NINE CHANGES FOR ENGLAND AS FRINGE PLAYERS GET A RUN OUT
Roy Hodgson announced the England team to face Costa Rica tomorrow at Estadio Mineirao, Belo Horizonte, and will seek to restore some pride before flying straight home immediately after the game.
The team will look to avoid an unprecedented whitewash in Brazil – three defeats in the group stage would be England’s worst showing at a World Cup since 1950.
Frank Lampard at the age of 36 will earn his 106th (and possibly final) cap and captain the side which is expected to line up in a 4-3-3 formation. With Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain still unfit only two players have been retained from the other two group games in Brazil as Hodgson opted to reward as many non-playing members of his squad as possible with an appearance in a World Cup. Only Gary Cahill and Daniel Sturridge retained their places in what will probably a 4-3-3 formation.
It’s possible that this World Cup could also be the last one for captain Steven Gerrard who said he would be making a decision some time after the World Cup was over. Roy Hodgson has urged him to stay on but England may be better off clearing out the remains of the “Golden Generation” and starting afresh.
HOW WILL ENGLAND LINE UP?
The players could line up in a variety of variations but here’s how I think they’ll play:
A back line of Luke Shaw, in for the injured Leighton Baines, with Gary Cahill alongside Chris Smalling at central defence with Phil Jones filling in as auxiliary right back.
A midfield trio of Frank Lampard and Jack Wilshere who will sit deep with Ross Barkley pushing into forward positions from slightly ahead of them.
Up front we have Adam Lallana wide left, James Milner wide right and Daniel Sturridge as lone striker but with Ross Barkley joining him from midfield where possible.
The team as named looked more balanced but still lacking in adequate protection for the back four in the form of positionally aware midfielders who are mobile and can tackle. Wilshere and Lampard could arguably do a better defensive job than Henderson and Gerrard have done with help from Ross Barkley.
England: Foster, Jones, Cahill, Smalling, Shaw, Wilshere, Lampard, Milner, Lallana, Barkley, Sturridge
WHERE DO ENGLAND NEED TO STRENGTHEN?
England have some capable, if untried, defenders in their squad with attacking full backs as per the modern trend but they lack an effective midfield shield for their central defence which has been shown to lack pace. In effect, you might say they need a Emmanuel Petit and Patrick Vieira pair in midfield more than they need another Frank Lampard or Steven Gerrard.
A good pair of midfielders with the positional awareness, aerial and tackling ability and passing quality of Fernandinho, Nemanja Matic, or Daniele De Rossi would provide a solid platform to help England build with their emerging full backs who would all appear to be of an attacking bent.
With Wayne Rooney preferring to play closer to a striker, Daniel Sturridge, than deeper in midfield the wide forwards will probably need to be more capable of tracking back than the more attacking Raheem Sterling and Danny Welbeck. In this case Sterling might have to be used as an impact player from the bench while the likes of Adam Lallana and James Milner will offer more protection to Leighton Baines or Luke Shaw and Glen Johnson or Kyle Walker.
The problem England have is there are no immediately identifiable midfielders fitting the template, the majority of central midfielders near the England squad show the lack of flexibility that previous England managers have complained about. Manchester City’s James Milner is just about the nearest fit for a central midfield role but he doesn’t get enough game time for his club and is unproven in a defensive midfield capacity.
There may be a glimmer of hope if incoming Manchester United manager Louis Van Gaal sees a future for Phil Jones as a defensive midfielder but without two strong, physical, and positionally intelligent midfielders, England will have to resort to playing three in midfield to ensure they aren’t outnumbered.
HOW HAVE THE ELITE PREMIER LEAGUE CLUBS DONE IT?
Manchester City opted for non-English midfielders (Yaya Toure and Fernandinho, plus Javi Garcia on occasions) to shield their back four which included Vincent Kompany who does have a turn of pace. The conceded just 37 goals in the league last season.
Liverpool’s defence are nominally shielded by Jordan Henderson and Steven Gerrard but conceded 50 goals as their full backs (including Glen Johnson) were encouraged to raid forward in the same style as England’s full backs but their central defenders found themselves exposed.
Jose Mourinho at Chelsea knows he has to protect a slow but capable back line of John Terry and Gary Cahill and variously employed John Obi Mikel, Nemanja Matic, Ramires and Frank Lampard in deep lying roles to protect them. They also used full backs with more defensive attributes in Cesar Azpilicueta and Branislav Ivanovic. The result was just 27 goals conceded.
Arsenal used Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey when available to help protect the central defence. They have a surplus of attacking midfielders but no recognisable defensive midfielder since the departure of Alex Song and even Wilshere admits that he prefers to go forwards than defend and they conceded 41 goals last season.
Everton used Gareth Barry to help protect Phil Jagielka and Sylvain Distin. Wide midfielders such as Kevin Mirallas offered more protection when Seamus Coleman and Leighton Baines raided forwards. They conceded 39 goals last season.
At Manchester United, this lack of a reliable midfield shield (None of Marouane Fellaini, Tom Cleverley, or Michael Carrick are ideal defensive midfielders) for their centre backs – the ageing Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, plus the inexperienced and slow Chris Smalling and Phil Jones saw them exposed too often as they conceded 43 goals.