England, Italy and lessons we can learn

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After watching the England Italy game the other day there were a few things I wanted to discuss about our performance. I think there were a lot of positives, but there were also things that just weren’t smart enough. I only say these things as a proud Englishman who cares deeply about his national team and the health of our national game. I’m just sick of losing.

The stats tell a story

As a midfielder of some ability I couldn’t help but be amazed by the quality of the performance of Pirlo and De Rossi on Saturday night. Between the two of them they made 207 passes and helped the team achieve the highest pass completion rate (93.2%) of any team at a World Cup since 1966. England weren’t a million miles behind in the pass completion stats (90.8%), and they also had more shots (18), more shots on target (5) and more corners (9), but I saw a gulf in class, effectiveness and, most tellingly, experience.

Possession and short passing

Italy enjoyed 56% possession to England’s 44%, that’s not a huge difference until you look at what the teams did with their possession. Despite both enjoying around 93% short pass completion, Italy made 533 short passes while England made only 390. Italy made more short incisive, clever passes, they kept the ball close because they knew that in those conditions they didn’t want to be chasing the game and they were able to control both the tempo and the direction of play. As I said on Twitter on Saturday, it needs to be about “pass pass pass, not run, dribble, pass if you’re in a dead end”. In my opinion, we didn’t do enough with our possession and what we did just wasn’t smart enough.

Disrupting the routine

I also mentioned that we needed to disrupt the opposition in transition. Obviously, you can’t just belt around the park in conditions like the ones in Manaus, but you need to take up positions that nullify a threat, close off passing angles and make opposition players uncomfortable on the ball. Italy are a great passing side, but that is easier to pull off if there’s no one closing you down. That is what the Chileans and the Dutch did to such effect against Spain: they closed down every ball and shut off opportunities before they had a chance to become full-blown chances. Obviously, England couldn’t do that in the heat of Manaus, but in Sao Paolo for the Uruguay game the weather will suit us better and players like Henderson, Gerrard, Wellbeck and even Rooney will need to step up and get stuck in.

Cramp

I noticed that a fair few of the England players were getting cramp, and even though Italy’s players were older, none of them went down. I don’t think this is due to lack of preparation or fitness on England’s part, it’s just because Italy dominated possession and England had to chase the ball for long periods of the game. That is emotionally and physically taxing and you can see the effect it had on even the youngest and fittest England players.

Differing style

While Italy dominated possession for large periods, England had their fair share of pressure. They played more passes in the final third (31% to Italy’s 19%), they made more crosses (17 to 8), more corners (9 to 2) and more successful short passes in the final third (104 to 85). They just couldn’t put the ball in the net. Obviously some of that comes down to a bit of bad luck and some bad finishing, but player selection and positioning played a part too. I watched some of the coverage of the Chile Spain game and Danny Murphy mentioned that Chile make Alexis Sanchez feel like the man. Great point by Danny that. Strikers need to feel that love, and playing Rooney out on the left doesn’t do that. He needs to know he is the main man, and the only way to do that is to play him in his position. Number 10. Through the middle. He would then provide the platform the team needs to dictate and direct play in the final third, and he’ll be able to get on the end of a few chances. In terms of player choices, Henderson was deployed alongside Gerrard to nullify the threat of Italy, the Uruguayans don’t have that quality in the middle of the park. So I’d like to see Gerrard sat deep with Wilshere or even Barkley replacing Henderson. As the Chileans showed, attack is sometimes the best form of defence.

In conclusion

Having had a bit of time to think about England’s performance, I don’t think we were a million miles away. And with a few tweaks to personnel (Wilshere for Henderson), tactics (closing down the ball more aggressively in the middle) and positions (Rooney through the middle, and both full backs pushing on), England should have enough to get out of the group. The fact that it’s going to be wet and cool in Sao Paolo will also help. Sometimes simple things like that make all the difference.


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17 comments
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RodrigoBalerioBentancurt
RodrigoBalerioBentancurt

It depends, Jack is more offensive player. I´d like to see more of Ross Barkley he looks promising and different.

You´ve got  such a great team, kind regards from Uruguay.

Chuck_d01
Chuck_d01

Rooney just playing off Sturridge; Sterling on the left, Milner on the right. Stevie G in front of the defence and Wilshere beside him with the box to box responsibility.

joeydema
joeydema

Henderson over Wilshere any day of the week. Wilshere has not proven he has the quality, and on top of t hat his attitude is shite.


Henderson is a terrier, and if he is given a little more freedom to not be sat deep next to Stevie he's even more class. Barkley on for Henderson in the 65th to turn the screw I hope.

ollieparvin
ollieparvin

I agree although Lallana for Henderson instead of Wilshere surely

adsmith
adsmith

I agree with a more attacking minded midfielder to help free rooney up in that number 10 role to get into positions to receive the ball not to come deep to get the ball. I just hope we back our ability to take players on and not just pick the easy pass all the time although I think possession is key you need to know when to step it up like the Germans do and Spain didn't that's why there going home

RyanArchibald
RyanArchibald

Both sides oozed professionalism man and the experience of Pirlo and De Rossi was shown in their cautious pre-emptive play. I felt that the flow of the players around these experienced heads could potentially have been great as they perhaps slowed or held a more reserved attitude to the play which perhaps suited both teams in their first outing.


There was a gamplan from Italy that I feel lacked in speed of transition from pressing to countering. With Italy's midfield choosing a more comfortable game and holding the ball in midfield after winning it back rather than coming alive in a sharp quick counter attacking sense.


Best game so far 5-1 Netherlands side were like a tornado hitting Spain.


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TimFusciardi
TimFusciardi

a good analysis of the game. I just really cannot get to like Wiltshire. I rate Henderson far higher due to all the harsh treatment he has since his move from Sunderland. Hes also proven his skill, Wiltshire is not proven. All that said, the first 15/20 mins of the Italy match was some of the most exciting football I have ever seen from England. Hopefully in the lower humidity in this match, that tempo can be kept up and we will be fine.


lukeglassford
lukeglassford

I think there was a definite naivety in England's performance, which was quite worrying: from Italy's very soft second goal to our lack of ideas going forward when chasing the game. We were a bit unlucky as well though and could/should have drew despite how 'brilliant' Italy were - so that's quite encouraging.


jasonsilky
jasonsilky

wilshere was poor when he came on , gerrad was poor in my view , so I would not play either of them , I would play barkley Henderson myself