June 27, 2010

Analysis of the goals conceded against Germany

Where to start.

It was four, it could have been eight. From the first few minutes, Germany found acres of space between our defence and midfield, and began to exploit it – we didn’t react to it. Upson and Terry in particular were dragged all over the pitch, and Barry offered no protection whatsoever. As a result, Özil and Schweinsteiger dictated the game, and we were punished with good movement and finishing from the forwards.

I picked out Özil as the danger man before the game but, whilst he was outstanding, it was 20 year old Müller who helped himself to two goals, an assist, and the MOTM award.

Klose’s goal.

Here’s the assist!

Terry has followed Özil (presumably because Barry didn’t fancy dealing with him…!), and left Upson one on one. Upson’s starting position is far too deep in my opinion.

Since neither of them has thought to get to the flight of the ball and deal with it, it bounces and becomes a straight race between Klose and Upson.

Upson used to be quick when he was a young defender, but after a series of injuries, and at 31, he has become slow and ponderous. 32 year old Klose is much sharper and hungrier, and he gets the better of Upson.

It’s a typical Klose finish – very incisive – but absolutely hopeless defending from our centre backs. Suicidal positioning.

Podolski’s goal.

Unfortunately, what you can’t see on the clip is Matthew Upson’s helpful punt which kick-starts this move. He was out on the left, with both Terry and James clearly calling for the ball, yet he decided to play it forward in the air, handing possession back to Germany. He did this at regular intervals throughout the match, very frustrating.

The ball is picked up in deep midfield by Khedira. England stand off and give him time and space to look up. Notice Podolski at the top of the picture between Milner and Johnson.

Khedira finds Müller, who instantly looks to move off the ball, seeing that a useful attack is unfolding. Our shape has totally gone to pieces. Özil is unmarked, Barry has pushed up on Khedira (why?!), Cole isn’t tight enough to Müller, and Upson has one eye on Klose (out of shot). If we were defending this properly, Cole would have Klose, Gerrard would have Müller, Rooney would be pressing Khedira, and Barry would be stuck to Özil like glue. This would leave the rest of the back four in a position to defend the counter, with Johnson tight to Podolski.

Özil takes a touch, has sucked John Terry out of position, and then looks to find Klose.

Excellent running off the ball from Müller means that Klose can now dink the ball over Upson, who has been dragged right over to this side of the pitch (he was all over the place, all game), and left us totally exposed.

Müller leaves Terry floundering, and should probably go for goal himself. The presence of Glen Johnson probably puts him off a bit but, luckily for him, he has another option.

Milner hasn’t tracked Podolski (although he couldn’t have anticipated such a defensive shambles, so it’s hard to blame him) and, as a result, Podolski is left with just James to beat (albeit from a difficult angle).

The shot goes underneath James, but it’s a fine finish.

Müller‘s first goal.

Another easily avoidable situation. 66 minutes gone, and we’re still only 2-1 down. Yet we stick all bar two players (including the goalkeeper!) forward for a free kick which we’re not even going to cross. Total lunacy.

The free kick hammers off the wall, and a really sloppy heavy touch from Barry gives possession back to the Germans.

They see a great opportunity to counter, as England have committed so many forward. Schweinsteiger, nearest to the camera, is so alert and ready to bomb forward as the ball is played out from the back.

Müller plays a nicely weighted pass to pick out Schweinsteiger, who has so much space to run into.

Johnson, charging back, has a chance to take Schweinsteiger down. Surely worth taking a booking for in this kind of situation?

Instead Schweinsteiger’s allowed to cut inside. It looks like he has delayed the pass too long, and is trying to force Müller to make a run inside Lampard.

Müller holds his position, and does receive the ball, still with plenty to do.

I must admit, I felt that James could have done more with this goal – the top goalkeepers would all fancy themselves to save it – but Müller gave him the eyes and made him think he was going to strike across goal.

Teams are drilled on how to counter attack, and the Germans made this look absolutely textbook. One right, one left, and one through the centre – perfect movement and awareness.

Müller’s second goal.

Another England attack breaks down, this time Joe Cole losing the ball with a feeble cross. The Germans, having just had success with a counter, are so alive to the situation unfolding. Notice Özil, furthest up-field.

Having seen Özil’s position in the previous shot, now look at Gareth Barry as the ball is played forward. He has 10 yards on Özil, and should some aggressiveness and go to meet the attacker.

