Capello’s England – Winging on a prayer

by Charlie Coffey

Friday, October 15th, 2010

Playing wingers on the opposite side doesn’t always work

There are obvious cases of when playing wingers on opposite sides is effective, but in my opinion some managers are just following the fad. One of the masters of Italian management, Fabio Capello, seemed to follow the pupil, Roberto Mancini, by playing Adam Johnson on the right on Tuesday, but on the right side of a four man midfield in a 4-4-2 with a 6ft 7 inch striker to feed off crosses. These tactics not only ensured that England played with little width against ultra-defensive opponents who needed stretching, but also that the individual goal threat from the wide players, i.e. the main reason why such players are positioned on the opposite side, was severely reduced, and that Crouch was effectively put out of business.

Players such as Arjen Robben and even Ashley Young can thrive from playing on the opposite side to which their strong foot would usually dictate, but at their clubs they play high up the pitch and narrow behind a central striker in a 4-3-3. Adam Johnson can play this role well, and both of his league goals for City have come from that position, but against Montenegro he was too easily forced wide when trying to beat a man from a deeper position to which he plays at City, needing that extra touch and glance down at the ball to cross with his weaker right foot, even when he had beaten his man and got to the byline as he did in the first half. Getting to that position is no use if you can’t effectively cut the ball back for a team-mate.

Players have always switched wings to good effect during a match. It is only really in the past couple of seasons that they have played the whole match on the opposite side, which follows the rise of the 4-3-3 as both an offensive and also defensive tactic, and also the increase in popularity of fielding two holding midfielders to stem counter attacks. If you play 4-3-3 instead of 4-4-2 you lose the support striker, and push the wingers up and closer to the advanced striker, so the wingers/inside forwards/whatever you want to call them have to take over some of the goal threat of the support striker. For this reason the ability to cut inside and shoot with their stronger foot gives them more choice in how they angle their shot, and so more of a goal threat.

When Capello played Johnson and Young on opposite sides of a four-man midfield (sometimes five when Rooney chased back in vain to seek the ball), that threat was severely diminished by their withdrawn starting positions; their chances of getting into the kind of area around the corner of the penalty area when just a fleet foot or the drop of a shoulder could get them into a shooting position on their strong foot was much less likely. Rooney was there to provide the threat from behind the advanced striker, Peter Crouch.

Was Capello underestimating Montenegro by thinking he could play advanced wingers with two strikers? Were the wingers intended to play further forward than they eventually did? If so he had 90 minutes to see that the tactic wasn’t working, and to try something different by switching Young and Johnson so that they could put some crosses into the box for Peter Crouch and even Wayne Rooney, who despite his recent slump showed last season that his heading has improved significantly.

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  • dexylongshot

    Well pointed out Chas as you did on Tuesday night as we froze our collective nuts of at Wembley. I said on Wednesday i would have liked the wingers to have switched more than they did, especially with Crouchy and then Davies lurking in the center.

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