U.S. negates England's midfield
RUSTENBURG, South Africa -- In many ways, England's draw against the U.S. was a tale of two goalkeepers: on the one hand
Green aside, Capello's big selection issue was who to field instead of
He opted for
Milner was booked for his second ugly tackle and, as Capello said, he had to be withdrawn before he was sent off. Being generous, it may be that Milner was hampered by the virus that kept him out of training earlier in the week, and it was noticeable that within minutes of
The Gerrard-Lampard axis in the middle of a four-man midfield never really convinces, because the two are too similar, both preferring to attack the opposition box than defend their own. That certainly wasn't England's biggest worry, but its inadequacy perhaps was a (minor) contributory factor in Dempsey's goal. Again and again when the two have played together, England have been vulnerable to players attacking the hole that tends to emerge in front of the back four when there is no natural holder, and although Gerrard almost got back to cover, it was from precisely that weak spot that Dempsey struck the decisive shot.
The bigger worry about the center, though, was that Gerrard and Lampard were never fully able to impose themselves on
This was, as it was always going to be, a dogged game between two athletic teams who operate in similar shapes.
And that, of course, is what makes Barry's injury such a frustration for England. If he were there, he could play alongside Lampard with Gerrard to the left, breaking the natural lines of 4-4-2 into something approximating to a 4-2-3-1. There is always a tendency with England for players to remain stolidly in position, but Gerrard on the left will always cut infield. That creates a vacuum that both encourages
Rooney also had a quiet night, which was partly down to the excellence of
The U.S.' midfield takes credit that Gerrard and Lampard were unable to get forward more, but equally England could have made it harder for them by drawing Rooney deeper, so they either overmanned Bradley and Clark, or drew one of the two center backs out of position. In the second half, as he grew increasingly frustrated, Rooney did drop deeper, and was rather more effective, but he was hamstring by the fact that neither
The one clear chance that did fall England's way after halftime came to Heskey as Lennon slipped him through. Having the ball at his feet with just the goalkeeper to beat, though, is not Heskey's forte. He lurched on like a man dragging a heavy tyre round his waist and then, as though panic prevented him properly assessing his options, smacked his finish as hard as he could, straight at Howard. He will, doubtless, be mocked for that, but Heskey was probably England's most effective player, holding the ball up well and laying on the goal.
Essentially, though, this was two 4-4-2s that largely cancelled each other out, and given Slovenia and Algeria both prefer that system, the group is likely to feature further attritional battles. England can change that but only if Barry is fit. To its great relief, he should be back for Friday's game against Algeria.