Carrick Holds the Key to Success in South Africa

by Charlie Coffey

Thursday, March 4th, 2010

Last night’s friendly taught us much about the England team as the build-up to the World Cup began, but none more so than that Michael Carrick is the key to exploiting the limited strengths of our national team in South Africa as compared to the likes of favourites Brazil and Spain.

Firstly, significantly, England’s intensity did not drop in the second half, as it has done in non-competitive matches for years now. OK, everyone is playing for their places on the plane, but it is encouraging to see a friendly in which the pace did not let up until the final whistle, as it did too often under Sven and McClaren.

Next, if we are to play two up top, i.e. Rooney and A.N Other, that man must be Peter Crouch. Defoe is an instinctive goal-scorer but is so direct that top defenders can work him out.  Defoe should go but as an impact sub, when his pace will carry more of a threat, as we saw with his two goals against the Netherlands last year. Carlton Cole is unproven at international level; Heskey can’t score goals.

Also, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard obviously cannot reproduce their club form for England, whether playing together or not. Gerrard is 29, Lampard 31. They haven’t done it so far. This may well be their last world cup. No room for sentimentality, with a coach as adept as Capello this is the best chance we have had since ’66.

I digress. The point is that England must play to their strengths. It has been proven that we can’t pass our way through teams due to an inherent lack of technical ability. The evidence is that every time we come up against a ball-playing team (Brazil and Portugal (twice) in competition, Brazil and Spain in friendlies) we are soundly beaten.  No, our main strengths are these: two strong, ball playing centre-halves (if fit) in Terry and Ferdinand. One world-class forward. Pace. And I’m afraid to say that is it.

Ladies and gentlemen may I reveal the key to England’s slim hopes of winning the World Cup: the counter attack; the Catenaccio. The fact is that 46% of goals scored in open play at Euro 2008 were from counter-attacks. No, we are not Italy and do not have their patience, but we do have their best manager. Capello will be able to spend the longest period he has ever had with our squad just before the tournament begins.  I’m not saying we must defend all game before we break (as that is not our nature), merely that the counter-attack is our best hope of scoring goals given the squad we have.

The key to the counter attack is to draw the opposing team in, win the ball and transfer it forward to the danger men as quickly as possible, in as few passes as possible, so as not to allow the opposition a chance to regain their shape. Think of Manchester United’s goal away at Arsenal in the Champions League last season. This tactic involves vertical, not horizontal passes. Michael Carrick must play the holding role instead of Gareth Barry for this reason.

Carrick was a forward in his youth, his passing is forward thinking, more penetrative and more accurate than that of Gareth Barry, who spent many of his formative years at left-back. If the plan is to work Terry or Ferdinand must use their nous and aggression to win the ball, then offload it to Carrick to use his passing range to bring our pace into play: Ashley Cole (hopefully) and Glen Johnson bombing up from full-back, wingers like Lennon/Wright-Phillips/Walcott/maybe Joe Cole getting beyond their men to add the width, Rooney waiting in the middle. That’s what I’m talking about.

Gareth Barry has hardly put a foot wrong for England, but his slow, conservative passing style is not what we need against the best teams in the world. When Carrick came on England were more direct, and the goals began to flow. We may need a replacement left-back, a safe, left-footed player to provide cover for Ashley Cole. Stop hiding behind Crouchy, Gary, I’m looking at you.

You may be wondering who I would play with Carrick in the 4-4-2 England have proven themselves incapable to operate without. Steven Gerrard. Leave Lampard on the bench. In a blue shirt he would have buried the two clear-cut chances he had last night. In Germany in 2006 Lampard came into the tournament on great form with Chelsea and had the most shots of any player in the tournament but didn’t score a single goal. I for one am not prepared to let him repeat that feat. Give Gerrard a chance in his preferred position for once, but with Carrick behind him.

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  • Matt Quinn

    Totally agree. I would always find a place for Michael Carrick in my England team. Possibly the most underrated player of his generation. I would also like to see a fit Tom Huddlestone get a chance as, like Carrick, he is one of the only English players who can actually pass a ball intelligently and creatively.

    With Lampard, Gerrard and Barry in midfield we are totally devoid of creativity. A Gerrard or Lampard 40yd cross field pass is not creative and all these 3 can do is move the play sideways across the pitch. Carrick and Huddlestone may not play killer passes or hollywood balls, but they do play clever, play building passes which in themselves are much more creative.

    It is up to one of Gerrard or Lampard (never play both) to get on the end of their more astute team-mates passes. Thats what they are better at…. finishing/penetrating runs rather than actually creating.

    With regards to Crouch- i think there is a place for him in the squad but he should not be anywhere near the starting eleven. I really would like to see Carlton Cole given a go. I dont think Defoe or Crouch are good enough to take us beyond the quarter finals in a world cup. I think Carlton Cole may have enough quality to do that. Ask most Tottenham fans and i think they are rather pleased that Crouch has lost his place to Pavylechenko recently. He doesnt suit the style of play that Capello is trying to engineer and i actually think the supposed success of Crouch and SWP last night could have been one of the worst things to happen. Neither SWP or Crouch are truely international class and its worrying that they are both now seen to have “booked their seats to SA”.
    Plus, Rooney does not play well in tandem with either Crouch or Defoe.

    My team would be:





    C COLE

  • Charlie Coffey

    Fair comment mate. That was quick I only just finished writing it! I agree with most of what you say but I think England can only deal with playing a 4-4-2. Anything else we just look confused as to our individual roles. Think the France friendly when we hadly created anything. We need to play to our strengths.

