Would TAA or JWP fix the England midfield?

Date published: Wednesday 14th July 2021 8:59 - Editor F365

Trent Alexander-Arnold England

The England inquest continues with more discussion about that midfield. Are James Ward-Prowse or Trent Alexander-Arnold the answer in there? Send your views to theeditor@football365.com


Just 15 words
Great tournament.

In it until the end.

The best team won.

Marvellous, and almost perfect.
Rob Duffy


Actually, no
We’ve been nice about Southgate (otherwise you don’t get published on this website).

But…I’d just like to add my voice to every other non-English “expert”…that was awful.

No, they’re not better than us.
No, they don’t have better defenders, midfielders, or even strikers than us.
No, it didn’t mean more than us.
No, they weren’t more streetwise, experienced, or cleverer than us.

We’ve got a great team – but a sh#te manager who’s bottled it repeatedly and who’s clearly not up to the job – we won in spite of him (correspondence passim).

Sorry guys – lovely guy and all that…but you keep defending him…really??
Matthew (not expecting to be published)


…Let’s stop with the excuses.

Italy was the better team and always looked like winning.

How can you score in the 2nd minute and play defensive for 88 minutes? Did Southgate think they were going to luck into a second goal.

It was a matter of time before Italy got the equalizer and they ran their socks off to try and get the winner.

Southgate knows more than anyone about penalty shoot-outs and should have done everything to avoid that.

Mancini made subs and you could the Italian players were exhausted when they came off, Southgate just stood there like the “wally in the brolly”.

We can debate which subs he should have made, but why not make the changes after Italy scored!

Sterling and Mount didn’t have a great game, no slight on them. Maybe bringing on Sancho or Rashford would have injected some life into the team.

Do we really thing Southgate has the nous to lead England in the World Cup in Qatar!
Christian, Gooner, Toronto


Ward-Prowseing the question
Despite the excellent efforts of Rice and Phillips, we didn’t win the game against Italy at least partly because we were unable to control the tempo and dictate play. With Foden likely to feature heavily in the future, a back five (including Pickford) that should now be set in stone and two of a front three undroppable at the time of writing, the necessary modifications would seem to involve the middle three only. Hindsight might also suggest having a few more designated penalty takers amongst the dozen subs as they are such a crucial part of tournament football. Ben White could have had a great time in Marbella.

Moving forward, we could stick with Rice, Phillips and Mount and experience similar levels of success, but it could be that we would benefit from one of the two destroyers being replaced with a versatile ball player who offers an increased threat. This brings me to my question – could James Ward-Prowse be the answer? I ask this out of genuine intrigue and I wonder what Soton fans who watch him frequently think. Statistically, the Southampton midfielder’s pass success rate is around 86% and he offers 1.6 key passes per game and 2 tackles.

In a more dominant team, Jorginho has been a player who has hardly set the Premier League on fire and he has offered a 89% pass success rate, as well as 0.9 key passes and 1.9 tackles. To much surprise within our borders, he has been one of the better players at the Euros and was integral to Italy’s triumph. Excluding defenders, Ward-Prowse‘s 64 passes per game was the 8th most and that would suggest he could offer a similar approach to play – not to mention his expertise from set pieces and penalties. Additionally, he has contributed 8 goals and 7 assists, all achieved while playing for the Premier League’s 15th best team last season.

So could a middle three of Rice/Phillips, Foden/Mount and Ward-Prowse with Sterling, Kane, Saka/Grealish/Foden in front of them be the future? Obviously, I will be watching him more intently next season and in the meantime I am interested to know what the F365 Mailbox’s thoughts are.
AC in Milan (painful Sunday evening here and essential trips out only this week)


Or Trent?
I have been reading for years and never commenting, but your piece on Phillips and Rice hit on the pressing hole in the England jigsaw and a blind spot that English football fans have about midfielders. I think there’s a solution though.

You were right about Phillips and Rice. It is controversial to say that two standout performers need to be upgraded. They pressed, ran, and fought like heroes. But who is responsible for 34% possession? Either those two, Southgate, or player development. What are we praising them for? Doing what they were instructed to do: get in the face of, disrupt, and annoy what we had already accepted were more technically gifted midfielders on the other side. See the issue?

A team that has its own technically gifted midfielders has limited (maybe one will do) need for such roles. These two being standout performers reflects brilliantly on them and poorly on Southgate and his options. It’s like your keeper being man of the match.

