With his post match invective, Rooney managed to deflect some of the attention and headlines away from the team and on to himself. What his comments haven’t done though is disguise his increasingly poor form. Rooney is offering very little and his frustration is clearly growing. Little wonder the odds on a red card in the final group game are now almost as short as those for him to score.
There was a moment in yesterday’s game that summed up Heskey’s current woes. With a chance of attacking from the right, Heskey managed to – not once, but twice – get the ball caught up in his feet and lost possession. Obviously not in the side for his goalscoring prowess, Heskey has offered very little overall – unable to win and retain possession and clearly lacking in confidence. His presence in the side also appears to be affecting Wayne Rooney. Whether it is with Peter Crouch, Jermaine Defoe are an extra midfield player, Heskey has to be omitted for the final game.
The Gerrard/Lampard question
Much of the suggestion has been around whether Steven Gerrard should be pushed forward to play off Wayne Rooney. Gareth Barry’s return against Algeria was an important one but it lessens the impact that Gerrard has if he is forced out on the left. With him looking to cut inside, it also negates the attacking threat of Ashley Cole. An interesting statistic shows that when Gerrard starts without Frank Lampard, England win 78% of games. When they both start, the winning percentage drops to 60% and hen Lampard lines up without Gerrard it falls even further to 57%. Time for Lampard to step aside and give Gerrard sole responsibility in the middle?
The manner in which the decision was arrived at may not have been the correct one, the decision to restore David James was proved to be the correct one. Having watched him at Manchester City for a couple of seasons it is clear that he has the most presence out of the three keepers in the squad. He was confident in all he did yesterday and with Jamie Carragher suspended for the final game, he may well need a big game.
It is not as though England don’t have vocal leaders or strong characters, all of whom have played in big games domestically and in Europe. Yet, the performance yesterday (and to a lesser extent against the USA) the players look tense, uneasy and hesitant. This is translating into a nervousness bordering on a palpable fear of failure. Maybe it will take a piece of good fortune but the players need to overcome this otherwise they will be heading home shortly after Wednesday.
Stubborn to the point of obstinate, Fabio Capello has a huge few days ahead of him. Not a man prone to change or ripping up the rule book it may take some brave choices to snap England out of their funk. He has shown a slavish devotion to the 4-4-2 so far, with even his substitutes altering only personnel rather than formation. He favours switching the wide midfield players, but with two attack minded full-backs, this is appearing to stifle both Ashley Cole and Glen Johnson.
Already shorn of their first choice pairing following Rio Ferdinand’s injury, a second booking against Algeria has ruled Jamie Carragher out for the Slovenia game, meaning more change and a promotion for either Matthew Upson or Matthew Dawson (which would be his debut). Slovenia looked very lively going forward against the USA and it will require a big performance from John Terry to marshall the back line.
As much as the criticism levelled at Emile Heskey is justified, the movement from England was non-existent. Gareth Barry apart, England have attack minded players from the midfield onwards. Too often though, there has been a worrying lack of movement going forward which slows the tempo down to a pace the players are not comfortable with. England are not a side who will pass through the opposition, so need to work at maintaining the pace at a quick level.
England have to win
England have no choice but to win, knowing that anything less than a win will almost certainly see them pack their bags. Depending on the how the USA far, even a win for England may not see them top the group though but the best course of action may be attack, to throw off some of the hesitancy that has shackled the side in their opening two games.
Parallels with the past
Like this tournament, England stuttered in their first two games in Mexico ‘86 and Italia ‘90 before winning the final group game and going on to post quarter-final and semi-final finishes. Like the previous tournaments, it took a change in formation to kick-start the side so there is at least history (if nothing else) to cling to.
Danny Pugsley is the man behind SB Nation's Manchester City blog, Bitter and Blue. He will be contributing to SB Nation Soccer during the 2010 World Cup.