So a swift verdict.
(Mid-evening last night, I’m thinking) this is not a night to have a right old go at Hodgson, Rooney or anyone else. Things – black and white things like tables and like plans – are ‘on track’. Mind you, I hope Roy did have a go at his players after a performance we’d all surely plonk confidently in the medium lame category.
One-nil against a poor team playing with a man short for half an hour or so? Hardly inspiring but that’s how it was. Save a thought for Roy’s White Army trudging back to trains planes and automobiles, or hopefully friendly bars, feeling they needed a bloody sharp glass of Estonian hooch to reboot slightly dulled and yes, disappointed minds. You’d need some top quality banter or booze or camaraderie – remember that? – to haul back this particular adventure from the brink of the flattish.
But look results just don’t always tell the story, right? A reasonable judgement – remember that! – might be that England weren’t actually poor (being too generally comfortable on the ball now) but the result is. Relatively. They ‘failed to execute’, there was a general lack of a gear-change about the performance – in part I would argue due to selection – but also because Wellbeck in particular rarely sprinted to any purpose. England were kinda sluggish yet largely competent… except when within thirty yards of the Estonian net.
One or two things do concern me, however; let’s start with Lallana.
The word itself smacks of slightly exotic fluency and this is what us purists hope the Liverpool man may deliver, smoothing the pathway forward from that old angular, muscle-bound past into a slick, balletic future.
But because he’s never going to dominate proceedings (‘cos of that cool, minimal-contact, slinky-intelligence thing he’s got goin’ on) Lallana must influence by either linking to effect, or providing assists. And he needs to do that especially against poor teams who need opening up. Failed tonight. He has to take his opportunities because he is more droppable than somebody less gifted (Henderson/Delph?) because of this non-combative essence. In tonight’s game Lallana wasn’t the chief disappointment but he may need to start scoring or threading dream passes pretty urgently.
Wellbeck had a poor game, I thought. In the context of that opposition, think about it. It felt another example of how players just fail to sense when their moment is come. If the universe hasn’t spoken loudly enough to Danny, let me, on all of our behalves, re-iterate. NOW IS THE TIME for you to chase down your destiny – or at least chase round the park. Chase! Sprint and pressure without the ball and sprint and offer and give and spin and strike with all your might when you have it. Go right past urgent into ABSO-LUTELY ON FIRE; because when you’re at full throttle (by that I mean really racing down the inside/outside channels or attacking the ball in the box) you’re actually fairly tasty. Go do that.
Wellbeck surely must have been told to turn and get them legs a-pumpin’? Drive at people rather than simply jog through the game, back to goal. Estonia would surely be somewhere between static and clueless? Like Rooney though, his touch was often too sloppy to achieve the ‘I could play fer Barca, no probs’ level he no doubt (we no doubt) dream(s) of. Consequently instead of scaring the life out of very ordinary defenders, he pootled, he under-achieved – significantly.
Let me stick with this for one more moment. To say that yes I know I’m on the one hand suggesting Ingerland play more like Germany (say) and on the other I’m bawling at the centre-forward to leg it round the place. Well yes… and no…
A) Wellbeck is a particular case because he can hurt the opposition with his sprinting power and he under-uses that strength. B) We are of course aiming to be both comfortable and composed in possession AND rip-roaringly dynamic around their box. C) I do slightly fear that even our leading players are so busy projecting a Messi/Iniesta/Muller into their own footballing presence that they almost forget to be themselves and play. D) We aren’t good enough to merely cruise and ‘be patient’. In no way do I single out Wellbeck for some spurious blame here; it’s just his lack of awareness re this urgency that seemed comment-worthy.
Rooney was allegedly ‘involved in everything’ and yet for much of the time he was dispiritingly awful. In cruise mode, like Wellbeck, only marginally sloppier. Clunky touches and ill-judged passes; ordinary finishing. Even his goal was from such a conservatively struck free-kick that a genuine international keeper might have kept it out. (I thought Rooney’s muted celebration suggested that – as though in mild surprise and embarrassment that a strike so gently and obviously coaxed towards that post should beat the goalie’s belatedly grasping palms). Quite rightly, moments before, Hodgson had his skipper lined up for the hoik: following the goal, he stayed.
Elsewhere England did their jobs/saw out the game. Wilshere was perhaps most notable; he flashed in a few choice passes and he did try to vary things. Importantly, he wanted the ball. The feeling remains, however, that his singular lack of pace and a certain lack of immediacy must be compensated for elsewhere. England had the game sewn up from start to finish but (no-brainer) one goal is never enough. There was an absence of threat – even against ten – and this needs looking at. Was the blend wrong or did players simply not perform?
Brief word on today’s Sterling story – that he pulled out ‘tired’. If the manager has put this into the public arena in order to keep the squeeze on his players – i.e. demand complete commitment to the cause – then fair enough. I’m no loony patriot but important to keep egos and apathy in check. Also fair enough to drop him to the bench. Plainly Sterling’s form is way down on last year and tiredness – mental, particularly? – is likely a factor. No need to be punishing anyone here… but a marker laid down, in my view and a warning that urgency and passion should be non-negotiables.
Finally I offer some ratings… because other folks are… and it gives us all something to argue about.
Hart – 6. Another night where judgements are ludicrous; had nothing meaningful to do. His distribution was slightly mixed but this may be partly down to a lack of dynamic movement in front of him.
Chambers – 6. Offered himself and did okay but no better. Untested due to lack of a threat from the opposition but if I was pushed I would say not ready for major internationals yet.
Cahill – 7. Almost uniformly composed and rightly happy to mix it (within reason) when his oppo’ barged and banged. Limited distribution and under-achieves in terms of goals scored from dead-ball situations but if he stops their attackers attacking fair enough. He cruised through this… in a good way.
Jagielka – 6. Almost completely surplus, in a sense, such was the lack of penetration from Estonia. Honest, relatively aware,solid enough. In his comfort zone but who wouldn’t be, playing against no-one.
Baines – 6. Again another night when you expect him to have a whole lot of fun raiding down the left… passes by. A waste but impossible to know how much of this is down to the player’s ongoing slump and how much to calls from the bench to be ‘responsible’.
Wilshere – 7. Possibly England’s best player. Liked the variety/want more care and yes, more urgency. He’s good enough to treasure the ball and hurt teams with it.
Delph – 5. Disappointing. Can hardly remember a telling contribution. Subbed.
Henderson – 6. Decent night but no better than that. Couldn’t find a killer pass/didn’t always strike the easy ones well.
Lallana – 6. Can’t afford many performances where critics or fans can use words like ‘wafted’ or ‘barely affected’. He must know things conspire against anybody (from Hoddle forwards) who can be dropped into the ‘luxury player’ category.
Rooney – 6. Busy-ish but unconvincing; sluggish. Missed guilt-edged chances/was wasteful too often with possession. Hope Hodgson is telling him his place is not guaranteed. Even if it is.
Wellbeck – 6. Snuffed out his own after-burners.