It Is All Rooney’s Fault!!!
That is the narrative I get right now. Rooney is useless and somehow it’s his fault England lost! Just how, no one really can explain. But hey, it makes a good headline, after all, Rooney is the one player England has counted on since he broke through a decade ago in Portugal. Plus it lets frustrated fans who may not be fond of the Manchester based scouser, vent and make themselves feel better. As long as there is someone to blame. Rooney is the English superstar, the White Pele who somehow never lived up to his potential. So he presents a tasty target. Even now, I have the tv on, and the most common question tonight is: “Should England drop Rooney!” And before the WC begun there were constant questions about Rooney. Should he be a starter? Should he play in the middle, up front, out wide? Rooney, Rooney, Rooney….
The Rumble In the Jungle!
England begun the day in great spirit. Uruguay, the team everyone was afraid of in this Group D, lost to Costa Rica and Suarez was not fit enough to take part. The one team no one cared about, the automatic 3 points to be divided by the 3 proper contenders to get out of the group; beat the highly favored Uruguayans 3-1. And they deserved the win too. Oops. Now everyone has a problem. The pundits spent months talking up Uruguay and how wonderful and tough they were supposed to be. Some even speculated that Italy, England and Uruguay could all finish with 5 points each. All were supposed to beat Costa Rica and possibly draw all the other matches. Then goal difference would count, they would have to score as many as possible against the poor Costa Ricans. Again, oops. That is why we actually play the games. No one wins on paper.
So both teams were in high spirits. The winner of the match in Manaus would be in great position. Even a draw would be a decent result for both sides. And Roy, the England manager known for his conservative tactics, set up a young, quick attack. Sturridge up front. The very young Sterling behind him at number 10, with Rooney as the left attacking midfielder, and Welbeck on the right to help out the hopeless Johnson. Gerrard was supposed to be the anchor while Henderson was going to be the link up man, joining the attack whenever possible and defending as much as he could. The defence was set sometime ago really. Hart in goal, Baines and Johnson as fullbacks, with Cahill and Jagielka in front of Hart. And more good news, the great Gianluigi Buffon was injured and would not start for Italy. Now Sirigu is a very good keeper, but there is only one Buffon.
Italy usually play one of two systems. A back three with wingbacks, or a flat back four with more midfielders. Prandelli chose the second option against England. Sirigu in goal. Chiellini moved as a leftback. Darmian on the right, with Barzagli and Paletta as CBs. De Rossi would anchor and protect the back four, while Pirlo and Verratti would be the playmakers. The versatile Marchisio and Candreva would support the striker, Mario Bolotelli from wide positions. And it was Prandelli who got it right. His 4-1-4-1 beat out Hodgson’s 4-2-3-1.
England actually started fairly well, creating a couple of chances. But after that Italy asserted themselves and begun to control the play for a while. A very intelligent corner led to the first goal. England had everyone in the box bar Sterling and Sturridge. It looked practiced, Prandelli must have noticed something. Candreva took the corner, passed it short to Verratti, Sterling moved to cover them while Sturridge was left to defend against two Italians. No one else reacted to close down the very open Marchisio when Sturridge went toward Pirlo. Verratti’s pass looked as if it was meant for Pirlo, but the latter intelligently left it and the ball went to Marchisio who had the space and time to set up his shot and hit it to his left corner. The ball went through a sea of legs in the very crowded penalty area and Joe Hart had no chance even though the shot was made from outside the box and Marchisio went more for placement than power. A lovely goal which showed the intelligence of the Italians. 1-0 to Italy.
