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.
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).