England Analysis – England 2-1 Hungary – Gerrard’s brilliance spares Capello further criticism

Gerrard 69, 73

Jagielka (o.g) 62

England were once again at the wrong end of a debatable call from the linesman but an inspired second-half performance from Steven Gerrard lifted his country away from further adversity and saved Fabio Capello from added pressure.

The captain’s four minute brace had it all. His first thundered past Gabor Kiraly leaving him static, admiring the finish. Yet his second showed determination, skill and a ruthless finish, qualities many had distanced from England performances this summer.

Starting XI

1 Hart

2 G Johnson – 5 Jagielka – 6 Terry – 3 Cole

8 Lampard – 11 Barry

7 Walcott – 4 Gerrard – 9 A Johnson

10 Rooney

45 – Dawson on for Terry
Gibbs on for Cole
Zamora on for Lampard
Young on for Walcott
66 – Milner on for Rooney
82 – Wilshere on for Gerrard

With criticism still ringing in the ears of Fabio Capello after a disappointing World Cup, the team he picked to lead England into the new era had a familiar look about it, too familiar for some fans. Yet the Italian removed the shackles to the system. Wayne Rooney was the lone front man and Gerrard was deployed in a role just behind him, a tactic that England fans were convinced would change their fortunes in South Africa. With Theo Walcott and Adam Johnson reinstated on the flanks – supported by Glen Johnson and Ashley Cole behind them – the side had pace and attacking intent in wide areas.

Phil Jagielka was the only one to start that was not selected for the World Cup and the unfortunate own goal that has been attributed to him (despite video footage proving it inconclusive) is a mere smudge on a competent performance. In the early exchanges the Everton defender was an attacking threat from set plays, and more importantly, defended responsibly. He did not lose possession in dangerous areas or attempt anything beyond his capabilities – he simply won the ball and fed his full-back, allowing England to build another attack. He was strong and composed – and despite this being only his fourth cap, showed that he could blossom into an international player at the heart of the defence.

The first link between Gerrard and Rooney led to England putting the ball in the net. Gerrard burst from the centre circle and slipped the ball to Rooney, who calmly beat Gabor Kiraly but the linesman’s flag was correctly raised. The central axis of Gerrard and Rooney – flavoured with Walcott’s instinct to receive the ball and run at his full-back – gave the side a fluidity unseen for many a year. That fluidity stemmed from England’s movement off the ball. There was no finger pointing from those not in possession. Everyone had one simple task, move into space to help your team-mate retain possession. Simple but effective. Not only were the Three Lions able to retain possession with ease, they were able to incisively pass through a crowded Hungarian midfield and join Rooney in attack. Yet after an encouraging opening 25 minutes, England lulled as the game drifted towards half-time. In the aftermath of Capello questioning the mental strength of his charges in the build-up to this game, England failed to apply themselves and dictate the game following a promising start.

The change in formation lasted no longer than the interval as Bobby Zamora’s England debut saw him partner Rooney up front. Yet how the Three Lions restarted the game contrasted their usual performances within the 4-4-2 system. With Ashley Young entering the fray, England retained their ability from wide areas from the first half. Young and Adam Johnson, who moved over to the right flank, with Glen Johnson and Kieran Gibbs – making his senior debut – overlapping were pacy, direct but frustrating as England attacks consistently broke down due to the quartet failing to find a white shirt when crossing.

The result in the greater context means little, although England stepped out at Wembley into a situation where it felt they could not win. A victory over a Hungarian outfit is expected, yet failure to do so would have brought further backlash. However the biggest result from an England perspective was Capello’s willingness to utilise this friendly as a chance to explore things. He changed formation, then reverted back to blood new talent in a system they feel comfortable with. And after Rooney and Gerrard were rested in the latter stages, England changed again, Jack Wilshere this time the link between midfield and lone front man Bobby Zamora. The debutant displays were impressive, most notably Gibbs, whose pace injected England back into life. Zamora was twice brilliantly denied a goal on his first appearance and Michael Dawson rallied after his error allowed Zoltan Gera the chance that lead to the controversial opening goal. A win against a Hungary side (who almost took Portugal the distance in World Cup qualifying) gives England something to build on ahead of the European Championships qualifying campaign, and with a number of newcomers pressing their case to be included, Capello has to decide to whether to persevere in challenging this new generation on the international stage.

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