Comment: It's time for England to follow the German example

An inability to retain the ball is making it extremely hard to close out matches

Wembley

When Nobby Stiles made his England debut in 1965, against Scotland at Wembley, he went to shake the hand of his Manchester United team-mate Denis Law before kick-off. As he extended his hand Law snarled: “F*** off you little English bastard”.

Scotland may already be among the living dead when it comes to qualification for World Cup 2014 but there is nothing like a crusade to Wembley to give the auld enemy the kiss of life. Any England player tending to complacency after the under-21s despatched the junior jocks 6-0 on Tuesday night was swiftly disabused when James Morrison renewed the suspicion that Joe Hart's position in the England goal may not be the sinecure it once seemed.

Which was, perversely, just what Roy Hodgson needed. The August friendly is a distraction for many players with the Premier League's opening inevitably on their minds, but once Morrison scored they had to focus on the here-and-now. It became a proper work-out in advance of the demanding World Cup qualifying programme on which much rests.

England prevailed in the end, but it was a while before they met the challenge. Even before Morrison's goal Scotland pressed more effectively, held their shape and broke sharply. England pushed the visitors back but were never able to feel in command and it was Scotland's ambition which was the undoing of them as space was left in behind for Theo Walcott to step on the turbo and level.

It was a neat finish which will further encourage Walcott's desire to lead the Arsenal attack. Arsene Wenger will note, though, that he came off the wing to score Hodgson having detailed him to stay wide on the right. On the other flank the width was provided by Leighton Baines with Danny Welbeck drifting inside to support Wayne Rooney in an attempt to facilitate some close-quarter interchanges between them and the advanced midfield duo of Jack Wilshere and Tom Cleverley. They never quite managed to open up Scotland in this fashion but there were promising signs which may bear fruit in the qualifiers to come.

Steven Gerrard sat deeper and while England trailed was unable to resist the temptation to deliver several overly optimistic Hollywood passes in an attempt to prompt the equaliser. A player of his experience should know there was no need, so early in the match, to try and force to play that way.

This flexible 4-3-3 is the preferred shape of Hodgson's new England (it remained the same when Frank Lampard replaced Wilshere at the break, and when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain came on for Gerrard on the hour). Four-four-two has been consigned to history, for now at least. In its place is a fluid formation with clever ball players and a mobile front line. That is the theory. The subsequent arrival of Rickie Lambert underlined the belief that there is a Plan B, and it is now as likely to involve Lambert as Andy Carroll.

How long Hodgson persists with Plan A, which does not create enough chances against good opposition (or, as tonight, moderate opposition playing above itself) remains to be seen. The goals did, after all, come from a counter-attack and two set-pieces, not from some neat Barcelona-esce passing move,

The much-vaunted academy system is intended to develop more players like Wilshere and Cleverly, but the debate continues as to what should be 'the English way'. The usual mantra is 'pride and passion' but such attributes are hardly unique to these shores, and they are not a way of playing football. Many factors, not least the climate and the game's cultural history, mitigate against aping the Spanish model. The lack of tactical debate and knowledge in England, though this is changing, suggests the Dutch or Italian philosophies are equally alien.

The modern German game is one best suited to English (and Scottish) players. A decent tempo, pressing high up the pitch, and no shame about playing the occasional long pass or scoring from set-pieces. Technique needs improvement at all levels, not least because tournaments are played in summer climes and chasing the ball for 90 minutes, in a format which demands a game every four days, is no recipe for success.

An inability to retain the ball also makes it extremely hard to close out matches. At 3-2 England looked like conceding an equaliser right until the final whistle. The Premier League nature of the game was a factor, but so was a defence which has become worryingly porous and a midfield which struggles to simply rotate the ball between them when under pressure

Such inadequacies have bedevilled England teams for decades and Hodgson cannot be expected to fix them in the brief time he has with these players. He has to find a way to mask the deficiences and achieve short-term success this autumn, then a respectable performance in Brazil. The target is France 2016. No one seriously thinks England can win next year's World Cup, but they need to be there to learn and buy time for Hodgson to integrate the young talent and find a winning formula.

Auld enemies: Wembley stats

2 Theo Walcott scored only his second goal in his last 30 appearances for England.

10 In England's last 10 games, only San Marino (twice) have failed to score against them.

1979 Before Kenny Miller, the last Scots-born player to score in open play for Scotland v England at Wembley was John Wark 34 years ago.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
booksPhotographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years - but he says it wasn’t all fun and games...
News
i100
Sport
Aguero - who single-handedly has kept City's Champions League dreams alive - celebrates his dramatic late winner
footballManchester City 3 Bayern Munich 2: Argentine's late hat-rick sees home side snatch vital victory
News
Muhammad Ali pictured in better health in 2006
peopleBut he has enjoyed publicity from his alleged near-death experience
Arts and Entertainment
Tony breaks into Ian Garrett's yacht and makes a shocking discovery
TVReview: Revelations continue to make this drama a tough watch
News
news
News
peopleSinger tells The Independent what life is like in rehab in an exclusive video interview
News
The assumption that women are not as competent in leadership positions as men are leads to increased stress in the workplace
science... and it's down to gender stereotypes
Arts and Entertainment
Inner sanctum: Tove Jansson and friends in her studio in 1992
booksWhat was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Singer songwriter Bob Dylan performs on stage
films
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

24-Hour party person

Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

A taste for rebellion

US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

Colouring books for adults

How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

Call me Ed Mozart

Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
10 best stocking fillers for foodies

Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

'I am a paedophile'

Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

From a lost deposit to victory

Green Party on the march in Bristol
Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

Winter blunderlands

Putting the grot into grotto
'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital