So the inevitable has come to bear and England are knocked out of the Euros. For a brief moment and in typical fashion, England fans had dared to dream, only for their spirits to be crushed in the worst possible way: defeat by penalties. And so the inquest begins, although now, as opposed to former years, it seems there are some positives in which we can take comfort; but these don’t mask the worrying shortfalls which will need to be ironed out.
England had arguably the best defence in the tournament so far. Considering the pressure they were under, conceding just three goals and keeping Italy at bay for 120 minutes was a phenomenal achievement. The performances of Terry and Johnson were particularly notable in a campaign which saw England unbeaten in normal time.
Steven Gerrard could make a good case for being one of the players of the tournament so far. He battled manfully in defence and seemed to thrive on the added space afforded to a player when crossing and passing from deep.
It was in attack where England were glaringly flawed. Scott Parker is a defensive screen at best and anyone who watches him on a weekly basis will attest that his best work is done in the five to ten yard area in front of the defence, nothing more. Parker plays so deep he often drops into the back four, therefore he should be played as part of a five man midfield otherwise there’s too much pressure on his central partner to make all the play. Against Italy and throughout the tournament Young, Milner and Parker were often overawed when England had the ball, which resulted in putting too much pressure on Gerrard and also allowing Italy to swamp them in midfield when they couldn’t find a decent ‘out’ ball.
Hodgson was correct to use Chelsea’s Champions League strategy with defensive organisation being of paramount importance, but to play that way with a rigid 4-4-2 was a failed attempt to get the best of attack and defence. The front 2 were often isolated with a gaping chasm between midfield and attack as England desperately dropped back to defend their own 18 yard line. The system would appear to best suit a 4-5-1, using a target man who can draw fouls and hold the ball up whilst the midfield rushes on in support. Andy Carroll would have been a better prospect than Welbeck who was as frustrating as he was stylish. Whenever a modern team plays a 4-4-2 there’s an overwhelming sense that they are lacking one extra pass in the middle of the park.
Defending in that manner seems to lull England into thinking that all other aspects of the game are to be given less attention, resulting in a tired team that mindlessly sits in two banks of four with no pressure to take responsibility for initiating meaningful forward play. It doesn’t take much for a footballer to drift and lose his purpose; this way of playing invites that outcome. Unfortunately England need to define this way of playing as it could be their most potent system going into the next World Cup.
Chamberlain, Hart, Lescott, Walcott and Welbeck could form a decent core of players for a rejuvenated England, who appear as people to be more humble and likeable than their predecessors, but whether they can turn that spirit into silverware is up for debate.