England vs. Poland: 6 Things We Learned from World Cup Qualifier
Roy Hodgson's team dominated the first half, with Andros Townsend, Leighton Baines and Rooney all standing out. At times, the Polish goal looked like it was leading a charmed life. If it were not for an outstanding display by Wojciech Szczesny and some poor finishing by the likes of Daniel Sturridge, England would have scored four or five.
As the first half drew to a close, Townsend smashed an outstanding curling effort off the crossbar which seemed to reawaken his team. Minutes later, Baines tore down the left to center for Rooney. The Manchester United forward directed his header with amazing skill past the outstretched Szczesny and into the net to settle his nation's nerves.
Instead of kicking on in the second half, England were forced to endure a few scary moments, as the swift counterattacking Poles opened up their defense. Joe Hart came to the rescue on more than one occasion without having to make an outstanding save, but his contribution was vital.
As the minutes ticked down, Hodgson introduced Frank Lampard and Jack Wilshere to shore up the central midfield, as Gerrard was pushed on into a more attack-minded position.
Those substitutions proved vital, as Gerrard strode onto Lampard's ball and forced his way past two defenders and into the box. He then deftly guided the ball past Szczesny to send England into raptures and thousands of fans to the phone, trying to book their tickets for Rio.
Here, Bleacher Report offers six things we learned from England vs. Poland...
Wayne Rooney Is Back in World-Class 2010 Form
Motivation is a wonderful thing.
During the summer, all the talk centered on for which club Wayne Rooney would leave Manchester United.
As we near the middle of October, the United playmaker has become his team's most important and irreplaceable player. That is a position he has long held at international level, but has not held at club level since 2010.
What happened in the 2009-10 season? At the end of the season, the World Cup was to be held in South Africa. Cast your mind back, and you'll remember that Rooney was one of the best players in the world. He was even mentioned in the same breath as Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
In short, Rooney circa 2010 was amazing.
That all ended when Sir Alex Ferguson gambled on Manchester United's season by playing an injured Rooney against Bayern Munich in the Champions League.
In short, Ferguson ruined United's and Rooney's season and ended England's hopes for the World Cup.
Just six months later, Rooney was demanding a transfer, and it would appear that Sir Alex never forgave him.
Ferguson is now gone from United, the World Cup is just around the corner and Rooney is nearing the form of his life.
England Have No Pace in Central Midfield
At the highest levels of the game, football is all about power and pace—especially in central midfield.
England, quite frankly, lack all kinds of pace in the center and are in trouble as far as the World Cup is concerned.
Roy Hodgson has his hands tied regardless of which two he picks from Steven Gerrard, Michael Carrick, Frank Lampard, Jack Wilshere, Tom Cleverley, Leon Osman, Jack Rodwell or Scott Parker. Of these eight, Wilshere is the only one capable of zipping around the pitch with any real zeal and he is currently on the road back to full fitness.
Hodgson's side played a limited Poland team tonight. Carrick and Gerrard struggled to get on the ball to dictate the tempo of the game. Defensively they were off the pace and found it equally difficult to shut their opposite numbers down.
The game begins and ends with the central midfield. It is essentially the high ground in a war, and if that area of the pitch is lost victory is almost impossible.
England need to improve this area rapidly if they harbor any real ambition for Brazil 2014.
Leighton Baines Gives England Balance on the Left
When Ashley Cole pulled out of the England squad to face Montenegro and Poland, his starting berth was automatically passed to Leighton Baines.
Baines has been one of the Premier League's best performers over the last three seasons. Most of the acclaim, however, came on the back of his lung-bursting runs, assists and phenomenal free kicks. His defensive contribution to Everton's cause was overlooked.
Cole, the world's most outstanding left-back, is over the last decade one of his nation's greatest-ever defenders. At 32 he is nearing the end of his international career, and 28-year-old Baines is ready to pounce.
Over the last two matches, Baines gave his team a lovely balance down the left. Danny Welbeck, playing up front on the left side of Hodgson's 4-2-3-1, is not a natural left-sided player and lacks positional sense. All too often the United man would tuck inside and crowd Wayne Rooney in the center.
Baines, however, would then creep up the left and offer that width. Defensively he was very sound and never got caught out of position.
This was crucial against the counterattacking Poles.
Come the World Cup next June, Cole, the better defender overall, will be expected to play. Baines, however, has proven himself more than capable, and if Hodgson can sort his difficulties in central defense, then Baines will undoubtedly become the better option.
