Saturday, June 10, 2006


I can't even imagine what it's like to be an actual England fan. The sight of all that talent moldering out there on the pitch like a dog's discarded breakfast must drive them insane. Well, more insane.

For those who didn't bother to wake up for today's early early World Cup game, England just walked out with a "gritty" (see: nearly unwatchable game) victory over Paraguay, courtesy of an own goal.

Although Paraguay should get credit for constantly fouling, time-wasting and generally being cunts; England never managed to get anything going short of when they were playing Joe Cole behind a lone striker, which he did for roughly 10 minutes before being substituted for everyone's favorite England sub, Owen Hargreaves.

One wonders what the mental process was for Sven Goran Eriksson in that case. "Hmmm, Joe Cole is the only player looks remotely dangerous with the ball at his feet and he's creating a bunch of chances at the position to which I recently moved him. Plus Crouch, Lampard and Gerrard are all noticably limping and haven't really done much lately. Let's take Cole out."

Actually, the Hargreaves substitution wasn't as bone-headed as it appeared. The England midfield had been screaming out for some sort of holding midfielder/pivot man for most of the game, as neither Gerrard or Lampard are capable of playing that role and as a result, England couldn't hold possession and frequently resorted to hopeless long-balls out of the back.

The most frustrating thing has to be that it's been shown, repeatedly, that Gerrard and Lampard as a combination in the middle of the field works only on paper. In practice, both players are too similar to really work together. In their club teams, they each have a defensive presence to hold down the space behind them (Makalele in the case of Chelsea, Hamman/Sissoko in the case of Liverpool) and link-up players in front of them (Cole/Robben/Duff and Luis Garcia/Cisse).

The England line-up has neither, meaning that two central gaps are created, between the midfield and the defense and between the midfield and the forwards. Meaning that you see a lot of balls played from the central defenders to the fullback to the winger back to the fullback back to the defender then bashed aimlessly upfield repeat 100 billion times until you want to stab your eyes out with a smashed Bass Ale.

Of course, Eriksson will never go to the obvious solution of dropping one of Lampard/Gerrard and putting a player like Hargreaves or Carrick into the lineup to play the role that Frings plays for Germany. Alternately, he could return to his experiment with the 4-5-1 and play only Crouch or Owen. Considering how ineffective they were today, it doesn't seem like much of a penalty.

Ideally, I would play a similar formation to that used by Chelsea, with the same back 4, Hargreaves/Carrck, Gerrard and Lampard in central midfield, then Cole and Rooney playing free/wing roles behind Owen. This would necessitate dropping David Beckham, perhaps the most tactically inflexible player for any of the major soccer powers, something that will never happen.

The most worrying part of the whole affair is that it fits perfectly into Eriksson's motif as manager of the England team: play well at the start, grab an early goal, retreat into your defensive third for the rest of the game and allow the other team time on the ball rather than killing the game off. Super.

So, in short, England should be good enough to get out of the group and then get crushed by a team of lesser talent after they resort to booting the ball upfield and letting the other team run at them.

Or lose on penalties.

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