19 June 2014

Will the Three Lions sink under its Liverpudlian leanings?

Another World Cup match, another defeat. England's World Cup hopes now hang by a thread after a second consecutive loss, this time to Uruguay. The scoreline was the same was it was against Italy, and it leaves the Three Lions' fate in the hands of the other teams, as they now need Italy to defeat Costa Rica and Uruguay to even have a prayer. From there, England have to defeat Costa Rica to finish level on points with them and Uruguay, hoping to then go through to the next round on goal-difference. What follows comes from the admittedly biased perspective of a Gooner, but the results so far do beg a certain question: has the decidedly Liverputian tilt of the squad undermine the Three Lions' chances?

After all, the current squad includes no less than nine players from Liverpool and Everton—Johnson, Baines, Jagielka, Gerrard, Henderson, Sterling, Barkley, Sturridge, and Lambert. Add to that list Adam Lallana, who grew up supporting Everton; and Rooney, came up through Everton's academy. Oh. I almost forgot Roy Hodgson, another Merseysider, raised by an Everton-supporting father and himself a former Liverpool manager. We might as well rename the Three Lions as Scouse FC.

There's something to be said for the familiarity of playing together at the club level; as such, we might expect a certain chemistry from the five players from Liverpool who started against Uruguay. If nothing else, the Sturridge-Sterling-Gerrard-Henderson axis should have dominated, and one might also expect the Gerrard-Henderson-Johnson trio to be aware of their teammate Suarez, but neither came to pass on an afternoon that saw England win the possession-battle but lose the war. Instead of the increased familiarity and communication we might expect from a squad so dominated by Scousers, both of Uruguay's goals came from the most-basic of miscommunications between players who arguably should know each other and their own roles far better.

For Uruguay's first goal, Suarez got behind Jagielka to nod home, and Baines, the left-back, is completely out of the picture, showing a lack of communication and commitment to team defending. Had Baines dropped down, the lofted pass might not have even been possible as Suarez would have been marked by two defenders. The opening created by Baines's lax tracking-back exposed Jagielka and invited the pass to Suarez, who is nothing if not a lethal finisher. It doesn't seem like too much to ask of the Toffees teammates to  be more aware (a) of their responsibilities and (b) of the threat posed by their Merseyside nemesis. Instead, Suarez found himself unmolested to score the opener.

For Uruguay's second goal, England's defending was even more comedic and shambolic, as Suarez found himself on the end of a flicked-on header (Gerrard having been beaten to the ball, if memory serves) that allowed him to beat Jagielka before blasting home. This one is less-attributable to this Scousian axis, but the familiar elements are there. Would Wilshere have done any better? Debatable. With the likes of Suarez and Cavani pouring forward, most any defensive midfield pairing might feel overwhelmed. However, the all-but-immobile Gerrard showed his age on the play, getting beat positionally and aerially, and the result was all too predictable.

This is not a case for more Gunners in the squad, necessarily, as I doubt that Jenkinson would have fared any better on the right than did Johnson (who did, at day's end, claim credit for an assist, dodgy though it may be). Then again, might Gibbs have done a bit better than Baines, who seemed more interested in getting forward than tracking back? Without a proper TARDIS, who's to know? Hindsight is, after all, 20/20, and after a result like this one, it's easy to point fingers.

With a healthy Walcott and/or Ox, and with Wilshere and/or Gibbs starting, the outcome of this match would certainly have been different, if only by scoreline. I'm not saying that the inclusion of a few more Gunners would have changed the outcome. For one, Walcott and Ox weren't even available. Then again, given that this is the Three Lions' second straight loss, it's well-worth considering that starting Wilshere in place of Henderson or, God forbid, Gerrard, might very well have allowed England to dominate possession with greater purpose as the more-mobile (to put it mildly) Wilshere bombed forward into the teeth of Uruguay's defense to create more chances for Rooney, Sterling, Welbeck, and Sturridge.

England's hopes have not yet been extinguished, but it may be time for Hodgson to introduce a few more Londoners into the squad. It may be too late for the inclusion of the, um, charismatic Cole or Terry, but who's to say that the fiestiness of Wilshere or Gibbs won't overwhelm Costa Rica? There's still a glimmer of hope that England will advance, and those hopes may very well rest on Gunners' shoulders.

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