Cautious but promising full debut for Wilshere
Before the World Cup, Fabio Capello used his friendlies to help England become more comfortable in a shape that was proving very successful in qualifiers. Since the failure in Bloemfontein, he’s used them to experiment slightly more. In the other post-South Africa non-competitive games, he’s used a 4-3-3 and then a 4-2-3-1, on both occasions playing Wayne Rooney as a lone forward.
Here, England were back to 4-4-2, with Rooney paired with Darren Bent upfront. The experimentation was in the central midfield zone, with Jack Wilshere fielded alongside Frank Lampard in midfield. The absence of Steven Gerrard was frustrating because it didn’t allow us to see what Capello would have done if all three were available. He’d confirmed two weeks ago that Wilshere would start – so would Gerrard or Lampard be dropped, or would England play a three in the middle?
Wilshere and Lampard were fielded in what is probably best described as an old-fashioned central midfield duo. Wilshere was used in a deep role, but not as a pure ‘holding’ player – Lampard rarely got forward too much to leave the Arsenal midfielder on his own – they generally stayed close together and worked as a partnership.
In that sense, Wilshere wasn’t really in the “Makelele role” – which was never completely defined in the first place (does it have to be as the sole holding player?) and is becoming less useful in the modern game anyway. At Arsenal he plays in a double pivot with Alex Song. The two take it in turns to go forward, and cover each other appropriately. The model many clubs are following here is the German one – Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira last summer. Many will claim Wilshere is too attack-minded and creative to play in a ‘double pivot’, but consider that Schweinsteiger, one of the players of the tournament, was an out-and-out winger until the start of the 2009/10 campaign, and that argument looks less valid.
Although England were playing a central midfield two here, rather than the three Wilshere would probably be more comfortable in, it’s not entirely dissimilar to the German system, despite that being widely labelled a 4-2-3-1. Mesut Ozil played as an attacking midfielder but barely helped out in the defensive phase of play – instead he stayed high up the pitch and looked for space, ready to spring counter-attacks. Germany defended with two banks of four, and therefore the roles of the central midfielders in their system there, and England’s system in Denmark, were not too different.
Wilshere is not really a defensive midfielder, something Capello and Arsene Wenger agree on, but England don’t have anyone capable of playing there alone. Gareth Barry was a letdown at the World Cup, Michael Carrick wasn’t in the squad, Scott Parker won his first cap under Capello last night so is clearly not a favourite, and Owen Hargreaves is sadly barely worth consideration.
Despite being withdrawn at half time, Wilshere played well. He made a couple of good tackles, he played on the front foot to intercept balls played into opponents, and he hit some excellent diagonal passes to the flanks. In all, he did pretty much what he’s done this season for Arsenal, with the exception of his sudden charges forward, where he looks to play one-twos and move past Cesc Fabregas.
Because of that, he will probably be described as being ’shackled’ by this new role – but when considering that England don’t have anyone in the ‘Song’ mould, this was as close as Capello could get to using Wilshere where he’s impressed so far this season for his club. Capello has been accused of not playing players in the correct position during his tenure, and Wilshere may turn out to be an attacking midfielder – at the head of a midfield trio – but in his last game for Arsenal, the zone he played most of his passes from was just deeper than the halfway line.
Wilshere agreed that there was little difference from his club role. “It’s quite similar, Just not going forward as much. I spoke to the boss before the game, and he said he wants to play me there, and I’ll play anywhere for my country. It’s quite similar to the role at Arsenal.”
Wilshere’s performance was not sensational - maybe that goes with playing deep in midfield – and he is still young and inexperienced. However, it was an encouraging full debut for his country, and ignoring the fact that Capello only used him for 45 minutes, this was the right way for Wilshere to be used.Cautious but promising full debut for Wilshere