Football: What We Learned From Montenegro vs Engerland (2-2)

Two moments of madness

Engerland never, ever make it easy for themselves. Here a match that was clearly there for the taking, and the easy taking at that, was transformed into a backs to the wall war of attrition which Engerland nearly managed to lose thanks to two moments of suicidal madness.

Concentration, Concentration, Concentration

The three testicalled scrotum that is the Euro 2012 logo. Two countries separated by football.

Arsène Wenger used to go on about concentration all the time. Aside from not seeing things it was his go-to excuse for slip ups and incompetence whenever Arsenal lost (or drew) in Europe. But it was never more clearly illustrated than in Engerland’s total switch off for Montenegro’s first goal on the stroke of halftime. This set the tone for the rest of the game. Before that Engerland were comfortably in control, indeed they were actually playing within themselves and never looked like being threatened by the Montenegrans. Afterwards it seemed as if none of them had ever seen a round ball, much less played with one. And once they found themselves on the back foot they never looked as if there was any chance of them seizing the initiative from their opponents and while the Montenegrans rarely appeared truly threatening, they totally dominated the entire second half. Thankfully Engerland had already built their two goal cushion, because without it they would have been crushed.

You Can Take The Boy Out Of Chav…

But you can’t, apparently, take the Chav out of the boy. Rooney’s petulant kick at defender Dzudovic, which saw him sent off, will set the tone for his entire Euro 2012. So reminiscent of Gascoigne’s madness in the FA Cup final (the injury he caused himself blighted the rest of his career) or more pertinently Beckham’s kick out at Argentinian defender Diego Simeone in France 1998? If Capello has any sense he will be including Rooney in his squads, but will only play him from the bench if at all. That way the team will have to learn how to live without him, while he will still feel part of the side. And in a pleasing development, this is exactly what Capello has said he wants to do.

All About The Attack

We also saw Wales beat the Swiss, something Engerland couldn’t do at Wembley. They have continued their admirable progress up the FIFA rankings, albeit from somewhere close to the bottom. And it struck me, does Engerland actually have an attack as good as the Welsh? You have Bale and Bellamy racing down the wings actually threatening teams, something that Wallcott, Young, Downing, Lennon seem to do only infrequently. And they’re backed by a midfield, led by Ramsey, which actually likes to pass the ball. And I wondered, Is anyone actually afraid of Engerland? Because I wouldn’t be. They are a good Championship qualifying side, one of the teams you wouldn’t want to be in a qualifying group with, but nothing special.

Who Are Ya? (Repeat Until Senseless)

If Engerland were a Prem team, who would they be? Let’s think, supposedly one of the big beasts, yet they haven’t won anything for ages; capable of scoring goals yet always vulnerable with dodgy defending and a very soft centre;  just lost their talismanic forward/midfield dynamo; potentially a great attacking side yet always looking to throw away a lead… Any ideas? Could they possibly be today’s Arsenal (albeit with considerably less technique) in disguise?

Still A Few Good Points Lurking (Even If We Don’t Always Pick Them Up)

  1. Engerland have qualified and are in the second pot. And now that we don’t have to jet about trying to win approval from some FIFA despot we can play some proper friendlies and try to build a side that could do well in Euro 2012. Time for Capello to really earn his money, playing players with potential, rather than the same old failures.
  2. New broom? Engerland went to South Africa with the oldest squad in the tournament. And with players like Terry, Lampard, Gerrard, Rio and Ashley Cole beginning to look tired (or perpetually injured) it’s time for change. Capello has a moment, in between the demands of qualification and the tournament itself to test out the new blood. We want to see what a midfield of Wilshire, Cleverly and McEachran can do. What an attack with Welbeck, Young and Wallcott can accomplish if they’re allowed to float around and go for their opponents. We want to see players who can hold and play with the ball rather than just hoof it. We want to see an attitude to friendlies that says, it’s more important how we play the game than the result, because right now we have an opportunity to try things out without recrimination.
  3. Changing expectations. We’re probably not going to win it. One of Engerland’s apparent problems has been the weight of expectation on their heads. Now, surely, that isn’t the case. I don’t think anyone expects Engerland to win Euro 2012. And with Spain, Holland and Germany all apparent certainties for the semis (an unkind draw aside), it would show admirable progress for Engerland to even get to the semis. What we do want to see is a dramatic improvement in both technique, holding and using the ball, and tactics, determining when to press and when to let your opponents have their head.

What We Learned From Engerland vs Montenegro (0-0)

There’s A Big Vacancy (All Over The Pitch)

Rhino shows unusual close control ball skills while remaining unaware of flying Montenegran to his right

It appears that premonitions of the emergence of a decent Engerland side are somewhat, well, premature. While the superficial successes of the wins over Bulgaria and Switzerland appeared to suggest an improvement in midfield and attack, this thoroughly tedious and poor quality performance emphasised the poverty of Engerland’s ambition.

