After a monotonous game that had more stoppages than an Audley Harrison fight, I was left contemplating Roy Hodgson’s tactics going forward, especially now with the realisation we must take six points from our last two games to qualify.
Attacking outlets were sparse Tuesday night with Roy reminding us in his post-game interview that his main star (Wayne Rooney) and his most promising attacker (Danny Welbeck) were both out. However dominating games against reasonable opposition is not a new problem for Hodgson’s England.
A Hodgson team
Tuesday was a prime example of a Hodgson team; a solid, organised back four playing a fairly high line with an insatiable appetite to get the ball forward fast.
Fortunately for the ex-Liverpool manager, the media had built up Ukraine to be the reincarnation of 1970’s Brazil with Andy Townsend lavishing praise on Ukraine and then, like most of the media, seemingly making a u-turn after the game.
In reality Ukraine were a poor side that England set up against purely to contain, and seemingly had no plans to impose themselves on the game. Even former strikers Owen and Lineker seemed to concur with this evaluation.
The Problem Going Forward
From a number of sources it has been known that Hodgson places an incredible amount of time on team shape with former player at Fulham Simon Davies saying “every day is geared towards team shape”. He likes the full backs to cover the centre halves, the wingers to cover the full backs.
However “containing” Poland and Montenegro in the final two qualifiers is no good. In addition, the fact we have not beaten Poland, Montenegro or Ukraine in four attempts this campaign further emphasises that Hodgson’s mentality is cause for concern going into the final two games.
Stats and Analysis
After trawling through the match reports I’ve produced the figures below for the games under Hodgson’s leadership (I’ve omitted games against San Marino and Moldova from the data for obvious reasons that they’re gimmies). I’ve documented the statistics that generally demonstrate whether a team has dominated the game; possession, shots, corners and territory (where possible).
Now as we know football isn’t baseball – stats don’t tell the whole story, however they make interesting reading.
Average Possession under Hodgson 47%
Average Territory under Hodgson 47%
Shots/Shots Against under Hodgson 156 / 201
If we include just those who realistically could progress to a major tournament knockout stage (Belgium, Sweden, Italy, France and Brazil), it makes for even worse reading.
Against Top Teams
Average Possession under Hodgson 43%
Shots/Shots Against under Hodgson 58 / 113
Possession and Shots Don’t Always Win Games
It should be noted that many good teams (including Mourinho’s) are generally built around maintaining shape and counter attacking and therefore sometimes don’t dominate possession.
After all Hodgson has only lost 1 out of 20 for England, drawing 8. But both Poland and Montenegro will come to Wembley for a point and it is up to us to dominate possession and, in turn, the game.
Seeing the Light with 4-4-2
Thankfully Hodgson seems to have finally realised recently that 4-4-2 is no longer effective at international level football.
Playing two players in central midfield means these 2 players will be chasing shadows against nations that play three and results in rarely retaining possession in central areas.
Nonetheless England’s desire to get the ball forward quickly, return to shape and rarely press the opposition in their half also adds to a lack of possession, territory and attacking intent.
Let’s hope in the build up to the final qualifiers Hodgson focuses on England with the ball rather than without it. As Johan Cruyff once said, “without the ball you can’t win”.
By David Pettinger