Let’s not sugarcoat it, England did not play well for the majority of the game. They passed the ball around the field going nowhere with it, waiting for fouls to come in and then wasting free kicks (apart from Eric Dier’s incredible goal). The day before we had seen a resilient France side breakdown a tough to beat Romania by playing to their strengths and to their opposition’s weaknesses. France gave everything they could to win that game. The same cannot be said for England in their 1-1 draw with Russia.
Lack of Cohesiveness
In the broadcasted version of the game in Canada, Kevin Kilbane kept on talking about how good England looked because of how cohesive they were looking as a unit. In reality, the opposite was true of England in their match against Russia. Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane never looked on the same page and Adam Lallana went missing for an entire second half. Dele Alli didn’t look like he quite understood his role, while every single attack created by Rose and Walker seemed to find the feet of the Russians first. This England team absolutely did not play as a cohesive unit on Saturday and as a result, they struggled to find a way to win.
Not Enough Fight
Leicester City won the Premier League title this season by playing every game as if they were desperate to win. On Friday, France were desperate to win against Romania and in the end got the result they deserved. England never played like they were desperate to win against Russia and were far too nonchalant in their attacks. As a result, they let their lead slip away from a last minute equalizer from Vasili Berezutski. Most of the attacking players looked like they had their own agenda. Harry Kane and Adam Lallana were constantly looking for personal glory, giving the ball away far too often and putting far too many shots off target. Harry Kane completed just 15 passes over the course of the 90-minute game. Even Joe Hart completed more than that, nearly double that, with 28. England never played like they were desperate to win and as a result, they didn’t win.
From the moment I saw the starting eleven I wasn’t happy. Jamie Vardy, the FWA Footballer of the Year was on the bench, and in his place were players like Lallana and Sterling who did nothing special at all in 2015-16. But the ridiculousness didn’t stop there. We don’t even need to talk about Kane taking corner kicks, that was just ridiculous. There were plenty of other foolish decisions though. Firstly, Barclays Premier League Player of the Year/FWA Footballer of the Year Jamie Vardy played 0 minutes. It clearly wasn’t working with Kane up top and needed to be changed but Hodgson was far too stubborn and left the ineffective Kane out there for the entire 90 minutes. No player in the Premier League in 2015-16, scored more goals after the 70th minute than Jamie Vardy. At the 70th minute in the game against Russia it was 0-0 and would have been the perfect time to introduce the Leicester forward. Unfortunately, Hodgson left Kane on and England continued to struggle. Tottenham Hotspur cater to Harry Kane, England don’t. Players like Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela live for the assist and create plenty of chances for him to score all game long. Players like Sterling and Lallana, try and do it all of themselves and then lose possession of the ball. England didn’t play to Kane’s strengths and with him being the only forward they had on the pitch, they struggled to find the back of the net. Speaking of someone who lives for assists, how about Danny Drinkwater?
Marcus Rashford is the youngest player at the tournament. Cool. But rather than give a 19 year old his chance to play five minutes the whole tournament, why not bring someone who could really, seriously change and influence matches. Someone like Andy Carroll, Danny Drinkwater, even an experienced leader like Michael Carrick could have made a serious difference in a game like this that was lacking a cutting edge. In continuation, Wayne Rooney has more international goals than all of Russia’s team combined, is by far the most experienced player England have, is the captain and was having a good game. So why take him off? Dele Alli wasn’t doing anything special, Raheem Sterling kept on giving the ball away and I can’t even tell you what Adam Lallana was doing in the second half, I’m not even sure if he was even there! Every other attack minded player was far worse on the day than Rooney, yet he was the one that was sacrificed early on.
Finally, Raheem Sterling starting and playing until the 87th minute when he wasn’t doing anything and was constantly getting dispossessed or wasting golden opportunities was also ludicrous. Raheem Sterling is just an over-hyped version of Jesus Navas. His speed is unreal but his final, pass, shot or cross is always lacking in finesse. James Milner meanwhile can deliver a peach of a pass from anywhere (not to mention would have been helpful on corner kicks) and should have been substituted on way sooner. Kevin Kilbane kept on talking about how Raheem Sterling’s pace would trouble the slow Russian defense, but what about Vardy’s pace? What about Drinkwater’s ability to float a ball over the top to an on rushing Vardy before he puts the ball in the back of the net? There were just too many managerial errors to count on Saturday and it stems from a poor squad selection before the tournament even began.
It’s also not just the manager’s fault though. It’s the players. At the end of the game when trying to see out a 1-0 win, the leaders of the team have to step up, get the team organized and help manage the game properly. This is why taking off the captain and most experienced player, Wayne Rooney, was a terrible mistake. But even after that, the likes of Cahill, Smalling, Milner and Hart have to step up and ensure that England can see the game out. Danny Rose is 5’7, 159 pounds. Berezutski is 6’2, 192 pounds. How Rose ended up marking Berezutski on the cross that led to the goal is ridiculous and should never have happened.
Controversial opinion here, but this game was made for Andy Carroll. The Russian centre halves were big, strong, proper defenders who had no problem dealing with the lightweight Kane. England were caught offside five times, something had to change to fix that. Berezutski is 6’2 and weighs 192 pounds, while Ignasevich is 6’1 and weighs 185 pounds. In contrast, Harry Kane who is 6’0 tall weighs just 143 pounds. At the 70th minute mark when the game is still 0-0, go route one, take a different approach, put on Andy Carrolll, put on Michail Antonio, get the wingers and the fullbacks to fly down the flanks and loft in crosses and grind out a result. The game plan that Roy Hodgson had in mind clearly wasn’t working. It looked the whole time like he wanted to win the game 1-0, which is a very dangerous scoreline to keep for 90 minutes. Andy Carroll, had he been selected, would have absolutely helped England in this game and could have made the difference. Hey, maybe he would have even been marking Vasili Berezutski on the cross rather than Danny Rose and would have saved England their first ever win in an opening European Championship match. England don’t have a plan B or a plan C for when things aren’t going their way and the match against Russia was a perfect example of that.
On the bright side, although England were very poor, a draw isn’t the worst result in the world. Wayne Rooney put in another solid performance and clearly still has the ability to be one of England’s best players, no matter what the TSN sportscasters say.
Walker and Rose meanwhile were solid again and were probably England’s two best players. Both fullbacks probably wouldn’t even have been in the squad had this tournament taken place last year but after having impressive seasons with Tottenham Hotspur they have easily made the transition into England’s starting eleven and haven’t disappointed. Rose looked the most likely to provide for England in attack and was putting in dangerous crosses all game long. Walker meanwhile was never beaten and never allowed Fedor Smolov any space to work with and try and build an attack.
Lastly, Eric Dier dominated the game and allowed the forward thinking players to stay forward and try and create opportunities to score goals. His magical free kick was also a nice surprise. This England squad does have potential but they need to play more like a team if they are going to win any matches this summer.
Can England recover? I sure hope so. This is supposed to be their year to do well isn’t it? Hopefully Roy Hodgson realizes where he went wrong against Russia, puts out a different lineup against Slovakia and Wales and changes his in-game management style by not being afraid to make changes in game. If Roy Hodgson wants to keep his job, England can’t lose either of their remaining group games. But if something doesn’t change, the exact same thing will happen against Slovakia and Wales and England will be knocked out early in a big tournament once again.