COS contributor Luke Harrison looks at the formation changes England may need to adopt to succeed in South Africa.
It’s a shame Adam Johnson didn’t get more than the handful of minutes he got in England’s 3-1 defeat of Mexico. Not because he almost made a sensational start when he came on but because England’s shape lacks a left side.
At the moment, England’s system is to have an inter- changing role down the left hand side occupied by Gerrard and Rooney. Both have a long list of strengths but find themselves performing these at their best inside. Naturally, more often than not when England are attacking you find them both inside.
Against Mexico it was Theo Walcott, but start Aaron Lennon there and the right hand side of midfield position has the same set of instructions, ‘get wide, stay wide, take on the full back’. Nothing wrong with that. Makes perfect sense actually when you think of the pace both players poses.
The final point of the argument is the full backs. First choice Cole and Johnson are, it’s fair to say, better at going forward than the other way.
This is all very well going forward but what about when you lose the ball? You have your left winger playing as an attacking midfielder. Right winger on the right touchline and both full backs on their heels. It puts an awful lot of pressure on the holding midfield players not to mention our centre backs who let’s not forget have either not had a particularly injure free season or one blessed with the greatest of form.
In the first half especially it’s alarming a team like Mexico had so much of the ball in our final third. It may be more alarming how many times we were caught on the break.
A 3-1 win against a team who normally averages a second round finish at a World Cup, isn’t a bad way to finish a World Cup warm up match. But, you can’t help think Capello will not be happy. You can’t also think a team of greater ability than Mexico would have walked of the pitch at half time with a better score line.
You can argue that we missed Lampard and Barry in midfield, Cole and Terry in defence but the exposure down the left hand side is something Egypt were able to expose only a few months ago too.
It’s not necessarily that ever wave of attack on England’s goal will be down the left hand side. If the balance is wrong then it puts the whole shape of the team out of joint.
Let’s say Walcott is down the right. He sticks to instructions and hogs the touchline. The opposition will just man mark him out the game. If he does well, double up on him. If he is out of the game and Gerrard over the other side of the pitch isn’t there and is instead inside, then it means England’s space to attack is limited in the final third as England loses the width of the pitch by about a third. Everything becomes too narrow and congested and players become easier to mark.
Exposure on the break is likely with the full backs, Cole and Johnson, trying to give England a bit of width. The same sort of confusion like what we saw with the breaks from Mexico will have the likes of Brazil and Spain drawling at the month!
Starting Adam Johnson, or even Joe Cole, who has played the left midfield position for England in the past and played it well, would bring a equal balance to the midfield and instantly widen the area in which England have at their exposal when plotting an attack. It would mean sacrificing a forward. Using the Mexico game as an example it would mean Crouch leaving Rooney up to on his own and Gerrard in the space behind him- roles both our use to for their clubs.
Instead of either Rooney or Gerrard having to bust a gut to fill in down the left hand side when England are under attack, it would mean there would be cover already to hand. Call it a 4-5-1 when defending and a 4-2-3-1 when attacking if you like.
We all know the strengths Rooney has at playing up top on his own. His season with United more than proves it. At times in an England shirt he and Gerrard have threatened to read each other’s minds when going forward. A slight shift in positions could unlock this threat.
Capello made a point, many moons ago when he first took on the job, players had to fit into the system rather than a system having to fit around players, well if England are to be successful in South Africa the up and coming friendly with Japan should be the time to test the double Player Of The Year in the position he won it in and a natural balance to the team behind him.