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Hero of the Month (September)

This is not a retraction. This is certainly not an apology. This is just a fair analysis of which Aston Villa member deserves to be accredited with the recognition of having performed the most heroics for the club this past month.

Yet again, young Albrighton has been sniffing about. The 20 year old never ceases to give 100% for his West-Midlands club and sits level with Ashley Young on top of our assists chart (having played one game less). I think it’s also important to remember that this season is the first time Marc was starting on an Aston Villa league line up; and with only 6 premiership games under his belt, it’s heartening that Albrighton is already contributing more than should be expected.

Ashley Young… last month’s hero didn’t let up this time around as the current stats show the number 7 on top of both our assists and goalscoring tallies. He will probably feel hard-done-by to miss out on such a prestigious accolade for a second successive month.

September proved to be a so-so time for an Aston Villa fan. With just one player chipping in with 5 minutes worth at Wembley, we followed a last minute heartbreak at Stoke up with an uninspiring deadlock at home to Bolton. Then, we found a remedy… temporarily at least.

"Where are you?"

I’ve probably been Emile’s biggest critic, consistently – and I am not about to go back on all I have criticized him for. But hey, credit where credit is due. Aston Villa competed 4 times last month. They won twice – the games where big Hess featured. After a sterling contribution to our League Cup victory, I joked that maybe we could forgive and give him yet another chance. In response, Dan from http://astonvillacentral.com/ correctly remarked, “One swallow doesn’t make a summer…”

But for me, two swallows make for a sunny September.

Having succumbed to Sam Alardyce’s cosmic football at Ewood Park, Gerard Houllier introduced his old guard 58 minutes into the cup tie. Lo-and-behold, one minute later, parity was restored as Heskey raced onto a Young through ball, bore down on goal and fired across the keeper with his left foot in rather unfamiliar fashion.

His ball from the right wing, to seal that game’s fate, 18 minutes later was delicious, perfect, Albrighton-esc. And after 30 minutes under his old Liverpool boss, the number 18 had turned the game around and we had a rejuvenated Emile Heskey.

People have said that his 120 minutes of decent football are down to the belief injected in him by Villa’s new French man. But O’Neill’s relentless selection of Heskey was hardly damaging to his confidence. However, at the risk of branding myself a knee-jerk reporter, I believe that there could be some form of substance, for Emile, to Houllier’s arrival.

Think of the best manager you’ve worked under. The man (or woman) who had you playing above yourself. The boss you could relate to, who could relate to you. The one you loved training with. I know, from my own experiences, that if my favourite manager arrived at the club or college where I was currently playing football, despite whatever relationship I have with the current manager and teammates, something would change. It wouldn’t be a conscious change, it wouldn’t be a physical one. But I’d be excited, buzzing, and I would probably once again automatically play above myself, just at the mere sight of my old gaffer. So I can sympathise with Emile’s new esteem.

Of course, as I said, he has only been involved in two games in September, 120 minutes. But when he wasn’t playing this month, we lost to Stoke, drew with Bolton and were down to Blackburn. When he did play, we overturned Rovers (emphatically) and beat Wolves – Houllier secured a 100% record.

The Villa banged in 7 goals in September. When The Mule played, they scored 5. His outstanding header at Mollineaux not only silenced the opposition critics, but it shut me up, and of course sent us on our way to another derby day victory. It meant that Heskey was two from two under the new French regime, and after his Key Goal Contribution to our first goal (his first touch and dangerous, direct run which drew defenders meant that his involvement in Downing’s goal couldn’t go unnoticed) that day, and following his beautiful assist at Ewood Park, Emile ensured that Villa were indebted to him for 4 of our 5 goals throughout his time on the pitch – yes, 80%.

It’s difficult for me to praise the lad so much, because he is still a third choice striker in my Villa team. Nonetheless, responsible for the vast majority of what was good about our September, it was too hard to overlook him this time; and for once, I take my hat off to him, and award September’s Hero of the Month to Emile Heskey.

