Hodgson has a long way to go still

The performance was not befitting a supposed top seed in their group. Poland looked the stronger side, while Montenegro are now threatening to take top spot from England and make Roy Hodgson’s side work for their automatic qualification spot.

From the first whistle almost to the last, England were poor. Misplaced passes as usual afflicted Hodgson’s men. Doubtless he will have been angered and frustrated by it, and seemed so in his press conference after the match. But for all the talk of England’s inability to pass the ball efficiently – a long standing problem – there was less of their basic tactical intelligence. Or lack of it.

Steven Gerrard and Tom Cleverley aside, few players seemed to have grasped the idea of ‘movement’. Wayne Rooney is another who should not be criticised for this, as he is usually excellent at finding space. But he operates in the middle of the pitch, which was increasingly crowded and which he needed England players to make bigger through their runs. Often, when an England player had the ball, his team mates were largely still, standing in front of markers waiting for the ball to be passed their way. This is basic stuff. To create chances, players must be constantly on the move. Passing the ball and then making forward runs, dragging defenders in different directions. England barely stretched Poland, their players incapable seemingly of working out that to make a chance, you must drag a defender. Other international teams of the top quality get this. Spain’s players are constantly moving, the same of Germany’s.

Hodgson must do something to address this. England may not have been at 100%, but for players of their fitness there is no excuse for not being able to run around and move well on the field of play. It requires no technical skill, just a brain and working legs. Each of the England players had that, only some seemed unable to make good use of either.

This is the problem Hodgson is going to have to work his way through. His players are fundamentally limited. James Milner is a classic example. A favourite of Hodgson, as he was of Fabio Capello, he is basically a hard working player who is good enough to control the ball with his first touch and pass it five metres to someone else. But he is the most predictable player in the team. When he gets the ball, he will try and run forward down the right touchline and play a cross with his right boot. Invariably it does not get very high. Sure, David Beckham made much of simply standing on the right, taking a touch and crossing the ball but he was so good at it that he was able to get away with having a limited set of attributes. And besides, when required, Beckham was also capable of cutting inside, passing with his left foot and shooting from distance. Milner possesses very limited attributes, yet seemingly for his ability to run around a lot and listen to a manager’s instruction he is given a near guaranteed starting spot.

This is the culture that has to change with England. Reliability and hard work are good qualities, but alone will not go far. Hodgson must place more emphasis on technical skill, passing quality and intelligence. These are desperately short in England, but Hodgson must find a way to incorporate more players like this into his team. If he does not, he will struggle to be a success in his role.