Injury to to both Gareth Barry and Frank Lampard means England are almost certain to start Euro 2012 with Steven Gerrard and Scott Parker as their central midfield two.
Hodgson’s well documented obssession with shape was already much in evidence against Norway at the weekend. No matter what the combinations in midfield (and by the end of the game there had been many) England maintained two banks of four impressively throughout.
Gerrard played his part in this, but his tendency to constantly ball-watch and not look over his shoulder was noticeable. Against better opposition likely to have an extra man in midfield this will surely get punished.
Still, his positional play was a marked improvement on his performance in South Africa under Fabio Capello. The Italian had Gerrard stationed in left midfield at the World Cup but the Liverpool man seemingly wandered all over the pitch at will.
Within four minutes of the opener against USA, Gerrard had scored – cutting in from the right hand corner of the box and stabbing his shot past Tim Howard. Everyone remembers Rob Green’s howler as he fumbled Clint Dempsey’s shot but it was Gerrard in a central midfield position who got caught wrong side and then turned inside out by the American before the shot came in. You can see the highlights here.
England managed to keep clean sheets against poorer opposition in the next two games but then came the Germany debacle. Again the enduring memory was of someone else’s inability to deal with a non-threatening situation – this time a blatantly un-fit Barry wobbling after Mesut Ozil.
But watch the video here and you’ll see goals two, three and four break in England’s left midfield position. Each time Gerrard is too high up the pitch not anticipating or reacting to his team losing the ball. By the time the ball is in the net he is still on the half-way line walking or trotting back as the huge space he’s left get’s exploited. His team-mates get pulled out of position in desperate attempts to plug the gap.
In that game it was Gerrard’s brilliant cross from a free-kick that Matthew Upson headed in. Therein lies the dilemma. In the absence of Wayne Rooney for the first two games, England will be reliant on Gerrard’s attacking prowess. Many would like to see him playing off the front man and free of much defensive responsibility. But there seems little chance of that now the squad looks even freer of quality in the middle.
England can only pray Roy Hodgson has enough time to work on Gerrard’s defensive discipline before the big one against France on June 11.
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