Despite England’s encouraging display in their opening defeat against Italy in the World Cup, many English pundits are again singling out players for negative attention, most notably Wayne Rooney and Leighton Baines down the much maligned left flank of the English side.
Many have called for Rooney to be dropped for Thursday’s game with Uruguay. However Rooney has also received support as some claim he is playing out of position on the left flank, stating that Rooney is far more effective through the middle of England’s attack, either playing behind the striker or playing as the striker.
Another argument can be put forward; the fact is England as a unit looked very effective going forward and the emergence of Raheem Sterling proved a huge bonus. However, defensively England looked very suspect indeed.
England’s first problem in defense was the lack of pressure put on Andrea Pirlo and Daniele de Rossi in the middle of the Italian midfield. Two years ago at Euro 2012, England allowed Pirlo the same space in midfield where England were completely overran. England did not learn from their mistake. They again allowed Pirlo too much time on the ball and a player with the quality of Pirlo punished their naivety greatly.
The result was that Italy repeatedly targeted the English left as England had Rooney playing out of position and although his work rate was high, his defensive capabilities were badly exposed. This lead to Leighton Baines being repeatedly being caught in a two on one position. Many pundits as a result of this questioned the decision to leave Ashley Cole at home but in truth had he been in Baines’ place, the result would have been the same.
To counteract this England needed one of their midfield pairing of Steven Gerrard or Jordan Henderson to push up and pressurize the Italian midfield who were clearly sitting back. Admittedly in the heat of Manaus, this is a very difficult thing to do, particularly with Italy dominating the possession. The failure to do this lead to constant pressure and resulted in several England players, including Gerrard suffering cramp.
England in attack looked quite positive. Their pass success rate was 91%, the second highest of any team since 1966 in a World Cup, the first being Italy in the very same game! Raheem Sterling frightened the Italian defense in the number 10 role while Rooney set up the goal and had several chances. Daniel Sturridge scored while Ross Barkley looked positive when he came on.
However it is their defensive failures that will probably see changes made for the Uruguay game. The main debate centres around Rooney. In truth he looked poor on the left and if left there the Uruguayans will look to exploit this.
This leaves Hodgson with a decision to make, either move Rooney to the middle at the expense of moving Raheem Sterling, or else dropping Rooney altogether. I would opt for the former and include Rooney. Although Sterling was impressive and clearly bullied the Italian defense, I believe he can be just as dangerous on the right and has played the role for Liverpool on numerous occasions.
This leaves a decision to play Danny Welbeck on the left or else replace Welbeck with Southampton’s Adam Lallana. Given the fact that Lallana is a naturally left sided player, I believe he is the better option. His better understanding of the role may give Baines more protection and as a result make England a better unit defensively.
This now leaves us with the pairing in the centre of the pitch. Although Gerrard and Henderson looked outclassed, Uruguay do not have the caliber of player of Andrea Pirlo and as a result, Gerrard and Henderson should see more of the ball. Personally I would prefer to see Jack Wilshire play next to Gerrard but given the doubts around his fitness I believe Hodgson will stick with Gerrard and Henderson.
I expect to see Ross Barkley to be introduced again in the second half but I don’t see Hodgson trust him from the start. The back four will remain unchanged, although a better understanding between the centre backs will be needed. Cahill and Jagielka struggled to mark Mario Balotelli and he punished them with a goal. With Cavani and Suarez, if he is fit, to come on Thursday, England must shore up their defense.
England will also have to work on defending set plays as it was poor marking at a corner which lead to Claudio Marchisio and Italy’s opening goal.
The fact is this English team is a young side. They will not win this year’s World Cup. The aim will be France and the European Championships of 2016 where England if they develop could be serious contenders. They lack a passing midfielder with the quality of Andre Pirlo but if they can find this, they will be serious threats in France.
For now, England’s focus will be escaping the group and getting as far in the tournament as possible. If they do qualify from the group than a quarter final appearance is a real possibility given the fact that their second round opponents come from Group C which will most likely be either Colombia or Ivory Coast. It is doubtful they will get beyond this stage but a quarter final must be seen a huge success.
Possible England XI v Uruguay: Hart, Johnson, Cahill, Jagielka, Baines, Gerrard, Henderson, Lallana, Sterling, Rooney,Sturridge.
Peadar Breathnach, Pundit Arena.