Worth having a look at the shot from above at this point. I have circled Upson, who is the other defender tracking back, but you can also see the eventual scorer, Müller, bombing forward in anticipation.

As the ball bounces, Özil has made up a ridiculous amount of ground. Surely Barry should at least attempt to go shoulder to shoulder with him, or even take him down, safe in the knowledge that there is a man on the cover, and it will only be a yellow card.

Instead, Barry watches as Özil ghosts past him, and has a clear run at goal.

Brilliant run from Özil, and there’s more to come – he slows up and waits for the supporting run, knowing that both defenders are focused only on stopping him.

He tempts the defender, before squaring to Müller, who now appears in shot.

Müller is left with a simple finish.

A wonderful German performance all in all, as England struggled to get to grips with their fluid formation. 4-4-2 was simply never going to work against this German side and, as I wrote before the game, it was crucial to stop Özil. In a standard 4-4-2, who would be responsible for that? Barry seemed the obvious choice, but clearly this would leave us short in other areas.

That’s ignoring the fact that 4-4-2 doesn’t get the best out of any of our attacking players, as I mentioned in this article. This seemed the perfect time to use some version of 4-5-1 -not only would we be more defensively resolute (or at least be able to match up in midfield), but we’d also be able to Gerrard in his favoured role, off a front man.

I always had Capello down as a tactical manager, so I’m disappointed that he didn’t make a change at half time. It was so clear that Germany, and particularly Özil, were finding useful pockets of space between the midfield and defence, and we were crying out for a dedicated holding player. Did he not watch the videos of the previous German performances?!

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June 27, 2010

How to beat Germany? Stop Mesut Özil.

England have a very tough task ahead of them this afternoon, with Germany (6th in the FIFA rankings) to get past if they want to make it to the quarter finals. How do we beat the Germans? “Score more goals than them” is the obvious answer, and I’d like to think that today is the day that Rooney and/or Lampard will find some kind of form and answer their critics, but it might not be that simple. The key to the game in my opinion lies in England’s defensive midfield.

Werder Bremen’s Mesut Özil has undoubtedly been the star of the show for Germany so far, playing a vital role in both of their wins. He plays as the Trequartista in a 4-2-3-1 (the formation that I would love to see England adopt), and has so far been effective in two out of three games – the Serbia game being a bit different, as he was forced to play as a striker after Klose’s sending off.

Both Ghana and Australia made the mistake of pressing the deep-lying midfield players (Schweinsteiger and Khedira), leaving Özil plenty of room to operate, and were made to pay. According to optajean, in the Australia game, “Mezut Ozil attempted (21) and completed (15) the most passes in the Australian half.” He was outstanding, and Germany scored four.

Note his average position against Australia (he’s number 8), just off the striker (Klose, 11) and pulling to the right slightly.

Australia played with Valeri and Grella in defensive midfield, with Culina just ahead of them. Presumably they were worried about being overrun by the Germans in the middle of the pitch but seemed to become so obsessed with stopping Shweinsteiger from dictating play, that they often left Özil totally unattended.

Ghana too made the mistake of affording him far too much time and space too, with Annan and Boateng both frequently pressing the ball, and it eventually came back to bite them when Özil unleashed this unstoppable strike. Just look at how little pressure on the ball there was:

England are unchanged for this game and, therefore, Gareth Barry has an enormous game ahead of him. He does like to sit and hold, but more than ever his positional awareness will be tested. This is an area where I feel he can still improve as a player (and one reason why I’d personally rather see Carrick in the side). However, as I mentioned, Özil also tends to drift to Germany’s right, and Barry should be comfortable following him there, having often played on the left in the past.

There will be a defensive responsibility for Cole and Gerrard too, two players who prefer to get forward. I have been very impressed by Cole’s all-round game over the past year, and he’s probably been our best player in the World Cup so far, but this is by far his biggest test.

Also worth mentioning that Bastian Schweinsteiger being fit to play is a blow, as he is another key player for the Germans. I would expect Rooney to drop deep to make up the numbers in midfield, and hopefully stop him from getting on the ball.

Stop these two, and we will be in with a great chance. Come on England!

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June 23, 2010

England vs Slovenia preview

Rumours suggest that Capello will be abandoning his 4-4-2 in order to give Gerrard a free(r) role in a 4-3-2-1. The suggested personnel changes are Defoe, Upson and Milner for Heskey, Carragher and Lennon.