Thanks for the memories, Emile.

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2010 A.D. The Year They Killed The Messiah

On the 15th of October 1973, Brian Clough and Peter Taylor tendered their resignation to the Derby County Board of Directors – who, in an unprecedented move, accepted their departure rather than bow to the demands of 2 of the most astute managers in world football. Today, Martin O’Neill left Aston Villa Football Club after seemingly reaching the end of his tether with the increasing chains of the powers-that-be. Today, the sleeping giant that is Aston Villa has now surely slipped into a deep, deep coma – and will never be woken.

As I was writing a new blog post on my season predictions, I explained,

“When I look at the personnel and depth of the 7 other teams in the Premier League top 8, and when I consider some of their spending power and growth, I see no reason why Aston Villa shouldn’t finish 8th this coming season. However, when I see images of Bodymoor Heath training, when I look at the excitement of some of our top-class players, when I hear O’Neill speak and when I consider his vision, I have every confidence that we will once again be in the shake-up come May…”

Unfortunately, as I was writing a new blog post on my season predictions, I read,

“It’s obviously a wrench to be leaving such a magnificent club…”

And at once, I had to stop writing. At once, the overly-optimistic Villain in me had been crushed, my rose tinted glasses shattered, and all at once, I could see only rubble before me on the plains of the 2010/11 season.

Romanticists are urging us to look at the positives, but some things in life just aren’t that simple, are they? Yes, I’ve criticised some of our players, I’ve overanalyzed some of our policies, and I beg for a sense of realism, but readers of this blog will know that, deep down, I am nothing more than a hopelessly hopeful Villa-addict. I will, when others won’t; I cheer when others frown; I believe when others doubt – but on the 9th of August 2010, this supporter fell from grace, cracked his head, and begrudgingly remembered that he is an Aston Villa fan; and with that, comes great misery.

Is it really that bad?

You bet. Because as I was riding high on the MON Express (I didn’t realise how high until now), I had forgotten the sickening feeling of having to turn off Match of the Day on a Saturday evening. I had blanked out all those cruel years of midtable apathy and I had elapsed the memory of when we were looking to Darius Vassell for goals, to Joey Gudjonsson for inspiration, to Alpay Ozalan for heart.

And now, regrettably, I see no way forward. I fear that Aston Villa will never be blessed with a manager of the calibre of Martin O’Neill again. The club has lost its entire pull-factor. James Milner is a goner; will we be so surprised to see Ashley Young follow him out the doorstep? Is a MONless AVFC appealing enough to attract the likes of Stephen Ireland (a player who we were on the brink of welcoming) or Robbie Keane? His achievements aside, the name alone of Martin O’Neill was working wonders for our club – and I can’t see any possible candidates having big enough metaphorical feet to fill his giant shoes.

In a way, the Ulster man has left us high and dry. 5 days before the new season begins, 22 days before the transfer window closes, we are managerless and still to make our first signing. But in another way, I don’t blame him. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: if a board is going to hire a manager to oversee team affairs, they should put complete faith in that manager and his policies and allow him to shape his vision how he wants, with zero interference. If they feel that they cannot trust the man they have appointed and the directors feel that they know best, he shouldn’t be there in the first place – otherwise, let it be and give him a fair crack at the whip. And up until the past few months, I thought this mutual respect and communication was what we had at Aston Villa – and so did O’Neill. But how could MON take this club forward if we are constantly selling our best players? How could he take us anywhere if he isn’t being allowed to spend even the money that he raises himself? What would be the point in remaining with a project devoid of ambition, expecting failure?

The FA rejected MON’s application for the national job because he wanted to make sure that he had complete control of all team and academy matters (like it should be). (Similar unnecessary power-trips was why England missed out on having Brian Clough in charge all those years ago) Instead, the country was treated to the appointment of Steve McClaren who did his utmost to bring shame and disrepute to the 3 Lions crest. I say, “Back the manager; or sack the manager”… worryingly, our chairman chose the wrong option.

