England Euro 2012 conclusion: learn from United

Author: Doron

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It’s hard to know where to begin with England. Euro 2012 really showed up our national team’s limited ability. Various factors effected this but a couple stood out more so than others – injuries and formations. Oddly, Roy Hodgson should have looked at United as a case study and now he, like Alex Ferguson, needs to ensure that his team change their tactical approach.

Hodgons’s a 4-4-2 man. There’s no getting away from that. That formation though is somewhat dying – as this blog has previously noted, specialisation has moved coaches towards the use of three men in the middle because these technically gifted players are unable to play in a two. Two men central midfields are therefore rare now because, quite simply, three men will almost always overrun two.

It’s simple when you think about it. The advantages of three tend to be possession and therefore chance creation. It’s fair to say that England’s midfield were almost forever overrun at Euro 2012. Yesterday, they were outpassed nearly three times over by the Italians, who were also more accurate in possession than England.

Whilst many cried for some excitement in what England were doing, what they needed to achieve was far more simple than that – they had to challenge their opponents and get on top of the game – not just for three minute spells, but for long periods. Gerrard is a very good player and had a decent tournament – key assists and good leadership shouldn’t cloud the fact he was most certainly lost in the middle. It’s no fault of his, he never plays in a two at Liverpool for a good reason. Parker’s an effective midfielder but he was out of sorts at this level – again, through no fault of his own.

It’s hard to blame Hodgson either – he really had no alternative to Parker-Gerrard in the middle. The losses of Barry and Lampard pre-tournament were huge. You’d like to hope that with someone like Barry available, England would have considered a three in the middle: Barry-Parker-Gerrard. It wouldn’t have been the best midfield at the Euros but would have England a darn sight more control than they did have.

For one reason or another, I keep coming back to Carrick. A player I hugely admire and yet many still are incapable of recognising his ability. Astonishingly, 54 players have been capped since he was last and that includes: Bothroyd, Heskey, Kevin Davies, Warnock and Jarvis. United have predominantly played a 4-4-2 and despite coming up against more packed midfields, they regularly control games. The reason is that if you don’t have two all-rounders capable of playing in the middle (and I’m not sure any club side does), then the key is possession. Carrick and Scholes as a pair may not have power but they have precision. They command games because they retain the ball, they rarely give it away, and they use it well. This was the route Hodgson ideally had to go down.

Ultimately, England were somewhat toothless. Going forward they seemed to lack imagination and pace. Young strikers Welbeck and Carroll did they best with what they were given whilst Rooney looked like he lacked match sharpness (after an injury or significant time out, he always requires games to get his rhythm back). There’s no doubt Ashley Young was the biggest disappointment – singled out to be England’s key man, he looked scared of playing at this level and repeatedly tried to do too much. England weren’t actually that bad at committing numbers forward but often failed to convert breaks or possession into decent chances. There was panic and teams found it too easy to keep England out.

The future has to see one of two things happen: a final shift from the ‘Golden Generation’ and a move to a more competitive system. There are plenty of talented young players coming through who now need to be given a chance to cement England places – Welbeck, Wilshere, Oxlade-Chamberlain etc. They need to be able to compete at the very top level and to be given a chance of doing that will involve a move away from the most English of formations.

United discovered last season that they can beat a lot of sides playing a 4-4-2 but to try to beat the best, they have to be able to play more of a 4-2-3-1 system. Like United away against Man City, defeat last night for England wasn’t the sore point, it was the manner in which the team were dominated that was so galling. Poor Italian finishing was the sole reason that once again penalties decided England’s fate.

Alongside Hodgson is one of football’s up and coming thinkers. Gary Neville has surprisingly proven himself to be extremely adept at deciphering why and where teams go wrong. Between them, you’d hope they’ll look at Neville’s former club and work out: 1) The only way to get away with a 4-4-2 is to have players who excel in possession; and 2) like United have gone for Kagawa to change their system, England too must make a change.

There is something quite sane about the reaction to England going out. Anger towards the manner of it makes sense but many realistically thought the quarter finals would be all this team could and should achieve. To go out at this stage having played pretty poorly throughout seems fair and I don’t think anyone could make a case for England going further. Chelsea scenarios are rare – most sides that deserve not to win, won’t win.

Somewhat surprisingly, footballing journalists on Twitter only just woke up to the tactical problems post-defeat last night, as passing stats revealed a gulf between the two sides. Hodgson shouldn’t be vilified though, he had no choice but he certainly now had time to make corrections. Roy actually should be praised – he managed to, in a very short period of time, create a unit and make a group of players seemingly happy to be around one another. As the Dutch have proven, this is so vital at tournament football.

English football won’t change overnight, grassroot tweaks take a while to be felt at the top level but as United have proven, they work. England’s World Cup 2014 qualifying group is pretty straightforward and they should be able to overcome the teams in their group playing a 4-4-2. However, it’ll be hugely important that changes are made now so that England can catch up to speed with modern football to ensure that the embarrassment of being that outplayed and clueless doesn’t repeat itself in Brazil. Learn from United’s errors and learn from United’s attempts to get around them and rectify them.

