Last Sunday England were involved in their first match under Sam Allardyce, away to Slovakia, opponents they met just over 2 months ago at the Euros. On that night in St Etienne, Slovakia frustrated England with an organised defensive display that restricted their more illustrious opponents to just 5 shots on target despite 61% possession; sadly it was a similar story on Sunday although this time England managed to sneak a goal in added time through Liverpool’s Adam Lallana, albeit with the hosts having been reduced to ten men when Skrtel was shown a second yellow card for a stamp on Kane.
So early into the new regime and with the team still reeling from their pathetic capitulation at the Euros, in all reality there wasn’t too much that Allardyce could do to change the approach; in fact 8 of the starting 11 had played in the humiliation against Iceland. Strangely though, despite initial assurances in the build-up that Rooney would be used in the number 10 role to which he is best suited; it soon became apparent that the captain was being utilised in the deeper midfield role that didn’t work in France. Bizarrely after the match Allardyce told the TV audience “Today Wayne played wherever he wanted to. He was brilliant and controlled midfield. I can’t stop Wayne playing there”; which will have hardly reassured disenchanted England fans looking to the new manager to introduce more tactical discipline and organisation. It seems to me, and this was the problem in France, that if Rooney isn’t the best number 10 we have then he shouldn’t play at all, to force him into a role to which he is not particularly suited can only be to the detriment of the team.
The choice of the 4-1-4-1 system also removed Delle Ali from a starting place, surely if anyone can get Harry Kane firing again it has to be his Tottenham team-mate with whom he combined to such great attacking effect last season?
It is still very early days for Allardyce and there are some clear mitigating factors, but you could clearly see the relief on his face when Lallana’s effort snuck in. Ultimately it won’t be the performance in qualification that counts but what happens in Russia, assuming we get there, that will determine his fate.
This weekend sees the reigniting of the (in)famous Pep v Jose soap-opera, when two of the most successful managers in the world go head-to-head once again, this time in the Manchester derby this Saturday lunchtime. With the two most expensively assembled teams in Premier League history, it can only be hoped that the former friends turned bitter enemies focus their attention on what happens on the pitch and put their long-running feud behind them. Whatever happens it should prove to be an intriguing match even at this early stage of the season.