Irreplaceable?

Yes, I am a massive O’Neill supporter (although I can’t see any reason why everyone isn’t), but I do not want to become like that infamous blog which spouts out nothing but uninterested, uninspiring, pessimistic garbage each week about all-things-Villa. I’m an AVFC supporter first and foremost who simply recognised that MON was one of the best things in a long, long time that ever happened to this club – and I will back his successor (granted it’s not David O’Leary). I’m just having difficulty seeing how these clouds can be moved from Villa Park. I’m having difficulty considering life after O’Neill.

Martin gave us 4 spectacular years (I’ve discussed this in-depth in previous posts), and I, for one, am extremely thankful. Some say he was just there for the money (although he admirably walked out on his contract for footballing reasons); others say he had taken us as far as he could (even if he had, which he hadn’t, he had already taken us quite a distance). But O’Neill had us believing again – he had us hoping. And in the face of our 6 year despair, we couldn’t ask for any more.

I don’t believe that everything happens for a reason, I don’t believe in fate. I maintain that we are placed in situations, faced with opportunities and we need to make the most of them, we have to try and make the right decision.

The term “Messiah” refers to the redeemer figure, the leader, the saviour – the one who will show His people the way. I can’t help but think that after dragging us from the dark ages, after prophesising greatness for this club, after restoring pride in our people, that Martin O’Neill was The Chosen One. And I dread to accept that we turned our back on his teachings, that we rejected his way, and that we, Aston Villa, banished The Messiah.

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Thanks For The Memories, James – But Good Riddance

Time to move on

Last season’s best player wants to leave and our transfer dealings are restricted within the confines of a sell-to-buy policy. Grim? Maybe, but this is the situation and we have to get on with it.

Yes, James Milner was superb at times over the last 12 months; he scored 7 league goals from midfield and contributed to our cause with 12 assists. He showed glimpses of brilliance on the world stage in June and ultimately made the loss of our 12 year stalwart (who will remain nameless) a smooth, if not improved, transition. “Irreplaceable” you might say. However, I wouldn’t.

Of course, when I first heard Martin O’Neill’s admission that our number 8’s head was turned, I was gutted. It couldn’t be that, for a second year, my favourite footballer would sell his soul for the devil’s riches. Thankfully, however, I had already grieved this hurt and I soon realised that the loss of Milly wouldn’t compare to the aftermath of Man City’s first summer signing last year. And then it hit me: James Milner was just a rebound. All along, I had been using him to sooth the scar left by our former number 6 – he had his uses, don’t get me wrong; but now that he’s going, Villa will have no problem moving on, and do you know what? We’ll be okay.

Although it will be extremely difficult to find an established, and effective, central midfielder within our miniscule £12m transfer cap, the perceived “disastrous” sale of James Milner is now actually very “necessary”. Because, as our overly generous American owner has, for once, decided to tighten his purse strings, Villa would have been in big trouble this coming year – but for the gluttonous naivety of Manchester City. The uncontrollable spending which is destroying football as we know it over at Eastlands is, without doubt, making progression harder; but by exploiting the Citizens’ reckless attitude, the claret side of Birmingham is offered a lifeline which could continue to kickstart our climb to the top – at a time when Aston Villa should be stalled on a hill without the assurance of a handbrake.

For me, City can become that ally you have when playing Monopoly whose fortunes will never be surpassed, and who has no problem paying over the odds for your hot property. They will never be caught, but they can help carry you to the top with them.

As the club prepares to enter the transfer market with an empty bank account, it is an ironic saving grace that Man Shitty have declared an interest in our most valuable player. I’ve argued that we have to keep the likes of Milner at Trinity Road if we are to remain an attractive habitat; but should the Villains desperately hang on to the want-away England star for another season, the potential kitty from the sale of our fringe players will not be sufficient to even change, never mind improve, on last year. And let’s be honest: as much as we stepped on last year (in the cup runs and increased points tally), we were caught out.

