International friendlies are seldom criticized by club managers who at times lose their best players through injury during these games. Yet, they represent an opportunity to managers of the national teams to try new formations, players and tactics. And if there ever was a game where they did exactly that, it was Englanda s game against Italy last night.
The match ended with the score tied at one apiece, but with a little luck, England could have snatched the game in the dying minutes as Tottenham Hotspur star Harry Kane, who was making his first full appearance for his country, forced veteran goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon into a superb save. Yet, it wasna t all smooth sailing for The Three Lions who couldna t quite adjust to their managera s team selection and tactics early on.
Phil Jones maybe a lot of things, but is definitely not a midfielder
Starting with Phil Jones in midfield and Theo Walcott as a forward, England manager Roy Hodgson raised more than just a few eyebrows. While sometimes strange team selections can produce brilliant results, last night wasna t one of those nights. The Three Lions looked disjointed and were failing to string together more than three or four passes in the Azzurri half.
Jones was a disaster in midfield as he failed to cope with the constant pressure applied by Italya s midfield duo of Soriano and Paralo who were constantly in the Manchester United defendera s face. He struggled on the ball and was partly to blame for Italya s goal when he allowed Giorgio Chiellini to escape before the entire defense fell flat, giving Southampton striker Graziano Pelle the chance of a free header in front of goal.
Just before half time, however, Englanda s luck changed coincidentally when Michael Carrick was introduced as he replaced Chris Smalling who was struggling with an illness. This meant that Jones moved back into midfield, while Carrick joined Jordon Henderson in the middle of the park.
Another half time substitute for England was Kyle Walker who replaced Nathan Clyne. There was a very evident difference in the way Hodgsona s side started to play their football the moment Jones was moved back to a more familiar position.
Carrick could finally prove his worth
With Carrick getting on the ball and starting to tick things over much in the same way as he does at United, England started to get back into the match. Prior to the equalizer which was scored by Andros Townsend in the 79th minute, there were a couple of other chances created by the away side. One fell to Arsenal left back Kieran Gibbs while another to the in-form Kane. Both, however, could do no more than find the side netting. The one time they did find the target was when captain Wayne Rooney fired a powerful shot at goal that was ultimately dealt well by Buffon.
To beat Buffon you often need something special and Andros Townsenda s goal was nothing short of that. Townsend, who came on as a sub form Fabian Delph, struck a spectacular right footed shot from the edge of the box past Buffona s outstretched right hand to draw level.
With the momentum now, England were on top and created a couple of chances a one for Rooney and another for Kane, both however, were denied by the excellent Buffon.
Conte is a top coach and Italy need him
Former Juventus manager received a lot of abuse and a death threats in the lead up to this match and was apparently on the verge of resigning as Azzurri boss. Nevertheless, Conte, who is yet to taste defeat as Italy manager, must continue as the national teama s coach as his country need him.
This Italian team is nowhere near the great Azzurri sides of 2006 and 2012 and will need a top manager such as Conte to see them into the future. Having played a rotated side against England, the teama s commitment and desire was there for everyone to see.
While they conceded possession and werena t able to control, Italya s pressing on the English midfield and defense proved pivotal in trying to stop them from playing. Developing a spirit like that in the entire squad is something only a top manager can and Conte certainly is one.