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Five things England need to do for World Cup 2014

May 29th, 2013 by Michael Cox

1. Retain the ball better

england need to retain ball betterEngland have always thrived when playing a more direct form of football than the tiki-taka favoured by Spain recently, and even before the Bundesliga’s dominance of the European Cup this season, a German style of football seemed a better template for England than the Spanish style of football.

Still, a consistent problem for England at major international tournaments is tiredness. This was particularly obvious when England were eliminated by Italy at Euro 2012 last year – Roy Hodgson’s side may have scraped a 0-0 draw, but they were outplayed in the central midfield zone, with Scott Parker and Steven Gerrard exhausted at an early stage because they spent so long defending.

There’s a belief that the more a side retains possession, the less they have to run. That’s statistically uncertain, but constantly chasing the ball is certainly mentally draining – England must become less reactive and impose their own football on the game.

2. Excel at attacking transitions

england excel at attacking transitionsAt both ends of the pitch, Hodgson believes that it’s difficult to make the breakthrough against an organised, deep, compact defence. For the majority of his coaching career he’s favoured a system featuring two solid banks of four, with the midfield protecting the defence keenly.

There’s also a strong emphasis on breaking quickly, particularly down the flanks, before the opposition can organise themselves into a good shape. England have a variety of decent wingers, but at Euro 2012 the problem was that these players didn’t receive the ball on the run – the first pass out of the defence was often wayward.

Borussia Dortmund have shown how to play counter-attacking football – the way Jurgen Klopp’s side sit deep with midfielders tracking opponents before springing past on the break is highly impressive, and an obvious side England can look to for inspiration. Often England’s attackers have been criticised for their poor contribution under Hodgson, whereas in reality, they haven’t been given the opportunity to make the difference.

3. Establish reliable partnerships

england establish reliable partnershipsIdeally, international sides are comprised of like-minded individuals who have grown up together and are comfortable playing a defined type of football. The Spain side of the past six years is a perfect example, and they clearly benefit from so many players being together at Barcelona.

If you can’t depend upon familiarity throughout the side, you can compensate by creating a succession of good partnerships. In the 5-1 victory over Germany in 2001, still England’s outstanding result of this century, there were familiar club partnerships across the pitch. The entire side was comprised of players from three clubs who broadly played in the same sections of the pitch. At the back, there was Arsenal’s David Seaman, Sol Campbell and Ashley Cole. Manchester United’s Rio Ferdinand, Gary Neville and David Beckham to the right of the defence and midfield, with Paul Scholes in the centre of midfield. Meanwhile, Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard and Nicky Barmby provided key attacking contributions to support club teammates Emile Heskey and Michael Owen, who had a great relationship upfront.

They don’t necessarily have to be club partnerships, of course, but it would be good to see a growing sense of familiarity across the England side, particularly in key zones such as the centre of defence.

4. Earlier subs

england earlier subsEngland’s 1-1 draw against Montenegro in March was worrying because of Roy Hodgson’s lack of intervention, as the opposition increasingly dominated the second half. England had started excellently and were 1-0 up at the break, but Montenegro coach Branko Brnovic made three attack-minded substitutions, with three subtle changes in shape, to get his side back into the game.

Eventually Montenegro managed an equaliser through one of the replacements, Dejan Damjanovic, in the 76th minute. By that stage, England still hadn’t made a substitution – and Hodgson said after the game that he didn’t think he possessed any options that could have altered the course of the contest.

That was a surprising omission. Recent triumphant international managers have utilised their whole squad excellently, and while England may lack world-class footballers, they do have a decent 23-man squad. Hodgson must use all his players intelligently, for both tactical and morale reasons.

5. Focus on set-pieces

england focus on set piecesUnder Hodgson, England are unlikely to outplay opponents in open, free-flowing matches. Instead, games are set to be tense and tight, with a limited number of chances at either end.

In matches like these, dead ball situations can be vital. At Euro 2012, England scored three of their five goals from set-pieces, with Steven Gerrard’s delivery consistently impressive – especially from the right flank. As Greece showed in Euro 2004, if you keep it tight at the back and have limited quality going forward, set-pieces can be a tremendous way to record narrow victories.

However, remember England’s two concessions in the 3-2 victory over Sweden, and the way Montenegro snatched a point in March, and it’s clear England need to become more efficient at defending set-pieces. It’s hardly the most glamorous way to approach a tournament, but excelling at dead ball situations could be the difference between a 0-1 and a 1-0.

Comments

2 Responses to “Five things England need to do for World Cup 2014”
  1. Northern Eagle-Owl says:

    Mr Cox,

    the demands you’re brought up are certainly correct. As a Finnish football fan, I though find these remarks awfully familiar from the mid or late 00′s, when Hodgson was supposed to build further his work with our National team but instead left for Fulham.

    As with England in Euro 2012, his tactics had first consisted of two lines sitting extra deep. The training sessions I saw were all about giving the players exact orders about defensive positioning and transitions in midfield. Training set-pieces were always seen irrelevant as Hodgson probably thought there was not enough time for it.

    For the famous home match against Belgium in 2007 however, he had clearly concentrated on retaining possession and doing so in a very hodgsonian way: with the ball there were no advanced positioning for any player except for the now introduced deep playmaker. They were intentionally playing “in front of” their opponents, also without pressing high but still dominating possession. I saw England doing exactly the same e.g. in their away friendly against Sweden.

    So I’m suggesting that Hodgson might, in his own way, carry out the advancements you’re asking for. Unlike in Finland, he now has the time to do it. It will be interesting to see if his going to change his overall gameplan, or just boringly adapting new stuff in the mechanics of his old deep-lying 4-4-1-1. I’ll go for the latter.

  2. Sam says:

    Rio was a Leeds player when England beat Germany 5-1.

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