Slovenia play an old fashioned 4-4-2, with two banks of four and two full-backs that don’t add much to the attack. They are an organised side who are notoriously difficult to break down and, therefore, it’s easy to see why Capello may tinker with his (rather rigid) formation for this match; it’s vital that we get the man advantage in central midfield and all the better if that spare man turns out to be Gerrard.

We already knew about Upson for Carragher, and it seemed obvious that Capello would drop Heskey, but I quite like the idea of Milner for Lennon in order to get a harder working midfield, and another player that can keep possession.

James
Johnson Upson Terry Cole
Milner Barry Lampard
Gerrard
Defoe Rooney

This formation should also allow our full-backs to get forward more frequently, safe in the knowledge that Milner and especially Barry are there for protection. Lennon disappointed against Algeria, and seems low in confidence, but he could play a key role as an impact sub, especially if we still need a goal late in the game.

It’s so obvious to say, but Rooney and Gerrard are our key men. Hopefully with no Heskey to play off, Rooney will have more responsibility, which could inspire him to find the form that he has shown for United this year. Gerrard, in a position more akin to his usual Liverpool role, should be able to find some freedom, safe in the knowledge that there are three behind him who can do most of the dirty work.

Gerrard is certainly talking a good game
:

“We know we let the country down by underperforming. We can’t wait for the game to start and put that right. I can see the hunger in the guys. It’s a do or die situation. We have to improve and we’re ready to do the business.”

Let’s hope they can put that into practice. Come on England!

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June 20, 2010

The blame game

It seems to me that in the eyes of most England fans and journalists, the players are to blame for the two performances so far.

For me, Capello has to take a large share of the blame (especially considering that he’s on £6m a year).

Selection and tactics

He claimed to want to pick players based on form, and to play them in their best positions. Why then do we have the likes of Heskey and Carragher in the team, and Gerrard, Rooney and Lampard, arguably our three best players, not playing in the same roles that they do at club level?

Heskey was said to have played well in the opener – I thought that he played probably as well as he could, and I certainly wouldn’t blame him for a lack of application. However, it’s patently obvious to me that he is not an international footballer, and he certainly doesn’t work well with the other more technical players in the team. There is a reason that he is on Villa’s bench most weeks, and that’s that he’s only good for one thing – playing as a target man, a Plan B.

The key issue though, is not that Heskey plays – it’s that this means that we play a rigid 4-4-2. As a result, Gerrard has to either play centrally in a 4-4-2, or wide on the left – positions that he’s not played for years at club level. Yes, there is an argument that good players should be adaptable, but the stronger argument, surely, is that you get the best out of your most talented players by playing them in their regular positions.

Wayne Rooney’s brilliant season leading the line should mean that his position is a no-brainer. Gerrard is one of the best players in the world at playing off a striker, and driving forward. So why do we not play him here? Lampard has a free role for Chelsea and, as a result, gets 20+ goals a season. He has to play a restricted role for England, meaning that he is pretty much a water-carrier.

Mr Capello, sir

Capello’s disciplinarian attitude seems to have slowly sapped the players’ confidence. It has been said that the players are sulking, and that they are grown adults and should pull themselves together. In my opinion it works both ways. They are grown adults, but they aren’t treated that way; they don’t get freedom during the day, they don’t get to spend time with their families, etc. I’m not saying that I agree or disagree with Capello’s approach (mainly because I agree with some aspects but not others), but I don’t think Capello’s authoritarian approach is working.

Maybe it worked in qualifying because the England camps were always short stints away from home. The players have now been away for a month, and they clearly aren’t confident or focused; there’s no vibrancy to the play.

He needs to create some camaraderie again – perhaps he should let the coaching staff and entourage arrange some form of team building exercise, as they currently look like eleven strangers on the pitch.

Tactical tinkering

The biggest disappointment to me is Capello’s dogmatic inability to admit that he is wrong. Milner played wide left in the first game to counter an attacking full-back. He had been in bed for more than half of the week before (with a virus), and clearly lacked sharpness. However, when he was hauled off, he was replaced with Wright-Phillips, at a time when England lacked creativity. Cole was the obvious choice to all armchair fans, but has not played a minute so far.

