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International Friendly: England 1:0 Belgium
EURO 2012 - Coverage of Poland/Ukraine

FriendlyEngland1 : 0BelgiumWembley
2 June 20124-4-1-1 4-1-4-1London
Welbeck  36' Att: 85,091 

 GK1Joe Hart  
 RB2Glen Johnson 
 CB5Gary Cahill  19'
 CB6John Terry  70'
 LB3Ashley Cole
 RM7James Milner  
 CM8Scott Parker
 CM4Steven Gerrard  83'
 LM11Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain  66'
 SS10Ashley Young  66'
 CF9Danny Welbeck  53'
 GK13Robert Green
 GK23Jack Butland 
 DF12Phil Jones 
 DF14Leighton Baines 
 DF15Joleon Lescott 19'
 DF16Phil Jagielka 70'
 MF17Jordan Henderson 83'
 MF18Stewart Downing
 FW19Jermaine Defoe 66'
 FW20Wayne Rooney 53'
 FW21Andy Carroll 
 MF22Theo Walcott 66'
 Roy Hodgson

In preparation for EURO 2012 this month, I'm going to be covering England matches for this blog.

And with that in mind, this past weekend England played in its second of two preparatory friendlies.  Much like Roy Hodgson's first match in charge of the Three Lions, it was not a bad game.  England played a solid defensive game, they created a few good chances, and most importantly—they got the win.  However, the same issues that were present in the first game, continued to turn-up in this match.

Before I begin in earnest, I have to admit that while I took a wealth of detailed notes and observations during the game, my computer crashed and I lost them.  Unfortunately this means my detailed analysis of the game won't be able to be shared.  I believe it involved many paragraphs reviewing all the tackles Scott Parker was involved in.  All that I can really remember is that he won some, he lost some.

In my review of Norway v England, I spent a lot of time talking about the team's formation and style of play, both negatives and positives.  Many of those observations remained true through this game.  Defensively, England were rigid, they played a responsible game.  However, this rigidity in defense meant a lack of offense.  If everyone is being kept most occupied with staying in position in case the team loses possession, there were little in the way of attacking break-outs when England did have the ball.

After substitutions in the second half, however, this style of play changed a bit.  Wayne Rooney initially came in for Welbeck and played as the lone striker, but once the two substitutions 13 minutes later came in, he pulled back to play in the hole whilst Jermaine Defoe went ahead to play as the lead striker.  These changes, plus Theo Walcott coming in on right wing (Milner switched to play on the left wide position Oxlade-Chamberlain had occupied), managed to change the way the team played.  Theo Walcott is used to playing on the wing in Arsenal's 4-2-3-1 formation, in which he is expected to cut in and go in on goal alone if the opportunity presents itself, and to pack up the striker down the centre if need be.

Jermaine Defoe had to could-of-been, should-of-been goals in his time on the pitch, both of which were created by or saved by Theo Walcott cutting in and playing down the centre.  If Walcott hadn't have ignored the team's rigid formational play, neither of those chances would have happened.  Compared Walcott's play to James Milner, who occupied the right wide position for over 66 minutes.  During that time he was, again, virtually invisible.  Simply put: in today's game, wide midfielders are a waste offensively if they won't cut in and create chances for themselves or others.  Just putting in the odd cross is unlikely to create much.

Gary Cahill was forced to leave the match after being shoved from behind into Joe Hart while chasing the ball.  This was a pretty dirty move, and unfortunately resulted in Cahill basically destroying his jaw, taking him out of the tournament before it had even begun.

It should be obvious that I have my doubts about this formation and this style of play.  But, the fair observation is that even if we did play the kind of football I think teams should play, would we have the talent in our squad to out play the "teams of the tournament"?  And the answer is no.  We could win, we could lost—that's football, but I certainly think we would be much more likely to lose that win.  So, as many militaries learn, if you can't win on an open playing field, change the style of play to suit you.  This very defensive, grinding out victories, style is exactly how you beat teams you are not better than.  This is how we beat champions of Europe and the world Spain last year, this is how Greece won EURO 2004.  This style is far from pretty, but it could be precisely what we need to claw out victories against giants.

EURO 2012 began today and England's first match is Monday, June 11 at 1200 EDT.


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