Archive for June 6th, 2011

What We Learned From Engerland vs Switzerland (2-2)

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

That Blockage Is Back

Sadly for Englerland, they seem to have become the last bastion of the sclerosis that is slowly being purged from the Prem. It’s the same as it ever was, nothing is moving. Certainly not the players who are slowly but surely fading into obscurity, the so-called Golden Generation of Terry, Ferdinand and Lampard, who’ve done nothing and won nothing,  don’t look like doing anything to surprise us (except retire) in the future. Certainly not the tactics, which seem as comprehensively stuck in the pre-1960 era of physical supremacy on unplayable pitches as ever. Yes this Engerland team is as constipated as ever.

What Do You Call A Person Who Keeps Trying The Same Failing Strategy While Expecting A Different Result? Aside From Stupid Obviously

[pullthis]”You in England,” said Barcelona’s Helenio Herrera, “are playing in the style we continentals used so many years ago, with much physical strength, but no method, no technique.“[/pullthis] Admittedly he did say this in 1960 and so has come in a bit late to the party, but he does have a point.

Last month has seen 3 serious matches at Wembley, a turgid FA Cup Final, a brilliant Champions League Final and this Euro 2012 Qualifier. Of these, this was by far the worst, the least watchable, the least tactically aware and the least entertaining. And while Barcelona played such spectacular football they made Man U look like Stoke and Stoke were ground down by the Man City mincer, England were simply impaled on their own failings against a Swiss side that barely look capable of beating anyone yet were 2-0 up before half time.

Engerland Are Hamstrung By Two Factors.

[pullshow]First, the English style of kick n run/hoof and hope football is stunningly inefficient, hopelessly outdated and far too easy to beat. It encourages players to almost shun possession, rewarding those who get rid of the ball early, while punishing those who show any desire to hold the ball or competence in control. It might be vaguely acceptable as a style of play if it occasionally worked, but it’s safe to say that the most Engerland gained from any hoof was a Swiss throw in on their 20 yard line. Not one move of any significance resulted from this oafish play. Sure we might marvel that Terry or Ferdinand has the ability to artfully lob a ball 40+ yards over the shoulder of a lumbering teammate and cede possession to the Swiss, but it’s kind of a futile appreciation. Indeed both Engerland’s goals and all their scoring opportunities were the result of moves where the ball was largely passed on the ground. In this way Engerland repeated the same tactical flaws that cost Man U and Stoke their matches – a wide midfield that was largely bypassed by long, aimless balls punted upfield to heavily marked and isolated strikers, who were unable to receive the ball and immediately sacrificed possession. It’s safe to say that Switzerland were never troubled with the ball over the head of the defence.

Second it’s clear that the Prem (or the hoof n hope style it imposes) takes it’s toll out of players far more than other leagues. None of the English players looked fit or in form and the overwhelming impression was of a bunch of overworked, exhausted carthorses who fundamentally couldn’t keep it up for one last 90 minutes. It’s hard to tell whether this is a failing of the English physique or the Prem, seeing as all the Engerland players play in the Prem, while only the Swiss central defence of Djourou and Senderos do. And while the latter were poor, they didn’t really have a lot to cope with.

Now, being positive, it’s good that we’ve identified (confirmed?) these flaws, not least because they are fundamentally fixable. Although there is no clear evidence that they will actually be addressed. But it’s clear that nothing will change until they are.

Hell No, We Won’t Go (For Change)

And it’s strange that there should be such reluctance to change. After all Engerland’s only significant win, the 1966 World Cup, came after Engerland adapted their tactical style from a 4-2-4 to a 4-3-3, bringing the concept of Ramsey’s wingless wonders into play. Our refusal since then to adapt from the 4-4-2 that almost none of the players use in their club sides is dogmatic in the extreme. Our ridiculous justification of retaining the hoof n hope style, namely that we don’t have players capable of playing any other way, becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. What’s really scary is that we keep playing this way even though it’s yielding increasingly bad results.

I don’t see how you can realistically blame Capello for this. I don’t think he has beaten a lack of ability on the ball into these players (or if he has one can only admire his effectiveness given the limited time he has to work with them). Nor can he be blamed for the lack of individual skill or imagination in the side. Poor first touches, bad decision making, an inability to control or pass the ball accurately, a desire to ‘get rid’ as soon as possible, none of this is Capello’s fault. Failure on this scale takes years of training to accomplish. Where he does fall down is in trying to give the side an idea of how to attack or defend, you got the sense that no one in the Engerland team had a clear idea of how they were going to attack the Swiss. Or if there was an idea, it was the exceptionally bad one of lobbing the ball to Milner and somehow expecting something to happen other than giving possession to the Swiss. Admittedly that’s what Man U tried against Barcelona, but they at least had the hope that Valencia would be able to control then cross the ball.

