Monday, 21 June 2010

Next Stop - Panicville

By now you should have recovered from the living nightmare that was England 0-0 Algeria. After that result and the 1-1 draw against the US of A qualification from the group is looking a wee bit precarious. So what's happened?

There's been plenty of excuses bounding around - "IT'S THE BALL!" "IT'S THOSE BLOODY VUVUZELAS!" "IT'S THE ALTITUDE!" "THE PLAYERS DON'T CARE!" "IT'S NICK CLEGGS FAULT!" etc etc. In terms of why England are performing poorly, here's my two cents:

1) Gerrard and Lampard can't play in the same midfield. I know this isn't an original thought, but by God it's true. Both have the same natural instinct - running forward from the centre circle into the box and scoring goals. Based on the two games so far, Capello is asking these two to do a job that they're not comfortable with. Both look stifled, both look ineffective, particularly Gerrard who was asked to play on the left against the Algerians (No Fabio, no!) Whilst Heskey does a good job leading the line in a 4-4-2, I'd drop him and tuck Gerrard in behind Rooney. That isn't ideal, I admit, but if something isn't working, you have to change it.

2) Expectation. Quite simply, there's too much of it. Before that game on Friday, the Algerian players probably didn't know or care what their press were writing/saying, whatever the result. The England players however knew that anything other than a convincing win, and they're getting hammered by the press.

If Frank Lampard has a bad game for Chelsea, the fans stream out of Stamford Bridge having a little grumble about Frank not being on form, but it doesn't matter because next week he'll be better. If Frank Lampard has a bad game for England, it's a national crisis - he should be dropped, never play for England again, a disgrace to his country, cares more about his club blah blah blah.

There's an interesting baseball analogy here:

In 2007, the Chicago Cubs were one of the best teams in baseball, reaching the play-offs. They promptly lost 3 games out of 3, and went home.

In 2008, the Chicago Cubs were one of the best teams in baseball, reaching the play-offs. They promptly lost 3 games out of 3 , and went home.

It's now been 102 years since the Cubs have won the World Series. So why can they be so good in the regular season, and so bad in the play-offs? Quite simply, it's the weight of expectation, and it's crushed the Cubs for over 100 years, and it could well crush England this tournament and many others. "40 years of hurt" and all that may be witty, but it may not be helping either. "The players don't care". Wrong - total opposite. They care too much, they're too aware. They are being stifled.

3) Rooney isn't right. At the end of last season, United rushed him back into action after injury because, to be honest, he was their only hope. I'm certain his poor form is a result of this. Whether he's carrying an injury, or whether he's completely frazzled out, it's a huge worry, considering that he would be the first name on your team sheet.

Despite all this however, I still think England have a chance at going far. No, really, I do. A win in the final group game against Slovenia and England are in the last 16, where the competition really gets started. And let's not forget Spain losing to Switzerland, Germany losing to Serbia, Italy being held with New Zealand, France imploding so dramatically. It's a funny tournament you know, with plenty of twists and turns still to come. Don't write England off just yet.

Here's the team I would pick if I was Don Capello. Please take a moment to marvel at my Paint skills: