Friday 24 November 2017

Five things we learned from England - Italy

A dejected Jack Wilshere of England looks down as Italy celebrate defeating England 2-1 in Manaus
A dejected Jack Wilshere of England looks down as Italy celebrate defeating England 2-1 in Manaus

Daniel McDonnell in Manaus

After taking a tumble in the jungle, England have it all to do to emerge from Group D. Here are five things we learned from their defeat in Manaus.

Pirlo is still the master

The 35-year-old is a joy to watch, a naturally gifted talent, and the contrast between his contribution and that of Steven Gerrard was striking.

In defence of the Liverpool man and his partner Jordan Henderson, they had to try and provide some protection for their defence given the attacking nature of Roy Hodgson's front four, but Pirlo operates at a different level in terms of controlling the tempo and picking a pass.

The dummy for Marchisio's opener was exquisite, and a late improvised free kick that smashed off the crossbar deserved better. But just as impressive as that was the manner in which he killed the ball in the dying seconds, successfully running down the clock with calm and poise that marks him out as a once in a generation player.

Andrea Pirlo of Italy controls the ball against Daniel Sturridge

This Italian side tackles a perception

Viewers of Euro 2012 will know that Cesare Prandelli's group don't conform to the stereotype that Italian sides are bound by a defensive mindset.

The former student of Trapattoni has a different approach, although there's an element of pragmatism about it as well because he doesn't have the quality of defender – such as the masterful Fabio Cannavaro – that inspired Marcello Lippi's men to glory in 2006.

The current rearguard wouldn't fill Azzurri fans with confidence, and the out-of-position Giorgio Chiellini was given a hard time at left back by the pace of Welbeck in the first half and Sterling's trickery in the second - the brilliant Costa Rican Joel Campbell will seek to exploit that if regular Mattia De Sciglio fails to recover for their meeting in Recife next Friday.

Why always him?

Mario Balotelli remains one of the most enigmatic strikers in world football. During the enthralling opening half hour, which was played at quite a pace, he sauntered around the pitch without making a huge impact.

But then he came to life, with a fine run and chipped effort over Joe Hart that almost gave the Azzurri a lead before half time and then sharp movement to slip away to the back post where he nodded Prandelli's side into a crucial 2-1 lead on the other side of the interval.

Mario Balotelli and Marco Verratti celebrate after Italy's second goal against England during 2014 World Cup

Wayne Rooney did produce a majestic cross for Sturridge's equaliser and ran himself into the ground from an unfamiliar starting berth on the left, but he never seems to deliver the magic moments that Mario does on the international stage.

Keeping the ball still matters

Possession stats are perhaps over-used and, as Spain's defeat to Holland showed, to give just one recent example, a clinically effective unit can still prevail even if they don't have the ball for long periods.

However, Italy were the more efficient side in possession here - save for some shaky moments in their unconvincing defence - and it's surely no coincidence that a number of men in white shirts were suffering from cramp as they felt the effects of chasing the game for periods in the stifling heat.

England are a dynamic operation on the counter attack but, to bridge the gap, they have to match the assurance on the ball which comes naturally to Pirlo and co.

Raheem Sterling has more than one dimension

It's amazing how often the word 'winger' appears in front of the Liverpool teenager's name when he clearly has far more strings to his bow.

During the Premier League season, Brendan Rodgers knew there were times when his directness and invention could be effective from a central position and Hodgson showed huge faith in the 19-year-old by giving him the 'number 10' berth here.

This was by no means a perfect display but there was no sign of nerves as he seized possession and delivered the perfect pass for Rooney to set the wheels for England's equaliser in motion. It was more in keeping with the actions of a playmaker than a wide man, yet in the second half he showcased his ability on the right flank. He's the real deal.

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