I wanted to watch
Poland again last night:
unfortunately I’ve caught the flu. To be sick and in need of sleep / rest while
a tournament whose matches take place at 12 midnight and 2:45 am is a horrible
experience. I thus chose sleep last night in favor of tonight’s tasty match
offerings from the Group of Death. But in any case, here are my thoughts on England – France.
Having said that,
England did very well given their
dire resources (read: quality of players) and circumstances (read: getting their
coach onboard too late, etc.). Their neat 2 banks of 4 which included the
usually-tactically-uncontrollable Gerrard at Center Midfield kept their shape
and balance all through out. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain also looked really good
with his bursts of pace past De Buchy to keep the French respectful of England’s
credentials on the counter. The decision to go with Danny Welback over Andy
Carroll fit the counterattacking game plan too. Ditto for Ashley Young who
clearly knows how to work the channels in that free role behind the striker.
It’s worthy to note that while Hodgson used his left midfielder (Chamberlain) to zoom forward when the counterattacking opportunity came up, he had a right-sided player who had a natural tendency to drift to the middle in Milner (which also I think explains his choice of bringing Jordan Henderson into the squad). While on his second bank of 4, it’s actually the right-sided player (Glen Johnson) who bombed forward more frequently with left one on the left (Cole) playing more conservatively.
For the French, I have to say that I’m unconvinced with the use of a 4-3-3 (with Malouda and Cabaye in carillero roles) – when a 4-2-3-1 with the same personnel might have put everyone in their preferred roles (Nasri as a ‘10’, Malouda as a winger). If would have also allowed the French a 3 vs. 2 advantage at midfield. The English were always going to defend deep and hit on the counter and the onus to attack was always going to be on the French. To do that though, Blanc’s boys needed to be organized well in attack and neither Cabaye nor Malouda knew how to organize an attack – perhaps a ‘10’ (Nasri) would have done the job?
Ribery looked lively and had a few good dangerous moments, while Benzema seemed like he needed some good service behind him (needing a ‘10’) to score – leaving the Real Madrid man, to rely on long distance potshots (all saved by Hart) and help open up space with his running. I really would have liked to see Nasri in that ‘10’ role in front of Cabaye & Diarra and behind Benzema with Ribery and Malouda diagonally in front of him. It’s worthwhile to note as well that Nasri’s goal was taken from a position one would normally find the ‘10’ at. In terms of substitutions, I would have also liked to see Hatem Ben Arfa come on earlier that he did.
The English would be pleased with the result. They managed a point on the board while affirming to themselves that they just might do something in this tournament with their small-team tactics. I can totally imagine them getting a scalp off a tournament favorite playing like this. They were defensively organized, and showed that they can score off dead ball situations (I realize now that I committed a gaffe stating on RMFB that Cahill was my favorite for a red card in this game despite the fact that he’s not even in the tournament) – with Lescott, Terry, Carroll, Rooney, etc. all legitimate aerial threats. They’re getting attacked in the media of course for using ‘small team tactics’ with grim comparisons to
Champions League-winning “defend-until-death-then-sucker-punch” performances. To
that I say: what would you have them do?
Before the match, I called the French to win it 2-0 and was thus disappointed to watch their scatter-brain attacking performance. The French are still favorites to top the group but might need to look into their team shape. I say: play the boys in their natural position – play Nasri as a ‘10’, let Malouda do his work on the flanks, etc.
I truthfully expected far more from this match than what I got out of it. Who knew that all the drama in this group would come from co-hosts
and their old warhorse Andriy Shevchenko?