The fourteen players who featured for England last night are the undoubted core of Roy Hodgson’s plans. Only Liverpool's Jordan Henderson and Tottenham's Jermaine Defoe, who both had small cameos in the opener against France, have appeared at this tournament. After sealing a date with Italy in the quarter–finals by scraping past Ukraine last night, we review who has impressed and who has disappointed for England so far.
Anyone with even a passing interest in England’s fortunes before Euro 2012 would have been vociferously praying/crossing their fingers for Manchester City’s Joe Hart to stay injury and suspension free throughout the tournament. Not only was Hart outstanding for the Premier League champions, the only alternatives were USA favourite Rob Green and 19 year old Jack Butland.
Hart remains the only viable candidate here, but he has not been the colossal last wall of defence many expected. It would be unfair to say he’s made outright mistakes, but the suspicion remains that Hart could have dealt with all three of the goals England conceded in the tournament. Last night against Ukraine was his first clean sheet and perhaps his best performance for England. Fans can be at least glad he is not Andriy Pyatov.
Rating – 7
The moment perfectly demonstrated why Hodgson wants a deep defensive line; Terry is slow. One good ball behind and he is exposed.
The general consensus remains confused on Liverpool right back Glen Johnson. Particularly against Sweden, Johnson made some stunning last-ditch tackles that on the surface impressed, yet left questions about why he found himself in such a position in the first place. Johnson performed efficiently last night but it is worth remembering that Ukraine’s best chance of the night, (Artem Milevskiy’s second half header) came from a cross that Johnson should have prevented being delivered in the first place.
Rating - 6
Cole was unlucky not to grab his first England goal last night, forcing a rare smart save from Andriy Pyatov. It would be a just reward for a player who continues to perform with outstanding quality for his country. It was notable that the hairiest moments for England last night all came from their right side. Cole quickly got to grips with Gusev and Yarmolenko, forcing Blokhin to change things round to no avail.
Rating - 8
Terry, alongside defensive partner Lescott, has rarely put a foot wrong all tournament until he was embarrassingly caught out for what should have been Ukraine’s equaliser. Until this point Terry had been absolutely imperious for England. He has achieved an average of tackles per game (2.3) than any other England defender. Even more impressive is his total of 13 interceptions so far, the second highest number in the tournament and ten more than Joleon Lescott. Yet, if it wasn’t for a terrible decision, Terry would have been solely responsible for a Ukraine goal. The moment perfectly demonstrated why Hodgson wants a deep defensive line; Terry is slow. One good ball behind and he is exposed. Pirlo and Balotelli must be licking their lips.
Rating – 7
There was no “we can win it!” or “we fear no one” when Gerrard was asked about how far England can go, just a simple “we’ll see.”
Lescott’s stats may be inferior to Terry’s, yet there are few non-biased England fans who would tell you that his performances have been any less impressive. Against Ukraine he saved his teammates blushes and mopped up in a few hairy situations, particularly when Joe Hart flapped at swerving drive from Konoplyanka late in the second half. Lescott has also impressed on the ball in tight situations, preferring to look for Gerrard and Parker rather than punting it out.
Rating - 7
From the moment when James Milner put his golden opportunity wide in the opening half of England’s campaign, he has never looked threatening. His only notable attacking input last night was a pathetic shot from Rooney’s pullback after a promising breakaway. When good crosses have come from the right side of midfield, they’ve come from Gerrard. To put it shortly, Milner has been useless going forward. He only remains in the team by virtue of his tackling. Milner has made six tackles (good but not outstanding) but Walcott has not registered one during his time on the field.
Rating – 5
ITV treated his “rustiness” as some sort of serious illness from which Rooney was recovering.
Parker is the epitome of this England side. Dogged and determined, disciplined and defiant. Like many in the squad, Parker is not a technically gifted footballer. There were moments against Ukraine when the ball was bouncing off Parker’s foot with alarming irregularity, particularly in the final third were he has often looked lost for England despite occupying such positions for West Ham and Charlton. Yet Parker remains England’s reliable man in the middle. His selfless defensive work has come to be expected, but he is also England’s pass master having made more than any one else (151) and with the second highest success rate (88.1 % compared to Danny Welbeck’s 94.1%).
