With the group England have at the World Cup, their lack of conviction and tactical stagnation, they are going to have to try something completely different in Brazil this summer.
Roy Hodgson has structured his England side more often than not in a 4-2-3-1, which may have redefined itself as a 4-4-1-1 because of Wayne Rooney’s positioning. Or through opposition torment. This could quite easily be the case at the World Cup. Steven Gerrard will occupy one of the slots in the double pivot, leaving a gap to be filled potentially by Michael Carrick, Jack Wilshere, Frank Lampard, or the like. If Hodgson employs his favoured system in the summer then a strong case could be made for Gareth Barry to be a fixture in that starting XI.
Liverpool play with a midfield base of Gerrard and Lucas; the one reliant on the other. The Brazilian’s fundamental role is to maximise his captain’s function as a deep-lying playmaker. Naturally he protects Gerrard. His defensive statistics of nearly four tackles and three interceptions per game outline this. By, somewhat, lifting these defensive duties, Gerrard has been four times more effective in terms of assists and goals (two as a defensive midfielder, eight as a central midfielder).
Getting the best from the captain, to a degree for the Three Lions, is getting the best from the team. So if England can replicate that midfield system that Brendan Rodgers has at Liverpool, they very well may be able to do this. Hence Gerrard will need cover – someone who won’t trample on his toes, performing the same function – Gareth Barry. Comparisons to Gerrard, in terms of the role he plays, aren’t accurate. He defends a lot more, simple in possession, and can be sacrificial with his positioning.
Barry has made more tackles in the league than any other Englishman who could realistically occupy the position next to Gerrard. Naturally he sits a lot deeper than them as well, which would liberate Gerrard. As the Aston Villa game last weekend showed, it’s crucial that happens. Operating as the deepest midfielder, without Lucas or Allen beside him, Gerrard’s pass completion rate was 72% and he was, by extension, blameworthy for the two goals they conceded.
Arguably, one of England’s best attacking outlets is through the full-backs – and with Ashley Cole out of favour at Chelsea that could threaten his position as a starter and he may have to relinquish it to his understudy – Leighton Baines. Barry and Baines have developed an understanding down Everton’s left flank. To exploit Baines’ attacking potential, his defensive duties may need to be less restraining. Barry could do as Xabi Alonso did so intuitively at Euro 2012, covering for the marauding Jordi Alba, with Baines. His heat-maps of this season provide more than a suggestion that Roberto Martínez has used this already.
Roy Hodgson likes to play with two banks of four when England don’t have possession. Allowing the left-back so much attacking freedom would disrupt this. However, there may be a positive spin to this – it could allow the England manager to unshackle his conservative constraints and experiment at a tournament where England aren’t expected to make ripples, let alone waves.
Worst case scenario: Hodgson plays a 4-4-2 and tries to fit Sturridge and Rooney then Wilshere in the pivot. Barry wouldn’t start, but he’d provide an alternative to the team’s set-up. He’d be an invaluable experienced figure in a team where raw talent could produce so much with the right figures by their side.