England progressed through to the World Cup Finals in Brazil 2014 with a 2-0 win over Poland at Wembley with timely goals from Wayne Rooney just before half time and Steven Gerrard just before full time. England turned in one of their best performances in recent years in a frantic and exciting first half littered with big moments, and nervy second half which saw a spell of Polish pressure withstood and a gradual fight back from England.
Hodgson made two changes to the starting XI who faced Montenegro on Friday, with Chris Smalling coming in at right back to replace Kyle Walker, while Michael Carrick stepped in for Frank Lampard to play in the holding role. Andros Townsend retained his place in the side after his debut goal, as did Sturridge, Rooney and Welbeck. A potential positive for England is the evidence of Hodgson now attempting to develop meaningful partnerships within the team. A constant threat to international football is the continuous rotation of an entire nations talent, which can damage the ability of a team to build consistency. England have not had the best of luck with centre backs in recent years, but despite this drought there is at least an effective combination in Jagielka and Cahill (who would probably both consider themselves fortunate to be England’s first choices).
Attack in Numbers (Part 2)
In our tactical analysis of Friday’s 4-1 win over Montenegro, a key point which highlighted why England did so well was their ability to get bodies forwards for each attack. This allowed the most dangerous and productive areas of the field to be utilised at the most important moments, and we saw this again against Poland. Andros Townsend was a key component in driving England forward, attacking the left back Wojtkowiak every time he got the ball, with his pace and close control proving far too difficult to deal with. For each attack England had supporting runners – Carrick and Gerrard from deep ready to recycle, the forwards in high areas, space on the opposite flanks, and was also the reason Rooney was able to convert his header as three England players crashed Szczesny when the ball came in.
The knock-on effect of this however, was the alarming amount of times England were being caught on the counter attack. It became slightly problematic when the thought of recovery runs or a contingency plan upon losing possession was not at the forefront of the players minds. England really should have conceded more than once against the run of play, however this not only created a more exciting game, but also showed us a different side to the national team. For once, their desire to win and score goals, completely outweighed their fearful mentality of avoiding failure. It was not until the most obvious spell of Poland pressure that the team decided to sit back and preserve before fighting forwards again.
Key Stats from the game
Top Passer: Steven Gerrard (72 – 85% accuracy), Michael Carrick (66 – 94% accuracy) and Jagielka (57 – 91% accuracy)
Most Chances Created: Steven Gerrard (6), Welbeck (4)
Most Shots: Daniel Sturridge (6 – 33% on target), Welbeck (5 – 0% on target), Rooney (3 – 100% 3 on target)
Most Dribble Attempts: Andros Townsend
Assists: Leighton Baines & James Milner
Most Tackles: Phil Jagielka (5), Baines, Carrick & Smalling (3)
Most Interceptions: Steven Gerrard (5), Baines (4), Smalling, Cahill & Sturridge (3)
Most Crosses: Leighton Baines (13 – 23% accurate), Steven Gerrard (12 – 50% accurate), Andros Townsend (8 – 37.5% accurate) & Rooney (5 – 40% accurate).
Readers who have read England articles from me before may notice I am now driving this point home. Carrick’s performance appeared to go largely unnoticed by many, but he did a good job while on the field. He completed 48 of his 51 attempted passes from midfield in the first half alone (top passer Gerrard took 90 minutes to reach 72 passes) and he was the catalyst for many of England’s attacks with his trademark vertical passes through the lines. On the frequent occasions in the first half when England were caught on the break it was Carrick who was the last line of defence, there to delay and allow his teammates to recover. But more important was his role in possession, especially for England’s first goal – a fantastic header from Rooney, and a beautiful cross from Baines.
Building sustained pressure in the final third has always been a problem for England, mainly due to an inability to recycle possession effectively. Carrick’s control and maintenance of the tempo meant he was the go-to outlet at the base of each attack, and when the ball dropped out him his first time ball to Baines did not allow Poland time to organise before the ball was swung in. A lack of composure, an extra touch, or a failure in awareness from that position and the moment is gone. I certainly feel Carrick was a key reason England were able to mount continuous pressure on Poland and retain possession so well, particularly in the first half.
Brazil and Beyond
So England have now succeeded in safely guiding themselves to the World Cup and have given the fans a summer holiday to plan for next year. Many are already writing off England as guaranteed failures for the tournament, and perhaps rightly so with the odds stacked against them. However, whatever the outcome Brazil must be used as a platform to continue to develop the national team, progress the talent at our disposal, and generate positivity going forwards. With players like Gerrard and Lampard perhaps playing out their final competitive internationals at this tournament, the ‘golden generation’ are now nearly all gone. We have seen a number of promising youngsters coming through and they need support and development rather than the criticism and abuse we as English fans seem to feel inclined to give them. Get behind the boys!
All Stats via @WhoScored