It did not take long for England to even the score. Within two minutes they were level after a brilliant counter attack. The Italians weren’t even caught out. They had good numbers to defend any counters. But after a couple of misplaced passes by both teams, Sterling picked up the loose ball just inside his own half near the center circle. He quickly turned and went up the pitch, not really pressed by the Italians. As he crossed the middle of the pitch he sent a lovely pass to Rooney between two Italians. Rooney already begun his run and the pass was placed right in front of him. He took one neat touch and as he arrived in the penalty area on the left flank he sent a great cross past two helpless Italian defenders behind whom Sturridge was making a good run. He hit it on a short hop right into the back of the net. Two wonderful quick passes, and one touch each by Rooney and Sturridge opened up the Italian defense beautifully. A perfect example of quick, technical and direct football which resulted in a goal. Simply brilliant. After a very clever bit of play by the Italians and a great counter attack by the Three Lions the score was 1-1, and there was still almost and hour of football left. A great sign and a possible wonderful game off football.
Well… no. Not really. The rest of the half was fairly uneventful aside from a flurry of activity in front of England’s goal right before the whistle. Mario almost chipped Hart from a tough angle but Jagielka headed it off the line saving what would have been a lovely goal. Right after that the Italians hit the post while England was still trying to collect themselves. Halftime came and England looked a bit jaded. Much of the time they forced into wild off balance shots from outside the box. The Italians defended very well for the most part despite not really pressing the English players. They sat back and dared England to break them down, especially after they went up front.
How they did go up 2-1 could be used as an example of what NOT to do while defending. After halftime Hodgson switched Rooney and Welbeck to the others’ flanks. In the 50th minute the Italians patiently begun their attack from the back. England had six men in their opponents half. They looked like they were keeping shape, but that meant nothing as it was very high up and they weren’t really pressing. Barzagli’s pass to Darmian to the right flank bypassed Welbeck who decided that this time he wasn’t going to rush back to help out Baines who quickly found himself against two Italians as Darmian carried the ball forward into England’s half. Baines directed someone, anyone, to cover Candreva’s run as the Italian went behind him. Unfortunately for England Gerrard was almost as lazy as Welbeck, and Jagielka was too slow to react. He wasn’t sure if he could leave his area without cover. By this time it was too late so he retreated into his penalty area while Baines desperately tried to get to Candreva who received Darmian’s pass. Jagielka became stranded at the near side of the penalty area as Darmian continued his run and kept him there. Gerrard lazily trotted back to the same area as Jagielka and Darmian, leaving Jagielka’s regular position in front of goal wide open. Henderson was even further up the pitch than Gerrard and in no position to help. Cahill at this time is near the far post loosely marking Bolotelli. Meanwhile Marchisio makes a run from his left wide position into the box to the near post, he drags Johnson with him, and he too has no help from either Rooney, Sterling or Henderson. Although then Johnson could have left Marchisio to the unoccupied Gerrard.
Candreva meanwhile stops and fools the onrushing Baines who is desperately trying to get back into position. He switches the ball to his left and crosses into the box. At this time there is still 4 English defenders against 3 Italians in the box. Jagielka just yards away with Darmian. Gerrard is almost standing close to them. Marchisio continues his run across the box dragging Johnson behind him with Cahill ball watching near the far post while Mad Mario peels off him to head the ball into the net. Henderson is just slowly arriving while Welbeck is still far from the area. The only one not really at fault was Hart. Although even his reaction and footwork are slow while he scrambles to cover the other corner in a desperate hope that Bolotelli’s header will hit him somehow.
It was a clever goal by Italy, but a fucking shambles by England. Welbeck, Gerrard and Henderson switched off. Baines a bit panicky while Jagielka confused. Johnson tried to defend but Cahill was ball watching. A joke really. I am not big England fan but I was frustrated at the amateurism they showed during that sequence.
Hodgson made a couple of changes in the second half but it took him a while. Barkley came on for Welbeck after an hour, but by this time Prandelli already introduced Motta for Verratti. Then both made non tactical moves in the 73rd minute. Bolotelli came off replaced by immobile, while Wilshire came on for the uninspired Henderson. With 10 minutes to go Lallana replaced a possibly injured Sturridge while Prandeli removed Candreva and put on Parolo. The changes, whether tactical, or just like for like substitutions, did not do much. Italy adapted to England’s new tactics and calmly covered the new variables. In the end it petered out into nothing for England. Italy sat back composed and patient, while England were reduced to taking shots from outside the box. So predictable.
