England 0 - 0 FYR Macedonia
The picture that sums up England's night. Stevie G, hand on his back of his head:
Hands up if you're one of those neutrals that watched the game and then dozed off. After so many years of watching football, this is one of the VERY few games that made me goes 'fishing'. It was a lame and pathetic performance from a country blessed with such abundance of talents. Again, it seemed like it's 11 individuals out there instead of a team of English players. So what went wrong? I'll try my very best to give you insights into this England 'team'.
1) Lack Of Width
Stewart Downing on the left and Steven Gerrard on the right. Ones a 'one season wonder' who struggles to get past a man and the other not even a winger. Such a sad state of affair that they couldn't even field two proper wingers who can get past man and put in decent crosses. It makes you wonder what would've happened if Beckham is still in the team.
Downing has to be one of those players whom you have totally no idea why they're in the squad, but made it anyway. Perhaps because he used to play under Macca at Boro? I would think so. There's such a player named Gareth Barry who has been consistantly good this season, putting in excellent crosses and got overlooked. Why? Because he's not playing in a big club?
Steven Gerrard on the other hand still doesn't looked disciplined enough to play on the wide right. Brings me to my next point:
2) Gerrard: Tactical Ill-disciplined Or Instruction From Manager?
Playing as a right-winger in majority of last season for Liverpool, he has been given the license to roam around the midfield by Rafa. But under McClaren, he seemed to be lost and running around like a headless chicken. I have no idea whose fault is it at all because we don't know what's going on behind the scene.
Gerrard is a dynamic player who wants to get involve in everything and therefore playing on the right wing restricts him from doing so. But as England's best player currently (I think), he has to lead by example and therefore it means, he has to have a 'free role'. So he tend drift inwards to the middle of the field, leaving acres of space on the right for poor ol' Neville to cover.
It's alright if you drift inwards ala Luis Garcia when he plays on the right. But drifting inwards too early (like Gerrard) means that the middle of the pitch will become very tight and therefore Lampard and Carrick are stuffed off any space.
The Macedonians took advantage of this flaw and launched waves and waves of attack on England's right hand side, and with Gerrard missing, Neville had a hard time together with King.
3) Where's The Pass 'n Move?
As a nation with such proud footballing tradition, it's a shame that their players struggles to keep hold of possesion and pass the ball accurately and with purpose. Michael Carrick was brought in to do exactly that, but he seemed too off paced and sluggush. Lampard got crowded out by the masses of Macedonian defence.
There was no sense of purpose when passing the ball as though they passed it because they don't want someone breathing down their neck. They passed it sideways and backwards and when finally they pass the ball forward, it seemed like they're trying too hard to impress with those one touch flicks and such.
Another thing was the movement of the players. They all seemed very slow to react and always wait for the ball to roll to their feet instead of running towards it and take it. Poor passing in the final third of the field eventually leads to:
4) Crouch and Rooney Isolated
Don't you think so? They're like two players in white shirts within a sea of red. There was no support whatsoever until it was too late. They're feeding off scraps and the service from the midfield was unbelievably bad.
A couple of times when Crouch got hold of the ball and waiting for someone to make a run, there was no one and there was nothing he could do but surrender possesion. Rooney still looked very unfit and lost out there. A couple of poor touch and hesitation rendered him ineffective. With virtually no supply line, the combination of Crouch and Rooney lacked sharpness and fluidity.
5) Terry's Flaw
Some might not agree with this point, but John Terry might be one of the causes of their problems. We all know that Terry is not the fastest defender in the world and therefore, the defence line have to be pushed backward a little so that they leave little space behind them.
This made the defence and midfield a little disjointed and once again, Carrick was supposed to be the one linking the two departments up, but he was ineffective.
6) Failure To Impose
Midfield caught in no mans land. They have no idea whether to drop back or move forward to support the strikers. Therefore England failed to 'surround' Macedonia and stamp their authority in the game. The players didn't step up the gear and hasten the pace of the game, rather looking lazy and slow. They couldn't find the rythmn and that sums it all up.
7) No Creativity, No Flair
You cannot fault the players or managers for this one, but you got to admit that England lacks a playmaker of any sort. Look at Argentina and you have Riquelme (retired, though). Look at Brazil and you have Kaka. And England? The closest thing you get is Gerrard, but of course he got shafted on the right. Joe Cole is another one of those flair players, but sadly, he's unavailable at the moment.
Looking at the English players reminds you of those students you have in school who gets A* in everything because they memorises everything instead of really understanding it. They only excel in the things they're taught.
Looking at a player like Lampard. We all know that he's a pretty good player and his strong points are he's physically fit and of course, his shots usually ends up in the back of the net. But he's the type of player I branded as the 'technical players', who excel at the things they are taught, but other than that, they're average at best. He's good at shooting because during his youth, he was made to practice them all day long. Not that I'm critical about him and doubting his football talents, but other than that, do you actually see him doing anything apart from that?
He's not the only one of these 'technical' players. But the thing is if the trend continues, England will continue to suffer. The lack of natural flair players is making England a very dull and uncreative side. Technically good they might be, but natural talent with proper guidance will definitely be the best.
Early days still for McClaren. The qualifying round is still a long way to go and he cannot afford to let his boys drop their heads. They will face a very difficult encounter with Croatia without Gerrard, but if McClaren could go back to basics, then perhaps he will bring out the best in a group of good players.