Camp Focus – England – Defeat has silver linings

In picking Andy Carroll, Fabio Capello made a bold move. There is no doubting Carroll’s qualities but with the much publicised personal problems it was a decision the Italian had to get right. Capello may have made the right decision but his players did not show the same boldness in their use of Carroll.

Far too often in Wednesday’s encounter the ball was hit long towards the Newcastle striker giving him little chance considering the minimal support. When the likes of Steven Gerrard and James Milner were able to get close to Carroll, a knock down from the 21-year-old proved a decisive bit of play, but this was few and far between. Carroll spent most of his debut battling with the French centre halves for hopeful balls in the air from Joleon Lescott or Kieran Gibbs. Lescott in particular was guilty of looking to Carroll at every opportunity when a simple ball through midfield would have provided a much better option.

A striker as imposing in the air as Carroll can be a real benefit to teams but it should not become the sole game plan. The Newcastle striker is adept on the floor and has proved a real handful to Premier League defences when attacking them on the ground. England should have utlisied this facet of Carroll’s game far more. There is no doubting his aerial ability is a huge danger to the opposition, but by working the ball through midfield and getting players in advanced areas, it could have been used in much more dangerous positions. If the likes of Milner, Theo Walcott, Ashley Young or Adam Johnson could have received the ball in wide areas higher up the pitch, they may have been able to provide Carroll with the service his ability deserves. Instead he was left to forage on scraps all night.

In continually bypassing the midfield, Jordan Henderson was given little opportunity to slot into his customary passing game which has seen him so sought after this season. Henderson has come in for some criticism for a display with saw him lost at times in the second half but it is little wonder when the continual out from the back four was to search for Carroll rather than playing to feet. There should be little blame laid at his feet as when slotting in next to Gerrard, Henderson would be forgiven for thinking keeping it simple and trusting the Liverpool man to force the issue is his job. It was difficult on the night for Henderson as such a poor performance from Gerrard highlighted not only the lack of spark from the vice captain but also the lack of any creativity from deeper areas in midfield.

There were few plusses on a night which saw France much the better team and the one much more advanced in rebuilding since the World Cup. Carroll’s performance was certainly positive, however, so was that from Johnson. The Manchester City winger must be wondering what more he has to do for both club and country to get a regular starting berth, but his second half performance on Wednesday should put him in pole position for a start in the first international of 2011. Coming from the right flank, Johnson made much more of an impression than the ineffective Walcott, looking like England’s most likely point of attack. The confidence shown in his early City career has transcended into an England shirt as he is continually willing to run at his full-back either cutting inside on his favored left foot or taking them on out wide. At all levels of the game full-backs hate a winger who takes them on and international football is no different. Walcott may have pace to burn, but when in tight situations does not possess the requisite nous in his game to work his defender and get himself into dangerous areas.

This is a real plus of Johnson’s game which often sees him getting the better of his full-back and wide midfielder when they double up on him. If Johnson draws two players towards him in this manner and comes out on top, space is created in other attacking areas. Using him on the right side looks a real plus for Capello and something which he has to start with in England’s next competitive encounter in March.

It may have been a disappointing night in a match which many believed was a great chance to beat France, but there was much Capello and his men will have learned from the encounter. The value of playing a team with the quality of France may well become apparent when England next have to play an opponent with the movement and technical ability of Laurent Blanc’s side. However, nothing will be gained if the mistakes in selection and tactics are not learnt from.

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