Opposition sides were all too prepared for the approach of a Martin O’Neill team in its fourth season, and a lot of the times we were thwarted. Teams were willing to treat our deep-lying outfit with caution and often refused to over-commit – and thus, suffocating the potential of our counterattacking prowess in which Downing, Young, Gabby, Carew and, of course, Milner were pivotal. Failing to win 11 of our 19 games at Villa Park last year was testament to our inability to break teams down; and indeed to our vulnerability at coping with sides who were as equally prepared to hit teams on the break. On top of this, a meek total of 52 league goals banged in last term (the 8th most in the league), shows just how far we really are from Champions League football. Defensively we were water tight; but our inability to put weaker opponents to the sword ultimately created the failure to acquire that elusive 6 more points.

In conclusion, we have become much too predictable as an attacking force and the variation of talent which could be welcomed aboard for the same valuation as an overpriced James Milner is essential.

Stephen Ireland

Graceful

So, he didn’t have the best of seasons. But the 23 year old suffered the most from Manchester City’s ridiculous spending. Making room for more “household names”, the Sky Blues unfairly asked Stephen Ireland to ply his trade from wide areas (and I’m talking out-and-out winger positions), and of course from a deeper midfield role under the new defence-minded Italian regime.

But if we rewind to the 08/09 season, the Irish man was Mark Hughes’ main threat, cutting teams open with his creative instincts and death touch when allowed to roam through the centre and off the front man. It’s a cliché, I know, but his 9 goals and 9 assists that year were so efficiently devastating that it was, at times, reminiscent of a hot knife cutting through melting butter – at the tender age of 22.

And as a supporter of his native country: yes, I’ll admit, he has caused his fair share of trouble; but when Stephen lines out in a green shirt, the Republic then have at least one dimension to their boring, unimaginative play – I mean, boy is he crucial. Scoring 4, largely individual, goals in just 6 appearances playing in an already below-par team furthered hindered by the misguidance of Steve Staunton, Ireland banished any perception that he couldn’t play in a 4-4-2 formation. Starring in the centre for his country, Stephen didn’t shirk his defensive or tactical duties, and his 4 goals from this position were all four match-winners as an uninspired outfit took 12 Qualifying points, each through the minimum winning margin.

No other club on the planet would deem such a gem surplus to requirements – particularly if he was nurtured through their underage system. Fortunately for Villa, however, “Citeh” are a brainless club. Having already pawned off Daniel Sturridge, Mancini is doing his best to have Onouha and Richards frozen out; and valuing a raw James Milner almost £20m more than the effortless Stephen Ireland, any work completed within the Man City academy (as good as it has been) is deemed a pointless waste of time in the shambolic rigmarole that is the MCFC boardroom.

Not only would I actually prefer a Stephen Ireland to a James Milner, but to have that swap with an extra £20m thrown into the bargain would be daylight robbery – and exactly the sort of steal we need in today’s sell-to-buy climate. City are surely buying their way to the title; but last summer, we acquired PFA Team of the Year member Richard Dunne for £18m less than the clumsy Joleon Lescott; and this summer we could be obtaining the improved services of Stephen Ireland for £20m less than workhorse James Milner – therefore, as a Villa fan I say, “Long live the Sheikh”.

Opportunity

If the part exchange deal did take place involving either Ireland or Bellamy, we would be left with a more talented alternative – perfect for the necessary change the AVFC attack needs for the coming season. Moreover, the extra cash obtained will be used effectively to add extra dimensions to a thin squad.

I’m not saying that they are targets or that they are even interested, but the rumoured links with Aiden McGeady and Robbie Keane are heart-warming. Whilst I don’t think that McGeady is better than Young or Downing, I’ve witnessed his 2nd half introductions for the Republic of Ireland on numerous occasions and I’m convinced that his ability to lift the crowd and spark a game into life can be just the tonic our poor home win ratio needs.