Only Baines and Wilshire actually ever ran at the Swiss in a convincing, potentially dangerous way, and it was no surprise that Engerland’s goals should come from a penalty awarded after Wilshire ran into the box and a nice chip (admittedly by Milner) after a run down the left wing. Aside from this only Walcott seemed to take the Swiss on and sadly he has become a byword for ineffectiveness and non-delivery.

The Guilty And The Damned

Aside from a lack of a clear, compelling vision of how to beat the Swiss, Engerland’s other failings are legion. Darren Bent, like Man U’s Hernandez and Stoke’s Kenwynne Jones before him, was isolated and impotent as a lone striker trapped half a pitch away from his nearest teammate, although in his case he was played out of the game by some of the most successful graduates of the Arsenal defensive academy rather than the best Barelona can offer. So obviously he had some chances, the two most blatant of which came from balls passed or richoceted to him along the ground. His inability to score open goals really is impressive. On this display even Carlton Cole has a chance of an Engerland callup.

Walcott patently isn’t a winger. It’s not clear what he is, in his moment he can be devastating, but he’s no wingman. He seemed to offer no real threat and you can understand why Capello isn’t entirely sold on him. His defensive duties covering for the useless Glen Johnson also limit his forward progress, but he’s fundamentally toothless.

Milner’s not a winger either, neither is he blessed with pace nor ability on the ball. So, aside from providing an ample target for Terry and Ferdinand to lob balls at, it’s hard to see what his role on the right is suppose to be. Having both Walcott and Milner playing wide effectively gave the midfield to the Swiss.

Engerland’s midfield, meanwhile, is a total mess. Lampard was so ineffective he must be fast running out of arguments for his inclusion. Currently he seems to be there simply because the ancient Lampard/Gerrard dilemma seems to fester in people’s minds and Gerrard is now injured. There must be other midfielders from the under-21s who can step up to this level. It’s easy to see why his goalscoring seems to have fallen off a cliff.

How Scott Parker managed to win the Player of the Year award is a total mystery. He seems to have slipped into that moment in time which was after Nasri stopped doing cool stuff and before Dirty Suarez arrived at Loserpool. Admittedly it was a very, very short moment so big ups for seizing the day and all, but Player of the Year Parker is not. His one trick, a kind of groovy 360 degree shuffle with the ball that retains possession while leaving the player dizzy and confused, while funny to watch isn’t going to make it onto the training grounds of Stoke, let alone Barcelona. Didn’t so much shit on his copybook as rip the whole thing up and stuff it into the bin.

Jack Wilshire, new boy on the block, illustrates everything that is good and bad about Engerland. On the plus side, he’s got great technique (we’ll soon beat that out of him I suppose) and drive. He made the only genuinely dangerous penetrating run into the Swiss penalty area. And, amazingly enough, he still wants the ball. On the negative side, he looked tired and was booked for one of those classic ‘I’ve lost the ball, so I’d better leap at it at knee height’ tackles that encourages fans to mistake ‘dangerous and stupid’ for ‘passionate’. Still the only member of the midfield whose name should be on the teamsheet.

And if our midfield is a mess, our defence is simply decrepit. Ashley Cole looks like this season has gone on for a month too long, and for him the 15 minutes he played were 15 minutes too much as he succumbed to an inevitable exhaustion-related injury. He’s still a great left back and it’s good that he’s finally got some serious competition in Baines and Gibbs.

Terry and Ferdinand are starting to look their age, an increasingly crumbling defensive pairing. If genuine threat starts at the back then these two have to go as neither seems capable of initiating a real life counterattack other than by hoofing the ball to a striker who is 40 yards from his nearest teammate. Now unless you are Chile’s Salas from back in the day, that’s not a real recipe for a goalscoring opportunity at Wembley. It was telling that Bent’s only one on one with the keeper came from a through ball played on the ground by Wilshire.

As for Glenda Johnson, it seems improbable that there isn’t a better English right back. He doesn’t defend well, drags Walcott back into his own half, can’t pass and ultimately contributes nothing to the team. Surely, surely he is going to be dumped soon.

On The Plus Side

Montenegro, who bizarrely are England’s only serious challenger in this group, also drew. This means Engerland’s fate is still in their own hands. Win their next three matches, away to Bulgaria, at home to Wales and away to Montenegro and they’ve qualified. And that is probably the most shocking thing about this whole sorry episode.