With 60 minutes on the clock, Olof Mellberg put Sweden ahead as England wasted a lead for a second successive match. Luckily, for Roy Hodgson, Theo Walcott’s introduction, for the ineffective Milner, turned the game in England’s favour. England began the match in positive fashion with a Scott Parker effort forcing a good save from Andreas Isaksson. Andy Carroll justified his inclusion, giving England the lead with a towering header from a Steven Gerrard cross. Half time came with England in control despite looking nervy in possession.
The second half saw England’s Achilles heel strike again. England’s set-piece tactic of bringing every player back invites pressure and creates panic. Failure to clear an Ibrahimovic free kick resulted in a Glen Johnson own goal as he tried to keep Mellberg’s effort out. Poor marking at another set piece gave Sweden the lead as Mellberg rose, unmarked, to guide a header past Joe Hart. John Terry almost restored parity but Isaksson’s point-blank save denied the defender. From the resulting corner, England drew level as Walcott’s swerving effort deceived the Sweden keeper.
Walcott had a hand in England’s winner as his driving run and cross set up Danny Welbeck. The Manchester United forward did the rest with a deft finish into the far corner. England missed the chance to put the result beyond doubt as Isaksson kept Gerrard out. England saw the game out with relative ease and their fate is now in their own hands ahead of Tuesday’s match with Ukraine.
The statistics from the France game tell their own story. No England forward managed a shot, England’s one shot on target and percentage of passes in the opposition half (51%) were the worst in all the opening games. England became predictable with 50% of their attacks coming down the right, 21% in the middle and 29% from the left. England altered their approach for Sweden with a more varied attack; 38% came down the right, 28% through the middle and 34% on the left.
England attempted more passes against Sweden (493) after attempting just 378 in the France game. England’s passing accuracy increased from 82% in the opening game to 83% against Sweden. Despite Andy Carroll’s inclusion, England resisted the temptation to resort to long balls with the percentage of long balls at 11% in both matches.
The average player positions show England’s added ambition against Sweden. Against France, the team were deeper and France dictated the game with no real pressure on them. The England full backs rarely ventured forward and Gerrard and Parker spent most of the game in their own half.
The contrast between the two matches is clear. Cole and Johnson pushed on against Sweden with Gerrard and Parker playing further forward. As a result, the team pushed up and this allowed Welbeck and Carroll to give England’s attack a focal point.
The only worry from the Sweden game is the gap between the centre backs and the other players. The players need to press as a unit not as individuals. Hodgson has shown that he favours a counter attacking approach with the emphasis on organisation and work rate. Whether this is the right approach remains up for debate but England’s progress is the most obvious method for judging Hodgson’s tactics.
Steven Gerrard was always the obvious choice for captain given the squad picked by Roy Hodgson. In the past, the captaincy has proved more of a burden than an honour for some players. Performance can often drop as the pressure of leading your country takes its toll on a player. Since his captaincy began, Gerrard has flourished. Injuries may have slowed the legs down but the brain is as sharp as ever.
Gerrard has two assists so far, only David Silva and Andrei Arshavin have more (3). Known for the attacking side of his game, only Scott Parker (9) has made more tackles than Gerrard (7). Playing in a more disciplined role has not diminished Gerrard’s impact with the captain leading the way in key passes (4), long balls (8) and crosses (5).
There is no denying that any pace is well and truly gone but in terms of defending, Terry remains England’s best and most experienced option. His reading of the game makes up for his lack of pace with the Chelsea defender out in front with 14 clearances; Lescott is the next best (8). Testament to Terry’s reading of the game is his number of interceptions (9). Leading the way in both games, Terry made five against France and another four v Sweden.
Despite his lack of pace, Terry is one of the few England players to not have an opponent dribble past them. The two full backs have suffered it at least once with Scott Parker and James Milner suffering the most (3). The longer England progress, the more vital Terry’s experience and leadership will become. Whilst his character off the pitch is in doubt, there is no doubting his commitment and dedication on it.
Hard work is a fundamental part of football; however, it does not call for undue praise. The problem for James Milner is he now offers nothing but hard work. Questions remain, in some quarters, over Glen Johnson’s defensive capabilities so Milner toughens up that side. However, Milner is nonexistent as an attacking force, lacking the pace and ability to beat a player. During his 61 minutes against Sweden, Milner failed to dribble beyond a single opposition player.
Walcott offers something different – pace. Pace allows teams to get behind defences; nobody likes defending when facing their own goal. Walcott’s run for the winner was a prime example of this. Walcott may have only touched the ball 13 times but he scored, set one up and created a chance for Gerrard at the death – those are the telling statistics. On current form, England’s number seven is the only candidate for that right hand side on Tuesday.
England need to eradicate the mistakes as tougher tests lie ahead. Whilst the attack was much improved, the defensive frailties were still there. Set pieces are proving problematic with overcrowding in the England area and players seemingly unsure of themselves. Leaving one or two players on the half way line requires the opposition to leave several players back. This makes it easier to defend and the England defenders can attack the ball properly.
Ukraine is next and with the atmosphere sure to be electric, England will need to be on their game to make sure of progress. With France looking likely group winners, the likelihood of progress is a meeting with the World and European Champions, Spain. Although, ending on a positive note, England are now unbeaten in their last 10 matches at the Euros (in ninety minutes).
Thanks to WhoScored.com for the Euro 2012 Stats
Write about Everton for ESPN and EPL Index. Evertonian with a keen interest in the tactical and statistical. Twitter: @lukeofarrell
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