Real worry for England is Suarez

Criticism of Wayne Rooney has deflected attention from poor defence against Italy in Manaus

The grilling Wayne Rooney has received from the English media since Saturday's defeat by Italy must have been welcome in at least one part of the English camp for it has served as a distraction from the way the team defended in Manaus. Leighton Baines, in particular, must wish the Manchester United forward had been nearly so useful to him during the game itself.


Baines was particularly exposed and Roy Hodgson’s decision to dispense with

Ashley Cole

ahead of the tournament and to rely on


Luke Shaw

as cover at left back was no great surprise but it always had an element of the gamble about it.

While the Everton player is better than Cole these days pressing forward he is not as good as him when actually having to defend, which Matteo Darmian, Daniele De Rossi and Antonio Candreva all seemed to seize upon at various times.

Much of England’s defensive vulnerability stemmed from Leighton and, to be fair to him, the way he was left exposed, but it extended across the back four at least as far of the centre halves, neither of whom looked up to the challenge.

Hodgson’s men did well on the attacking side of things, passing the ball successfully inside their opponents’ half and creating a number of decent chances, but it is at the back their hopes of progressing to the last 16 look most likely to crumble.

Uruguay were in banjo and barn door territory for stretches of the Costa Rica game but if Luis Suarez returns at anything approaching his best Gary Cahill and Phil Jagielka will have their hands full.

Suarez certainly seems taken with the prospect of running at the pair: “I know all the players in the England squad,” he said earlier this week, “I know some of them because they are team-mates or rival; they have defensive deficiencies and we can take advantage of them.”

The Liverpool striker may not, in his current shape, be the answer to all of Oscar Tabarez’s prayers; a good many of his team-mates are going to have to play a whole lot better than they did but the fact remains that while England looked like a side that can score goals, they also look likely to concede as well.

Like their left back, Cahill and Jagielka might point to the lack of cover as Hodgson sought to have his players play on the front foot and neither central midfielder played well.

But the former was caught out badly for Mario Balotelli’s headed goal, having allowed the striker to drift a yard or two behind him as Candreva gave Baines the slip and crossed, and the latter simply looked to be at sea at times.

Jagielka played in both of Everton’s games against Liverpool this season and won’t draw much comfort from the fact the Uruguayan scored each time. Cahill’s Chelsea, on the other hand, kept him at bay as they won home and away .

The former Bolton Wanderers player certainly has the pace and power of swift recovery to offer some chance of coping with the Uruguayan. Tonight, though, he cannot afford to switch off the way he did five days ago.

Jose Mourinho, it's worth noting, wasn't the only coach to engineer a way of dealing with the striker over the course of the Premier League campaign.

Suarez did not, in fact, score in any of seven games against the other top three teams – they played Arsenal in the cup too – and though his form over the course of the season was generally stunning, it is a failure that clearly contributed to the Anfield club’s eventual inability to clinch top spot.


To defy injury now and fire his team into the second round would be another remarkable achievement for the 27 year-old, though, and he received encouragement of a sort of a surprising quarter this week when Hodgson observed:

"You can be a great player in your league but to be recognised as one of the all-time greats you have got to do it at the World Cup. "

Suarez, he might do well to remember, actually made quite an impact in South Africa four years ago, even if Diego Forlan was so good there he still managed to eclipse his strike partner.

“He has got the potential,” the England boss continued. “He is a wonderful footballer. (But) If you are really going to put him up there with Maradona, Pele, Beckenbauer and Cruyff and Pirlo, this is the stage you have got to do it on.”

It’s hard to imagine Suarez needing the pep talk and Hodgson might do well to save those for his own side, who need to show some serious improvement this evening in Sao Paulo.

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone is Work Correspondent at The Irish Times