The Lampard-Gerrard Problem
The biggest conundrum about England for the last seven years or so is the Frank Lampard-Steven Gerrard axis. Lampard and Gerrard are attack-minded central midfielders and are considered two of the best at their position in the world game.
The problem with both of them is that they have an almost identical playing style. Both excel at roaming the space behind the strikers, lurking for a chance to surge forward with or without the ball, and either run with it and shoot or time their runs into the penalty area with great ability to shoot and score.
What's the Problem?
You might say that's great, England have two players who can attack and score goals. Unfortunately, when both are playing at the same time, they both operate in the same space and either get in each other's way and/or leave swaths of gaping space defensively—exposing the defense.
This is why the role of a holding or sitting midfielder is crucial when England have to play Gerrard and Lampard together.
You might wonder why two supremely talented midfielders cannot somehow work this out in training with the coaches. I am sure that they have tried and tried. The problem is that both players have identical instincts on the field.
When they see an attack developing, they both instinctively home in on the same spaces. They are effectively positional twins in every way. England coaches have tried to rein one or the other in by reminding them to sync their runs so that one or the other is staying deeper to cover the defense.
But that essentially negates the effectiveness of one or the other. It really is a terrible problem to have.
The Light Comes On
Unfortunately for England, they cannot permanently drop or bench one or the other because both are extremely valuable and playing at the top of their game.
Fortunately, in the dire circumstances that England found themselves in at this World Cup, the team were faced with a win-or-bust situation. In some way, this may have prompted Lampard and Gerrard to curb their personal instincts.
In the Slovenia game, both players were extremely well coordinated in their forward runs. Both did a lot of defensive work, helping Gareth Barry to secure the midfield area and provide a shield in front of the defense.
It was the best I have seen Lampard and Gerrard play together. It was as though a light went on in their heads and they both figured out how to complement each other.
4-4-2 Effectively A 4-3-3
Effectively, Lampard, Gerrard, and Barry are playing as the three lockdown midfielders in a pseudo 4-3-3 formation, even though positionally they are lining up at 4-4-2. The fourth midfielder was James Milner, and he was given the chance to attack down the right flank as the third attacker supporting Wayne Rooney and Jermain Defoe up front.
The 4-3-3 has been pushed by most England pundits as the ideal formation for England. Coach Capello's trademark formation is 4-4-2.
As industrious as James Milner was and he was effective against Slovenia, he doesn't have quite the vision or creativity to unlock a defense the way Joe Cole does. I know this discussion is starting to veer away from Lampard-Gerrard, so I'll not go further. Milner vs Cole is a whole different topic of discussion by itself.
Integral To Further Success
The great news for England is that Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard have found a way to play together. With a gun to their heads, in a knockout format, with both knowing that this is their last World Cup.
I think that type of desperation tends to knock some reality into players. The Lampard-Gerrard axis is starting to turn. If they can reproduce this synergy, England have a chance to beat Germany.
The Lampard-Gerrard Problem