Monday, May 08, 2006

Bold Sven

Oh yes. Sven was bold.

England's call up for the cup is shocking, to say the least. Especially considering their coach's historic conservativeness.

Theo Walcott and Aaron Lennon in. Both below 20, none capped.

Shaun Wright-Philips and Jermain Defoe out. Both with several starts to their name.

Downing, Jenas and Hargreaves could be questioned but were hinted. The two teenagers, nay.

I thought about his selection for most of my day today - yes I did, I'm totally in World Cup mode these days - and I guess I got onto his thought process after all.

1. No Rooney or anything like him. So no useless heavy lads, let me take a smart kid.

There are several strong English strikers around these days - Andy Johnson, James Beattie, Dean Ashton, Marlon Harewood, Darren Bent - and they're not bad at all, but, let's face it, none gets the ball deep and creates space like Rooney does. They're all standing strikers, and they would neither start a game or be a good option during a match, for two reasons:

  • they wouldn't start because that kind of striker needs a team built around them, feeding them, and Eriksson wouldn't play such tactics when, in absence of Rooney, he could build the team around Gerrard and Lampard. Besides, the plays are already directioned towards Owen who's a much better finisher.
  • they wouldn't come as second-half options because Crouch does the same thing but is taller and holds the ball better. Full-stop.
So Eriksson realized he needed a sharp finisher, with good balance, and pace, to partner Owen in moments of need or even replace him. The Jermain Defoe of last season would be excellent, but not this one with a certain confidence crisis.

Walcott, on the other hand, I've never seen play (and neither has Sven) but is apparently a smart, cool finisher, with balance and pace, and with a career in Under-17s. If he's got the mind that Wenger says he does, he can enter and make a difference.

It is not uncommon for managers to select teens with potential to join World Cup squads - Brazil 94 had Ronaldo, and Brazil 02 had Kaká. However, those two were highly unlikely to feature (only the latter did, a couple of minutes against Costa Rica in a worthless game), whereas in a team with three forwards in which one hasn't played for six months and the other gives such limited options as Crouch, Walcott's chances of featuring increase a lot.

2. England's midfield might be great, but it is not wide. Let the width join in then.

I will assume that Beckham, Gerrard, Lampard and Joe Cole are starters. These are four of the best midfielders in the planet, four men with skill and drive, who finish superbly and dedicate themselves to every second of the match (well, maybe Beckham not every minute). So how to best use them to counter the loss of Rooney?

Simple answer, to me, would be to put a holding midfielder behind Gerrard and Lampard and let them push forward and shoot from the outside the same way Rooney would. That way he'd use the best out of them without putting them running into each other. Carrick has proven that, today, he is the best man to be in that holding role. Carrick, to us Brazilians unused to watching Tottenham matches, is like a blend of Gilberto Silva's marking with Juninho's passing.

That way, Beckham and Cole would right and left. But, let's face two facts:

  • Beckham is still a great passer and crosser, but has never been famous for running a lot - and now he is older.
  • Joe Cole is quick, skillful and decisive - but will cut inside 2 out of three plays.
So picture Sven, in a semifinal against Brazil in Munich, on the 7th of July, in a tough 0-0 game and with Peter Crouch as "the" option to turn the game in the second half. Brazil is pressing and England should try counter-attacking. What can he do?

He could send in Shaun Wright-Philips instead of Beckham for sure. But what would be the gain? It'd be dribbling mostly, since SWP is not that much faster than Becks. But counter-attacking is much more about pace than dribbling, especially against Brazilian 30-plus full-backs. Who could he send in?

Stewart Downing on the left has had an impressive season. Runs a lot and is precise on the crosses. Tick.

On the right, Aaron Lennon is definitely faster and arguably as skillful as Wright-Philips. Lack of international caps is surely compensated by a much steadier season at White Hart Lane. Tick.

Wright-Philips could still join in as a direct replacement for Beckham, should the captain be unfit and Lennon be deemed to fresh to start a match, right? Totally right. But then so would Jermaine Jenas, with the plus that the Tottenham midfielder also fits in as reserve right-back (saving a precious spot) and centre-midfielder. Not to mention his great season, while SWP sometimes warmed the bench, and other times warmed the Stamford Bridge stands. So my favorite player of the 2004-2005 season (while in Man City) misses out and hopes his portion of transfer fee pays for the disappointment.

Hargreaves, then, covers for Carrick, Gerrard or Lampard, maybe because Scott Parker is unfit, and that is it for the England midfield.

The sheer number of players with the capability of playing high-quality football in central midfield, together with the trying character of the wingers, indicates that Sven plans to use direct passing and midfield approximation as first tactics, leaving the crosses for after the sixtieth minute, when opposition would be tired.

Watch out for some quality passing then.

And let's hope, here in Brazil, that our coach could be 10% as bold. At least at reserve left-back.

(why is it that I was more anxious on the England call-up than I am in the Brazilian one?)

No comments: