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What can England learn from the semi-finalists?

July 9th, 2010 by · No Comments · Features, Football

John Terry sets off for the pisser

Now that reality has begun to settle in, and the shrill attacks on the players have subsided, what can be learnt from the four most successful teams in this World Cup?

The English press and media couldn’t agree on who was to blame the most; the manager for not getting the best out of ‘world class’ players, the players for being pampered and too rich to care, the FA and the EPL for being at war and lacking a long term strategy?

What England need now is a little moment of contemplation. It struck us as interesting that the semi-finalists play with a similar tactical approach and formation. Although being flexible enough to change between, or even during, games, all four teams have often lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Sounds a bit dry and academic? Well the main point is the ’2′ bit.

The finalists, Spain and Holland, play two midfield players in front of a pretty standard back four and behind a flexible, dynamic midfield three supporting a lone striker. Having Busquets and Alonso, and DeJong and Van Bommel, respectively, Spain and Holland have been able to maintain defensive discipline while exploiting the rare talents of Xavi, Iniesta, Robben and Sneijder. Germany use Khedira and Schwiensteiger to the same effect as do Uruguay with Gargano and Arevalo .

So, is this one of those moments when tactics take a tectonic shift, with those slow to adapt left by the wayside? Throughout the history of the game a sudden shift from the perceived wisdom can have a dramatic effect; The move from The Pyramid [2-3-5] to Herbert Chapman’s ‘WM’; the 4-4-2 of Alf Ramsey; the 4-3-3 and ‘Total Football’ of Ajax and Holland. All have brought short-term success while others digest the impact and plan their responses.

If that is the case what must England do to join the race? More importantly, do they have the players and coaches to make it work away from the training pitch and blackboard? History suggests not.

Back in 2006 Sven almost lucked upon something similar with Owen Hargreaves but failed to consistently add a second holding partner. At Liverpool Alonso and Gerrard could have been a fine combination but, sadly, Gerrard lacks the discipline and selflessness required and Benitez sealed his fate with his dumbest transfer, even by his standards.

Capello came close in some of the qualifiers with Barry and Parker but, come the tournament, went for Lampard and a fragile 4-man midfield that lacked the intelligence even for that formation. So, the sad conclusion for the present is that England has neither the players nor the coach to compete with the best. The future? Well nothing will be changing much in either department before Euro 2012.

One little bright spot could be Manchester City [not a typo]. With the addition of YaYa Toure to partner Nigel DeJong, hot from success with Holland, Man City might be gearing up for a fascinating experiment. If it’s successful maybe the rest of English football can look and learn. That’s the players, the national coaching staff and the FA.

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