The same woes
England v France: Five things we learned.
THERE were times when this game completely passed the Sunderland youngster by, exposed as he was in a nominal defensive midfield brief but with disorganisation behind him and scant support from the experienced yet one-paced Gareth Barry at his side from the start. Samir Nasri and Florent Malouda revelled in the space they could exploit in front of England’s occasionally ramshackle back-line, with Henderson powerless to stop them. The 20year-old is a box-to-box midfielder whose display at Stamford Bridge at the weekend, albeit against a strangely lacklustre Chelsea side, had served notice of his undoubted quality. Yet he excelled in that contest alongside the combative Lee Cattermole. Barry is more sedate, his approach more about positioning than ferocious tackling, and his downbeat tempo rather rubbed off on the debutant. Steven Gerrard’s retreat into a deeper position after the break should have offered timely support, but there was no tracking back from either “defensive” midfielder when Mathieu Valbuena ghosted in to volley the French side’s second before the hour. For Henderson, it felt as if this opportunity may have come too soon. 2. Andy Carroll can make his mark at this level
The Newcastle forward’s workaholic display had provided the only real encouragement for the home side as the boos rang out. Isolated up front, his preparations hampered by a minor groin complaint, he still unsettled Philippe Mexès and Adil Rami with his power and presence. The former conceded a foul after 32 seconds, with Carroll consistently threatening in the air – whether around the penalty area or, as more often than not, collecting punts downfield midway in the French half – and aware of what little support was coming his way. The flicks into team-mates were impressive. Yet one of England’s principal frustrations was their inability to provide him with the ball deep so that he could turn and run at back-tracking defenders, one of his key strengths in the Premier League campaign to date. On the one occasion he did spin and charge, Mexès was flummoxed. His club will be relieved that there was no sign of the groin injury that had threatened to deny him his chance. England will be encouraged that he is an international footballer in the making. 3. Kieran Gibbs needs more games under his belt
That may be stating the obvious, but a player with four appearances for his club this season – and only 10 Premier League starts in his career to date – simply has to glean more game-time if he is to be expected to fill in for the absent Ashley Cole at this level. To expect otherwise is unfair. Gaël Clichy, the man who keeps Gibbs out of the Arsenal side, started this match on the opponents’ bench with his club-mate labouring to keep tabs on the slippery Valbuena and just as unnerved by the anxiety exuded by Joleon Lescott and Rio Ferdinand at his side. There was a rustiness in the youngster’s defensive play whenever Valbuena glided forward. The odd sliding tackle on Bacary Sagna, another Arsenal teammate, might have pepped his confidence, though the Frenchman seared away from the left-back 55 minutes in to deliver the cross for Valbuena’s smartly-taken second. What flashes of quality that were provided by Gibbs failed to illuminate the gloom and it must remain a concern that a player considered one of the brightest prospects in the English game at present appears so irregularly for his club in the Premier League. 4. France aren’t as bad as they had made out
Considering the sense of pessimism that had accompanied Laurent Blanc’s team across La Manche, the French should be rejoicing now. This is a national side who had endured an even more traumatic experience in South Africa over the summer than the English, and returned with ructions and in-fighting aplenty to leave the FFF in despair and the team in open revolt. Yet, revamped and reborn under a bright new head coach, they revelled in England’s deficiencies here. In fact, they provoked them. Nasri and Valbuena were outstanding, and Gourcuff just as impressive at their back. Florent Malouda looked the player he was at the start of the Premier League season, rather than the rather out-ofsorts winger he has become in recent weeks at Chelsea. They monopolised possession for long periods, pinged passes around at will, and cleverly exploited the areas where England were weak, of which there were plenty. Even a side only recently thrown together seemed familiar with their system of play and comfortable with each other. What encouragement there really was to be had last night was all French. 5. Fabio Capello can’t excel against the top teams
The current FIFA rankings have England in sixth position, bafflingly some 15 places above Les Bleus, yet this was enough to demonstrate which nation boasts the real strength in depth. The harsh reality of Capello’s reign to date is that, with the possible exception of the victory against a re-modelled Germany side in Berlin almost exactly two years ago, this team runs aground whenever it collides with a side who are truly technically and tactically proficient. There have now been two defeats to France, losses to Spain and Brazil, and that humiliation to the Germans in Bloemfontein. The comeback from 2-0 down against the Dutch stands out as an exceptional result, and it is that reality that should – and, indeed, does – pursue England to every major finals for the foreseeable future. Capello had preached patience in the build-up to this fixture, and here was evidence why. The manager will be anxious to say good riddance to 2010, with all the misery it has brought him, but coaching this side appears a painfully long-term project. – Guardian News & Media 2010
Glimmer of hope: England will be encouraged that Andy Carroll is an international footballer in the making.