It’s Still Rooney’s Fault Somehow!
Rooney was roundly criticized for his performance. Even Hodgson felt compelled to come to his defense after the match. It was of course the same man who put him out wide instead of Sterling. Instead of maybe playing 3 in the middle and giving both Sterling and Rooney free roles behind Sturridge. I don’t know if Roy was trying to be clever and attempted to surprise Prandelli with his set up. But it failed. Italians managed a record breaking 92% pass percentage. Whether they sat back or tried to defend up high the English didn’t manage to press the Italians into making mistakes. Prandelli started Bolotelli despite some questions before the WC, and Immobile’s great goal scoring form in the lead up. And that worked. Mario kept the English defenders busy and managed to score the winning goal. The two who were supposed to be the motors in the center for England were non-entities really. De Rossi, Pirlo and Verratti managed to pass the ball around them. Part of it was the fact that they were mostly outnumbered in the middle as Sterling is not the man to count on to get back and help them out. So it’s not all Gerrard and Henderson having poor games. Hodgson was trying to be too clever for his own good. Perhaps all the talk in the media got too him. “He was too conservative, too defensive, there was no creativity.” So he started three forwards, two out of position, and an attacker who is still a kid. And Henderson is not some wily veteran either, just 23 and not experienced at this level. He only got a few minutes of playing time during the Euros 2 years ago. Of course, despite the tactics and formation, these players could have performed much better. All those crosses into the box and only one connected, the brilliant Rooney pass which Sturridge turned into a goal. Even Hodgson singled out Johnson for not managing to properly cross the ball.
Yet despite all this it’s still Rooney’s fault. Rooney did not have a good game. That one moment of genius and… that’s it really. I can’t remember anything else that was significant and quality. Nothing that really troubled the Italians except maybe that shot he scuffed wide. So criticism of Rooney’s performance is fair enough. However what is not fair is singling him out when the eight out of the ten who are left did not cover themselves with glory. I get that he makes a lot of money, but it’s money that United pay for his play at Old Trafford, not for England. I get that the English are disappointed with him and his lack of scoring in World Cups. Everyone mentions the 8 games he played, 9 now, and did not score in the WC. But people forget that in 2006 he was injured and was rushed before he was ready out of desperation. England were also poor and it’s not as if he failed to score on over 20 shots on goal like Lampard did. In 2010 he was also rushed back too quickly after an injury. This time by Fergie. United were in a desperate fight for the league and to move on in the CL. Rooney was on great form before he got hurt. So he was rushed back and immediately had a set back. He arrived in South Africa while still not match fit at best. England were poor, but again, Rooney got most of the stick. And after he dared to actually voice an opinion about the English support he became the whipping boy for both the media and the fans. Four years later nothing has changed. He is constantly criticized and people begun to question if he deserves to start for England during this WC.
Of course now that England has found a second forward who can actually score Rooney is both blamed for set backs and not given credit for any success. Gerrard is the captain and the undisputed leader of the team. Yet it’s Rooney who gets most press. Hart had a dodgy season in goal for both club and country, yet he is not questioned. The newer faces all get a free pass. The team as a whole is not expected to achieve greatness. The manager is only now receiving some criticism. And despite all that, it’s always Rooney. I am a United fan, so I could be accused of major bias and blind defence of a player I support. But my relationship with Rooney is somewhat complicated. Especially after October 2010. Even before then I was not his biggest fan. And when we remember his hissy fits during Fergie’s last season, then my opinion of him is at best mixed. But I do not like it when everyone gangs up one one guy, no matter how much he makes. Especially when that person is singled out because of irrational reasons. So by all means, critique his play, but seriously now, a sense of proportion and some logic would be nice.