Thursday, 16 August 2012

The Carroll conundrum continues

England fans may come away happy with their nation’s 2-1 friendly win over Italy this week, but there are still tactical issues that Roy Hodgson must sort out before the start of World Cup 2014 qualifying.

One particular concern on Wednesday, noted by those who watch live football online at home, was England’s wing play, with the handful of crosses into Italy’s box either over-hit or misdirected. It throws into question the use of a target man upfront if he isn’t going to get the service he needs.

The England squad is littered with wingers, with Adam Johnson, Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlaide-Chamberlain, Stuart Downing, James Milner and Aaron Lennon all vying for contention on the flanks over the last four years.

Yet despite this England struggled to use their width to their advantage on Wednesday night. Johnson and Milner failed to pepper the box with those crosses that generated such success at Euro 2012, while full-backs Leighton Baines and Kyle Walker also appeared conservative in their directness.

Admittedly this lack of service certainly didn’t hinder England in the second half, with nippy Jermain Defoe upfront on his own unable to match the areal ability of Italy centre-halves. It was the first half, with Andy Carroll leading the line, that England were found wanting.

Frank Lampard failed to find Carroll on more than one occasion, while Johnson and Ashley Young appeared more than happy to cut inside and distribute the ball sideways. This desire to retain the ball is commendable considering England’s usual inability to hold possession, but that tactic does not fit Carroll’s game.

If you play Carroll upfront on his own he must be given service by a direct and attentive midfield. England should have played two games last night, testing the Italian defence in the first half with crosses from the wings and leaving the tiki-taka stuff until after the break.

This may only have been a friendly and his live scores as England boss have been encouraging, but Roy must work out the best style for his team to play, and whether or not Carroll’s game can handle it.

Monday, 6 August 2012

GB Experience Future Penalty Lesson

Stuart Pearce was right to comfort his Team GB footballers for the wealth of experience that have gained at these Olympic Games, despite their penalty shoot-out defeat to Korea, last weekend.

The manner of their loss will only come to aid the players when they suffer the same outcome at major tournaments later in their career.

At the end of a dogged encounter at the Millennium Stadium, the scores were tied at 4-4 when Daniel Sturridge stepped up to take GB’s final spot kick. The striker nailed his run-up but could do nothing to prevent goalkeeper, Lee Bumyoung, parrying the strike.

Sturridge and his GB team-mates looked drained and dejected on the Cardiff turf, yet penalty shoot-out deflation will not come as a surprise for these players, but in fact act as a chilling memory for when they suffer the same fate later on in their international careers.

For the England national side are notoriously appalling at penalties. In eight shoot-outs, England have won just one, against Spain during Euro ’96. GB’s current stars will have grown up with England’s recent penalty heartbreaks: 1998 defeat to Argentina and successive 2004 and 2006 losses to Portugal.

Indeed, England’s most recent shoot-out failure against Italy only this summer should have acted as a precursor for last Saturday’s game. Like Italy, Korea dominated large spells of the match and were guilty of not winning the tie in normal time. GB just about scraped into the shoot-out, where they once more fell at the last.

What Pearce’s men can gain from this experience is simply the knowledge of what it feels like to crash out on penalties the next time it comes around, a feeling that supporters placing an England or Premier League bet will have experienced before.

Sturridge, along with successful penalty converters, Tom Cleverley and Craig Dawson, will no-doubt one day be thrown back into this tortuous situation in England colours. Their experience this summer will do nothing but strengthen their fear on that long walk to the penalty spot.