Robbie Keane (or a similar player), in my opinion, will be a steal at £10m. Yes, he’s ageing, but he is good. Overflowing with flair, the Irish captain is the perfect man to get in between the customary positional lines of football and bring other players into the game. Feeding off target men for his entire international career, Keane is also one of the best forwards in the world at anticipating flick-ons and getting in behind the opposition defence.

The possibility of Aston Villa acquiring Ireland’s 3 most exciting players at the expense of the ever-willing, but limited talent of, James Milner is too good a chance to miss. Jimmy was great for two years, but was there ever a sense of emotional attachment with the wanderlust professional? He did his job, he did it well, but Milner was never Aston Villa.

Now, by replacing him, we can bring in critical firepower which will deal with the onset predictability of the club – without spending a single penny. And after overseeing 71 league goals (the 3rd most) in just his second year in charge, with a less able outfit, Martin O’Neill has the capability to get the Villains firing again – he just needs different ammunition to wear down the bullet proof vests some teams have adapted to wear against us.

Therefore, strangely, I’m hoping to see the back of James Milner sooner rather than later. Clearly, he didn’t appreciate the punt MON took on him as he looked for the exit doors at St. James’ Park. He doesn’t acknowledge the work undergone to turn him into an international standard player (quite similar to another particular Man City footballer). And he is so inpatient at the age of 24 that he couldn’t wait one more season to see if the Villa project comes together.

Not only don’t I want that type of personnel infecting the changing rooms at Bodymoor Heath, but I think that we can do a lot better than James Milner. So I say, “Thanks for the memories, James – but good riddance” because we don’t need you. What we do need is to cash his price tag and get to work bringing in the different types of ability which our team so badly needs. James Milner was crucial to an outfit who were capable of scoring just 52 league goals. Now, Aston Villa needs 3 or 4 variable elements who are crucial to an outfit who can once again score 70+ goals. But this time, we will be supported by a mean defence. And this time, we could go that one step further – without the services of one, James Milner.

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England v USA

Frustrating

And so: after 240 days of anticipating build up; over 30 months of Capello’s callous expectation; and 44 years of dreaming; England’s most recent quest for world domination came crashing down to earth with an almighty thump upon the uneventful plains of Rustenburg.

Of course, it would be unfair to rule out the Royal Britannia after just 90 minutes of football, and but for another goalkeeping error, England would be sitting pretty with a 100% record; unfortunately though, for me, the national side have been much too uninspiring to be even considered as outside contenders to claim the planet’s most prestigious football competition.

The beauty of the group stages, however, is that each team has two more games to get things right and as per the nature of Group C, only a couple of meagre outfits stand in the way of England and the World Cup’s first knockout round.

So rather than waste an article moaning about another pitiable performance; instead of sliding blindly into the vicious circle that is the Three Lions rigmarole, I thought I’d have a proper look at the England-USA game and try to offer some constructive feedback (for anyone interested!).

Goalkeeping Problems

Firstly, I feel bad for Robert Green. He seems like a nice guy and a complete professional but sadly, football is a dog-eat-dog world where only the fittest will survive. It would be easy for England to pin responsibility for their draw on the shoulders of one man; but at the end of the day, he is their first choice goalkeeper and every team runs the risk of being as weak as their weakest player.

Maybe the manager chose the wrong man to stand between the posts. With 4 blunders, Rob Green made more errors leading to goals than any other player in the Premier League last season. But with “the more experienced” David James failing to ever line out in tournament finals for his country, and a 23 year old shot stopper yet to start an international match, as backup, the selection of the West Ham number one was not controversial by any stretch of the imagination. Instead, it just goes to show that England is not blessed with a great goalkeeper – a necessary tool for any team who have aspirations of winning a cup competition.

