Switzerland 1-3 England: more positives for Capello

September 7, 2010

The line-ups after Theo Walcott's early injury

England dominated the majority of the game and fully deserved their victory. Switzerland were very underwhelming.

The hosts went for a 4-4-1-1 shape with (initially) inverted wingers – David Degen started on the left, Xavier Margairaz on the right. Alexander Frei played very deep off Eren Derdiyok, who was isolated upfront.

England made one enforced change from the 4-0 win over Bulgaria on Friday – Michael Dawson was injured, so Joleon Lescott came in, presumably as Fabio Capello wanted to keep the Lescott-Jagielka axis that had performed well at Everton until last summer.

There was a good chance that England’s breakthrough was going to come by targeting Switzerland’s left-back, Reto Ziegler. He has a tendency to move high up the pitch and look to link up too quickly with the midfield, and is often caught out of position. Switzerland’s tendency to play very narrow also made Theo Walcott a threat down the right flank with his pace, and he was very involved in the game early on.

Opening goal

It was Walcott’s run inside – similar to his run against Blackburn which created a goal for Andriy Arshavin – that created the goal, however. As Bacary Sagna did at Ewood Park, Glen Johnson skipped forward, and he beat Ziegler to the ball, before playing a low cross into the box for Wayne Rooney to convert. The move was also not dissimilar to the fashion in which England took the lead against Bulgaria – a full-back getting forward early on and squaring for one of the strikers to finish from close range.

It also highlighted another reason why getting full-backs forward can be so effective – as Johnson was the creative outlet, Walcott was able to get into a goalscoring position (where he unfortunately picked up an injury) so England had no fewer than four players in the penalty area.

After the goal, and Walcott’s departure, the game became rather static. Adam Johnson was brought on in his place, but while England were certainly seeing more of the ball, it’s hard to remember any meaningful chance either side had between the opening goal and half-time.

Tactics neutralise game

There were two reasons for this – firstly, neither set of central midfielders looked to venture forward and drive at goal, so we had something of a stand-off with those players looking to distribute the ball calmly out wide. Secondly, with Johnson’s introduction we had both sides playing inverted wingers, and all four widemen looking to come inside into the centre of the pitch. This often makes for a slightly stale contest - see the Hamburg v Fulham game, with four inverted wingers.

So central midfielders who weren’t looking to break into the box, and wide players who were intent on creating more congestion in the centre – and add to this the fact that Frei and Rooney were dropping deep to make both sides look like 4-5-1s when not in possession. Goals didn’t look likely, aside from when Ashley Cole crept forward into a dangerous position on the left.

Sure enough, things got slightly more promising towards the end of the first half when Switzerland switched their wingers onto their more ‘natural’ sides and the game was slightly more expansive, but they needed a half-time change.

Second half

That came with the introduction of Xherdan Shaqiri, who showed more creativity than the rest of the Switzerland side put together. He was much more direct than the other Swiss attacking players, and started to cause England problems in the full-back zone. England had a couple of nervous moments, but in general they looked solid at the back – credit should go to Fabio Capello for picking Lescott over Gary Cahill, as he had a very good game.

Just when Switzerland started to rally, however, Stephan Lichtsteiner, the right-back, was dismissed after picking up two needless yellow cards. England took advantage of the numerical advantage by calmly playing the ball around.¬†Ottmar Hitzfeld didn’t seem to know how to reorganise, with the Swiss going to something like 4-4-1 – but unsure of whether to drop off or press England. Pressing is a dangerous tactic with one fewer player on the pitch, but the Swiss retreating into their own half and waiting for England moves to break down meant that Steven Gerrard, Gareth Barry and James Milner were able to slow the tempo and put England in charge.

Bizarrely, despite England having an advantage, the second goal came when it was effectively 10 v 10, as Jermain Defoe was lying on the ground injured. Rooney got too much time on the ball in a deep position – as he did all game – slipped it to Gerrard, who knocked the ball through for Johnson coming off the left flank into a central position. He finished cooly.

Switzerland hit back immediately with a belter from Shaqiri, and threatened to make a game of it – but ultimately they couldn’t cope with a man less – they were inferior enough at 11 v 11. The lack of pressure on the ball meant England were able to play balls past the defence ludicrously easily – Shaun Wright-Phillips managed to waste one chance with a spectacularly bad pass, but another substitute, Darren Bent, powered home his first England goal to make the points safe.


Another good performance from England with Rooney playing in a deep-lying forward role. This was where he excelled during the qualification campaign for the World Cup, but in South Africa he was used as a simple striker who waited for service rather than becoming involved in build-up play.

The performances of Joe Hart, Theo Walcott and Adam Johnson have prompted questions about why they weren’t involved in South Africa, but more crucial is surely why Capello moved Rooney away from the position he had done so well in for his country. Take away the World Cup, and England under Capello have been terrific…

Elsewhere, with the teams playing similar shapes, technical quality shone through and the red card settled the match. Switzerland were very disappointing – Derdiyok was completely anonymous (although was starved of service) and the defending was far worse than at the World Cup.

In personnel terms for England, Adam Johnson furthered his reputation with a good showing and another goal. Phil Jagielka and Joleon Lescott also performed well and (along with Michael Dawson) should be ahead of Matthew Upson in the centre-backs queue, while Gareth Barry also showed his quality in the centre of midfield. He’s not a natural holding player, so we can forgive a couple of rash tackles, but his passing in the past two games has been excellent.

This 4-4-1-1 works better than the 4-4-2 at the World Cup – if the difference in formation is slight, the difference in performance is certainly not. It still is yet to be tested against a side playing three central midfielders, however, and there is where England still might struggle.

Capello said before this game, of Rooney’s role, “It depends on the opponents. If they put one midfielder in front of their back four, the position Rooney played is not as easy.” Future opponents would do well to put one midfielder in front of their back four.

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