“To Flatter to Deceive – appear promising but ultimately disappoint”
Now obviously, yes, that’s a spoiler. Did we win the World Cup? No. Did we challenge? Still no. Did we play exciting football and score lots of goals? Yes. Let me tell you a story in four parts. I’ve already told you the first part, inception. The tactic I designed, the Graham Taylor inspired direct, pressing football, the proper English 3-5-2.
The second part is the growing pains that represented the Nations League. In my piece looking back at our last major tournament ripped apart Belgium, they were a shell of their former self with only Lukaku being a threat, so it was a bit of a worry that we drew with them in our first match after that tournament. Granted we dominated the match and should have been ahead long before their injury-time equaliser but we weren’t, and more than that, we had only been ahead because of a stunning solo striker from star striker Danny Ward. Another labored draw against Germany followed, with another late equaliser going against us before two narrow 1-0’s decided the group. We beat Belgium, with a Ben Chilwell goal out of nowhere, and promptly lost to Germany thanks to Keiran James getting too handsy with Marco Metzelder in our box. That in itself wasn’t too worrying. We’ve finished second in ever Nations League group that I’ve managed and while Belgium isn’t a top team anymore they aren’t pushovers either and Germany very much are a top team. Anyway, it’s a new tactic, growing pains are to be expected.
In amongst these Nations League matches we’d taken both Canada and USA to task, recording 3-0 and 4-1 wins respectively. Granted not the most steller of opposition but you don’t want taxing matches in those slots, they’re essentially warm-up matches for your competitive match-ups. Next, however, I wanted something more challenging. In the next international break we took on two of the world’s best, you could start to see a pattern forming after our 1-1 draw with France but then we did something unexpected and lost 3-2 to Italy. Now losing wasn’t the unexpected thing, before this our defence had always looked fairly solid while our attack had let us down, this time the attack had done its job, making the most of the chances given to it, but our defence had fallen asleep. I chalked this up to a rotated squad but was starting to set a dangerous precedent, we couldn’t win against top opposition.
This was all soon forgotten though as we embarked on a sixteen game unbeaten run, scoring sixty-two goals and only conceding seven. Only draws against Serbia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina blighted an otherwise perfect record during this time with England far outscoring any other team in World Cup qualifying. We may not have won in a few fairly meaningless Nations League and friendly matches but when it really mattered England had turned it on and shown that they were a team to be scared of. When it came down to it we were ready to beat any top team we’d come up against at the World Cup. Wait, you want to know how our unbeaten run came to an end? Oh, that was nothing, we just lost 3-0 to Argentina in our last friendly before the World Cup. It’s fine, it’s a friendly after all, we turn up in competitive matches, did you not just read this paragraph?
Our World Cup campaign started brilliantly al be it against fairly weak opposition. Iran and Mozambique fell to 4-0 and 7-0 losses respectively, look you can only beat what’s put in front of you and they can’t be that bad if they managed to qualify. The Second Round saw us beat the stronger opposition of the Ivory Coast 2-0 and now confidence really was growing, Spain would surely fall in the Third Round. Now all through this, there’s been a pattern, beat smaller/mid-level teams and struggle against top opposition. This was no different, we lost 1-0 in, what on the surface was a fairly competitive match, the problem is when you dig a little deeper you see our real problems.
I’ve done a video looking at the type of play we created generally, which was what I was looking for but then at the end, I use the Spain game to highlight the failings of our approach. You can overpower smaller teams with speed and strength, but when it comes to a smarter team like Spain or Germany, France, Belgium, Italy, etc, You realise that we simply lacked the intelligence in our play to break them down. There’s only so far a long ball and a strong talented striker can take you, you need something more to make use of that what you’re being given.
The issue wasn’t that Spain was better than us on that day, it issue was that we were limited by our tactics. That could have been any top-level team and the result would have been similar, we might have sneaked through on penalties after a draw but that would just have served to distract from the problem at the core of our play. There’s a reason that this style of extreme direct football has all but died out, it doesn’t work against an organised defence. The football we were playing, even Tony Pulis would have felt was a bit to ‘long ball’ for him. There is no one way to win a football match, Tiki-Taka is not the only way or even the best way to play football, however, some football is best left in the history books, and this is one of those styles. These words are written by a man who is a few tactics aways from trying to copy the WM, a formation that died out just after World War Two. Wish me luck.
Thanks to Keysi for hosting me, you can find the rest of my England series here. You can find me in FM Slack which you can join here, my channel is #braziers-england. I’m also on Twitter and Instagram. I also have my own blog where I talk about random rubbish with its own Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and fledgling YouTube.