Enough has been made of this England side and their inability to keep the ball, but that sorry notion sunk to even greater levels in Warsaw, as Roy Hodgson’s men not only couldn’t keep the ball for any period of time, but seemed to give up on even trying in the second half.
Johnson – Jagielka – Lescott – Cole
Milner – Carrick – Gerrard – Cleverley
Rooney – Defoe
In July, Sir Alex Ferguson was singing Michael Carrick’s praises, telling the Telegraph: “If
Unfortunately for England, this is far from the case. Carrick was bypassed for much of the game in the middle of the park on Wednesday afternoon, and when he did get on the ball, he was largely sloppy, making poor decisions. Not that he was the only one, but the onus was on Carrick to pick the ball up from the defenders and use it wisely and consistently. His unreliable play set the ball rolling for England in terms of ball retention, with Wayne Rooney, James Milner and Tom Cleverley all culpable as well further up the pitch.
The ball retention issue has surrounded the side for some time now, with the quarter-final against Italy at Euro 2012 a particularly damning indictment of how far behind other nations England are when in possession. The ‘English players aren’t taught to keep the ball excuse’ doesn’t fully stack up either. There may be an element of truth in that – compared to the Barcelona players’ upbringing, it is undeniable – but there is no reason why this England team can’t find one another and keep the ball, in order to relieve some pressure, at the very least.
This defence mechanism of dropping so deep and firing aimless balls forward when trying to protect a lead is becoming far too repetitive for a side blessed with such quality. It’s also the most counter-productive way of keeping a lead, as is plain for everyone to see – including the players themselves. It poses the question of bravery then. The simple fact that no-one is truly brave enough to step forward and want the ball when facing their own goal in an attempt to play it out.
This isn’t a case of trying to replicate Spain or Barcelona, by playing it out of all kinds of situations, with their own goal-line barely off limits for them. There were numerous occasions against Poland when a defender had enough time to look up and assess the situation, before realising there was no-one coming forward to collect the ball, or if there was, he didn’t want to put his head on the block and pass it to them. No trust + no belief = smash it as far away as possible and act astonished when it comes back just seconds later.
Poor Jermain Defoe didn’t stand a chance – especially as Wayne Rooney decided to recreate his form of the 2010 World Cup, where he struggled to even control the ball, let alone link up with anybody. The fact the Manchester United was replaced at such a vital time perhaps showing he is not the talisman the side need and hope him to be.
It’s fair to say, this England side is nowhere near challenging for any kind of international honours anytime soon, unless something changes drastically. Jack Wilshere can potentially make a big difference, but then Steven Gerrard, England’s best player on the night, and the player to show the most form in an England shirt for much of the last year, will be 34 by the time Brazil 2014 comes around. His influence will be on the wane and others have to step up by then.
Right now though, England must escape from a group they are making look decidedly tricky now, with awkward trips to Ukraine and Montenegro still to come, on top of the fact visits of Poland and Montenegro to Wembley don’t seem like a given anymore.
Poland: Tyton, Piszczek, Wasilewski, Wawrzyniak, Glik, Polanski, Krychowiak, Wszolek (Mierzejewski, 63), Grosicki (Milik, 82), Obraniak (Borysiuk, 90), Lewandowski
England: Hart, Glen Johnson, Jagielka, Lescott, Cole, Milner, Carrick, Gerrard, Cleverley, Rooney (Oxlade-Chamberlain, 73), Defoe (Welbeck, 67)