Friday 16 November 2018

Jamie Carragher: Sterling not suited to style or system - Rashford is

City man found himself as a second striker against Tunisia and it didn't work for England

England's Raheem Sterling appeals to referee Wilmar Roldan. Photo: Tim Goode/PA Wire
England's Raheem Sterling appeals to referee Wilmar Roldan. Photo: Tim Goode/PA Wire

Jamie Carragher

For England to go deep into the tournament and build on their opening World Cup win, Gareth Southgate must be flexible with his team selection. That is why, despite the encouraging performance against Tunisia, he should make changes against Panama.

Freshening up the side is important, keeping those who are yet to play motivated while also showing those who started against Tunisia they need to keep their level in training.

Most important, there are tactical reasons for tweaking the line-up on Sunday. I would make three changes, the most significant of which involves Marcus Rashford replacing Raheem Sterling.

England's system does not suit Sterling - or certainly not in the position he is currently occupying. It is designed to enable Southgate to select more attack-minded, technical players with the added protection of three centre-backs and a holding midfielder.

Yet against Tunisia, even in the first half when England were at their best, Sterling was being pushed so far forward he was effectively alongside Harry Kane as a second striker. He can play the deeper role of a number ten well - four years ago he was outstanding in the position despite England's loss to Italy - but Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard are so far advanced they are taking up the space where Sterling would want to be.

At the moment, England are effectively playing with three number 10s, even though none of them are what you would describe as the classic versions of this position. All rely on their movement and pace rather than ability to open up defences with a cute pass. It makes Sterling's inclusion slightly illogical.

Attacking

Lingard and Alli are playing the roles of Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva at Manchester City - what is now described as a 'false 8' - but with different skill sets. It is a central midfield position but more attacking than conventional.

For City, Sterling has been most effective starting out wide and drifting in within Pep Guardiola's 4-3-3 - he is more comfortable picking up possession when facing goal rather than with the defender at his back. There is no doubt he is capable of doing a job, but if there are long periods when Sterling is a striker surely it makes more sense to use Rashford or Jamie Vardy?

I don't think the system itself is a problem, just Sterling's role within it. It can work well if Sterling drops deep, the onus then on Alli and Lingard to make runs beyond Harry Kane, but no-one is scoring enough goals to back up the Tottenham striker - as demonstrated by the chances missed when England were at their most dominant.

Even though I am not a fan of the two-striker system generally, this reinforces the view there is room for a more established centre-forward in the current set-up. If Southgate persists with Sterling in this role, can he really trust him to provide the goals? Can he really take the recent goal form at Manchester City onto the international stage? It does not help if he is not playing in the position from which he struck those goals.

Aside from the lack of clinical finishing, the personnel issues were not too big a deal in the first half. Where it proved more of a problem was when Tunisia sorted themselves out tactically at half-time, going from a back four to a back five with their defensive line much deeper.

Rarely, if ever, can I recall one of the unfancied nations being so ambitious in their original set-up. Their idea was to play like one of the top teams. Tunisia came out wanting to press England and play from the back and with short passes in midfield. Their goalkeeper did not want to go long with his goal kicks, making it easy to pin them back.

Southgate must not have believed his luck in that first 30 minutes as Tunisia's high line allowed balls to be played over the top for England's pace men to pounce.

We saw the impact of this within three minutes, Jordan Henderson's clever pass feeding Alli. It should have led to the first goal, particularly when a Tunisia defender stalled on the ball and lost possession inside his own six-yard box. You do not expect such generosity at a World Cup.

Naturally, England looked good at that stage, but while I have no wish to puncture the mood of encouragement we have to acknowledge the flow of the match was dictated by Tunisia's tactics. The game changed when Tunisia changed.

When Tunisia got it right, England struggled to create chances due to lack of creativity in midfield - a worry we recognised before the tournament. They could not get behind their defence once it sat back. This is what they will have to overcome against Panama, although the first-half performance bodes well when England meet sides in the knockout stage similarly willing to leave spaces at the back.

Southgate identified the tactical shift when he made the second-half substitutions, correctly replacing Sterling with Rashford and calling in Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who impressed with powerful running from a deeper midfield position.

Given Alli appeared to be nursing an injury in the second half, I would start Rashford and Loftus-Cheek this weekend.

Danny Rose must also be considered to replace Ashley Young. Other than a fitness issue, I am not sure why the left-footed Rose is not being preferred to the right-footed Young.

For England to have a satisfactory World Cup, they must play five matches in three weeks. That would represent a quarter-final place. To get that far you have to keep players sharp in body and mind, which means of 20 outfield players at least 14 or 15 players believe they will participate.

Some consider it risky to change the line-up. Roy Hodgson did it in Euro 2016 in the final group game with qualification already secure. It backfired. He was criticised.

The principle was right, but he made too many - six against Slovakia - and the consequence was a disjointed performance.

Southgate is in a strong position to make slight alterations rather than wholesale changes before another rethink prior to the tougher proposition of Belgium.

England have made a promising start, but as ever there has to be balance between rampant optimism and quiet reassurance. In the spirit of a changing culture around the English team, I am sure Southgate will be reminding his players of the importance of not allowing any hype that builds around a victory to have a detrimental impact. Misplaced hyper-positivity can be as destructive as overly negative reactions following less encouraging results.

That said, dealing with rising expectations once a tournament has begun is a problem Southgate will willingly accept. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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