Again, in the Algeria game, his substitutions were all straight swaps. Zonal Marking made an excellent point on this:

The most shocking thing was how many misplaced passes there were when England players were under no pressure whatsoever. They needed a player deep in midfield to retain the possession and switch play, and a player higher up the pitch with genuine technical quality on the ball. Michael Carrick and Joe Cole would have been appropriate replacements, but both sat on the bench whilst Peter Crouch and Jermain Defoe came on – as if Capello thought England had been creating plenty of opportunities but needed someone on the end of them.

I hope that Capello changes things for the final group match, because I can’t see us breaking Slovenia down in our current state. Joe Cole is a must, and I would immediately switch to a 4-2-3-1 formation, preferably with Barry and Carrick at the base to keep possession (as we’ve seen before in the World Cup).

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June 13, 2010

Analysis of the goal conceded against USA, and my thoughts on the game

It’s a massive shame that my opening goal analysis for England’s World Cup “journey” is for a goal like this.

Dempsey’s goal.

Whilst the nature of the goal has, for obvious reasons, been well documented, it would feel wrong for me to break from my previous pictorial structure for two reasons:

  1. Catharsis
  2. OCD.

And, in fairness, whilst we all know how the ball eventually ended up in the onion bag (*hates self*), the way in which the move unfolded was fairly typical of long periods of the game.

Clint Dempsey picks up the ball between England’s defence and midfield (he and Donovan had joy in this area, and England’s midfield lacked positional discipline without a dedicated holder).

Gerrard drives back at Dempsey (as he did throughout the match) to hold him up, but Dempsey spins away.

Gerrard has stayed tight until this point but, for me, there are still not nearly enough England players back in the picture.

One more spin from Dempsey, and he’s shaken Gerrard off, making plenty of room for a shot – we know full well that he is a danger from distance, and with the new ball causing problems for goalkeepers in training, it’s not wise to give him opportunities like this.

However, the shot is a tame one. He doesn’t catch it well, and it’s devoid of power.

“They” always say you should aim to hit the target first and foremost, and that’s what Dempsey does. Green made a slight nod towards the new ball causing problms in his post-match interview, but I don’t think it had much to do with it; it bounced twice, didn’t move in the air, and would be the sort of shot that he’d expect to easily stop 999 times out of 1000.

A quick check of optajoe tells me that:

4 – Rob Green made more errors leading to goals than any other player in the Premier League last season. Calamity.

However, whilst it’s very easy to blame Green for our failure to get the three points from yesterday’s game, Capello made some real fundamental errors. It’s long been said that 4-4-2 suits England, because most of the players play in this formation for their club. Of yesterday’s starting 11, only King, Lennon, and sometimes Milner and Heskey regularly play this formation. The rest of the team play a variation of the 4-3-3/4-5-1. In fact, Rooney, widely seen as our main man, has arguably played his best football over the last year, whilst leading the line in a 4-5-1.

I noticed yesterday that Rooney was peripheral. We tended to play through Heskey, who did well in fits and starts, but also misdirected many flick-ons, surrendering possession cheaply (and that’s ignoring his missed chances). We’re told by the well-informed that Heskey is there solely to allow us to get the best out of Rooney, but with Rooney up front alone, and a dedicated holder in midfield (Barry or Carrick – whilst the latter isn’t flavour of the month, I find it hard to argue with Xabi Alonso’s comments here), we should get the best from our key players. Lampard and Gerrard get to play their more natural roles, Rooney gets to lead the line on his own (and see more of the ball), and we have the added bonus of a player that is comfortable with the ball at his feet, and will keep possession with sensible short passes.

The other major issue yesterday was our defensive shape. Our back line was too deep from the start (especially given that the USA aren’t a particularly quick side), and the gap between the defence and midfield was ridiculous. A prime example of this came during Altidore’s second half break. He is played in, turns Carragher, and bears down on goal. He chooses (somewhat selfishly?) to take on the shot at the near post, bringing out a fairly routine save from Green.

But had he looked up, he’d have seen two players – one on the penalty spot, and one just coming into the picture, totally un-tracked by our midfield.

I’m sure that Barry will come straight into the side for the next game, and I personally hope that it’s at the expense of Heskey. I fear though, that he’ll come in for Milner, with Gerrard switching to the left.

I’m still confident that England will come through the group stage, and I look towards Italy’s famous slow starts in previous World Cups for a positive to cling to. The saddest thing about yesterday’s game, though, was that the USA side was clearly greater than the sum of its parts; England were, and very often are, quite the opposite.

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...it's nice to see it in writing. This is the kind of stuff the club could clarify without prompting. That prompting is clearly necessary.
5 hours ago