Andros Townsend Is a Brave and Wonderful Talent
It has been a week to remember for Andros Townsend.
The Tottenham Hotspur wide-man impressed everyone with his goal and overall performance against Montenegro. Against Poland, he was just as impressive.
At the beginning of the season, Tottenham Hotspur were praised by many for their business in the transfer window. Essentially, Andre Villas-Boas, Spurs' head coach, sold Gareth Bale for €100 million to Real Madrid, as per the Independent, and replaced him with eight top-class players.
Townsend was not even one of these players, as he was already at the club.
What Spurs have been feeding the 22-year-old during the summer is anyone's guess, but his rise to fame and acclaim is beginning to mirror the early part of Bale's career.
Townsend is a brave and honest player with plenty of confidence. He is unafraid to take responsibility and is exactly the kind of man that England need to take the match to the opposition when times are tough. He is forever looking and available for the ball and is a great option for his teammates.
If he can improve upon his positional play and his final ball, he could go a long way. Maybe even all the way to a €100 million transfer.
The Game Will Bypass Steven Gerrard at the Highest Level
Steven Gerrard captained England to victory over Poland, but his performance was far from the Captain Fantastic needed by his team, even though he scored that crucial qualifying goal.
The Liverpool captain and talisman seemed off the pace in the center of the pitch and found the going difficult. He struggled to deal with Mariusz Lewandowski in the first half. In the second, Robert Lewandowski was replaced by the more attack-minded Mateusz Klich.
Gerrard then found the going even more difficult as Klich constantly strove to get on the ball. The 33-year-old England captain simply did not have the legs to keep up. He was turned regularly as Klich bypassed him, and as such he was then out of position and unable to get on the ball when England countered.
To be fair, he did sit in a deeper position than normal in an effort to shield his defense for most of the game.
His 40-yard trademark passes were there, but he does not have the stamina to support the player he has just passed the ball to. That, in turn, isolates the player.
Andros Townsend and Danny Welbeck were both isolated in these types of positions on more than one occasion. England were then almost caught out when Poland regained possession and counterattacked.
Gerrard was far from his best on the night, while Michael Carrick was abject.
It was little wonder that Carrick was replaced by the aging Frank Lampard and Jack Wilshere introduced for Daniel Sturridge, as Roy Hodgson reshuffled his team to hold out in the last 10 minutes.
Those substitutions allowed Gerrard to push forward into his more natural position behind the striker.
To his credit, Gerrard kept going and scored his 21st goal for England with just two minutes to go.
In his day, Gerrard was brilliant and almost unstoppable. Sadly, those days are no more.
Irish Pundits Are the Best
A few years ago, Scottish pundits were all the rage. Andy Gray had one of the coolest voices in football analysis, even if his points were often wide of the mark. The Scot was sacked by Sky Sports in 2011 for comments he made made to a female colleague, according to The Telegraph.
It took Sky a couple of years, but they eventually replaced the Scot with Gary Neville, Graeme Souness and Jamie Carragher. All have their merits, particularly Neville. The ex-Manchester United right-back has become one of the better tactical analysts in the game. He does, however, lack that certain charisma and character needed to make him great.
That, quite simply, cannot be said of the punditry on Radio Teilifis Eireann.
The Irish national broadcaster has found a niche in the market for cutting criticism over the last two decades, and BBC, ITV and Sky seem to have noticed. Check out their analysis of Manchester United and Cristiano "a disgrace to professional football" Ronaldo, from 2008.
Souness made his analytical debut with RTE during the World Cup in 2010 and found the different philosophy quite refreshing. BBC have since employed Kevin Kilbane and Dietmar Hamann, both of whom also started on Irish TV.
ITV, however, have made perhaps the biggest coup of all by bringing Roy Keane into the fold.
The ex-Manchester United and Irish captain was never afraid to shirk a tackle on the pitch and is similarly brave on the ITC couch.
He has become a divisive figure, as fans of the teams and players he lashes like to hit back with comments suggesting he is a management has-been.
That may be true, but so too are his convictions. Keane never holds back, and his honesty, even if you disagree, is refreshing. He has learned from the very best in growing up with John Giles, Liam Brady and Eamon Dunphy.
Keane's management career may be on ice, but his punditry and analytical career is taking off, because he doesn't skirt the issues and is unafraid to criticize his playing contemporaries.