Here’s something you might not know: John Terry and Scott Parker averaged 59 passes per game (each) in Premier League play last season. And in 214 minutes against Italy last night, Terry and Parker attempted just 54 passes: total. I could (and will) go on, but no matter what metric you use to measure England’s performance last night, the conclusion has to be that it was one of the most dreadful, anti-football, tactically bankrupt, matches of Euro 2012.
In addition to Terry and Parker, who were 14th and 15th in passes attempted last season (in League play), Ashley Cole averages 44 passes a game, Glen Johnson averages 47 passes a game, Lescott 46, Rooney 50, and all of these players play on the top teams in England. Teams that move the ball well, and teams that rarely resort to hoofing the ball up field. Yet against Italy, that’s exactly what these players did, for 100 minutes or so.
The common excuse I’ve heard this morning is that the England team just wasn’t good enough. That they actually exceeded expectations getting as far as they did and that this was a pretty good tournament. Talk about the soft bigotry of lowered expectations. I’m sorry but when you have players like Wayne Rooney who has won the Premier League four times, John Terry and Ashley Cole who have won the League three times, and all of the above, plus Steven Gerrard who have won the Champions League, (not to mention Hart, Lescott, and Millner who won the League with City this year) you are not looking at a team with the quality of, say, Greece. No offense to any of my Grecian readers.
And yet, they played like Greece. Worse, I think Greece was more exciting.
Which is Roy Hodgson’s fault. Here’s another thing you might not know: Hodgson teams are (on average) mid-table or above in short passes per game and bottom four in long balls per game. He’s not a long-ball merchant like Harry Redknapp. His teams, generally, play football. So why he chose this match, against this Italian team to close up shop is a complete mystery.
And let’s talk about this Italian team for a second. I love Andrea Pirlo, he is as close to a timeless player as you will see in the modern game. He had 155 touches last night and not one single turnover, which is just incredible. And no matter how you look at the stats he had a peerless performance. Which you expect from a world class player who is given free reign to express himself in an unhurried and unharried manner.
Pirlo averages 11 long balls per game in Italy. That’s how Italian football is played, midfielders like Pirlo and van Bommell collect the ball and spray it all over the field, like a sprinkler. And last night against England, Pirlo sat back and played 30 long balls. The fact that Pirlo had 155 touches, zero turnovers, and 30 long passes is all the proof you need that England didn’t even attempt to win the ball back.
Prilo’s counterpart, Steven Gerrard, attempted just 29 passes.
That 29 passes, by the way, is so astonishingly poor that I couldn’t believe it when I saw it. Lampard against Bayern Munich in the Champions League final has 71 passes. There’s a game which was widely derided as one of the most defensive performances seen in the last five years.
Yet, Gerrard had fewer attempted passes than Andy Carroll did, in half the time. Gerrard had fewer attempted passes than Alessandro Diamanti who only played 42 minutes. Here, have a look at Pirlo and Gerrard’s numbers (all completed passes, or successful tackles, etc) head to head:
Gerrard was captain of a team that had almost no impetus going forward, where the goal keeper had the most touches of anyone else playing for England, the most common pass was from that keeper to Andy Carroll, and where his opposite number was simply allowed to do whatever he wanted.
This was not Spain that England were playing against. Hell, I’d hate to see how few passes Gerrard would muster against a team like Spain. Can a player have a negative number of passes?
This was Italy. And when Italy face Germany on Thursday, I guarantee you will not see Pirlo given the time and space to hit 30 long passes. Italy will not have more shots than Schweinstger has passes (yes, Italy shot the ball more than Gerrard passed). And Germany will not sit back and “soak up” Italian “pressure”. Germany will come to play football.
But of course, if only England had Jack Wilshere things would have been different. Because what England need is a precocious 20 year old, who has been out injured for the last year, instead of their Champions League winning midfield captain to apply a little pressure to his opposite number.