20 Comments on England Euro 2012 conclusion: learn from United

  1. You forget one thing. Italy played 4-4-2 last night as well. Although they played with a diamond so that their wingers came inside to help out when Italy defended.

    The 4-4-2 lineup is not dead but to use it you need to make it more adaptable then the rigid 4-4-2 of old.

    United was not able to overpower opponents last season because Scholes and Carrick are good at keeping the ball. It was part of the reason of course, but the real reason was that they had help. Usually by Rooney that dropped down into midfield when United defended, but also by the wingers who where often seen coming inside to help the two in the middle.

  2. If we’re gonna start playing with 4321 formation where does that leave our other strikers? Rooney will start every game and the likes of welbz, hernandez etc will be forced to sit on the bench…so imo that’s why I feel Fergie and even Hodgson still likes the 442 system. How do u leave out a player like Welbeck to partner Rooney upfront?

    So is that what you’re saying…we should only be playing with 1 striker up front ie: Rooney, 3 players in the middle like Carrick, scholes, cleverley, 2 wingers etc?? Or play 4 defenders, carrick, scholes, rooney in the middle, nani and valencia on the wings with super dan up front??

    I don’t personally think that the 442 system is dead to be honest and I don’t think it’ll ever fade away

  3. It got me thinking…for basically the whole of last season, Wenger played a similar formation to the 4231 with van persie upfront on his own BUT they didn’t have a Hernandez or a Welbeck to partner him with so it was a no brainer really. And they failed again. What’s gonna happen when they Podolski arrives and if van persie stays? Do u think they’ll stick with the same formation and still play 1 upfront? Hmm its gonna be interesting.

    443 is defo not a dying formation and that’s just my opinion to be honest

  4. Going back to England, imo I felt that James Milner was a massive disappointment throughout the whole tournament and especially last night. He’s just such an average footballer its laughable actually how Hodgson stuck with him throughout the whole tournament. And as for Parker, I’m not convinced of his ability as a player and a midfielder. Yes he’s a decent player, can pass a football around, work his socks off and run all night BUT at that level England needed something more. He was shocking last night…didn’t have a clue,,,kept giving the ball away to the oppsoition and looked out of place.

    How welbeck was taken off for carrol so early was another joke! Carrol did nothing. Welbeckwas having a decent game and look what happened the match before, he let welbeck have a full game and he scored late on in the match.

    Gutted for ash young…ye he never had a good tournament to be fair but 1 thing could have changed that imo and that was in the 1st game against France when he put Milner through and the twat couldn’t finish. Football is all about confidence and there’s no doubt that would have given the lad a massive boost. He was unlucky with that penalty. He hit it hard…almost tried to do a Lampard and just smash it as hard as he could down the middle…unfortunately it never worked. Unluck lad. Chin up and looking forward to watching him grow next season and put in performances for MUFC on a regular basis.

    Another thing that gets me is how Phil Jones didn’t get a game? He was in the mix in a big way for England these last couple months and he couldn’t get a bloody minute during the euros?? What doesn that say about the lad as player? Does Hodgson just not rate him??

  5. Feel sorry for Defoe
    He’s an impact player and there’s no doubt he could have done more IF he was given oppurtunities to show what he could do. I really rate him as a player.
    He was Englands top scorer in the world cup couple years back so its a shame he wasn’t given a chance to show what he could do
    Just as Jones, Jagielka, baines etc were in the same boat.
    Just shows you what a top, top player that boy Welbeck is to be leading the line for England from the start of the tournament. Very happy for him. What a lad! Love watching him play! Manchester born and bred. Even better. Gwarn Welbz my boy. Say nada. Zup zup

  6. If were gonna shift to this 4231 formation next season, imo we don’t need to buy another midfielder. Its a myth ffs! Every1’s been carrying on for years now that we need a midfielder but I don’t think its a neccesity for next season. We have Scholes wh last season when he came back was as good as ever, carrick who imo is top drawer, cleverley who has a lot to prove and a lot of potential, anderson who I think will stay and be given 1 more chance, park who looks set to stay as well, powell and now kagawa who looks set to play in Rooneys position just behind the striker. So imo its not a must in buying a midfileder like modric etc. Yes I’d love a modric but I’d rather we give the players we have a chance instead like cleverley, anderson(still rate that lad a lot) etc

  7. @ nameonthetrphy – will u explain to me why every single United fan including yourself has an obsession in signing a central midfielder like Modric etc?
    Regarding the left back position, it looks very likely that Fryers is off so when I think about it, it only gives Tyler Blackett a better chance of pushing through. I really rate Tyler as a player and left back. He’s been a joy to watch @ youth level last season and I think he has a really bright future in the game. Are we really going to pay 15 mill for Baines though fellas? 15 million?? Hmm. I can see Fergie going for him though. I love Evra. He’s been a tremendous servant to MUFC over the years. The lad is hardly ever injured, plays every game and I still think he has a lot to offer MUFC.

  8. @nameonthetrophy – its not just u I want to hear from. Its all well having a decent blog such as this one, but what’s the point if nobody is reading it and getting involved?

  9. @nameonthetrophy – to me it seems like being a professional tweeter and blogger is your job mate, no offense.

