With England getting ready to put their World Cup hopes on the line against Slovenia, they are obviously searching for answers in their squad selection. Especially after scoring only one goal in two games against USA and Algeria, they need a spark more than ever.
While many people are content to criticize the pairing of Gerrard and Lampard in midfield, it isn’t the problem. Both Lampard and Gerrard have been at their peaks in the EPL with space to roam and pick up stray clearances with first-class strikers ahead of them.
When defences are sagging back to defend against the likes of Fernando Torres or Didier Drogba, there is room for Lampard and Gerrard to operate.
Unfortunately, Fabio Capello has chosen Emile Heskey to lead his forward line with Wayne Rooney occupying the hole that either midfielder would step up into.
Heskey is a good player and a useful one, but possession football is best executed with midfielders who can pass and forwards who can drift to places on the pitch where there is space. Heskey provides a monument for defences to anchor around, leaving them only Rooney to track around the field.
Strikers are meant to score, and create offense, and despite the belief of many, Heskey hasn’t done THAT all season.
Take a look at the SOAR ratings for England’s four strikers over the past season. If you’re unfamiliar with SOAR, get an explanation here.
Proponents for Heskey will say that he holds up the ball and makes key passes to his teammates on the break. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have the pace or the stamina to ever lead the break, leaving the defense tight on him with little fear of the ball over the top. While Heskey may have set up England’s only goal so far with a pass to Gerrard, it is rare to complete a pass in the box as Gabe at Behind the Net has shown. What a striker really needs to do is shoot, and Heskey has been miserable at that. He only hit the net with 29.6 percent of his shots and his goal rate was the worst of all the strikers on England’s squad.
If Capello wants offense, I would offer Jermain Defoe as his best option to partner with Rooney. While neither is your classic target man, their versatility, pace, and flexibility would make them much more difficult to track by opposing defences and could open up room for the midfield.
While most are suggesting Crouch as a possible insertion into the starting lineup, it’s his Spurs teammate that could really provide a spark. Defoe is the most accurate shooter of the group, and “outperformed” the chances he created as evidenced by his SOAR being higher than his eSOAR. Crouch was a better chance creator, but didn’t finish as often.
Regardless of whether it’s Crouch, or my preferred option, Defoe—I think it’s pretty obvious that Heskey is not the answer if England want to find a few goals and move on to the knockout stage of the tournament.