But what do we need to fix it? A regista. Pirlo. Jorginho. Guardiola when he played. When I was drawing a tactics board to help my wife watch along (don’t go there), I described Jorginho in this role, and she asked for the English term. “It says a lot that we don’t have a word for it”. There is “deep-lying playmaker” but when we think of “playmaker” we think of a number ten (“trequartista”). But the ball needs to get to the ten.

The regista role confuses the crap out of English football fans. We expect the deepest midfielder to be a defensive screen, a destroyer: Vinnie Jones, David Batty, Paul Ince. Declan Rice. For a cultural upgrade go for N’Golo Kante or his previous incarnation Claude Makalele. But this is not what Jorginho does. Jorginho gets the ball from the defence in tight areas and progresses it. He is the pivot who moves the ball across the pitch when your attack has to go back. He controls possession from deep.

Jorginho plays an incredibly important role. England did not have a Jorginho on the pitch on Sunday, so who will do it? Let me make some suggestions:

1. Jude Bellingham
“A lot is resting on” him, you said. True, but worth a try, no? Is it big club bias because he plays for Dortmund to suggest that his actual Champions League games give the 18-year-old more experience at controlling games at the highest level than 25-year-old Phillips? At least when control was slipping away, and we “couldn’t”* leave things as they were, it must have been worth a go. Too much pressure on an 18-year-old? Dortmund didn’t think so when they played him in an actual Champions League quarterfinal in which he actually scored (when he was 17)…

*By which I mean that we did and we lost

2. Phil Foden or Mason Mount
Without getting into the debate about whether Foden is the new Maradona or an overhyped Jesse Lingard, his positional evolution is worth watching. Until recently Pep trusted him only along the front three: right, left, or false nine. Right at the end of the season he started playing him as a number ten. Pep, who used to be a regista, has converted KDB from a ten to one of two free eights, a role with some things in common with the regista. Foden is certainly great in tight spaces. And didn’t Pirlo start as a ten? And Guardiola as a winger until Cruyff told Charly Rexach to make him pivot?

Roughly the same things could be said of Mount.

But talking of positional changes, here is the obvious left- (by which I mean right-) field solution…

3. Trent Alexander-Arnold
He is never going to be a good enough defender to be an actual right-back in Southgate’s team or any team that doesn’t spend the majority of its time attacking. But the boy really is quite good at football. He grew up as a midfielder. He can certainly spray the passes; the experience at right-back may also make him good enough defensively to be at least a partial shield.

The only question is whether Klopp will clock it.

Of course, sometimes you need a destroyer too. Getting the balance and positioning between the regista and the destroyer is tricky. Watch back the 99 Champions League final and with Scholes and Keane suspended you’ll see Beckham trying to play regista and Nicky Butt just looking confused at why there is another red midfielder behind him. Should Jorginho or Kante be the deeper one for Chelsea? One of our candidates could play with Rice (=Kante) but we would need Rice not to give the ball away.

But maybe it would help to have a midfield in which two players can each play two roles. Maybe Trent and Bellingham can both be both destroyer and progressor, so that it does not matter which one is deeper. Foden or Mount can drop into midfield from number ten to help the passing patterns. 4-3-3 or 3-5-2, works either way.

Maybe then there’ll be an English word for “regista”. Rob is right that everything else will then fall into place.

Sorry for the long mail but this stuff is as crunch as an N’Golo Kante tackle that Jorginho never makes.
Martin, Englishman in Pennsylvania
PS It’s still a crying shame that we ruined Jack Wilshere


…The article pointing out Rice and Phillips ‘limited’ abilities on the ball and mentioned the need for some more creativity in the midfield. Although I feel that’s a bit unfair on both as the team was set up for safety first approach and they weren’t picked for their creativity.

This is where the tactical flexibility and managerial acumen comes into play. England did show that the players were comfortable to switch between 3-4-3, 5-4-1, 4-2-3-1 but what they missed was a passer extraordinaire in the middle of the park to get those long accurate balls to the pacey wingers.

With the World Cup 15 months away, Southgate should look around for his quarterback, because he has destroyers in Phillips and Rice. With the pace on the wings and fullbacks that England has, the role is perfect for TAA or Ward-Prowse.

