Former England star striker Gary Lineker summed up his country’s performance in the 0-0 draw against Ukraine with a hastily deleted tweet, as reported by Jeremy Wilson of the Telegraph.
BBC’s Match of the Day host vented the thoughts of a nation when he typed: "Awful. What happens to some of these players when they pull on an England shirt?"
While adequate in defence for the most part, the Three Lions’ lack of attacking prowess should be a major concern for Roy Hodgson and his staff. Although the missing influence of Danny Welbeck and Daniel Sturridge would have majorly aided England’s offensive power in Kiev, it was the absence of Wayne Rooney that was most conspicuous.
Back in Euro 2012, the Manchester United forward steered his team to a 1-0 victory in front of the Ukrainian fans. Despite suffering with major fitness problems throughout the tournament, Rooney had the quality and determination to snatch a vital win for his nation.
Little over a year later, England’s lack of cohesion and archaic tactical style was emphasised without their leading talisman. He may have endured a mighty gash to the head during a training ground incident with Phil Jones, as reported by Jack De Menezes of The Independent, but Rooney’s absence left an even greater gaping hole on the pitch.
Hodgson’s decision to play Jack Wilshere in the No. 10 role stopped the athletic midfielder from utilising his best traits. Although sharp on the ball, the manager’s decision to push the Arsenal man further up the pitch only gave Ukraine the chance to stifle one of England’s most creative sparks.
As reported by Who Scored, Wilshere completed just 75 percent of his passes, one dribble and 50 percent of his aerial battles. He was also unable to make a successful challenge in 68 minutes on the pitch and failed to link the midfield and forward lines effectively.
In all honesty, he never should have been asked to do so in the first place.
Players such as Wilshere must be given extra responsibility when Rooney is missing, but Hodgson only ever looked at getting a draw from the Olympic Stadium, summed up by his willingness to play the hard-tackling midfielder so close to Rickie Lambert (also emphasised by his decision to bring on Tom Cleverley and not Jermain Defoe in the latter moments).
Hodgson's lineup proceeded to create extra problems for each of his midfielders. Frank Lampard remained anonymous for large portions of the game and completed 77 percent of his passes, also failing to maintain possession in key moments.
With Gerrard deployed in a defensive midfield role, the gap between the three central midfielders resembled a chasm. In areas of the pitch where Rooney has the ability to win the ball, storm forward and distribute, England flitted between slow build-up play, giving away possession and a total lack of ideas.
Nobody had the urgency to take Hodgson’s men by the scruff of the neck and eke out a result. It says an awful lot about the manager’s strategy that Gary Cahill looked the most likely to score throughout the match. No forward threatened, no moment of magic, no hope.
As the team prepares for two tough Wembley fixtures against Montenegro and Poland next month, Wayne Rooney’s return to the side will mean the difference between World Cup qualification and an extended holiday for the Three Lions’ squad next summer.
Hell, someone find Lineker’s boots.