‘Doing a Chelsea’ does NOT work
England crashed out of Euro 2012 last night in their customary way, but it was their negative display that was even more familiar than their penalty shootout heartbreak.
Chelsea’s fortuitous run to Champions League glory had many actually believing that ‘parking the bus’ is an effective tactic, but this is totally incorrect. Without taking anything anyway from the European champions, their victories over Barcelona and Bayern Munich, in particular, were the kind that occur once every hundred games.
Arjen Robben and Lionel Messi’s penalty misses, Messi hitting the post and Alexis Sanchez hitting the crossbar, these are just a few examples of the huge chunks of fortune Chelsea experienced, and had luck not been on their side things would’ve been very different.
Similarly, Liverpool’s 2005 Champions League-winning campaign was littered with defensive performances and moments of luck: Luis Garcia’s ghost goal, ‘that’ save by Jerzy Dudek from Andriy Shevchenko, and the dramatic last-gasp miss by Eidur Gudjohnsen in the semi-finals.
Of course there are going to be times when you win playing this way, but by sticking everyone behind the ball you are just asking for trouble. The best sides keep attacking, regardless of the scoreline. When do you ever see Manchester United take the lead at Old Trafford and sit back? How many times did Arsenal’s ‘invincible’s’ play these tactics? If they had, they certainly wouldn’t have gone an entire season undefeated. Manchester City only became a force once Roberto Mancini ditched the defensive tactics. Had he not changed things, they definitely wouldn’t have won the Premier League. And before you use Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea side as an example to argue my case, they defended a lot but they also attacked with plenty of style.
A sad characteristic in most English football fans is that many seem happy for their team to win regardless of how they perform. They would rather see the team play unattractive, dull football, winning 1-0 every game rather than see positive, flowing football with the occasional defeat.
Brazil won the 1994 World Cup, but their fans were genuinely unimpressed because they were arguably their most boring side of all time. Similarly, many Holland fans were happier in Euro 2008, where they lost in the quarter final, than in the 2010 World Cup, when they reached the final. This was simply down to the contrast in the quality of football they produced in the two tournaments.
If you look back over past tournaments, England have had numerous big games in which they have displayed an embarrassing lack of adventure and imagination, going on to lose in the process: Brazil in 2002, Portugal and France in 2004, and Portugal again in 2006 are just several examples. Will we ever learn our lesson?
Last night, barring a relatively promising spell between the fifth and 25th minute, England were dominated throughout by the classy Italians, and it was clear that the only way Roy Hodgson’s men would realistically progress would be on penalties. For almost the entire second half and all of extra time, all ten outfield players were camped out in their own half, and Gianluigi Buffon could have had a quick snooze for half an hour such was his lack of involvement in the game.
Italy had 63 per cent of the possession, an inexcusable statistic given the fact that many thought it would be such an even contest. Italy are not Spain, who dominate every game they play possession-wise. Even more damning is the fact that Italy mustered over 30 attempts on goal, while England didn’t even manage 10. Glen Johnson’s effort in the first half was England’s only shot on target in over 120 minutes of action, which just about sums it up. It is quite embarrassing to think what other countries must think of our style of football.
The one thing it has been impossible to question about this current side is that they have shown a passion and commitment that has been hugely lacking in recent years. From day one there was a real togetherness about the players and the coaching staff. The central quartet of John Terry, Joleon Lescott, Steven Gerrard and Scott Parker were particularly good throughout the tournament, with Gerrard absolutely revelling in his role as captain. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but Steve McClaren should’ve made him captain back in 2006 instead of John Terry. This is nothing against Terry as a captain, more his off-field misdemeanours.
For anyone claiming that youth is the way forward and that Hodgson should just ditch the old guard, those four players mentioned are 31, 29, 32 and 31, respectively. Age is just a figure, and as long as someone is the best in the country in their position, whether they are 18 or 36 is totally irrelevant. Andrea Pirlo, Italy’s supremely gifted midfielder, is 33 and ran the show. He is as good as he’s every been. Xavi is 32 and at the peak of his powers, while Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes remain key members of Manchester United despite both being closer to 40 than 30.
Rather than continually focusing on our supposedly ‘past it’ players, our inability to keep the ball or our ineptitude in penalty shootouts, it would be a lot more beneficial to concentrate on banishing the anti-football that keeps costing England so dear at major tournaments.