Rafa Benitez World Cup 2014 column: Steven Gerrard will be key – if Uruguay push up a man to confront him, England should find the space to win
The former Liverpool and Chelsea manager gives his views on England's chances after the 2-1 defeat in Manaus
Wednesday 18 June 2014
Whatever we say about Thursday night and about England needing to win and pushing to win, don’t forget how people in Uruguay feel about football. I know the focus is huge here but Uruguay is a football country. They have lost to Costa Rica in the World Cup and pressure on them not to lose now is almost too much. I know everyone here is talking about England needing to win but the intensity in Montevideo will be incredible. That can help England. Neither of the teams can afford to lose this game but another defeat for Uruguay? The response will be unbelievable.
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You can see just from the interviews before the match how focused, committed and motivated that team will be, though. I think we all know the two very dangerous players we will be looking out for tonight – Luis Suarez, if he plays, and Edinson Cavani. Of course, you know a lot about Luis but maybe a little bit less about Cavani. When I arrived at Napoli he was on his way to Paris Saint-Germain so I did not get the chance to work with him but they tell me that he was what I think you call a workaholic. The tough thing for England will not just be Suarez because Cavani is a top striker – very mobile. The centre-halves Gary Cahill and Phil Jagielka will have to coordinate very well. If we know these two are the main threat, then the defenders will be able to concentrate on them.
The big opportunity in the game for England is created by Steven Gerrard. One of the things that could happen for England in possession is that Gerrard will drop off a little bit and try to play and create. Uruguay seem to think he might do that because Suarez was talking about it the other day. Uruguay will have to press Gerrard and if they go 4-4-2, like they did against Costa Rica, and don’t ask the strikers to worry about him then a midfielder will have to go higher to press him in the same way that Marco Verratti did for Italy. That means England can find space behind that player which I think they can exploit, using some of the attacking players they have who can play well between the lines. So yes, England will have to protect their centre-backs well if Uruguay play with two strikers. But the big decision for Uruguay if they play with those two is whether to use one of them to manage Gerrard or use one of the midfielders, which brings a risk. Once again, the captain who did so much for me at Liverpool is the tactical key.
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I know the debate has been about Wayne Rooney and whether he should play in the middle or out wide. I have a lot of respect for the decision the manager has to take in the circumstances he faces. If he plays him on the wing then that is his decision. But anyone knows that Rooney is dangerous in the middle because he is a proper striker – dynamic, doing unexpected things, showing vision, always dangerous. If Uruguay press high, Rooney in the middle could be a very big threat and the key to the game. People were criticising him for not always defending against Italy but I don’t see that Rooney plays in that way.
Uruguay have to change things around in their defence because they have Maxi Pereira suspended, while Diego Lugano has a knee injury. I think they might switch Martin Caceres, who was left-back against Costa Rica, to fill the right-back place and bring in Jorge Fucile on the left. They will perhaps have more balance if this is the way the defence looks but when I look at the centre-backs – especially Diego Godin of Atletico Madrid – I don’t see players with the pace to control the England strikers. We saw a different kind of England against Italy, with lots of belief and hunger when they were in possession and attacking. The night is difficult to predict because there are a lot of uncertain things. We don’t know how Suarez will be. We don’t know if he will be 100 per cent if he does play, so soon after surgery. But Uruguay do not have a defence which should give England fears about their lower ranking in world football, 10th, to Uruguay’s seventh.
I don’t know Oscar Tabarez too well but he is a good manager with experience. To achieve what he has achieved with a small country such as Uruguay means that he will be a part of the threat that England face. He has always been flexible with tactics, changing situations in the game. But this time he seems to know the two main strengths he has – the strikers – and has worked to find a way to get the best out of his best. The new Netherlands 5-3-2 style under Louis van Gaal seems to be based on the same idea.
England will have to be very, very focused. Suarez is known as a player who is back at the top straight away when he has been missing games. But to put it very simply, England have more threats and more various threats than their opponents. England and Italy have superior squads with more potential than Costa Rica and Uruguay, in Group D. If they are focused when they need to be, there are plenty of reasons to be very confident tonight.
Low dug-outs can drive you crazy – but learn to adapt
I was interested to read about the latest controversial World Cup aspect – the depth of the dug-out. It was interesting to see that Van Gaal felt that the dug-out below pitch level in Porto Alegre meant he would not see enough of the players against Australia, with the cameras in front of him causing problems as well. I have known a lot of those low dug-outs myself and it certainly is easier when it is higher. A few of the ones I have known at pitch level were Valencia – which I knew very well by the time I left that club – and Atletico Madrid was another. It’s not the best position but it is one of the facts of life as a coach. It can make you crazy when the work of the cameras gets in your way and it seems like the pictures for the TV seem to matter more than your work, managing the progress of the game. But it is a fact of life in the job. You just have to adapt.
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