England Must Improve in Order to Secure World Cup Qualification
It would be absurd to suggest that England were anything other than below par last night.
However, Roy Hodgson and his team did get the result they were playing for, so they should receive some level of credit for that.
Hodgson's England are always going to be a cautious side and despite the criticism he has received, he knew it would have been ten times worse if his side had lost the game. The important thing is England remain in pole position to qualify for the World Cup, and they should realistically still do so.
First of all, when analysing England's offensive display—or lack thereof—we should remember that they were missing their only world class attacking talent in Wayne Rooney and his sidekick Danny Welbeck.
Their front three were; the enthusiastic but hopelessly isolated Rickie Lambert, James Milner, who was effectively playing at left-back and Theo Walcott, who was trying his hardest to be technically proficient but failing dismally in the process.
Behind them were three central midfielders all trying to occupy the same space, and none were trying to get forward. All in all, 0-0 doesn't look such a bad result.
For as long as I can remember, watching England has always been a pretty excruciating experience, and I'm pretty sure it has taken years off my life. But being the footballing masochist that I am, I would still rather have England at the World Cup to wreak havoc with my blood pressure and my health than not. It's not the same without them.
So in the likely (unlikely) chance that Hodgson is reading this, here are some things he should improve upon heading into next month's vital games against Montenegro and Poland.
Because there is a whole lot that he can improve upon.
Drop Gerrard or Lampard
England fans have had to suffer 10 years of pain watching these two exceptionally good midfielders struggle to combine in the centre of the pitch. It is time for Hodgson to actually drop one of them.
At 33 and 35, it is now getting a bit ridiculous to still be trying to shoehorn the pair of them into the same team.
I know they have both experienced somewhat of a renaissance at club level in a more deep-lying midfield role—a la Scholes—but that doesn't mean they'll suddenly be cohesive together for England.
If anything they are now both just trying to occupy the same more defensive space than the more attacking parts of the pitch.
Gerrard looks better for Liverpool alongside the deeper Lucas, and Lampard alongside a hardworking defensive talent such as Jon Obi Mikel or Ramires. Neither of them should be the deepest midfielder in a game where England are on the back foot.
Alongside each other for England they are just going to have the same problems they have always had. I found it frankly baffling that Michael Carrick didn't start against Ukraine. Lampard or Gerrard alongside Carrick would be a far more effective midfield.
In no top side in Europe would you see two midfielders trying to play the same role (for 10 years!!). If England do make it to the World Cup, both Gerrard and Lampard should undoubtedly be in the squad but just not in the same starting lineup anymore. Please.
Use Walcott's strengths
At his best Theo Walcott is one of England's most dangerous attacking talents. But he is not Lionel Messi, and he is incredibly limited in what he can do well.
If you are going to use him, use him effectively and build your team around getting the very best out of him in the way that Arsene Wenger does brilliantly for Arsenal.
Only give him the ball high up the pitch where he has minimal time to actually touch it. The most dangerous he looked against Ukraine was when he received the ball in the opening minutes after outpacing the full-back and forcing a decent save out of the keeper.
Any more time than that on the ball and he's going to lose it. Give him the ball any deeper then that, and he's going to lose it.
Keep Walcott high and wide up the pitch, and don't have your full-back constantly trying to run outside him. If Walcott has to cut inside, he's going to lose it.
Support your striker
The Ukraine game is a difficult example because, realistically, if Welbeck and Rooney were available then Milner and Lambert wouldn't have been starting and England would have been immediately more threatening.
But it has been a pretty similar story in every big competitive game under Hodgson. The main striker has been left hopelessly isolated upfront.
If your striker is left by himself he is not going to score and your team is not going to create chances.
Against Ukraine, England's central-midfield trio all seemed fairly happy to hold their positions in and around the centre circle and make no effort to support Lambert. Milner wasn't getting forward on the left, so England only had Walcott as a dynamic attacking outlet trying to get the ball forward. At times it made for painful viewing.
Needless to say it would have been in an issue in a game England needed to win.
Set up to win
So far, Hodgson has not had a game that genuinely needed to be won, so it is hard to say how he will react to a must-win situation.
In his mindset, draws away in Ukraine, Montenegro and Poland should all be deemed good results. With the only real disappointment being the draw at home to Ukraine, but that was so early in the qualification process that it was better than avoiding defeat (which they Just about did).
Now England must set up to win. Hopefully Rooney and Welbeck will be fit and available to start. And hopefully Hodgson will see sense and drop Lampard or Gerrard (realistically Lampard) in the aim of constructing a more balanced midfield.
On paper, the Three Lions should beat Poland and Montenegro with ease, but we all know it's going to be an extremely painful watching experience regardless.
Hopefully, the knowledge that they are must win encounters will spur Hodgson and England into being far more positive. And hopefully, in just over a month's time, England will have secured their place on the plane to Brazil.
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