Tedious systems threaten to stifle England again
By Bradley King
With the Football Association celebrating a century and a half of existence this year, nostalgic stares into its glittering past are to be expected and eagerly anticipated. But England's tactical relapse on Wednesday evening was a returning memory that the majority of supporters will find less welcome.
At face value, a 1-1 friendly draw at home to the Republic of Ireland was not disastrous by any means; particularly at the tail end of a punishing Premier League campaign where bodies have taken a pummelling. But the manner of the result, and the fashion in which Roy Hodgson's men went about their business, has left a bitter aftertaste ahead of an important six months for the national team.
Three of England's four remaining World Cup qualifiers are at Wembley and if this performance was anything to go by, the matches against Montenegro and Poland in particular could be titanic struggles.
Despite having varying amounts of success with a 4-2-3-1 system in Hodgson's so far year-long reign, the decision was to revert to a 4-4-2 against Ireland. The quintessential rigid formation; in theory balancing attack and defence and making it simple for each player to know their role. The British safety net.
In practice, it stifles creativity - particularly at international level, where you will be hard pressed to find a team in the top 50 of the FIFA rankings who play their football in such a predictable, telegraphed manner as that which England exhibited on Wednesday.
And with no apparent sense of irony, Hodgson told reporters after the game that England "play 4-4-2 in the same way Borussia Dortmund play 4-4-2". Having enjoyed Jurgen Klopp's exhilarating style of play over the past few years, most would disagree that the execution is far from similar.
With exciting, explosive young players like Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jack Wilshere and Daniel Sturridge at their disposal, England don't want to asphyxiate their assets with inflexible structure and banal systems. If that is to be the case then forget about Brazil next year - a whole generation could be wasted again.