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Observations from the England/Mexico Friendly

May 24, 2010

This was an extremely intriguing game. Despite the press circus surrounding the possibility of Rooney leading the line by himself with Gerrard in harness, England lined up in a 4-4-2 with Rooney and Crouch playing up top. Perhaps the most surprising thing about the first half was how poorly England passed. There is no finer example of this than Michael Carrick, who simply cannot realistically expect to make the plane for South Africa after this outing. As wayward pass followed wayward pass, England couldn’t get a grip on the midfield and let Mexico out pass them throughout the half. Perhaps even more problematically, the defense looked leaky in the first half. Ball after ball found its way into a dangerous position, and England has to be happy with the way Robert Green played.

Despite a mediocre first half performance, England found two goals from set pieces, both thanks to Peter Crouch. On the first, Crouch beautifully set up Tottenham teammate Ledley King, and on the second he… err… ribbed in (it certainly wasn’t a handball… we swear… no really, I don’t know what you’re talking about… and he definitely wasn’t offsides… I mean phases of play right?) off a rebound from Rooney’s header. This ability to get goals while playing poorly is a knack that will serve England well if they keep it up.

The bright spots offensively in the first half came from Theo Walcott, surprisingly enough. Despite poor performance for Arsenal this year, he was lively down the right. He still needs work on his final ball, but he wasn’t afraid to take defenders on. Also of interest was the ability and ease with which Milner, Gerrard, and Rooney switched positions. Gerrard and Milner would drift from the middle to the left, while Rooney drifted back as Gerrard drifter to the front. This combination could be especially productive for England.

In the second half, Gerrard move into the middle of the park, and Milner pushed out to the left. With this move, England felt more fluid going forward, and was better able to stop Mexico’s passing game. It has to be said, though, that this may have been Mexico letting up rather than England stepping up. Removing Crouch in favor of Defoe seemed to be counterproductive, however. Without Crouch up top, balls from the defense were less likely to find an outlet, and England looked less dangerous at set pieces.

Defensively, Glen Johnson did surprisingly well not to get caught out, but made sure to make his runs forward. The goal he smashed in was a reminder of how good he is going forward. He may be England’s answer to Dani Alves. Leighton Baines at left back looked like a solid substitute, but England should hope Ashley Cole will be fit enough to play all of their games. Baines didn’t make an dreadful mistakes, but he couldn’t seem to cut out the crosses that Barrera kept driving in. In goal, Joe Hart produced a fine performance, though he was not called to make any spectacular saves. The one major difference I saw between him and Robert Green was the Hart held the ball longer, while Green played the ball more quickly to greater effect.

Overall England played much more fluidly in the second half, but were lucky not to be on even terms at the end of the first half. If Gareth Barry isn’t healthy, Fabio Capello will have some headaches over who to select in the defensive midfield. Carrick simply doesn’t cut it, and Tom Huddlestone looked better by comparison only because he wasn’t giving Mexico the ball. It will be interesting to see what Capello does when he includes the Chelsea players in the squad, and whether or not he tries to accommodate the confounding Gerrard/Lampard pairing in the midfield.

In other news, Australia hit a last minute winner against the mighty All Whites of New Zealand to win 2-1, Argentina thrashed Canada 5-0 (I’m not saying I’m wrong yet damn it), South Africa got a respectable 1-1 draw with Bulgaria, South Korea defeated 2-0, and best of all, Portugal drew the Cape Verde Islands (quick, someone tell me what continent they are on… trick question, they are islands… but let’s be honest, even if they weren’t you wouldn’t know). On that note, be on the look out for WTF Portugal???, coming soon to a computer screen near you.

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