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Last Updated: Thursday, 18 November, 2004, 12:28 GMT
Back to school for England
By John May

England were in disarray when Spain scored

Few would argue that England were given a lesson in Madrid.

But it was not so much a Spanish lesson that was handed out, more a maths lesson.

As the numbers stacked up, the tale that emerged was one of England failings in all the key areas.

Lesson 1: Shot-shy England

Undoubtedly the most damning statistic of the night was England's grand tally of zero shots on target.

SHOT COUNT
Shots on target:
Spain 4 Eng 0
Shots off target
Spain 8 Eng 2
Blocked shots
Spain 1 Eng 0

Granted, the front men received service as good as you would expect from a disgruntled waiter who had not been tipped.

But the revealing mathematical formula for England is that 30m (Rooney) +15m (Owen) +7m (Defoe) +7m (Smith)= Zero.

A paltry two shots off target in 90 minutes is a damning indictment of their creativity.

Lesson 2: Can we have our ball back please?

The bare statistic showing that Spain enjoyed 64% of the possession tells less than 50% of the story.

Spain were more comfortable with the ball, and made better use of it. They were able to because of their movement off the ball - the man in possession always had a passing option. And they were also far more patient.

POSSESSION POINTERS
Total possession
Spain 64% Eng 36%
Passes made in 90 mins
Xavi 90 Butt 29
Pass completion
Xavi 83% Beckham 70

England's inability or unwillingness to retain the ball for long periods and wear the opposition down is perhaps a legacy of the demands of those who watch the Premiership every week.

Despite the attempts of Wenger, Mourinho and Benitez, continental-style football stops at Calais.

The Premiership's preference for a gung-ho, up-and-at-'em style is good to watch, but sits uneasily alongside the more subtle demands needed on the international stage.

Lesson 3: Who is England captain?

David Beckham wears the armband, but is he the sort of inspirational leader you would follow into a burning building?

John Terry would probably prove a better leader, and would at least kick a few backsides.

England were crying out for a captain who could rally his team as discipline dissolved.

DISCIPLINE
Fouls conceded
Spain 10 Eng 20
Yellow cards
Spain 0 Eng 3

England's foul count of 20 was double that of Spain's and as Wayne Rooney's rumbling pursuit of a red object would not have looked out of place at the Plaza del Toros down the road, it cried out for the smack of firm captaincy.

Lesson 4: Is Eriksson the Real Deal tactically?

An international friendly could provide the ideal opportunity to try one or two different things out.

Eriksson's experimentation consists of plonking Wayne Bridge in front of Ashley Cole. He has a Plan A and er... that's it.

Even his changes merely involve replacing one player with a similar in the same position. It is almost as if he adapts his tactics from the Ikea catalogue.

Lesson 5: Just exactly what do England do in training?

A tricky one. All international managers will claim they do not have players together long enough to work with them as they would like.

But the goals that England concede from set-pieces hints that Eriksson's coaching manual does not fall open at that page often.

England possess an abundance of defenders who are aerially commanding, but they are rendered redundant by the Keystone Kops style organisation at set-pieces.

Lesson 6: Do we really have to be here?

A midweek international friendly, shoe-horned in between weekends of Premiership matches, and followed for most by a round of midweek Champions League games looked low on the priority list for too many England players.

To some, pulling on the white shirt is merely a contractual obligation or a means to an end.

Playing for England - even in a friendly - should still mean everything to players.

The fact that it unfortunately does not, leads to...

Lesson 7: What is the point of international friendlies?

If you are going to have international friendlies, they should be for one of two purposes.

You either use them to cement the form of your team, in which case you pick your strongest XI - and stick with them.

Or you use them to blood players at international level, in which case you give them a full game.

Starting with the strongest team and replacing them at half-time like used car parts is the worst possible compromise.

Players who know they are going to replaced after an hour are not going to put themselves out, while it's hard for anyone to make a lasting impression in half an hour of a lame, flat-paced match.




WATCH AND LISTEN
England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson


England captain David Beckham


England's Michael Owen



SEE ALSO
Shearer: Rooney lucky not to go
18 Nov 04 |  Internationals


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