Rating – 7
Gerrard has been England’s outstanding performer. Not only have these been his best performances in an England shirt, they have been the best from an England captain in a generation. 60% of England’s goals have come from a Gerrard assist. And what assists they’ve been: each one a cross delivered to absolute perfection. Influential all over the pitch, the Liverpool midfielder continually relieved pressure with some perfectly hit long balls to Rooney and Young. Furthermore, there has been little nauseating chest thumping or ridiculous braggadocio. Instead, he’s led by example by performing exactly what his manager wants from him. There was no “we can win it!” or “we fear no one” when asked about how far England can go, just a simple “we’ll see.”
Rating – 9
Not just a head to aim for, Carroll demonstrated against Sweden, and even in his short cameo last night, that he is adept at linking well with a partner and breaking up play in the opposition defence.
The pre-tournament friendlies suggested that Ashley Young would be England’s main source of creativity in Ukraine. A goal against Norway and an assist against Belgium, Young arrived into Ukraine a man on form. However, at the Donbass Arena yesterday, Young made it three disappointing matches out of three.
Perhaps he is hindered by Hodgson’s system, or perhaps he peaked too early. Whatever the reason, Young has struggled to perform to the levels we have seen he is capable of. His first half cross onto Rooney’s head, a chance that should have been converted, was an all too rare example of attacking threat from the Manchester United man.
Rating – 5
Welbeck’s worst performance came against what was expected to be his easiest opposition in Ukraine last night. Ukraine’s defence was expected to be vulnerable to Welbeck’s pace yet the Manchester United forward failed to effectively run the channels as he had done previously. Perhaps more disappointing, however, was the lack of successful link up play with Rooney. The much touted “understanding” between the two never materialised. It should be remembered, however, that against France and Sweden Welbeck was outstanding, doing very little wrong and a lot right; especially THAT finish.
Rating – 7
By virtue of scoring a two yard tap-in, Rooney became England’s match winner in Donetsk. Very little else, however, was worthy of such a title. There were only flashes, a little dribble here or a nice touch there, that suggested a messiah had returned. ITV treated his “rustiness” as some sort of serious illness from which Rooney was recovering. Yet Rooney is not injured, in fact he has had an extended rest, he should have been fresher and sharper than the rest of his team. It was a start, but more will be needed.
Rating – 6
There has not been the Michael Owen against Argentina moment we were hoping for, yet there is still time, and Oxlade-Chamberlain has impressed with his maturity and reliability on the pitch.
The “super-sub” is a tag Walcott may not be entirely happy with, yet it is befitting of the Arsenal winger. Against Sweden Walcott was exactly that, super, when he rescued England from the bench. In comparison, Walcott’s appearance against Ukraine was muted. Yet it was a far less open game and one England were not approaching with such urgency. Still, he had a wonderful opportunity to get on the scoresheet yet Oxlade-Chamberlain failed to spot his run during a late breakaway.
Rating - 8
England find themselves in the difficult situation where two of their best performers are primarily considered as impact subs. In the eyes of many, Carroll was there just for those panic moments, when England had to launch the kitchen sink at the opposition in brutish fashion. Yet the £35 million Liverpool man has provided real, genuine competition for Danny Welbeck and even Wayne Rooney. Not just a head to aim for, Carroll demonstrated against Sweden, and even in his short cameo last night, that he is adept at linking well with a partner and breaking up play in the opposition defence.
Rating – 8
In his time in the pitch, Oxlade-Chamberlain has performed admirably for such a young player on such a big stage. There has not been the Michael Owen against Argentina moment we were hoping for, yet there is still time, and Oxlade-Chamberlain has impressed with his maturity and reliability on the pitch. Perhaps his greatest contribution, however, is his infectious playful attitude that seems to be wearing off on the rest of the squad.
Rating – 6
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