Why can't Capello plug the gaps in his leaky defence?

The Italian's stewardship has been successful in all but one area – England are now keeping fewer clean sheets. Glenn Moore wonders why
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The Independent Football

Slaven Bilic, the Croatia coach, may suggest England have lost their "Englishness" under Fabio Capello, but their defensive record is far from "Italian".

Beginning with the storming of Zagreb a year ago tomorrow, the moment Capello put his stamp on the team, England have played 11 matches. They have won nine, drawn in Amsterdam and lost in Madrid. It is a formidable record. Yet England have kept just three clean sheets – against Slovakia, Kazakhstan and Andorra.

This is untypical. England, historically, are sound defensively against all but the best nations. In Steve McClaren's last 11 games, including the defeats to Russia in Moscow and Croatia at Wembley, England kept seven clean sheets. In Sven Goran Eriksson's last 11 matches there were six blanks.

It might have been thought that an Italian manager who has won seven Serie A titles, would have tightened up the defence even further. This has not been the case. Why?

1. Lack of continuity

Defences work through mutual understanding. Centre-halves need to know who is going to attack the ball and who will drop off, full-backs need to know who is going to dictate the height of the defensive line, and whether the centre-halves want players shown inside or out. In good defences each player knows just how the man alongside him will react.

Yet injuries, and the vagaries of form and selection, mean that England have not fielded the same back four in successive matches since the spring of 2008. Since then Wes Brown and Glen Johnson have alternated at right-back, Ashley Cole and Wayne Bridge at left-back, and six players have filled in at centre-back. Only once has that partnership been unchanged, Rio Ferdinand and Matthew Upson playing successive matches in October. The first-choice pairing of Ferdinand and John Terry have started three times in 14 games.

Add in the changes wrought by substitutions, the need to adapt to a new goalkeeper since Rob Green took over from the injured David James, and alterations in the midfield personnel, and it is hardly surprising that England's defence has been porous. Capello will hope to drill an understanding into the unit on the training ground before a tournament.

2. Lack of concentration

Capello's England seem prone to conceding sloppy goals, whether from that inexplicable pass by Ashley Cole, the comedy goal in Berlin, or the howlers conceded in Amsterdam. In addition six of the 10 goals conceded in this period have been in the last half-hour when England were leading. None of the goals have been the work of outstanding attacking play. All this suggests complacency and a lack of concentration are bedevilling England.

3. Lack of talent?

The big question. Has Capello actually got the tools to work with? Ferdinand, when he concentrates, and Ashley Cole, when on form, are of the highest class, but Terry has been slowed by his injuries and right-back remains up for grabs.

Shipping goals: England's defensive mishaps

Croatia 1 - 4 England (Zagreb, Sept 2008) Mandzukic 78 min

England counter-attack even though 3-0 up and John Terry's missed clearance puts Srna in on goal.

Back four at the time of goal: Ashley Cole, Rio Ferdinand, John Terry, Wes Brown tinyurl.com/ljk9t5

England 5 - 1 Kazakhstan (Wembley, Oct 2008) Kukeyev 68 min

Ashley Cole's horrific back pass gifts the ball to Kukeyev, who volleys home.

Back four: Ashley Cole, Rio Ferdinand, Matthew Upson, Wes Brown tinyurl.com/mqd2v9

Belarus 1 - 3 England (Minsk, Oct 2008) Sitko 28 min

Srasevich turns Wayne Bridge and crosses and an unmarked Sitko heads in.

Back four: Wayne Bridge, Rio Ferdinand, Matthew Upson, Wes Brown tinyurl.com/kmk3m2

Germany 1 - 2 England (Berlin, Nov 2008) Helmes 63 min

Terry and Scott Carson fail to deal with a through ball, allowing Helmes to score.

Back four: Wayne Bridge, Matthew Upson, John Terry, Glen Johnson tinyurl.com/mpvwg9

Spain 2 - 0 England (Seville, Feb 2009) Villa 36 and Llorente 82 min

Phil Jagielka gives the ball away badly for the first. Peter Crouch then loses Llorente when defending a free-kick.

Back four for first goal: Ashley Cole, Phil Jagielka, John Terry, Glen Johnson. Second goal: Upson for Jagielka. tinyurl.com/krd263

England 2 - 1 Ukraine (Wembley, April 2009) Shevchenko 74 min

Free-kick into the box ricochets off Glen Johnson kindly into Shevchenko's path.

Back four: Ashley Cole, Rio Ferdinand, John Terry, Glen Johnson tinyurl.com/mnzllu

Netherlands 2 - 2 England (Amsterdam, August 2009) Kuyt 10 min and Van der Vaart 38 min

Rio Ferdinand's lazy back pass presents Kuyt with the first goal. Gareth Barry's back pass then puts Robben in, with Van der Vaart scoring from the rebound.

Back four: Ashley Cole, Rio Ferdinand, John Terry, Glen Johnson tinyurl.com/l6jh53

England 2 -1 Slovenia (Wembley, Sept 2009 ) Lubijankic 85 min

Pecnik cuts past Johnson to cross for Lubijankic, who ghosts beyond Joleon Lescott to head in.

Back four: Ashley Cole, Joleon Lescott, John Terry, Glen Johnson tinyurl.com/le32jc

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