England won the World Cup last night, or at least that’s how it felt watching the match live and interacting with the fans on twitter. Let me guess, half of you are happy and half of you are worried that England might just go all the way and the England fans will “be unbearable”. I get it, both sentiments, I really do.
You should know that I picked England to win the World Cup. I didn’t use a system and I certainly don’t like most of the players on the team. I just looked at the way that everyone was playing, looked at Harry Kane, and said “wouldn’t it be funny if England won the World Cup?” Plus, I kind of enjoy the drama from both the supporters and the haters. I mean, come on. The whole “it’s coming home” stuff is hilarious because the first WC winner was Uruguay and because the World Cup was conceived in France and is a tournament put on by a Swiss corporation. And a lot of people in Little Britain hate the Europeans (or at least the EU). So, it’s just kind of fun to watch the whole thing unfold. From an American perspective!
That said, I’m starting to have some serious reservations about picking England. I’ve watched all their matches and they really only have one way of playing and it’s pretty awful.
This England team plays exactly how stupid people want Arsenal to play. You know how people complain about “sideways passing”? Like how the Spanish team spent too much time passing the ball sideways and not enough time making entry passes? As a result, Spain failed to create and Spain are out of the World Cup. It’s true, Spain were not nearly creative enough. But the exact opposite of that – never playing the ball in midfield – is just as weird! But that’s exactly what England are doing.
I mean, look at this!
— 7amkickoff (@7amkickoff) July 3, 2018
The England plan for attack is wildly similar to the way that Stoke or any Allardycian team plan to attack: get the ball up the field as quickly as possible, but almost always down the wings. If the player can’t beat his man or if he feels any contact whatsoever, he is to immediately fall to the ground and raise his arms pleading for a foul. They do this so they can get a free kick, lump the ball in 30 yards and hope to get a shot or a corner. England created 7 of their 16 shots, plus won their penalty (so, 50%), and nearly got a man sent off, off of this style of play.
The one minor difference between Southgate and Allardyce is that this England side isn’t allergic to the ball, but only as long as it’s being shared among the back three. Maguire, Stones, Dier, and Walker (who all played in the back three) combined for 256 of England’s 578 passes. 44%. They had just 1 key pass combined while the wing players, Trippier and Young had 7 of England’s 12 key passes. An Allardycian side would just hoof the ball out every time they got it, England pass the ball around in the back.
The credit here has to go to Southgate. He intentionally picked this style of play, leaving behind English midfielders like Jack Wilshere who would help build up through the midfield. Instead, he plays Henderson who yesterday made just 33/46 passes. That’s one more accurate pass than the goalkeeper, Pickford. It’s sort of surreal watching them get the ball to Trippier or Young and then everyone converges on them and they pass the ball in weird ways to try to open up space down the wings so that they can kick in a cross.
This style of play was exactly what Colombia wanted. They have two very large center backs who can command the area. The result of all of that play down the wings was that Ashley Young had England’s only non-penalty shit on target in the game. That came in the 5th minute! And it was a dumb shot too, from wide left. Without that penalty, England played 115 minutes of football without a shot on target. That’s suboptimal.
England won the penalty thanks to FIFA’s new rules change, or not really a rules change but more of a “focus change”. FIFA has instructed referees to pay special attention to shirt pulling and grappling in the box in this tournament. It has worked great for England because Kane is such a handful but don’t expect it to come to the Premier League any time soon. In fact, don’t expect VAR or any of this stuff to come to the Premier League any time soon.
Anyway, I can’t see England winning the World Cup playing this style of football and hoping for the referees to call penalties for them. It seems like, to me, that’s not sustainable. But I guess we will see. I’m sticking with my pick (so that I can be wrong for once) but I feel like Brazil might just beat England in the final.
The last weird thing about all this is how England won on penalties. They haven’t won on penalties in a long time (they lost the last three) so this was an emotional moment for the English supporters and players and I do want to recognize that and how it was sort of nice actually.
My only thing here is that they were sort of lucky. Colombia hit the bar with one penalty and Ospina really should have saved Dire’s dire kick.
I guess Southgate has them practice pens but if that’s true he needs to have them practice more. Henderson’s penalty was awful – he placed it right in the spot where you never want to shoot it, slightly off the ground and slightly too close to the keeper. Dave did ok to save that. Dave did not do ok to save Dier’s penalty which was somehow even worse than Henderson’s – struck low but right next to the keeper.
Overall it was a pretty awful contest and there was a lot of shithousery on both sides of the pitch. I made a video of several Colombian players protesting to the referee while using their cleats to destroy the penalty spot.
And you know what I don’t want to hear ever again? An Englishman complaining about diving who isn’t also complaining about the blatant cheating of the English team. Ashley Young was dispossessed 4 times and each time he was on the ground his arms in the air asking for a free kick.
But the flopping around for free kicks is only one of the many things that England did to try to get their opponent’s sent off. I also see no moral difference between Henderson going down after he was headbutted and what Neymar did when he was stamped on.
You couldn’t have missed the Henderson headbutt but in case you did: it’s a free kick for England (surprise) and Barrios puts his head into Henderson’s chest and then raises it up. You see Henderson react to the blow with a little annoyance and then when he realizes what just happened exaggerates the contact, goes down, and spends the next 10 minutes wiggling his jaw around like Maradona on a Saturday night. I’m sure that Barrios’ headbut stung and it should have been a red card but the stamp on Neymar also should have been a red card. Both players exaggerated to get the referee to notice what just happened.
The referee had a nightmare for the first 75 minutes or so. The match was getting chippy and there were a lot of little scuffles. Both teams could be accused of falling over way too easily and neither seemed to really want to play. To top it all off, the ref gave Barrios a yellow card for the headbut and that makes no sense at all. He didn’t see the action directly (replays show him not looking at all) and VAR didn’t seem to intervene, so how did he know what happened and which color card to show?
Right, I think I’ve run out of steam for this article today, plus my neighbor is sawing up his roof and it’s really annoying. I’m going to go shoot some guns to celebrate my freedoms.
Have a great day!