For a manager who’s won something everywhere he has been, England must pose a unique challenge for Fabio Capello. Given a squad of players who suffer from the extreme pressure from fans born out of 44 years of failure and a resentment over the money they earn, he’s expected to carve out a team capable of winning trophies – and he did. England were one of the best teams to rise from the stench of qualification. Yes, there were better teams – Spain and Brazil to name just two – but there wasn’t a large amount of quality there. The ease at which they qualified made England’s poor World Cup all the stranger.
Although his record had previously given him some leniency from the pack of bloodhounds we refer to as “the media”, Capello won’t be afforded it for the remainder of his time as England manager. Indeed, it appears that the aura of invincibility that surrounded him has disappeared with England’s humiliating exit, with many newspapers running their own version of “what Fabio did wrong”.
Oddly, the backlash is somewhat justified. Capello made a series of errors that he had solved before. Like many of England’s players, he can do better than this.
The rigid 4-4-2
It’s well known that Capello is a firm believer in the 4-4-2, and there is nothing wrong with playing a 4-4-2 providing it is implemented well. It worked brilliantly for England in qualifying, but there’s a big change between the 4-4-2 from qualifying and the one from South Africa.
In qualifying Rooney dropped back to link up with Gerrard, with one of them taking a position on the left wing, essentially creating a 4-2-3-1 which can be seen here:
And here with Rooney on the left:
This allows England to utilise some of their most talented players where they can perform at their best: Gerrard plays closer to how he does with Liverpool and Ashley Cole has more space in front of him to run into. It also creates a greater fluidity in England’s play.
Instead England lined up in a rigid 4-4-2 with Rooney permanently up with Heskey as shown in the average positioning in the first 15 minutes of the game against Algeria. Gerrard gradually came inside more as the game wore on, desperate to have some influence, and England’s other players’ positioning became stranger as they got more distressed, but Rooney always remained up front with Heskey. Meanwhile, Ashley Cole was barely used. He made just 37 passes, with only Heskey, Lennon and substitute Wright-Phillips making less.
The 4-4-2 isn’t outdated as some have suggested – Tottenham have had success last season with it – but such a rigid and unsuited one is.
If Capello was insistent on changing the system then why not to the 4-5-1? As has been pointed out already by many others, all of England’s regular midfielders, except Milner, play regularly in a 4-5-1 at club level and Rooney proved he can lead the line on his own last season. The main problem against Germany was that England were out numbered in centre midfield, usually leaving Mesut Ozil free between the lines; this is an issue against any opposition, but against a German team that are technically better than them, it’s suicidal.
Not playing Michael Carrick
One of the main issues England found against Algeria was that they were struggling to control possession and when they did get possession they were trying to force their passes. An issue that the players appeared to be aware of.
Joe Cole remarked after the Germany match: “Every team I have played for – from West Ham to Chelsea to England – have always wanted to hit the front men as early as possible.
“You won’t get away with that at international level. It’s about technique, k eeping control of the ball, passing and moving.
“Chelsea do that more than other teams in the Premier League, and that’s why they’ve been successful. And it’s the same with Manchester United and Arsenal.
“If you keep the ball then you control the game.
“I was brought up that way and I don’t know why it wasn’t the same for everyone else because that’s always been the way forward. Maybe it’s time to really look at how we are teaching kids to play.”
Carrick is the closest thing that England have to a Xavi or Pirlo: someone who can dictate the tempo of a game. And he proved it in game against Egypt that was very similar to the one against Algeria. Another North African side playing a 3-4-2-1 and controlling possession. Carrick came on in the second half with England 1:0 down and took control of the game, leading England to win 3-1.
Why is it then that Capello didn’t turn to him against Algeria, where England had the same problems as against Egypt? His club form has been terrible throughout 2010 and Capello seemed to be aware of a need for this kind of player, attempting to get Paul Scholes to reconsider his retirement. The question should perhaps be why Capello bothered to take Carrick to South Africa if he had no intention of using him.