I just saw Piers Morgan’s team for the Slovenia game. 4-4-2, Lampard and Gerrard as the central pair with ‘Crouchy’ up front and SWP on the wing. Didn’t exactly inspire me. Well, that’s not true, it inspired me to write this.. a few thoughts on the credible alternatives facing Capello right now..
The first thing to say is that a change of shape appears both necessary and inevitable. To say that 4-4-2 is an old-fashioned and discredited formation is patently untrue. What is true, and has been for some time now, is that the formation does not suit the players at England’s disposal. After a sensational free-scoring season for Man Utd, often playing alone as a central forward, the notion that Emile Heskey is there ‘to get the best out of Wayne Rooney’ should have been questioned. From the moment Wayne Rooney said he preferred to play on his own up front, it should have been filed in the tray marked Plan B. When you throw in the fact that the players arguably need the psychological boost of being told that it was the formation that was the problem then we are probably heading inexorably towards some sort of variation of 4-5-1.
The two best options for England and Fabio Capello involve bringing in either Michael Carrick or Joe Cole:
The case for Michael Carrick’s inclusion has been made in more depth and more persuasively than I could hope to in several articles by Zonal Marking over the past few months. Suffice to say, when on form, he is positionally excellent and has a good range of passing in his repertoire. Those articles argue for his inclusion alongside Gareth Barry with Frank Lampard ahead of them and Steven Gerrard wide left in a 4-2-3-1. This formation would clearly give Rooney his desired role as a lone frontman and, perhaps equally significantly, give Lampard more attacking freedom. Of course, Steven Gerrard remains out on the left-flank which is not ideal. However, he is playing out of position as it is and at least in a 4-2-3-1 there is a chance that Barry can cover the problems caused by Gerrard’s positional wanderings somewhat better than seems to be the case in a 4-4-2. This formation would hopefully see Barry and Carrick secure control of the midfield and give England’s star players the platform from which they can go play and score goals.
You could be forgiven for thinking Joe Cole has been England’s player of the World Cup thus far judging by the kind words written and spoken about him over the past week. What started as a Joe Cole or Adam Johnson debate last month has now become, according to John Terry at least, a case of Joe Cole being one of only two players who can unlock opposition defences. Good progress for a man who has seen no match action thus far. It is fair to say, however, that he does give England something different. While Wright-Phillips and Lennon have that ability to stretch the play, only Cole has that combination of dribbling skills and guile that England appear to have been sorely lacking. If he is to be involved it would seem likely to be from the left-wing, freeing Gerrard up to take his preferred role playing off Rooney. Cole had some success here in 2006 for England, emerging as one of the side’s better performers with his stunning goal against Sweden the highlight.
There have been alternative ideas floated. As I write this, there is talk of Jermain Defoe joining Rooney up front and Shaun Wright-Phillips replacing Aaron Lennon on the right-wing. This formation would be in keeping with the shape Capello favoured throughout qualifying. However, with SWP merely a like-for-like swap for Lennon the change is partly cosmetic and perhaps fails to get to the root of the problem – England are just not functioning as a team.
England have stumbled through the first two games of this World Cup and the reasons are many. The feeling persists though, that there are quality players in the squad who could take England far deeper into the tournament than currently looks likely. The key is getting the best out of them. That task is a psychological and motivational one but it is also tactical. The options discussed above would surely give Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard every chance of succeeding. If one of the options is taken then let us hope the players make it work. And if Capello does not opt for these changes, let us hope it does not cost us.