James Milner

Maybe he was sick; maybe he wasn’t involved, but as a Villa fan, I certainly was not going to let this one go without a say.

Not even 30 minutes on the clock and up went the fourth official’s board to signal the first substitute of the evening. Annoyingly, Milly would have been dreaming of playing for his country in the World Cup finals his whole life and would not have let his manager down. However, one yellow card later and the PFA Young Player of the Year is summoned to the dugout. Yes, he mistimed two tackles, but I have never witnessed a game where there is such concern over one of the wingers being booked. Playing inferior opposition, why was Fabio so obsessed with protecting the backline? Indeed, at the risk of sounding cliché, it is a testament to the Italian’s negative system that the left midfielder can’t prolong his game-time with a yellow card because it will interfere with his prioritised defensive duties. James Milner has an awful lot to contribute to any team; but unfortunately because of his admirable industry, Capello spoiled the Villa player’s game out of an unnecessary fear that Ashley Cole (one of the best left backs in the world) could not cope without backup.

(I also wondered why, in those first 30 minutes when the USA did show something going forward, were the yanks so determined to get down the right side past an almost immoveable resistance of Cole and Milner. Surely they would have had more joy getting at the likes of Lennon and Johnson on the other flank.)

Not to mention the ineffectual introduction of Shaun Wright Phillips. As I’ll prove later, the Man City man offered nothing for his country in their opening group game. In the second half, England played 17 of their final balls from wide areas – only 3 of these came from the left (none from SWP). I’d like to think that Aston Villa’s main man would have had a greater input than that had he been given the chance to ply his trade in a dominating second half.

Steven Gerrard

His inspiring performance tonight raises questions as to why he was ever considered to play out wide. He offers too much in the centre to be wasted on the wing and after completely outshining midfield partner, Lampard, if Gerrard is moved to accommodate Gareth Barry, there should be uproar amongst both the fans and the players to keep Stevie G as the team’s attacking heartbeat.

Emile Heskey

Beware!

There is a fickle sense that The Mule has won people over with his one, admittedly elegant, assist today. This is one report I found:

There will be plenty of fools criticising Heskey for thumping his chance just before the hour straight at Tim Howard. Ignore them. And if you are one of those fools, ignore yourself. The big man was terrific in every other way, winning everything in the air, strong when holding the ball up, an of course the exceptionally weighted pass for Gerrard’s opener. The idea that a striker is there only to score goals, and is a failure if he doesn’t, is outmoded. If Heskey contributed less elsewhere, he would not be worth his place in the side, but he was arguably England‘s best all round player.

Some will say ‘Defoe/Bent would’ve buried that’. Possibly. But would Defoe/Bent have played a similar pass for Gerrard, or made such an important contribution to the rest of the game? Absolutely, positively, certainly not.”

 

I am here to tell you to not be fooled by such sensationalism.

Heskey looked sharp at the beginning of the game. He got in front of his marker and flicked a perfectly weighted ball in front of his captain in an almost effortless manner – and surprisingly, I was delighted for him. Indeed, in the first 8 minutes, it was Heskey who delivered all of England’s final passes (4 of them) – but only one of which were successful and lead to a shot (the Gerrard goal). If only the game was played over 8 minutes.

Because for the remainder of his 72 on-field minutes, the Villa striker looked like he wanted to rest on his laurels and did his best to be substituted. Back to his old self, the man-mountain was being barged over and “hurt” with every ball that came his way in an attacking position (oh, and of course he was standing pointlessly offside a few times as well). With regards to him “winning everything in the air”, the England number 21 did flick a number of long balls aimlessly off the back of his head – which did not once result in Capello’s men advancing further upfield with possession.

