Euro 2012 qualifying: New faces, same old issues
A week ago England had risen from the ashes: proven world beaters following a 3- 0 victory over Bulgaria. New faces were said to have inspired a new outlook that translated into 50 minutes of slick, fluid dynamism on the pitch. Never mind that a match lasts 90 minutes, or that the performance was, in reality, clinical rather than spectacular. England fans, (myself included) are desperate to grab hold of even the faintest shimmer of hope these days. Anything to suggest national expectation may rightfully match our history and prestige.
Thankfully, the laboured and fortuitous win over Wales 4 days later dispelled false hope. Facing a side well drilled and with a point to prove, England once again crumbled. The catalyst for the victory in Sofia was the early goal, providing the team with confidence to push forward. Tellingly, until Young’s strike at Wembley kicked England into a brief spell of dominance, the team showed little confidence or cohesion; giving the ball away far too frequently. As a collective unit, Capello’s men display an alarming level of mental fragility – part of a mutually implicating relationship that fosters negative, defensive football as default.
The consequences of this fragility translated onto the pitch in an all too familiar manner. Once again, central midfield was consistently by-passed, leaving Rooney isolated and needing to drop deep to exert influence. For all the plus points, such as the encouraging performances by Stuart Downing and Ashley Young, the team was weighed down by a lack of integrated movement. This is evidenced by the facts: prior to the the goal, the defensive line held most possession, whilst the winning strike remained England’s only shot on target.
The reasons for the national side’s steady disintegration are numerous and systemic. It has been clear for a long-time that strong management, from the FA down, is missing. Take the re-instatement of Lampard for instance, no sooner had Parker finally found himself rewarded for his fine form by a starting berth than it was taken away. Can’t upset a member of the golden generation after all – doesn’t matter if they are 33 and have consistently failed to perform for the national side. Not that Lampard’s substandard performances have all been his fault, since despite being brilliant for Chelsea in an attack-minded position, he has never been suited to the more complete role demanded from him by England; something his advancing years accentuented last Wednesday. After the match, Capello inadvertedly revealed his own failings: “Sometimes during the warm-up I understood a lot of things about what will happen on the pitch’’. The excuse for not intervening? Apparent inevitability. “I tried. I spoke with the players, said things, but it is impossible with the things that I saw to change…it was not about changing the shirt. The problem was here”. Tapping his own head to refer to the players’ minds, the irony appeared lost. Could it be that his own mentality is stopping the team from escaping the chains?
YKTS will be back on Tuesday with a Premiership review, covering weeks 3 and 4 of the new season, as well as analysis on the transfer window deadline deals.