    I agree that Crouch isn’t world class but Egypt are a decent side and he bagged two. I just think he’s the best we’ve got. C Cole has the potential to be much better but his lack of experience at interational level makes him a risk and we haven’t got time for that anymore. He does deserve a chance though.

    As with Tommy H. decent passer but too immobile and lazy for international football. Are you a Yido by any chance?!


  • Matt Quinn

    No! Im a villa fan, although i just realised that my potential England team is very Spurs heavy.

    I take it back. Stick James Milner in there, and Stuey Downing and get an English passport for Stan Petrov.

    Yeah- i agree about Tom Hudd… very immobile, but Spurs only seem to play good football when he’s in the team. If he was a bit quicker he would be a certain starter… pity really.

  • Darren

    2010 and we are still having the same debate, Gerrard and Lampard can’t play in the same side, we know that. In fact, as I’ve pointed out on numerous occasions, Gerrard is not good enough at international level, as Matt points out all he does is launch 40 yard Hollywood balls all the time, not good enough, especially with Rooney and Dafoe up front.

    Give Carrot the Carrot so to speak

  • dobbo

    i think the main point is that Lampard, Barry and Gerrard do not work well together in midfeild. If we are playing 4-4-2, which i think we should, then Gerrard can happily play on the left and still be effective. The thing that became clear last night is that Lampard, although great for chelsea, does not merit a starting place in the team.

    I agree Carrick is the missing link, I think he would be our best option in the centre, paired with either Gerrard or Barry. The question is, which one? A Barry, Carrick central pairing would work well, in the same way Carrick and Fletcher do for United but if youve got Gerrard and assuming Lampard is resigned to the bench, then why not play him in his favoured position?

    I feel Milner and Wright-Phillips can take over the wing positions in the starting eleven, with anyone of J.Cole (if fit), Lennon or Beckham playing understudy. I think this world cup, like the last, is still a bit too soon for the likes of Walcott – I’d put Ashley Young ahead of him at this point too.

    However, if you play gerrard out wide then the temptaion to put Lampard back in rears its head. however, i feel this should be resisted, Carrick and Barry or Carrick and Gerrard in the centre is the way to go. with Lampard making up the 4th central midfeild option and, would there be a better player to bring off the bench oin the whole tournament then Fat Frank?

    In terms of the attack, Im happy to go with Heskey. Rooney is our most important player and playing someone alongside him to enable him to be at his best is more important then having someone who can score goals aswell. I agree with the defoe argument, he is too direct but a great impact player off the bench. Crouch also fits this role and perhaps would be best off the bench. The players realise now, that being in the starting XI isn’t vital, unless you are a Rooney, Gerrard, Terry, Ferdinand or dear i say a Carrick?

    I think the defence showed we are strong at the back but the difference between being at full strength, (johnson, terry ferdinand, cole) and with cover makes us less of a threat. At full strength, I put our defence as one of the best in the world, no doubt.

    for me, this is how we should line up:


    perhaps im being harsh on Barry as he has hardly put a foot wrong, in this case, switch Barry for Milner and put gerrard out wide on the left. In any case, Milner can make an impact from the bench, as he proved last night.

    having a bench as strong as your starting XI can be a real key at international level when looking for success. it’s important not to try and force a group of star playes to operate as a superstar team. allow your most important players to play at their best, not every position has to have a superstar player, otherwise what do you have in reserve to make the difference should you need it?


  • Irfan Ghazanfar



  • Irfan Ghazanfar



    Pairing at the back is very important as these players will need to know how the other plays.

    I also agree that that Carrick is a must for the starting 11. he is calm in possesion and can actually pass a ball.

  • Simo

    I agree with Dobbo. The only thing is I wouldn’t have green in the net as I think he will make a mistake. I know jamo is getting on a bit but i think he is the best keeper we have, followed by Joe Hart. My starting XI would be


    Johnson, JT, Rio, Cashly (Quality player but what an idiot. Cheryl is top notch) If not fit either Warnock or Baines (He’s better than he played last night)

    SWP/Young, Carrick, Gerrard, Milner

    Rooney, Heskey (With his 50p head he creates for rooney)

  • mickeymarbles

    Agree with the Lampard/Gerrard debate, both getting on, both having poor seasons by their own standards. I hope we see more options out wide in the finall friendlies against Japan & Mexico, rather than another look at Stevie and Theo again. I thought Fabio was all about playing form players???

  • slay

    Nice teams but What about downing as left back his crossing is better than the leftbacks and if you want attacks like that you need players who can hit the 30-40 yard ball.

  • Darren

    Downing as left back? are you sure? a left backs job is not to cross the ball, that’s the wingers job, hence why Steven Gerrard is NOT a winger!!

    I’ve never been a Capello fan, we won a very easy group, have to lost to every top side we have played (Germany aside) and DO NOT keep clean sheet. But saying that, judge him after the world cup, as he may well deliver!

  • Irfan Ghazanfar

    downing should be left back at home, he had an terrible game, young is better option, but I prefer SWP OR jOE COLE AS THE RIGHT WINGERS

  • Matt Quinn

    Cant believe all the people putting SWP in their England team.

    He is a terrible, terrible footballer. Waddle said this week that Walcott has “no footballing brain”…. well, i think exactly the same about SWP. He gives the ball away time and time again- even when not under pressure. He is not good enough for Man City, let alone England. Wouldnt even have him in the squad to be honest. Lennon, if fit, is 10 times the player SWP will ever be.

  • Darren

    people are very fickle Matt, he had 1 decent half and all of a sudden he’s the best right midfielder in England!

    I thought Capellos philosophy was to only play players in form and that play for their club on a regular basis? Well how comes Milner didn’t start and where was Ashley Young???

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