England v Trinidad & Tobago
This was another important game, England v Trinidad & Tobago. Again, so much hype, 'how many goals will we score', 'will Wayne Rooney come on', 'who do we meet in the 2nd round', before we have even confirmed the three points. Prefer to talk when the job has been done, so now I'm talking. Frustration at first as Trinidad sat practically all behind the ball and used numbers to squeeze out the spaces England use in attack. Joe Cole was his busy self but it seemed he had little idea of where he would deliver or pass to, sometimes down the line to namesake Ashley, sometimes he would cut inside Phillippe Lahm for a shot that was blocked. Michael Owen certainly tried to get involved but was not, his sharpness is clearly not at tip top level. Frank Lampard going forward meant Steven Gerrard did the holding so we hardly saw Gerrard getting forward. Lampard shot on sight, which was good provided it was kept on target. Jamie Carragher covered well in Gary Neville's absence but it seemed he was not confident of getting forward and was hesitant to pass forward, opting instead to play back, so we lost an edge on the right-back attacks.
Some of the balls played lacked accuracy on occasion, several occasions. Peter Crouch went close with one chance but was denied by the intervention of Brent Sancho, then David Beckham played a sweet ball across the box Crouch was on hand with time and space to aim a volley wide. T&T came clsoe twice. A Dwright Yorke corner came over and was missed by Paul Robinson, Carragher doing enough to thwart Stern John's attempt at the far post. Then Carlos Edwards' ball from the right prompted Robinson to come out but it was headed across, with the keeper out of goal. John came between Rio Ferdinand and John Terry and his contact sprung the ball towards goal, Terry on hand superbly to deny the goal then came up again to clear the danger before being fouled. The kind of defending from a man in battle with just a fork and knife.
It was more of the same in the second half, T&T again in numbers, coming out on occasion to threaten the England goal but not making any progress. A telling point was that our rate of pace began to dwindle, as if our energy level began to go down, the urgency to get forward seemed lost on us, loose balls in midfield were not contested by two of the best in the EPL, Yorke or Kenwyne Jones made good runnings down the right. Co-commentator Gareth Southgate hardly said a wrong word throughout the game. He said we lost some impetus in coming forward and that a goal will come owing to the way we came and did expose the barrier. Owen was played a ball by Beckham inside the box yards from goal but couldnt steer it on target, which turned out to be his last piece of action as Sven-Goran Eriksson saw the need for pace and a sharp inject of attack and brought on Rooney for Owen, Aaron Lennon for Carragher.
Beckham now went into an ad-hoc right back slot, allowing Lennon down the right side and the Spurs winger showed the Trinidadians he was aiming to create danger, at times bursting down the wing and getting round Cyd Gray that pushed T&T into two men on Lennon when he got the ball but this didn't stop Lennon from crossing for Crouch to head over from a great position. Lampard had three chances yards from goal but couldnt convert them. Stewart Downing came on for Joe Cole, there was still little to nothing of Gerrard's presence because Lampard went forward, Beckham coming forward and more central made for a 3-5-2 and the pressure continued with Rooney causing some stir on the ball and releasing some great passes for Downing to meet. With the substitutions we broke up our mundane style and came with a different one, as if T&T had little knowledge of Downing and Lennon and three in the middle meant less loose balls. It also made for our breakthrough.
Downing came inside and sent a high ball over to Lennon, who chested it to Beckham. Beckham crossed over deep and finally Crouch got on the end of it and headed it in over Shaka Hislop. I noticed before it was released on German media Crouch had a grasp of Sancho's dreadlocks at their end. How significant this was in the goal is debatable but impartially Sancho was not in a strong enough position even without the grasp to deny Crouch the header, as he had not made an attempt to jump. I dread to await what FIFA will do as they are looking into it, but from England's point of view it was about time. The important thing now was focus, not to then sit and look to absorb their attack, for we could be easily caught out, Cornell Glen was on and he had the propensity to attack on goal, as we saw against Sweden. Yet as we entered into the last minute of normal time, Lampard sat back and this allowed Gerrard eventually to get forward.
Downing played to Crouch, Crouch touched to Gerrard, Gerrard then found Lennon and waited on the edge of the box. This is where I sensed Gerrard was back and up to his usual plotting self just on the edge of the box, just distance for him to set himself up for a give-and-go break into the box, a pass into the box or set himself up for a shot. Lennon passed to Beckham, Gerrard looks around, Beckham touched to Gerrard and as he did, you can see Gerrard give a quick glimpse and then go on the attack, he would what he would do. He then cut to the left past Gray and unleashed a left foot shot past Hislop. That was better, that was more of Gerrard we had failed to see for 180mins of football.
The dilemma. First, Lampard and Gerrard are two central midfielders who thrive on coming forward and do it best from their positions, and currently in 4-4-2 one is held back for the other and it is very restrictive. An alternative is a holding player, five in midfield, which renders one less up front or in defence, which is not suitable. Another alternative is dropping either central midfielder, not appropriate. We want four in defence, we want two upfront, we want Gerrard and Lampard going forward. We need someone like Lennon with the burst of pace, we want someone up front with the vision of Rooney, who will spot that through ball or wide ball as if he himself was on the end of it. My solution is Ferdinand dropping down as an ad-hoc sweeper, Neville, Terry and Cole behind. Ferdinand could look to stifle the attack until our midfielders get back and then he could join up again with Terry.
Owen has said he is prepared to start on the bench if need be. One argument says Owen's needs matches to improve, the other says he stays on the bench as he is not sharp enough. Alan Shearer says he would start Rooney with Owen, so he has little cheer for Crouch despite Crouch showing more for England than Owen at the moment. Looking at Owen yesterday I said to myself we should give him until the 60th minute before deciding on whether to sub hi or not and I was right. Yet I think Shearer is right, start Rooney with Owen against Sweden, we may see a different Owen and hopefully see a fitter Rooney. Crouch can come on to add an alternative line of attack for us, Theo Walcott even, if we are something like 2-0 ahead with 20-25mins to go.
As for the formation to accommodate everyone, including Lampard and Gerrard, I welcome any other suggestions.