England Are Rubbish Without Arsenal's Wilshire & Other Musings From England v Ireland...
1.Phil Jones’ Versatility Isn’t A Bad Thing
As a Blackburn fan it’s was a relief to see Jones get the chance to prove himself at centre back for Man United towards the end of the season. Despite numerous shouting matches with United fans about him being played out of position earlier in the campaign, it was a pleasant surprise to see Jones brought on at right back if only as a means to highlight deficiencies elsewhere in the squad. While Glen Johnson made some superb overlapping moves with Walcott, Jones’ introduction showed that England have other options on the flanks without being exposed to the frailties of Johnson’s defending which arguably cost England a goal. Alternatively, Johnson’s defensive burden could be nullified in a 4-3-3 with Jones (or another) employed in central midfield, moving across to cover when Johnson overlaps a la Mascherano and Alves.
Criticism of Hodgson's use of Jones’ out of position is possibly a little misguided, no matter how well intended. Were England to make it to the World Cup, the importance of the versatility of players like him will be paramount.
2.Ireland’s Got Talent
Everton’s Seamus Coleman had a more impressive first half of the season than the second but the Irish fullback will surely be pleased to put in a man of the match performance before the summer break. He provided the goal with his inch-perfect cross as well as denying Ashley Cole with a great block at the other end. Great energy to say it was an end-of-season friendly, assured and lively throughout; he will no doubt star for Ireland for years to come.
Another young Irishman plying his trade in the North West- Wigan’s James McCarthy- stood out tonight from a rather congested midfield. Up against two of the best in Carrick and Lampard, as well as Rooney dropping deep, McCarthy showed awareness and maturity on the ball and made a nuisance of himself off it. It will be very surprising if the centre midfielder doesn’t get snapped up by a top Premier League club during the transfer window.
Honourable mention to David Forde: the Millwall keeper showed his experience under pressure and made a couple of fantastic saves.
3.Friendlies Are Dull…
…at least at the end of the season they are. To be fair to the two sides the performances weren’t lacking in effort for a friendly, but that was possibly owing to the history of the tie. At times though, the game did exactly what it said on the tin; 22 blokes who’ve played a full season of football including one man -Daniel Sturridge (stretchered off)- who’s season started/finished at the London Olympics.
4.England Have Striking Issues
Granted Carroll was out injured but even with him fit England hardly have an abundance of talent going forward. Sturridge looked good tonight before being stretchered off but he can be inconsistent. His replacement Jermaine Defoe put in a laboured performance, lacking any real goal threat. Walcott was encouraging but Hodgson seems intent on keeping him on the right despite his troubled relationship with crossing. It seems puzzling with his bursts of pace and ability to find gaps as well as his improved finishing over the past couple of seasons that he is not considered for a more central role.
Finally this leaves the conundrum of Wayne Rooney. The United forward was criticised for his lack of fitness by some, however he was probably England’s best player tonight. He played the number ten role well; dropping deep between the lines, distributing swiftly and intelligently. The problem lies with where he fits in with the formation- does Hodgson stick with the 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1 of this evening and hope that England can conjure up some more imagination that was lacking elsewhere tonight or go back to 4-3-3 leaving the midfield to do the creative stuff and Rooney as a lone striker but depriving England of Rooney as a number 10?
5.Carrick and Lampard are not the central midfield to take England forward…
…At least not alone anyway. Lampard displayed his usual eye for goal and instinct as to when to charge forward but he also made a few ‘Hollywood’ passes that went awry. Carrick kept a good tempo but it wasn’t the same Carrick who has helped to guide United to a Premier League this year. He has been outstanding for The Reds and has often made the game look a damn sight easier than it should, however he was caught on the ball a noticeable amount this evening and perhaps needed an extra outlet.
That’s not to say they can’t play together but the absence of Jack Wilshire’s motor and creativity was evident in the centre of the park. England’s best hope could lie with the aforementioned midfield 3 of Carrick, Arsenal's Wilshire and one other; either Lampard or Gerrard as a link to the forward.