Roy Hodgson diagnosed the problem himself after England's 1-0 victory over Norway. "We have to get in between the lines a little bit better," the national manager said after watching his rigid side win on Saturday night.
There was much to applaud in England's performance, especially their tactical discipline and well-kept shape. But there is a fine line between discipline and rigidity, and too often in Oslo England showed up the potential problems with Hodgson's favoured 4-4-2 system. It must be done better.
England's players were so locked into their fixed straight lines that they could not make the movements necessary in all top-level football. This left two vast areas of space, between the defence and midfield, and their midfield and front line, both abandoned entirely to the opposition, to the detriment of their whole game.
With so much unpatrolled room between midfield and attack, there was rarely an alternative to the direct approach and rarely many options for incisive or surprising forward play.
Hodgson admitted afterwards that England needed to move players beyond the opposition midfield to create chances: "We have to be more positive when we get a chance to play the ball in-between those lines. That's a work in progress."
It indicates that Steven Gerrard needs to break forward before trying his cutting passes, rather than just hitting them long. Either Ashley Young or Andy Carroll could drop deep to provide more angles of attack, and play in their team-mates. More attacking width from the full-backs would help too. Leighton Baines provided the only wide overlap on Saturday.
With players moving into that attacking space, England might be capable of creating chances against better teams. Without that, they will not.
The problem is that all the other countries play with four bands rather than three. At Euro 2012 England will face teams with players behind the front men. They will enjoy all the space they find there against England.
This means Scott Parker will need to drop in front of his defence, but only with help from James Milner on the right will he be able to do so.
4-4-2: rigidity versus discipline
A rigid 4-4-2 in Norway: with so little movement there was too much space between the three bands, diminishing England's entire game.
A better way to 4-4-2: Young and Gerrard can move into the attacking space, and Parker can drop in — but only if Milner moves inside.Reuse content