  10. @pat-rice 1. “a professional tweeter and blogger” is not a job; 2. “what’s the point if nobody is reading it and getting involved?” – it’s a place for me to put some thoughts online; I’m not bothered if no one reads it. If I wanted to get loads of hits and traffic I wouldn’t write based on opinion. Gossip and rumour get hits, not opinion.

  11. If there’s 1 answer I get from this place, let it be to this question. Do u know whether the MUFC England lad will be going to Soith Africa fro preseason tour??

  12. @pat-rice to answer all your comments:

    1. We’ll still play 4-4-2 but it’s necessary for us to also play more of 4-2-3-1
    2. I think Rooney should be used as the main striker and imagine Welbeck may be used more as a wide forward – essentially the front four will rotate loads on the pitch anyway
    3. Kagawa as alluded to on other pieces has to play as a number 10 behind the striker. It’s where he played for Dortmund.
    4. Arsenal – I think they’ll sell Van Persie. He’ll be replaced by Giroud. I think Podolski will be used a lot out wide.
    5. On the whole Milner was average at best. Thought he did ok vs. Italy and was unlucky to be subbed off (Young was much worse).
    6. Agree that Carroll for Welbeck change was made too early
    7. Thought the expectations on Young were too high – he was hyped up to be England’s star and appeared to try and do too much.
    8. Yeah, I wondered why Jones wasn’t used – not sure it says anything about him, more that Hodgson’s cautious.
    9. If Fletcher can’t return, we’ll need another midfielder.
    10. “will u explain to me why every single United fan including yourself has an obsession in signing a central midfielder like Modric etc?” – I’ve never wanted Modric
    11. Yes we’ll pay that much for Baines. Premium price because he’s English and we’re United. Evra needs to be rotated and managed now. He’s played nearly 250 club games in five years without a break and it’s taking its toll – performance level isn’t good enough right now. Baines isn’t exceptional but certainly reliable and consistent.
    12. “Do u know whether the MUFC England lad will be going to Soith Africa fro preseason tour??” – I presume you mean the England players who were at Euro 2012. I’ve no idea

  13. hope we sell rooney he become completely overrated shity english player lazy as a shit and fat and generaly a joke. united would be better of without that slag, the only problem is he’s been found out recently for sure and npbody will pay to us good money – max 20million i’am afraid. and england absolutely was horrible these people who say england were good is somehow deluded.

  14. Getting. Bit heated here. I didn’t read this article initially because I thought it was going to be more about England. Agree with the majority of answers given by @nameonthetrophy. Think Rooney will play forward with Kawaga behind. Welbeck and hernandez might not get as many starts next year. I hoped Sir Alex would sign a centre forward, but this seems unlikely. If we did it could give us another way of playing and one of my concerns is that we don’t pit the oppositions centre backs under enough physical pressure at times right back would be good for he reasons given. But we def need a combative midfield player even if Fletcher returns as we need more than one player in the squad for that role.

  15. I wrote this on redcafe recently, and the essence of it is that I agree England needs a change in formation, but I disagree that they can copy United since United can bring in the flair players such as Kagawa and Nani to make a 4231 work.

    “I recently read an article by Tim Vickery about footballing identities; he believes that a footballing identity is a fundamental part of a team’s success, especially at national level. He pointed out that Spain, Chile and Germany all have a clear idea of how they want to play, and that template fits the players that are available for selection.

    The question is, what do you think England’s footballing identity is?

    Most English sides already play with a back four, so there’s no need to change that.

    England have always produced good wingers (Young, Walcott, Ox, Johnson, etc) and box-to-box midfielders (Gerrard, Milner, Wilshire,etc). The latter do seem to be a bit of a dying breed, but that’s more because of the changing nature of the game: the work that could have been done by two players fifteen years ago, now requires three. We could look enviously at the tidy ball-players of Spain (Xavi, Iniesta, Fabregas, etc) and the flair of the German attacking midfielders (Ozil, Kroos, Reus, etc) but England don’t really have an abundance of either type of player.

    So for me, it makes sense to play with three midfielders and two wingers. The three in the middle can be a combination of a more defensive midfielder plus two b2b midfielders (e.g. Parker, Wilshire, Milner) or a more fluid system of three b2b midfielders (ala AVB’s Porto) (Rodwell, Wilshire, Milner).

    Up front, a player like Rooney/ Welbeck can interchange with the attack-minded wingers or we can play a front three of strikers (e.g. Welbeck – Rooney – Sturridge).

    Tactically, against better teams, you’d want to make use of this team’s energy and press hard for the first ten minutes before dropping off and sitting deep to counter-attack (you’d want to open up the pitch for the likes of Walcott and Lennon); ie. play like how Real Madrid played against Barca. Against teams that England could dominate, you could slip in a passer instead of the defensive midfielder and have a winger – striker – striker combination up front to increase the angles of attack.

    I’ve left out Cleverley from all this because I’m waiting to see what kind of impact he will have with a full season. Passers like Carrick and McEachran can easily slot in instead of Parker/Milner.

    Speed read summary:
    Future England should play 4-3-3”

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