One horrendous performance doesn’t make us a terrible side. But, equally, one victory doesn’t make us the best. It was a marked improvement from the previous outing against Algeria and, crucially, three points guarantee one more match in South Africa. England pressed better, played with more urgency, and addressed many of the fans’ concerns following Friday evening. Slovenia were disappointing considering the circumstances; it was an unremarkable push for an equaliser considering England took the lead so early and there was little evidence of a plan B. In general it’s good to be through but we will need to play a lot better to get past a young and technically proficient Germany team.
2. Wayne Rooney is, now, unequivocally injured…until the next match
We’ve all seen a slightly more laboured looking Rooney thus far and, in the second half, he was forced to be substituted after picking up a knock. There have been question marks surrounding his fitness ever since the Champions League quarter final first leg played in Munich and his increased irritability and evident frustration hints as much to unhappiness with the team as it does to his own lack of sharpness. It was however encouraging seeing Ashley Cole involved as much as he was. It’s not a new fact that England’s success is heavily contingent on the left back’s involvement; I have long thought that he is absolutely key to England’s success (more so than Gerrard, Lampard and, definitely at the moment, Rooney). His defensive qualities are supreme; pace, positional sense, experience at the highest level, and proven class performances against the best…done in an England shirt as well. As an attacking full back he is certainly among the very best in the world.
3. John Terry’s face dive was brilliant
Glen Johnson actually got the block but Terry’s face dive for the ball was amazing. No doubt there’ll be calls for him to be knighted. It was in the middle of a flurry of blocks and last ditch defending and you can imagine, mid flight, he was thinking of all the fans who questioned the team’s passion. Have some of that.
4. David James was solid
James made a few potentially damaging moments look pretty steady. Maybe we’re just not used to anything resembling safe-hands in net and so, in contrast, James looked good doing what should be standard.
5. Milner’s positional sense key to victory
Milner hugged the touchline and provided an outlet throughout. The knock on effect of this for the entire team was noticeable; whereas Lennon’s central movement in the last match (coupled with Gerrard’s inset role) caused England to look narrow and cut options in the final third, Milner listened to instructions and forced the Slovenian defence to be stretched. Other changes also led to the better play in the final third: Rooney’s slightly deeper role meant he found possession more often and his interplay with Gerrard was promising. Gerrard also looked more disciplined on the left hand side and England generally played with greater positional sense. Gerrard’s central tendency allows Cole to push forward but the midfield does not become congested so long as the right flank is occupied by a player who stays wide. Milner did this and his crossing was superb, resulting in England’s only breakthrough. A danger for England, looking forward, is against better opposition it will be harder to cross as early and relatively unopposed from the flanks (especially given Milner’s threat is not his speed).
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