No Revolution...The Evolution Is Underway

There will be calls to 'rip it up and start again' but that's the process that began in Brazil. Matthew Stanger is not too depressed; the defence will never be that bad again...

Last Updated: 20/06/14 at 08:54 Post Comment

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In Rio de Janeiro on Wednesday we witnessed the end of an era for Spain. The following day in Sao Paulo was the end of another beginning for England. A great deal has changed since the penalty shoot-out heartbreak against Italy at Euro 2012, but the result is the same. England are waiting in the departure lounge, bags packed and memories made. It is surely only a matter of time until their gate is called.

In certain key areas this England team is still wet behind the ears, and it told against Uruguay as they were outwitted by a wily opponent and one world-class finisher. The defeat to Italy offered hope in an unexpected attacking performance, but that was extinguished by an Uruguay side prepared to sit deep and soak up pressure rather than risk being hit on the counter-attack. It took only one game for Oscar Tabarez to work out how to control England, and one game for Roy Hodgson's new dawn to be devoured in the Sao Paulo smog.

Too much of the change initiated by Hodgson came too close to the World Cup for England to combine youthful vigour with the necessary pragmatism adopted by their Group D rivals. Raheem Sterling was deployed in a central role against the Italians in his first competitive start, but failed to nullify Andrea Pirlo in the manner Hodgson had hoped. Daniel Sturridge made his third competitive start in Manaus, while it was also Jordan Henderson's first taste of the first XI in a match of any significance. It is not long since he endured 17 months in international exile after Hodgson deemed him less effective than Tom Cleverley.

There will be calls to rip it up and start again in the aftermath of this latest depressing defeat, but what is it exactly that England should rip up? And in what fashion should they start again? There is no doubt a strong correlation between those calling for another root and branch review of the team's failings, those who once lauded Spain's stylings as the way forward, and those who have also declared the death of tiki-taka in the past 24 hours. It is a fan's job to vent frustrations, of course, and a manager's to fix things, but it is only one match since most agreed that Hodgson had propitiated the England support.

Hodgson was justified in his post-match assertion that England are moving in the right direction, even if a probable group stage exit in Brazil initially appears to be a backwards step from a quarter-final in Kiev. "I think that in both games we've shown some elements of playing good football," said the manager before outlining his intention to continue. "We've shown we're a team that is making progress."

Again, that is something the majority agreed upon after the agonising loss to Italy in which Hodgson, however briefly, shed his previous reputation for safety-first. The problem is that he has failed to marry freedom in attack with restraint at the back. It is clear that Steven Gerrard cannot play as one of two central midfielders, while the defence's shortcomings have been ruthlessly exposed by such worryingly predictable movement. Suarez's first on Thursday and Mario Balotelli's winner for Italy were almost carbon copies - a full-back failing to prevent the cross and a striker peeling off a centre-back glued to the ball.

Indeed, while Rooney has been at the centre of heated debate since England's World Cup adventure began, the defence has avoided proper scrutiny - much like it did during qualifying. The partnership of Phil Jagielka and Gary Cahill has occasionally offered promise, but there have also been warning signs such as the slack defending in the 3-2 win over Scotland in August 2013. If Scotland are going to raise doubts, then it is inevitable that strikers as potent as Suarez and Balotelli will compound them.

If Phil Jones can fulfil the potential that caused Sir Alex Ferguson to suggest he could become Manchester United's "best ever player" then, combined with the emergence of talented youngsters in other areas of the team, there is still hope for the future that should not be dimmed by the disappointment in Brazil. Jack Wilshere must also prove he is ready to replace Gerrard, while Baines has not done enough to halt Luke Shaw's meteoric rise.

At present there is nothing to rip up, with Hodgson already abandoning his previous beliefs to run with the best players England have available. The manager has shown willingness to adapt, although it has come too late to outfox the old heads of Italy and Uruguay. But England have reached a pivotal point in the cycle as they prepare for France 2016 and, while the beginning is now over, the evolution is very much under way.

Matthew Stanger - follow him on Twitter

England are now 11/2 to qualify from the group with Paddy Power and 80/1 odds to win the whole thing.

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