If the success in Euros has shown anything it is that Southgate Doesn’t need to play them every game and can start with safety first, but when needing to unlock tight defences, he needs those Xabi Alonso-esque passes to utilize the pacey wingers on his disposal.
The smoking Gunner
(England can win with Rice/Phillips, Casemiero showed that for RM with Kroos and Modric)


We need a new Carrick basically
Unpopular opinion – Lampard and Gerrard are not the missing type of players from the England midfield puzzle, since neither could play in “a two” with any real success and there are plenty of “10s” available, or players who can play in a three. See also; the Pogba dilemma.

The player England could do with most now is peak Michael Carrick, whose understated brilliance (and sorry but he won five titles in seven years and really was brilliant), technical ability, tactical understanding and knack for being in the right place (the interception king, if I recall correctly…) would be a real asset.

Bellingham is probably too exciting to shackle into that two (and plays in a three at Dortmund), Henderson isn’t getting any more mobile, and Phillips has had a brilliant Euros but if it’s between him and Rice, the latter shades it for his ability to drop in to be a third CB when the full-backs push forward.

Incidentally the closest available I can see seems to be Ward-Prowse but maybe the reason it was Rice and Phillips is because they truly were the best available players. In spite of the above, they acquitted themselves superbly so would like to see them both in Qatar regardless.
Jonny, MUFC (maybe James Garner is the one…)


Defending Bruno
The average penalty conversion rate is a shade under 75%. Bruno Fernandes has converted 41 of 44. I think he’s fine with his defective run-up.

These debates seem similar to past discussions in cricket about why players shouldn’t play “fancy” shots like reverse sweeps or ramps, and should focus on traditional shots. The underlying implication is that anything other than hitting a penalty like you would have done in the ’60s is elaboration for elaboration’s sake or showing off.

I just don’t buy that – in a data driven, hyper-professionalised sporting environment, players and coaches won’t do things without a reason. And the stuttering in a run-up, waiting for the keeper to commit, and then going to the other side of the goal, clearly works for v technically capable players.
Chris MUFC


…In response to Silvio Dante, yes Bruno may have missed “some” penalties. Precisely 1 in a Man Utd shirt. And that was with a conventional run-up:

The only other two penalties he’s missed (out of 44 taken in his career) were in the Portuguese Cup and in his early days at Udinese. I’d be very surprised if you’re a connoisseur of Portuguese Cup football, but that is literally the only penalty he’s missed in his career with his hop, skip, jump routine and “looked like a clown”.

I love RVN more than most, but his penalty record isn’t a patch on Bruno’s (13 missed out of 64), and before Sunday night Rashford had only missed 2 of 17, and Sancho 1 of 11. Both considerably better conversion rates than RVN too.

Yes those routines look awful when you miss, but if you score them at a better rate than a more conventional routine, it’s absolutely a risk worth taking.
Richard Lavelli


In favour of smashing it
It has always struck me as odd with penalties that insanely talented pro footballers don’t just run up normally and strike the ball cleanly (or thunderbastard it a la Maguire) into a corner of the goal at a height the keeper cannot physically reach (unless they start diving that way midway through the takers run up). And by doing that remove the need for stuttering, trying to send the keeper the wrong way, giving the eyes, delaying your strike etc. There is increased risk of missing by aiming for say the top third of the net but then there is by stuttering etc and not focusing completely on your strike.

I get that nerves etc affect the ability to cleanly strike the ball but in golf when tensions are at their highest top pros simplify their swing as much as they can; they go back to basics and their fundamentals to minimise the effects of adrenaline and stress. Footballers go the other way and look to complicate and overthink things.

How you practice them will affect your choice too, obviously if you practice stuttering you’re going to feel more comfortable stuttering in a shoot out. But why not just practice striking it cleanly out of reach of the keeper?

There are obviously going to miss whichever technique it’s just logically (and can’t believe some teams research departments haven’t looked into it) it makes more sense to keep things simple in times of most stress.

Although having said all that, I do think Bruno’s jump is more to do with the next penalty he may take rather than the one he’s taking, because so much research is now done by keepers into penalty takers styles. So if a keeper is expecting the jump, which delays the strike by a good half a second, if Bruno doesn’t then jump he can strike the ball when the keeper isn’t quite set to dive either way and that effective half second head start for the ball can obviously be so crucial.

Still looks proper daft though.
Dylan (Andy Steel and Kevin Radnor midfield needed for next summer)

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