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Where Did It Go Wrong for England?

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One tactical shift that rues them all.

Julian Finney

Balotelli’s winner, Rooney’s header hitting the crossbar, and Gerrard’s unfortunate header beating England’s back line, are just some moments that can be singled out as "ahh that’s where England lost it" moment. Balotelli’s goal, though it came early in the second half was decisive, Rooney made amends after his header hit the crossbar, tapping in from close to restore parity against Uruguay. Gerrard’s unfortunate header from Fernando Muslera’s long punt, did set up Suarez’s winning goal, but the moment it went wrong for England was a bit earlier.

After an impressive display where he terrorizes Italy’s defense, Raheem Sterling started his second World Cup match. Against a rattled Uruguayan side that has had their confidence shook by Costa Rica, Sterling had the perfect opportunity to carry on and help England to a much needed three points. But there was one small detail, Sterling was started on the right side of an attacking trio behind lone striker Daniel Sturridge, instead of in the No.10 role, which was given to Wayne Rooney.

While in these days and age, positions aren’t so rigidly defined with players capable of roaming from left to right and interchanges with others, it was a significant move for Sterling. Against Italy, playing in the centre he was able to interchange with Rooney drifting inside, while Sterling goes wide and took on Italy’s leftback-of-the-day Giorgio Chiellini. He had quite a ball against Chiellini as several times he glided past the Juventus defender. The exact opposite happened against Uruguay, with Sterling unable to influence the game as much as he did against Italy.

The reason for this? Being stationed on the right means that Sterling’s movement was less static, and his interchange with Rooney was basically non-existent as he’s already in his preferred spot. It made Uruguay’s defenders job easier as they don’t have to worry of getting pulled out of place. Uruguay’s left back, Alvaro Pereira took advantage of this by making overlapping runs towards England’s half, which means that Sterling had to track back. Comparing Pereira and Chiellini’s passes in the attacking third, one gets the idea of who was more involved in supporting their team’s attack.
Sterling’s influence thus was greatly reduced, almost all indicators proved this. He only attempted a single cross compared to the seven he attempted against Italy. His passes in the attacking third was infrequent and limited to the right side, whereas against Italy he did it more frequently from both sides of the field. Sterling, who was carrying a yellow card from the previous match, was subbed-off in the 64th minute by Ross Barkley, perhaps as a precaution for the next game.

In hindsight, Roy would probably best served replacing the ineffective Danny Welbeck instead and risked Sterling. After all, if Sterling misses the game against Costa Rica, Hodgson can still bring in Adam Lallana to replace him. Sterling will now start off the bench against Costa Rica, with England already out. While keeping Sterling on the field does not guarantee an England win, perhaps it could’ve make a world of difference, just like swapping Sterling and Rooney in the line-up.

An extended version of this article can be found here.