More questions than answers for Capello after Switzerland draw

June 5, 2011

The first half formation

Two poor goals conceded and then a decent fightback, but it’s hard to draw many positive conclusions from England’s 2-2 draw with Switzerland.

1. Leaving out Ashley Young was a mistake

It’s difficult to see the logic in omitting Young. He had probably been England’s best performer over the last three games, and tactically was important because of his ability to move off the flank. England were good against Wales in the 4-3-3 system because Young and Wayne Rooney were able to come inside into central positions and provide connections with each other, the midfield players, and Darren Bent upfront.

Against Switzerland, there was no clear objective to the attacking play. James Milner scurried up and down the wing and Theo Walcott was direct, but neither are particularly good crossers. Meanwhile, midfield runs from Jack Wilshere and Frank Lampard were rare until England went 1-0 down, when Wilshere moved forward to win the penalty. There was no-one in the ‘red zone’ Swiss coach Ottmar Hitzfeld often speaks of.

It was notable how much England improved when Young came on in the second half. He played centrally and combined with Darren Bent, but also with the two wide players by making diagonal runs to the flanks – as a ‘central winger’. He was again crucial in what England did well, and should be regarded as one of the side’s key players.

2. England still can’t retain possession

England had 52% of possession against Switzerland. A majority, but considering this was at home against a side often content to sit back and play defensively, England should have been enjoying much more of the ball.

Possession doesn’t equal victory, but when Capello’s main excuse is tiredness, the obvious solution is to try to hang onto the ball for longer, and spend less time chasing. Capello’s use of three central midfielders should, in theory, make it easier to keep the ball, but the mentality is still not there – England aren’t patient enough.

The second half formation

3. England don’t have a cohesive strategy without the ball

Sometimes England press, sometimes they stand off. In this game, they stood off and then dived into tackles unnecessarily, conceding free-kicks around the box. Even Rio Ferdinand managed to pick up a booking, having gone 65 games without a caution.

It would be tempting to conclude that England play in phases – sometimes pressuring the ball, sometimes dropping off – but there is an inconsistency within the side at individual moments that makes this generous interpretation impossible. Capello supposedly wants Barcelona-style pressing, but with fitness levels poor, England needed a different approach.

4. Joe Hart’s main problem is his distribution

Two embarrassing goals conceded, but the blame can be shared – the first should probably have been headed away, the second was clearly the fault of James Milner in the wall.

Hart’s more obvious weakness is with the ball at his feet – constantly in danger of his kicks being charged down by opposing strikers, and even when he is free to play a pass, he simply doesn’t have the ability to pinpoint a teammate in space. Being a good ball player used to be regarded as a bonus for a goalkeeper, but these days it is a must. One can’t blame Hart for England’s poor passing as a whole, but just as Barcelona’s slick passing starts from their keeper, England’s lack of imagination in possession starts from theirs.

5. Is 4-3-3 now England’s default formation?

Whether England played 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1 throughout the World Cup qualifying and World Cup tournament itself is debatable, but that/those system(s) are clearly different to the 4-3-3 Capello has used against Wales and Switzerland.

The problem was, of course, that it didn’t work very well here, and Capello had to revert to a 4-2-3-1 with Ashley Young as a central attacker. In that sense, Capello might be back to square one – and whilst the result and performance wasn’t a complete disaster, England are no better off a year on from the embarrassing World Cup exit last summer.



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