The politics of a five-man England midfield

by William Abbs

Sunday, June 20th, 2010

According to the Sunday Times, England’s players are urging Fabio Capello to include Joe Cole from the start in next Wednesday’s decisive group game against Slovenia. The players’ pleas echo those of England supporters. Cole has yet to feature in South Africa but fans of the national side are championing the Chelsea forward’s cause, seeing him as the man to loosen the static 4-4-2 approach that England have adopted so far at the World Cup.

Joe Cole’s place in the side would come at the expense of Emile Heskey’s role up front and would leave England with five in midfield. While that tactical switch might sound like a cautious step, in that Wayne Rooney would be left as the side’s lone striker, the tactical flexibility that a five-man midfield offers makes the formation far superior to the now-outmoded 4-4-2.

England’s five in midfield would be staggered into a group of two and a group of three. Some pundits would play two men in front of the defence and use three in support of Rooney, while others advocate a three-man screen ahead of the back four and two players behind the striker. According to the writers in the Sunday Times, joining Cole in midfield would be four from Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Gareth Barry, Aaron Lennon, and Shaun Wright-Phillips. However, I would be inclined to recall James Milner and use him in tandem with Barry as England’s holding midfielders, with Gerrard, Lampard, and Cole ahead of the pair.

Regardless of how the midfield five are arranged, though, splitting them into two departments – one defensive, one attacking – reflects both evolution for the national side and, dare I say it, change in the national psyche too. England is not the same as the United Kingdom, I realise, but the recent election result has left the country with a coalition government and a feeling amongst the people that the three-party political system has run its course. Likewise, the division of football formations into strict defensive, midfield, and attacking units is also old-fashioned.

Against Slovenia, the roles of England’s midfield players should be defined by their proximity to the players immediately behind or ahead of them, in defence and attack, instilling a cooperative spirit in the side that complements, on paper at least, the political union currently in charge of the nation.

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  • Katie

    Wot a load of bollox this article is.

    We need goals not another bore draw. Go 4-3-3 and see if soft boy Rooney can hold the line up top instead of dropping back to get the ball. Crouch up there to knock it down for him and Heskey to rough up the defence (it’s about all he’s good for though).

    Lampard, Gerrard and Cole to hold the middle. Cole, Terry, Upson and Johnson across the back wiv James in goal. Job done, bring on the Germans!

  • Darren

    I agree on some of your points katie, but a 3 pronged attack with Heskey, Rooney & Crouch is not the answer. The idea of 3 in attack is all about pace, pace & pace, there’s none in that. Dafoe would have to play at the expense of Heskey or soft lad.

    I personally would like to see Lampard dropped with Gerrard in the centre. Joe Cole on the left with Crouch & Dafoe up front, sorry but Rooney has to start on bench. If we are not winning unleash him!

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