For all of the hot air that surrounds the “unnecessary” non-competitive international breaks, there is far more we are able to garner when coaches use these occasions properly. Below are a few points regarding the few things the England and Italy coaches may have learnt on Wednesday evening.
Denmark v England
Jack Wilshere, perhaps, it was completely obvious to most fans of the Premier League that this young lad had what it takes to make it at the top level. Given his first start by Fabio Capello, he was able to help Frank Lampard provide balance to a 2-man midfield for the first time since Owen Hargreaves’ cameo for the England team.
Wilshere was asked by Capello to shield the back four. A job he did well, offering the defenders an easy option out of the back line – even if Glen Johnson was often reluctant to take it – and able to turn and bring the ball forward. This allowed Lampard to make his trademark late runs into the box, and the wide players were allowed to stay there. Lampard was also willing to let Wilshere roam forward, providing cover on the occasions he did so. None of this is particularly ground breaking, but fans should heed the words of his Arsenal team mate, Nicklas Bendtner, who warned that he should be allowed time to grow into the team and not be cast away when he makes his first mistake.
Darren Bent had a terrific game, consistently playing on the shoulder of the last man, stretching the pitch and causing the defence to drop. He was found marginally offside on numerous occasions, but this didn’t cause too much concern as his positions allowed the midfielders to find time and space to look for the correct passes. His running dovetailed well with Rooney’s deeper forays, and his movement in the box was superb.
Remember the name, Christian Eriksen. A player who I had seen glimpses of for Ajax, Denmark’s brightest young star, he had a very composed game playing just off the striker playing some wonderfully weighted probing passes to play in the midfield runners. There had been much hype before the game and he delivered a fitting performance, his deliveries were stunning at times and bags himself an assist for Agger’s goal.
Germany v Italy
Fiorentina’s Ricardo Montolivo had a poor game by all accounts, a player who is still the most suitable candidate to replace Andrea Pirlo. Against Germany Montolivo looked very tense and nervous – though the game was by no means the relaxed affair being enjoyed elsewhere – and gave the ball away far too often. He must look after the ball better in future, he often looked to go wide with his passes which is perhaps indicative of the kind of game he plays at club level. There is still a great deal of debate over how he can best fit into the setup. Playing him in a tight midfield 3 appears to restrict his game and with wingers few and far between at International level for Italy, a move to a 4-3-3 formation seems unlikely.
It was a performance which brought back memories of Italy’s final group game at the 2010 World Cup. Montolivo plugged away fruitlessly, never really able to grab the game by it’s balls. Then, a still injured, Andrea Pirlo was introduced who showed everyone how it was supposed to be done. Alberto Aquilani came on in the second half and showed some superb touches and vision. One moment sticks out where in the last 10 minutes he receives the ball 40 yards out from the Italian goal under pressure, turns out of it, takes another touch before lofting the ball into the strikers path for a shot on goal.
The Italian squad is lacking in quality full backs, Italy’s best centre back playing as a left back is enough evidence to justify this statement. The best Italian full backs around right now are both at Palermo. Balzaretti was unavailable due to injury, but his right sided partner in crime, Mattia Cassani, gave a good account of himself on the right side of defence.
Cassani was regularly bursting down the right flank, offering support to the attack and an out ball from the packed central midfield area. It also dawned on me that he could be arriving on the scene at a similar period in his career to when Fabio Grosso did before having a very good World Cup, but that’s superstitious coincidence.
A few other things to note from the Italian game were that without Cassano there’s no party, he worked tirelessly to create chances for Pazzini and looked very good dropping wide, despite the scoreless first half. Also, Thiago Motta’s first game as an Italian was fairly indifferent. It is too early to judge properly how useful he may be to the Azzurri, but traditionally Brazilians haven’t tended to do as well as Argentine Oriundi.