England v Peru: 6 Things We Learned
When England v Peru is recorded for posterity, the history books will note a comfortable 3-0 home win for Roy Hodgson's side. People will look at the starting lineup and attacking substitutions and perhaps imagine a game full of vim and excitement.
Those of us who saw the game will remember something quite different, as a relatively sluggish England struggled to break through Peru's well-organised defence and conceded fine opportunities to their opponents on the counterattack.
There was, of course, one moment of genuine magic, when Daniel Sturridge's speed of thought saw him dart inside to receive a throw-in before finding a finish of the very highest order.
As Hodgson prepares the squad for Brazil, here are six things we learned from the farewell friendly.
Wayne Rooney's Starting Berth Should Not Be Assured
However, the idiosyncrasies of his game mean that he is ironically ill-suited to the role he is asked to perform in Hodgson's 4-3-3. Ostensibly playing as one of the front three, Rooney often dropped deep, exchanging passes with Adam Lallana. Given this withdrawn role, Rooney's main contribution to the team would in theory come from his creativity rather than his ability as a striker.
The problem is that he is much less able as a playmaker than he is as a striker. When not at his best, his touch and passing mean that attacks frequently break down around him.
Against Peru, his passing statistics were the worst in the team, per WhoScored.com. The 79 percent pass completion he achieved may not be abysmal, but it is telling that it is so much lower than that of his team-mates. Lallana's 91 percent completion rate is a helpful statistical indicator of his better use of the ball.
Rooney's best position in Hodgson's system would be as the most advanced forward, but Sturridge looks to have made that berth his own. Whilst Rooney's star power and excellent goalscoring record mean he is still likely to start, his place should not be free from examination.
Tactical Fluidity Needs to Be Combined with Technical Fluency
Hodgson's system is tactically more sophisticated than any attempted by an England manager since Glenn Hoddle was in charge. The rigid 4-4-2 that has borne so much frustration for England fans has been replaced with a fluid 4-3-3.
The team lined up with Danny Welbeck and Rooney ostensibly playing behind Sturridge and Adam Lallana sitting in front of Steven Gerrard and Jordan Henderson. However, Rooney and Lallana frequently interchanged position, as did Welbeck and Sturridge.
However, the system broke down in the final third. Only Gerrard is credited with a key pass, per WhoScored.com, which indicates the lack of fluency that was clear to see. None of the forward players succeeded in their creative task, and improvement in this area would make England a much more dangerous opponent.
England's Substitutes Offer Impetus
Of the six substitutions made by Hodgson, including handing an international debut to John Stones, the three most notable were the introductions of Ross Barkley, Jack Wilshere and Raheem Sterling.
All three of those players are capable of changing a game and of providing impetus, energy and creativity, if England find themselves bogged down against their World Cup opponents.
Against Peru, they also provided a very different challenge to defenders than the players they replaced. The introduction of Sterling for Rooney, for example, dramatically increased England's speed of transition in the counterattack.
The High Line Is a Dangerous Line
England relied on Joe Hart to bail their outfield players out of trouble as Peru—not a particularly impressive side, it must be said—were able to get in behind England's high defensive line on multiple occasions.
Hart's speed of reaction was equal to the task, and England were not severely punished, but it is hard to see the strikers amongst England's group-stage opponents being so wasteful if the defensive line remains as generous.
England Remain a Threat from Set Pieces
England's defenders did make a significant impact on proceedings with their attacking contribution, as Leighton Baines, Glen Johnson and Gary Cahill were all credited with an assist, and Cahill and Phil Jagielka got on the scoresheet.
England consistently looked like a threat from set pieces. Welbeck's presence was crucial in occupying defenders for Cahill's goal, and both Baines and Gerrard provided fine deliveries throughout the course of the game.
Unlike in Euro 2012, England are not necessarily set up to rely on goals from set pieces to win games, but they are a fine backup option, should the forward players fail to find more fluency.
All Hope Is Not Lost
It was not a particularly impressive England performance, and the quality of the opposition was not spectacular, although Peru were well-organised enough to stifle England's creativity. However, whilst expectations for the World Cup performance remain sensibly measured, it is not a foregone conclusion that England will fail to qualify from the group stages.
Hodgson is using a system that should allow England's best players to express themselves. There are options from the bench to change the game. Whilst the back four may not be of the highest quality, both centre-backs are more than competent, and particularly down the left, there are fine attacking full-backs available.
England will need to grow as a collective in order to have any measure of success in this World Cup, but it is too soon to rule out the possibility of that happening. Whilst they may not have enough quality to have a realistic expectation of winning the tournament, they are perhaps capable of producing a memorable performance or two.
There remains some reasonable cause for optimism.
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