England remain unbeaten post-2014 FIFA World Cup thanks to a second-half Andros Townsend bullet, rescuing a 1-1 draw in Turin against Italy. Graziano Pelle's first goal for his country had given the Azzurri the lead in the opening exchanges, but a late renaissance inspired by wise Roy Hodgson substitutions allowed the Three Lions to claim a share of the spoils.
Formations and XIs
Italy played a 3-5-2 with roaming wing-backs, clever midfielders and a big man-small man combination up front. Eder started alongside Pelle, with Mirko Valdifori playing the deepest role in midfield.
England played a diamond with Phil Jones in holding midfield, Theo Walcott up front and Wayne Rooney behind the strikers. Needless to say, it didn't look good, but Harry Kane did get his first international start.
1. England's Horrific First Half
England's first 45 minutes was a mess of fairly epic proportions. After Switzerland's abhorrent tactical first half against the USA just a few hours earlier, we didn't think it could get any worse, but this ran it close.
Alarm bells rang as soon as the team sheet dropped showing Phil Jones in midfield in a 4-4-2 diamond. It's one of the most important roles in the side—this player dictates tempo, rhythm, constructs attacks and always relieves pressure by taking the ball on while being marked—and Jones isn't capable of doing it.
At times he almost refused to pass forward, and it soon became clear that the defenders weren't willing to play it into him under pressure because they didn't trust him with the ball. Instead, Fabian Delph and Jordan Henderson began dropping ridiculously deep to collect while facing the wrong way, and any fluency with which Roy Hodgson's men have been attacking of late vanished.
Furthermore, Wayne Rooney was dropped into the No. 10 role—a position he does not thrive in—and his taking of too many touches stopped him releasing his attackers quickly enough. Kane also took too long to release the ball in congested areas, and Theo Walcott was rendered somewhat anonymous. Later, he dropped into the No. 10 role, swapping with Rooney, but he doesn't have the skill set to play there, either.
2. Italy's Contrasting Fortunes
Italy, however, strolled through the first half, identified areas to attack immediately and made their advantage count. It really was night and day in terms of setup.
Immediately, Valdifiori started hooking passes out to Matteo Darmian playing at left-wing-back. The Torino man proceeded to rip Nathaniel Clyne to shreds one-on-one, with a lack of protection for the defender not helping, but there's no doubt he had an absolute shocker on a personal level, too.
Darmian was collecting and surging forward, thrusting Italy up the pitch and slotting passes inside in and around Jones to his two colleagues, Marco Parolo and Roberto Soriano, who were excellent at finding space in front of the defence. Eder's good movement caused a lot of issues, too.
It created a lot of crossing chances for the Azzurri, and the aerial dominance soon showed. Corners and free-kicks were swung in until, eventually, Graziano Pelle headed a peach home to give his side the lead. It was Jones who was flummoxed in the buildup, and questions must be asked of how Giorgio Chiellini was able to ghost past him and cross.
3. Roy's Fixes
As rough as the first half was for the Three Lions, it's heartening that Hodgson fixed things at the break and provided a far, far better second period. Identifying issues and rectifying mistakes is a big part of tactical management, and if you can do it in-game, it will win you favour.
Michael Carrick pulled the strings from deep, with Rooney labelling him England's best player "by a mile," per the Daily Mail, despite only playing the second half. He constructed attacks, stayed calm on the ball and produced a few brilliant tracking runs to stop Italy extending their lead. He did everything Jones didn't and allowed his colleague to drop back into central defence.
Kyle Walker was introduced at the break and provided a much more stable presence in place of Clyne, and Ross Barkley, replacing Theo Walcott, was an excellent outlet at No. 10, providing pace, power, dribbling ability and the spark to fashion chances. Carrick will take the plaudits, but Everton fans in particular will be given hope by such an exciting cameo by their own midfield man.
Townsend netted the equaliser with a thunderbolt after darting into space; his use as a super-sub may well be sealed, as while he lacks the discipline to play 90 minutes in a midfield diamond, he's one hell of an option off the bench.