We're officially through the halfway mark of the group stage of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. The prevailing theme of the event so far has been how overwhelmingly dull the play that has been showcased from some of the world's brightest sides.
There have been exceptions to this of course, Germany's masterclass 4-0 performance over Australia, Maradona's Argentina has been utilizing and attack-minded 3-4-3 with good quality football, as have the Chileans with a blazing, up-tempo 3-4-3/ 3-3-1-3 shape.
Overall however, rough and tumble counter-attacking play has reigned. While people have been quick to blame the ball and the altitude, the (in)action has mostly been by design.
Nowhere has this been more apparent that Fabio Capello's English side, and Vicente Del Bosque's Euro 2008 champions. Both hailed as potential Cup winners, they've looked anything but that in there combined three matches.
Let us start by looking at Spain's first match with Switzerland. Del Bosque played his tried and true 4-2-3-1. Isolating David Villa up top with supporting attack coming from Xavi, Ineista, and Silva. The Swiss, who would have been thrilled with a point, played a 4-4-1-1, looking to defend the final third with a rigid, two banks of four mentality.
It was a good tactic to field with an inferior team. As the Swiss always outnumbered the Spanish attack, and the short passing, slow-tempo attack could never open enough space too allow all that skill to shine.
When the Swiss got their goal, the damage was done, and Spain had no way back under the structure they had. Del Bosco never released his Fullbacks to make overlapping runs.
Spain just couldn't coax them to break ranks. Which is a testament to the discipline of the Swiss defense and the great performance they put in.
A team who hasn't played well is England. Fabio Capello's men couldn't carve open a dogged Algerian side, but this was more a terrible showcase of tactical malfeasance than anything else. England played a rigid 4-4-2, featuring Emile Heskey and Wayne Rooney in attack.
This was a blunder, as Algeria seemed content allowing Heskey to possess the ball and try and knife open it's passive 3-4-2-1. Heskey is not a playmaking forward and he couldn't pick out and kind of link up play with Rooney, who was quite all 90 minutes.
Capello eventually tried to rectify his mistake by subbing on Jermaine Defoe. But Jermaine is as wasteful as he is dynamic. England needed a deep-lying playmaker to control the midfield, and get Rooney and Defoe consistent service.
Capello, however, couldn't find it within him to sacrifice a CB to accommodate. And thus, the breakthrough never came.
The lesson should be clear to managers moving forward. If you want to score consistently against weaker sides, right now you need seven players supporting the attack.
Either a 3-5-2 with a controlling midfield, or 3-4-3 with linking forward play. Either way, the days of a flat back four being acceptable in attacking situations appear long gone.