The players didn't fail us - it was our system and philosophy that let us down
ANALYSIS:THE GENERAL reaction to Ireland and then England’s demise at the European Championships has been fairly similar – neither nation was good enough by half, be it technically or individually.
I think this stance is wrong.
Let’s start by looking at Scott Parker and Steven Gerrard; the cramped up, exhausted England midfield pairing from the other night’s defeat to Italy. Put them against any three-man midfield in the tournament and they were always going to struggle.
Any two chasing possession against three men will expend way more energy. Just look at the drained look on Parker’s face as he was hauled off or Gerrard cramping up on 71 minutes.
Around the same time the first beads of sweat dripped off Andrea Pirlo’s forehead. Glenn Whelan and the frustrated Keith Andrews had similar problems during their Pirlo passing tutorial.
The Italian playmaker is 33 but this obvious weakness was never tested because Italy constantly had the option of an extra body against both Ireland and England. Pirlo barely moves but the two midfielders in front of him had Gerrard and Parker on their toes.
The English backroom really should have made their boys sit through the Italy v Irish game. It was there for all to see. Yet no lesson was learned. We’re back to the 4-4-2 debate again. This problem will not go away.
There was an English plan. It was for Danny Welbeck and Wayne Rooney to alternate dropping off and putting pressure on the Italian puppetmaster. It was important for either Welbeck or Rooney to tackle from the wrong side of Pirlo. You don’t want them goal-side of him as the Italians can react to that. It worked a few times with Pirlo losing the ball and Italy immediately looking fragile.
A striker, by his very nature, is a free spirit so to ask Welbeck or Rooney to do a man-marker’s job throughout was a tactical flaw. Eventually they stopped doing the job. Same thing happened with Ireland’s front two. There were countless moments when the English, and Irish, strikers were five yards off Pirlo, sucking in oxygen as the Juve number 21 picked out his umpteenth pass deep in opposition territory.
England, or Ireland, could even have played with Parker, or Whelan, in front of two midfielders, with a simple brief to stop Pirlo. Stand on him for 90 minutes, or until Cesare Prandelli was forced to change. Then you react and frustrate them some more. Get stuck into them but do it cleverly. It would have become 10 versus 10 and made a massive difference.
I actually felt Ireland had more of a go against Italy than England. The extra man in midfield means a player must be sacrificed elsewhere. Neither Giovanni Trapattoni nor Roy Hodgson were prepared to do this. The better teams in this tournament have embraced this approach, giving up the attacking option out wide by going through the middle in numbers.
The Premiership is the best league in the world. Looking at the individuals that made up the England starting XI, I cannot see how Italy’s XI could be considered technically superior. Man for man, I believe England were the better side. But they didn’t go man for man. There was no individual pressure put on. Hodgson is a 4-4-2 advocate, always has been. He decided this was the simplest approach to get the players to buy into his management in the time frame available.