England’s missing piece of the jigsaw

England have been solid and consistent at recent international tournaments and, with the exception of Euro 2000, have always qualified for the knock-out stages at least. But the three-lions have had difficulty in raising their game, and have often been un-done by teams with far more flair and energy who have played their way through our defence. We have been made to look static and boring, stuck in our rigid 4-4-2 system and exposed to be clunky and unable to test teams of real quality.

England were left watching as Mesut Ozil and Thomas Muller ran rings around our side in 2010. The Germans were seemingly able to find acres of space between two distinct defence and midfield channels. Although England may plead they were hard done by with a disallowed goal, the Germans were by far the better team and demonstrated a fluid and creative style England couldn’t compete with.

It was a similar scenario in 2002, when Ronaldinho was uncontainable for Brazil and whilst it took a penalty shoot-out for Italy and Portugal to beat us in recent tournaments, they were the better side in each game.

Where England have struggled is in their creativity in the final third. Not since Paul Gascoigne have England had claim to a world-class attacking midfielder, and this lack of play-making ability has cost the Lions. Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard have both been great goal-scorers at club-level, but on the international stage, neither has really set the world alight. In the classic 4-4-2 formation, both players have dropped deeper than they would at club level and England have often been found wanting up for creativity and inspiration.

 The Lions often look to their wing-play for creativity, and in Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade Chamberlain, it could be said the lions have players of genuine quality who can cause any team trouble. But solid foundations and good wingers may not prove to be enough to go all the way in Brazil and even a free-scoring striker would be largely ineffective if he was offered no service. Look at previous World Cup winners, and the comparisons with England show where we have been found wanting. Spain had Andreas Iniesta, Italy had Francesco Totti, Brazil had Rivaldo and France had Zinedine Zidane. England have offered, well…Trevor Sinclair and Gareth Barry.

It is time the traditional 4-4-2 is ditched. Although Coach Roy Hodgson is a great believer in the system, the formation has often been England’s downfall and has prevented some genuine talents from shining. Using Scott Parker and Jack Wilshire as defensive midfielders in a 4-2-3-1 could allow any number of players to push-up behind the striker. Wayne Rooney would be an obvious choice, as he often plays this role for Manchester United, whilst Gerrard, Lampard and James Milner could also be good choices. Wilfred Zaha has been dangerous in this position for Crystal Palace, and with a season of Premiership football under his belt, he could be a weapon for the Lions come next summer.

While England have been able to grind out qualifiers against Easter European minnows, they have often been boring and lacklustre on the biggest stage of all. Now is the time to step-up and make some changes.

Will Mata