Everything changes but you…

by James Baker

Thursday, August 28th, 2008

…England, a thousand miles apart?

The Olympics have provided us with a wonderful two weeks of entertainment and Team GB (why do they call it this? What happened to Great Britain?) exceeded all expectations and finished in a lofty fourth position in the medals table. Padraig Harrington won his second Open in succession and lifted the fourth major of the year, the US PGA to enter golfing folklore. Lewis Hamilton is leading the F1 World Championship and has re-ignited interest in F1 in this country. Ok, the cricket went a bit pear shape but it was a great series contested by two evenly matched teams and the England boys have started the one-day series very well. All in all, a most enjoyable summer of sport. Three months without football is, I know, to some of you a terrible time. I actually quite enjoyed it and felt relaxed and less agitated than I do during the autumn and winter months. But all that has changed now football is back. Everything seems to have changed, just not the football!

Two games in and already the same patterns are appearing. These are the same patterns that have characterised the game in this country since the turn of the century. Chelsea and Manchester United to fight it out at the top again (by the way, I think Chelsea could walk it this year). The mid-table teams will be scrapping it out to finish 5th or 14th. The 3 promoted teams will be locked in a battle for survival with two or three more established teams having a bad season. West Ham have most of their squad injured, no change there then. Tottenham fans will tell you that this year their team will be the best thing since the sliced loaf as always but in reality, this season has started in much the same way as last. The Barcodes seem to have made a fairly decent start and are bucking the trend a little. I hope I’m wrong but I’m sure the status quo will be re-established when Owen gets injured again. In short (no pun intended, Michael), not much changes.

However, the thing that is really bugging me (I wish I could be sunnier and brighter) is the performance of our national team last Wednesday. Fabio has now had 5 games to get to know his squad and implement his ideas. Five games since taking over from Mary Poppins. What has changed? England are still playing without direction, initiative or passion. The tactical nous I was expecting after watching Capello’s teams for years is not there.


Now I admit, I only saw extended highlights of the game against the Czech Republic last week but I had seen all the previous games. From what I saw, nothing had changed. However, something very strange happened last Wednesday whilst watching ITV’s highlights of the game. An ITV pundit actually illustrated something worth talking about after the game, something to highlight England’s inefficiencies. Now of course, this was not David “mind your hub caps” Pleat spouting such wisdom, nor was it Robbie Earle, although I think he is a thoroughly nice chap. Tony Adams was in the studio with Andy Townsend. We could all see the poor defending on display from the back four. First, Wes Brown decided to dive in before Captain Terry was turned much too easily by Milan bloody Baros and goal. However, Mr Adams in the studio pointed out the way the midfield decided to go looking for the ball instead of holding their positions. Numerous moments in the match were highlighted where Beckham, Lampard and Gerrard went looking for the ball in typical Roy Race fashion and left the back four hopelessly exposed time and again. May be ITV have changed! I won’t hold my breath.

The person who seemed to come out of the game with little credit was Gareth Barry. I have to say that I do have a bit of sympathy for Barry. Yes, he is a good central midfield player. However, he is not a defensive midfield player. Gerrard and Lampard came in for their usual lambasting. These are two excellent midfield players. They both play in teams with strong central midfields. Liverpool and Chelsea both play with a defensive midfield player, Liverpool sometimes play with two! The point is, the defensive midfield players at these clubs, Maschareno and formerly Makelele are the key to Gerrard and Lampard’s success. These guys are not looking for glory goals. Yes, they can both pass the ball very well. But they are smart players who know when to go short, when to go long and when to concentrate on protecting the back four. It will be interesting to see how Chelsea replace Makelele.

This is the kind of player England are crying out for. Yes, our attack looks very blunt but first things first, we need to solve this position. I am a big admirer of Carrick at Manchester United. However, I’m not sure he is as competitive as I would like. We need a player who does the dirty work, some would say a water carrier. A Deschamps a Makelele. Is there a player in England prepared to do this? My suggestion is for someone like Reo Coker to be moulded in to this kind of player. He has some way to go but he has a great engine, loves a tackle and has passion. Of course, how he plays for Villa is decided by Martin O’Neill but I think he has the potential to be a Makelele. Whether he would be happy with this is another matter. Barry should be in the England squad but he should be fighting for a place with Gerrard and Lampard. Why are players not played in positions that suit them? Where is the pace in the team? There are many problems for Capello to solve but I think the defensive midfield position is a must.

So no change then. Football is back, England are still rubbish and Gerrard and Lampard still can’t play together. Let’s hope some good changes are just around the corner.

