The World Cup was a torrid time for us England fans. Any pre-tournament optimism proved to be dumbfounded and pessimism possibly wasn’t enough as we dejectedly boarded our trains to work sans-free-newspaper for fear of one glimpse of the embarassed face of Roy Hodgson splattered across the back pages triggering a full on breakdown in the midst of our fellow commuters, following our unenthusiastic performance in Brazil.
The Lions roar faded into but a whimper with the only silver lining to be lazily plucked from the otherwise abject attempt at glory being the fairly promising performances from a handful of starlets.
This, combined with the retirement of stalwarts Gerrard and Lampard and the desperate need for a change of philosophy, has ushered in a new generation of England players which has so far been refreshingly successful. The team now has unrestricted pace and flare, and despite an evident drop in the overall quality of player, we’ve won all six games since Brazil.
There is little to criticise Roy Hodgson’s men for currently, exemplifying the schizoprenic nature of the back pages and warming our hearts for the bitterly wet and cold winter ahead. Of course, we musn’t get too ahead of ourselves, although we will because we’re England fans and and the hope and pride that burns inside us is too strong for us to be constantly downtrodden.
There’s plenty reason for England fans to be feeling content. We convincingly beat the Scottish on their turf for one; a contrast to the reverse fixture at Wembley where Rickie Lambert spared our blushes in a predictably fiery encounter. But on Tuesday night we saw our boys control the game and keep their nerve in the hostility of Celtic Park. The character we showed after conceding a sloppy late goal to the left-back Robertson (who took his goal well, and deserved it, too) by putting together a sumptuous passing move for Rooney’s second of the evening was immensely satisfying.
We showed similar maturity in Saturday’s encounter with Slovenia, coming from a goal down and stepping up our game. And the performances have been solid throughout the team too, particularly with Nathaniel Clyne staking his claim to the previously uninspiring right-back slot, and glimpses of Jack Wilshere’s potential shining through in a new, deeper-lying position.
It is these two positions that go some way to explaining the sudden upturn in England’s fortunes. Since the loss of Gary Neville from the side, we’ve been hideously under-fulfilled at right full-back. The infamously inconsistent Glen Johnson offered us little in the way of stability in that position but now he’s finally had sufficient competition and been dropped, the defence looks a lot more comofrtable and the team more balanced. Chambers, Stones, and now Clyne, have all looked strong enough candidates, demonstrating the old adage that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and with former England teams having a wealth of experience available across the other positions of the back four, it is a promising sign that we now have a similar situation at right-back too.
It is Wilshere’s form that is somewhat curious. Many critics of the Arsenal man have questioned his temperament, inparticularly concerning his ability to play the holding midfield role for both club and country. However, he is flourishing at the base of the England midfield, playing some delightful passes to his team-mates and upping his contribution to the team. Some might argue that Hodgson has found Wilshere’s natural position. Perhaps. But there is something larger at work.
Like many players, Wilshere is a player who has to feel loved; he gains twice as much confidence from having a good game, but conversely loses twice as much from a bad one. Therefore, it is important for Wilshere to be in his zone. This is where the change in system comes into play.
Inspired by the fluidity of Liverpool’s formation of the 2013-14 season, partly due to the inclusion of young Reds in the team, Hodgson has opted to introduce Brendan Rodgers’ philosophies to the England camp. The diamond in midfield, which proved to be a success for the vast majority of last season, has allowed Jack Wilshere and others to prove their worth.
While Wilshere may not be an out-and-out, Nigel de Jong type defensive midfielder who will steamroll anyone who gets in his way, the new formation allows him to dictate the play whilst remaining appropriately defensive. This is because the diamond includes two other central midfielders, Jordan Henderson and James Milner for instance, who run their proverbial buttocks off, whether it be through attacking movement or defensive positioning. This means Wilshere is protected from having the onus of being the man to break up play, something which is not his forte, as well as having space to spray over-the-top balls, like he did to Oxlade-Chamberlain to devastating effect against the Scots, due to the other midfielders making it for him.
It also means we can afford to play two up front but not in the flat and stale 4-4-2 of yesteryear. This is vitally important when you consider our strikers. Danny Welbeck is much more effective when part of a strikeforce and not played out of position, as is his former Manchester United team-mate and now-captain, Wayne Rooney, who noticeably becomes a more ardent player when deployed up top. And with a number of star strikers to choose from, it would be asinine to pick just one.
Going forward, it is imperative that we stick to this fluid formation that afford our creative players more freedom and continue the admirable new trend of calling up players that are in-form instead of by-price tag. Charlie Austin definitely deserves a chance, as well as maybe Mark Noble. Perhaps the most important thing we can take from our dreadful summer campaign will be the opportunities afforded to otherwise overlooked players and a lack of expectancy, which is arguably what held us back with the superstars.