Brown Ferdinand Upson A. Cole
Bentley Jenas Gerrard J. Cole
Honestly, even though England struggled to gain a toehold for the majority of the first half and allowed an equalizer in the second, it wasn’t a bad performance for Capello’s first match in charge.
England came out in a new formation; the BBC has it as 4-5-1 in their post-match, but it seemed more 4-1-4-1. Barry had a defined role in front of the back four, which wasn't surprising given Capello's preference for holding midfielders. While Gerrard sat deeper than expected at times (mainly in the first half), pinging passes as he has for Liverpool, both he and Jenas were further up the pitch. Much of the attacking play came through Bentley and Cole on the wings, and I thought those two were probably England’s most dangerous. Cole was particularly inventive.
But to start, players seemed tentative and nervous, and England took time to find their stride. Not to take a cheap shot (and it does seem a lazy comparison), but for a while there, I could have been fooled into thinking I was watching Liverpool during some of the previous bad spells. England was the stronger side throughout the first half, but neither side was creating serious chances. There was some good play, but England was losing possession in the final third too often and giving the ball away too cheaply. England was stringing passes along the backline and prodding for an opening, and the crowd started to get restless.
40 minutes in, England finally broke the deadlock. Gerrard’s cross-field ball found Joe Cole on the left, who broke Lichtsteiner’s ankles, got to the byline, and centered perfectly for Jenas to tap in.
England started off the second half stronger, forcing a number of chances soon after the restart, but were unable to get the second goal. And then, out of the blue, Switzerland took advantage of some lax defending (with Rio Ferdinand the culprit) in the 57th minute when Derdiyok received a beautiful reversed throughball from Barnetta in front of Ferdinand, beating James low into the corner. It was one of few chances, if not the first real chance, for the Swiss.
But the players were saved an utter bollocking from Capello less than 3 minutes after the equalizer. Crouch’s flick-on found Gerrard striding forward, and the temporary captain’s centered cross led to an easy Wright-Phillips tap-in. I know Gerrard’s got the ability to see and make that pass to SWP, but I’m still surprised he didn’t shoot in that situation. And the pass made the difference; it was heady play to have a look up for his options and put it on a plate for Wright-Phillips.
There was always a chance that Switzerland could get another equalizer, although it would have been against the run of play, but players like Gerrard, Rooney, and Bentley (plus Cole before he went off and Crouch after he came on) were linking up more and coming up with some nice moves. At the end, England was holding on more than looking for a third, but with the nervousness of a first game in front of Capello that was little surprise.
What’s most promising was that the potential was there and England improved as the game went on, and that's why I’m pleased even though the performance wasn’t spectacular.
There was a coherent system deployed by Capello that the players seemed to understand and stick to. And it was a system that grew more effective as players became more familiar with it.
Experienced players like Cole and Gerrard took to it well, with Gerrard growing in influence as he pushed forward as the game went on (culminating in being named man of the match during the broadcast), while Bentley impressed on the right, making a good claim to the position in the future. No offense to Barry, who’s had some excellent performances for England, but he was one who looked uncomfortable in the system, and I think that Hargreaves may be better suited to a holding role.
The defense wasn’t at its best either, but Capello is experimenting in Brown and Upson, and brought on Bridge for Ashley Cole with 15 minutes left to test that option, although Cole did well getting forward throughout (which isn’t surprising given he plays with Joe Cole at Chelsea). Ferdinand switched off for the goal, but he’s been outstanding for his club so far this season. And although James flapped at a couple of balls, and I expect Carson and Foster to get time in the future, he’s the best choice at the moment.
And obviously it’s good that Capello wasn’t satisfied. While there’s a team being fashioned here, instead of a collection of individuals, it’s clearly in its infancy. But there are positives to take forward, and I saw nothing that makes me think Capello isn’t the right man for the job.
Of course, I'd still trade it all for Torres to be healthy come Sunday. Sorry to spring that out of nowhere at the end of an England review, but I couldn't avoid saying something having just heard the news. Aren't international breaks fun?