“‘Tis a meaningless friendly,” they bleated. (And I include me in “they”, so should probably make that “we”…) It’s not looking so meaningless now, as plenty of lessons were learned, many of them positive. Inevitably, as there is only one international game per month, it’s easy to blow out of proportion a single match, but ne’ertheless:
Central midfield: As seasoned all-action-no-plotters will know, I had been planning to watch this particularly carefully, fine tooth-comb and magnifying glass at the ready. Neither Carrick nor Barry offered forward bursts from the centre, so I allow myself one smug, told-you-so smirk (if you don’t believe me check yesterday’s blog, then bow down and worship my sagacity). However, by way of compensation – and it was ample – they looked after possession fretlessly and for long spells, only perhaps losing control in the last 20 or so, when Germany toyed with the idea of coming back into the game. Rather than burst into attacking positions, they kept an eye on things like sensible childminders, while toddlers in the shape of SWP, Downing and Agbonlahor tore around all over the place. The Carrick-Barry partnership looked good because they let the wingers (assisted by the full-backs) and the forwards do all the running, and that was sufficient to cause attacking problems. Through the decision not to burst forward (or inability to do so?) they also offered protection to a back four which consequently never looked particularly troubled.
Is this what we want from a central midfield pairing? Limited attacking intent, no dribbling, no appearances in the opposition area? Well, it’s hardly the stuff of which all-action-no-plot dreams are made, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and last night’s food for thought was a controlled away win against the team ranked second in the world. It would be wrong to ignore the footnote that this was very much Germany’s second-string, but nevertheless, England’s system worked effectively. It was not particularly action-packed and adrenaline-fuelled, but my goodness it was disciplined and effective. Particularly impressive was the manner in which England maintained their discipline, and continued to control the game, after conceding the shoddy equaliser. No heads dropping and no resorting to the headless chicken act. Taking their cue from Barry and Carrick the players maintained their shape and treasured possession. And eventually forced a win. How often have England been chastised for squandering possession, and for an “attack-attack-attack” obsession, for playing the 100 miles per hour “English way”? Last night showed that an England team can keep possession and play patiently, and can beat strong teams this way.
Such a performance frankly leaves me torn – I want to loathe it, I yearn for a return to the mindless, kamikaze attacking style perfected by Spurs, of conceding four but trying to score five. I yearn for a return to central midfielders who bomb forward and dribble past people and shoot from outside the area, leaving gaping holes behind them and creating end-to-end madness. I yearn for a return to all-action-no-plot, dammit! And last not was all about plot, with any moments of action meticulously planned and never let out of control! And it worked a dream! Aaaargh…
Anyway. Another thing we learned from last night is that pace at international level is a fantastic weapon. Credit to Agbonlahor, he used his well, and the Germans struggled to contain him, as the Croats struggled with Walcott, and previous international teams have struggled with Lennon and even Rooney. The combo of two similar strikers (he and Defoe first half, he and Bent second half) didn’t necessarily give evidnece of a particularly promising nascent partnership, but having two of them scuttling about seemed to keep the German defence occupied, in a way in which a lone striker might not necessarily have done, given the lack of attacking intent from central midfield.
Downing played well. I feel unclean having written that, but no denying it, his natural left-footedness was an asset, and his distribution was good. Neither winger was afraid to drift ten yards infield occasionally either, with credit due here to the attacking full-backs for overlapping. The contributions of the wingers and forwards, all of whom looked like they knew exactly what their jobs were, meant that there was little need for Barry and Carrick to join in the attacks.
Upson looked assured in defence (and can now join Anthony Gardner and Jermaine Jeans on the list of greats who has scored for his country).
And finally, last night also taught us that a moment’s lapse in concentration at international level is likely to be punished. Worth remembering.
An abridged version of this badboy was also published on the letters page of football365.com: