing more as a central holding midfielder. While this was good because he was in the centre, it meant he was 40 or so yards further back than he should be and Rooney was effectively playing in the no 10 space Gerrard craves. This position doesn’t give you the best of Gerrard and it reignites the whole Gerrard/Lampard debate. Both want to play the no 10, but now neither can (or should) as it’s obvious that this is where Rooney should be. But this role for Gerrard doesn’t solve the problem as it only encourages him to spray around a selection of route one 40 yard hoofs, which while vaguely effective against the likes of uncle Bulgaria (in that they didn’t always immediately cede possession) are laughably facile against halfway decent opposition.

There’s still not enough imagination in the middle. Admittedly for the first few minutes Engerland did play the ball about through the middle and to great effect, but once we scored the familiar problems emerged – lack of patience, skill and imagination. Soon pretty much all our attacks came down the flanks and there was little or no threat down the middle. Admittedly this didn’t stop us getting four, but again against good teams we need more than wingplay and good breaks. We need Rooney to take charge of this and start to be really creative.

And It’s Goodbye To…

The totally unmissed Titface, Rio, Lumpy, Green-o and Calamity James. Let’s hope Crapello keeps the faith with the new kids and doesn’t revert to the oldsters.

Game, Set And Match

To Crapello? Not quite, the jury’s still out, but this was a much better Engerland performance all round. I expect Engerland to qualify as group leaders quite comfortably, our only real competition is the Swiss, the only other Qualifier level team in the group. And while they will be hard to beat they have consistently shown themselves to be incapable of actually scoring goals. The next match, away to the Swiss, will be Engerland’s most challenging, but I think on this form Engerland can win it and restore a little of Crapello’s old skool shine.