England 0 Chile 2: Five things we learnt at Wembley
Hodgson badly needs Hart to recover his confidence
1. England, as ever, remain a work in progress
Like Franz Schubert's last symphony it seems England will never be the finished article. No sooner do matters seem to be solved - such as Leighton Baines superseding Ashley Cole as the first-choice left-back, than they are cast into doubt again. A team with a trio of debutants will inevitably look loose in some areas, but though England had some bright patches this was a disappointing display. Adam Lallana had a decent debut, Southampton team-mate Jay Rodriguez less so. More worrying for Hodgson – since these will be fringe players even if they go to Brazil – was Gary Cahill's poor performance, the failure of the most creative players, Jack Wilshere and Wayne Rooney, to make the most of the several promising situations they engineered, and the ease in which Chile cut through England's midfield in the opening half. On the plus side Tom Cleverley had a bright cameo – and there should not now be any rash talk about winning the World Cup.
2. Coach needs to demonstrate that he can be adaptable
It is less than 18 months ago that Hodgson was being castigated for playing a rigid 4-4-2 in the European Championship finals as England ground their way into the later stages. Little consideration was given to the fact that having been parachuted into the job with just a few weeks to prepare the England manager had little choice but to stick to the familiar. England have gradually evolved since then as Hodgson has taken the opportunity to work on team shape and personnel.
Last night they began playing 4-3-3, as has been Hodgson's wont recently, with James Milner and Jay Rodriguez either side of Wayne Rooney in attack. That was swiftly adapted with Milner and Adam Lallana swapping places. As the game wore on the team settled into a 4-1-4-1 shape with Frank Lampard in the holding role, then, after a raft of substitutions, appeared to be 4-2-3-1 with Rooney playing behind Jermaine Defoe. Flexible England, that's a new one.
3. Hodgson badly needs Hart to recover his confidence
Fraser Forster's night began with a back-pass from Cahill that put him under pressure and soon after he was picking the ball out of the net. It was a tough international baptism for the Celtic 'keeper and while he shepherded Jean Beausejour away from goal later on to good effect his habit of parrying shots into the danger area will concern Hodgson. Forster's performances for Celtic show he has potential, but this close to the World Cup finals Hodgson badly needs Joe Hart to recover confidence.
4. Jagielka did himself no harm by warming bench
No one likes to be dropped or rested, but some games are good ones to miss and this was one of them for Phil Jagielka. England's central defence lacked protection from a slow-paced, attack-minded midfield and was exposed by the speed of movement, in thought and deed, of Alexis Sanchez and his midfield support. Not that they helped themselves - Phil Jones gave the ball away to start one opposition attack and Gary Cahill was waving his arms in a mis-guided offside appeal when he should have been chasing Sanchez ahead of the opening goal. Cahill is struggling for form at present, as his sloppy pass for Chile's second underlined, and was so rattled he was booked for a crude and pointless challenge.
It is never easy for a new defensive partnership to dovetail immediately, and Jones' lack of game-time in defence exacerbates the problem. Like Paul Madeley and Phil Neville before him, he is in danger of suffering for his versatility, but while David Moyes has plenty of alternatives the paucity of Hodgson's defensive options is clear.
5. Ball-playing centre-halves continue to be frozen out
Gary Neville is the great centre-half England never had. He showed promise there as a youngster but Alex Ferguson decided that, at 5 ft 11 in, he was too tall for the aerial demands placed upon defenders in the Premier League. Neville went on to have a very good career at right-back but, until Rio Ferdinand's emergence, spent much of his career with club and country alongside defenders who preferred to play the ball long and early rather than bring it out and develop attacks.
Gary Medel is four inches shorter than Neville and plays in midfield for Cardiff. Last night he was at centre-half for Chile and most of the time comfortable, as well he might having often played there in his career. No one would describe England's current crop of centre-halves as 'ball-playing.' It made one wonder how many such players have been lost due to the English game's fixation with physique.
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