Monday, 14 November 2011

England Musn't Park The Bus Against Sweden

By Shane Thomas

In the midst of England's victory over Spain on Saturday, it should be remembered that Fabio Capello's men have another game to play before this international week draws to a close. Sweden come to Wembley, and England would do well to ensure that they don't undo the goodwill they've built with the fans by underperforming against the Scandinavians.

While Saturday's result was a welcome morale boost, England strategy was as if they'd had a man sent-off. Defending in a compact block of nine players, they constructed a solid wall of white shirts in front of their goal, and took advantage of a lethargic Spain to secure a smash-and-grab victory.

This strategy will not be accepted against an outfit like Sweden. Competent, but not world-beaters, England will be expected to seize the initiative of the match, rather than passively "parking the bus", and trying to nick a goal from a set-piece. Yes, England defended stoutly, with Joleon Lescott particularly impressive. However, they struggled with the other aspect of the game. Part of the reason why England needed to stay so resilient is that their inability to keep the ball verged on embarrassing.

Scott Parker was many observers man-of-the-match against Spain. However, as often as he won the ball, he would then give it straight to a red shirt. In today's game, the holding midfield player is not only required to stop the opposition's attacks, but also be the starting point for when his own side look to score. The best exponents of this position can do both; Sergio Busquets, Xabi Alonso, Andrea Pirlo, Nigel De Jong, Arturo Vidal would all be preferable alternatives to Parker if they were English. And if Owen Hargreaves could be relied upon to stay fit, then it would solve a huge selection headache for Capello.

A rearguard action will not be enough against Sweden, and will not be enough at Euro 2012. Spain are in the top rank of nations that make an ultra-defensive style expedient. But Sweden are in that second rank that England are good enough to beat. We've had the obduracy, now we need to see the verve.

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