Off the back of a fairly embarrassing and disappointing 2-0 defeat at home to Chile last week thanks to Alexis Sanchez’ brace, Roy Hodgson now faces two major challenges ahead of the clash with the Germans.
The first challenge is picking his players back up after the defeat in which they were quite pedestrian and failed to show any real creative flair – England have had the same inherent problems for the last decade, regardless of the coach or the combination of players which is the second challenge.
The players’ confidence may have taken a knock and they’ll be second-guessing themselves and the tactics if he’s not careful so he must ensure he restores their belief they can win and their faith in their ability.
This is the crux of the problem – England have some fantastic gifted footballers who perform week in week out in the Premier League and Champions League at the highest level under enormous pressure but as soon as they put on a Three Lions shirt they look hopelessly inadequate and vulnerable against top opposition. They can brush past the lower ranked nations but when it comes to the top ten national teams in the world, they seem to lose their verve.
It’s not as if England (as some would have you believe) have slow and lumbering dinosaur-style players without creativity, tenacity and technical quality. That is simply not true – Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard, Daniel Sturridge, Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard, Jack Wilshere, Andros Townsend – we are not talking about average players. We are talking about special players with experience and or quality in abundance.
These players play for their clubs as champions and world-beaters but for England they seldom seem to gel and find their chemistry as individuals or as a unit. I believe that comes down to confidence more than anything but I also wonder if that is not also exacerbated by the tactical systems they are often sent out in.
When England come up against teams like Chile or Brazil or the upcoming Germans who play with flexibility, dynamism, audacity and range as well as (especially in the case of the visitors on Tuesday) superb organization, they come up against a beast they find difficult to tame.
They revert into one of two options – they either sink or tread water, but they never seem to swim. I’m talking about negative tactics – stopping the other side playing. Oftentimes England against dangerous opposition will focus almost entirely on keeping the other side out which just invites pressure on to themselves and invites individual error in typical England fashion and eventually against strong opposition they get broken down.
Their passing becomes poor, they can’t find each other, they seem to have no strategy to counter attack other than to revert to the old long ball which is really just speculatively hoping to relieve the defence and midfielders of their obligations at the back. It’s stoical but it’s not what these players are used to and it doesn’t play to their strengths whatsoever.
How often do the players mentioned above find themselves outclassed and under intense pressure and bombardment for their clubs in the Premier League? Rarely is the answer. These players are used to having the majority share of possession, the better chances, the time on the ball, the space to pick out a pass. England cannot simply try to keep the German’s at bay – it won’t work.
The German national team at the moment is probably more dangerous and terrifying as opposition than the Spanish now – I’d pick them as heavy favourites to win the World Cup. But, whilst they have technical superiority probably across a range of positions, they are not superhuman.
England have a number of experienced and gifted players of their own. They have players who can threaten the visitors – but only if they’re allowed (and trusted) to go out and play the Germans and give them a run for their money.
If they play negative from the first whistle, they’ll be on the back foot for 90 minutes against players that will smell their fear, force their fatigue and punish their inevitable mistakes. The best form of defence is attack – Hodgson must encourage them to go play football, go press for the ball, go win it back, go create chances and, most importantly, take those chances when they come.
If they sit back sheepishly the game will end up looking like a training exercise of attack versus defence. England are called the Three Lions but when they play like they did last week they look half asleep. They need to find their roar and bite back at the game. Against Chile they were tame, they looked like house-trained pussycats. Like the Lion in the Wizard of Oz, they need to find their courage and put in a performance that, win, lose or draw, they can be proud of.
image: © geetarchurchy