Could England’s midfield nightmare be a call for the return of the Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard partnership in disguise?
With the Euros just around the corner, no wonder managers are rushing around making decisions in an attempt to finalize their squads. An already “impossible” job for England manager Roy Hodgson just got a whole lot worse, with his injury woes worsening.
With Scott Parker nursing an Achilles injury, and Gareth Barry hobbling off against Norway, England are losing numbers by the day. Another central midfield option, Michael Carrick, wasn’t selected after he said he wouldn't play if he weren't a starter. On the other hand, James Milner has played one minute of club football in eight weeks.
It’s fair to say England have got numerous injury handicaps before heading into Hodgson’s first tournament. But could this spark the return of the dreaded Gerrard and Lampard central midfield pairing?
It’s been the curse of English football to date. Gerrard and Lampard simply cannot perform alongside each other at the heart of the England team.
Individually for England
Both have boasted able statistics whilst playing for the Three Lions. However, let’s later compare them to those of when they’re on the pitch at the same time.
Amazingly, only one cap separates the two of them, with Lampard boasting a greater goal-tally. However, Gerrard has enjoyed more time on the field.
The stats speak for themselves: nothing to choose between them. So surely any manager would have a hard time selecting one over the other. Shouldn’t he be allowed to play both? Simple as that, right?
Together for England
Although individually they may be arguably legends for club and country, whilst playing together they’ve adopted another label.
In the last fifteen matches they've played together, England has won seven and lost four, with four draws, for a win percentage of 46 percent. In the last matches in which England was competitive, the Gerrard/Lampard combination yielded five wins, two draws and two losses, a win percentage of 55 percent.
Effect on the team?
With only 12 days until kickoff in Poland, nobody would want to do anything that could potentially disrupt any chemistry that may have already been formed amongst the squad, and this could supposedly make or break England’s summer.
If Hodgson were to play both of them in the centre of the park, and it were to succeed, he’d be deemed a tactical genius. On the other hand, if it was to repeat was its shown us so far, he’d be titled an idiot.
In terms of how it would affect what Hodgson’s already done, it wouldn’t result in much change. Against Norway, he employed essentially a 4-4-1-1, a formation which he’s become familiar with in recent years, with Andy Carroll up front and Ashley Young playing just off of him. This means the midfield has a central pairing, with two wingers.
Against Norway, Gerrard, England’s captain for the summer, started alongside Scott Parker, who epitomizes what international football should be about: passion, heart, and desire. But could his Achilles injury be too big of a risk against, let’s say, the French? So should Parker not be fit enough to play in the coming weeks, who better than England’s “old guns” to take centre stage?
So should Roy Hodgson opt to use his trusty 4-4-1-1 in the Euros, Gerrard and Lampard would be able to slot in perfectly without having to alter anything.
What is the tactical problem with having a Gerrard-Lampard central midfield axis?
The two have been tried in several different positions to accommodate these two great talents. In Sven Goran Eriksson's era, they were played in central midfield together. with Gerrard holding (people forget that he was more of a holder for England, when he played second fiddle to the likes of Beckham and Scholes) and Lampard going forward.
However, this didn't provide enough protection to the back four, as both players had attacking tendencies.
Eriksson resorted to using Hargreaves as a holder behind Lampard and Gerrard, and it worked to some extent, as Hargreaves had arguably one of the best defensive performances of the tournament as a whole.
At that stage, the partnership actually worked quite well, with one of them always sitting close to the other, but there was a hint of disorganization about the midfield pair, as Gerrard generally tended to go walkabout and Lampard went further forward.
McClaren continued with Gerrard and Lampard behind Gareth Barry. That trend of disorganization continued, and England failed to qualify, partly because McClaren tried to play an unfamiliar system, partly because the Gerrard and Lampard midfield was easy to counter-attack through, as Croatia did on numerous occasions.
It seemed clear that the next manager, Fabio Capello, would have to try something different. He opted for a different solution, putting Gerrard wide, with a license to cut inside. Rooney would then cover for Gerrard on the left, and in the process, Ashley Cole would also be allowed forward. In this shape, Lampard would be allowed forward, with Barry holding.
However, the problem with that was, as Jonathan Wilson details, Rooney was played in a different position for Manchester United that season, more as a lone front man, or as a false No. 9, and was unsuited to the deep role that he played for England. He played too close to Heskey, Gerrard ended up playing behind him or around him and there was a bus queue in the center of the pitch.
Now, the landscape is different. Lampard has reinvented himself for Chelsea, in a deep-lying passing role which he has performed par excellence, with two assists in the two games against Barcelona, and a great display against Bayern. Lampard's defensive qualities are also much stronger.
The signs indicate that he is a great choice for a deep-lying midfielder, alongside a holder, in behind Gerrard, who will roam behind the main striker, providing the main thrust for Hodgson's counter-attacks.
Indeed, this is where he plays best, where his anarchic tendencies do not hurt the team. In fact, attacking playmakers are encouraged to roam to find space, and if they can win the ball high up the pitch with a headless chicken display of running, all the better for a counter-attacking side.
However, it is extremely important that there is a passer behind him to compensate for his lack of passing ability, as Xabi Alonso did, for his best years, and as Lucas Leiva did after him. Lampard could perform this role very well.
Otherwise, we get disjointed England, the kind of team that played Holland, with Scott Parker and Gareth Barry behind Gerrard. England became immobile, with Gerrard receiving bad service.
Banished or an emotional goodbye?
Although it may seem Hodgson has the power to do as he pleases, I’m sure both Gerrard and Lampard will be looking into the near future and perhaps foreseeing this as a farewell international tournament. With this in mind, I’m sure both of them will be looking to leave behind a historic career on a high, and does playing together put this in doubt?
With Gerrard dawning on 32, and Lampard 34, both of them will be heading towards the home stretch soon. Will they want to risk their prestigious reputations?
Now, it’s not all bad. Imagine if they were to pair up and essentially form a midfield domination, a midfield pairing to be remembered as holy. Both of them would fancy that, no?
So as their final tournament could be weeks away, will they want to give it one last shot, one last shot at history, and try to bring home success together?
After all, should Hodgson opt to play Parker in the middle, which only leaves a single spot for the two of them, neither of them would want to watch on from the bench.
The name on the front is more important than the one on the back
To conclude, I feel with England’s chances plummeting by the day. With nothing to lose, England and Hodgson should risk it. Individually, they’ve both been placed up there with the greats, so in a simple world, they should form a master class alongside one and other.
If I were in Lampard or Gerrard’s position right now, I’d be itching to get out there and bring the trophy home. Both of them will realize that they need each other in order to do so. Yes, it could be a failure, but it would be cynical to pile the blame solely on the two of them.
And for that reason I feel Hodgson should risk it. A friendly versus a tricky Belgium awaits on Saturday—what better opportunity to test it?
Has it been written in the stars all along?
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