So England crashed out of the World Cup after two disastrous group games against Uruguay and Italy. The inquest has begun as to why England have performed so badly in this tournament. Many argue that the decision to leave out Ashley Cole and take Leighton Baines and Luke Shaw is a huge factor. Neither player have vast experience in tournament football and it is easy to see why Cole would have fared better in the squad. Some point to the tactics that Hodgson employed in the two games. When the squad was announced, the decision to include so many young players was heralded as brave and adventurous, but the Young Lions needed their captain to lead by example on the pitch.
Steven Gerrard is supposed to lead by example, but he was arguably at fault for the majority of the goals conceded in the tournament. If we look at the first goal in the Uruguay game, Gerrard lost a 50/50 tackle with a timid attempt. Lodeiro broke, found Cavani who fed Suarez with a brilliant cross for the first goal. He shouldn’t be the defensive screen. A great passer of the ball he is, and his leadership skills are unquestionable but he is too immobile to play this role. The second goal, although accidental, brought reminders of the slip against Chelsea. Gerrard slipped up when it really mattered.
This isn’t the first time that his lack of mobility has been exploited by opposing teams. Taking the 2-2 draw between Aston Villa and Liverpool in January as an example, it was clear that Gerrard’s inability to lose his marker was an issue. He looks much more suited to playing in a midfield three with a teammate behind him screening the defence, and a younger teammate beside him to get up and down the pitch. Jamie Redknapp described Gerrard’s first half performance as his worst in a Liverpool shirt as he constantly lost the ball and was marked by Andreas Weimann. The issue here was that Gerrard isn’t equipped to play in a system with two midfielders anymore as he does not have the mobility to lose his marker and is not defensively aware enough to protect the back four. It was only after the introduction of Lucas that Gerrard improved, as he was allowed to play further up the pitch and he was instrumental in Liverpool’s comeback.
Bearing in mind Liverpool conceded a mammoth 50 goals this season, it’s safe to say that the Gerrard/Henderson partnership does not work. With an already shaky defence it was vital that the midfielders offered some sort of protection. This wasn’t the case for Liverpool – who were lucky that they were able to outscore their opponents through goals from Suarez and Sturridge – and it wasn’t the case for England this World Cup. Henderson is a player who presses high up the pitch to retrieve the ball, leaving the ageing Gerrard exposed and prone to individual errors when players swarm him. Both Uruguay and Italy outnumbered England in midfield and it showed that the England midfield required a third man to compete with the other top teams.
In hindsight, it’s easy to say that England should have set up with three midfielders, but the warning signs were there already. Gerrard should have been given a small area to patrol, akin to the role John Terry had in Euro 2012. Instead, he was isolated and proven to be the weak link in England’s midfield.
There is no doubting that Gerrard is a fantastic player and servant to club and country, but with England bowing out of the World Cup unceremoniously, it may be time for the Liverpool Captain to follow suit.