And referring back to the above quote, I’m happy to dissociate myself from the said “fools”. Simply because I will not be criticising Heskey for his time-rich one-on-one miss; for the reason that when the ball was played through, not one inch of my anatomy reacted with any sort of stimulus out of complete assurance that there was no way Emile Heskey had the ability to finish off that move. Therefore, just like I wouldn’t judge Rooney on his aptitude to mark an opposing centre back whilst defending a corner; I won’t criticize Heskey for not being able to produce something that is not within his capabilities to produce (why should the striker be expected to finish that anyway?). Rather, I hold my reservations for Emile’s inability to affect change in the “rest of the game” where he still came up some way short (and if he is expected to lead the nation through the knockout rounds, then please excuse my lack of faith for the England cause).

(Just a note: To suggest that the substituted Heskey was also better than Glen Johnson and Steven Gerrard, in their World Cup opener, defies logic.)

I really don’t want to sound like a Villa basher because I am the complete opposite – I just don’t want English men and women sitting up on their seats for a player who I know (and I’ve seen tonight) is not worth opening one eye for.

First Half Analysis

What was most worrying, however, was the further evidence of England’s technical weaknesses. Having analysed every final ball Capello’s men made, I noticed a shockingly poor ratio of attacks turning to shots. What was more interesting was to find that the 5 times England did manage to create a shooting or scoring opportunity in the first half was when they cut inside and went through the centre either with a direct dribble or a cute through ball.

England’s Final Pass

Diagram Key below article

The two times the team did go long to Heskey, nothing came of it. With not even one successful cross; any final ball, which led to any sort of outcome for the English, had to be played on the deck through the centre.

This first half also comes to question Capello’s belief of having speedy wingers in the team. With Aaron Lennon playing the whole half and Wright Phillips a third of it, England didn’t try to utilise their pace and get to the by-line or in behind the defenders.

Second Half Analysis

After a quiet first half, Aaron Lennon was responsible for a lot of his team’s final passes in the final 45 minutes – however, 5 of these went astray with no outcome.

Mr Capello clearly set his team out to get down the sides of the US in this half (despite the central success of the first) and it resulted in a lot more final ball being delivered from open play. It did however also show up the deficiencies of Shaun Wright Phillips on the left as his only penultimate contribution to his team’s attack was to win a free nearer to the halfway line.

The diagram shows the tendency of the English to head for the right flank even though they still looked likely to cause damage through the centre. But with Glen Johnson getting heavily involved and Steven Gerrard clearly covering a lot of ground, balls were going into the American box as quickly as Heskey was falling to the ground.

Looking at both images, every time Wayne Rooney had a say in the final pass, it led to a goalscoring opportunity. This is probably an obvious observation considering the talent of the United player, but it is further proof of the technical importance required to unlock defences. The scouse man wasn’t used enough as the white shirts of England felt they were having enough joy bombarding the American left back.

Nevertheless, despite the volume of right sided attacks launched by Capello’s men, England failed to score in the second half (and their two greatest chances came from through balls to Heskey and SWP who both spurned great opportunities).

If England were to continue playing like they do, it would be advised to select the best crossers of the ball because not only was that mode of attack top-heavy, it was also very unsuccessful and obviously didn’t suit the players on the field. And I’m confident that SWP and Lennon are not the best crossers in the squad.

Alternatively, if they learned to keep the ball on the deck and go for the jugular of the opposing defence, they have shown they can turn a lot more of their attacks into goalscoring chances. But this will spawn out of an ability to hold possession and wear down the defence – and by not constantly looking for clear bits of harmless grass beside the touchline.

Spain are the tournament favourites and will score very few goals from deep crosses. England have shown they can get through the centre. Whether they will realise the importance of it in time, remains to be seen.

Key:

(2) = Glen Johnson

(3) = Ashley Cole

(4) = Steven Gerrard

(7) = Aaron Lennon

(8) = Frank Lampard

(9) = Peter Crouch

(10) = Wayne Rooney

(16) = James Milner

(17) = Shaun Wright Phillips

(21) = Emile Heskey

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