After a harrowing World Cup in 2010 many England fans instantly started penning a more progressive, youthful starting XI that offered a ray of hope for the 2012 Euros (qualification permitting). In my grief, names such as Joe Hart, Jacks Wilshere and Rodwell, Phil Jagielka and Adam Johnson were inserted into a dream 4-3-3 (of which only Hart started yesterday afternoon).
Yesterday’s lineup against France was an opportunity to contrast it with the team that took the field in the opening 2010 game against the US. I’ve chosen this game rather than the XI which got knocked out by Germany mainly because I couldn’t bear to relive the moment when Matthew Upson represented England in a knockout game at a major championship.
The 2012 team is slightly more youthful, and it also matches up man for man. Moreover, the team discipline exhibited yesterday was in direct contrast to the muddled mess on show in South Africa two years ago. Each player knew his role within the two rigid banks of four, with Ashley Young granted a bit more freedom of movement up top in support of Welbeck, but not without his own defensive duties higher up the pitch.
I found it an encouraging start. With Rooney to return and greater team understanding to be gained on the pitch, they are only likely to improve. Though he wasn’t called upon yesterday, Andy Carroll represents a viable plan B from the bench against deep sitting defences. The chances of England disgracing themselves as they did over the course of four games in 2012 seems distant this time round. That’s progress of sorts.
Here are my head-to-head comparisons:
Robert Green / Joe Hart
Though both were beaten inside their near-posts in their respective opening tournament games, Green’s spill was an error of infinitely bigger proportions. Neither did it strike many as uncharacteristic. Hart, however, exudes authority and instils confidence in his backline, even if he does occasionally flap at a cross like he did a few times yesterday.
Ledley King / Joleon Lescott
As much as I adore Ledley, Joleon Lescott has grown into a top class defender and is no downgrade. Though his central defensive partner at City Vincent Kompany gained all the plaudits last season Lescott was quietly effective and proved an assured presence yesterday for England. That Ledley was forced off against the States through injury typified his vulnerability.
Frank Lampard Jr / Scott Parker
There’s little doubt that in terms of individual attributes, FLJ is a superior player to Parker. However, in what he provides to the team, I believe Parker edges out Lampard. His much-needed defensive nous is what England are in most urgent need of – especially with Barry missing the tournament. There were signs towards the end of the France game that Parker is feeling the effects of a draining season with Spurs. That Jordan Henderson provides cover in this position highlights the importance that his Achilles and general stamina hold up.
Aaron Lennon / Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
OK, so they operate on different flanks but for the purposes of this comparison they’re head-to-head. Both players were included in their respective teams to provide an x-factor that England sorely need against the best opposition. The main attribute of both is to run (fast) with the ball and there’s not much to choose between the two, in my opinion. The Ox is more of an unknown quantity and thus has greater potential to hurt opponents.
Wayne Rooney / Ashley Young
Rooney will be back for game three vs The Ukraine/Ukraine but in 2010 he stank out the southern Hemisphere so the pace and unpredictability of Young probably represent something of an improvement right now. When Rooney returns, Young will no doubt be shunted out left, just as he was when JD came on against France, with The Ox to be unleashed from the bench. Just comparing the 2010 and 2012 versions of Rooney is enough to gladden the heart of every Englishman.
Emile Heskey / Danny Welbeck
Please. Welbeck is better in all areas and has the confidence to lead the line. Carroll will provide an option for the final 20 minutes of the final two group games, as England will be expected to see more the ball and attack down the flanks.
The old guard back to fight another battle:
Glen Johnson – still positionally suspect but more confident in the tackle (ooh, Matron) than the 2010 version.
John Terry – much the same player, on and off the pitch.
Ashley Cole – still world class.
Steven Gerrard – legs creaking a bit but shows more discipline protecting the back four with Parker than when partnered with Junior Lamps. Seems to have cut out the default option of ‘Hollywood’ passes down the channels.
James Milner – still hard working and unflashy; exactly what England need ahead of GJ.