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  • Stevie

    i’m not to sure about Sven McClaren to be honest, if anything he has taken us backwards, and to make matters worse, Lampard will be playing in the next games what with Gerrards injury. Good thing? Good thing? At least it means though won’t play together!

    Also great to see Stuart Peace saying lets lean from team GB, erh, didn’t we say lets learn from the rugger buggers, the ashes team etc…. Talk is cheap, I’m so bored of watching England that I just bypass any press written by any member of the England team.

    The Chavs will win the league by 10 points, Curbs will lose his job mid October, the Spuds will finish mid table and Wenger will still be saying he has faith in his squad after they suffer a 10th league defeat of the season.

  • Matt Quinn

    Good article. I agree nothing has changed. I also totally agree that Barry is not a defensive midfielder. He has never played that position for Villa and is not quick enough to break-up the play in that role. He is a cultured, creative midfielder, and one who is more deserving of a start in that position ahead of Gerrard or Lampard.
    The thing the fans are praying for is an injection of youth and pace to give a vision of the future. Klinsmann and Van Basten werent afraid to overhaul their nations by giving the kids a chance. The likes of Ashley Young, Micah Richards, David Wheater, Gabby Agbonlahor, David Bentley may not all make it, but if one or two show the consistency and flair at international level that has eluded some of the more older illustrious names, then experimentation will have been worthwhile.
    Watching Defoe, Wes Brown, Frank Lampard, David Beckham play for England now is depressing. I feel so sorry for Ferdinand and Rooney- the only two class players we have. The lack of service and movement from the midfield is terrible and we are destroying Rooney like we destroyed Scholes. Play him up front with someone like Agbonlahor. Play some wingers with pace and see how he thrives in the space created by this influx of pace.

    At the moment, im totally unimpressed with Capello. He is on borrowed time already. People want a change.

  • Martyn

    Apologies James but I have to disagree with you slightly. I’m a little bit bored with this whole “defensive midfielder” rubbish. Yes the central midfielder needs to be able to defend as well as attack, I dont dispute that but the fact is, if you are playing 4 midfielders, you need 2 wide players and 2 central midfielders that can defend AND attack. The problem we had on Wednesday (I was at Wembley for my sins) was that we had 4 central midfielders playing in a 4-man midfield. This is why everyone was being pulled out of position.
    Lampard and Gerrard dont work in a 4 man midfield as, although Gerrard is a complete midfielder, Lampard is not so Gerrard can’t go up safe in teh knowledge Lampard is holding. Barry and Carrick are and would suit that scenario better.
    Beckham is not international standard anymore. We have enough wide players to make this work. Bentley, Cole, Young and Lennon could all let the central pair work as they are meant to and not leave gaps in the midfield.
    All this doesnt excuse, how average Wes Brown is and how soemone needs to shove a rocket up Terry’s arse when he plays for England, as he is much more gung-ho for Chelsea. I’ve always found that Terry struggles if under pressure in a one-off game or situation but thats just an observation not a fact.

  • Bakes

    Well said, Martyn. That is what we write these articles for, to create debate. What I was trying to say in the article that I may not have quite got across is that Lampard and Gerrard work better with a defensive midfielder. If Fab is going to continue to play these two (which I think he will) he needs to play a defensive midfielder. I couldn’t agree more that we need some wide players and an injection of pace in the team.

  • Martyn

    You’re right, if we played 5 in midfield, almost as a 4-3-3, with the 2 wide strikers tracking back, you can have a player that fills the whole between defence and midfield. However there are no English players that can do the lone front role like a Drogba or a Berbatov. Its funny how we all agree and can see the need for wide players in a 4-4-2 but an internationally renowned coach like Capello cant see it for some reason. For my part I would like to see:
    Green or James/Young/Ferdinand/Terry if he sorts himself out and Woodgate if not/A.Cole/Bentley/Gerrard/Carrick/J.Cole/Rooney/Defoe or Agbonlahor. That team has pace, experience, width and a player that can hit a dead ball as good as Becks.

  • http://www.ukfootballfinder.co.uk Darren

    Sven McClaren has only used 4 players under the age of 25. That’s insane, what happens if we do qualify, the usual suspects will be 2 years older, slower and even more useless then they all ready are.

    I run a decent part time team myself, it’s not that hard to pick a 4-4-2 side with youth and experience, it’s all about the right blend, just ask Matt Quinn, he was there last night when we beat a very decent Saturday league side.

    I’m sure I could do better then the last 2 Prats, (Capello included) especially when playing the likes of Andorra which is made up of Window cleaners, Estate Agents & Car mechanics!

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