Croatia coach Slaven Bilic has claimed he knows England’s weaknesses – here are the three areas where we think Fabio Capello’s side may be vulnerable.
1. England’s playing style puts too much strain at the back
Fabio Capello was right to back Glen Johnson after his defender was on the receiving end of much criticism after the 2-1 win over Slovenia. Rather, he bemoaned England’s failure to play to his instructions and it seems Johnson is literally on the wrong side of England’s ineffectiveness. The nation had been crying out for a coach, long before Capello came to stamp a more continental flavour to the play but if the Italian feels they are technically there, are they ready mentally in terms of making the right moves and decisions?
If not, Slaven Bilic may be on to something when he says England are “missing some Englishness, some of the things that have always made England teams difficult to defend against and play against.” Capello is demanding patient build up play and if that fails expect large holes for the opponents to exploit on the counter or from transitions in play. While Spain can be more expected to play an expansive, passing style England have always been known for their directness and quick tempo.
And factor in the role of Heskey, who while giving them an unorthodox physical presence, it means play needs to more effective around him. Walcott gave the Three Lions an outlet behind the defence in the 4-1 win in Zagreb allow them to get the ball forward quickly and similarly Defoe, who particularly thrives in the second half when the opposition is worn out and England’s tireless manner stamps greater authority.
Indeed, England’s play has a slight slant to the left with Gerrard and Rooney expected to link up and switch positions, and Barry to cover for the forward runs of Ashley Cole. Matches against Ukraine and Slovenia have usually seen Glen Johnson being pushed more centrally when the ball breaks down and that is an area where the latter country took advantage for their late goal. “Glen Johnson is a very dangerous player,” said Slovenia boss Matjaz Kek. “Stopping him was very important. But when you play in such an offensive way it leaves a lot of space behind. “I have seen England two or three times. I knew we could get to the goal on that side.”
With a bit more work however, the perfect synchronization of the two styles (English and Continental) could turn this into England’s strength.
2. A lack of mobility in central defence
One of the fundamentals of playing a high build up game requires the defenders to push up to allow the side to continue creating the pressure. This means the defenders must must be mobile, technical and read the game well, looking to push up to create a high line so the ball can be continuously circulated.
Rio Ferdinand is a huge miss as arguably he has all these qualities and it’ll be up to John Terry to step up although the one area he lacks is pace. His choice of partner is likely to be either Matthew Upson or Joleon Lescott but the new Manchester City man will remember not to fondly the runaround he was given by Ivica Olic and Eduardo in the final Euro qualifier in 2007 at Wembley. Bilic will no doubt have his two men stationed as high up the pitch as necessary to take advantage.
“The transition from defence to build-up must be executed very quickly,” says former Holland manager Rinus Michels. “The team tactical manpower in the centre of the field (central defenders, midfielders and striker) is of great importance. During the build up, the tactical coherence between the central defenders who must be thinking of playing the ball forward, the attacking midfielders and the central striker is very precise work. When possession is lost, it starts in the opposite direction. Good ball circulation puts high demands on the quality of the positional play, the mastering of the tempo and the speed of action.”
3. Lack of positional sense in midfield
Gareth Barry and Frank Lampard are two fantastic central midfielders but none are really defensive players. Modric ran amok last time round in Wembley and while the Tottenham man is missing, Billic will have identified the lack of protection they provide and will have his men pressuring quickly. Two backpasses against Holland gifted the Oranje two goals and with a live wire pairing up front, there can be no lapses of concentration from either midfielders.