England start poorly yet again
England have competed in 13 championships in my lifetime. Our opening fixture record reads as follows: Wins - 3, Draws - 6, Defeats - 4. A win percentage of 23% - a poor figure for a supposedly top football nation. What is it about England that makes them fail this test time and again?
In a word - fear. How else can you explain players like Lampard and Lennon playing like shadows of the performers we see for their clubs? It's like they've been replaced with an Invasion of the Bodysnatchers style replica. One of my Talksport colleagues who went to the Royal Bafokeng Stadium said he thought they looked nervous before the game, as if they could already see the headlines should they fail to beat the US (although quite why Robert Green decided to make it easier, Lord only knows). For this Capello and staff must take some of the blame.
One of the first things Capello identified when hired was that the players appeared frightened when they pulled on an England shirt. The subsequently successful qualification campaign seemed to suggest that he'd rid the players of this problem. But since qualification, their form has been awful, culminating in a display which began brightly but eventually saw all the bad old habits return - poor goalkeeping, injury-prone players succumbing to injury, lack of pace at the pack, an inability to keep possession, poor tempo, straight lines, Rooney isolated.
Capello's team selection was rotten. Robert Green has looked shaky all season, whereas Joe Hart is the in-form player in his position. My previous anxiety about Ledley King's fitness unfortunately proved true as he pulled out lame at half-time. At least it's not the knee. Jamie Carragher's lack of pace was brutally exposed once by Jozy Altidore and almost done so again by Robbie Findley. Lampard and Gerrard struggled to get to grips with the midfield. Milner was patently struggling until he was hauled off after half-an-hour before he was sent off. Apparently he'd been ill this week so why pick him? Now not only has he been sick, but he's also been embarrassed. Lennon and Wright-Phillips were terrible. They rarely got past their full-backs and when they did, their final product was poor. They also stayed too wide when Gerrard and Lampard were being outnumbered in midfield. Given that it's rumoured one of the reasons Capello dumped Walcott was being he kept on coming inside, you have to think they were playing to orders. Finally, Rooney just didn't see enough of the ball. If England are to have any hope of winning, that has to change.
The plus points were Johnson, Terry, Cole and Heskey. The fact England didn't play well but still, largely, restricted the Americans to long range efforts bodes well for later in the tournament. If Capello can get the blend right in midfield and attack, things will improve. Heskey did better than expected last night, although I'd have bet everything I owned on him missing that one-v-one. For England to achieve all they can, Gerrard and Rooney must play in tandem, much like the former does with Torres for Liverpool. I'd keep Lennon on the right and bring in Joe Cole on the left, as he is one of the few players who can provide the unexpected pass, run or dribble. Until Barry is fit, I'd have Carrick in midfield alongside Lampard. England need to keep the ball better, and no-one does that as well as him in this squad.
Big decisions need to be made by Capello. Otherwise he could end up as just another foreign manager derided by English press and public alike.
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