England Evolution: Time to find a real striker.

Gary Lineker: A great England striker.

What a result it was for England beating Spain…I mean a clean sheet, in a tight match against the World and European Champions, what could be better? Such headlines gloss over  the stats of the match; 71% possession to Spain, they also had 21 attempts on goal (only 3 on target) – when you compare that to the 3 shots England had throughout the whole 90 minutes, you know this match was more about ‘backs to the wall defending’ than England attacking Spain. More worryingly the England goal came from Frank Lampard from a set-piece rather than an attacker scoring a cracker, but the result will over shadow any of this.

England have been struggling for strikers for a little while now, yes there are plenty about, but who is international quality other than Rooney? We managed a mere 3 shots against Spain and had little up front with Darren Bent ineffective against a world-class side. When England did have the ball they struggled to build attacks around Bent and finding a striker to fill this role in Rooney’s absence should be a concern.

Look around the world at other nations and they seem to have an abundance of attacking talent. England currently lie 7th in the FIFA World Rankings, above them are Italy, Brazil, Uruguay, Germany, Holland and Spain. If you look at the squads of these teams, they all have at least two top quality strikers – look at some and they have more than that.

All the top strikers in Europe are made up from most other nationalities except English – if you look at the top goalscorers across Europe then you will have to go down to the 25th position before you find an Englishman, Wayne Rooney, and shockingly the next top scoring Englishman is Frank Lampard at number 78. In the Premier League scoring charts there are only 6 Englishmen in the top 15 scorers in the Premier League, one of which is Swansea’s Danny Graham who you wouldn’t really say is close to an England call-up.

England have a problem that needs solving before Euro 2012 comes around, who can play with Rooney and more importantly, who can play in his absence?

In days gone by there was a big talent pool, the majority of strikers in contention for England would make up the top scorers in the Premier League; players like Alan Shearer, Teddy Sheringham, Les Ferdinand, Michael Owen, Kevin Phillips, Ian Wright, Robbie Fowler, Stan Collymore, and Andy Cole to cover the core. In the first 10 years of the Premier League only one foreign player won the Golden Boot all the rest were English and the England squad was brimming with talented strikers, whether they made an impact or not.

Where is the next Michael Owen? Where is the next Alan Shearer or Gary Lineker? England as a nation hasn’t produced anyone. One major problem is that players now seem to have to be able to play other positions due to the evolution of tactics through the 20’s. We have seen a 4-5-1/4-3-3 become the norm, which means only one out-and-out striker, with a new breed of forward, players like Welbeck and Sturridge, who can operate on the flanks, cutting inside and running at defences to give them a chance of shooting at goal, as well as play centre-forward.

If you look at the established striker’s currently in contention for a starting birth with Wayne Rooney they are Darren Bent, Jermain Defoe and Gabby Agbonlahor. The rest of the names are new to the England fold; Danny Welbeck, Bobby Zamora and now Daniel Sturridge. A place is there for the taking, but can any of these guys take it? Welbeck and Sturridge are only just starting to establish themselves at their clubs Manchester United and Chelsea respectively, should England be relying on them for the bulk of their firepower next summer? My guess is no, but unfortunately England will have to as Zamora isn’t dynamic enough alone, Bent hasn’t proved himself and Agbonhalor doesn’t really suit a lone striker role.

Darren Bent - Never quite done it for England.

It is time for England to evolve once more and start operating with a lone striker permanently. England need to play a formation that can make the most of the talent on offer, with or without Rooney, because when it comes to quality centre-forwards, England are struggling like Pat Butcher on a treadmill. During Terry Venables reign, most notably in Euro’96, was the only time England moved away from a 4-4-2 in recent memory, the time is here to adapt again. Obviously Fabio is trying that now, but the team have been in need for a while, but whilst you play important qualifiers it is not an ideal time to tinker.

Sturridge and Welbeck will get their chances against Sweden, both will no doubt get some playing time. England have to put all their eggs in one basket by backing one striker, for me this is Sturridge. Daniel Sturridge has the size, athletic ability, technical attributes and scoring record to justify such an endorsement. Welbeck’s career best scoring record only yields a 0.33 goals-to-games ratio at its peak. Sturridge’s best was last season for Bolton with a 0.66 goals-to-games ratio. When you compare their England records, Sturridge has a 0.61 goals-to-games ratio having played 34 times, whilst Welbeck has a 0.28 goals-to-games ratio having played 38 times, there is only one candidate.

England should be playing 4-3-3/4-5-1 in every game from here to Euro 2012, if they don’t then they could struggle. Capello needs to give one of his strikers a cuddle and tell him ‘you are my man’ for the next 4 friendlies and will start the first 3 games in Rooney’s absence. Obviously they will have to score goals, but England can’t keep chopping and changing and after this Sweden game Capello needs to be sure who this striker will be. Tomorrow’s friendly is more significant than the Spain match for this reason, let’s just hope someone throws their hat in the ring and takes a position which is truly up for grabs.

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  1. Pingback: Rooney: Should he stay or should he go? | Manchester United Schedule and Fixtures

  2. Eddie says:

    England have been pretty poor upfront to be honest, we have had the luxury of having Rooney fit for the majority of the time. Without him we struggle and rotate strikers. If a striker is good enough he is first choice like Rooney is every game. It has been too long since an out and out CF was on the scene.

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