England vs. Poland: England Show They Can't Win World Cup 2014
England are going to World Cup 2014 in Brazil. Take it in, celebrate it and congratulate the players and management staff that have taken them there. It's been a long and arduous qualifying campaign, but now there will be seven months of peace and hope before the nail-biting and nervousness returns.
It's party time. Let's enjoy it.
But by the same token, let's not take our eye off the ball.
The question now becomes, how far can England go in Brazil? Can we get to the semi-finals as we did in 1990? Knocked out in the second round as in 2010? Heaven forbid, win it as in 1966?
I'd be very surprised if England got past the second round, and I'd be satisfied if they make it out of the group.
While there have been some highlights over the last few qualifiers, a breakdown of the playing style and individuals on show still leaves a lot to be desired. It's all very well to outscore an injury-ridden Montenegro and a nothing-to-play-for Poland at Wembley; it's another matter to take on the elite of Europe and South America in a foreign environment.
Against both Poland and Montenegro, England were far too impatient in midfield. Passes from the midfield to the front line were rushed and too reliant on Gerrard picking out a killer pass to Wayne Rooney, Daniel Sturridge or Danny Welbeck. Centre-backs and defensive midfielders superior to those that represented the recent visitors to Wembley will have no problem whatsoever extinguishing that option.
Let's not pretend that Poland are as good a team as the apologists have suggested. Poland are capable and well-organised, but they are not elite across the whole pitch.
If England want to play the just-get-in-the-box style, then they need a quality poacher to net the half-chances they're so good at creating. They don't have that. Rickie Lambert is good, but he's not that good.
England don't have to play the tiki-taka football of Spain. They don't need to lure the opposition into the false sense of security that the slow build-up play of Argentina thrives on. What England do need to do, however, is to implement some form of diversity to the midfield and attacking link-up play. Implement elements of surprise and technical quality.
One of the reasons Andros Townsend looks so impressive is because he doesn't get involved in the high number of low-percentage passes that typifies our attacking build-up. Instead, Townsend perfectly represents the head-down-and-charge approach that English football has relied upon for the past 30 years or more.
What's not up for the debate is the exciting nature of such play. It looks good on TV and it provides the chance for something spectacular to happen, but it doesn't provide enough clear chances.
The benefit of Townsend's playing style is that he commits to defenders, which has the potential to create space for those teammates around him. However, all too often, Townsend looks isolated from his midfield compatriots. His sheer pace is too much for the old-guard of England's central midfield pairings to deal with.
Perhaps that will change when Jack Wilshere and Ross Barkley get an extended run in the team.
Whatever the case, it's not a coincidence that England looked more cohesive when attacking down the left with Leighton Baines as the pivot point. Baines is a player much better at linking up the play and getting more of the team involved, resulting in the chance to overload and exploit the left flank.
There are also warning signs over the qualities of the English defence, from the midfield core to the back four. England were great at pressing Poland when Robert Lewandowski, Jakub Blaszczykowski and Co. were within 40 yards of goal, but allowing the opponent into your own half in such numbers against the world's best is asking for trouble.
The Poles may not have been able to break England down effectively in such circumstances, but you can bet that Spain, Germany, Argentina, Brazil, Belgium and Holland will have more success.
Where Poland did look significantly more dangerous was on the counterattack. With two remarkable chances, it's a mystery as to how one of the world's most lethal poachers in Lewandowski couldn't convert at least one of the them. We'll chalk that up to a great individual performance from Joe Hart.
Michael Carrick was fine at keeping the game ticking over when England had possession around the half-way line (demonstrated by a pass accuracy of 94 percent, per WhoScored.com), however, he was too often caught out when Poland came forward on the counterattack.
Phil Jagielka and Gary Cahill looked incredibly isolated when Poland turned up the tempo and broke forward from around their own goal, Carrick doing little (read: nothing) to disrupt the play or force the opposition into difficult passing decisions. With the quality of the wingers, false nines and deep-lying playmakers capable of moving the ball accurately and quickly up the pitch on show at the World Cup next year, the play at the holding midfield position (if England play one at all) must be improved.
If the style of play against Montenegro and Poland can be described as anything, it's exciting. Exciting, but not smart. But hey, at least England are not boring anymore.
The inadequacies that are so clear can be pasted over with sheer superior individual talent against teams such as these, but they'll be mercilessly exploited by potential World Cup winners.
It could be argued, of course, that Roy Hodgson played in this manner because he fully understood the type of competition he was facing and that he doesn't plan to play like that against the world's best. If that's the case...great, it shows that England have a manager that can effectively scout the opposition and react accordingly.
If that's not the case, and England do plan on playing as they've played in the past week come next June, then they should not get their hopes of a good showing in Brazil too high.
The good news is that England has seven months to work on their game before the real games begin. The better news is that we've got seven months without having to worry about whether we're going to be given the chance to play.
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