Italy beat England 2-1 in Manaus on Saturday. The opening match for the Three Lions proved to be just as challenging as expected. Despite the loss, Roy Hodgson and his team learned some very important lessons that they can take into the match on Thursday versus Uruguay.
The left flank
Early on in the match, the Italians figured out that England’s left flank was the weakest part of the team. Andrea Pirlo was able to slot passes into the space between Wayne Rooney and Leighton Baines. Roy Hodgson opted to put Rooney out on the wing and place Raheem Sterling underneath Daniel Sturridge. This strategy proved costly to an extent. Too many times throughout the game, Baines was caught on a 2v1 situation. Baines was left out to dry, which then pulled either Jagielka or Cahill out of position. That left space for Mario Balotelli in front of goal. England did not keep their shape good enough to combat the Italian attack.
Along with the issues down the left hand side, England have other formation trouble. The biggest issue to fix is Wayne Rooney’s position. Many people are calling for him to be dropped for the next match. I think that would be a mistake. Rooney is still one of the best players in the England squad. Instead of dropping him, put him in the middle of the park underneath Sturridge and slide Sterling out on the right, while putting Welbeck on the left. If there comes a time that England need something special to happen, I would put my faith in Rooney. After all, he did provide the cross to Sturridge for the assist. Regardless of what you may or may not think about Rooney, Hodgson needs to find someone who can play better defense down the wing. England cannot afford to be cut open again if they wish to make it out of the group.
Another formation issue stems from the Gerrard and Henderson partnership. It is not that the two of them necessarily did anything wrong during the match, they just didn’t add anything to the England game. They have very similar playing styles and often occupy the same places on the pitch. Hodgson needs someone in the middle of the park to run at defenses and push the envelope more through the middle so that it opens up space on the outsides for the pacey wingers to attack. The answer may be that Roy Hodgson swaps Wilshere or Barkley in place of Henderson. Both Wilshere and Barkley are more attacking players than Henderson and have the skill to be dangerous. The downside is that both of them give the ball away a bit to easily which would lead to counter attacks against the England back line. That being said, I think that Hodgson needs to find Gerrard another partner in the midfield.
Even though England could not win the three points against Italy, there were some very noticeable positives from the England side.
England played attacking football. Roy Hodgson played Rooney, Sterling, Sturridge, and Welbeck as the front four against Italy. All four players are very attack minded and showed glimpses of what England are capable of. England had opportunities to level the score and maybe even edge Italy for the win. The play in the final third was just not entirely there and England were unable to grab a win.
Raheem Sterling. The Liverpool youngster showed why he has been receiving so much praise from the England boss. He nearly scored within the first few minutes of the game. He ran at the Italy defense with pace, was able to fight in the middle of the park, and played the magnificent ball through to Wayne Rooney who assisted Sturridge for the goal. It would seem that he has solidified his place in the starting XI.
England showed backbone. England conceded the first goal off an Italy corner kick. Pirlo dummied the ball as it came to him and Marchisio had the time to take a touch a slot it home past Joe Hart. I was worried the game would turn into another typical England display where England sit back and hope to not get beaten up too much. Thankfully, this was not the case. England were able to show resilience and equalize just two min later. Even after England were down 2-1, they were still creating chances. Rooney pulled a shot wide and Barkley had a shot pushed aside. England are going to need to keep playing with a backbone if they are to make it out of the group.
England take on Uruguay on Thursday June 19th.