England Expects: A Bit More Than Last Week

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The other day I wrote a blog for Eurosport about England’s chances against the Swiss. Amongst other things, I spoke about the need for a change in the England team ethic, and of Roy Hodgson’s opportunity to build a team of players that can work together as a collective without, as yet, any of the huge reputations and individual agendas that may have hurt some squads over the last 10 years or so. I also said I expected England to lose in Basel… And for once I was happy to be proven completely wrong.

After the poor showing against Norway, England picked things up a little against the Swiss. If luck had gone our way a little we could have knocked in four, maybe five. We had spells of decent possession, we had 10 shots, five on goal, and Switzerland had to pull off three good saves, and three blocks to stop us scoring more. Obviously, the Swiss weren’t bang on form, but England played with a degree of creativity and togetherness that I haven’t seen for a while. And it’s that togetherness that is key for me.  

The way Wilshere played to me was indicative of a willingness to put the team ahead of the individual. That holding midfielder position is where I think Jack can become a top player. The days of hard-tackling, Roy Keane-style central midfielders are over. They’ve been replaced by players like Xavi and Pirlo: players whose spatial awareness, dexterity, passing ability and vision allows them to conduct and create from the central berth. A lot of people said he was giving the ball away too often, and with nine lost balls during the game, I suppose you could argue that. But he did regain the ball five times, he won 80% of his duels and he maintained an 82% pass completion rate. Obviously, he is still growing into that role, and so it was nice to read that Roy has been giving the players a bit of homework. Wilshere’s been told to study the best holding midfielders in world football. This again builds in to the idea of the team ethic: everyone working together, and everyone committing to an idea to improve and develop as a team. Sounds really positive to me that.

Towards the start of the game, I didn’t expect the young Villain to last past half time. He was trying too hard, diving into tackles and struggling to stay on his feet. But I’m glad to say he turned that around as the match went on, and for me he was probably man of the match. His stats were pretty decent: 95% pass completion, 92% completion in opposing half, two key passes, a blocked shot and a couple of decent tackles. It’ll be interesting to see how he progresses for Villa and for England over the next two years.    

I got a lot of responses on Twitter when I said that Welbeck’s contribution to the England team, his understanding of the team ethic, and his selflessness, meant that he was a better option to start up front in place of Sturridge. Quite a lot of people asked me what I was smoking! But it comes down to one thing: I don’t think Wayne Rooney enjoys playing with him. In the Norway game, Sterling and Sturridge were constantly taking up Rooney’s positions and forcing him to play in a role that just didn’t capitalise on his strengths. Wayne needs to be given the space and support to do what he’s capable of for England, and with a team of players like Welbeck, Henderson and Delph he has a better opportunity to do that. He is the captain, he is the best player in the team on his day, and the team should do what it can to get the best out of him. Portugal do it for Ronaldo. Sweden do it for Ibrahimovic. That’s what we should be doing for Rooney. Don’t get me wrong, I think Sturridge is a great individual player, especially for Liverpool, but until he gives more to the England team collective his role should be as an impact player.

 

 

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