Cautious optimism is not usually a phrase that can be used to describe England fans but even after their team’s 2-1 defeat to Italy, this is what many fans are feeling. Despite the defeat, there were plenty of positives to take from the previous game as England ready themselves for their crunch match with Uruguay; who are still reeling from their shock opening loss to Costa Rica. Not everything went to plan and there are things to improve upon, but England must hold their heads high going into the do or die match on Thursday.
Let’s start with Raheem Sterling. He was England’s brightest spark on Saturday, causing Italy all manner of problems. The entire nation, including the BBC, thought he had scored a few minutes in when he fired a shot into the shot netting and things only got better from there. He attacked with venom, taking players on at will. He also delivered more crosses than any other player on the pitch. After watching Joel Campbell and the rest of the Costa Rican team pick Uruguay apart with their speed of attack, it appears that Sterling is one of the first names on the team sheet for today’s game. His pace, coupled with that of Sturridge and Welbeck, will be a vital factor in deciding Thursday’s game.
However, it wasn’t a flawless performance from England. While they looked superb going forward, they were defensively exposed. Only 9 clean sheets in the last 23 games shows England’s defensive frailties. Many thought that Glen Johnson would be the player that was weaker, but instead it was Leighton Baines. He didn’t receive much help from midfield, but he also didn’t help himself as poor positioning saw Italy’s wide men get in behind on multiple occasions. His set piece wasn’t very good either as, England wasted corner after corner. The big question for Hodgson now is whether or not to drop the experienced Baines for the youth and talent of Luke Shaw, who only has 3 caps. Personally, I think he’ll stick with Baines but will need a much better performance from the Everton defender.
The final big question is should Wayne Rooney start on Thursday? He hasn’t lived up to expectation in an England shirt for a while and, despite getting the assist for Sturridge’s equaliser, he put in a very poor performance. He missed a golden opportunity to level the game in the second half and his corner taking was as bad as Baines’. So what does Hodgson do now? Drop England’s talisman? For me, the answer is no. Rooney should play because of his unquestionable talent. He can change any game in a flash. But, he has to play in his best role, in the slot behind the striker. He looks lost out on the wing. Put him in that hole and give him good service and he will dictate the game.
If Hodgson continues with his brave selection policy and he makes the right decisions regarding Baines and Rooney, then England will take advantage of Uruguay’s defensive concerns and go on to quality out of the group stages.
Image Rights; Matt Churchill