England recorded a comfortable victory over Wales at the Millennium Stadium.
Gary Speed sent Wales out in a broad 4-5-1 system. Craig Bellamy started on the right, with Andy King on the left. Aaron Ramsey, in his first game as captain, lined up behind Steve Morison.
Fabio Capello named a surprising starting XI. Ashley Young was given a game on the wing, with Wayne Rooney also out wide, off Darren Bent. Michael Dawson partnered returning captain John Terry at the back.
England effectively won the game in the first 20 minutes – that silenced the crowd, and probably ruined Wales’ gameplan too.
England positive with the ball…
England’s ball retention was very good throughout the match, especially as the game was played on a poor surface. The use of three central midfielders (something Capello had experimented with in friendlies, but had yet to try in a competitive game) worked very well, and England always had options in possession.
Rooney and Young were given free-ish roles (though defended the wide areas without the ball) – allowed to stay wide, or come inside and link play – Rooney tended to start higher up the pitch but ended up dropping deeper as moves progressed, whilst Young focused on breaking forward into the channels, getting in behind the full-backs and drawing the centre-backs out of position. He was responsible for ‘creating’ both the goals – being brought down for the penalty, and then crossing for Bent for the second.
Wales didn’t help themselves in the way they defended – the full-backs (particularly Danny Collins at left-back) came too high up the pitch and were also too wide, making it too easy for England to play balls between defenders. Glen Johnson’s pass for the second goal, for example, was excellent – but Wales were opened up with two passes from the halfway line to the six-yard box. Better defensive positioning wouldn’t have allowed that.
…and proactive without
England were equally impressive when defending – they pressed effectively, and made it impossible for Wales to play the ball forward in the first half. The layouts of the two midfielders meant that each player had an individual opponent to pick up, and therefore England closed down easily – Scott Parker marked Ramsey, with Frank Lampard and Jack Wilshere closing down higher up. Wales only had a man in space at the back, and that’s where most of their passing took place early on.
With Wales struggling to get the ball forward, Ramsey increasingly came deep, dropping between his two fellow central midfielders, and picking up possession in space. With Parker not tracking him and staying in the holding position, this meant Wales briefly had a 3 v 2 situation deep in their midfield, but it didn’t really solve their problems for two reasons – (a) because Ramsey was the ‘link’ player and therefore Morison became even more isolated, and (b) because Ramsey’s passing was poor early on, and he frequently gave the ball away. The midfield trio lacked fluidity – if another midfielder had moved forward when Ramsey dropped deep, they might have opened up England. Instead, Wales played in front of them.
Wales rarely threaten
Parker was England’s best player, showing discipline and restraint in the deep-lying role – something England haven’t had for a long time. It also allowed Wilshere and Lampard forward – they dovetailed in going forward and linking up with the front three, and both looked more comfortable than their England appearances this season in a midfield four.
Wales’ problems in getting the ball forward weren’t helped by Morison’s poor game. His first touch was terrible, meaning he rarely (if ever) held the ball up, so Wales never got up the pitch. The home side’s brightest moments came when Bellamy and King didn’t look to play in Morison, and instead played the ball to each other – particularly after they switched wings. Three times in a 15-minute spell either side of the break, Bellamy dribbled from the left flank into the centre, then played a clever pass to King in behind Ashley Cole – but the moves didn’t produce clear-cut chances.
The second half was almost completely uneventful – aside from various substitutions (which didn’t really alter the flow of the game, though David Vaughan showed some good moments and probably should have started) and lots of bookings.
Wales came into the game more and got into the England third of the pitch (this may have been caused primarily by England’s pressing becoming less intense), but lacked penetration. England had opportunities to counter but their transitions were poor – lazy, perhaps – and they didn’t really look to get a third.
Wales were poor, but England did their job very well. In possession they were assured and moved the ball forward nicely, whilst they also pressed well with the ‘new’ formation – something they wouldn’t have been able to do as well in a 4-4-2, as they would have been passed around in the centre of midfield.The most encouraging performance came from Parker, who gave England balance in midfield and protection ahead of the back four.Wales lacked quality in the final third – with no Bale and Ramsey not at 100%, they barely tested Joe Hart.