Saturday, 19 June 2010

Fabio’s Jump The Shark Moment

FIFA World Cup, 1st Round Group C: Green Point, Cape Town: England 0 Algeria 0

While the media are beginning to turn on Fabio, tonight’s game was uncomfortable viewing for many England fans.  To put it bluntly, England were outplayed and made to look like novices against a compact and very technically proficient Algeria side.

All credit should go to Algeria.  If they had a good playmaker and a striker, Algeria would have beaten England, comfortably.  They were comfortable on the ball (as predicted here), they pressed the England players and shock horror!!! they played 3-5-2.  This meant that for the second match in a row, England’s midfield was out-numbered, which again was a contributing factor to England’s lacklustre display.   This was a richly deserved point for Algeria, their first World Cup point since their 1-1 draw against Northern Ireland in 1986.  But they should have had so much more.

For England there are now concerns that they might exit the tournament at the group stages, for the first time since 1958.  For the first time, there is now criticism over Capello’s management style, with his insistence that the team is picked a short period before the game coming in for some attention.  However there are other aspects at play here.  While England has a couple of very good players, they do look too rigid tactically.  They look most comfortable playing a 4-4-2, yet both of England’s opponents have employed tactics which have constricted England.  A change to 4-2-3-1, with Carrick & Barry anchoring a mid-field with Joe Cole, Gerard & Lampard (or A N Other) in more advanced positions, might well be in order.  a change to 3 at the back is unthinkable, entirely because Terry, Carragher et all have never played in a back 3 (Ferdinand of course played in a back 3 at West Ham).

The other thing which did not help England is the league that many of these players play in.  The English Premier League might be the richest, most heavily marketed league in the world.  It is a fact though that is is also a harem scarem league, where good passing technique is often bought in rather than raised.  Arsenal apart, there are no teams who play possession football in the EPL, and most teams play a 4-4-2 (only Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Bolton have moved towards variations of 4-5-1).  It is this lack of variation and lack of technical competence which proved to be a hindrance to England.

There are also rumours that all is not well behind the scenes.  The former England manager Graham Taylor, working for BBC Radio 5 Live noticed that “There’s something not right behind the scenes. I don't know what it is. I have an idea: I don't believe the proper preparatory work is being done. Look at the body language: something is wrong."  This was followed shortly afterwards by David James reply to Capello’s view on why England are playing badly (Capello: “England are playing badly because of the pressure”, James: “Really”).

England have until Wednesday to try and find solutions to their problems.  Next up are Slovenia, who are a technically good, tight passing side who England should…   oh we’ve just seen one of those teams haven’t we?  The worry for England is that they are desperately out of form, need a win, and with Germany’s defeat to Serbia today might still face Germany in the Last 16 whether they finish top or second.  The one crumb of comfort is that England have been in bigger holes and recovered, in 1986 and in 1990.  After tonight’s performance though, the word’s “Straw’s” and “clutching at” comes to mind.

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