Big game tonight, England have to avoid defeat to have a chance of progressing to the last 16 of the World Cup. A draw might suffice, but it would be nice for England supporters (and novel...) if the national team could finish the group with back to back victories.
There was quite a lot of froth surrounding the defeat to Italy. These days the hacks place unity of opinion very highly and there are very few voices of dissent but they were broadly correct, that in patches England played quite well. Raheem Sterling was excellent, when he had the ball and the forwards also worked well when they didn't have the ball. However, the Italians are masters of tactical preparation and their decision to attack Leighton Baines as opposed to Glen Johnson was very effective.
Steven Gerrard was never in the game, Jordan Henderson didn't feature, Wayne Rooney didn't provide any degree of cover for the hapless Baines and the back four looked shaky as a unit. On top of this we leaked a goal from a set piece and our marking for the winner was all over the place. So, all in all, if the press had decided to go for the jugular, there was ample evidence to do so. However, I get the impression that the media like Roy Hodgson and therefore he's being cut a good heft of slack.
The Manchester United punditry crew (count them on BBC - there's enough for a seven a side team), have been keen to talk about the undue pressure of attention on Wayne Rooney. The agenda seems to be, not whether or not he should play, but where. Rooney's goal record at major competitions, with the exception of Euro 2004, is abject. But he is fit and he has had a good season. In a way, he's the apposite of Danny Wellbeck, who is actually effective for England but very ordinary for his club side. Despite this, Rooney should play and he should start behind Sturridge. I think that in the unlikely event of Rooney scoring, he'll score again, he looks like he's suffering from a sharp bout of constipation.
The keeper is a no-brainer and I would stick with the same back four. I'd play Sterling - Rooney - Sturridge - Wellbeck again. However, I'd change the midfield, rather than the Liverpool duo of Gerrard and Henderson (one can't run, the other isn't good enough), I would pick Lampard and Milner. This won't happen of course, Hodgson will definitely pick Gerrard and Henderson again. But the manager can improve on his tactical performance and substitution decisions. Roy has said, quite rightly, that World Cup games are 14 man matches. Therefore, when it's not working - change it. That means that Barkley and Wilshere should feature earlier if and when England's passing gets stodgy.
Having three or four mobile, technical strikers is one thing, but if you can't get the ball to them, they're not much use to England. This Uruguay team has two great strikers in Suarez and Cavani, but their midfield is pedestrian and they are missing two defenders (one injured, one banned), so the game is there for the taking.
By Ian Byrne
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