It was the same sorry story for Engerland. An inability to accurately pass the ball to a colleague, an inability to effectively control balls lumped up from the back, an inability to work the ball through midfield, failure of movement off the ball, failure of ambition. In fact a general level of failure that was utterly depressing.

You would have thought that after the dismal performance in the World Cup, the entire Engerland backstaff would have sat down and tried to work out an effective alternative strategy to improve the team. During the World Cup there was an interesting interview with Jurgen Klinsmann, about his tenure as manager of Germany and how he worked with both clubs and the national association to determine the footballing philosophy for the national team as a whole. Klinsmann was impassioned, articulate and intelligent about developing the team, but above all he was convincing. You suspect that English football is a long way from having anyone so effective in charge of the team.

Same Problems (All Over The Pitch)

We got a bit stat-tastic a while ago over some fantastic graphic that Umbro had come up with to illustrate the balance of play during World Cup matches. One of our conclusions was that in true Animal Farm style not all passes are created equal and that percentage of possession is not the be all and end all of game statistics. Engerland’s ability to maximise possession by passing the ball aimlessly around the back when given time and space by their opponents is not the same as, say, Arsenal’s or Barcelona’s ability to dominate games by intricate possession play in the opponent’s half.

As usual Engerland started out by maintaining possession, but wasted this opportunity by simply passing the ball around the back, bringing first Gerrard then Rhino back into the Engerland half in a desperate attempt to actually get the ball. Meanwhile the Montenegrans were content to drag their entire team into their own third and cede possession in favour of a tight defence.

Once Engerland had failed to create a chance from possession in the first five minutes (it’s hard to score from your own half they discovered), they immediately fell back to their old, tired failings, with first Gerrard, then Ferdinand quickly resorting to the 40+ yard hoof n hope pass. Now these have an approximate 20% success rate of actually reaching their recipient, with another 40% of balls flying over the heads of the intended target (victim?) and a further 40% simply giving possession to the opposition. Again this supposed master tactic resulted in absolutely no chances and definitely no shots on goal. The only reason Engerland persist in this is that they appear to be too incompetent to pursue any other means – namely effective close control and quick pass and move to break up close knit, well marshaled defences. When we did attack, Ashleys Cole and Young and Ian Curtis were neutralised by the lack of support they received and the inability of any players to actually get into the box or show up for a pass.

The paucity of Engerland’s ambition is best illustrated by the call up of Kevin Davies. Not only does he reinforce the belief that Crapello has some kind of aversion to youth (Kev is 33 and has no chance of being part of Euro 2012), but that he has an aversion to creativity. It took Kev about 5 minutes and one touch to confirm what anyone with a footballing brain could have told you years ago, as an international he’s a yellow/red card liability, with none of the goal scoring talent necessary to justify this risk. His stats were, two or three touches, two fouls, one booking, no shots or assists.

You could argue that if Crapello really wanted to investigate English talent in the ‘lesser’ Prem teams, he could have done a lot worse than call up Blackpool’s Gary Taylor-Fletcher (29), not least following his outstanding display against Liverpool and that excellent pass for their second goal, which split the entire defence in one go. You suspect that that kind of talent, rather than Kev’s ability to elbow defenders in the throat, might be what Engerland really want.

Or he could have grasped the nettle by subbing Rhino, who had another unexceptional, dreary game, with Wilshere, who seems to be doing the business for Arsenal, pulling defences apart, creating chances and, occasionally, scoring – three more things than Rhino achieved all match. Or pushing Gerrard (who is as wasted playing the holding midfield role as he is as a left winger) further forward, or finding an alternative for useless right back Glenda Johnson (who is as poor going forward as he is at the back).

As For The Montenegrans

They played the classic World Cup Mourinho Discipline, tight at the back, ready to give away fouls and bookings ahead of the 18 yard line, able to break fast when given the opportunity. Unlike Engerland, their close possession was effective, their control was good and it was only luck that they didn’t sneak a crafty one – nil over the English. They remind me of third tier World Cup sides like Greece, Switzerland, Slovakia and Slovenia, who combine effective organisation with tedium. Thoroughly anti-football.

Where Are We Going?

Make no mistake Engerland are in trouble. In Montenegro we have a team with the potential to upset Engerland in the same way Croatia did in 2008. Crapello seems to be placing his trust in the same old players with little tactical insight and no attempt to be preparing for the squad that will appear in 2012. And while his selection has been effected by injuries (Defoe, Wallchart, Jagielka, Zamora, Milner along with losers like Titface and Lumpy), he persists in selecting mediocre players who have little or no chance of playing in 2012. And while it’s important to ensure qualification before we get all excited about the team that’s going to play in 2012, we surely can’t continue to play Crapello’s Old Boys for too much longer.